Straight Talk

Jesus knew all along how his life would unfold.  He knew that there would come a point in which he would suffer and die.  The cross was continuously before him as he carried out his mission and ministry.  Each day drew him closer to this reality.  There would be difficult days ahead for him and his followers.  Thus, as Jesus journeyed with these twelve disciples, he tried to prepare them for the inevitable.  Hence, at different points in the Gospel narrative, Jesus tells his disciples directly that he will suffer and die.  In Mark 8: 31-32 we read, “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.”  Jesus wanted his followers to understand the severity of what was before them.  Jesus didn’t downplay the suffering that was ahead.  He was open and honest and wanted his followers to be prepared.

Now the disciples were slow to understand.  This is perhaps why Jesus spoke directly to them about his suffering more than once.  Jesus needed them to understand the days ahead, even it might create panic or stir up anxiety within them.  Not to prepare them for his cross and death would have left them in a worse state.

The anxiety was high the night before Jesus’ death as he gathered with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes their anxiety and fear.  They are fearful of the future, uncertain about their lives, and what the unfolding hours will hold.  Jesus had already spoken about betrayal and denial amongst themselves.  They were afraid, plain and simple.  As their leader, Jesus knew he needed to address their fear and anxiety.  Hence, in John 14: 1-3 we read, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  Jesus invited his followers to anchor their anxious hearts in him and that if they trusted in God, then they could trust in him.

In our lives, there are times in which fear and anxiety can feel overwhelming.  Life can create times in which we are uncertain about the present and the future is fearful.  Even as a people of faith, like Jesus’ disciples, we may doubt how we will get through.  Jesus, however, from the very beginning told his followers then, as well as today, that there would be difficult days ahead.  Jesus did not downplay the struggles we would face in following him.  Yet, in spite of the struggles we do face, Jesus promises that he will be present with us during these times and offers us hope beyond the struggles.  In John 16:33, on the same night before his death, Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”  In his straight talk, Jesus didn’t offer a rosy picture of life. Rather, Jesus spoke truthfully about the difficulties of life, but difficulties that would ultimately be replaced by hope.  We can take heart that even in the midst of a troubling world, Jesus will conquer and bring victory to our lives.

Jesus offered an honest assessment of life in a broken world; it can be hard at times.  But then Jesus offered a promised hope; he has overcome it all, and so will we. Jesus will always be a non-anxious presence in our anxiety.  We can trust him to lead us through it and bring us to a better place.

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Trash Night

Monday night is trash night at my house.  Bright and early Tuesday morning, you can hear the sounds of the truck as the sanitation workers will descend on our neighborhood and begin the weekly process of collecting the trash.  So, on Monday night we go throughout the house and collect the trash from the individual rooms.  Once gathered, we dump the trash in the large collection can and then roll it to the street.  While taking the trash out is not my favorite chore, I am grateful there are a time and a way to remove it.  Without the weekly pickup, it could get pretty trashy and smelly at the house.  You just can’t let trash pile up.

In our daily living, it is easy to allow our sins to pile up in our lives.  In the book of Isaiah, the prophet confesses, “For our transgressions are piled up before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities.” (Isaiah 59:12) Isaiah reminded the people that their sin, left unconfessed and forgiven, would pile up, and lead to death.  Sin has a way of rotting and stinking up our lives when we don’t let it go.  None of us are free from sin.  While each day may be different, we continue to do those things which are not pleasing to God.  The scriptures teach us that “all have sinned and fallen short of God.” (Romans 3:23) Even the best of the followers of Jesus continue to stumble in sin.

This is why we need confession in our lives.  Daily we have to acknowledge our sinfulness, confess our wrongs, and then trust them to God’s grace and forgiveness.  When we fail to recognize our sin and confess them to God, then we allow them to pile up in our lives which can create quite a mess.  Confession is like taking out the trash.  When we confess our sins, God’s grace removes the sin and sets us free.  As the apostle John would remind us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (John 1:9)

The amazing thing about God’s grace is that there is no single sin or no pile of sin that God cannot remove from our lives.  Regardless of how much our sin piles up or how much we feel as though we are beyond redemption, God’s grace will always be greater.  As Paul would write to the Romans, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.” (Romans 5:20) In confession, we open ourselves up to God’s grace and the richness of God’s love.  Grace and love that can change our lives, restore our lives, renew our lives, and lead us into a fresh beginning.

If the trash needs to be taken out, then let us do it today and tomorrow, because God is there to pick it up every day.

dirty trash containers near green park
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An Aha Moment

Have you ever had an “aha moment?”  An aha moment is defined as a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension.  For different reasons what was unknown or even forgotten is recognized or remembered.  There is a break in your line of thinking when the truth breaks in and you discover understanding.  These aha moments are often life lessons that cause us to rethink things in our lives.

In the book of James in the New Testament, the writer has what you might consider an aha moment.  In James 4: 14 we read, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”  James confesses about the brevity of life.  Or as we might say in modern lingo, “time flies.”   I know that as I age, time does seem to go by faster.  I find myself often wondering, “where did the time go?”

