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Friday, October 21, 2016

I'm Ok, You Aren't

The Gospel of Luke, 18:9-14, provides a wonderful parable illustration from Jesus concerning those (peitho - to persuade, to argue a point, to convince, to believe) who are convinced that they are in right relationship with God and view others with disdain.

To be "righteous" (for a Bible Believing Jew) is to be in proper relationship with God. It does not mean those who think they have earned salvation or those who think they are perfect. Righteousness has to do with our standing with God. The twin components (faith and fidelity, trust and loyalty) are always in play. To be saved by faith meant to trust God, to entrust oneself to God and to be trustworthy (obedient to Torah). Jesus (and Paul) teaches the same thing (though now relationship to Jesus factors into how one trusts God and how one is loyal/obedient). While we might be tempted today to see this parable as a harsh judgment on "self-righteous people" (or works righteousness) I think we ignore the second descriptor (viewing others as naught) at our own risk. The Lord identifies both as the problem. Those who believe they are saved while negating the salvation of others are invited to listen. Notice the actual wording the first man uses.

So what is Jesus' point? He illustrates it rather clearly. Two guys go to pray. One says, "Thanks God that I am not like the rest of humanity. I fast and tithe." Who is this guy? Sadly, he is identified as a Pharisee, so many of us see it as a problem for others. While Jesus may well have identified the man as a Pharisee, He is not saying this is what all Pharisees are like, and more importantly, He is not saying only Pharisees are like this! The point is the attitude. Thank you that I am not like "them" is not limited to Pharisees. Too often Christians embrace this mindset as they pray (I'm not a Muslim, a Hindu, and I have even heard a Catholic!). The man is an example of us all.

Right relationship with God is described by Jesus as Love. Love God with all you are and love your neighbor as yourself He famously said, and you will have eternal life. How does that translate into flesh and blood? Well, true love is a complex thing, but clearly it does not include thanking God that you are not like all the dregs of the world. Clearly, Jesus never did that (HE said He came to save the sick and lost, not talk bad about them). Love means seeking the best for others, loving them without limits---forgiving, healing and rescuing them from the demonic, the world and from themselves. The Pharisee's problem was he was so jazzed up about being "the elect" that he stopped seeing the humanity of others---calling them thieves, rogues, adulterers. It is easy to dehumanize others, to look down upon them and hold them as naught. It is especially easy to do this about alien religions. And while I believe there is no salvation outside of Jesus, I do not know that I can agree with how that is translated by any number of other Jesus Believers. I think we may not be Pharisees, but we all have moments where we pray like the one in the parable.

The second man, a tax collector, just stood there repenting. Over and over crying for mercy. Jesus said that this second man went home in right relationship (justified) with God. Once again, the point is that when we come before God we must know our place. We are the recipients of grace, the free gift of God's favor, mercy and love. We do not earn it by our actions, and we certainly don't deserve it because we answered a salvation quiz correctly! It is because God is gracious and kind and we don't need to ever forget that. Our sin awareness keeps us in a right frame of mind in approaching God.

I am blessed with a high capacity for guilt so praying "Lord have mercy on me a sinner" comes easily. Even so, I also know that I have my own tendencies toward marginalizing others. I have my own list of folks whom I thank God I am not like. As I get older, that list has gotten smaller, but today I pause to reflect on the fact that there is anyone on the list at all. Yet another reason to say "Lord be merciful to me, a sinner."

Thank you God for your mercy and loving kindness. That is the proper focus: God. Not on me and my comparative superior place in the human race, but on the Creator who loves us all, even the ones who are headed in the wrong direction.

Jesus warns us, your attitude toward others impacts your relationship with God. Pray accordingly!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

10 Lepers

Lepers were identified as unclean and became outcasts. The pain of social isolation was far worse than the skin malady. You can read Leviticus 13-14 to understand the background. ( for more information see--- )

Lepers had to shout "unclean!" and stand at a distance from others. Human touch and intimacy was severely limited, if possible at all. Some contemporary folks are tempted to say this is stupid, not realizing that if we no longer cast out lepers, we still have lots of marginalized people in society. Lepers are still among us, just in a different form...

"Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" Their cry is called 'the Jesus Prayer' in the Orthodox tradition. It is at the heart of Christian spirituality since the early church. It is a perfect prayer. It identifies Jesus as Master and recognizes His authority. It is a declaration of faith in His Person and His name, which means YHWH saves/YHWH heals.The cry for mercy also has a deeper meaning. The Greek word, eleos means mercy, pity or kindness, but in the Septuagint (Greek Jewish Bible) it translates the Hebrew word chesed/hesed--which is the fundamental descriptor of God's covenant attitude toward His people. No single word can summarize hesed which means God is ever "faithful, loving, gracious, kind, righteous, just and merciful". To ask Jesus for "eleos-mercy" is both to remember the covenant promises of God and to declare His never ending fidelity.

Last week I said that we do not love God enough. It is true. But the Good News is He loves us enough. He loves us and He is faithful and we can cry out to Him for mercy in all its manifestations--forgiveness, healing, help, re-creation, renewal, etc. Most importantly, His hesed-mercy is the offer of  relationship. So I invite you to spend five minutes each day quietly praying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Pray it in love. Pray it in confidence. Pray it every day.

There is also a model for ministry here. We are the Body of Christ. Our face is an icon of Jesus. Healing salvation addresses the many dimensions of human being, but first and foremost focus on encounter with the Holy Three God. That is why response matters.

The response in the story was ten percent (a tithe!), only one of the ten who were healed returned to praise God. The word "return" has a deeper meaning. In Hebrew, to "turn around" is the metaphor for repentance. Repentance is a return to God (like the prodigal son). Healing of the body or soul is a sign of God's faithful mercy love and an invitation to repent. Healing mercy is just the beginning, and walking away from God is simply embracing healing in the short term. Eventually we all die so all healing is temporary. The real goal of healing is salvation, an eternal relationship with the Holy Three God and all humanity. The proper response to healing of any kind, is praise and thanks. It is relational and expresses our love. "Glory to God in the highest!" is another ancient prayer worthy of daily recitation.
The leper is an outcast. We are all lepers to someone.
Human alienation needs redemption and Jesus offers it.
So cry to Jesus for mercy and open your heart to receive redemption.
Hear the cries of others and bring  Jesus' healing and redemption to others.
But remember that redeemed humans need to thank and glorify God. That is why we do eucharist--our worship is literally thanksgiving and praise.

