Trinity

Posted 6/16/2019

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is a day when preachers everywhere can be found making an attempt to explain the mystery of God’s three-in-oneness. Preacher may talk about the three leaves of a three-leaf clover or how just one person can be a father, brother, and son. Or perhaps we use other such analogies in our attempts to explain the Trinity. But in the end, all our efforts at explaining the Trinity fall flat on their faces, having captured at best only a bit of what it means to say God is Trinity and having failed to capture much of the truth of God’s three-in-oneness. 

The real truth is we can’t explain the Trinity, something we preachers (and theologians) hate to admit. We like to be able to tie everything up in nice neat packages, to make everything clear and logical. But the Trinity is simply a truth about God that is beyond our comprehension and our explanations. 

We experience the truth of the Trinity, which is why we make our feeble attempts to explain the Trinity. But our stammering explanations can’t capture this truth which is so beyond our own ways of being. In the end, the Trinity is mystery — that which is true but beyond our ability to grasp it with our minds but something we can grasp in some ways in our experiences.

But there is value in celebrating Trinity Sunday. We see that value when we simply allow the reality of God’s three-in-oneness to lead us into wonder at the mystery and majesty of God. We see it when we allow ourselves to join the Psalmist in proclaiming, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1)

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Pentecost

Posted 6/9/2019

It’s here! The birthday of the church. The day that we sometimes celebrate with cake, like we might celebrate any other birthday.

Yet Pentecost is more than simply a birthday. It is the promise of Jesus’ spirit with us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the unleashing of God’s power in our midst in a new — yet very old — way.

In the Old Testament we read stories of those who were filled with the Spirit. Yet in the gift of Pentecost we discover the fullness of the Spirit, who is above all the Spirit of Christ. In the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost the church is not only born, but is empowered to be who we are called to be.

In other words, Pentecost is not just the celebration of the birthday of the church it is the celebration of our being empowered and molded into the church — the body of Christ. It is the celebration of the gift of the power to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of an unbelieving world. It is the celebration of the power of Jesus to change our lives — and the lives of all who believe in Jesus.

The good news of Pentecost is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus means we, the church, are filled and empowered by the Spirit — the Spirit that filled Christ, the Spirit of Christ. May we not just celebrate the birthday of the church on this Pentecost Day; may we also celebrate our birth as Christ’s empowered, Spirit-filled people who have been enabled to live as the Body of Christ today.

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Opening Our Eyes

Posted 6/2/2019

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see You, I want to see You. To see You high and lifted up, Shinin' in the light of Your glory. Pour out Your power and love, As we sing holy, holy, holy.” This praise chorus, written by Michael W. Smith, reminds us of several important things. 

First, that we need “the eyes of our heart” opened to see Jesus. Several times in the gospels we read of Jesus explaining the Scriptures to his disciples after his resurrection. The fact is, not only couldn’t the disciples really understand who Jesus was before his resurrection, even after his resurrection they needed to have it explained to them. We don’t easily see the power and glory of God in one who is crucified.

Second, that we are empowered by Jesus through the gift of the Spirit to bear witness to what we have seen and experienced. Our enlightenment about who Jesus really is isn’t simply for our own sake. It is given that we might be witnesses to Jesus. We are to tell of the holiness of God.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that the eyes of their hearts might be opened to see Jesus. That is my prayer for each of you. I wonder, is it your prayer for yourself as well? Are you longing to see Jesus and then, having seen, are willing to go out proclaiming the amazing power and holiness of the one who opens our eyes?

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Being Healed

Posted 5/26/2019

Jesus asks the man who had been waiting to be healed for many years what sounds like a “silly” question: “Do you want to be made well?” I suspect most of the time we hear this question as one asking about the man’s motivation: Does he really want to be made well?

What is striking in the story is that the man never really answers the question! Instead he begins a long litany of complaint and excuses. “Others beat me to it.” “I have no one to help me.” 

I think the way the Scriptures present the story is probably truer than our usual interpretations that the man really needed to WANT to be made well for Jesus to heal him. The truth is, Jesus heals a man who not only doesn’t say he WANTS to be made well; he heals a man who can do nothing but complain about how he hasn’t been made well before now. And a man who says the fact he hasn’t been healed isn’t his fault to boot!