In the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, we read, There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2) Birth and death are indeed the bookends of life and living is found between the two.  In it is these daily moments of life that we share in many experiences.  While at any given time we might not think much about a moment, we should seek to see the value in every moment.  For as James reminds us, these collective moments in life are like a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Someone once said, “you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Life is indeed short.  This is why we should see each moment in life as a gift and not take any moment of time for granted.  Times spent with the people we love can easily come to an end in the brevity of life, thus we must value each moment.  As James states, “we do not know what tomorrow will bring.”  All we have is the present moment.  Hence, each moment gives us the opportunity to live in gratitude for that moment and the people, things, and places at that moment that give it meaning.  Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist who gave us The Jungle Book.  Kipling once said, “This is a brief life, but in its brevity, it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.”
We are only given one life.  As people of faith, we must see each moment as a gift of God’s grace. Each moment gives us the opportunity to glorify God by the way we live.  Each moment must be received in gratitude.  Each moment of life is an “aha moment” to be celebrated with the people in your life that make life such a grand adventure.  Right now is a good moment for all of us to thank God for this gift of life.

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Head for the Hills

How many times have you said or heard another person say, “We better head for the hills?”  I know I have used it on occasion at different times sometimes jokingly and sometimes seriously.  Its dictionary definition reads: ” To move to higher ground, as in preparation for or response to a natural disaster.”  So, if the water is starting to rise in a flood, you might want to get to higher ground.  But often we use it metaphorically when we are facing a trial of some type in our lives.  If people head for the hills, they run away from trouble.

Life is full of moments in which we want to head to the hills.  Life can suddenly turn upside down, the waters of anxiety can rise, and we can feel overwhelmed.  So, to avoid disaster we seek out something or someone for help.  Where do we escape to when life is swelling up around us like a flooded riverbank?  In Psalm 121, the psalmist considers his options while facing a difficult time.  He is ready to head to the hills, but where will his help come from.  In verses 1 and 2 we read, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  The psalmist realized that help was needed so he looked to the hills.

In our lives, when we are faced with a struggle or difficulty, we all look to the hills.  The question is what is my hill and who is my help?  The psalmist confesses that his help comes from the Lord.  However, we don’t always turn their first.  We may head to the hills and turn to some vice to help ease our fear.  We may head to the hills and withdraw unto ourselves and cut ourselves off from everyone else.  We may head to the hills, become angry, and take it out on someone else.  We may head to the hills and lose ourselves in despair.  We all face these temptations when we are in trouble.

As people of faith, we must remind ourselves that ultimately our help comes from the Lord.  When we feel as though we need to head to the hills, we must remember that God will be there with us as our rock and our refuge.  We remember the words of the old gospel song, The Old Rugged Cross, when it states, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross.”  As Christians, the cross is our refuge and help.  In the cross, God stepped into the mess of our lives with a message of divine presence and deliverance.  Though life may rage against us at times, the cross is a constant reminder of God’s presence.  We need not fear the deepest valleys because our help comes from the Lord of the Hill.

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Right in Front of Your Face

Have you ever gone looking for something and not be able to find it.  You feel as though you have searched carefully, yet you have no luck in your search.  Yet, eventually, you or someone else does find it and the object was in plain sight all the time.  It is right in front of your face, but you do not see it.  You wonder how and the world you missed it.

I love the autumn season, especially after a long hot summer.  As the days begin to cool, the colors also begin to turn.  Suddenly the color of green is replaced by red, yellow, and orange as the leaves on the trees begin their annual transformation. Lee Maynard was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist born in West Virginia.  He once made this observation about Fall: “I loved Autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.”  Indeed, in our created world, God’s artistic creativity is always on display.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Rome expresses how God’s work and presence can be experienced in the beauty of creation.  Paul writes in Romans 1: 20: “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So, they are without excuse.”  For Paul, we are without excuse in not believing in God, because as we look at the beauty of creation, God is right in front of our faces.  God’s eternal power and divine nature can be seen and understood through the things God has made.  Thus, every autumn tree is a doxology, every harvest moon is a song, every fallen leave is a reminder of God’s grace.  God is all around us; we are just too busy and distracted at times to notice.

The challenge then becomes ours to find a way to see the wonder of God in our world.  We have to create ways to rest in the beauty of God’s creation, celebrating its wonder and diversity, and using it as a means of worship.  Like Nehemiah in the Old Testament we can proclaim:

“You alone are the Lord.
You have made the heavens,
The heaven of heavens with all their host,
The earth and all that is on it,
The seas and all that is in them.
You give life to all of them
                                        And the heavenly host bows down before You.”                                         (Nehemiah 9:6)

We worship a creative and artistic God.  God could have chosen to give us a bland world of sameness, but God spiced it up.  The beauty of our created world is God’s good gift to all of us.  So, let us treasure it and care for it and celebrate it.  God is right in front of our faces in so many beautiful ways and we don’t have an excuse for missing God’s presence. So in every colored tree, every gentle breeze, every animal that scurries along, and every human face we meet, we get a glimpse of our God.

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You Can’t Hurry Love

We’ve all probably had the same experience.  You are sitting in your car at a stoplight when it is red.  The light turns green and you don’t start moving forward at the exact moment and someone starts honking their horn at you.  You’ve barely had the chance to react to the light change before someone has already grown impatient and thus, lays on their horn.  They want you to get moving so they can get moving and they are not happy to have to wait for a second more.  They have run out of patience.