Jesus has shown us mercy loving kindness
Jesus has used us to bring mercy loving kindness to others
Let us love the Holy Three and love one another.
Let us praise and thank God our Father for His loving mercy kindness!
Let us live eucharist!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Seed and Ground

Today we read Luke 8:4-15. It is a parable about a sower tossing seed (in that way they did in the ancient Near East, just throwing it everywhere) and then explaining what happened to the seed as it fell in different places. The parable, a real life comparison, makes clear that much of the seed ends up in places where it can not thrive--a beaten path, shallow ground or among weeds--but some will land in good earth and grow, producing grain for future crops and meals.

I was struck by the gentle wording at the end. Luke is softer and kinder than Mark, and even Matthew. [Where Mark's Jesus says "you have no faith," Matthew's says "you have little faith" and Luke simply has Jesus ask, "where is your faith?" (e.g., Lk 8:25 and parallels)] So, Luke's editorial angle is enlightening here as well. The "good soil which produces" is offered as a metaphor of the productive disciple. All three Synoptic Gospels have this story. Mark 4:13-20 ends with Jesus saying "the ones who hear the word and receive/accept (paradechomai) it" while Matthew 13:18-23 shifts it to "the one who hears the word and understands it" (syniemi-literally to send together, i.e., to put it together). Matthew's focus on teaching and hearing the word makes sense of his emphasis on understanding. Luke, however, uses a more personal image.

Those [seeds] that were sown upon the good soil (kalos=beautiful, pleasing, good) are the one who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest (note, however, that the Greek word is again kalos) and good (agathos=good, upright, honorable) heart.

One tension in Christianity is the tendency to express grace by emphasizing sin so that the human being is described only as fallen, bad, evil, unworthy, etc. "There is nothing good in me and my sinful flesh." Of course, we all have sinned and we all have good reason not to rely on our own righteousness before God. Yet, within the constraints of our humanity, the Bible often speaks of good and righteous people. We are not perfect, but we can be decent people. This is a reminder that there is something good in me and about me, even in my sinful flesh. If we do not deserve God's grace and kindness, we can take joy that He finds something lovable and attractive about us. Not perfect! But desired by God none the less.

The language of the text is a reminder that our hearts are the "earth" (the Greek word ge --where we get our word geography --means, as in English, both the world and soil). To complain that others "treated me like dirt" is ironic and paradoxical. The Bible says we are formed of the earth ('adamas) and shall return to dirt. Jesus says, in parable, the Word of God, like seed, is sown throughout the 'earth/world' and each of us is the 'earth/soil' where it lands. Our "good/honest, good/beautiful" hearts are good soil and if we "stand up under" (persevere) clinging to the Word, we will produce great fruit. Great fruit is what happens when God's Word enters an open heart. Great fruit is what happens when a person refuses to quit (even if it gets bad) and stands firm in love and faith and continues to hold onto the Word.

You and me, we are dirt. We are soil. The Lord's Word has been planted in us. Let us pray and commit to be good dirt.

I write today because this morning we also prayed a canticle from Isaiah which is so beautiful and powerful that I just wished I could share it with a larger group. Perhaps God wanted me to post this? Note the Word/Seed image of Jesus' parable comes from the Jewish Bible (Canticle 10 in the Book of Common Prayer Morning Office is Isaiah 55: 6-11)

"...for as rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, so is my Word which goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; but it will accomplish that which I have purposed , and prosper in that for which I sent it."

 There is great power and consolation in those two words, spoken with such firmness: It WILL... I have every reason to trust God. The Word is sent, the seed is dispersed. There are all number of reasons why inside the church there is not fruit. Satan snatches it away, shallow people unwilling to go deeper with the Lord, folks worried and concerned with daily life---yes, church people are often times no better, even worse, than some outside. But, there is also no doubt that there are good hearts and steadfast folks and God's Word is productive there. I pray you and I are such good soil. I pray this meditation on the Word will produce greater production. The Word will not return empty. It will accomplish what God intends. We just have to be open and steadfast.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Increase our faith! Faithful Servants...

Luke 17:5-10

Jesus said, "When you have done all you were ordered to do, say, "We are worthless servants; we have only done what we ought to have done."

What ought we do?
Jesus said repent, believe, follow Me, love everyone, help the poor---this is discipleship. Worship is a universal human duty. We do not need to know Jesus to know that we should be good or worship God. Christianity has a revelation about that God, known by human reason, and it conveys the Truth. In Jesus we have a relationship with God, because Jesus is God incarnate.  Jesus is our Lord and Master. We are honored to serve in His household. It is a gift and blessing to be His slave (the honor of servitude in the Greatest House!). Our mission is to carry Jesus into the world.  (Luke 9:1-2) "Jesus gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal."

Humans are no less broken and in need of the Father's love in Jesus today than they were 2,000 years ago. We all still need rescue. Jesus rescues us, but He wants more for us and from us. He sent His Holy Spirit to make us His Presence in the world. The poor and lonely, sick and suffering, broken and demon oppressed need Jesus as much today as they did in ancient Judah. Jesus sends us, His "worthless servants" to carry salvation today.

When I say "I am a worthless servant" I am saying "it isn't about me, its about Jesus." "I am just doing what I am supposed to do" means I am just doing what I am supposed to do, nothing special. It is called duty, a word which has lost its power in our generation. (In our day, following one's heart and seeking one's desires is held up as the highest value.) However, if we are worthless servants, our service is of great worth; for it is the work of God's saving and redeeming love. We are not worthy to carry such a treasure, but the Holy Spirit sanctifies us for our task. It is a blessing to carry Jesus wherever we go!

But I know it is a struggle... We doubt God could choose us. We doubt Jesus could entrust us. We doubt ourselves, not believing the power to proclaim, teach, heal or exorcise is in us. We feel we need more faith. Apparently, the apostles thought the same thing. "Increase our faith!" they asked Jesus. His response is surprising.

Basically the Lord says, "you don't need lots of faith,if you have a speck of it that is enough for miracles." It isn't about us and our faith, it is about God the Father. He has the power, we just need to trust Him and get on with it. Faith, it seems, is like pregnancy--you either have it or you don't. Just look at God, listen to God and trust!

I personally think the problem isn't faith, it is love. We do not open our hearts to the Holy Three and the love of God is not allowed to have its way with us. We do not love the Lord enough. God is not at the center of our life, sometimes He is barely at the periphery. We don't pray much. We don't read Scripture much. We don't care about our Lord most of the day. We are busy with many things. Cut off from God, our hearts are not a burning flame of love. So we cannot long to see broken people made whole either. We do not burn with fire for the ministry. It's not a problem of faith, it's a cold heart.

