Friday, January 27, 2012


[From 1/26/12]

"While (Peter) was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!'"
(Matthew 17:5)

Peter, James & John go up with Jesus to a "high mountain."  It's there that Jesus is transfigured before them - his appearance becomes dazzling white.  The 3 disciples suddenly see him talking with two of the greatest leaders from the Old Testament: Moses & Elijah!  Overwhelmed by the moment, Peter offers to make three tents - one for each of the dignitaries (including Jesus!).  But it's at that moment that God's voice booms from heaven expressing his love for & pleasure in Jesus.  AND commanding them to listen to him.

Christians over the ages have been caught up with Peter's same fervor.  We become excited by the glory of God we experience, and as a response we want to do something for God - like build something in His Name.  Monuments, pieces of art, new centers of worship, etc.  I wonder though... if that's the easy response?  Might God be wanting us, instead, to listen to Jesus?  To really listen?  To follow his teaching and instruction first & foremost.  Forgiving our enemies... Loving the unlovable... caring for those in need... putting others ahead of ourselves, etc.  Could it be that's the way we best honor our Lord?

Sticks & Stones...

[From 1/24/12]

"For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks..."
(Matthew 11:34b)

Every time I read this passage my pulse quickens.  What we say is a reflection of the condition of our heart.  Are we speaking words of love, grace, encouragement, affirmation, hope, peace & kindness?  Do we seek to console and set at ease those around us?  Or do we speak words of sarcasm, criticism, complaint, anger, disappointment and judgment?  Are we quick to curse?  Do we laugh it off as "just a joke"?  Maybe it's deeper than that.

The author goes on to say a few verses later that on the day of judgment, we will have to "give an account for every careless word" we utter.  Every careless word!  We've all spoken countless "careless words" in our lifetimes.  How do we protect against that?  It appears we are to guard our hearts.  "Don't swear!" isn't the point  We swear (and criticize, and judge, and...) because our hearts aren't right.  Instead, God calls us to surround ourselves with that which is positive. 

"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8).

May it be so in my life.

perfect weakness

[From 1/20/12]

"Three times I appealed to the LORD about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.'"
(2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
It doesn't make sense.  The first will be last and the last first.  If you want to gain your life you must lose it.  And power is made perfect in weakness.  It doesn't make sense.  At least not in "the real world."  Then again, it's not supposed to.  It's Kingdom Language!  It's how God works (and wants us to live, too).

We like to think God is with us most powerfully when all is going smoothly.  Yet how often are we truly focused on God when all is going smoothly?  But when we go through difficult times, God is almost always on our heart! Maybe that's part of the reason why God reminded Paul (2 Cor. 12) that when we are at our weak, God is strong!  God is able to do amazing work in our lives when we're at our weakest points.

(It kinda makes you want to ask for weakness, doesn't it?)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Tale of the Apple Seed

"But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body do they come?'  Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.  But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body... So it is with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable."
(1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42)

There was once an apple seed.  It lived on a shelf in a country store.  It wasn't the smallest seed on the shelf (that unenviable designation went to the lowly mustard seed.  How sad!)... and it definitely wasn't the biggest (can you say, "PUMPKIN!?!")... but that was okay.  It liked it's dark black color.  And how shiny it was.  But mostly it liked its packet!  It was a light green packet with black writing and a big red circle on the front.

Week after week the apple seed sat there in his same packet on that same shelf in that same store.  Sometimes it wondered what happened to the seeds that left the store, but mostly it just felt content to be an apple seed.  Life couldn't get any better than this.

Then one day it happened.  The apple seed left the building!  Purchased by a farmer, the packet traveled miles and miles away to a big field.  Then the ultimate indignity occurred - the apple seed was removed from its packet.  No more light green with black writing.  No more big red circle.  Not it was simply a small (and feeling smaller by the moment) black seed.  Heck, it wasn't even all that shiny anymore.  Soon it was put in the dirt and buried.  Who could have envisioned this ending?  All was lost!  The seed had been forced to separate from its only protection, and now was shamelessly abandoned by the farmer.  Sadly, it resigned itself to the grim reality it saw all around.

Sometime later, something absolutely remarkable happened.  The seed split open and new life shot out!  Slowly, ever so slowly, it climbed out of the dirt and into the sunlight.  And it didn't stop there!  It kept going!  As the years passed it grew bigger and taller than it had ever imagined it could be.  It's shiny black shell had been replaced with lots of brown & green... AND shiny red balls - the same image that had been on the front of its light green packet so long ago - but a hundred times better!  Who could have guessed this would happen?

