Wednesday, August 31, 2011


[From 8/29/11]

"Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." 
(John 17:11b)

UNITY.  it's a word that doesn't appear much in contemporary society, does it?  Oh, maybe in the locker rooms and pre-game prep talks of athletes across the country, but anywhere else?  Not in politics.  Not in this multicultural world.  And, unfortunately, not in religious circles.  Too often we Christians are known more for what we're against than what we're for.  We speak out against other faiths.  We even speak out against ourselves - just look at all the denominations & church splits that have occurred over the ages!  Heck, look at our local churches.  We even distance ourselves from each other there... the one place where we should be united!

Maybe Jesus knew this was a human tendency.  That's why, in John's gospel account of his last days with the disciples, Jesus prayed for their unity.  May they "be one, as we are one," he asked God.  He could have stopped after "may they be one."  But Jesus went one step further... "as we are one."  That's crazy!  Jesus is God.  They are one-in-the-same!  God's presence in "two forms."  Can we, the Church, actually be the same with each other?  We'd have to end jealousies... stop competing (as pastors, congregations, Christians)... do cooperative ministry (no more "mine vs. yours")... seek first God's kingdom, not our own.

Hey, it could happen, right?  In Jesus' name...

Come from and Going to...

[From 8/25/11]

"Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world, and to go to the Father... And during supper, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table..."
(John 13:1-3)

John's version of the Last Supper is a bit different from the other 3 Gospels' account.  In John's story, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples first.  Before dinner.  Servanthood... Love... Devotion... This is what he wants them to learn from him during their final hours together.  It's all done out of a well-spring of love.

Though I love the way Jesus modeled servanthood, that's not what caught my spirit this morning.  Instead, it was a simple phrase: "knowing... that he had come from God and was going to God..." (v.3).  This was one of the foundational statements/truths that enabled Jesus to endure all that was about to transpire (arrest, abuse, trial & death).  He had come from God.  He was part of the Divine Creator.  He was, in the beginning, there with the Father.  He has that intimate connection.  AND... he was going to God.  Though death was looming large, it would not be the final word.  God would win.  They'd be together again, for all eternity.

Of course, we who call ourselves "Christian" know this because we equate Jesus with God.  So, we say, that's how Jesus could be so calm and in control.  He's one in the same!  But another thought crossed my mind as I was reading this: Why can't WE know the same thing?  That we have "come from God" and are "going to God," eventually?

We are not one with the Father like Jesus, of course... but we all have come into this world through the grace and love of God the Creator.  And when this earthly life is over, we will go to God for all eternity.  That should give us a sense of peace in this life - no matter what we may be facing!

How might our daily lives change if we lived with this knowledge... that we have come from God and are going to God?  It seemed to make all the difference in the world to Jesus.  What about us?

The Front Gate

[From 8/22/11]

"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep."
(John 10:1-2)

When I think about scenarios involving "climbing in by another way" than the front entrance, I think of people trying to SNEAK IN to someplace.  Maybe to get in without paying (Amusement park? Sports Stadium? etc.)... or trying to get around ridiculously long entrance lines (festival? concert? fair?).  But when Jesus speaks about it, he's not talking about people wanting to get IN someplace forbidden... he's speaking of people wanting to get in, in order to STEAL what's inside (art thieves, jewelry thieves, bank robbers, etc.).  But more importantly, he's speaking about spiritual leaders (namely, himself!).

Sheep come in and out of the safety of their pen through the front gate.  The shepherd leads them in and out himself.  The sheep should know not to follow anyone who "climbs the fence" and enters by any other way (But then again, sheep aren't known to be the smartest critters on the farm!).

Jesus is warning his followers not to be deceived by "false shepherds."  Don't follow anyone who doesn't come in through the front gate - open, in plain sight, with everyone knowing exactly who s/he is.  Don't be led out by anyone except the Shepherd - for it will not lead to the abundant life promised.

Ultimately, the Shepherd is the one who truly cares for the well-being of the sheep.  He's not trying to use the sheep or sell the sheep or even make a profit off the sheep.  His job is to love, guide and protect the sheep.  It's in their best interests to follow Him.

