Archive for category Uncategorized

God or Me: Whom do I serve?

Luke 16:1-13
1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.[NRSA]

Again, this is another classic stewardship parable. The example is about wealth, accounting, and management of funds.

Jesus’s questions in the parable is “Can your friends made through dishonesty offer you eternal life?” You might get a good deal in the moment, but how does this the next time?

I offer that it is a fitting stewardship example, but at the core this lesson is about, confronting sin, as sin, and trusting God’s Grace in Jesus Christ to become our source for:

  • Integrity  — not my integrity but God’s righteousness
  • Honesty – not my truth, but God’s heart
  • Devotion to God  — not my faithfulness, but Christ’s

Dishonest Manager Gone Wild!

Cook the books to win favor, build a coalition of support through deceit and half-truths. This story points to our brokenness of nature. If our sin, failures and dishonesty is found out, we try to personal management, fix-it -to-say-our-job response.

The appropriate lesson we learned last week, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.”

But instead of admitting our confronting our sin, we develop campaigns and networks that create the idea that we look good others and do not truly believe God is watching us personally.

We are not this corrupt. This parable is a great warning, but it’s not for me personally. Right?

Recall, the context of this teaching; Jesus is sitting with sinners and tax collectors, so the examples favor the audience of the moment, but the lessons are about how we sort out our relationship with God and our neighbor.

  1. The core struggle is who is love to whom we are devoted?
  2. How does out devotion to God shape our relationships?

When we are disloyal to God with our own wranglings we know that breaks God’s heart. Hear the prophet

 Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”) “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?  O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!  [NRSA]

Our devotion to God is not only how we deal with our possessions, but how we deal with other people. The deceitful accountant in the parable deals with his infidelity with God by mismanaging other people. “If other people will help cover my sin, they can profit from my deception, and all is fixed.

Both/And not either or.

The struggle of attempting to fix what ONLY God can repair breaks is God’s suffering. Jeremiah relay’s God’s frustrations when we place ourselves in God’s place. “Is her King not in her?” Jeremiah points to all the things that we place our trust, hopes, and identities into instead of God. Is there no cure? No healing balm?

As a child, hearing and not reading these words from Jeremiah, I thought the question was there a ‘bomb’ in the Holy Land? Certainly there were and continue to be bombs in Gilead! Think of the generations spent fighting, when we are called to yield our own understanding to the heart of God!

Jeremiah’s prophetic question: Is God with us? In us?

This parable is not only about how we deal with sin, trying to fix it ourselves or trust God to do what we find impossible. AND how we rely on our devotion of God in our dealing with the world.

The Parable’s witness is not only about wealth, as much as it is about who (What power/authority/means) and how we use our resources, connections, and relationships.

A Test: Is it for our gain, our acceptance, our goals OR God’s righteousness?  God both looks at each person being of value and worth and asks of us to be devoted to God’s heart and not what pleases and profits our own interests, our own understanding, our own pleasure and identities.

Vs13

Serving God or Self

The reason we know this parable concerns more than money is found in verse 13. The Parable is about who we are serving and why?

Chris Janson: The world tells us that money will buy us a boat and truck to pull it.

Jesus taught it was more difficult for a person of wealth to enter the kingdom than to thread the eye of a needle.

Does the world know I am more of a Braves fan or Jesus fan?

Does the world think of me by my work, hobbies, knowledge? Or my God’s work, interests and witness through me?

We struggle being Good vs being devoted to God because we are no good without God.

Is worship about what I enjoy or what please God?

Is my Christian living proving my faith or is my faith praising Christ?

Leave a comment

Sin leads to Death

1 Timothy 1:12-17

1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul is sharing a mature confession of faith lessons he has learned about sin and grace

Timothy, Sin is a big deal and it will kill you if you let it.

  • Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners
  • For this reason we receive mercy
  • To make us the example
  • Of those who believe in him for eternal life.

Sinners—of whom I am the foremost.

Sin is our broken nature.

We are created with the grace of God into a broken state.

All persons are in need of grace.

What about the infant? What about those who cannot speak for themselves?

Are All persons are in need of God’s grace.

Most folks will say, “Sin” is not my vice, I will let Jesus fix it for me. (Not that Jesus is not the answer, Jesus is our hope and salvation, but not a warranty relationship Jesus provides)

We keep breaking the relationship, and Jesus lifetime warranty will clean up the mess so we can get back to doing what we want.

