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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Dealing with Obstacles

Posted 3/17/2019

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. 

Following the path God intends is not always easy. Sometimes our family or friends discourage us from following what we know to be the path God intends for us. Sometimes we encounter other obstacles — problems of one kind or another that can discourage us from following God’s intended path. At such times it is difficult to continue on our journey. We can even wind up questioning whether we are truly hearing God’s call for our lives.

These kinds of moments feel a lot like driving down the road only to see a sign “road closed ahead.” The difference is normally when the road is closed there are detour signs to guide us around. When family or friends are the detour, however, we aren’t so likely to easily discover detour signs!

At such a time, Scripture can be a help to us in finding our way. So can talking with a mature Christian friend. No matter what help we may seek, however, when we know the path God intends and we encounter obstacles we need to find a way around. We need to discover the detour that will keep us on the path God intends. We need to continue our journey with God despite the obstacles we discover in our path.

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Wandering in the Wilderness

Posted 3/10/2019

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. 

In Luke 4:1-2 we read that Jesus went into the wilderness. Like many spiritual leaders of his day, this was both a journey and a time to dig deep into his soul. We are told that He went into the wilderness after his baptism and there in the wilderness He was tempted. In that wilderness, Jesus had the opportunity to reflect upon God’s intended path for his life and on his true self.However, it isn’t just Jesus or early Christians, who find themselves in a wilderness. Granted, we are not likely to withdraw to the desert; but we often can find ourselves wandering in our own wilderness, looking for our true selves. We too can face temptations to stray from the path God intends for our lives. 

At times such wilderness places, such wandering, such temptation, may leave us feeling like all is lost. Yet the good news of the gospel is that Jesus himself has been to such places. The good news is that “all who wander are not lost.” The good news is that in the wandering we may find our true selves.

For it was there, in the wilderness faced with temptations, that Jesus affirmed his calling and his true self. It was there, in the wilderness, that Jesus committed himself yet again to walking the path God had laid out for him.  

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Transformed

Posted 3/3/2019

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is the day we recall how Jesus was transfigured on the mountain — how the glory of God which was his was revealed to the disciples who were there with him. 

Yet if Transfiguration Sunday is only about the revealing of Jesus’ glory, it has little to do with us. Oh, it is appropriate for us to worship and revere Jesus — and the transfiguration is clear evidence of that. But Paul insists the transfiguration of Jesus shows us something much more personal than simply Jesus’ divine glory.

Paul says the revelation of Jesus’ divine glory shows us something about what God wants us to be like. That’s not to say we become divine. Rather it is to say that just as God’s glory lived in Jesus, the glory of God is to live in us through the Holy Spirit. 

This is what it means for us as Christians to be transformed into the image of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). It means that unlike Moses, whose face alone reflected God’s glory, our entire life is to reflect God’s glory. God’s glory is to be seen in all we do, all we say, all we are. To put it simply, we are to become more and more like Christ — the one who doesn’t just reflect God’s glory, as Moses did, but embodies God’s glory. 

In life we all seek to move from one kind of glory to another. So, what kind of glory are you seeking? The glory of this world or the glory that comes from being formed into the image of Christ?

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Happiness

Posted 2/17/2019

Many years ago, Charles Schulz suggested happiness is a warm puppy. More recently Lisa Swerling has written a book called Happiness Is… which lists “500 things to be happy about.”

Our society has a lot of ideas about what will make a person happy — and we do a lot of serious chasing after happiness. Even our Declaration of Independence places a premium on happiness, listing “the pursuit of happiness” as one of the inalienable rights of all persons.

Yet what does the Bible say constitutes happiness? What does Jesus say? When we look at the Beatitudes, whether in Matthew’s version (Matthew 5:1-12) or Luke’s version (Luke 6:20-26), we are likely to respond, “That’s happiness? You have to be kidding!”

The fact is much of what Scripture says constitutes happiness doesn’t sound all that appealing to us — poverty, mourning, persecution. Yet there is a real wisdom — and a real happiness — in those things. The happiness comes from living a life that is in sync with God’s will and ways — a life that knows we are dependent upon God. That it isn’t wealth, or the comforts of this life, or the amusements so many pursue which brings truly lasting happiness. That the “pursuit of happiness” in those things will ultimately not lead to happiness but disappointment.

Scripture invites us to choose another way. To pursue the true happiness that comes when we depend upon God. To learn to put our trust in God. To rely upon the one who made us and all that is — and who loves and cares for our true happiness more than we could possibly imagine. 

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Living through Adversity

Posted 2/10/2019

When adversity strikes us we may look to find support in any one of a number of different ways. Sometimes we turn to family and friends for support and assistance. We may turn to professionals to provide us with guidance and coping skills. We may turn to our own wits, stamina, gumption and inventiveness to get us out of the situation. We may even turn to all of these.

However, there is one resource we can turn to in every situation of adversity — God. Over and over in Scripture we are told that God is “our refuge and our strength.” We are reminded of God’s faithfulness to us and God’s love for us. We are given vivid images of God’s care and provision for all of his creation — including us.

Consider for a moment Jesus’ reminder that not a sparrow dies without God knowing about it; and the fact we are much more important than sparrows. Or that even the hairs of our heads are numbered. Such images remind us beyond all doubt of God’s interest in our lives and our well-being.

Or consider the fact that Jesus came and lived among us as one of us. As Paul puts it in Philippians, Jesus came among us, becoming poor for our sakes in order that we might become rich through him. What more proof of God’s loving care for us could we ask than his love for us in Jesus?

If God loves us this much and is this faithful in his love for us, we can surely turn to God in any time of adversity trusting that we can safely lean upon Him. God is the one we can safely lean upon that no matter what is happening in our lives. He will always care for us. 

 

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