Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter - What Does It All Mean?

Christ Our Lord is Risen...  He is Risen Indeed...that is our Easter declaration!

All over the world people will be celebrating, have been celebrating, the Resurrection of our Savior.  Easter is what makes Christianity unique among all the world's religions.  Our Savior did not live, then die as a martyr, only to stay dead and be memorialized as a great teacher, a great man.  He died on the cross, and they laid him in a tomb, but on that first Easter Sunday morning, he was raised from the dead through the power of God.

Luke 24:1-6 (ESV)
1  But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.
2  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
3  but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
4  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.
5  And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?
6  He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,

The Resurrection is both fact, and our faith.  

As we go to church this morning to celebrate what Christ our Lord has done, we ought to ask the question - what does it all mean to me?
This morning in our own services I want to touch on that briefly...that there is "great news" in the resurrection of our Lord.

The Resurrection is the basis of our hope in God’s salvation:
Romans 4:25 (ESV)
25 [He] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Justification is the theological word that describes how God views us…
Not as Sinful, damaged creators…
But as Restored, Created and Redeemed people…bought with the blood of Christ and he looks at us “Just-As-If-We-Had-Never-Sinned”
The Resurrection is our hope for our own life after death:   1 Corinthians 15:20 (ESV)
20 …Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

All of us will eventually die.  The mortality rate among human beings is 100%.  It's not a matter of "if", but only a matter of "when".  Yet here is our faith - death is not the final end, it's only a doorway into eternal life, and that is all because of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3-4 (ESV)
3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,

The Resurrection means that God’s life is available to us Now!
Luke 24:5 (ESV)
5 … “Why do you seek the living among the dead?

The real hope of the resurrection is that Christ's LIFE is available to us NOW.  We are not saints "waiting" to die to get His life...we are God's children and raised to newness of life in Christ now!
Jesus said it...
John 5:39-40 (ESV)
39  You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

John 10:10 (ESV)
10 …I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

And Paul reminds us that it is a reality for us NOW.
Romans 8:10-11 (ESV)
10  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Resurrection is our Hope when all of Life seems confusing and difficult.
Philippians 3:7-14 (ESV)
7  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
9  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
10  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
11  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
13  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
14  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus

My prayer today is that as we enter into worship and once again proclaim by faith the resurrection of our Savior, that it will move us in our Spirit to realize the really "GOOD NEWS" we have in our faith in Jesus Christ.

Peace, and to you:  "The Lord is Risen"..."He is Risen Indeed".

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Heaven, Earth and the Other World - Before the Resurrection

On Earth:
Matthew 27:62-66 (NIV)
62  The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.
63  "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.'
64  So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first."

65  "Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how."
66  So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.  

Jesus' death made people nervous.  The Chief Priests and Pharisees, Pilate, all were concerned that something would happen - but they were thinking in terms of common human deception - or, as we say it - "it takes one to know one".  Human capacity to think cynically has no boundaries, and the Spiritual mind knows it's a dead end.

The Other World:  
1 Peter 3:18-19 (ESV)
18  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
19  in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,

It's a slightly eyebrow raising passage - huh?  what?
Jesus went where?  He went to a prison to proclaim to the spirits who were there.
Peter tells us a verse later where they came from.  1 Peter 3:20 (ESV) 
20  because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

These spirits were no ordinary beings, but rather connected to an action in the days of Noah that caused God to put them away in this place called "a prison".  
Why did Jesus go there?  "To Proclaim".

To make a long story short, Genesis says that there was a time when Satan sent some of his fallen angels to completely corrupt all of human kind - essentially seeking to destroy all vestiges of humans being made "in the image of God".  You can read this account in Genesis 6.  The key thing is that God's response to this at the time was to send a cataclysmic judgement upon the earth in the form of a universal flood, and only Noah and his family were saved to start back over again.  The image of God is preserved in all of human kind, and these angels who "cross the line" were sent to this "prison" in the other world.

SO...on this day, Saturday, Jesus goes to them to "proclaim"... the text doesn't tell us what he proclaimed, but we know his last words on the cross - "It is finished".  His work of redemption is done, and all of human kind has the potential of being restored to the relationship God intended us to experience.

We don't know what heaven was doing on that Saturday...a day here is not the same as heaven which sees no 24 hour cycle of day night.  When I think of Saturday, I think of what we're doing when family is coming back home - getting ready for a grand celebration.  
Heaven was about to receive Jesus back...
Philippians 2:8-11 (ESV)
8  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
10  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Hebrews 9:24 (ESV)
24  For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 

Saturday...  Sunday is just around the corner, and a new day is about to dawn...


Friday, March 29, 2013

This Friday is Good

It's a day like no other in our celebration.  I love Advent and Christmas.  I love Easter and Pentecost...all are great, and joyful celebrations.  But this day is not like any of those - the joy is muted and the tone is somber. It is the day that reminds us that we can call ourselves Christians, God's children, Heirs and Joint Heirs, because our Savior, Jesus Christ, went to the cross to suffer in our place.