We are servants, sent by Jesus to preach, teach, heal, exorcise, forgive---but all of it is really one thing: Relationship with God. Calling people out of the Dark Kingdom into God's Light. Trusting the Father and believing He loves us. Loving the Father and desiring a real relationship.

Believing in God's love is a mustard seed.
Believing in God's love for others is a mustard seed.
Believing God gives us power and authority is a mustard seed.
Belief is a mustard see.
But the mystery of the mustard seed is the little seed grows into a huge bush.
Belief is a mustard seed, when we act in faith amazing things will happen.
Stop worrying about how much faith you have.
A little bit is all God needs to do amazing things!

Jesus makes clear. Faith is not the problem, love and obedience is. If you love deeply and do what Jesus sent you to do, then a speck of faith is all it takes. The power to forgive and heal, to snatch folks from Satan's grasp and bring them to Jesus is in you. If you open your heart in love then you will find you already have all the faith that you need.

Lazarus and the rich man

Luke 16:19-31 The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
(from last week, computer was down and couldn't post it)

This Sunday I will meet with our youngest members at Children's Church and read this Gospel to them. It is a wonderfully straightforward tale and doesn't require a great deal of skill to understand. There are two guys, one rich, the other poor. The rich one is very rich, the poor one is destitute. The poor man's desire "for the scraps off the table" implies that there is thoughtless waste. It is an arrogant disregard for the needs of others on display here.

What is Jesus' point? What is Luke trying to communicate to us? Jesus seems to operate from a starting principle that God the Father is unreasonably gracious and kind to us. The Father is the ultimate source of every blessing-physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Jesus expressed His desire for His followers to "give to others as you have received." The model for human actions is God; godliness is our call. Jesus said that this was the revelation of Scripture (the Jewish Bible). Love God and love your neighbor are active verbs, it means seeking the best for the other. That is expressed as worship and obedience to God and helping others. Taking note of the humanity of another, especially one in such wretched conditions, was a possibility for the rich man. He chose, instead, to ignore the situation.

We all, rich or poor, will die. This human existence continues and the parable ends with both men on the other side. There we see a reversal of fortunes. Is it solely because he overlooked the poor man that he is in the Hellish conditions? Doubtful, one can assume that the rich man had a heart set on other things than God. However, the explanation, "you had it good then and he had it bad, now he has it good and you have it bad" does carry a frightful implication for any of us living the good life. Is it the case that most Americans (even many of our poor are rich by historic world standards) are headed for an eternal roasting? I do not think that is the point of the parable. It is important to remember that the story functions as story, not as a didactic, step-by-step explanation of damnation. I do think, though, it is meant to shake us into an awareness about the needs of others and the eternal significance of our choices.

If we are saved by faith, then certainly Jesus means that such faith includes the loving service to others. We do not help the poor because it gets us into heaven. We feed the poor because that is what God does with all of us. Heaven will have no place for anyone who ignores the needs of others. Jesus' disciples need to hear the words of Jesus and live them. We need to have an eye open for the hungry at our own doorstep. It is what Jesus would have us do.

In conclusion, though, I share something about the parable which takes us deeper. It is present in the title of the blog today. Did you catch it? Lazarus. It is a name. It is the only person Jesus gives a name in any parable. I remember thirty years ago when we studied the Gospel of John that the professor mentioned that there were common elements in John and Luke, though they were not parallels like the Synoptics. It raises the question of the relationship of the two Gospels. One of those is the the names Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

In John 11 (and 12) there are two sisters (its "their" village!) who have a sick brother. He dies, and Jesus raises him a few days later. In John's Gospel this triggers a decision to kill Jesus and Lazarus. The man being raised from the dead does not elicit faith but the opposite. The 'punchline' of the parable is interesting "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."  I have always thought this was Jesus referring to Himself, but I wonder now if it isn't more likely it is Lazarus. In Luke the two sisters are featured in a brief story. Martha complains Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet while she is busy with all the tasks. Jesus declares Martha is distracted and Mary chose best and will not be denied. Lazarus, the brother, does not appear.

What does it all mean? It is fascinating to speculate but in the end, we do not know. However, it is probable that there is a relationship of sorts. Prayer and study take us so far, at some point we let the Word of God have its way with us in secret places....

Thursday, September 22, 2016


We are studying Exodus and were in chapter nine today. The word "tomorrow" came up in verse 5 which triggered a memory for a participant from the previous chapter. (When Pharaoh begs for deliverance from all the frogs and Moses asks "when?" and he says "tomorrow.") The question was who set times in Exodus: God or Pharaoh?

As we looked we saw God uttered "tomorrow" each other time. As I counted the verses there were seven in all. Seven! 8:23, 29; 9:5, 18 and 10:4 all refer to God's plan to act tomorrow. There are five total. However, it is the next two which make things interesting.

Exodus 13:14 "And when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
The sixth reference is to the Passover. The sixth day, Friday, is the day man is created. It is also the crucifixion day. (This is part of the deeper meaning of 666, it is the number of man.) The Passover is the culmination of the new creation of Israel in the Exodus, it is when God creates the new man--Israel--His son. Passover, according to Jesus, is an icon of His own crucifixion and the covenant in His blood. The death of the Son of Man on Good Friday is the culmination of the new creation in Jesus. Day six and new creation are a deeper meaning of the text.

The seventh use of tomorrow in in 16:23 "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath unto the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay by to be kept till the morning.'" Sabbath is the seventh day. It ends the week of creation. It is a time to refrain from the busyness and business of life and be present to the deeper meaning of reality. This verse is found in the chapter on the Bread of Heaven, where God rains down manna upon the people. Manna, of course, is connected to eucharist (see John 6, "I am the Bread of Life"). The Passover meal (in the Synoptics) is where Jesus says His flesh is bread, His blood is wine. With the seventh appearance of the word we come to closure on the new creation. The chapters "Bread from Heaven" (ch16) and "Water from the Rock" (ch17) immediately follow the Song of Moses, which celebrates the escape from Egypt, and form the triple grace of salvation: rescue from death by Egypt, hunger and thirst. The next appearance of 'tomorrow' is the beginning of the new day, the battle with Amalek, where Moses stands on the Mountain and as long as his hands are raised the Israelites win. Perhaps this is Day 8, the new week and the battles of living the faith?

So what? I think the deeper revelation is new creation. With 'seven tomorrows' culminating in Passover and Sabbath, I believe we hear whispers of the Christ events of our salvation. This is the Scripture which Jesus fulfills/fills up. These deeper verbal hints and pointers lead us to encounter the New Creation/Salvation in Jesus. It is why the ancient church said that the literal meaning of Scripture is not the most important, that a Divine Word has deeper meanings. 

