Category Archives: Jesus

Chasing After Baptism

Grace Amelia's Baptism  140330 croppedLast evening my second grandchild, Grace Amelia Keller, was baptized. It was a big celebration with aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends rejoicing in a new child of God. When my first grandchild, Jack, was baptized I reflected on the significance of baptism here.  Last night I was struck with a whole new perspective.

Grace Amelia's Baptism  140330  John Crosby croppedBefore the baptism, Pastor John Crosby gave some instruction to the gathered congregation regarding baptism. He emphasized the role each of them has in modeling and teaching the faith to Grace. At one point he said, “And if Grace is running down the halls of the church, you should be chasing after her.” I am not sure exactly what he meant by that image of running and chasing, but I immediately flashed back to my own son, Jonathan, father of Grace, running up and down the halls of the church when he was a toddler.

Children do a lot of running and exploring. Last night after the baptism, Jack and his friend Lily were both running/toddling/crawling about the church, exploring every nook and cranny. They wanted to see all the musical instruments, the doorways and pews. In an earlier age, I might have discouraged such behavior in “God’s House,” since it seemed disrespectful. Today I encourage it as children seek through exploration to understand their environment. They have not become jaded or apathetic about church space.

Our congregation’s Easter postcard (inviting new residents to Easter worship) is simple this year. It is a young child running with joy in a park. In John 20:4 Peter and John race to the empty tomb after hearing Mary’s report of it being empty. They ran with joy and excitement.Easter 2014

Maybe that is why we need to chase Grace and other children down the halls of the church. Not so much to stop them or to keep them safe and quiet. Rather that we might capture their childlike enthusiasm of exploring the sacred. To find Jesus. After all we are all children of God. Together lets run to see him.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

In what ways do you think we should receive the kingdom like a little child?

Lord Jesus, create in me a child’s desire to run after you.

Experience the Way

Christina with her sister Suzanne and holding nephew Jack

Christina with her sister Suzanne and holding nephew Jack

My daughter, Christina, was not quite three. She was waking up from a nap and my wife noticed that she did not seem fully responsive. Christina’s eyes were open and she was breathing, but her face was blank and she did not respond to any touch or sound. This persisted for a few minutes, so we called 911 and an ambulance came. We rushed off to the children’s hospital, uncertain what was happening, but praying for God’s intervention.

I think about that ambulance ride, when I read the story (John 4:46-54) of the royal official whose son was ill. The official traveled more than twenty miles by foot to Jesus and “begged him to come down and heal his son.” The official was someone who normally gave orders and told people what to do. Begging was not part of his daily life—especially with a wandering, controversial preacher. Yet he was desperate to help his son and if begging was necessary, he would do it.

Many parents would do the same. I know my prayers in the ambulance were a form of begging, “God, help my daughter.” It was raw and real and I waited for God to hear me.

Jesus’ response to the official sounds ambivalent, almost callous, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” It sounds like it is meant for the crowd that surrounded Jesus and not for the official.

Yet the father persisted. As I said he was desperate. “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.”

I hear and empathize with this father’s plea. At times God seems distant and silent, yet I persist in my prayer for God’s assistance.

Jesus responded, “Go, your son will live.”

This is not what the father asked. He wanted Jesus to come with him, to be present and touch his son. I would want the same. I want Jesus to be physically present, reassuring me as much as my child.

Yet the official believed the word of Jesus. He started on his way, not knowing what would happen, but simply trusting in the promise of Jesus. I wonder what thoughts and feelings he experienced as he walked towards home. (I let you read the story to discover how it concludes.)

Sometimes the WAY seems isolated and cold.

Sometimes the WAY seems isolated and cold.

Many parents live right there in the story.  We are walking the way, unsure of the future.  We have the promise of God’s love and healing, but are uncertain how it will unfold. We walk, trusting in the promise of God for our children and for ourselves. We are on the way, but the way seems dark and cheerless.

Shortly after my daughter arrived at the hospital, we met with doctors and discovered that she had experienced a mild form of epileptic seizure, something that could be treated with a prescription. They assured us that she would grow out of it. And she has.