John 19:16-18 (NIV)
16  Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.
17  Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
18  Here they crucified him, and with him two others--one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 

Luke 23:44-46 (NIV)
44  It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour,
45  for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
46  Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.
 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV) 
21  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

Isaiah 53:3-6 (NIV)
3  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

5  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

6  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

It is a Good Friday - For us.  But it came at a great sacrifice.

Today is a day to pause, think, and pray - "Lord, thank you for what you've done.  I cannot begin to say what you have done for me; and how grateful I am for you because of that.  May I honor you with my worship, with my heart, with my life - I owe it all to you!"

Peace to you my friends

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday

Matthew 26:17-30 (NIV)
17  On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?"
18  He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'"
19  So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

20  When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve...

John 13:1-17 (NIV) 
1 ... Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
2  ...The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.
3  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
4  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
5  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

7  Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

8  "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

9  "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"

10  Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you."
11  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them.
13  "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.
14  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.
15  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
16  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
17  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Maundy Thursday is sometimes called "Holy Thursday".  The word "Maundy" comes from the Latin word mandatum.  You'll recognize the word "mandate" within it.  Mandatum means "commandment" and so Maundy Thursday is the celebration of the Last Supper and Jesus' command to the disciples to "love one another", "to serve with humility" and so follow his example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus - to love and to serve.   

Jesus' action of washing their feet was the backdrop to this "command".  In the first century no roads were paved...a few had bricks set in dirt, but even then, sandals were open and every person walked into a house with dirty, dusty feet.  The most hospitable thing was for the owner of the house to have his servants meet his guests at the doorway, the guests sit down and the servant removes the sandals and washes their feet.  It was a refreshing thing to do and obviously kept the dirt out of the houses.  That was a very typical action in that time.  The key element to it was that it was done by a servant, not the owner.  Servants performed menial actions like this and every household provided this act of hospitality as a way of welcoming their guests into the home with a show of honor.

This is what caught the disciples off-guard.  Peter was the one who voiced his alarm - "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"  It wasn't a question, it was a statement of incredulity.  It was Peter giving a mild rebuke to Jesus in essence saying to him "what are you doing?".  The action of Jesus was intentional.
"Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 
"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.   I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 

Today is a good day to reflect - muse if you will - on where our heart is in relation to loving, serving, humility.  These are easier words to use verbally than to consistently do.
Recently we had a family living near us that were getting ready to move.  We watched them load up a moving van, and reached out to provide a meal, a place for the wife who was 8 months pregnant to come and put up her feet.  We gave the little boys an afternoon of play in the house so that they could get out from underfoot of movers and cleaning.  We did all of this willingly, gladly, and "as unto the Lord".

My students at the college just took an exam on the book of Romans and the question was asked them in a test - "what does it mean to do things "as unto the Lord"?   The answer I was looking for was "to do what we do with both thankfulness and to be fully convinced that the action in both conscience and motive was for the sake of Christ, and not my own gratification."  Perhaps a bit more formal than a shorter phrase might serve, but the point is this - our motives, our attitudes both enter into acts of service.  Done with a sense of duty, to perform and look good, to get the praise of others and it's not's self-serving.  Done with a sense of privilege, a desire for the other person to be blessed, and not wanting anything from it, other than to "do it for you Lord", and it is good food for the soul.

Is it easy?  Not always.  I confess, at the end of two days of "serving", I was tired, ready to move on and looking for some quiet and space - Not much serving in that.  It might seem like Jesus' words are easy to do, but in fact none of us relishes the servant role.

We get use to people who take care of us...tellers, drive-through attendants, cashiers, waitresses, etc... It's easy to think that since this is their job, they have to do it.  Yet the heart of serving is not in the job, but in the heart - not just for them, but for all of us.

On Maundy Thursday we remember that our Savior, Jesus Christ, entered into his last few hours of life on the earth with one desire - to show to his disciples that the greatest thing we can do is to love, honor, and serve one another - for His sake alone.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Audience of One

Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
13  "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14  "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
16  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

I am watching my salt - more specifically the amount of sodium I'm suppose to be taking less of in to my body.  But I love salt.  So the question is, "how much can I get away with?"  
I think too much of our lives is lived with that question sitting near the surface of our thinking...what can I do and it still be ok?  Why do we want to live so close to the edge?  Why straddle the line with one foot in and one foot out?

Jesus' call to me, to us, is to live on specifically...
In a series of statements that follow this passage, the context has Jesus saying the same kind of thing over and over again.

21  "You have heard that it was said..."

22  But I tell you ..."

27  "You have heard that it was said..."
28  But I tell you ..."

31  "It has been said..."
32  But I tell you..."

33  "Again, you have heard that it was said ..."
34  But I tell you..."

43  "You have heard that it was said..."
44  But I tell you..."

Now, of course, there's words that followed each of those and in not including the words do I diminish what they say, but I did this to point out that in most of life's issues, there's a way that is normal, presumed, typical, expected, and acceptable...that doesn't mean it is Jesus' way.