It is why I never grow weary of studying to find the depth of artistry in revelation and the amazing confirmation of the faith in the word.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Romans Notes are posted

Or if you want to see for yourself
go to our website (
click Christian Formation
click Adult
Romans is going to come up

Friday, September 16, 2016

Romans Sunday School Notes

The class notes for Romans (Introduction and chapters 1&2) will be posted on the church website soon. This will provide a more manageable document for use in personal study
thanks for your patience

Thursday, September 15, 2016

(Hebrew) words matter

The model of salvation I was raised with might be termed "the Great Escape." Basically, the purpose of life was to be good, and trust Jesus, and when you die you got to go to heaven. "Going to heaven" was the number one goal of life. Along the way one encountered a different emphasis from this or that faith tradition, some said "being good" was bad, faith alone, while others put an extra emphasis on "being good" and seemed to generate lots of angst. However, what was not in question, was salvation was a prize awaiting us after we died and went to heaven. Dying and going to heaven confused me some, because it seemed logical to wonder why we are trying to stay alive when heaven was better. What was the point of life if the goal was to escape?

The Bible teaches an invasion model of salvation. Jesus' parables, reflecting Israel's Bible, paint a picture of a conquering king who intervenes to rescue His loyal servants from the Enemy Ruler. Salvation/rescue is not taking people out of the world into heaven, but bringing Heaven into the world to govern in peace and abundance. In this model, being good is about citizenship and preparing for the Lord's return. It does not earn salvation, but it is a prerequisite for accepting it. Call it cooperation! God is "making all things new" and we are His servants in that process.

Therefore, in the scripture it is common to see God's acts of salvation as (new) creation. This is something that runs throughout Scripture. The kingdom is compared to birthing a baby, growing seeds, new day dawning and literally 'new creation.' The creation image is one of making (or remaking, like Jeremiah's potter) and God is the Master of 'starting over.'

Today in Bible study we were looking at the end of Exodus 8 and the sign of the flies. This plague narrative is more drawn out than some others and part of what I showed was the Hebrew words which were connected to the creation account in Genesis. There are so many themes (e...g. seven days, water, darkness) and so many words (adamah=soil//adam) that lead me to see the stories as interwoven. The ancient Hebrew exegete would take note of words in different parts of the Bible and bring those texts together. I find it fascinating. So as we looked at these connections, we came to the word desert. Today's star of the class (let's call her Jo) asked what the Hebrew was for desert and if it was connected to creation, so on a lark we looked it up. The Hebrew word is midbar and it means wilderness, desert, pasture. It has a literal sense of "driving", that is like driving cattle into the place of pasture. It also means mouth. Mouth?!?!

So we had some discussion about this and then we looked at the root. In Hebrew most words are formed from a three consonant root. The root develops into a family of words, many of which are not obviously related in English. The root 'DBR' is the verb dabar which means speak, say, promise, etc. So this makes sense of the mouth. A different Hebrew vowel creates the noun dabar which means word, thing, matter, acts. (Side note, how different is this from English, in Hebrew the same word can mean "word" and "thing," "word" and "act." Ponder that.)

So the word desert has the same root as speak, and be assured the Hebrew reader would notice that. Which brings us back to the question of creation. How did God create? He spoke. He created with a word. (and John 1 will expressly state that: in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God.... all things came to be through Him and apart from Him nothing came to be that came to be) So the desert (root:speak/word) will be the place where rag tag Hebrew slaves are shaped and formed into a new people. Creation as salvation!

But this reminded me of a lecture by a local rabbi, she said in the silence of the desert one hears the word/speech of God. This is a fundamental spiritual principle which is lost on a consumerist society. We have no "quiet" place to hear God. Noise and images bombard us everywhere. The desert waste is actually an image of the human soul, stripped bare (or reduced to the essentials). In our journey of faith we are invited to go to the place of emptiness, which is frightful. Our lives are to be "full" (I heard that on a commercial). We need more stuff, busier lives, eat, drink, party! A stunning number of my peers (who are crossing over into their 60's) are still embracing the life of our post high school years. They trumpet the message "I never grew up," but it does not communicate a childlike innocence as much as a childish embrace of distraction and entertainment.

The Hebrew words, the actual Bible, lay out a secret message to all who will hear. To leave slavery (Egypt) entails a long, scary road into the desert. It is a place where we go reluctantly (Mark says that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.... which as we saw above is the meaning of desert in Hebrew). It is fraught with danger (demons and wild animals, and it is inhospitable, too). It is empty. The quiet is deafening. We are left alone with ourselves in the desert. Yet in that quiet, that dark quiet, we are able to hear the word. God speaks. And His word is communication. It is also an act of creation, like in the beginning. He speaks us into a new way of life, into new persons inhabiting a new creation. That is salvation. That is God's plan for us all. The journey starts with the first step of faith.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Holy Cross

Jerusalem has been leveled twice. That means that there is all manner of dirt covering over the sacred places we read about in Holy Scripture. It makes it more difficult to locate sites as hills and valleys are reshaped by the debris of other times. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine, had his mother in charge of the excavation of the site of the crucifixion and burial. A huge basilica was built as well as a circular church over the tomb, where the daily office was prayed. The celebration of the Word took place in the basilica and then the congregation would go to the circular "Church of the Resurrection" for the liturgy of eucharist and communion. Between the two buildings was a walkway from which one could see the top of Calvary. On Good Friday the faithful venerated the cross and each day the congregation gathered there for the last prayers of the day.

The buildings were dedicated on September 14, 335 (the seventh month of the Roman calendar; so it corresponded to 2 Chronicles 7:8-10 and the dedication of Solomon's Temple). Today we commemorate those structures built to worship and praise Jesus Christ and His self gift on the cross.

Different times, different cultures, different understanding of the Christian life--that is the diverse reality of the world and the church. Some would be offended by the ancient church, others aspire to its piety. I wonder what it would be like to live in constant contact with the geography in which Jesus lived and died, and rose. What would it be like to have a congregation eager to gather many times a day to pray the office, to celebrate word and sacrament in the Eucharist, and to end each day together in prayer at the site of His self sacrifice? It is easy to romanticize a more communal faith, lived in simpler conditions. My guess is the majority of Christians have never had great success in carrying the cross and following Jesus; although I fear many have done much better than I.

Today the church is in disrepair. Unbelief is on the rise and the rejection of church/religion in the name of self determination is popular. Faith is too often an individual, private affair and worship communities are losing active members. The culture is secularizing rapidly. Sacred sites are suspect. Jesus' claims are troubling. Those who would pray and worship are even considered a danger by a growing number. The Christendom instituted by Constantine has always been a mixed success. Perhaps as it dies among us we are being purified into a more faithful, cross shaped discipleship. Society will take on the hard edges of pagandom and the values of Jews and Jesus will be less powerful in shaping societal behavior. But sin is sin and no age was sinless.