We have the top ten list of commandments

Or the general rules of decency

Or the acceptable goal of being good people, most of the time.

All these point to our perceptions of our behavior and thoughts

Paul is teaching and reminding that sin is the reality of our brokenness. And with out Jesus covering our gap, all the time, we would be lost. We are not patched to keep sinning.

Sin is the irresistible struggle to yield our will to God’s.

Sin is the state of our self and nature

and we can no more satisfy it by our self than one meal satisfies a lifetime of hunger, thus we seek nutrition every day.

EVERYday without God, we find our effort alone is never enough

Sin and Grace

God gives us grace, preventively… Enough grace to know good from evil, right from wrong, truth from lies.

Enough grace to cover infants and those who cannot speak or understand for themselves. Grace is enough.

Sin is the neighborhood into which we are born.

We can work hard, learn our lessons, and follow the rules

And some day get out of this neighborhood but

When we move to every neighborhood life in God take more than our efforts and intentions.

It takes Jesus making whole what we both inherited as broken and what we keep breaking along the way.

Sin is magnetic. Apart from God, we are drawn to that which is not of God.

This attraction is sometime blamed on the Devil, Satan, evil but much of the time we don’t need any encouragement to sin, we place distance and barriers between ourselves and God all on our own.

God’s Spirit has it’s own magnetism.

It is through grace, that God is drawing us to God’s heart

It is through the Holy Spirit, that our spirit is drawn toward God’s Spirit.

So, Yes we know the answer, Give Me Jesus,

Now I don’t have to worry about sin any more

We live in a spiritual battle throughout our whole lives

The history struggle of free will choosing God’s heart or our own hear rages throughout history.

We are born as God’s good creations, but we are born into a world and relationship that is broken and divided.

Away from God, we tend to love

  • ourselves,
  • our abilities,
  • our needs,
  • our goals,
  • our labor,
  • our status, our position,
  • our wealth,
  • our belonging,
  • our future, our plans more than we love God’s.

God’s simple invitation is to be our God and we be God’s People.

This means that we choose to trust, follow, believe and submit ourselves to God in all things.

  • Over time we have made Sunday into God’s day and the other days of the week are our days.
  • Over time we have made a tithe God’s part, and the 90% remaining our wealth.
  • Over time we have taken laws and commandments meant to give focus and boundaries into guidelines and suggestions to work around.
  • Over time, left to our own thinking we allow logic, science, mathematics, physics to guide our morality, rather than the God who created and ordered these gifts.
  • Over time, left to our desires, we will chose what pleases and satisfies our personal needs over the needs of God’s or others.
  • Over time, left to our own strength and defining, we choose alliances with others that allow us to keep power, control and management of life in our hands rather than in God’s hands.
  • From the beginning and even now, we are given one commandment. Love God’s choice for our lives over our own choice.

When our sin is confronted, we the light of truth shines on our darkness, we hid just as Adam and Eve attempted to hide from God.

One would think that over the millennia we would have learned a better response, but the conditions are the same.

Our defense is our culture of fellow sinners:

  • So we gather with others who likewise sin and develop coalitions of sinner so that we don’t see the separation from God as clearly.
  • See what everyone is doing.
  • I’m ok, you’re ok.
  • Look the opinion polls, 95% of people in our group think it’s no problem to do whatever we want to do because we are in the majority.
  • Because we have proof, algorithms and science to prove we are right and we have no need for God. We can handle this on our own.

If fact, we become so cleaver, gifts, talented, and schooled in defending pathways that separate us from God that we do not miss God at all… or at least until we are challenged or our temples shatter in the face of truth.

Recall how Pilate dismiss truth when talking with Jesus before the crucifixion. What difference does truth make to us when we have our own truths to defend our ways sin.

What do we do with sin?

First, we acknowledge that separation and brokenness between ourselves in God is not in our best interest.

Ref. “The wages of sin are death”

LORD HAVE MERCY ON ME A SINNER, a surrender/confession

MAKE ME YOUR INSTRUMENT and EXAMPLE/WITNESS

Jesus, himself, tell the disciples and us, that this is exactly the case, that Jesus, because Jesus has come to be our means of grace, our debt for sin paid, our hope of new life, that if we keep the original commandment, God will make a way through Christ for all who accept and keep the one invitation.