We cannot live purposefully, intentionally, specifically for Jesus and ignore his words and ways.  
It strikes me how good, kind and merciful Jesus is while upholding a lifestyle that can only be described as incredibly good, and different, from all around him.
The people he interacted with usually didn't get it.
The rulers and authorities certainly didn't get it.
The disciples didn't even get it.
AND, neither do I, or you for that matter, get it.

Most people I know desire to be good.  There are always some people who seem to be grouchy, irritable, and selfishly oriented; but then they usually don't have many friends and they live somewhat alone - the net affect of not trying to be good.  That's not what I meant when I began this with "Salty" saints.

Most people desire to be good and get along with others.  We all get irritated with life's circumstances at times; but somehow find a way to rise above the nuisances and annoyances of life to still get along with others.
But, let's not mistake that kind of goodness with being "salty saints".
What Jesus is calling us to is to discover in Him a new WAY to do living.  What he is not calling us to is to be good so that we can be religiously acceptable.  He makes that clear in his interactions with the Pharisees.
Matthew 23:25 (NIV) 
25  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Being a salty saint is not being religious.  
Go to church, yes; but that's not the salty saint.
Give your money, yes; but that's not it either.

At the end of the chapter 5, where we began this whole "muse", Jesus continues to make his point in the chapter that follows.  Matthew 6:1-5 (NIV)
1  "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2  "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
3  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

This is the point - to do what we do - to be good - to live in such a way as to do what we do for Christ alone - not wishing to be noticed, or applauded, or recognized, or exalted as a great example of what a Christian should be...not for any reason other than to please the Father.

A One Person Focus
The Art of a Single Desire
The awareness that only one Person's evaluation is all that counts.

In life, there is only this Audience of One that must matter.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

God and "wee little people"

I love the story of Jesus' encounter with the tax collector, Zacchaeus.
Luke 19:1-10 (ESV)
1  He entered Jericho and was passing through.
2  And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.
3  And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.
4  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.
5  And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
6  So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.
7  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
8  And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
9  And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.
10  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

I usually think of Danny DeVito when  I think of Zacchaeus.  Children sing the song of this - a "wee little man was he..."  But as funny as the image of Danny DeVito is, and as cute as the song is, Zacchaeus was a hated man.  His fellow Jews put him the class of traitor, swindler; someone who has sold his soul to the devil.

It's hard to imagine what was happening inside of Zacchaeus that day...why did he feel so compelled to see Jesus?  The desperation and urgency of his actions are not easily understood from the text.  
Had he heard about Jesus?  Probably
Was it just curiosity?
Was it fascination?
Was it personal need?
We don't know from the text...all we do know is that he HAD to see Jesus...just see him...not necessarily talk to him, or touch him...just see Him.

The text surprises us at the next point...Jesus stops, looks up and says...let's have lunch Zacchaeus!
The crowd around Jesus was shocked....Zacchaeus was overwhelmed...and instantaneously convicted of his sinful actions - "I'll give away half my goods" (gives us an idea of what he had done to get them to begin with); and restore fourfold what's stolen... (which is what the law demanded).
What's the old saying - "A ?????? and his money are soon parted?"
But this is no fool, this is a man who sees Jesus, talks to him, and is invited to be with him, and that is enough to know that money just doesn't count.

NOW we get to the issue at hand - something happened inside of Zacchaeus.
He GOT it because something happened to him that changed him from the inside out and not the outside in.
Something has to happen to our insides to make us want Jesus more than anything else.

God comes to "wee little people" and he says "come, follow me", and many of them say "yes".  It's not the past that defines us, it's the present and the future.
We come to him not out of duty, or the need to perform, or to show others how sincere we are, or good we are; because we know that all of that counts for nothing.

We come to him because where else would we go?
Zacchaeus knew he hadn't been a good man...but Jesus was good, and that was what he went towards... that's what we must go towards.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy is His Name

Luke 1:26-33 (ESV)
26  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
28  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
29  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
30  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

Luke 1:46-49 (ESV)
46  And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48  for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49  for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

It might seem strange to bring up a Christmas narrative during Holy Week; but March 25 is the celebration of Mary's conception - nine months before Christmas.  

When the angel Gabriel came to visit Mary he declares that She is "favored" - literally "graced".  The foundation of all that God does with us begins there - our own "birth" of faith is by grace.  Let's remember that the foundation of believing is that we also are "favored", "graced" by God and he comes to us in Jesus and gives us his grace to be birthed in our own faith.

The announcement to Mary is filled with amazing statements:
  • Jesus is the Son of the Most High God
  • Jesus is the heir of David's throne
  • Jesus is the one who reigns over all Israel
  • Jesus' Kingdom is established now and will be forevermore.
  • Jesus - His name is HOLY.
It all begins with God's heart - to redeem his people, to redeem us, to restore His creation.

That's why this day, nine months before Christmas, fits well in Holy Week.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Holy Week - Holy Life

John 6:66-69 (ESV)
66  After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
67  So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
68  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
69  and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

Romans 12:1 (ESV)
1  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Ephesians 1:4 (ESV)
4  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 

I don't think we a great capacity for living with the idea of being "holy".  I've tended to hear the term in relation to people, only in negative ways..."such and such thinks they are holier than thou", or, "they think they're so holy."  It's used to describe a person who is self-righteous, not a person who is striving to live in communion with God.

