Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not As Orphans

I will not leave you as orphans. This, Jesus's assurance to His disciples that with His impending departure, they should not panic, become disoriented, or give up. There are people all around the world who grow up as orphans - without parents and in too many more cases than we often care to think, without any adult to care for, protect, nurture, or love. In the U.S. it can be bad enough, horrific enough. But in the first century it would literally be unbearable with abuse expected, starvation likely, and a shortened life guaranteed. That life would likely be anguish with death welcomed. To be destitute and without hope, that was and too often still today is what being orphaned is.

I will not leave you as orphans.

The disciples I suppose probably didn't think that deeply about what Jesus's departure would mean to their physical wellbeing. They were, at least the male members of his little tribe well, men. They could work and would not be deistitute. But Jesus doesn't mean that He was ensuring their livelihood would be secured, that they would have homes and meaningful work. No, Jesus knows rather that He is God and His departure, if not prepared for, would mean that they would not have God Himself in their midst as they have had for these past few years. That - having God leave you - would be far more devastating than being orphaned although neither the disciples or we, having seen the decimation of human life that can come as a result of being orphaned, would think so.

I will not leave you as orphans.

But that's Jesus's  point - He knows what not having the presence of God does to people. Human history and even the society in which Jesus lived was clear evidence of the darkness and reprobation that can take over humans and human society when they live without God. This Jesus wants them to know, need not happen. God is not leaving them, nor is He leaving the world. Jesus will ascend to the Father and the discples will not physically see Him again. This though is not abandonment of the disciples or the world. No, if Jesus leaves, He will send the Comfortor, the Paraclete, the Helper to them. He will be in them and with them, and remind them of what Jesus had said and did. In fact He will be the very presence and power of God in their lives - equipping them, leading them, upholding them in their lives.

I will not leave you as orphans.

Today marks the remembering of His not leaving us as orphans. The Spirit of God Himself comes to us, lives in us, and nurtures us so that we might become fully transformed into the likeness of Christ Himself; fully into the Image we already are - created to be - in fact who we are. Much of the New Testament, and much of the Old tells us that God wants to live with us, to nurture us, to love us. We don't believe it when our lives get in the way, and many of the people in the Bible also felt that same desolation and were tempted to give up. Peter's second epistle was written precisely because of that temptation. Peter reminds his beloved readers that in truth Jesus was tellling the truth when He said,

I will not leave you as orphans.

God is with and in the world, but most importantly with His disciples so that they are not orphaned, left destitute. Because God doesn't ever want to, nor does He ever leave us. His presence in the very beings of His disciples, marked today in remembering the clear demonstration of that truth 2000 years ago, is our assurance that we have believed correctly and we need not think we are left as orphans. God is with us and entices us to use the power of the Creator Himself to live His life right here and to be transformed into Him, the head of the body of God in the world.

I will not leave you as orphans.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

If You Knew

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." John 4:10 ESV

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and his disciples have gone off to get food. You’ve heard this story before and its several applications dealing with gender, with outcasts, with evangelism. This statement is early in this conversation. But look at these words, “If you knew...who it is that is saying to you….”

Who is this that is jousting with her? It is not just Messiah, not just a rabbi, not just a Jewish male who wanted to slack his thirst. No this is not just a human, regardless of how we label him. This is God, her God who wants nothing but for her to ask for relief. This is Israel’s God but not only Israel’s God, but the Creator God, the only God.

He is her God.

Her God who wants to give her “living water.” For her, healing, acceptance, reconciliation, and refreshment. This he says that she only has to ask - to see and to ask. Let’s not though get stuck on her expected response, but let’s focus on who it is that wants her to ask. You have heard and possibly seen the pictures of Jesus at a door, knocking and waiting for someone - for you - to answer the door. OK, but let’s focus not on us, but on who it is at the door. This is God who wants this woman to see and to ask. Right here in the midst of her daily, routine life is anticipating, hoping even that she would but ask and be given refreshment for her life right her, right now.