Leave a comment

Keeping Sabbath

Luke 14

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy.

3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?”

4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away.

5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?”

6 And they could not reply to this.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.

8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.

11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [NRSA]

15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

They were watching him… 

The scene for this healing and subsequent parable is the home of a prestigious leader’s home. A strange gathering of political and religious folks, Jesus, and man with an extreme case of swelling, edema. No doubt the man who was likely in obvious pain and discomfort was seated next to Jesus. 

Not only was this a test, a setup, to entrap Jesus. It was not likely the man with the swelling was family or friends with any of the invited guests. 

Have you been to a dinner party where name tags are placed at each table. It is typically a great deal of work to prepare such an occasion. There are honored guests that are seated near the front progressing to those who are lesser known or are invited for reasons of being polite and respectful of the occasion. Jesus has a favored place with a less honorable guest. It is a great scene for a Jesus conversation.

We have a collection of parables that Jesus will share throughout the dinner party, but they are all center around the honor, respect, and approval.

For the majority of those gathered there were many preparations made for the gathering. What to wear? Who to bring as their plus one? Anticipating who would be at the gathering and what conversations might lead to possibilities in the marketplace and in the social standing of the community

This was a Sabbath power dinner. And the community leaders want to see how Jesus would react. And so also, Jesus is watching and listening. Perceiving the trap that was being set, Jesus’s first action is to heal the man who was ill and send him on his way. Jesus had been healing and teaching and God’s power had been making the establishment look bad and threatened their power in the community. Jesus was a problem. The healing on the Sabbath was the evidence needed to call for the “Levitical Bureau of Investigation” to complete their dossier on this troublemaker out of their way.

The commandment that to keep the Sabbath holy was simple and over time 39 categories of defined to help explain what keeping the Sabbath meant: 

The practice of “Keeping the Sabbath” had shifted from what we do to honor God into a prohibition of what dishonor’s God.

Jesus askes those who have prepared the setup, power lunch on the Sabbath: Is there a law against doing good on the Sabbath? Is it better to do good or do evil on the Sabbath? Is it lawful to cure someone on the Sabbath? The tennis ball is volleyed into their court. 

Jesus returns the serve first by healing the man and removing the key evidence from the table by sending the man home, made well.

Jesus also asks for the affirmation of his actions from those who have placed him on trial. How can they say it’s acceptable to do evil, much less on the Sabbath? 

Jesus shares the first parable in his question about the ox in the ditch. Who of you would leave you ox in the ditch until after sundown and return in the dark of night to retrieve you ox, donkey, or child until the Sabbath was over? “I’m sorry old Blue, we will be back in the morning because it would require us to break at least three Sabbath laws.” No, you get to work and call it a necessity.

The first lesson is using God’s laws with difference and preference based on situational ethics and personal gain or threat. Jesus is challenging the established interpretations of “Keeping the Sabbath” and restoring the original purpose of the law. 

Jesus does not throw out the law, Jesus completes the law. This is not an invitation to throw out the law, rather to recall why laws are given in the first place. Doing good for God on the Sabbath honor’s God, “watch” as he heals the suffering man’s condition. Jesus restores the original reason for the law, devoting ourselves to God and God’s work. Don’t focus on remembering the 39 ways to behave or restrain yourself, remember the one commandment to refrain from our work to share in the works of God.

Jesus heals on the Sabbath at least seven occasions. Something simple had become clouded and convoluted. Sabbath was made to rest with God, not to work on keeping rules. Think how much time and energy WORK was being investing in keeping rules that were focuses on our actions rather than on God’s.

Back to the dinner party. When we are invited to an important dinner or party.

  • Why do we attend? To celebrate those giving the party? A holiday, a wedding? Some occasion for celebration?
  • When does it become, instead a social measuring? An opportunity for networking?

Do we prepare ourselves to be seen by our neighbors or by God? If God is at the party, I think I would rather dress for God than the eyes of the group. Our society is driven by what we will wear, eat, and present ourselves to the world. 

Think of social media. What picture to use as a profile phone? The one where we have been out working in the yard, all hot and sweaty, or some older photos from a few years ago, when the camera captured our very best side with favor? 