So why are we so quick to follow other "competing" leaders in our lives?  Whether it's a charismatic leader... a passion in our life... a job/career... an addiction, etc... Anything that puts itself as the #1 priority in our life is ultimately a false shepherd.

Look to the front gate.
Follow the true Shepherd.
Listen only to His voice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

35 years going strong, and then...

"Hear me, Asa, and all Judah & Benjamin: The LORD is with you, while you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you." 
(2 Chronicles 15:2b)

He had so much going for him.  Asa was his name, and he was the King of Judah.  Early in his reign, the prophet Azariah had inspired him to righteousness.  Asa, in turn, inspired the southern nation of Judah to seek God with their whole desire (2 Chron. 15:15).  He even rebuked his mom when she erected an idol for Asherah.  "And there was no more war until the 35th year of Asa" (v.9).

All was going smoothly, until... the first serious threat of war (at least that we know of).  Judah's brothers to the north, Israel, under the leadership of king Baasha, began preparing to attack King Asa & the people of Judah.  Asa, in turn, bribed Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, to break his alliance with the northern tribes, and join in protecting the southern tribes of Judah.  It worked.  Sort of.  Israel left & the war ended.  But God was not happy that Asa never considered going to him in prayer with this situation.  From that point on, Asa (& Judah) were beset by wars (2 Chron. 16:9).

We like to plan, devise, scheme, and prepare.  Especially those of us in positions of leadership, we have to be ready.  But God wants to be at the top of those lists!  Too often, however, we forget to turn to Him first.  WE get caught up in OUR PLANS and miss the most important step - putting God first.  That's when things can start going downhill.  Just ask our friend Asa.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Speaking of The Hokey Pokey...

"You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him...'  For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease."
(John 3:28,30)

Actors, Athletes, Politicians, Clergy... we all have an inherent risk in our professions.  The risk is to fall into the seductive trap of adulation, recognition, self-absorption and arrogance.  Many of us thrive in the spotlight.  That's not necessarily bad, but when our ego grows along with the attention, the danger is we lose a firm grip on humility.

John the Baptist knew this.  He'd garnered a large following with his "dunking ministry" in the Jordan River.  His own disciples get very concerned when they saw the hoards of people following Jesus (and his "dunking ministry!").  John reminded them that he himself never claimed to be the Messiah, so he was totally fine with Jesus getting all the attention.  "He must increase, but I must decrease," John said.

I can't speak for the other aforementioned professions, but I know how challenging it is for us clergy.  It's so easy to crave the attention and adulation of the people in our churches.  But it's so not about us.  Are we pointing people to Jesus?  Because, to borrow a phrase from "The Hokey Pokey," that's what it's all about!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not just on Broadway...

"But be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(Ephesians 5:18b-20)

Music is a big part of my life.  Not that I'm any kind of accomplished musician, but I enjoy playing the guitar from time to time (I'm really just a beginner).  More than that, I love having music in my life.  I keep adding to my various playlists on my iPod, and frequently have it playing in the background.   I also like to sing along with the music (who doesn't, right?).

The apostle Paul would have approved.  In Ephesians 5, he commends us to have a song in our hearts (and on our lips) at all times!  He challenges us to "make melody" in our hearts to God - no matter what is going on in our lives (the good and the bad)!  What a wonderful way to "pray without ceasing."  If prayer is any communication with Go, then singing to the Lord is surely prayer!

So I'll keep singing my way through my days.  I guess it's not just on Broadway where people spontaneously break into song, eh?!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

LIGHT in the darkness

"It is you who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness."
(Psalm 18:28)

When I was in seminary I bought an oil lamp.  It was a ceramic lamp, made by a woman who loved to dance.  In fact, she called these lamps "Dancing Flame Lamps," for when lit, the flamed danced on the specifically designed mouth of the lamp.  This woman held dance retreats in the mountains, and created these lamps so people could carry their lamps through the woods while moving.  It's still one of my favorite objects in my prayer corner.

