Praying the Beatitudes

1.28.14Father, I settle my thoughts in Your majestic presence and look inside my heart. I realize that even I am deceived and cannot see the depths You see. Thank you for saving me, rescuing me from my own sin. Thank you for giving me Your word, that demonstrates both my need for You and in what areas I need to grow.

Help me God to place Your kingdom as a priority above all of my own intentions, self-righteousness, thoughts, and rights. I desire Your kingdom to focus my attention away from myself.

Break my heart to grieve and sorrow over the sin that cost Jesus so dearly. Only in Your grace can I find comfort.

Grant me the ability, Lord, to use the passions and strengths You have given me without becoming prideful and convinced of my own power. You will give me the victories that You desire me to have.

Create within me an insatiable hunger for the faith to live for You as I face all of my decisions and struggle through my dilemmas. Through the strength of Jesus  – and only Jesus – I come before You to be filled.

Direct my attention to the hurting, the defeated, and the depressed. Do not allow me to be arrogant or dismissive of them … but to express the joy of Your love to them. And on the days when I am low, my Abba, I will depend on You to lift me.

Remind me, Lord, that it is not too late to cleanse my heart through the power of the blood of your Son Jesus. Help me not to love the sin of this world, but to be aware of my weakness so that I can always look toward You for strength in the moment of temptation.

When my temper flares, Almighty God, call me to bow in your shadow and trust You to bring Your own justice. Release me, Lord, in Your name to make peace as one of Your children.

I know that You know how deeply it hurts to do what is right and to experience unfair pain because of it. This reminds me, God, to long for a new home One Day.

Help me to remember Your servants, the Prophets. Whatever I experience is light compared to the way they were treated.

Lord I want to have a spirit of joy and gladness because a reward awaits that I cannot even imagine. As I look over these thoughts … inspired by the Beatitudes … I’m humbled, amazed, surprised, gladdened that you would want to save someone like me.  Thank you for the insight into the kind of character You are developing within me. I yield to you Holy Spirit. I trust in you Savior Jesus. I love you Father. Amen.

Blessed Are…

beatitudes-1Matthew 5:1-12 contains the text we call The Beatitudes. This text is so familiar some of you are already starting to move on to the next post. After all, we have heard the beatitudes from the time we were children in Sunday School. Maybe we memorized them at Vacation Bible School. Perhaps they are on a plaque in your kitchen.

I hope, though, that you are not jaded by this prolific teaching of Jesus because I’m pretty sure that none of us have mastered these principles.

Maybe that’s why we do not feel very blessed at times. Are we going on ‘auto-correct’ as we read the Beatitudes? As you read do you find yourself thinking things like

*I’m sure Jesus didn’t mean that like it sounds

*Oh you can’t do that these days

*Maybe we should be that way, but …

No, we’re not saying that out loud. But we are living it out loud. When I look at this list then look around … and in the mirror … I am not seeing these demonstrated in many lives. How many humble, mournful, meek, hungry, merciful, pure, peacemaking people do you know? As we read the beatitudes are we silently telling Jesus that this kind of living won’t work in these modern times?

If you were given the assignment to write ten sentences that begin with the words, “Blessed Are…”, I’m betting this is not the list you would come up with (without cheating!).

I really think the Beatitudes remain beyond us in their importance and the profound truth that they expose. In many ways they go against what we ‘know’ about relationships and responding to both friends and enemies. While they run counter to our human nature, we DO want what they promise. The kingdom of heaven, comfort, satisfaction, mercy, belonging, and ultimately a reward in heaven.

What it all comes down to as Jesus begins this amazing ‘Sermon on the Mount’  is trust. Do we believe that if we respond to life’s struggles in these prescribed ways that we will have what our hearts most desperately desire?

Jesus doesn’t wait until the end of his sermon to reach his point … he throws down the gauntlet right from the start. Following Jesus is not business as usual. It is not intuitive. It is does not create a user-friendly environment. The rewards are not received immediately. You have to decide up front if you are going to follow or not.