Today, officially in the church calendar, begins "holy week".  A commemoration of the last week of Jesus' life, and the beginning of the end of Lent.
Today is Palm Sunday because it was Sunday that Jesus road into Jerusalem on the donkey in triumphal procession as the people cried out Hosanna, and they laid the palm branches on the road - an act of honor for Kings and Military heroes who visited a city.  
Needless to say, it was the highlight of the week for Jesus' popularity, and it would be short lived, as the leaders of the Jews sought ways to accuse him and discredit him in front of the people - eventually leading to his arrest, trials, crucifixion.

So, how does it all fit...holy week...called to be holy...offering ourselves as living sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to God.

We probably all have some idea of what "holy" might look like, and perhaps have even formed the opinion that "it's impossible, so forget it".
To be holy...well, that is someone who is so weird, separated from the world's reality, disciplined, elite, probably severe in turning away from everything....everything good too?  Is that what we think?

Think about this:  In order for a Holy God to make us in His image He had to impart his Holy character to us.  We are Holy to Him.  
Think about it this way:  To be Holy, is to be Wholly His...i.e., you cannot be a Whole person without being Holy.
From  the beginning God has sought to shape human life along a certain line.  The intended shape is best seen in Jesus - the human person that is God's son.  The work of God is to restore us to that image that we were intended to be created for.  

Towards the end of the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews sums up the process for us:  
Hebrews 12:7-15 (ESV)
7  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
8  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
9  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
10  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
11  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12  Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,
13  and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
14  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
15  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;  

Follow it closely....God is at work in us, working with us and through us, to share in His holy character (whatever that might look like); therefore we can and must choose, so that the broken things might be healed (vs 12-13).  Discipline isn't the purpose, it's the means...the Purpose is Restoration!

Holy week?  Sure
Holy Life.... Priceless


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Everyday Monks - Why Am I Here?

Ephesians 1:11-14 (MSG)
11  It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living,
12  part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

13  It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.
14  This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life. 

Yesterday I "mused" out loud about what it would mean to walk more intimately, knowingly, aware of, with Christ on a day to day, hour to hour basis.  I believe it can be done, and I believe it has been done.

When the early Monastics began their community lives it was with a desire to create a space where they could work, worship, and walk with Christ in all that they did.  There have been lots of people who've criticized the Monastic lifestyle, and some of it is deserved; but the overall goal is good.  That's what we were created for.

Genesis 2:7-8 (ESV)
7  then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
8  And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

The garden was a place of communion - the man and woman lived where God walked and communed with them.  That's the way it was designed.   With the Fall of mankind into Sin, that intimate communion was abruptly changed.  Now the man and woman were driven from the garden and the way back to God was not in place.
So, where do we go from there?
Paul said it above, "It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we're living for..."
Christ Jesus is our identity
Christ Jesus is how we find our way back.
Christ Jesus is what defines living...what we're here for.

Which changes everything, if we're willing to see that.
Life with Jesus is not a life built on a 21st Century materialist, consumerist, Westerner.  That's how our world is shaped, but that is not the life of Christ - nothing in scripture could be more clear than that.
That's the issue - we've become consumers of religion rather than cultivators of a Spiritual life.

Where I live the ground is waiting to awaken...snow covers the land and the ground is frozen.  We're all sick of the long winter and any day of sun above 32 degrees brings hope.  We look forward to the snow disappearing, the ground warming up and the frost disappearing.  Then the ground will be ready to receive the seed and plants will begin to emerge and grow - but all of us know that throwing the seed into the ground isn't the end, there's still work to do.
I remember as a kid the tractors with their long steel toothed cultivators driving down corn rows to tear up the weeds that were potential destroyers of growth.
So also, we need those things in our lives that will root out the vestiges of the fallen nature and turn us more completely into the person God designed us to be - that person who reflects more clearly and fully the image of God.
It's there.
It's waiting to grow and be strong.
We were made for this...
And settling for less is like looking at a field of corn with stalks three feet high and small, nubby ears of corn are all that exist...that's not what it was meant to be.

The end of it all is this - we were meant to commune with God.
Some think that we were made to get ready for heaven - all of it is yet future...but the Kingdom of God is at is now, and heaven is here among us...

If we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to seek.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Everyday Monks

During Seminary I got use to getting up to study the languages - Greek and Hebrew - in the very early morning hours.  My typical time to wake up was around 3:00, 3:30 a.m.  Crazy right?  Well, it worked.  In the early morning (my daughter once said, it's not early morning Dad, it's the middle of the night!), I had complete quiet and so I could focus without the distractions that often occur in the daytime.

Monks arise early.  Most monastic orders follow the disciplines of Benedict established in the 6th century.  Seven times a day they would meet together for a short time of scripture reading, prayer, and at times to sing, or sit in silent meditation.
Psalm 119:164 (ESV)
164  Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.