Still I remember clearly that feeling as we drove to the hospital, the begging quality of my prayer and the simple trust in the promise of God’s love. We all walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  We try to remember that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)

When have you walked by faith and not by sight?

Lord Jesus, I believe, help me in my unbelief.

Wrong Interpretation

I have written in the past about how I have changed my perspective or interpretation on a certain passage of scripture. An example is the widow’s coin.

Artist He Qi Samaritan Woman At The Well

John 4 is another example. Years ago I taught a Bible study based the story of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. Like others, I saw the woman as somehow morally bankrupt and in need of repentance. The evidence was clear.

First, she came to the well at noon. (John 4:6-7).  The woman came at the heat of the day so as to avoid others who would chastise or shun her because most women came in the cool of the morning.

She has had five husbands and is now with one who is not her husband (John 4:18). Obviously she must be a sinner to have had five husbands and to be living with a non-husband. Perhaps she was a prostitute or some other moral deviant who needs to repent.

Yet over time I began to see a problem with my old interpretive framework.

Dr. David Loose at Luther’s Seminary writes at www.workingpreacher.org,

And that’s precisely the sentence that has moved preachers of all stripes and across the centuries to brand her a prostitute. Yet if we read more closely we discover that there is nothing in the passage that makes this an obvious interpretation. Neither John as narrator nor Jesus as the central character supply that information. Jesus at no point invites repentance or, for that matter, speaks of sin at all. She very easily could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced. Five times would be heartbreaking, but not impossible.

Further, she could now be living with someone that she was dependent on, or be in what’s called a Levirate marriage (where a childless woman is married to her deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir yet is not always technically considered the brother’s wife). There are any number of ways, in fact, that one might imagine this woman’s story as tragic rather than scandalous.

The difficulty with the all too regular interpretation is that it interrupts and distracts from the rest of the story.

David Loose then points out that the woman’s response is not a deflection from herself but rather a sign of faith. “I see that you are a prophet.” Seeing in John’s Gospel is tied to faith. One sees and one believes. The story of John 9 when Jesus heals a man born blind demonstrates this. Such seeing also casts light on the time of the story. The woman encounters Jesus in the brilliance of day, not to avoid scandal but rather to encounter truth.  Contrast this with Nicodemus who comes at night in John 3.  (A great Bible Study is to compare and contrast Nicodemus encounter with Jesus and the woman encounters.)

Later the woman tells her neighbors to “come and see the man” (John 4:29). Just as Philip invited Nathanael to “come and see” Jesus.  (John 1:46).  She is one of the first evangelists.

Studying scripture is an ongoing experience that can change our perspective.

When has studying scripture changed your perspective?

 

Lord Jesus, help us to see with fresh eyes.

Jesus the Poet

The Gospel of John is the current focus of my preaching. I am excited, challenged and transformed by the Word of God encountered in John. The powerful language, metaphors and word images stir new thoughts and perspectives. I cannot read John passively; I am called into an encounter with Jesus.

From the start, John uses poetic symbols and metaphors to describe Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Marcus Borg, a New Testament scholar, writes,

John’s use of symbolic language is extraordinarily powerful. His images are often “archetypal” (literally, imprinted in human psyches from the beginning). They flow out of the depths of human experience and longing. We see this with great clarity in the “I am” statements that he attributes to Jesus:

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). The archetypal image is darkness and light and it close relative blindness and seeing. The image is not only in John’s prologue, but also in the story of Nicodemus (John 3), who comes to Jesus “by night” —he is still in the dark. In John 9, the overcoming of blindness and Jesus as the “light of the world” are juxtaposed. (Marcus Borg, Evolution of the Word, p. 305-306)

John’s use of metaphor can often be confusing and unsettling—that is his intention. Take the story of Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus is a religious leader, a Pharisee, who comes to talk with Jesus by night. He starts with a clear declaration of respect, “Rabbi, we know that you are teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus calls Jesus Rabbi—teacher—and Nic appear ready to learn.

But Jesus’ use of language seems only to confuse Nic. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (or again)” Nic does not catch the true impact of Jesus. He is not simply a teacher who give more data, but rather God who give birth to a new cosmos. Nic responds, “How does someone climb back up into his mom’s uterus?”