Do we trust Jesus to live life without correcting Him? Because these rules for living do not seem right. I think it’s been double checked, though, and it’s written correctly. It’s true, because the Teacher is from God. Thankfully He is patient with us as we grow into these areas.

These are some initial thoughts regarding the text for Sunday’s sermon. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Beatitudes. Thanks for reading,

John

Kingdom Connections

1.12.14So John the baptist was preaching in the wilderness. Sometime after the baptism of Jesus, John pointed at him and declared him to be the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’. The next day John sees Jesus and exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” I don’t know how many times John’s disciples needed to hear this, but it finally broke through to the other side and they followed Jesus. Jesus invited them to see where he was staying. One of them was named Andrew. (John 1:29-42)

Andrew is a follower. He followed John. He followed Jesus.

Andrew is a bringer. He brought his brother to meet Jesus. Later he brings a boy who has a lunch that he might be willing to share … with 5,000 people.

Jesus took one look at Andrew’s brother and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas.” John tells us that this is translated as “Peter”.

John the Baptist is a bit of a mystery. Andrew is a bit of a behind the scenes kind of guy. Peter is the up-front bound-to-be-a-leader guy.  Jesus is, well, the central figure of the Bible.

It is only because of the Gospels that we can connect these characters. It is only because of the Gospel that these characters are connected. If Andrew wasn’t who he was, would Peter have found his way into the story?

Think about your story. Is there a proclaimer, a bringer, a leader, and a Savior? I thought so. Go ahead and reflect on the role these people have played in your life. Think about how the absence of one of them might have broken the kingdom connections that have changed your life. But it all fell into place … eventually… and we’re grateful.

So where are the kingdom connections in your life? If we learn anything about the story of Jesus from the Gospels and the New Testament, it is that this story is ongoing. God is continually gathering together Johns, Andrews, Peters, and Jesus. No matter if you’re the prophet or the quiet believer, God uses you in the connections all around you.

Next year will someone reading this account take a moment and look back to see how you helped make kingdom connections for them? And thank God for you?

Maybe the key is not to look forward a year or backward a year, but look around this week. Make a kingdom connection when you have opportunity. You never know when Jesus is going to give someone a new name.

These are some initial observations on the lectionary text for this week. They often survive the week and make it into the sermon the following Sunday. Your thoughts will help make them better. Thanks for reading!

John

 

 

What is This Baptism of Jesus About?

1.5.13The baptism of Jesus is, to me, a bit of a mystery. Depending on which Christian tradition to which you belong, various meanings are assigned to the purpose of baptism. For some it is a demonstration of something that has already happened in the heart. For others it is a defining moment that begins a new journey as a saved person. For some it is an identification with a local congregational assembly. But none of those can really be assigned to the baptism of Jesus.

He hasn’t “accepted Christ as his personal savior.”

He hasn’t had his “sins washed away, calling on the name of the Lord.”

He hasn’t pledged himself to serve under the leadership of a local church.

So what is Jesus doing in the Jordan river with cousin John the baptist (who was not a Baptist, but that is for another post sometime)? Even John doesn’t seem to know.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” ~Matthew 3:13-14

So if the prophet in the wilderness is a bit confused, I think it is ok for us to be also. But we do know more of the story than John did. It seems to me that the baptism of Jesus can be seen as needful in a couple of ways.

*It was the right thing to do. (Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. ~Matthew 3:15) Although baptism seemed to all but disappear from Protestant theology over the centuries, it’s making a comeback! If you read your Bible you will find over and over examples of people being baptized in water. Jesus even told his disciples to go into the whole world and upon teaching them about the gospel. The result is that people would be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism is not the end of the story, but it is in the story. I think, for Jesus, it was a recognition of his life as a human on earth.

*It culminated the ministry of John the baptist. It isn’t long until John is decreasing and Jesus is increasing. The baptism of Jesus is both the crowning moment of John’s ministry and a stamp of Divine approval.