Jesus says the same thing about us - if you only knew who it was that asked, you would ask and he would give you living water.

Want that water?

Ask.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Assurance of Resurrection


Today marks the day of assurance that Jesus was who he said he was – and who we believe him to be. Paul looks to the resurrection and says that it is our hope. If Jesus wasn’t raised, Paul is prepared to say that we look pretty foolish. Paul doesn’t say that about the widow’s son – either of them, or Lazarus. People have been raised but Paul doesn’t point to them as our hope, or that in believing those resurrections we are shown to be foolish. But if Jesus didn’t rise to life, Paul says we have little hope. Granted, Paul writes these things for his rhetorical purpose; Paul himself has no doubt.

Paul uses the resurrection of Jesus to propel him to faithfulness, through hardship, and even “dying every day.” Paul continues despite his beatings, shipwrecks, fighting beasts, imprisonments, and even what seems to have been a severe crisis of faith or approached despair. He argues that if all there is, is this life, why does he – and why does he encourage his readers to – persist in their common faith and the hardships it brings? He says that if the resurrection isn’t true, we might as well “eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die.” His point is that if we have been “saved” only for this life, who cares? No, his argument goes the resurrection is real and it points us to something past this life, beyond our physical death. He isn’t sure exactly what sort of bodies we might have in our resurrection, but he is certain that we too will be raised – and the resurrection of Jesus is our proof; our down payment on that reality.
The resurrection highlights, emphasizes, ensures the reality that we are already living eternal life – it has already begun and we are participating in it now. Dallas Willard, perhaps one of the most insightful modern Christian thinkers said in The Divine Conspiracy,

“The agape love of I Corinthians 13 will increasingly become simply a matter of who we are. But the effects of our prayers, words, and deeds – and sometimes of our mere presence – will also increasingly be of a nature and extent that cannot be explained in human terms. Increasingly what we do and say is ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ and every part of our life becomes increasingly eternal…. We are now co-laborers with God.”
Paul agrees that we are co-laborers with God extending the kingdom of God not as a “thing,” but as a people throughout the world. As we become more and more like God, we more firmly secure at least a small part of the world more and more for God. That kingdom for Paul is not just a “this life kingdom,” but the rule of God throughout the universe forever. Paul’s assurance is that if we are now co-laborers with God, if we are to be transformed into the likeness of Christ just to eventually die, we are wasting our and everyone else’s time.

Paul considers this so important a truth that immediately after uttering the “eat, drink, and be merry…” comment, he says this,
“Do not be deceived; “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning, for some have no knowledge of God.”

Paul says, “No! Don’t eat, drink, and be merry! Yes, eventually you will die, but that isn’t the end – Jesus was raised and so will you be, into newness of life. That new life will be in a transformed body of some sort and is in continuity with the one you now have – and the life will be in continuity with this one.
Eternal life has already begun and because of that, there are obligations for those who would be the people of God. Before addressing the resurrection, Paul has penned the “love chapter” of the Corinthian letter. His discussion of love in the body of Christ isn’t about getting married or romantic love. It arises naturally from his discussion in the letter – it is love for and among disciples for each other and the body of Christ. Love Paul tells us but not in so many words, what Willard has said. We become transformed into love and it is these love-beings that will extend into the life to come, in new bodies. Physical death and entering Heaven isn’t a form of graduation but rather, a natural extension for those who are being transformed.

And so Paul says that we look forward to the resurrection because quite frankly, if we are love-being here only, we will lay down our lives for others without any hope that having done so serves any real purpose – and for Paul, the resurrection life is the real purpose. It isn’t a separate purpose from this life but it is the telos, the end-in-mind for this life. We are the image of God and we are to be most fully transformed into that likeness in which and for which we are made.
The good news of the resurrection for us is that the life we are trying to live here, right now. The life with its heartaches, its sudden and tragic losses, its insecurities, setbacks, and grief is not the end. We will be raised by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead – the power that speaks life into being will speak life again into our physically dead bodies and raise us into the presence of our God. But not only us; that power will speak life into the bodies of those we miss, those who have been taken from us, or who have finished their race before us. They too will be raised just as we will be and that day will be a glorious day indeed.