So today we remember the cross. We read that God loved the world so He sent Jesus, and Jesus, when He was lifted up (like those serpents in the desert of Israel's wandering) became the source of salvation. That is why God the Son became incarnate. He wants to save the world. All of it. That is why we love His cross, we love Him, and we follow, whether in the holy land of Israel, or in the land in which we live, made no less holy by the same Lord.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Turn Back

Luke 15:1-10

It is a hazard of trying to do the right thing. We struggle and it is not easy. We are tempted to quit, give up, just go with the flow of our own desires. We know what we should do, and we know what we want to do, and we battle with ourselves, fight against our selves, trying to stay the course. The spiritual attack known as acedia tempts us to give in; we feel a bit worn out, listless, not really caring about all this "spiritual stuff" and unsure the "invisible God" is really there, or really cares.
 [ see for more information-- ] Doing what we are supposed to do, motivated by trust and love, is a battle. It is so easy to give in, and we do give in, regularly. The 'giving in' is called sinning. At times, we question if the list of sins is accurate. After all, there are lots of cool citizens who tell us the morality code we embrace is outdated, even harmful, and our own longings certainly confirm that we would prefer another way...

The choice to believe, to love and to return to the right path is a daily struggle. The spiritual disciplines: active in a community, worship, reading Scripture, praying, fasting, disciplining the body and soul--by God's grace--draw us into obedient faith and loving compliance. We align our lives with our calling, set apart for God (sanctified, made holy) we live godly lives (imitate God and act holy), we "become what we are." The disciple is disciplined, the follower follows. Life is better for others and our own self. Actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes identity. We change.

Well, we change, but also we stay the same. There is still something wonderously amiss with our souls. Our mind, heart, desire and will remain twisted. Internally we are still a mixture of light and dark, even if our behaviors are better and even if we desire to serve our God. One of the ways that things get twisted is actually based on a very straightforward logical argument. It goes something like this:
1. Doing the right thing is hard.
2. Doing the right thing is required.
3. Therefore I should do the right thing even though it is hard.
(But here is where the demon makes its play)
4. If I need to do what is right then so should others.
5. If I must fight the battle then so should others.
6. If I cannot quit when doubts, frustration, hopelessness and other thoughts and feelings (and other people or spiritual entities) are pummeling me; then neither should another quit.
7. Therefore, people who are not doing the right thing are doing the wrong thing.
(and here is where we go off the tracks!)
8. People who do bad things are bad
9. Bad people drag us down and should not be our companions.
10. Judge them, shun them, cast them out!

It is really not a crazy idea that I should avoid being with people who are making my own struggles to be good and faithful even harder. It is not wrong to see sin is sin and see that others are sinners. It is, however, only part of the story.....

Luke 15:1-10 (paraphrased)
Some real lowlifes were attracted to Jesus. These were people who lived on the edge, not nice or trustworthy, some of them were helping the Roman oppressors tax the Jews into poverty. They were sell-outs. Others were morally reprehensible. They were engaged in decadent lives and mocked those who struggled hand-to-mouth, trying to be faithful in the face of all manner of challenges and problems. The guys who took their religious faith most seriously were shocked and offended to see Jesus with such a group. How could a holy man (they wondered if Jesus was really as holy as advertised) be interacting in that group? Don't we say that if you play in mud you get muddy, if you hang with unclean sinners, you pick up uncleanness?

Jesus did not back down. "How does real life work?" He asked. How do you go about your daily tasks? When something is lost, like a sheep or a gold coin, where is your attention? Are you focused on what you have, or what is missing? And once you realize it is missing, don't you hunt for it? And when you find it, aren't you happy? Even happier about the lost one you found than the others you never lost? of course, it is how human beings operate...

Well, when YHWH, Lord of Israel, my dad, created the world, He made it to be in perfect order and peace (shalom!). That was the goal. However, He wanted realtionships. He want to love and be love. So He handed the world over to humans, gave them freedom and told them to get on with it. Unfortunately, since the Eden event, things are not going so well. Sin begets sin. Darkness increases. Even the best of us is not good much of the time. So we are, like a wandering sheep, all lost. Some wander further than others, but none of us can claim we haven't strayed from time to time. And, Jesus said, that is the point. It is one thing to say 'be careful who you are friends with'. It is another thing to disdain and write off others because they wandered off . Remember, no one is totally clean. We all have to answer for something. So, don't think because you are better than others that you are somehow that different than others.

My Father (says Jesus) is God, but He, like you, looks for the lost things, that is why I am here! Be clear, He is always looking, He looked for you, and him, and her, for everyone. All of you were  lost, some of you were found. But being found means letting my Father in. See with His eyes, love with His heart. Don't see others as unworthy of being loved, cared for and do not ever think there is anyone lost not worth seeking... Because my Father is like that, I am like that. You are all precious to Him, more precious than any sheep or coin, but you understand the parable, right?

These sinful people I am with have done really bad things, and some of them are bad people. But the worse they are the more they need me. They are all hurting inside (no matter what they say) and they are dead. Dead and hopeless, except for me. So I am here. I am here for them and with them (just as I am for you). And if they respond, if they turn back to me,and let Me rescue them, then they will be alive. It is hard to do the right thing. It is even harder for people who have embraced doing the wrong thing for many years. But the Father made them for love. The Father made them for relationship. And if one of them turns around, comes back, well, like a shepherd finding a lost sheep, heaven will be filled with joy.

The purpose of the church, among other things, is to seek out people who do not want God. The problem is the church can sometimes be less than welcoming and most Christians are occupied with other things.... Whether we are Christians or not, wandering and getting happens, so Jesus is looking for me and you, all the time. When we repent (turn around) there is more joy in heaven then we realize, because we do not understand how beloved we truly are.... And if we ever experienced and believed in that love, we really would want those the furthest away to turn around and return to the Lord.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Frustrated God

As Christians, our heart's desire must be to love and worship God. Jesus commanded us to teach, heal, exorcise, forgive sins, and love. The Holy Spirit empowers us, when we are open. This is why the church exists.

God's will is love and salvation, but like all of us, God does not always get what He wants.
Jeremiah 8:1-17 makes clear, His people reject Him, reject His law, and feel no shame about any of it. The result for Israel is catastrophic. Jeremiah's reaction is gut wrenching. Hear him cry: 

"My sorrow cannot be comforted...
My heart is sick and weak...
I am broken, I am heartbroken, feeling the pain of those I love. They are desolate, so am I.
Where is the doctor? Where is the cure?
Where is the Lord's saving love?
I cry day and night for the dead whom I cherish."