What is our Focus? If the dinner party, work interview, or social occasion is about business in the world in which we live and work, we know the proverb from Erasmus, “Clothes Make the Man” and we best look and be our best for the world to embrace, hire, and befriend us. But when it’s an invitation for Sabbath, an invite to rest with God, who are we trying to fool or impress?

Jesus continues to say, “When you host a party” don’t invite those who you want to be invited to their homes. When it comes to God, using the opportunities to celebrate God, don’t make them about yourselves, your social standing, your place in the world, unless your true intentions are of this world!

We might want to dismiss this teaching opportunity off by saying we just don’t go to such parties and dinners and there is no nugget of application from this passage. But recall this occasion is not as much about a party or a dinner, than it is how we keep the Sabbath.

We are tempted to think about days past when less commerce was done on Sunday’s but that is emphasizing the laws and rules over the communion with God and the People of God. This passage is not justification for break the rules, it is for remembering what God wants from us.

  1. Today is a great day for fellowship with God and one another
  2. Today is a great day to talk and listen to God in prayer
  3. Today is a great day for worship of God
  4. Today is a great day to place our worry, fears, responsibilities, strengths and weakness at God’s feet and be at home with God.

Leave a comment

“A Day For Healing” Luke 13:10-17

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. :11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. [NRSA]

One of the issues of this passage, that we see in the news today, is deflection. The story, the headline, should read, “Woman Set Free” but instead the headline reads, “Jesus Does Work on Sabbath”.

We live in a time that we need to pray for discernment about what is true, what is important, and what is Good vs evil. Just because it is on the web, on the news, on some official letterhead unfortunately, we are surrounded by what others want us to focus, even if it is not true, good, or the wholeness of God.

Jesus is focused on a person being set free and made whole. And the official voice is protecting the power structure of the day.

But this is not the most powerful part of this passage:

When the community should be celebrating the healing and life restoration of this woman the whole community must have known had struggled for decades, now is made whole!

This is a story of freedom.

Notice that Jesus calls a certain woman who was known to all in the community as the old woman with a bad back. For nearly two decades she had been suffering with the same aliment.

Can you picture this person? Back pain, sleepless nights and limited strength every day. Visits to many doctors, many treatments, and remedies attempted. Twenty years of struggle that had become accepted as “her way of life.”

Jesus calls this woman to come to him.

He declares that he wants to set her free from her ailment.

This gives us occasion to examine all that needs healing. There are multiple levels of healing at work. Jesus is not just making her physically well. His message was to set her free.

  • Our bodies:
  • Our minds:
  • Our Souls.

Our Bodies

We are typically good about sharing our physical needs and physical needs of one another.  In our collective experience we each have stories of ailment and illnesses, suffering and struggles with our bodies. At first thought, we pray for each other to be made well or made physically whole, but we forget that we are more than physical bodes.

Our Minds

We are also feeling, sensing, and effected by our emotional needs. I am lonely, I am afraid, I am lost. I am confused. I am worn thin and filled with garbage, baggage, and trash. My heart is heavy and my mind is focused on the rules, the bills, the markers of our struggles.

When we are physically broken, there are also emotional factors of pain, sadness, loss, depression, grief, shame, fear, and more that ride along with our physical struggles. To be whole is to be not only physically mended, but also to address the psychological and emotional trauma we experience.

Out Stephens Ministry team is ready to walk with you in your journey is a personal and private way.

There numerous conditions that our emotional and psychological state impacts our physical reality. And the reverse is true.

The man who is blind, and the Blind man.

Often we begin to identify as that afflicted person and not as the individual human-child of God. When my identity is condition of my physical or emotional state I become captive of a condition and loose the person that I am.

We know someone who adopts the identity of being a victim rather than the person we are who has experiences some illness, events, or struggle. When we live as an objectified person we become trap or trap others by shifting the person for the condition.

Remember Jesus is about setting this woman free from her ailment, her condition, and the whole picture of her beyond her condition.

Our Souls

The most important factor in our wholeness, is addressing our spiritual wholeness and freedom. The doctor can patch us, the counselor can guide us to separating our emotions and experiences. But there are some folks who are spiritually free who never find physical or emotional wholeness, but have such a closeness to Jesus that they are able to find freedom to know joy, peace, fellowship, and meaning in life, even when the former things are unchanged.