I expect that most of us have become impatient about something at times.  We are tired of waiting, even if the wait is really not that long.  For whatever the reason, we need things to move along sooner than later and preferably now.  We live in an instant society.  We want everything now and having to wait for something just seems to go against the grain.  W.H Auden, the great American poet, once wrote, “Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.”  We just have a tough time waiting.  We want it all and we want it now.

The 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth is often called the love chapter.  We often tend to associate Paul’s words on love with weddings, but in actuality, the words are directed towards the church.  Paul is reminding these early Christians of what God’s love looks like in the life of a believer.  Hence, in his definition of Christian love Paul writes, “love is patient.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4)

In Christian love, we realize that we are all in the process of becoming who God desires us to be.  Yet, we are still a long way away from perfection.  We are still sinful creatures, prone to mistakes and failures, and slow to grow sometimes in our faith.  As a result, it is easy for us to get frustrated and impatient with one another.  How often have we found ourselves saying something like, “he just makes me so mad, she drives me crazy, why doesn’t he do this, what is taking her so long, and the list of questions goes on.  We think we know best for individuals, and we become frustrated when they don’t demonstrate it.

However, when we live with patient love, we are willing to walk beside another in this process of becoming what God desires in their lives.  We see it in Jesus and his circle of disciples.  The 12 he called to follow him as his personal disciples were constantly stumbling over one another, falling behind, failing to listen and understand, and downright hard-headed.  Yet, through it all, Jesus demonstrated his love by continuing to help guide them into who God wanted them to be.  Rather, than throwing up his hands in frustration and walking away, he stuck with them, through the ups and downs.  Jesus knew that you can’t hurry love.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we must practice patient love with one another.  We must remember that we are all on this journey together and that none of us have fully arrived.  We are still a work in process.  In patient love, we continue to encourage one another in our walk of faith while realizing that sometimes we stumble and fall.  There are no perfect Christians.  That is why love must be patient.  We must be patient with one another, just as our Lord is patient with each of us.

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Dirty, Don’t Touch

How often have parents told their young children, “dirty, don’t touch.”  Toddlers especially are known to be curious about anything they see whether it be a piece of chewed gum stuck to an object, a piece of trash on the ground, or a decaying bird in the grass.  The toddler wants to pick it up and examine it, see what it is, and feel it between its fingers.  Thus, the well-known parental prohibition, “dirty, don’t touch.”  As a result, as the child ages, the lesson of clean and unclean becomes part of their psyche; helping them discern things in a germ-filled world.

In the days of Jesus, they might not have had much of an understanding of germs, but they did understand the difference between that which was clean and unclean. A person or thing could contract ritual “uncleanness” in many different ways: by skin diseases, discharges of bodily fluids, touching something dead, or eating unclean foods.  Because of the strict purity laws of the day, an unclean person would have been avoided and even shunned until cleanliness could be restored which took much more than a hot shower.  As a result, if something or someone was unclean, the word of advice of the day was “dirty, don’t touch.”

Yet, when Jesus stepped on the scene, he seemed to have little regard to the thought that dirty or unclean things could not be touched.  It seemed that Jesus went out of his way to touch that which was rendered unclean.  In Matthew 8: 1-4 we read of one such an encounter.  “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.”  In reaching out to touch the man with the dreaded disease of leprosy, Jesus demonstrated the reach of God’s love to a broken world.  Even in his state of uncleanliness, God’s love would not be deterred from reaching out and touching the man.  It would not be a touch that would lead to the uncleanliness of Jesus, but the healing and restoring and cleansing of the man with leprosy.  For Jesus, whether it was a person with leprosy, a woman with a flow of blood, a woman with a sinful lifestyle, or the body of a dead person, Jesus did not fear touching the untouchable, but he feared individuals going through life and not experiencing the touch of God’s love.  For Jesus, every individual was of value and worth.

As Jesus’ followers, we are called to a life and ministry of touch.  Individuals today still find themselves shunned, ignored, and even hated at times by a world that labels them as unclean, unworthy, and untouchable.  As Christians, we operate under the guidelines that Jesus left behind that wherever there is human suffering, pain, rejection, and fear, we must stretch ourselves and touch the world with the compassion and mercy of our Lord.  We must reject the label system that classifies people as worthy and unworthy.  We must move beyond the “dirty, don’t touch” mindset that seeks us to separate us and embrace one another as a community of grace.  In doing so we tell the world that the touch of Jesus is not stuck between the pages of our Bibles, but it a real and living presence in the world today.

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The Deep End

At some point in children’s lives, the parents permit them to swim in the deep end of the pool.  Growing up with a public pool, I can remember the various roped off areas based on the water depth.  There was the shallow end, the larger pool that went from three feet to five feet, and then the deep end where the diving boards were.  As a kid, the goal was to be able to swim in the deep end.  The older you grew and the better swimmer you became, you didn’t want to remain in the shallow end.  You wanted to go deeper.