The resurrection of Jesus isn’t just an event; it is assurance. It is hope and encouragement for us so that we know that this life, this becoming love, this following our Savior continues and is perfected in the presence of God and those we love, forever.
Easter. The hope of the Christian faith.

Live into it.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Lent 2018

This year Easter falls on April 1st. We invite you and your neighbors to join us in about a month and a half as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection isn't just about a guy who was dead, coming back to life. It is after all, not the first time someone was brought back to life; there are both Old Testament and New Testament examples of those who were dead and were raised. The resurrection of Jesus though is special, unique. Paul tells us that this resurrection was of God himself, without any other agent and because of this, Paul tells us that the resurrection of Jesus is the basis or evidence of our hope in the gospel. If Jesus has not been raised, we are the most pitiable of all men. The resurrection then is one of the critical moments, one of the critical truths of our faith. 

The resurrection though only comes – only can come after the death of Jesus. This death was both horrible and beautiful. Horrible in its method; beautiful in the love it reveals and the rejoicing it prepares. Jesus's death is the culmination of his faithful life to God. In the garden we find that Jesus would like to have avoided this death but at the same time he says, "not my will, but your will be done." This is the key to Jesus's life and the place of his death as part of that life. It is the capstone, the finishing of a life that was focused solely on the will of God.  

The will of God was to reconcile the world to himself, which he did through the final death of Jesus, following a life of perfect obedience and faithfulness. God loves us and while we "were yet sinners," Christ died for us because God wants us – wants you – with him because that life is the best life for you. God seeks to bless, to heal, to cleanse, to restore. 

Before Easter, before remembering the resurrection, we have an opportunity to stop, to reflect, to consider why it was that Jesus had to die. What was it that caused God to have Jesus lay down his life for us? In short, we were and are that cause. Our lives are not always lived in the same faithfulness toward God as Jesus's life was. We have separated ourselves from God by our own pride, our own meanness, our own selfishness. Having separated ourselves from God, we have no way to set ourselves right; to fix the breach between God and us. Our separateness from God causes or results in separateness from each other and so we find that we haven't caused only one breach, but multiple breaches and we struggle to repair these breaches and find that we cannot fully do this. Jesus died to repair all of those breaches, between God and us, and others and us. 

Reflection prior to Easter is not limited to moroseness, to silently beating ourselves up for being "bad," to feel the burden we have given ourselves. Reflection prior to Easter also includes how we might move forward from where we are. Are there relationships we can heal, emotions we might soothe, others we might lift up? Having admitted to ourselves our role in bringing about the death of Jesus, we can sneak a glance at the resurrection and grace those around us with a bit of resurrection right now. Fasting is something that is often associated with the time before Easter – and so some will "give up" something during this period. Giving up something, denying ourselves intentionally so that we might join Jesus in his giving up of himself – even just a little bit can be a very shaping exercise. This is most effective if in giving that thing up, we transfer the time, the money, and energy into helping others, giving of ourselves truly in the service of others. As Paul tells us, in dying to ourselves, we look forward to resurrection with Jesu. Another, slightly different idea during this period is to not give something up, but to begin something new or to redirect our lives toward greater imitation of Jesus's love and faithfulness. Have you wanted to pray more regularly, more intentionally? Want to get those extra coats out of the closet and to the shelter? This period is an excellent time to make these adjustments to become more like Jesus and in these small ways of dying to ourselves, we point toward the promised resurrection offered to all persons. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

New Year 2018 Redemption

The work of Jesus occurred on two levels, if you will.

The first is the reconciliation of the world to God. The entire race and creation now has access to God. This is the reversal of Adam's blunder and what Paul attributes to Jesus as the Second Adam.