  1. In this example Jesus speaks and invited freedom
  2. Second, Jesus touches this woman and her body, mind, and spirit are set free.

Her response is to Worship God.

Together we are seeking God’s will and purpose in our daily lives and for the sum of our lives.

We know Jesus has healed her physically, emotionally, and spiritually

We know that her condition was more than physical because Jesus connects her wholeness from the power of Satan, the power of evil.

  • The context of our physical conditions,
  • Our emotional states, and
  • Our spiritual relationships

Require all three to be addressed to be truly free.

Why settle for satisfying the body when the heart, mind, and strength can all be well in unison.

ARE WE FREE?

This story of healing, wholeness, and FREEDOM is told for our benefit.

Lord heal my body

Lord heal my heart and mind

Lord heal my spirit.

Leave a comment

God has a Better Way: Hebrews 11:29-12:2

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. 32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented– 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. [NRSA]

By Faith: By faith

We think we know how the story of the saints should go:

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith,

did not receive what was promised,

The punchline is not that got their reward, even those who have gone before are waiting for New Heaven and New Earth.

Our loved ones are with Jesus, but they too are awaiting Christ’s return to give us the new Jerusalem, and be join together.

Hear the Good News: 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us,

be made perfect. 1

Preventing Grace, Justify, Sanctifying, Perfecting Grace

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

Imagine being an Olympic racer with the world cheering you on in a race. We have all the saints, prophet, loved ones, and more cheer us.. to

  1. let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
  • and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2

BUT HOW? How do we have faith greater than beliefs. Difference in believing what Jesus can do, and in trusting what Jesus will do in, with, through, for me and you.

 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

Leave a comment

John 20:19-31 “Locked in Fear”

grey steel grill
Photo by Cameron Casey on Pexels.com

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. [NRSA: John 20:19-31]

The Power of Fear

  • Pandemic
  • Supply Chain
  • Cash Flow
  • Test Results
  • General Uncertainty

The Gift of Peace

  • Belonging
  • Fulfilling rest – quiet and renewed
  • Absence of Threat
  • Completeness – the final puzzle piece
  • The Freedom of Release

The Power of Faith

  • Even when a Pandemic surrounds us, We belong to God
  • Even when supplies and funds are low, we can be renewed in Christ
  • Even when threats are around the corner, we can know wholeness
  • Even when we have general uncertainty, We can find release through the Resurrection.

Leave a comment

John 15:1-8 Growing Watermelons

watermelon fruit
Watermelon by Brian van den Heuvel on Pexels.com

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. [NRSA: John 15:1-8]

Who owns the vineyard?

God is the owner of the vineyard, the plants, the soil, pays the taxes, cares for the property, cares for the vine. We are called to be fruit of God’s labor.

Who is the Vine?

Jesus

Who are the branches that bear fruit?

Us, the church, the people of God, Christians, Disciples, folks in this room and watching this stream.

God’s Perspective:

When someone takes your hard work and uses you’re your idea, your product, our your effort to produce work for themselves? What if they not only use your labor, but do so in a way that brings harm to others? Even more so, they take credit that is yours, blame you for the harm and shame, and they become justified by the law of the land by discrediting your work but sticking you with the blame for their theft and abuse? How does that reflect on you? How is this different from God’s perspective when we claim what is our property, our ideas, our value, wealth, power, or the like?

To God belongs all things, all people, all the history and future.

We are the branches… we already established that, but our question is about fruit production.

Imagine you and I are watermelons in the field. We are connected to the vine, the source, of God’s love in Jesus Christ, fed the nutrients of the Holy Spirit, nurtured by those in the faith and body of Christ. Know, we are not of the seedless variety. We are connected to God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit and the church, to be more than a plump specimen of survival, we are to produce seed that become other vines and branches.

What is the expectation of branches in the parable that do not produce fruit? Do they remain part of the vine system? Do they continue to thrive and mature? No, they are pruned. They are cut off. They are not helping to extend, reproduce, expand, and branch outward and they are no longer useful to God.

This is such a harsh statement? Where is the grace? Where is the loving God?

It’s in the call upon each disciples to use the spiritual seeds that you are designed, born, and already have in your spiritual DNA.