That sounds a lot more like me — and I think a lot of us. When it comes to truly being healed, we are more inclined to list all the reasons we can’t experience healing and give all the excuses why we haven’t experienced healing before this moment than to simply WANT to be healed. The good news is Jesus heals even complainers and excuse-makers. In other words, Jesus offers to heal us! 

The real question for us then is, Are we going to continue to lie there? Or do we dare do what the man did? Do we dare to obey Jesus’ command, take up our bed and walk? Do we dare believe Jesus not only wants to but does heal us?

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How Can We Be Silent?

Posted 4/28/2019

When I was serving as a missionary in Africa I would sometimes find myself walking between the school compounds after the sun set. (Being near the equator, nighttime came fairly early, so it wasn’t really that I would out all that late!) I always had my flashlight along on such trips, so I could carefully watch out for snakes. But there was another thing I almost always did while walking along in the dark — I sang hymns. 

The truth is, I often find myself breaking out into a hymn or chorus at odd hours. I may be in the office and take a break to make myself a cup of coffee — and discover myself singing. I may be taking the dog out to do her business — and discover myself singing. At times it seems I just can’t keep from singing.

While the early disciples may not have been singing, in Acts we discover that they couldn’t help witnessing. Imprisoned, threatened, even beaten by the Jewish council because of their witnessing to Jesus, the disciples had the most unusual response: “they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name [of Jesus]” (Acts 5:41). And then they went right back to witnessing, because the good news of Jesus’ resurrection was just too good to keep to themselves.

This Easter I wonder if we are at all like those disciples. Are we so overwhelmed with the good news of Easter that we can’t keep it to ourselves? Do we find ourselves singing the good news about Jesus in odd places and at odd times? As witnesses to the new thing God is doing, as those who have experienced the new life in Jesus, how can we think of staying silent?

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New Life

Posted 4/21/2019

Letting go of the past is difficult, yet the promise of Easter is the freedom to move forward. It is the promise of new possibilities just when we thought there was nowhere to go.

Such a promise may seem laughable in our world where life seems to go on much as it always has. Where suffering, tears, sorrow, sighing and death seem to be all too real. A life where crosses are very real and resurrection seems to be more pie-in-the-sky than actual experience.

Yet the promise of resurrection newness is the promise of Easter. It is the promise not of simply more of life as it is or even of slightly improved life. It is the promise of new life.Life that is different than the life we have known until now. A life reconciled with God, lived with God, filled with God’s Spirit. God promises a new heaven and earth — one so new and glorious that “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

When life seemed a dead end — when Jesus was in the tomb — God surprised the early disciples with a way forward into new possibility. The possibility of renewed discipleship. The possibility of witness to Jesus. The possibility of eternal life.

When life seems at a dead end for us, God surprises us with a way forward into new possibility. The possibility of hope. The possibility of faith. The possibility of reconciliation with God and with one another.

The promise of Easter is the promise of a way forward into possibilities we never dreamed possible or dared to imagine. This Easter, let’s walk into the possibilities God gives.

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Palm Sunday

Posted 4/14/2019

On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the shouts of his disciples who declare him to be “the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” Yet we must admit, Jesus is a king unlike any king we have ever known. Jesus doesn’t rule with power. Jesus doesn’t claim great honor. Instead, Jesus allows himself to be arrested and crucified. Jesus humbly suffers shame and even death. Jesus chooses “another way” — a way so unlike the ways of the rulers of our world.

Palm Sunday is our invitation to choose another way. To walk in a way that is not the way of the world. To, as Paul puts is, have the mind of Christ in us (Philippians 2:5). Paul then goes on to describe this mind of Christ in some very vivid terms. Christ didn’t cling to his rights and privileges as one who is equal with God. Rather he willingly gave them up to become “a slave” and be born in human likeness. He then humbled himself even further, submitting to death on a cross.

Choosing another way asks us to do as Christ did. To not cling to our rights and privileges, but to willingly give them up for the sake of others. It is the invitation to humble ourselves to the point we count ourselves as being like those who are the most humble — the most despised — in our world. It is to allow our life to be poured out for the sake of the needs of others.