In many ways, growing in our faith is like learning to swim in deeper water.  When we enter into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ, the goal is to grow in our faith.  The Christian faith is not a static stop in life, but an ongoing journey whereby God’s Holy Spirit works in our lives to shape us and mold us into the image of our Lord.  As the apostle Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)  God desires to move our faith to deeper waters.

In the Gospel of Mark, there is a story of Jesus healing a blind man.  In the town of Bethsaida, a blind man was brought to Jesus to heal.  Jesus took the man and touched his eyes with his saliva.  Jesus asked the man if he could see anything.  The man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” (Mark 8:24)  The man could see, but his vision was blurry.  Jesus touched the man a second time and with this second touch, the man now saw everything clearly.  Something in that second touch enabled the man’s sight to be restored.

We need to daily be touched by Christ Jesus.  Each day is an opportunity for God’s Spirit to work in our lives to restore us completely.  While at the first touch of Jesus we are saved, God is not finished with us yet.  Rather, over time, as we daily surrender to God’s Spirit, God helps us to see more clearly.  Daily God moves us into deeper waters.  Our salvation is an ongoing process that is never completed on this side of heaven.  It is why Paul confessed, For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

God wants to bring us to deeper waters.  While such waters may seem mysterious and fearful at times, we can trust in God’s grace to teach us to swim.  God wants to move all us beyond where we are at this moment.  God has more to show us, more for us to experience, and more for us to learn.  We just have to trust in the currents of God’s Spirit flowing in and through us to bring us to where God wants us to be.

boy in a pool
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Closet Choices

“What will I wear today” is one of the first questions that we ask ourselves in the morning.  We open our closets and examine our wardrobe and try to determine what we will wear.  Sometimes it is a quick decision while at other times we may struggle to decide.  We may try on a couple of outfits before we make our choice.  But at some point, we do have to choose what we will wear for the day.

What we wear also will communicate a message to those we come into contact with.  Italian fashion designer, Miuccia Prada, says it this way, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.”  That is, what we wear makes a statement whether we realize it or not.

In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul writes, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  (Galatians 3:27) According to Paul, when we enter into a relationship with Jesus, then there is a wardrobe change.  The old wardrobe is discarded, and we now clothe ourselves in Jesus Christ.  Jesus becomes our fashion statement to the world.  Jesus becomes our style of living in the world.

Well, Jesus was indeed a trendsetter who stood out from the other religious leaders of the day.  It is why people were drawn to him.  His life was dressed in a wardrobe that was attractive and inviting.  Jesus stepped out in a new style.  As his followers, we are called to emulate that style of living in our world.  Each day we must decide to clothe ourselves in the style of Jesus before stepping out into the world.  And the style of Jesus is one that will be evident to others.  In his letter to the Colossians, Paul would also write, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3: 12-14)

However, what is confusing to the world is when we claim to follow Jesus, but our lives are out of sync with the life that Jesus lived.  Rather, than demonstrating the qualities that Paul highlights: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love, we sometimes model the direct opposite. Mahatma Gandhi, in observing Christianity once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Whether it was Gandhi or our next-door neighbor, people are watching us as followers of Jesus in our how we live our lives.  The question for all us is, “do they see Jesus in me?”  Do they see Jesus in me at work, school, in social settings, on FACEBOOK, twitter, and the like?  Does our way of living demonstrate that we have indeed clothed ourselves in Christ Jesus?

As individuals, we can spend a lot of time and money on our clothing wardrobe.  We can stand at our closet doors in deep thought about what we will wear for today.  Maybe we should all spend some time reflecting more on how our living models the life of Christ Jesus in our daily walk.  When we clothe ourselves in Jesus, then the day we live will always be in style in the eyes of God and be attractive to those around us.

Image: What to wear tonight?

Word Games

Most people enjoy a good word game like crossword puzzles, word searches, jumbles, scrabble, and the like.  Such games are good intellectual stimulation, they can strengthen our vocabulary, and are simply fun to do.  Some people are good at them while others may struggle and take longer to complete.  Yet, like anything, the more time you spend doing the games, the better you become.

The Christian faith is built around words.  In the first chapter of John, the gospel writer says this about Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  (John1:1, 14) Jesus is described as God’s Word in flesh and bone.  Through Jesus, God’s Word is made known.

We know about Jesus through the written word, the Bible.  We call the scriptures, “God’s word.”  From the opening pages of the book of Genesis to the closing verses of the book of Revelation we read the story of God’s redemptive work in a fallen world.  In faith, we turn to the scriptures for guidance, instruction, and encouragement.  The Bible plays a central role in our Christian walk.

In the letter of James in the New Testament, the writer challenges us as Christians, however, not to play word games with the scriptures.  In James 1: 22-24, we read, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; or they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”  James sought to encourage the early Christians to live out God’s word in their daily lives.  It was easy then, as it is now, to read and listen to God’s word, but then not take the next step of making a it a guide for living in the world.  Reading and hearing God’s Word means little if it does not affect the way that we live our lives.  It is as James states, like looking in a mirror, walking away, and forgetting what we look like.  God’s Word must be transformative in the life of the believer.  We are not simply to be “hearers” but “doers” as well, otherwise we are simply playing word games.