Reality of Fruitfulness

Frankly, we are in a season of pruning, no control over the global pandemic, no control over the decisions of our denomination, no reason to trust our political leaders, no reason to believe in justice when the system is broken. We are hopeless, depressed, and afraid. And in these times of uncertainly we tend to be withdrawn, hunker down, and retreat.

In these times we are not planting seeds and not sharing the faith, assurance, love, grace, truth, and power that has been given us through Christ, the Holy Spirit, nor the church.

We can busy ourselves with finding the appropriate person, system, institution, or corporation to blame, or we can recognize that none of these are charge with the same power, tools, gifts, blessings, and authority to scatter the seeds: some on the path, some in the poor soil, and some in the good soil. But the task is to be planting, sharing, and scattering the seed we already have been given.

Blame and Shame never plant seeds of life.

Where there is no fruit, there are no seeds, no future, no life, no hope. What is the reverse of that story? IF we have hope, we have faith, if we trust the life given to us, we see the future God has for us, and it begins in the tools, stories, adventures, suffering, and life God has already given us, and will give us.

The vine and branches are connected:

If, and only when, we are connected to God through Christ do we KNOW we are receiving life, Jesus’s question to disciples like us and the world, are you just getting plump or are to preparing seeds?

The power is conveyed through our connection with Christ, but our goal is not simple to live, rather we live to share God’s story. It is fruit we have been prepared and saved to share.

Two Months Ago

This returns us to our invitation, of now 8 weeks ago, 2 months, of responding to the call to bear fruit. We need to be checking to see how our seed supply is doing for reaching beyond ourselves to the world around us.

What are our Seeds to Share?

What are our seeds? From the Bible are both stories of faith, examples of love and forgiveness, rules and commandment of boundaries, examples of living connected to the vine of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The seeds are

  • in the scripture we live,
  • songs we sing,
  • the stories we tell,
  • the lessons we study,
  • the sermons we preach,
  • the experiences we share,
  • the struggles we persevere.

Tell the person next to you: I already have the seeds for sharing my faith!

Where and When to plan the seeds?

  • Brothers fighting for approval.
  • Sisters working for appreciation.
  • Neighbors divided over politics, members splitting hairs over theology,
  • the sick, forgotten, and excluded long to be included and overcome their brokenness.
  • The weary seek rest,
  • Those grieving, seek hope and life.

Remember Zacheus: He is the tax collector who has oppressed everyone in town, no one welcomes him at their door, he is seeking Jesus and Jesus invited himself to the man’s home and table. Zach encounters Jesus, and leaves knowing that every evil deed can be mended through Christ. He new business is to work justly and personally makes right what he himself has done to harm others. Jesus does not give him a law or commandment, he plants love and grace in a sinner’s heart and the vine transforms the branches. He begins bearing fruit of grace. Zack, sees the power of his sin and selfishness, and forsakes that lifestyle for a life of restoring connections that once were broken and dead.

Hear the Good News

Did you know that God desires for us to be whole more than to be guilty? Confess our sins and be free and made new in Christ. Zach, already had the seeds to bring justice and to restore what was stolen and extorted.

Jesus knows our Struggle in this World

Did you know God gives us these bodies in this broken and sinful world so that it truly means something when we give away all that we could have to have everything we truly need in Christ.

The seeds of faith that are already part of who we are, are NOT ours alone

The Alternative to growing, spreading, sharing, and bearing fruit, is simply existing, biding our time, or even more harmful, using God’s connects for our power, our success, our glory, our prize, our will.

Lord Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.

This the best prayer to start and finish the day… The context is that as long as we are in this world, with the temptations and freedom to choose our life is an ongoing choice to stay connected AND bear fruit.

Are we bearing fruit? If not, then wake up people.

We are preparing for fruit we might never see: But if we never see any fruitfulness then we are dying on the vine, in the heat of the day. Question from the parable: What happens to the melons that are beginning to rot, or have stopped growing before they mature? They are removed to make room for the branches that will bear fruit.

The Seeds in our Pocket.

One of the early sermon illustrations from 37 years ago came from William Barclay’s commentaries, and he recalled an old English rhymn: “It’s not what I would do if millions were my lot, its what I WILL do with the pence I’ve got. “What are the seeds. Seeds are the miracles of potential. Given the opportunity seeds, as pieces of God’s work, planted through out hands, become the new generation of livelihood for the vineyard.