And ever day the apple tree basked in the warm sunlight, drank up the life-giving waters that fell from the sky, and felt content in its transformation.

And God smiled.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"Who's Your Daddy?"

"They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry (Jesus') cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus."
(Mark 15:21)

For those of us who know the story of Jesus' crucifixion, there are a few "supporting characters" that make a memorable (albeit brief) appearance: the thieves hanging alongside Jesus on Golgotha, the women who watched at a distance, Joseph of Aramathea (who gets permission to bury Jesus' body), and Simon of Cyrene.  Simon is the  guy who was forced to carry Jesus' cross (presumably when Jesus could not carry it anymore himself).  Each of these people are quite familiar to us.

But today as I was re-reading Mark's version of this story, I noticed the statement that Simon was "the father of Alexander and Rufus."  Why would Mark state this fact?  There are many other characters in his gospel (most, actually) who don't have their children named.  Why Simon?

Scholars tell us that Mark was probably the earliest-written of the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John).  It was penned around 70AD... close to 40 years after Jesus' death & resurrection.  So I'm guessing that Simon's kids, Alexander & Rufus, were probably known by Mark's community.  They'd become followers of Jesus!  Maybe they were even leaders?!  Maybe they'd shared their story about how their father's one-time (chance?) experience with Jesus on that fateful Friday morning changed everything for them. Maybe they each had become beloved figures in their own right - loving and generous servants of Jesus who helped inspire & encourage new disciples.  So when Mark tells his story... and gets to that particular moment... he mentions a guy named Simon who carried Jesus' cross.  "And you know whose Dad he was?" (Mark's community waits to hear what comes next) "It was Alexander & Rufus' Father!" ("No way!!?!!)

As a parent, one of my ongoing prayers for my two children is that they become people of significance.  I don't mean rich, famous, powerful or well-known.  I mean people who make a positive contribution to society & to the lives of others.  I mean people whom others genuinely care about and want to be around.  I mean people who love God and want to serve Him with all their hearts.  Then one day my name may come up in conversation somewhere... and someone can say, "And you know whose Dad he was?  Emily & Ezra's!" And people will smile, because they know the kind of human beings Ezra & Emily grew up to be.

(And thanks, Dad, for helping me to be the person I am today!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

This is a "No carrying zone!"

"Then they came to Jerusalem.  And (Jesus) entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple."  (Mark 11:15-16)

Today I read something I was sure I'd never read before... which is false, of course, because I've read through this passage from Mark 11 numerous times.  But until today, I'd never really noticed this particular sentence.  It's from the story of Jesus driving out the moneychangers in the temple.

The temple in Jerusalem had a couple of sections to it.  The outer court (aka "The Court of the Gentiles") was used for people to buy and sell animals needed for sacrifices.  It was also a place to exchange money - turning Roman coins (with the head of the Emperor on it) into Jewish coins (without graven images) for offerings.  Both were necessary for worship.  But Jesus took exception with this, and cast them out of the temple.  He cited Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, chastising the merchants for turning God's "house of prayer" into a "den of robbers."

All of that I'd read before.  What was new to me today was verse 16: "And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple."  That seemed strange.  Was this referring to the vendors and moneychangers?  Meaning, they couldn't set up their wares?  Or was he also prohibiting the worshippers from bringing anything into the temple?  If so, why?  And dos this mean no sacrificial animals were allowed (even if they were brought from home, not "bought" in the temple?)?  What would Jesus' reasoning be here?

It could be that he wants people to focus just on God and none of the other trappings that might get in the way (or take focus away from God).  When the focus is on animals or sacrifices, then it becomes something to "do" to "earn" God's favor (kind of like a bribe to get God to give us something).  Instead, we bring nothing to God that God needs... except ourselves!  Nothing.  God's love, grace, mercy & forgiveness comes as a gift - not the result of bribes.  Maybe people had lost that notion.  So Jesus' restriction on "no carrying" was put into effect.

Or maybe Jesus wanted to restore the outer court to it's original purpose.  It was called the "Court of the Gentiles" precisely because it was the ONE part of the temple that non-Jews could enter.  The other areas were restricted to those 'in the faith.'  But this outer area was open to all.  It was where they could experience God themselves.  So it could be a "house of prayer for ALL THE NATIONS," as Isaiah had prophesied.  Maybe Jesus worried the vendors, moneychangers, and sacrifice-bringing folk were getting in the way of those non-Jews being able to connect with The Holy?  So come with nothing in your hands.  Come just as you are.

As it should be...