What then does a “doer of the word” look like?  It would seem to me that a “doer of the written word” would look like Jesus, the Living Word.  A doer is one who seeks to model her life after the life of Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he tells them, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 15-17) As the living Word, Jesus calls us to a life of servanthood whereby we live out the written word by actively engaging the world in the way Jesus did with love, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, tenderness, faithfulness, generosity, patience, and the like.  Jesus has given us quite a vocabulary of words to put into practice.

Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer once wrote, “You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil, if you do not desire to live according to it.”  For Luther, we play games with God’s word when we fail to live lives that do not reflect Jesus Christ.  When we fail to use the vocabulary of Jesus, then God’s word becomes a lifeless relic for museums and library shelves but nothing more.  Yet, as the Living Word, Jesus becomes the foundation of our living, shaping us and molding us after his will, and leading us to “do” the kind of life that reflects him.

achievement alphabet board game conceptual
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We Interrupt this Program

You’re watching your favorite program on television when all of a sudden, the news interrupts your show with breaking news.  It usually begins with an announcement of some kind like “we interrupt this program for a special news alert.”  Something has happened that is of such importance that your regular program is interrupted.  Unfortunately, most often the news is not good.  Rarely do networks interrupt their scheduled program with good news.

Life is full of interruptions.  We find ourselves on cruise control as life is good when something suddenly happens that throws everything off course.  A sickness, death, a job loss, a family conflict, financial trouble, depression, and the like interrupt our lives and leave us wondering when things will return to normal.  These interruptions can heighten our anxiety, leave us fearful, weary, tired, and depleted.

In my lifetime, I cannot remember an interruption affecting so many people like the COVID-19 virus.  Life as we know was interrupted on a massive scale in March 2020 and we still find ourselves struggling in the currents of uncertainty.  Like a riptide that pulls a swimmer from the ocean shore and out to sea, we have had our lives pulled out from under us leaving some of us struggling to keep our heads above water.  We long for the security of the shore as we are pulled out into the waters of uncertainty.

Yet, life does not need a pandemic to be uncertain.  We all face situations when the present is unstable, and the future is worrisome.  We know what it is like to lie in bed at night and try to sleep while our anxieties are wide awake.  As people of faith, we sometimes feel guilty for feeling this way.  We wonder why we are not stronger and that we should have more faith.

The night before Jesus was crucified, we find him in the Garden of Gethsemane, alone and in prayer.  In Luke 22:44 we read, “In his anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground.”  Luke tells us that Jesus was in anguish with sweat dropping to the ground like blood.”  The dictionary defines anguish as excruciating or acute distress, suffering.  This is the Son of God, face to the ground struggling with what is before him.  If Jesus can feel like this, it would seem that we too can be honest about life when it is interrupted.  Uncertainty and fear are simply part of the human landscape.  Jesus once said, In this world, you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) Jesus didn’t proclaim an unrealistic picture of life.  Jesus knew that life would be interrupted and that there would be some difficult times.  Yet, Jesus also offered hope.  The rest of John 16:33 reads, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When life interrupts we have to remember to take heart and trust that God will bring us to a better day.  The prophet Isaiah would confess, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) God promises to stay with us even in the interruptions of life.  Regardless of what the news of the day is, we will never be alone.  God’s faithful presence will watch over us.  In many ways, in the coming of Jesus, God interrupted the bad news cycle of our world with good news.  Good news that offers us hope for today and tomorrow.  God’s divine interruption into our lives is ultimately what will make a difference in our lives.

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First Things First

Many people operate daily under a “to do” list.  That is, as they consider the day before them, they list the things that they want to accomplish.  Likewise, sometimes the “to do” list is prioritized based on what needs to be done first.  Somethings are more important than others and need to be taken care of as soon as possible.  Other things can wait even if for another day.  The important thing is to do the first things first.

For most church’s worship, there is a typical order of worship that the congregation follows.  Each church may be different from one another, yet each church often has its own “to do” list when it comes to worship.  The “to-do” list may include singing, prayer, reading scripture, litanies, special music, a sermon, communion, and the like.  Hence, the congregation usually develops an order of worship.  What will worship begin with and how will it end?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Gospel, Jesus teaches about doing first things first when it comes to worship.  In Matthew 5: 23-24 Jesus says, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”  According to Jesus, as we enter to worship the first thing, we should do is seek to reconcile with those whom we have had discord, division, and disagreement with.  If there is something broken in a relationship, then we should seek to make it right before we offer our worship to God.  Hence, as followers of Jesus, reconciliation should always come first.

In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes about how we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, our broken relationship with God is healed and made whole.  In Jesus, we are reunited with God in a new way.  As a result of our reconciliation with God, we must now become reconcilers ourselves.  Paul writes, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18) As Christians, the ministry of reconciliation should always be at the top of our “to do” list for the day.  Every day allows us to mend fences, tear down walls that separate, and forgive one another.  For when we bring unforgiveness with us to worship it will always impede our worship.  That’s why Jesus told us to leave our gift at the altar and go and make right that which is wrong.

So, whatever our “to do” list may be for today, let us not forget that God has called us to a ministry of reconciliation.  This should always be the first task of the day.  Reconciliation must be the first thing in our order of worship but also the order of our lives.