Nic comes to Jesus like an engineer or scientist, wanting the new set of blueprints for remodeling one’s life. Jesus responds like a fiery poet, burning down Nic’s safe path to religious enlightenment with the declaration that one needs a fresh birth (implying the death of the old and a new birth with a new perspective?). Like a poet Jesus uses dramatic graphic language: birth from above, born of water and Spirit, the wind blows where it will. All this leaves Nic confused, questioning, wondering, “How can these things be?”

As a reader, I am often like Nic, wrestling with questions and concepts. I need to die to my simple approach that wants to fit Jesus into my life. Rather Jesus comes to “break open” my religious perspective and start a new creation in my life. The new creation is not always clear, but I know that staying close to the poet Jesus, I will find the way, the truth and life.

Lord Jesus, speak your word of new birth for me today.

Discover the Unnamed Disciple

At the beginning of each gospel, Jesus calls disciples to join his mission. Jesus will not be a solo prophet, working independently. He starts a community that will explore God’s new reality together.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist introduces two of his own disciples to Jesus with the words, “Behold, the lamb of God.” (John 1:35-42) The two disciples follow Jesus at a distance but soon Jesus spots them and invites them to spend the evening. As we read further, we discover that one of the disciples is named Andrew. Andrew is so excited by the encounter that he hurries off to his brother Simon and brings him to meet Jesus as well. Jesus renames Simon as Peter – The Rock.

unknown-personBut the other disciple remains unnamed.

Immediately following this story comes a second like it. Philip meets Jesus and he also is transformed by his encounter that he tracks down his friend Nathaniel and brings him to Jesus.  By the end of chapter one there are five disciples following Jesus: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel, and the “unnamed disciple.”

We can speculate who that disciple was, but I think a more productive reading is to reflect on who that disciple is. I believe the unnamed disciple is you (and me), the reader of the Gospel. Like Andrew, we are invited by Jesus, to “come and see” as we study the Gospel of John. We are invited to experience the life transformation of a personal relationship with Jesus as we read the Gospel of John.

John, the writer of the Gospel, address the reader (you and me) directly at the end of the Gospel.

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.(John 20:30-31)

As you read the Gospels, place yourself in the story. See yourself in the mirror of scripture.  And receive the life Jesus has to offer.

How do you respond to Jesus invitation to “come and see?”

Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see you today.

Advent Conspiracy: Give More

AC_header_LWI_NEWLast Sunday, as part of the Advent Conspiracy, I preached on “Spend Less” and shared a specific story about an alternative giving idea. Nancy W. Gavin started a tradition in her home of placing a small white envelope in the Christmas tree. Inside the envelope was a very special gift. You can read her original inspiring story (published in Woman’s Day December 14, 1982) here.

The main reason I “Spend Less” on Christmas gifts (that are often given out of guilt or custom) is so that I can truly “Give More” in the Spirit of Christ. As an Advent Conspiracy pastor wrote,

We know what you’re thinking. “Wait, didn’t they just say I should spend less, and yet here they are telling me to give more? What gives?” The most powerful, memorable gift you can give to someone else is yourself. And nobody modeled this more than Jesus. So what does this look like for you? Tickets to a ball game or the theater? A movie night? The main point is simple: When it comes to spending time with those you love, it’s all about quality, not quantity.

A strong Christmas memory from childhood was opening our special family present. It was often a simple board game: Clue or Mousetrap or Trivial Pursuit. We would then play the game together, enjoying the friendly competition. I have no memory of who won or lost, but I do remember the powerful sense of family joy. My parents practiced “Give More” in that simple present.

 

After my sermon on the white envelope someone talked with me about starting their own white envelope tradition in their family. I gave him a few ideas on what projects he might consider. One was our local food shelf. Another idea is to give a gift from the ELCA gift catalog, such as a goat or pig to a family in the developing country or a week’s tuition for a seminary student. You can learn more about such good gifts at the here

The practice of “Give More” is at the heart of the Christmas story. Jesus gave himself for us. In the babe of Bethlehem, God came to us in a simple child, vulnerable and poor. As Paul reminds us

Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. 5 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. 6 He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. (Phil 2:4-8, The Message)

How might you “Give More” this Christmas?