Monastic orders came into being as the Roman empire's political and military power crumbled and the empire became overrun with Germanic tribes.  Christians had no love for Rome, but nevertheless, the empire had provided a place for the church to grow.
Those who chose to move away from the world into these places of community, did not do so to escape the world, but to create a place to practice Kingdom life regardless of the world around them.

That's the issue - really.
How do we live "in the world", but "not of the world"?

For many who call themselves Christian - who cares?  Why worry about living separately, differently?  We live in the world, just live as people of faith and do what everyone else does.  Makes sense...a lot of people do that.
What I discovered some 30+ years ago was a deep longing, a hunger for something that called me to a deeper life in seeing Christ hour by hour.
I was a Pastor of a small rural, but growing church.  I was overwhelmed with almost everything...but faking it really well.  People looked up to me and I played out my role in the best ways possible.
As I came to say later, "I was running on batteries".
I was doing everything I needed to do, but without the awareness of Christ with me.  I wanted that more than success - I wanted that deeper awareness of walking with Christ.

I discovered the Monastics.

The Monastic life that Benedict laid out isn't glamorous.  It is extraordinarily normal.  But it drew me to its simplicity and caused me to think about the bigger issue of just why was I here to begin with.  I'll write a bit about that tomorrow, but it's an important question and one we can't escape if we call ourselves Christians.

What is it that our Christianity is suppose to do for us?
Think about it.
We exercise to stay healthy, grow stronger.
We eat good foods, take vitamins in hopes of being healthy.
We study, read in order to grow intellectually.
Think about it, we love because we are loved in loving.

So, what does being a Christian suppose to do for me?
I'll pick this up tomorrow, but look at this passage from Paul to the Ephesians, in the "Message".

Ephesians 1:3-13 (MSG)
3  How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him.
4  Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.
5  Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!)
6  He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
7  Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!
8  He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need,
9  letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ,
10  a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
11  It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living,
12  part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13  It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Grace at the Brook Besor

Grace is all over the place.  While we're tempted to lose sight of it, grace keeps appearing in the unlikeliest places.  Take this story from the life of David:

1 Samuel 30:1-3 (ESV)
1  Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire
2  and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way.
3  And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive.

The setting is that David is leading a band of brothers, but not King.  He's been on the run from King Saul for almost 15+ years.  The prophet Samuel had told him he would be King one day, but at this point he's a man leading a renegade group of followers.  He's living in Philistine country, a long way from home, when this band of Amelikites had struck their camp and took their wives and children captive. They were four days away when they returned to their camp to discover what had happened.  David rallies his men and they take action.

1 Samuel 30:9-10 (ESV)
9  So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those who were left behind stayed. 

10  But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.

After four days, 200 of David's men were too exhausted to carry on, so they stayed behind - at this Brook called Besor - and the others continued on.  Exhausted, tired, broken...these two hundred just could not go on. Sometimes people just get tired.  They have faith, they love God, they care about others; but they just don't have anything more to give at the moment, and that was these two hundred.
To make a long story short, David found the camp where the women and children had been taken to and they routed the Amalekites and took everything that had been taken...the women, children, cattle, and the rest of the spoils...back to the 200 left behind - at the Brook Besor.

1 Samuel 30:21-25 (ESV)
21  Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them.
22  Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.” 

David has division within his ranks.  The four hundred who had gone with him did not want to share with the two hundred who had stayed behind.
They didn't go, they don't get...
And then there is this BUT...

23  But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us.
24  Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.”
25  And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day. 

It's a remarkable thing David does.  He puts the victory not in the hands of their skill, or their valor and courage, or even in their stamina - because these four hundred had gone on when the other two hundred, too exhausted - had stayed behind.  David recognizes that the victory had come from the Lord.
He makes Grace the rule..."they shall share alike".

That's Grace....not based on performance...not on works...not on skill...nor on popularity or power.
Grace operates in our weakness as well as our strength.
Grace meets us in our tiredness and brokenness because that's what Grace is - the riches of God given freely to us to meet our needs.

Walk through this day and look for it...Grace just find you at your own Brook Besor.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Grace Lists

Romans 1:1 (ESV)
1  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus...
3  ...his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh
4  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
5  through whom we have received grace...

We all need grace.
We all live by grace.
We all know the word Grace.
The credit card company gives us a grace period.
The wayward politician falls from grace.
Musicians speak of a grace note.
We describe a person as gracious, and an artist as graceful.
We leave money for the waitress and call it gratis.

God invented the word, and the idea...and we receive it through Jesus Christ.

Ask anyone in church, "do you believe in grace?" and they probably will answer "yes".

The question isn't do we believe the word, or the idea; but do we believe God's grace has come to change transform us.

I've been studying Romans and it's a book infused with the word grace.  Grace is God's plan for dealing wtih the Fall. 
Romans 3:23-24 (ESV) 
23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 

Grace is the entry point - the doorway - and the pathway that follows.
It's like walking in the darkness, stumbling on the path through a darkened woods, and all of a sudden a doorway stands in front of us and it says  "Grace - enter into God's Kingdom and forever be changed".  