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Tongue Tied

Sometimes things just come out wrong; that is, out of our mouths. We say the wrong thing or say something in the wrong way. Regardless, the words that flow from our mouths are heard by others in a negative light. I think most people can remember times in which they wished they had not said something. We’ve all had experiences in which we would like to take back our words.

We also realize that words can cause pain. The old saying of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” just does not stand the test of experience. We have all been hurt by the words of another just as we have hurt others with our words. Likewise, hurtful words can sometimes take a long time to heal. Richelle. E. Goodrich in her book, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, and Grumblings for Every Day of the Year writes:

“Silly words cause trills
because they’re ludicrous and funny.

Happy words paint endless smiles
and swallow troubles whole.

Thoughtful words are thus
because they make the day feel sunny.

But hurtful words are such
that pierce the heart and weigh the soul.”

Indeed, words matter. The words we choose to use and how we use them can impact others for both the good and the bad. Perhaps this was the thinking of the writer of Proverbs in the Old Testament where it is written, “To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble.” The writer contends that we must watch over our mouths and tongues as we seek to communicate with others, because there is power, both good and bad, in the spoken word.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul reminded these early Christians about using their words for the benefit of others. In Ephesians 4:29 Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” As a people of faith, our words should always be filtered by God’s grace. Do our words reflect the character and nature of our Lord? Words matter and when we season them in the Spirit of our Lord, they are more likely to build others up, encourage others, and communicate love.
So, let us choose wisely. Words soaked in grace and love which seek to bring healing, encouragement, peace, and kindness to the lives of others. When we allow God’s Spirit to watch over our mouths, then our mouths will bring forth the words of our Lord and in the way of our Lord.

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Do-Over

When I was a young boy there was an open lot across the street from my house.  As a result, it became a great place to play football with my friends.  We would often meet there after school to play.  When we played a game of football, we had to referee ourselves.  As a result, there were some times disagreements about particular plays.  Every side would argue their case and understanding of what happened.  When we couldn’t reach a decision, someone would call out “do-over.”  A “do-over” call meant that the previous play was forgotten, and everything would be done over.  It was a new start; a new chance to play.

When you read the Gospels, there are countless stories where Jesus encountered individuals who had come to a point in their lives where they felt stuck in situations that offered no hope for their futures.  Whether it was a man covered with the sores of leprosy, a woman sitting alone at a well, a dishonest tax collector hanging from a sycamore tree, or a woman about to be stoned to death by a mob, Jesus entered the scene and cried out “do-over.”  Jesus refused to let these individuals remain in their hopeless situations.  Jesus offered a second chance and a fresh start with a new future.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the apostle Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  In Jesus, God offers every person a chance to start over and begin anew.  In Jesus, no life ever reaches a point in which it is beyond redemption and renewal.  Every life can find a new beginning in Jesus.

Nowhere is this more seen than in the cross.  The cross of Jesus is God’s way of saying “do-over” to a world broken by sin, gripped in guilt, and bound for hell.  God, out of his great love for us, turns the pages of our past and creates a new beginning for all.  We can leave our painful past and find hope for a new beginning in Jesus.  Regardless of what our lives may look like in the present, God says, “do-over.”  It is a new start and a new chance at life.

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Our First Step

I don’t guess any of us remember our first step.  The moment as infants, when we stop crawling, stand up, and take a step.  At first, we may only take a couple of steps before we fall again.  But eventually, we get the hang of it and commence to walking wherever we go.  It is the first step of many over the course of our lives.  The average person takes around 7,500 steps/day. If this is maintained daily through the age of 80, you will have walked about 216,262,500 steps throughout your life.

As people of faith, each day we can choose what to do with our steps.  No one is controlling us, but we are free to decide which direction our day will go.  Our first step each morning is entirely up to us.  It would seem to me that the first step each day in our lives should be a step of gratitude.  When our feet hit the floor after a night of rest, the best way to begin the day is in thanksgiving to the God who has brought us safely through another night.  We are awake and alive and this is worthy of praise.

In Psalm 92:1 we read, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.”  The first step each day should be a step of gratitude.  Before the worries of the day begin to settle in or we face the problems we have to tackle, we should step out first in gratitude.  If we begin the day with gratitude, then it can become our frame of reference for the rest of the day.  Even though the day before us might be challenging or difficult, we can see it through a lens of gratitude and thanks.  Andrew Murry, the great Dutch Reformed missionary sent from Scotland to South Africa and the author many books on the Christian life, once wrote,  “Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.”  If our first step of the day is gratitude to God, then this spirit of gratitude can guide the steps that follow and remind us that even in our most difficult steps how blessed we are.

In the Gospel of Luke, there is a story in which Jesus heals ten lepers all at once.  They are elated at their healing and turn to go and share their healing with a priest so they can be officially declared clean.  One leper, however, returns to Jesus, falls at his feet, and give thanks for what the Lord had done for him.  We should follow this leper’s lead and offer God thanks each day with our first step.  We can give thanks for all the Lord has done for us. If we step out first in gratitude to God, then we know that they will be heading out in the right direction.