Just about the same time I started preaching the GA Satellites wrote a song:

https://genius.com/The-georgia-satellites-keep-your-hands-to-yourself-lyrics

Georgia Satellites: “Keep Your Hands to Yourself

[Verse 1] I got a little change in my pocket going jing-a-ling-a-ling; Wanna call you on the telephone, baby, I give you a ring; But each time we talk, I get the same old thing; Always, “No huggee, no kissee until I get a wedding ring”  [Chorus] My honey, my baby; Don’t put my love upon no shelf, She said,”Don’t hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself”

[Verse 2] Ooh, baby, baby, baby; Why you gonna treat me this way? You know I’m still your loverboy I still feel the same way; That’s when she told me a story ’bout free milk and a cow; And said “No huggee, no kissee until I get a wedding vow”  [Chorus].

Verse 3] You see, I wanted her real bad and I was about to give in; That’s when she started talking about true love; Started talking about sin; I said, “Honey, I’ll live with you for the rest of my life”; She said, No huggee, no kissee until you make me a wife”

There is much talk about loving our neighbor, but it is a combination of loving our neighbor who happens difficult to love. This is the work to which we are called and connected to Christ to live.

How do we plant seeds when someone eats them for their dinner?

Watermelon is not on my list of food to reach my healthy weight, but once I reach that goal, it will be choice on my plate, what is already on all our plates, is to get access to the seeds that are within us and put them to work.

I chose the watermelon as the image for today because we tend to forget that its not just about our own sweetness, and goodness, it is the seeds that are produced in our lives that enable and empower others to be connected to Christ.

A Hands on Opportunity

If you don’t know where to start sharing your faith, start with a seed or small tomato plant or other fruit bearing plant and go and offer it to a neighbor, help them plant it in their yard, for find a place to keep the pot on their porch, deck or patio, and show them how and when to water and nurture, advise them on what problems to anticipate and how you might avoid them, and check back in when it time to see the fruit. And you have the model of what to share with someone about their faith…

The Journey of Discipleship is like that of gardening:

  • We share what we have known as a gift to others,
  • We invite them to work in northing faith in their own life,
  • We give them tools, knowledge, and experience of what it good and evil,
  • We hold them accountable and celebrate the journey with them.

The Power of a Lawn Mower

God gives each of us the details to fill in the blanks… but if we secretly planted a watermelon seed in someone’s backyard, and it happen to spring up, they might cut it down with the mower thinking it was a weed. And the effort is wasted.

  • Share what you know, God will fill in the rest.
  • Stay with the growth and God will give you words and build the relationship.
  • Hold accountable as support, just as God holds us accountable in judgement!
  • And the vine will thrive through us, and through others, and others, and more until Christ returns for the harvest.

Are you ready to plant seeds of faith, love, grace, hope, joy and life? Then let’s get busy!

Leave a comment

Luke 24:36b-48 Jesus is Hungry

Fish, it’s what’s for dinner.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [NRSA]

You are witnesses of these things.

This is a helpful story of repetition to strengthen our faith. This is yet another time that Jesus appears after the resurrection. And his purpose is the same as before.

He greets them with the breath of the Holy Spirit and the presence of a Holy Peace. And again they were terrified.

Why are you still frightened? Why are you still afraid? Why do you continue to have fear and doubts?

It is here that we can join with those disciples as disciples today and Jesus asks the very same of us!

Again Jesus offers the signs of his crucifixion, his side, his hands and his feet.

The next verse nails the point we know too well: “While in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering.”

We gather in the good news of the power and truth of the resurrection. We celebrate, we sing, we rejoice, we find comfort in our gathering to worship and praise, and in 30 mins we will hesitate in making a faithful choice or decision. We will ignore someone we should have reached out to help. We will have talked through when we should have listened. When challenged we will justify our thoughts and behaviors are just, kind, and righteousness, and not listen to our neighbors.

To further prove Jesus was not a ghost, a vision, or the collective fruit of their imaginations and hopes, he asks for something to eat.

Those who have died have no need to eat.

Those who are spirit only do not hunger or thirst. Here. Jesus is spiritually filled AND yet hungry. And asks for food!

David Brennet, The good Jewish, Italian, or even Southern mother we force anyone who comes in the house to eat, even if they have eaten, say they are not hungry, get a plate of food, if you say you are hungry get a feast.

Jesus says he is hungry.