We open the door to stand in front of Jesus and it all becomes clear - it's a grace filled pathway that is front of us, and Jesus invites us to walk along.  As we walk, there are signs all over the after another reminding us we're in a different place - it's the Kingdom of God Grace Lists:
Romans 12:9-21 (ESV)
9  Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
10  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
11  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
12  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
13  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
15  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
16  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
17  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
18  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
20  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Grace filled living is much different and it makes us much more aware of just how different the Kingdom is than the world we've left behind.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Traveller's Grace

"I do not understand the mystery of Grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us."

The apostle Paul said, "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."

I just returned from ten days away.  Most of us would covet ten days away from the normal hectic life, and I certainly was - but it didn't turn out to be free of the hectic.  My wife had started the trip with a nasty cough, but it turned into a bronchitis and stay there during the entire ten days...even to now three days after returning home.  I was good for the first 6 days, but then a mysterious "bug" hit and I found myself huddled in bed early in the evening fighting off chills with four layers of clothes, followed by a 1300 mile car ride that was spread over two days, with frequent stops for diarrhea!  Uugh.
You know the words:  "We'll never forget that trip."
The problem is,  we'd like to.
The reality is, we've all had these kind of experiences.

You know what I mean, when the greatest of your hopes turns into mush and the reality is that it just wasn't what you thought it would be.
I'm describing lots of things in our lives now, and I'll limit this to the main issue....

What do we do when life hands us the "I didn't expect this"?

We have a young couple in our church, with the cutest little seven month old you can stand.  Only problem is they discovered she has a failing liver and even though she's only seven months old, she'll need a liver transplant by the time she's two and then live on anti-rejection medicine for most, if not all, of the rest of her life... Uugh!

Now, when you compare a 1300 mile car trip with multiple bathroom breaks with your child needing a liver transplant, it all comes into perspective.
The nuisance and annoyances, even downright uncomfortable things, don't belong with the "O God, you got to help us" day by day things.'s a good thing to gain.
Like when you're hauling the vacuum cleaner up the stairs, or carrying the fourth load of laundry down the stairs...there's part of you that naturally thinks, "when will this all end", and the other part that whispers, "thank you Lord I can carry, walk, and work, because my friend is in a hospital bed fighting cancer and just trying to remain alive."

Which gets us back to the text:  "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."
Every day this needs to occur.
Every day I need a fresh dose of the Spirit of God infusing God's grace within.
Every day I need to grow in that grace, Paul said that also.

Grace's present tense, and it's at work if we allow it to permeate us with that "God-given" perspective that is so often needed when things aren't going as expected.
Remember this:

That same work God did
    through Christ
       long ago
           on a cross
               is the work God does
                   through Christ
                       right now
                           in you.

Let's be people of that grace - and travel with it on the journey every day God has you on.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Hands Full of Parcels

"A Man whose hands are full of parcels can't receive a gift."   - C. S. Lewis

Romans 4:13-16 (ESV)
13  For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
14  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
15  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16  That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all...

The last four days have been best described by the word "fatigue".  It's not an uncommon word in our vocabulary.  Listless, tired, sore.  1300 miles of car travel, being sick, not sleeping well, and eating poorly all add up to the word - fatigue.  
Someone once said we are a tired generation.  A tired society.  We run a lot, multi-task, and dream of time, peace, and an un-harried life.

Interestingly God built into the life of His Nation - Israel - a Sabbath...and a year with 7 week long celebrations where they did not work...and a Sabbath year every seven years where they did not work their fields...and a Jubilee year every 50 years where they re-set all of life, returning it all to it's original ongoing debts, just the realization that everything is from God and therefore we are stewards of His creation - people of His grace.

There you's the antidote to a busy life that is full of constant fatigue.
Grace is the substance that makes the difference from a life trying to do all the right things, and knowing that we screw up and fail more often than we want to.
Grace is the answer to "if I can't do good all the time, does it mean my faith is not real?"

Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)
8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 

In 2010 the world hung on the news of 33 trapped miners in Chile (remember?).  Trapped some 2000 feet below the surface, they made a decision - "we will ration what we have, wait, and pray".  They could do nothing from below...everything depended on those up top.  The Chilean rescue team worked around the clock for two months.  No one knew what they would be the end result...but they all acted in trusting the outcome to God.  The day came and the capsule was let down into the tunnel, and when it arrived on the surface they began to emerge with high fives and shouts of joy...families hugged and spouses kissed.

All had different stories but all had made the same decision - they trusted that someone would save them.  No one said, just give me a drill, I'll get out myself.  They knew that someone else would have to penetrate their trapped lives and pull them out.  When the rescue capsule came to them, they climbed in.

That's Grace!

Jesus is our capsule, climb on board!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

God wrote in the Dust

John 8:2-8 (NLT) 
2  ... early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.
3  As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4  “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
5  The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6  They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.
7  They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
8  Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. 