All things are set right; God and the creation are no longer at enmity with each other. If Adam was the spokesman for humankind, Jesus is now. This is reminiscent of Boaz redeeming Ruth. Ruth didn't have to do anything before Boaz could redeem her. This redemption is actually a family responsibility thus, Boaz looking for whoever had the right of redeemer.

This redemption is grace on Boaz's part; he loves Ruth and he wants to set her life right.

This is the first level of Jesus's work. The second level is you, specifically. If the world has been reconciled, so have you in some sense. That sense is that you, as a human are reconciled to God through the redemption effected by Jesus.

Your job is the same as Ruth's was - to accept the redemption and reconciliation, and join God. When you do this, you "enter" the redemption and reconciliation. Paul will call this "in Christ" because it is in Christ that the redemption and reconciliation are.

What about your sins; don't they have to go away? Well yes, and no. If you enter Christ, if you accept the redemption and reconciliation as did Ruth, whatever you've done before this is simply not considered. Sins are not so much forgiven as they are not even noticed. This is sometimes called removing your sins as far as the east is from the west. They don't actually go anywhere and God doesn't "pretend" they no longer exist. In reality, God simply doesn't take note of them. Ruth's obligation is now to remain faithful and as long as she does, she is loved and cared for.

In this connection, read Isaiah 44.22, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you" (ESV). Did you notice that flow? God had already blotted out the sin of his people, and then pleads with them to return to him. There is no longer an obstacle to their return, no hate from God, no penance or punishment to accomplish, nothing, wanting only their own desire for God. Similarly, and in a real sense, your sins were forgiven when Jesus reconciled the world to God. If you want to take advantage of that, simply accept God's invitation to life. That's what he wants and that's why he doesn't worry about your sins - he wanted you enough to reconcile himself to you even before you even knew you had sin.

So what happens to Ruth if she blows it after she's been redeemed? Does that change Boaz's feelings and care for her? No; if she burns the toast or calls him a bad name, Boaz isn't going to kick her out. If she joins herself to another man, then all bets are off.

This is the way God treats you. God has redeemed you because he wants you. Mess up on a Tuesday? Not good, but not the end of the world either. Join yourself to another god? All bets are off.

But it gets even better! If you join yourself to another god and thereby separate yourself from God - and then change your mind and want to come home, God will let you!

Because he loves you.

Heard this before? Well yes, used in reference to Hosea and Gomer as a parallel to God's love for Israel. Israel is a model, type, or icon of the people of God. While the Hosea story is a corporate story, the principle is the same between you and God.

Really mess up bad? God still loves you and will take you back just as Hosea did for Gomer, and just as God did over and over again for Israel.

This January first, accept the reality of having been reconciled to God and live into that redemption. Don't sweat too much over the fact that you haven't been and don't think you can be perfect in the future. Yes, that is what God has called his bride to - faithfulness. But, God knows you're human and he really is prepared and has removed your sins as far as the east is from the west.

Lower your defenses and live "in Christ," to become the best image of God you were made to be.

Happy new year!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Veterans Day 2017

Veterans Day. Since 1776-ish, our neighbors, family members, and friends have volunteered and been drafted to protect the freedoms we enjoy. In the United States we think of our freedoms as rights – things we can do or not do simply because we breathe. We live in a bubble though and it’s a bubble that could burst at any moment because our government is made of human beings who have their own agendas and to whom we give enormous power. Around the world and throughout history, the freedoms we hold as rights are not common. In fact, we constitute a small minority of humans in the history of the world who have had such freedoms. Yes, others have similar ones and yet others have had them in the past, but many, many more have never had them at all. 

We are lucky, to be quite honest to have been born into or to have moved to this country which has had both our Constitution, and government officials who have respected the rights in that document and who have rarely, but with some notable exceptions, stayed within the boundaries of their offices. The freedoms we have are tentative and only exist because we as a country have insisted that they must. Over our history, there have been external threats to our freedoms as well. Tyrants and dictators have found it easy to subjugate entire peoples, enslaving, murdering, and oppressing entire sections of the globe; many continue to do so. Thank God we haven't had to endure such an evil.