*It officially announced Jesus as the Lamb of God and began his public ministry. We do not know what Jesus was doing from the time he was twelve until this moment. Perhaps spending time in the carpenter’s shop. But a dramatic shift in the purpose and life of Jesus begins at this moment.

*It gives us a trinitarian moment! Jesus in the water, the dove in the sky, and the voice from heaven. (As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. ~Matthew 3:16) The doctrine of the trinity relies on this passage.

*It affirms for us (and for Jesus) that his ministry as the Messiah is, indeed, the plan of God to redeem man.

 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” ~Matthew 3:17

I’m sure there are some deep theological principles that I’ve passed over, but these are the thoughts that are evident to me in the baptism of Jesus. In these ways, the baptism of Jesus and the baptism practiced by the Christian church is very different. The Christian church didn’t exist yet…but it would not be long. We had to have a Christ before we could have Christians!

These initial reflections on the lectionary Gospel passage for this week leave me with one more thought. How captivating is it that the Father affirms the Son at this crucial moment …that the Holy Spirit is present and in a peaceful beautiful presence? When we are baptized today to demonstrate our faith in Christ, I believe that there is no less the presence of the Spirit to bring peace, and the voice of the Father to affirm love and approval. Maybe in those ways the baptism of Jesus is like our own.

Maybe you thought of other reasons why Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John. Feel free to share them in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

John

Joseph’s Story

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I wonder if Joseph ever felt like a third wheel? Almost everything we know about him is in relation to someone else. He is an ancestor of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1-17).  He is engaged to be married to Mary. He is the one an angel appears to and warns him to rescue his family from the death decree of Herod. He is the carpenter who taught The Carpenter from Nazareth.  When the boy Jesus disappears from the family vacation and is found teaching in the temple, it is his mother who talks to him. Joseph? Maybe a man of few words?

Joseph disappears without explanation from the Gospel story. By the time Jesus appears to be baptized by John in the wilderness, about 30 years later, it  is assumed that Joseph has died. But we do not know how he died, where he is buried, nor what kind of consequences Mary and Jesus and the other children in the family faced.

The story is about Jesus. The virgin birth is an essential part of that story, thus Mary is an essential part of that story. But Joseph is hardly an inconsequential character in the birth narratives. Joseph’s story is also amazing. Perplexed, but faithful, Joseph made choices that are to be admired by disciples of all ages. Taking a look at Matthew 1:18-25, here are some observations about Joseph.

Joseph was a believer caught in a heartbreaking circumstance. Haven’t we seen this story on The Jerry Springer Show? Young couple engaged to be married  … the woman is now pregnant … she’s never slept with her fiancé … who is the baby daddy? I know that sounds irreverent but we can’t play down the scandalous nature of this situation. In the initial hours after Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy, what do you think was going through his mind? His decision gives you some insight.

Joseph was a man with a gentle heart and genuine love for Mary. How many men would react as did Joseph? He had no desire to disgrace Mary. That would have been easy enough. I’m sure even without Joseph’s help the community around them were coming up with their own stories and the gossip was making it’s way to willing ears. But for his part, Joseph planned to make this as painless as possible. No doubt through his tears and broken heart … through disappointment and disillusionment.

Joseph was a man with an open spirit to hear a word from the Lord. If anyone would have a hard time believing the story that Mary tells, Joseph would be chief among them. Even God realized the need to be proactive in addressing this situation. There’s something about the angel’s message to Joseph that tells me that God was intensively interested in Joseph’s well being.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” ~Matthew 1:20-21

Matthew references Isaiah’s famous prophecy.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. ~Isaiah 7:14

Joseph is not mentioned there either.

Joseph was a man who was committed to serving the Lord. It was an unbelievable message that at first broke his heart. But after hearing from God, Joseph demonstrated what he was made of and took Mary as his wife. Is there anyone who thinks this was easy? The guys down on the corner – they’re calling him names and shaking their heads. His parents? They are trying to talk him out of it. The community? They are staring him down as he walks down the street … hand in hand with Mary. But Mary and Joseph have had secret meetings with God, and they are content to follow Him. The baby was born and Joseph did as he was told. He named him Jesus.