It was hard to think the woman caught in the act of adultery had much in her defense.  Guilty!  It's an easy one - she gets what she deserves!  The law says stone her, and so it shall be.
Why did they bring her to Jesus?  Obviously, they want him to agree, and lose his popularity with the common people, or side with their interpretation of the law.

But Jesus stoops....he bends over and writes with his finger in the dust.  What he writes we don't know.
What we do know is that he stoops and writes in the dust.

He leaned over and got lower than everyone else, except the woman, who now was bent low to the ground.
The accusers looked down at her....
and now they looked down at Jesus.

Jesus stooped to wash feet.
Jesus stooped to pick up a child.
Jesus stooped to pray in the garden.
Jesus stooped when the Romans whipped his body.

God stoops...and God stooped.

God stooped the first time to pick up a handful of dust and create Adam, the first man, and from the man, a rib to create Eve, the first woman, and then declared, "This is good".

What was Jesus doing?  Was he re-creating creation?  Reminding everyone that we are but dust?
What was he writing?  We don't know...but one time he caused the Psalmist to write this...

Psalm 103:8-14 (ESV)
8  The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9  He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
10  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12  as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14  For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

He writes His Grace into the dust - into Us.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

We should care there's a New Pope

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV)

Yesterday the world was introduced to the newest leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis I.  As a Christian, and a pastor of a non-Catholic church, I find I'm still very interested, and prayerfully so, for the beginning of this new Pope's leadership role.  I've worked with Catholics in a number of settings - most notably in the marriage organization Retrouvaille.  I know that some of my colleagues raised their eyebrows about why I would work alongside of Catholics, and as well, some of the folks in the church I was a part of leading.  But I found that the commonality of purpose and the shared vision of rescuing marriages was a big factor in forging a unity of the Spirit that Paul calls us to.

The question among many evangelicals this morning then,  is "should we care"?  And the answer - in my humble opinion - is a resounding YES.

Although there are definite doctrinal differences between Catholics and Evangelicals, there are many things in which they are agreed.  In fact, the real issues of culture, ethical values, and issues of life/death are places where we need each other a lot.  Catholic scholars and theologians have argued that the Gospel of Jesus and the truth of scripture is a crucial force that is often ignored in secular education and government, and therefore in home and family life - much to the detriment of our society as a whole.  The cultural divide created by secular humanism cannot be fought by the Evangelical church alone, and conservative Catholics, like the Pope, offer a clear and loud voice in social and political circles.

Now, the question is, why did this first American's Pope, a first Jesuit also, choose the name Francis I?  The Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, took the name of Pope Francis, after Francis of Assisi, a 13th century Catholic monastic, and the founder of the Franciscans.  The choice of Francis could provide an indication of where the new pope considers a priority.Cardinals choose papal names to acknowledge they’ve accepted a task from God.
According to one Catholic theologian, “In the Bible, when you get a new job from God, you pick a new name or you’re given a new name.  They feel they’ve been chosen to do this very weighty job and they need a name that will sort of help them and inspire them. … It’s also a signal to the rest of the church and the world.”

A little background on Francis of Assisi would be helpful.

Francis was born in the late 12th century (1182) and grew up in a well-to-do family.  In fact, he was every bit a secular young man who saw his fame in the military and his wealth.  Captured in a battle he spent a year in prison, but after he was free, he experienced a conversion to Jesus and began to renounce all of his worldly wealth to serve Christ.

On the feast of St. Matthias, February 24, 1208, he listened to a teaching on the account of the mission of Christ to the Apostles from Matthew (10:7, 9–11): “And as you go, preach the message, ‘The kingdom is at hand!’…Take no gold, nor silver, nor money in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or villa you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart.”
This was the decisive moment for Francis, who declared, “This is what I wish; this is what I am seeking. This is what I want to do from the bottom of my heart.” He then removed his shoes, discarded his staff, put on a rough tunic, and began to preach repentance and faith in Christ.

He became a leader of the movement of evangelical poverty in the early 13th century. His evangelical zeal, consecration to poverty, charity, and personal charisma drew thousands of followers. Francis’s devotion to Jesus and his desire to follow Jesus’ example became the basis for the Franciscan's simple brown sack garments. The Poverello (“Poor Little Man”) is one of the most venerated religious figures in Roman Catholic history.

So this Pope Francis I deserves our prayers, our hopes that he will be a clear and loud voice for the Gospel of the Kingdom, and that his own church of 1.2 billion Catholics will awaken from their own secular slumber - especially in American - to become committed followers of Jesus.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Big Picture

Reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians is an exercise in understanding the Big Picture behind our life in Christ.  Beginning in chapter 1 Paul reminds us of all that God has done in bringing us to him.We have been chosen in Christ, loved from eternity, forgiven through grace, and are heirs of Christ's Kingdom, destined for eternity with Christ.Then in chapter 2 we are reminded of the love that lifted us up from a "dead" state - i.e., we were incapable of doing anything to lift ourselves out of our dead state.  And in doing this, we have been placed into the body of Christ, and along with believers from every tribe, tongue and nation, we are being reconciled to live out our life in Christ.  All of this should amaze us, and cause us to turn in praise and worship to God.In the last half, chapters 4-6, Paul gets to the core of the "what now? that we have been brought to this place of deliverance in Christ, what now?"Here's the nuts and bolts section...the blue collar part.  IF it's all true, what now?  Can we simply live as the world does...looking out for number 1, ourselves?  I hope not.Should we actually ask the question, "What now, Lord?"  I hope so.
Paul in chapter 4 put it like this:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Here is the Big Picture.  The life we have in Christ is:vs. 13 - 16  Lead us to grow, mature, to become more and more like Jesus....knowing truth, living in love, growing in maturity.vs  17-23  Knowing we are called to a greater purpose than the world around us.  YES, we know that the life of Christ's people is much different than the life of the world that is darkened in understanding and alienated from God, and living for a selfish narcissism.  We are called to "put off" self, and all that goes with it, and then "put on" Christ through his Spirit and live for something that is quite different - holy if you will...set apart for Christ's purpose.
This is the big picture I so longingly keep striving in Christ for.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What Happened at the Cross

Reading from the Early Church Fathers is not alway easy, but it is rewarding.  In them we get a sense of how the faith both developed and grew.  They did not rely on campaigns, programs, or buildings to create "church".  For them, the faith they defended and proclaimed was only recently handed down to them from the Apostles, and they felt the duty to declare it and defend it.  This is the stuff of our heritage...our great, great, great, great...fathers of the church.

I know that as I read them I get a sense of how I fit into the overall church.  I am a person who has a place...not insignificant, but also not alone.  I am part of a long line of those who have declared and defended the faith, with only the Scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit to be the source that links me to the past fathers.  It's good that we realize we are continuing something that has such a long legacy connected to it.  Here's another person worth reading.

John of Damascus was born in 676. He was brought up in Damascus, Syria in a Christian family living under Muslim rule. His father was a government official under both the Byzantine emperor and the Muslim rulers of Damascus. John received a classical education. He was a brilliant young man studying law, theology, philosophy, and music. He was fluent in Arabic as well as Greek. He worked in the Muslim court until the hostility of the caliph toward Christianity caused him to resign his position, about the year 700. 
He moved to the vicinity of Jerusalem and became a monk at Mar Saba Monastery located in the Judaean desert hills near Bethlehem, 18 miles southeast of Jerusalem. He taught in the monastery, preached many sermons in Jerusalem, and wrote both theological treatises and hymns.
Since he lived in the midst of political and theological turmoil, John wrote a great deal to clarify true doctrine and to do his part in spreading the gospel.  Among his writings is this profound prose:

What Happened on the Cross?

By the cross all these things have been set aright...

By nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has death been brought low:
The sin of our first parent destroyed, 
hell plundered, 
resurrection bestowed,  
the power given us to despise the things of this world,  
even death itself,  
the road back to the former blessedness made smooth,  
the gates of paradise opened,  
our nature seated at the right hand of God,  
and we made children and heirs of God.

Good stuff to meditate on.


Monday, March 11, 2013

The Death of Death

Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV) 
14  Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 
15  and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 
16  For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 
17  Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 
18  For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The writer of Hebrews speaks to something many of us both wonder and fear - death.  Jesus became human - the incarnation is that God was among us in Jesus.  Among the things Jesus did for us in going to the cross is destroy the power of death - taking it from Satan who holds over our heads as a weapon, threatening us over and over with fear.  Yet Jesus takes away that fear - he who died has been raised from the dead, and so shall we.

Aurelius Augustine was born in 345 in Roman North Africa, in what is today Algeria. His mother was a very devout Christian who had a significant influence on her son’s life. His father was a pagan of significant status in society.

At the age of 19, after reading Cicero, Augustine fell in love with philosophy.  He pursued philosophy and the theology of the Manichaens, a Christian heretical sect, but he became disillusioned and restless for truth. He moved to Italy, and shortly before his 30th birthday, he encountered Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Augustine was moved by Ambrose’s example and his inspired teaching and preaching of the gospel. At the age of 32 he gave his heart to Christ Jesus and was baptized by Ambrose during the Easter liturgy in 387.
Soon after he knew God was calling him to return home.  Augustine returned to North Africa and formed a monastic community with a group of friends. He reluctantly became a bishop.  He was a prolific writer and thinker. His numerous writings number into the hundreds. His autobiography, the Confessions, was considered the first Western autobiography. It was highly read among his contemporaries and has continued as a classic throughout the ages.

He is still considered to be one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity. Many of the Reformation fathers consider him to be a father of Reformation teaching.

The Death of Death   by Augustine
He died, but he vanquished death; in himself he put an end to what we feared; he took it upon himself and he vanquished it, as a mighty hunter he captured and slew the lion. 
Where is death? Seek it in Christ, for it exists no longer; but it did exist and now it is dead. O life, O death of death! Be of good heart; it will die in us, also. What has taken place in our head will take place in his members; death will die in us also. But when? At the end of the world, at the resurrection of the dead in which we believe and concerning which we do not doubt.
[Sermon 233.3-4]