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving yourself. Teach me to give in new ways.

Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less

AC_header_LWI_NEW

Advent starts immediately after Thanksgiving; so does all the hoopla of Christmas shopping.

Growing up I was blessed to be part of a traditional yet wonderful Thanksgiving celebration. First my family would go to church in the morning, sing hymns, and offer prayers of thanks to God. Then we would come home for the fantastic meal of turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, fresh-baked rolls and all the goods. Then after the meal we would take a break, either play a family board game or watch a football game before we ate the most delicious pumpkin pie. It was a wonderful, joy-filled day.

But it all changed when I entered Junior High. Oh we still had the church service, and the huge delicious family meal. We would still take a break prior to the pie. But instead of playing a board game or watching football, I had work to do.

Paper BoyI had an afternoon paper route for the local paper.

Normally my five mile route was manageable on my bicycle; the paper was only 24 to 32 pages and fairly light and the total load of 100 plus papers was not overwhelming.

But on Thanksgiving day, that all changed. The paper always swelled to over 100 pages due to all the advertisements. Every store in town had ads or inserts for the biggest shopping day of the year: The Friday after Thanksgiving; Black Friday.

But did I care about all those ads? Not a bit, since it only made folding and delivering my 100 plus papers so difficult. I grew to hate all the advertising hoopla that kicked off the Christmas Shopping frenzy. As I made the trek around the neighborhood, I wondered what all that shopping frenzy actually bought?

On average, each American spends over $700 on Christmas presents. That is nearly 200 billion dollars. The next question: What is one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year? Next question: what about the fourth gift? Do you remember that one? Truth is many of us don’t remember because it wasn’t something we necessarily wanted or needed.

AC_Spend_ICONAdvent Conspiracy challenges us to rethink our Christmas shopping frenzy. Spending Less is not a call to stop giving gifts, it’s a call to stop spending money on gifts we won’t remember in less than a year. So much of our spending goes right onto a credit card which adds a new stress when January’s bill rolls around. By Spending Less, or spending wisely on gifts we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart.

Spending Less is an invitation to reconsider what (or who) is at the heart of Christmas. Jesus came into the world to give us life: vibrant, faith-filled life. He did not come to make sure there was large pile of presents under the Christmas tree. He came to set us free, even from the dangers of rampant consumerism.

What would Spending Less look like in your home?

Lord Jesus, help me to keep my focus on you, even as I take out my credit card.

Advent Conspiracy Intro

AC_header_LWI_NEW

The season of Advent begin on Sunday, December 1st. Advent includes the four Sundays prior to Christmas.  This Advent Resurrection Lutheran Church is participating in the Advent Conspiracy.  Too often the season of Advent is a whirlwind of gift-buying and party-preparation that misses out on the centrality of Jesus’ birth. The Advent Conspiracy seeks to reinvigorate the purpose of the season by refocusing our attention on Jesus.

The Advent Conspiracy (AC) was started by church pastors several years ago as a way to keep Jesus central during this hectic season. (You can read about it here)

As the AC states

We all want our Christmas to be a lot of things. Full of joy. Memories. Happiness. Above all, we want it to be about Jesus. What we don’t want is stress. Or debt. Or feeling like we “missed the moment”. Advent Conspiracy is a movement designed to help us all slow down and experience a Christmas worth remembering. But doing this means doing things a little differently. A little creatively.

Christmas Angels

The four Sundays of Advent each have a special focus.

December 1
Worship Fully 

AC_Worship_ICONChristmas marks the moment where God’s promise was fulfilled and love took form, tiny fingers and all. It is a moment that deserves our full attention and praise. We put Worship Fully as AC’s first tenet because we believe the level of our involvement at Christmas is based entirely on how much we are celebrating Christ’s birth. He deserves celebration; one that is creative, loud and directs every heart His way.

For Resurrection we are delighted to welcome Dr. Michael Chan back as he preaches on Daniel 3 and the trust and power of worship.

The other three themes (which will have separate blog posts in the coming weeks) are

December 8
Spend Less

December 15
Give More

December 22
Love All.