I think it is important that Joseph loved and took care of Mary. But I’m not so sure it was anything Joseph did that made him special. It was the kind of believer he was. What I don’t know about him isn’t nearly so important as what I do know. Even so, he is not the star of this story. We won’t be singing songs about him this week. His presence is visible in the nativity scenes, but no one is looking at him. All eyes are where they should be. On the babe.

I happen to believe that if Joseph could speak to us today he would deflect any attention given to him and instead point to the most amazing story ever told.

Who, being in very nature God,did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
~Philippians 2:6-11

Merry Christmas!

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Time to Wake Up!

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This is a time of year when we have a greater awareness that our time is short. Christmas is coming quickly. The new year will bring 2013 to a close and 2014 into reality. All of the anniversaries and birthdays, milestones and significant events will be observed again in the coming year. Time really does pass quickly.

This is also a time of year when Bible students often return to the incarnation texts. The events preceding the birth of the Messiah fascinate us, even though we have read them many times. Some church traditions observe Advent, renewing a sense of wonder and anticipation for the coming Christ. This is true as we read the birth narratives … and also as we await the return of Jesus Christ.

The impending parousia … the second coming of Jesus Christ … seems to be on the mind of the Apostle Paul as he nears the end of his letter to the Romans.

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11

How many of us regard our salvation journey in this way? Do we think of ourselves as being closer to the day when the promise will be revealed? I think we have to be intentionally focused on our life in the shadow of His return. It is very easy to be caught up in the noise and distraction of each day and to forget to give attention to spiritual matters in our lives. Each day we are closer to our ultimate salvation. Time to wake up!

What do wide-awake Christians do?

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Romans 13:12-13

The contrast between living in the darkness of sin and the light of God’s will can be found throughout the writings of Paul. Putting aside the dark ways of life reminds us of the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Roman church where he describes the lifestyles of the unsaved and unsavory. Here is a similar list that briefly mentions some of the most significant temptations of any day … sexual immorality and treating people unkindly. In our world, we may separate those two. Paul sees them both as equally dark. Especially in comparison.

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. Romans 13:14

The comparison is not to other good people, but to Jesus Christ himself. When compared to the way he loved and treated people, the using of other people to carelessly fulfill sexual needs seems darker than we might have thought at first. Dealing with each other in envious ways that cause friction and trouble, equally dark.

Thus the admonition to wake up … wrap our lives with the light and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ … and await our day with a ray of hope.

This was also the message of Jesus as he announced his return with certainty and boldness in Matthew 24:36-44. In that text there are several pronouncements to keep our attention focused in the right direction:

– That day is unknown. No one knows the hour of that day. So, basically, anyone who claims to know when Jesus is coming back is not telling you the truth. (Matthew 24:36)

– That day is a normal day. The things you see every day will be seen on that day. Eating, drinking, marrying, living … there will be no signal that this will be the last day. So, basically, anyone who claims to know when Jeus sis coming back due to some warning signals in the sky, is not telling you the truth. (Matthew 24:37-39)

– That day is a day of sudden judgment. People will disappear. Not everyone is going to be saved. So, basically, anyone who tells you that in the end everyone will be saved is not telling you the truth. (Matthew 24:40-41)

– That day is sure to come, so be ready! (Matthew 24:44)

Jesus demonstrates his knowledge of human nature with a short parable within this teaching.

If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. Matthew 24:43

What if we did know exactly the signs, dates, and time of the return of Jesus Christ? What would we do? I think most people would ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ … until the day before THAT DAY. I might go buy a Jaguar on credit, knowing I wouldn’t actually have to pay for it! I can see a reason behind keeping that day a secret.

The reason is that the Christian life is not JUST about being ready for that day, it is about being alert, awake, and alive to the power of Christ in us … and helping other people get ready for that day.

So it is time to wake up, Christians!

Thanks for reading!

John