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Vacancy

When I was young, I can remember taking weekend trips to the mountains with my family.  These were not well-planned trips.  My parents just had an urge to go and off we went.  In seeking our hotel accommodations, I can remember my parents reading the vacancy signs that used to be outside of hotels.  These light up signs would either flash vacancy, that is, there were rooms available; or no vacancy, they were all filled.  The sign saved you the trouble of having to go in and ask at the counter.  Sometimes it took a while to find a hotel will rooms available.  There were simply not rooms enough to go around.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus spends time sharing with his disciples about his approaching departure.  Jesus knew that his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven were drawing close and that he would soon be leaving his followers.  They were uncertain what this meant for them.  How would they go on without their leader?  Would they ever see him again?

In John 14: 1-3 Jesus says to his worried disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  Jesus shared with his disciples that he would come again and take them to his Father’s house where there would be many rooms.  God’s house is expansive, and the rooms are unlimited for those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

Jesus said he would come again and take them there himself.  In coming again, Jesus could have meant his second coming to earth which the Bible teaches will occur at the end of time where God will gather his followers and lead them into God’s eternal Kingdom.  Or Jesus could have meant that he comes again at the moment of our death and ushers us into God’s eternity.  Regardless, Jesus is the one who brings us to the Father’s house with many rooms.

Trusting in Jesus with our living and our dying is the pathway to this eternal home where there will never be a “no vacancy” sign.  When we place our faith in Jesus, we have the assurance that when we arrive in God’s heaven that there will be a place for us.  A place where we will dwell with God and all those who have gone before us.  In Jesus, we are destined to an eternity with God.  We need not worry about our arrival, because Jesus will already have our room ready and waiting.  There will always be a vacancy sign to greet us and welcome us home.

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A Story of Tears

I wonder who it was that first shed a tear in the Bible?  Perhaps it was Adam and Eve after they had been banned from the Garden of Eden.  Did they weep over their fallen condition?  They had reason to cry.  Their paradise had been corrupted by their sin and they would no longer be able to return.  Regardless of when the first tear fell, the Bible is full of tears.

Esau wept when he realized that he had missed out on his father Isaac’s blessing.  Joseph wept when he was reunited with his brothers.  The people of Israel wept when their leader Moses died.  Ruth wept and clung to her mother-in-law, Naomi.  King David wept at the death of his son.  Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  Jesus wept when he saw the grief of Mary and Martha.  Peter, the disciple, wept after he betrayed Jesus.  And Mary Magdalene wept outside the tomb of Jesus.  Indeed, the Bible is full of stories of tears.

Our lives are also filled with tears.  Tears of pain, sorrow, anger, fear, anxiety, and grief fill the pages of our lives.  We have all wept over someone or some experience in our lives that has left us broken.  We know what it is like to have a heavy heart and to feel our eyes grow heavy under the weight of our tears.  We know the feel of tears streaming down our faces. We know what it is like to fall asleep with tears on our pillows.  Someone once said, “tears are how our hearts speak when our lips cannot describe how much we have been hurt.

In the book of Revelation, John records the visions he had of heaven.  John looked toward a future in which the sadness and hurt that we experience in this world will be no more.  In Revelation 21: 3-4 John writes, “‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  John envisions a future where they will be no more tears.  The stories of our tears of living in a broken world will be wiped away by the tender and healing hands of God’s grace.  God is preparing for all who place their faith in Jesus Christ, a future, and eternity without tears.  When all is said and done with the stories of our lives, it will be a tearless ending.

This is our hope as we live out our lives in this world.  In the present, God knows every tear that falls and is with us as a comforting presence.  There will be tears in this life, but we will never weep outside the boundaries of God’s grace.  And ultimately, we live today with a hope for tomorrow in a tearless eternity in the everlasting light and joy of our savior where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

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How Sweet the Sound

From the moment our alarm clocks go off in the morning and we begin a new day, we are surrounded by sounds.  The noises around us are many, changing, diverse, and constant.  From the sounds of the radio in our cars, the sounds of traffic, work, school, leisure, and the like, there is little in our lives that remain quiet.

Some noises we welcome, like the sound of our children laughing and playing together or chirping crickets on a cool evening.  Other sounds may make us cringe like blaring sirens, construction work, or the loudness of commercials on our televisions.  There are some sound we wish we could hear again but cannot, like the voices of loved ones or friends who are no longer with us.  Some sounds we would just assume never hear like gunshots in the streets or the screams of a person in severe pain.

John Newton was an English clergyman and abolitionist who penned the words of one of the most well-known hymns, Amazing Grace.  Prior to his calling as a minister, Newton went to sea at a young age and worked on slave ships in the slave trade for several years.  He experienced and participated in the worst of humanity, human slavery.  He heard the cries of families being split apart as slaves were sold to different owners.  He heard the sounds of the auctioneer saying “sold” to the high bidders at slave auctions. He heard the sounds of whips tearing at the flesh on the backs of African men and women.  His life was filled with the sounds of hate, injustice, pain, and suffering.