What do you appreciate about the season of Advent?

Lord Jesus, deepen my love for you and your people throughout the season of Advent.

Simply Love

davepykeWhile in college, I remember having a long, intense conversation on the concept of law in the Bible with my roommate, David Pyke. (Dave went on to get his Ph.D. and is now the dean of the School of Business Administration (SBA) at the University of San Diego. He was/is one smart dude!)

I do not remember the specific issue. It might have whether it was possible to be a pacifist and a Christian, whether one could every lie to a friend or whether one must worship on Sunday. What I do remember vividly was that we agreed on the ethic of love. Love was Jesus’ great command – love your neighbor as yourself – and Paul’s great summary of the Christian duty.

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:9-10

EKGThroughout my pastoral ministry, love has been the guiding light in many situations. For example, I have been with a critical ill person in the hospital and the family faced a difficult decision: whether or not to remove their loved one from life support machines. The physicians have done all that they can do and the chance of recovery is extremely small.

Occasionally a family member would think that they were breaking the commandment, “You shall not kill,” since the removal of life support almost certainly meant death.  Yet after much prayer and conversation, the family began to understand that maintaining “life support” in such situations was rarely life, but only a form of prolonged death. The Biblical commandment to prohibit killing was not written in the context of modern hospitals and their agonizing choices. The difficult but “loving” choice at times can be to remove “life-support.”

I realize that the rule of love can be viewed as fuzzy and manipulative, an ethic of convenience. I want to be clear that it is NOT simply doing what I “feel” is right. Paul gives us an extended definition of love in his letter to the Corinthians.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.

Jesus gives us the pure example of love when he died on the cross, taking our violent sin upon himself.

To love our neighbor is rarely easy. It is not simply being soft-hearted. Love requires a strong spine as when a parent needs to confront a son or daughter with the need for rehabilitation when the child is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Yet that confrontation needs to be done with compassion and grace, seeking the healing of the son or daughter. Love seeks the very best in and for others.

How does the rule of love impact your daily life and decision?

Lord Jesus, give me the strength to love as you have loved me.

Giving as Trust

The simple story of the widow’s gift in the temple has fascinated me for years.

the-poor-widows-offeringJesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

In a past post I wrote about how Jesus may be chastising the temple officials for taking the last coins of a poor widow. That still may be true, yet one cannot help but notice, as Jesus does, the trusting heart of the widow. Then this week I read a story that underscored the emphasis of giving as trust.

The Rev. Gordon Cosby was the founder and pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. When Cosby was a young man, minister of a small Baptist congregation in a railroad town just outside of Lynchburg, Virginia he got a call from a church deacon. Cosby later wrote

My deacon told me that he wanted my help. “We have in our congregation,” he said, “a widow with six children. I have looked at the records and discovered that she is putting into the treasury of the church each month $4.00 – a tithe of her income. Of course, she is unable to do this. We want you to go and talk to her and let her know that she needs to feel no obligation whatsoever, and free her from the responsibility.”

I am not wise now [writes Gordon]; I was less wise then. I went and told her of the concern of the deacons. I told her as graciously and as supportively as I know how that she was relieved of the responsibility of giving. As I talked with her the tears came into her eyes. “I want to tell you,” she said, “that you are taking away the last thing that gives my life dignity and meaning.”

“I tried to retrieve the situation. I was unable to do it. I went home and pondered the story of Jesus in the temple watching the people put their offerings in the collection plate. Jesus’ attitude amazed me. He had the audacity to watch what people were putting in the collection plate. Not only did he have the audacity to watch, he had the audacity to comment. Of the rich who put in large sums he said, “They put in what they can easily afford.” Of the poor widow who dropped in two coins, he said, “She in her poverty, who needs so much, has given away everything, her whole living.” I knew I would have said to her, “Let us take this to the council. We have a sensible council that always makes exceptions and I know that they will relieve you of your discipline of giving.” From Letters to Scattered Pilgrims by Elizabeth O’Conner.

Giving can go beyond sensible into the realm of trust and devotion.  Giving reorients us to the core of our lives.

Lord Jesus, teach me to give with total trust and devotion.