Jeremiah called Judah to repent. They responded with insults and abuse. They abused Jeremiah, but still he loved them. Clearly YHWH's heart of love has melded with Jeremiah's. Maybe that is how you become a prophet?

God is not coercive. He withdraws from those who reject Him through social injustice and false gods. Judgement and Wrath! His absence opens the door to other things. The Babylonians invade. People are massacred, with survivors exiled or scattered. The King sees his family slaughter and is then blinded. The kingdom is no more.

Jeremiah loves an undeserving people. He feels their pain as his own. He is like the Crucified Messiah Jesus. Jesus also called them to repent, but they did not listen. Rome invaded with unspeakable horrors. God does not always get His way. Life, love, healing can be rejected. We can embrace the Darkness but there are evil things lurking there.

1 Timothy 2 contains the revelation which is central to my own understanding of God. It is my starting place to interpret Scripture: "God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Everyone saved. Sadly, we can thwart God's desire.

Jesus is the only mediator with God.
Jesus is God reaching out to those who reject Him.
His cross is God's saving response to human evil. Human evil is very real.

Human evil in Germany wiped out almost 40% of the 16 million Jews worldwide. Today there are about 15 million, 3/4ths in Israel or America. Today Jerusalem faces a fourth threat of annihilation. Nuclear weapons in the hand of hostile neighbors is a living nightmare. YHWH God faithfully loves His chosen people. Unfortunately, we know what sin and unbelief can do.

But this is also a message to us. Like Israel, the church is called to trust and faithfulness. Like them we are His beloved. Like them, we are unfaithful sinners. Like them, we will suffer for the choices made. Be clear, God's Kingdom is light, love and peace. The alternative is none of these.

Like Jeremiah we must love everyone. We must love the peoples of the earth, especially those whom we do not like. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Jesus said, Jesus did... We must repent and call others to repentance. We must proclaim Jesus the only Mediator. And until He comes, we preach, teach, heal, cast our demons and reconcile sinners to God. The darkness grows, we are to be the Jesus light.

The Dialogical God and Cost of Discipleship

Jeremiah 18:1-11
All God talk is a flashlight beam illuminating a small piece of infinity veiled in darkness. God "contracts" to speak to us at our level and enters time and space. We experience "a bit" of God and hear "a bit" of His Word when He speaks to us. It is always incomplete! Jeremiah uses an analogy to describe how God works in dialogue with us. YHWH's action is dependent on us. What we do (and note it is nations, a "we") affects what He does. Grace is not coercive. Mercy is not blind. Israel's God loves us, but we co-create our destiny. [Remember in Genesis that humanity has dominion of the earth.]

Jeremiah's image is of God the flexible potter. A nation has input into His saving work; it will reap what it sows. This is a call to the nation: return to  God and embrace righteousness! There is an offer of salvation, but a demand for repentance. This is a timely message to every nation, especially our own.

Jeremiah's global message is enfleshed in Jesus' instruction to individual persons.
God is faithful, but we have to respond in faith.

In Luke 14:25-53 Jesus describes what faith looks like. Disciples trust Jesus and they are loyal. No one can earn this call, it is a grace, but each one must respond. The words "love and hate" for us have an emotional element. It focuses within the person's 'heart' and feelings. This is not how the ancients use the term. For them life was more external and social (the psychology of inner life was not of interest to them). The Semitic expression to "hate" literally means "prefer." Love is commitment and loyalty to someone. Hate is the removal of loyalty. It is first and most importantly about activities. Jesus is the only Savior. Our family, our friends, our possessions, our lives---none is ultimately worthy of our first commitment. (The word translated as 'possessions' really means 'existence'--all we have and are--our very self). The Holy Three alone can successfully be our center. If the wrong person is in the pilot seat then it does not turn out well.

This is a call to prioritize. Remember, we are messed up (sin). Our thoughts and feelings overvalue and undervalue the wrong things. Other people see that we make bad choices based on bad assessments. That is why they criticize us; but like us they are blind to themselves. This is the sad truth: sinners sin. This is the happy truth, Good News, in Jesus YHWH redeems. This is why all our loyalties must be overthrown for loyalty to the Father.

Maybe this parable can illustrate: God created the tree of life. It is beautiful and the leaves heal and the fruit is unsurpassed; but we must clear the ground so that it has a place to grow. This is the work of faith. It is very hard work, and painful. It is not, however, earning God's love. It is making room for the relationship. God cannot be in the crowd. God must sit on the throne of our heart. False claimants will be displaced.

Jeremiah says sinners can repent and God can ''change His mind" to bless and save us.
Jesus says love God first, then you can learn to love family, friends, and self.

It is a call to loving faith and faithful love.
Trust the Lord because He loves us more than we can imagine.... 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Mt 5:13-20 Salt Light

Sunday School
John J. Pilch provides a reference which supports what I read in the Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Malina, Rohrbaugh). I am amazed that I never recall reading or hearing this about salt. As I looked at my three commentaries and two study bibles what I saw was the usual. Salt evokes many connotations. One popular one is that it is an enhancer of flavor and that Christians are to be bring "zest" to the earth. Boring (New Interpreter's Bible, p 181) lists sacrifice, covenant loyalty, fellowship, purification, and preservation in addition to seasoning (each with bibical references with verse and chapter)

Jews cooked with dung mixed with salt. When the salt plates stopped burning they were tossed out (in the parallel from Luke it says "not fit for the dunghill" which makes sense to me now). This added meaning may indicate Jesus' primary reference, but certainly the image of "y'all are salt" is meant to be multi-dimensional. Jesus was the master of parables, and parables are meant to take us deeper (and in many directions). The plural (y'all) is a reminder that being salt is a corporate task. I also am more intentionally aware that Jesus is talking to Jews. He is the Messiah telling Jews who are His followers that their vocation (as Jews) is to be salt (and light--more on that). The Jewish self understanding, found over and again in their Bible, is a vocation. Jesus confirms the truth of this and affirms actively seeking to be faithful in this ministry. Too often we are content to be on the sidelines failing to function as salt. Often times, a (pseudo-) pietistic humility leads us to negate our vocation by saying "we are nothing special." In the first place, this is ignoring the communal component--Jesus is not saying it is "all about me." He is saying it is all about us, we are the salt. It is a fine line between humble faith and humble unfaithfulness. Jesus says "You folks are salt" and my guess is He means it. If some theologies would like to deny this as too man-centered so be it, but their problem is with Jesus' teaching (and as He is Lord I prefer to conform to Him!). I think Jesus take seriously the power within each human person to choose and act. Obviously, He was aware of sin and weakness (as John's Gospel tells us, "He was reluctant to trust Himself to the crowds because no one needed to tell Him about the human heart"). Jesus knows that we are in need of God's help, but He also knows tells us, over and over, that we have responsibility. Why wouldn't He, isn't that a major part of the Jewish religion? Grace and salvation are Jewish to the core, but so is the call to faithfulness and loyalty to the merciful YHWH Father who has shown us such undeserved kindness.