Proof that he is alive and in full human/Divine form. This is the foundation of the covered dish dinner Jesus asks for food and the bring what they know best, fish.

This appearance Jesus not only gives assurance and proof he reminds us of the

Assignment!

Then he said to them,

1. Let’s knit the lessons of the Old Testament and the promises of prophets and laws of Moses to see the fulfillment of God’s word and messengers.

2. He opened their minds to the scriptures, this is not our understanding of being “open minded” as much as it is to read and heard Gods work with both fresh ear and deep faith, to see Gods new message is not actually new,

3. Hear the Good News in the Hard Truth. Explaining the cross and the debt for sinus’s been paid.

4. Go call for repentance and forgiveness in Christ name.

5. To all nations, starting at home.

What verses of the Bible do you turn to when you are teaching someone who is becoming a disciple they explain who Jesus is, what Jesus has done for us, and what God is expecting us to do as the living presence of Christ?

Shout them out loud! What are you shy or don’t know where to start? We have one job and we have clouded it with what entertains and pleases us in worship? We worry about light bills and building maintenance. We focus on what time we ga5er at the church…. none of which in itself teaches discipleship, none of it completes the assignment.

Church is calling a sinful world what it is and inviting us all to become what God has intended from the beginning. What God makes possible when we have messed things up in our lives, when we have handed authority of life anywhere other than to God…

We start in the closest circle and head for the ends of the earth.

Where to start

Below are ten passage I invite you to study, learn, memorize them or memorize where to find them when you need them. Feel free to add more, but start here as a set of tools for the work of disciplining

Dad bought me a socket set to work on my first car. A car that I paid $300, drove 100,000 miles and sold for $300. I’d love to have that Impala back for $300. 8 miles to the gallon, no air, and ugliest green you have ever seen. But I could work on it. I had the tools, now my Tahoe is in the shop 9 days and has a team of folks stumped.

I need someone with the right tools and experience. When it come to discipleship we have the tools, and we have the presence of The Holy Spirit, the power of Christ, and all it take is making the experience possible for our neighbors, and then the rest of the world. It won’t happen sitting in worship. We’ve got to get busy, cause Jesus is coming and what are we going to show when he gets back.

Key verses for Discipling

John 8:31–38: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Matthew 28:16-20: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

2 Timothy 2:1-2: You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

Luke 9:23-24: And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

John 13:34-35: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Page 1

Acts 1:8

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Romans 10:14-17

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

John 15:16-17

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Colossians 1:28-29

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Hebrews 3:12-14

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Page 2

, , ,

Leave a comment

Day 39 Forty Days More

white and black whale in water
Photo by Elianne Dipp on Pexels.com

Read: Jonah 3.4 (NRSV)

Jonah shows us that God can change an entire city in forty days. God can change an entire nation and God can change just one heart. Wearing sackcloth and ashes on our face reminds us, and the community, of our act of repentance and the inward cleansing of our spirits and clearing the way for the Lord to work through us.

The sackcloth was scratchy and uncomfortable. The ashes were from the sacrifice of burnt offerings. Both were signs of a real change. We hear people say they are sorry or that they have changed. We want to measure the words by a change in the actions that follow.

Action Plan: What might you wear in public that would communicate that you are a work in progress for God? Try it and be ready to explain to those who ask why you are wearing your “ashes and sackcloth.”

Prayer: God help me show the world how you are at work changing my life. Amen.

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

Day 38 A Day for Every Year

Read: Ezekiel 4.6 (NRSV)

What is a just punishment for a crime? If it were up to us would we punish someone one day for every year of suffering? This is what God says will be the punishment of the house of Judah. If God can make right in one day what it takes a year to do wrong, then why can’t we try when we feel that there is no point?

You have the power to set people free from guilt, fear, and pain. One day of forgiveness can add years to someone’s life. One day of love can open doors of trust for generations to come. One day of honesty before God can set your heart right for eternity.

There is never a time to say, “there is no use in trying to repair that relationship,” to undo that injustice. And just because it may take forty years to help promote a change in society or one single heart, we should not be discouraged from taking that first step.

Action Plan: Identify a need no matter how great or small in our local community that you have been concerned about. Pray about how God can use you to bring about a change in the matter.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see what I can do every day that will make a difference for you in years to come. Amen.

, , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: