Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The power of food

[From December 15, 2015]

"Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of the people."
(Acts 2:46-47a)

The early church did church before they had a church... building, that is.  After the day of Pentecost (aka The Birthday of the Church!), the followers of Jesus began spreading like wildfire!  The book of Acts chronicles their endeavors.

What's interesting is that they didn't engage in some multi-faceted "outreach program."  They simply lived into the joy that comes from a relationship with Jesus.  They:
  1. Gathered for worship...
  2. Ate their meals together in each others' homes (also remembering Jesus' last supper with them)...
  3. Were generous and shared their resources with those in need...
Evidently, this was contagious.  People were drawn to this generosity, joy, and willingness to share.

Today people freak out hearing that the early church "sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to all in need."  We're probably way too attached to our stuff, to be honest.  But we can still be generous in so many other ways - including "eating with glad and generous hearts."  Pray before meals.  Buy a friend lunch.  Truly enjoy the food you're eating.  And eat with others.  Often.  Let your joy be evident (and contagious).  It sounds like a small thing... but it can make a big difference in someone else's life.  There is power in food.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The First Sermon?

[From December 14, 2015]

"And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them."
(Nehemiah 8:12)

What do you do when a group of people (in this case, about 50K!) have been "away" from God for an extended period of time and come back "home"?  The Israelites who returned from Babylonian captivity faced just that. Most had grown up in Babylon and only heard stories (from parents and grandparents) about he worship life in Israel.  Now they were home.

After Ezra & Nehemiah helped rebuild the temple, it's interesting that they gathered the people in a large square outside the temple.  Instead of offering sacrifices and reciting prayers (which happened inside the temple), they stared a new practice: SCRIPTURE READING!  Ezra brought "the book of the Law" (probably the Torah: Genesis to Deuteronomy) and read it out loud to the people.  The people stood to hear it (out of reverence & respect?).  The Levites (13 specifically named) "helped the people to understand the law" as it was read (sermons?).  And then the leaders sent the people home with instructions to go with joy, not sorrow.  And the author tells us the people went home to celebrate and rejoice "because they had understood the words that were declared to them."

This is the goal of every preacher, isn't it?  To lift up a passage of scripture... to help people interpret & understand it... and then to send them home with an action plan (some way the passage will impact their life).  All the while, they "understood the words that were declared to them."

The challenge, of course, is to keep the interpretation focused & clear... not to bit off more than folks can chew on in one setting (or more than I can possibly cover in one sermon!).  But when this happens well, then God's transformation has the best chance to take hold.

PRAYER: Thank you, God, for reminding me in this story just how powerful reading the Scriptures can be to us.  Continue to help em refine my "interpretation" of passages as I preach, so others can leave worship having understood what was read.  AMEN.

Monday, January 11, 2016


[From Dec. 10, 2015]

"O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  but I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.  O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time on and forevermore."
(Psalm 131)

It's the season of Advent - the month of preparation for Christmas.  I'm preaching a sermon series on Mary and her perspective of the gift of Jesus.  So I've been thinking about moms and babies a lot.

I first "discovered" Psalm 131 in seminary.  During mid-terms and finals, we were given this psalm as a devotional text.  Wow!  "Not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me."  Instead: calm and quiet your soul.  Great advice.

But it's the visual image that packs the biggest punch here: a weaned child and its mother.  Not a nursing child (always demanding to be fed!).  But a contented child.  A child who can just sit with its mother and be together.  Resting.  Trusting.  Calm.  Content.

Mary had seen/heard "great & marvelous" things about her baby Jesus.  It could have been overwhelming.  But then there were times (especially after he was weaned) that she simply held him in her arms and enjoyed the moment.  No future thoughts, endeavors or actions.  Just content to be together.  That's what the Psalmist is calling us to experience, too.  How long has it been since you've rested in the LORD... without asking/wanting/demanding anything?  (Me too.)