Light is present at the beginning of creation. The separation of light and dark is existential. In our world of electricity and ambient light it is hard to understand how dark dark would be in the ancient world. The emotional value of darkness was compounded by the association with Satan and the demonic. Most of us still have some primordial fear of the dark, even if less terrified than in our youth. In Exodus 10 God uses darkness as a 'sign' of His presence in Egypt, though Israel has light. And in Exodus 13 Fire of God serves as a night light. Judgment and Salvation, darkness and light. Numerous passages of the Torah explain the requirement to keep light burning in the Temple. (In our church we do the same as a sign of Jesus present in the reserved eucharist).

Psalm 4:6 "lift up the light of your countenance upon us O God"
Psalm 18:28 "Yea, thou dost light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness."
Psalm 27:1 "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?"
Psalm 43:3 "Send out your light and your truth..."
Isaiah 2:5 "let us walk in the light of the Lord"
There are dozens more references to God as light, His word as a light for our path, and other uses of the image. For our purposes, however, it seems most likely that Jesus is making reference to 
Isaiah 42:6"I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations..."

The nations are the Gentiles. Jews were chosen by God the be a light shining, a perpetual witness, to a fallen world under the spell of darkness. Whatever else we are as Christians, it is an extension of the mission given to Abraham's children. In the Messiah, we are not Jews but share in the Jewish birthright. We become adopted children.

The purpose of the "good deeds" which manifest the light is to glorify God. No "filthy rags" here. As always, the Bible has a "rest of the story." Certainly, there is nothing we humans can do which is worthy of God (hence 'filthy rags' theology), but like any parent, God appreciates our efforts in the context of our limitations. Our five year old's hand drawn card is beautiful to us for reasons other than artistic. As children of God we are imitators of God. The one thing we can do is be motivated by the desire to glorify Him. In the end, I believe that "Jesus is the light of the world." Only Jesus can be. He is the sun. We, however, like the moon, can reflect His light. It is our job to do that. The light is not generated by us or in us, but it is a bright light none the less. The more we seek to give God glory, the more that light shines. It is all we who love the Lord can do. All things come from Him, we only return what is His. I conclude with a word from St. Diadochos of Photiki (Philokalia, p. 256) from the 5th Century. Ironically I read it this morning in my personal prayer time.

"I know a man who love God with great intensity, and yet grieves because he does not love Him as much as he would wish. His soul is ceaselessly filled with burning desire that God should be glorified in him and that he himself should be as nothing. This man does not think of what he is, even with others praise him. In his great desire for humility he does not think of his priestly rank, but performs his ministry as the rules enjoin. In his extreme love for God, he strips himself of any thought of his own dignity; and with a spirit of humility he buries in the depths of divine love any pride to which his high position might give rise. Thus, out of desire to humble himself, he always sees himself in his own mind as a useless servant, extraneous to the rank he holds. We too should do the same, fleeing all honor and glory in the overflowing richness of our love for the Lord who loves us so greatly."

We should all do the same. Love God and seek His glory, His alone. It is the role of the church. It is salt and light. It is the only way to live!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Beatitudes: Sunday School Notes

The Greek word, makarios, means blessed, happy, well off. (It translates The Hebrew word 'esher which means blessed or happy.) I offer the idea that the "Eight Beatitudes" in Matthew 5:1-12 are best understood in the context of the dozens and dozens of beatitudes throughout Scripture.

Before we look at the wide ranging Beatitudes, let us briefly ponder the question, "Who is happy?" "Who is blessed?" Fame, fortune, family, friends, work, play---these make us happy, until they don't. It is a fool's pursuit to seek complete and lasting happiness in the things of this world.  The Source of all blessings and our deepest happiness has revealed Himself as the Holy Three. Fortunately, the Lord God desires our happiness and seeks to bless us.

Jesus, a Jew, was familiar with beatitudes from His Bible. The Jewish Bible has the word 'esher/happy-blessed forty five times. The root word ashar means to go in the right way, happy, lead, guide, blessed. The added dimension "in the right way" shed light on being blessed. It is not simply getting what I want, it is getting the right things! As is always the case, aligning our wills with God is the first and most important step to happiness and blessing.

So what does Jesus' Bible say about blessed happiness? Monday morning we prayed Psalms 1 and 2.  (here is Alter's translation)

Psalm 1:1 "Happy the man who has not walked in the wicked's counsel, nor in the way of offenders has stood, nor in the session of scoffers has sat. But the Lord's teaching is his desire and His teaching he murmurs day and night."
Psalm 2:12 "Happy are all who shelter in Him."

Each Psalm provides a similar beatitude, reflective of Biblical teaching. True happiness comes from rejecting all that is not of God and embracing God. It also is a blessing to simply trust in YHWH. Faith and faithfulness are at the heart of blessing and happiness; both God's and our own.

Deuteronomy 33:29 is the first appearance of this Hebrew word; to paraphrase, "Happy/blessed are you Israel because God has rescued you and made you triumphant!"
Job 5:17 declares "Happy is the one whom God reproves/rebukes/corrects"..."do not despise His warning/correction/instruction/chastisement." If the former sounds more appealing, it may be because we forget that God saves/rescues us through correction, too.

Psalm 32:1-2 tell us (twice) that the one whom God forgives, whose sin is covered over and who is freed of guilt is blessed. (Quoted by Paul in Romans 4:7-8). Psalm 34:8 and Psalm 40:4 also highlight trusting God (not idols) while 41:1 exhorts us "blessed are those who consider the poor" (a duty verse). Elsewhere those who worship and those who dwell in God's house are called happy/blessed (65:4, 84:4, 89:15). Trust and obedience are blessings to make us happy (112, 119, 128).

Why so much time with other beatitudes instead of the ones Jesus spoke? My hope is it gives you a feel for what revelation tells us makes us happy. An abundant life makes us happy, but YHWH makes clear that He is the source of abundance and our alignment with Him (in trust, in love, in faithfulness) is key to those blessings flowing. Certainly there are places where other less "noble" sentiments are expressed (Ps 137 happy are those who see revenge on their enemies), but perhaps it is best understood in terms of God's justice.