Such a way isn’t an easy way. We get a glimpse of just how difficult following this way is as we look at Christ’s agonizing prayer in Gethsemane. It is a way that requires us to pray “Not my will, but Thine.” It is a way that requires us to not only pray but to live that prayer. It is another way than the way of the world; but it is the way of Jesus.

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Obstacle or Stepping Stone?

Posted 4/7/2019

Stones are interesting things. As a kid you probably collected stones. You picked them up because they were an interesting color or shape. But there were probably also times you didn’t like stones — when you found yourself walking on a stone in your shoe or maybe walking across a bunch of stones in your bare feet. As adults we may use stones to build walkways or stairs. Or we may use them to build walls to keep others out.

Whether a stone is “good” or “bad” really depends a lot on how we view it. As a kid, a stone I found interesting my parents found boring. Often, when they would point out a stone they found interesting, I had no interest in it. It all depended on how we looked at it. Or the same stone can be used in a walkway or a wall. It all depends on how we look at the stone.

In much the same way our ability to see God at work in the world around us all depends on how we look at it. Do we see the changes that have happened since we were kids or young adults as only negative? Or can we see the positives in the changes? Do we spend all our time longing for a past that is gone? Or are we looking ahead to the future God is creating?

Depending on our view, the present can be pathway or wall — stepping stone or obstacle. But the truth Scripture proclaims is God is the God of past, present and future. No time is outside God’s realm. No time is a time in which God is not present and active. The challenge for us is to continually look for God at work here and now — in the world we live in today not just the world of of our youth or young adulthood.

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Grace for All

Posted 3/31/2019

We live in a world where we increasingly encounter people who openly question — or even reject — God’s existence. Yet, as a pastor, I think the greatest faith problem most people face is not deciding whether or not God exists, but an inaccurate view of God. 

Over and over in his parables, Jesus gives us a picture of just who God is. Yet it is a picture we have difficulty accepting because it is a picture that goes against the grain of all we know about the way our world functions. 

When Jesus depicts God’s kingdom we are not entering a world of capitalism with its rewards for the “winners.” We are entering a disturbing (to us) world where God’s love is extended to all — winners and losers, saints and sinners. 

I say it is a disturbing world because whether we are saints or sinners we are likely to view God as the one who gives out rewards for “good” behavior. If we see ourself as a sinner, we are likely to feel God can’t possibly love us the way we are. We find it hard to believe God welcomes us home.

Yet if we are a saint we are most likely to view God as the one who gives us rewards for our good behavior. We find ourselves put out when we think God is “rewarding” others who haven’t been as “good” as we are, or worked as hard for the church as we have, or given as much to the needy as we have. How can they be accepted by God just as we are? We feel our “goodness” entitles us to a special love (or at least some reward).

But the truth Jesus proclaims is whether we are sinner or saint, God loves us, offers us grace and forgiveness, and welcomes us home. Jesus tells us God is not an unforgiving judge, but our loving Father.

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The Highway

Posted 3/24/2019

Lent is a time of reflection, soul-searching and taking stock of our lives. For thousands of years, religious people have made journeys of the heart as a way of gaining perspective and insight. In early Christianity these journeys were often into the wilderness (desert). During this Lenten season we are using the image of a pilgrimage or journey to guide us in our Lenten reflections and thoughts. 

Sometimes I like to drive back roads. They are nice when you are simply out for a leisurely drive. But when I have someplace to go, I want a highway. And when I’m traveling across country, I want the interstate, not some wandering back road.

Our Lenten journey invites us to set out on God’s highway. Isaiah reminds us that God’s highway isn’t like our highway. God’s highway is straight and true, unlike our wandering paths. God’s highway is always one of mercy, grace, compassion and love. 

The good news of Lent is that we are invited to travel God’s highway. We are invited to both experience God’s grace and to embody God’s grace. We are invited to live our lives in the shadow of God’s compassion, and to be people of compassion.

God’s highway may not be like our ways, but it is a highway that we can travel. 

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