Those who walk among us, who have worn a military uniform have contributed to maintaining our freedoms, our rights. One day a year we remember and thank those who have served, those who have died, and those who are still living as one large part of our communities. Restaurants will give some of them free or discounted food, stores will have sales, and politicians will make speeches. That’s all fine, even if it does seem a bit commercial and perfunctory. This year, try this: find just one of those old guys (and gals) wearing one of those baseball caps with all the stuff on it, and shake their hand, say thank you while you look at them, and maybe even buy their lunch. Do this in front of your kids and then explain why you did it when they ask you who that guy was.

You and your kids will be better people for it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

What Are You Doing Here, Elijah?

This question, asked twice by YHWH of his prophet - of Israel’s prophet apparently - comes while Elijah is hiding from Jezebel in a mountain cave somewhere in southern Judah. He has come after a number of significant events as a prophet of YHWH. Before we get to those though, let’s rehearse the political situation in Israel.

If you’ve read the history of Israel in the book of Kings, you will have been struck by the repeated descriptions of both Israel’s and Judah’s kings. They are to say the least, a mixed bag of faithfulness to YHWH, with Israel’s kings being roundly bad - evil even. We are introduced to Ahab in chapter 16 and find that he is worse than any king that had come before him. He has married a non-Jew from Sidon who is a worshiper of Ba’al, the infamous Jezebel who will end up being eaten by dogs before her story is done. Jezebel influences Ahab to worship Ba’al and Asherah. He erects a temple for Ba’al and he sets up asherah poles around Israel. To emphasize the evil of Ahab’s reign, we are told that it is during his time that Jericho is rebuilt with the tragic consequences of the eldest and youngest sons of the man who rebuilds it, as Joshua had predicted. It is this characterization of Ahab’s reign as the background that we are introduced to Elijah and his exploits as the prophet of Israel. First, in chapter Elijah prophecies a drought and it is during this drought that we read the story of the widow of Zarephath and the raising of her son. This story is significant in that it will be recalled as a judgment on Israel that the prophet went outside of Israel to work the work of God, rather than within Israel. This story is followed by Elijah’s conflict with the prophets of Ba’al to end the drought. This story involves the building of altars by both groups. The prophets of Ba’al go first and simply can’t get their god to respond and Elijah jeers at them with questions concerning whether or not Ba’al can hear them. Who knows, maybe their god is asleep. The it’s Elijah’s turn and he soaks his altar with so much water that a trough dug around its base fills with water. Then Elijah prays to YHWH and not only is the offering burned up, but all the water in the trough is licked up; Elijah is victorious in this contest. He has the prophets of Ba’al rounded up, taken to the brook, and killed - hundreds of them. The next story follows immediately and involves Elijah praying for rain and sending his servant to look for clouds. When a small cloud, the size of one’s fist is seen, Elijah sends to Ahab and says, get off the mountain because it’s going to rain and you don’t want to get stuck, so everyone takes off down the mountain and it rains cats and dogs.

Let’s review a bit. Elijah has prophesied a drought, has caused a widow’s oil not to run out during the drought and raises her son, wins a spectacular contest against the prophets of Ba’al, and has witnessed the power of YHWH in consuming his offering, followed by praying for an end to the drought just to have the rain pour down. Elijah has been personally involved in all of these demonstrations of YHWH’s power.

The execution of the hundreds of Ba’al’s prophets has made an impression on Ahab and he tells his wife all that Elijah has done. As a worshiper of Ba’al, she can’t let this affront pass and she sends a message to Elijah that by this time tomorrow, the exact same thing will be done to Elijah. So he takes off with his servant and this is how he ends up waiting under a broom tree to die. God isn’t ready for Elijah to die and so he sends an angel to wake Elijah up and provide him nourishment for his future journey. Elijah ends up in a cave and experiences the power of YHWH in a great wind that causes landslides, an earthquake, and even fire. Each time, Elijah goes to the mouth of the cave to see if YHWH has arrived in power, but no, YHWH isn’t in any of those signs. Then finally, he hears a low voice, a whisper so he goes back to the cave entrance and hears the voice say, “what are you doing here, Elijah?” This happens twice and both times  Elijah laments that he is the only one left who is loyal to YHWH, that Jezebel and company have killed all the prophets so that he is the only one left, and they’re looking to kill him. YHWH finally says, nope, Elijah, I have a job for you to do. I am sending you to anoint the new king of Syria, a new king of Israel, and your own replacement. Not only that these three will take vengeance on Israel. Those not killed by the king of Syria will be killed by the king of Israel, and those not killed by either of those two will be killed by the new prophet. And by the way, there are 7000 faithful followers of YHWH; you’re not the only one left. We might be able to insert an unspoken, “so get up, quit hiding down here, and go do the work I’v set you to do.”

Before we go any further, let’s remember who Elijah was and is. Elijah is no slouch. He has confronted the king of Israel and witnessed the power of YHWH in a drought, endless oil, raising a son, being victorious against other prophets, and ending the same drought he introduced. He is now communing with YHWH, will be a king maker, and will not die. He will be translated in the famous story of the fiery chariot and his mantel descending on Elisha. He is also referred by Jesus as the forerunner of the Messiah and his name is applied to John the Baptist, and he is one of three manifested at the transfiguration of Jesus. Even today, Jews have a seat at the Passover table for Elijah. The guy is no minor character in the story of Messiah and the work of YHWH among his people.

With that reminder, let’s see what we might apply to ourselves. First, despite having been involved with and witnessing the power of YHWH, we find Elijah hiding from Jezebel in a cave in the middle of nowhere. How strong is Elijah’s faith, really? Having witnessed all those manifestations of YHWH, does he now cower from Jezebel whose god has been so thoroughly embarrassed, and prophets massacred? Or does he now lament in defeat and despair that he is the only faithful one left and just wants to die under a tree? Where is Elijah’s faith? Where is your faith? Do you ever feel like Elijah - you and God are so tight that you feel like nothing can get in the way or disrupt your Christian walk? And then, and  then, someone says something, or something doesn’t work the way you want it to work, or it just doesn’t seem like God is there. What happens to your faith? Do you react like Elijah did - an apparently normal human response? Elijah is not only faithful to YHWH but he is also human, not superhuman. The work of Elijah was through YHWH and Elijah’s security and succor was in Elijah even when Elijah didn’t remember those truths. How about you? Do you take on responsibility in your humanness, or do you rely on YHWH even when the flash-bang excitement isn’t present, and those around you question the existence of God or his goodness, or his faithfulness?

While we often find it too easy to forget, let’s encourage each other in the midst of insecurity and isolation, that YHWH has kept 7000 faithful and that we aren’t the only ones; that YHWH who has demonstrated his power in our lives remains faithful and near us. We like Elijah have jobs to do even in our faithfulness to God. What would you say to God if he asked you in a small voice, “what are you doing here?”

That’s the big question posed by these stories but there are other details which present themselves. Perhaps the most important consideration is YHWH’s attention to non-Jews. We see in both the widow of Zarephath and this commissioning of Elijah to anoint the king of Syria of YHWH’s care for and authority over people and nations outside of Israel. YHWH is not just the God of Abraham’s descendants, but of the whole world. YHWH doesn’t have care for only residents of Israel, but suffering people wherever they are. We are called to live with that awareness. Our God is the God of the entire world and seeks to bless all peoples and all people in the midst of their suffering, and we are called as his images to have the same care, extending the kingdom of God throughout the world.

Can you do that in the face of persecution, oppression, and seeming aloneness? Will you?

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