Before looking at the Eight Beatitudes, I want to list the other beatitudes in Matthew:
Mt 11:6 "blessed is the one who takes no offense at me"
Mt 13:16 "blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear" (what other generations longed for)
Mt 16:17 Peter is called blessed because God revealed the identity of Jesus to him.
Mt 24:46 In a parable on watching and being prepared, Jesus says that when the Master returns unexpectedly, blessed is the servant who is doing what he should be doing.

[Also, see The Book of Revelation for the Seven Beatitudes 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7 and 22:14]

So now I will paraphrase the Beatitudes in my own words, more as a summary.
Blessed, Happy and Fulfilled....
Those who trust in God for everything are enrolled as citizens in His Kingdom. [Is 61:1-2]
So, even when heartbroken by tragedy, you have hope for YHWH our Father redeems everything.
Remember Moses (Numbers 12:3, meek and humble, faithful trusting servant), someday we will own the Promised Land! (Psalm 37:11, the wicked will disappear "and the poor shall inherit the land")
Trust that God is righteous and merciful, if you want it, be patient, it is coming.
The Father YHWH is merciful, imitate Him for you will be forgiven as you forgive (Mt 6:14-15)
If your thoughts, desires and will are "in" God, He will reveal Himself to you.
Shalom is a fruit of the Kingdom and the way our Father has ordered His family.

We walk by faith,not be sight. The current circumstances are temporary. Trust God, but know the world, flesh and devil rage against Him Until "that Day," strange as it sounds, it is awesome that Jesus-haters are mean to you. Especially when you do nothing wrong but love Jesus. It feels terrible but when the Kingdom comes, that will be your glorious crown.... (Like Paul said, 'the sufferings of the present are nothing compared to the glory to be revealed!') Better days are coming: so keep trusting love for and loving loyalty to God. And you will be blessed and happy and fulfilled.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Luke 14:7-14 we're number one!

(I will be at children's church Sunday; a reflection on Luke 14)
Competition is an American virtue. I was out to eat last week and the folks were cheering as American women won a footrace. We take pride in the athletic performances of Americans at the Olympics simply because we vicariously win through them. We are not alone. Rabid national pride is universal. Everyone wants to stand on the podium and receive the gold. We want to be number one.

Early on we learn the words "Me!" and "Mine!" As infants and toddlers we hone the skills that get our needs met. In families, siblings are often viewed as adversaries who are getting in the way of our wants and desires. In the ancient Middle East honor was highly sought after while shame was to be avoided at all costs. People wrestled for scraps of honor for themselves and their families. Today Jesus makes comment on the human desire to be number one and seated in the place of honor.

Honor can be fleeting. Honor is based on outside circumstances and the responses of other people. I think it fair to see that Michael Phelps is the most amazing Olympic athlete ever. Since the Olympics began in 1896, over seventy nations have failed to win a medal and an additional seventy plus have fewer medals than Phelps. His total haul of medals ranks him in the top third of all nations in the last 120 years.  Yet after the last Olympics, we learned that his personal life was a disaster and that he ended up in a treatment center with little interest in life. Gold medals, even two dozen, cannot fill the void in the human soul. The distraction of the pursuit may keep us busy for months, even years. Eventually, though, we feel it. In the quiet, we feel the hole. Phelps indicates that his life has found meaning in his child and working with youth. Jesus would seem to approve of such a plan.

"Humble yourself," says Jesus, "let others honor you. Seeking honor is a dead end street. Serving those who are in need is the best use of your time and resources." Such advice would have been bizarre and scandalous to the pagan society of Rome. Care and interest in the poor and lame was not an honorable pursuit at all. Yet, Jesus, as a faithful Jew, offered an alternative universe. Learn to be at home in your own flesh and blood, living your life with he Kingdom of God in your center. Imitate God: Spend time blessing those who will give no return, the poor and needy who will eat up what you give them unable to pay you back.

The reality is, a Y swim instructor may never stand on a podium and hear the Star Spangled Banner, but s/he may have a sense of self worth and inner peace that no gold medal can buy. In the Kingdom of God there is a different way of evaluating the value of our life. Jesus is the role model. We are invited into His world.

Trust God, not honors/
Trust love, not human praise
Trust and serve others. 

Jesus, Healing, and Who Matters

Luke 13:10-17
Jesus heals a woman. He heals because Kingdom salvation makes us whole. This is Shalom peace. Will you believe that Jesus’ desires to rescue you in the same way?

The woman stands up and praises God. She is filled with joy, filled with love for God. Worship is a heart on fire with praise and thanks. Can we abandon ourselves to joy and love; pouring out genuine thanks and praise to God?

YHWH, the God of Israel and Father of Jesus, sees His people and hears their cries. He is the faithful Lord who remembers His covenant and saves. Jesus is the eyes and ears of God. He sees the woman and hears her silent cry. Jesus sets her free from Satan, just as His Father freed Israel in the Exodus. Redemption is a war and God is on our side!

The story, however, can be misunderstood. Let's be clear, Jesus is not rejecting the Law. Jesus is making a legal argument. Jesus is saying that the highest demand of the Law is “acts of mercy,” which are more important than “Sabbath rest.” Life is complex. Even good Laws can compete with each other. Laws guide and protect us. I often hear that the Jews had ruined God’s word by generating 613 mizpat/commands. It sounds like a lot but our State enacted 559 new public laws this year, with 527 last year. Do you want to live in a lawless land?

Laws are not the problem. Legalism is. Jesus says Laws are meant to benefit humans. God’s law is a gift. Remember, the Torah is the Word of God and Jesus is the Word made flesh! Jesus came to make us whole. He loves you. Believe it and think in a new way! He also sent you. You have the Holy Spirit. God’s saving love for others. Go out to rescue out the least, the last and the lost in Jesus Name. Trust Him to do it!

Today there is a debate about whose lives matter. Jesus says everyone’s life matters. But it is not a slogan, He actually touched the outcast woman whom the religious leader did not see. If you say ‘all lives matter’ than I ask you: When was the last time you brought the healing love of Jesus to a person who is black or brown, poor or marginalized? When?

We need to talk politics less and proclaim the Kingdom more.
We need to argue racial issues less and love others more.
We need to trust Jesus and pour out Kingdom healing, redemption, love and Gospel on everyone.
We need to thank and praise God more.
When we look in the eyes of Jesus we will know that our lives matter.
In the meantime, will we be the eyes and ears of Jesus? 
Can anyone and everyone look in our eyes and see that they matter? 
Will you free them from Satan’s hand in Jesus Name??