But while on his boat in the midst of a storm at sea, God broke through the hardness of Newton’s heart and began a process of conversion; transforming Newton from a ruthless slave trader to an instrument of God’s love, mercy, and grace.  Eventually, it would be this transformation that would lead him to pen the words, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound.”  The sound of God’s grace had overpowered the other noises in his life and enabled him to hear clearly the wonders of God’s grace which can save us from our sin and rebirth us into a new life.  God’s amazing grace was the sweet sound that made all the difference in Newton’s life.

God’s grace is still the only sound that can offer true hope for our lives and for our world.  The daily noises that fill our lives can be overwhelming at times.  Yet, God’s grace is greater, and it is indeed amazing.  It changed the life of a slave trader and it can change our lives as well.  Grace, it is a sweet sound and the sound that makes all the difference in who we are and who we can become  So let us keep listening to for this amazing grace every day as the only sound that can truly bring the life we all long to live.

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A New Song

I’m not sure how it happens, but sometimes I wake up in the morning with a song stuck in my head.  Somehow, a song that I heard or know, rises up out of somewhere and I find myself singing it or humming it throughout the day.  And once a song is stuck in my head, it is hard to get out.  Even when I try to start thinking about a different song, the one stuck in my head overpowers it and I go back to singing and humming it again.

It seems to me that every life has a song that it lives by.  That is, our lives are daily shaped by the lyrics and melody that plays over and over within us.  This song affects the way we live.  It influences our thoughts and ultimately our behavior.  It also becomes the lens by which we see and understand ourselves.

The problem, however, is that the song we listen to sometimes carries with a negative message about who we are, who we can become, and how we think others see us.  Listen to it long enough and over time we believe the lyrics.  Our song may tell us we don’t matter, no one cares, we can’t change, or that we are no good.  It gets stuck in our head and we resign to live with it.

During the ministry of Jesus, he encountered different individuals who had lived their lives believing the old lyrics of an old song that had shaped their lives.  Whether it was tax collectors, a sinful woman, diseased persons, fishermen, children, or Samaritans, people in Jesus’ day, as in our day, felt they had no other lives to live than the one they had been told to live.

Jesus came offering a new song for people’s lives that was written not by human standards, but by God, who gives worth, value, and dignity to every life.  Jesus offers new lyrics for every person to live by and a melody that guides us in our living.  The song that Jesus gives us frees us from the constraining lyrics of the world and offers us a new song to live by which sets us free.

In Psalm 40:3 we read, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”  We don’t have to live by the song the world places within us, but God offers us an original piece written with God’s amazing grace.  As we receive this song into our lives and allow it to “get stuck in our heads and hearts”, then we discover who we are in the eyes of God and who God has called us to be.  As the old hymn lyrics remind us, “There’s within my hearts a melody….Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.”

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Good News

Good news.  It is hard to find in the media anymore.  Whether it is your local newspaper or television news channel or a national news program on cable, good news is rarely the topic of the day.  Rather, each day we are met with new headlines that remind us how broken our world is:  violence, prejudice, greed, abuse of power, hatred, anger, and injustice.  For most people, it can be overwhelming, if not downright depressing.  Add to the fact that the news now runs 24 hours a day on so many media formats, it is no wonder that we have become intoxicated with a steady stream of bad news.

In the Gospel of Luke, there is the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman who had suffered from a bleeding problem for 12 years.  She had sought help from doctors, but no one could heal her.  She had exhausted her financial resources.  For 12 years, all she had known was bad news.  With such a health problem, she would have been declared “unclean” and forced to live a life of isolation. We could understand if she just gave up and surrendered to the bad news and immersed herself in a sea of despair.

However, rather than surrender to despair, she immersed herself into a sea of people that had surrounded Jesus.  She believed if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, then it would be enough to heal her.  Swimming against the bad news currents in her life, she reached out and indeed touched Jesus’ clothing.  Luke tells us that “immediately her hemorrhage stopped.

Luke goes on to tell us that Jesus immediately knew someone had touched him in an act of faith because he sensed the power that flowed out of him.  The woman realized that she could no longer hide behind the crowd of people.   Coming forward to Jesus she confessed what she had done and how she had been healed.  Jesus responds to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48) Twelve years of bad news had given way to the good news.  The hope for her bad news life would only be found in the good news of Jesus.

In our bad news world, the only real hope for all of us is the good news of Jesus Christ.  Only Christ can transform a broken world and bring peace as he did to this woman.  In Mark 1:1 we read his introduction to Jesus:  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  This is the headline news for all of us.  In Jesus, God has stepped into our broken world with the good news of hope and new life.  In Jesus, we now have an eternal source of good news to draw forth life, hope, peace, and joy.  It doesn’t mean that all the bad news in our lives will suddenly disappear.  It does, however, give us a new frame of reference to understand our world and our lives.  We do not have to surrender to despair, but like the woman, we can work against the current of bad news with the power and passion of the Gospel.

And we do this, by living out Jesus’ example of loving others, offering compassion and kindness to all, and allowing God to use us as conduits of his mercy and grace.  It is a high calling that demands we not give in to the bad news but rather to seek to transform it into something good.  Don’t stop watching the news but remember that ultimately it is the good news of our Lord that tells us who we are and who we can be.  The only one who can promise us the good life will not be found at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  If we believe that is our ultimate hope, then the bad news will continue to be the headlines.

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