As I was reading Psalm 18 this morning, I thought about my lamp again.  The psalmist acknowledges that God alone is the one who "lights my lamp... (and) lights up my darkness."  I love the imagery!  We're all lamps.  Every one of us has a uniquely-shaped vessel, created by the Master Potter, created to carry light through the world.  But we can't light ourselves.  We're just the container.  We need the LIGHT of God to come to us, then we carry it with our lives.

Too many people are living without the flame.  It doesn't matter how sturdy, large, or beautiful our lamps look like... if we don't have it lit, we aren't using it the way it was intended!  May I never cease to look to the source of light to light my lamp & shine in my darkness.

Friday, August 5, 2011

We don't have to be "right"...

"We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor."
(Romans 15:1-2)

A few years ago I heard comedian Jeff Allen say that the best piece of advice his father ever gave him about married life was given on the day of his wedding.  His dad said, "Son, when it comes to your wife, you can either be RIGHT or you can be HAPPY.  You can't be both!"  Jokingly, Jeff said, "I've been happy ever since!"

Actually, it's not that far off.  Too often we choose to make sure that others (especially the ones we love most) know that we're "right."  We also do it as Christians.  Too much, I fear.  But in Romans 15, Paul calls us to put up with those around us.  We don't have to insist on our own ways - even when we know we're right!  Why?  Because, says Paul, the ultimate goal is not "being right," but building up one another in love.

What would it mean for us to put first & foremost the building up of our spouse in love?  Or our children?  Or our co-workers, classmates, neighbors?  Or those who irritate & disagree with us all the time?  Everyone?  Maybe God can use those tiny expressions of "loving grace" on our part to reach people in ways that our "being right" wouldn't.

Go figure.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thinking about THOSE PEOPLE...

Today I was reading through a few chapters of Proverbs, and I came upon a couple of verses that deal with those who... well... aren't living the lives God intends for them... and how we are (or aren't) to respond to them.  I thought I'd post a few for our reflection...

"Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare."  (Proverbs 22:24-25)

"Do not envy the wicked, nor desire to be with them; for their minds devise violence, and their lips talk of mischief." (Proverbs 24:1-2)

"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the LORD will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them."  (Proverbs 24:17-18)

Some personal observations...
  • The advice we got as children rings true - be very careful of the friends we choose to spend time with...
  • Be content with what we have... don't envy those who seem to "get away with things" in life... even (especially) if they are "prospering"...
  • Have a heart of compassion - even for those who irritate/anger/attack you... for that's what God desires!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The ONE thing that matters

"Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery... or murder... or steal... or covet'; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law."
(Romans 13:8-10)

I'm preparing a new sermon series on simplicity & generosity, and I've been thinking a lot about love.  Richard Foster challenges me to live a "simplified" life by focusing back on what Jesus called the (two) greatest commandment(s): Love God & Love Neighbor.  When we get back to the very basics, life becomes simpler and filled with joy.

Paul seems to echo that in Romans 13.  "Love is the fulfilling of the law," he says.  We have a huge book of stories, laws, history and instruction in The Bible.  But it's really not that complicated.  LOVE GOD.  LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  Everything else will fall into place.

Today, I will try to make a conscious decision to act out of love towards everyone I interact with.  (We'll see how it goes.  How about you?)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Connected (whether we know it or not!)

"For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen."
(Romans 11:36)

In the 11th chapter of Romans, Paul addresses the issue of God's love and (eventual) inclusion of his Jewish brothers & sisters.  He cautions the new Gentiles (non-Jew) believers not to get too smug, but rather to be thankful for God's grace in their lives and rejoice!  Paul also asserts that God still has a plan for his fellow Jews - even though they may not have come to believe in Jesus.

Paul ends the chapter (and the discussion) with this: "For from him and through him and to him are all things."  This echoes John 1:1 - 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  All things came into being through him."  Jesus is "the Word" in John 1, and "Him" in Romans 11.

Whether people acknowledge or recognize it, everybody and everything has a relationship with Jesus.  Christ has been part of the creation (and sustenance) of all.  It's just that many choose not to return their part of that relationship.  I believe God longs for all of us to be in a relationship with Him... and works to draw us towards Him in love.  Life takes on greater depth, meaning, and purpose when we respond to Him.  The cool thing about Romans 11:36 is that everyone has that opportunity to be connected!