Sermon on Matthew 18:15-20

 By What Authority

I am thankful that you are here today.  I am glad you decided that you would make the effort to come to this church and join us in worship.  I understand you did not have to make this choice.  I understand that you could have chosen to go to another church or decided to not attend church at all.  I know that there are churches which are larger and could offer you more religious options than this church could offer.  There are churches with more elaborate and professional music and special effects.  There are churches that have in house coffee shops, bookstores, indoor playgrounds for children, free wireless and all kinds of other modern conveniences to offer you.  There are churches that are very good at marketing and customer service.  This is the world in which we live.  We live in a culture in which churches have been thrown into the demands and expectations of a consumer driven culture.  I know this is true.

Now what does this have to do with the passage I just read?  Well, the passage is one in which Jesus is teaching about dealing with interpersonal conflict in the church.  Jesus gives us a pattern that should be followed when one member of the covenant community, when one member of the church, does something that is wrong to another member of the church.  Jesus says that we should first go privately to the one who has offended us.  If that does not work then take a witness of two to try and get things right.  If that doesn’t work, then bring it to the church.  If they will not listen to the church then we are told they should be treated as someone who is not part of the community and who has betrayed the community.  And what is the purpose for this?  Hopefully to get them to change.  But here is the thing.  If we follow this pattern, what do you think will happen?  Do you think the people will change if they are treated like gentiles and tax collectors?  No, more than likely they will just go find another church that will be more than willing to take them in and agree with them that they have been mistreated and wronged by us or just not go to church at all.

In the past, church denominations developed out of a drive to live the Christian faith according to our conscience.  If a person joined a particular denomination they did so because of a felt commitment to the truth.  That commitment was a commitment to the church.  What the church believed and did mattered.  A person’s membership to the church was important because they believed it was through the church that they served God and were joined to a family of faith.  In this setting the church could exercise authority in relationships and that authority mattered.  Those day are past.  Denominations are now viewed as brand names.  What is important to most people in our culture today is not the brand name stands for or once stood for, the issue today is does this particular brand make me happy, for this is what a consumer culture (and we know live in a consumer culture) is all about.  Let me quote this definition: A “consumer culture” is one whose economy is defined by the buying and spending of consumers. Consumer culture is closely to tied capitalism, because it is driven by money. What distinguishes it, though, is that it is not focused so much on the power of money as it is on the happiness that can be attained through buying and owning personal property.[i] Many, many people today make their decisions about church based not on a commitment to the family of faith but on the premise that we are supposed to make them happy.  Our culture in in trouble.  Perhaps the church is in trouble.  Why, because our purpose is not to make people happy.  Our purpose is to make disciples and sometimes helping people to become disciples means telling them things they do not what to hear.   Sometimes in leading people to be disciples people are confronted with things that do not make them happy. 

But what will happen to the church.  If we don’t make people happy they will find another church.  If we don’t meet their perceived needs they will go shopping for one that will.  If they leave we will lose the numbers.  We will lose the money that they give.  We will not be successful! 

This is where it gets tough.  What is more important, that we are successful or that we are faithful? Look at verse 20.  What is important is to understand that Jesus is here with us. 

There is a reason that Jesus says what he says in this passage.   First, Jesus wants to make it clear that we are supposed to seek reconciliation in our relationships with one another.  Secondly, we are to be willing to help one another to seek relational harmony.  Thirdly, Jesus makes it clear that the church has the authority and responsibility to strive to maintain mutual accountability.  We are to follow the words of Jesus even if they go against the culture that we live in.  Cultures change.  Cultures collapse.  One who understands the importance of following Jesus should also understand that we are not to compromise with the culture but are to seek to be a light that shows the better way. 

Our culture today tells us we should seek what we want.  It tells us we are our own authority.  We are entitled.  We are told what used to be bad is good and what used to be good is bad.  This has happened before to God’s people.  In Isaiah 5:20-21 scripture states: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.  And the results: Isaiah 5:25 (NIV) Therefore the LORD’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.

That does not sound like grace.  That sounds like judgment.  You are right it does, but the purpose behind it is grace.  It is a warning intended to get people’s attention.  This is one of the challenges we as God’s people face.  There are consequences to human behavior.  God offers grace.  Our Lord’s words are filled with grace.  They are words and teachings that are intended to guide us to what is best.  We need one another to grow spiritually.  Each of us has spiritual gifts to build up others.  We are called to mutual submission to help one another avoid temptation.  It is the community of faith, the church, the ekklaysia that the gates of hell cannot stand against. 

True happiness comes with harmony.  Harmony with God and with each other.  That is why Jesus says we need to make the consequences so severe.  Yes, this stance may be culturally costly, but it is also courageously Christ-like.  It is not being unloving, for we do far greater harm to allow corrosive conflict to go unchallenged.  Jesus makes it clear, He will be with us as we face such serious situations.  In these days we need a strong church, an obedient church, a committed church, a church that values holiness as the way to happiness.  Let us seek to be faithful and true during these days of compromise and capitulation.  God will bless.



Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28

Matthew 16:21-28   Don’t Lose It!

There was a little girl who was spoiled by her parents.  Whatever she wanted she got.  And when her parents hesitated about giving this little girl whatever her heart desired, the little girl would throw a loud, obnoxious fit.  One day the little girl got up for breakfast and announced that she wanted a worm for breakfast.  When her parents asked why, well then the tempestuous tantrum began.  So the father went outside and dug up a worm.  “I want it cooked in butter,” the child demanded.  So mother cooked the worm in butter.  When the worm was presented to the little princess she declared, “I want daddy to eat half.”  So daddy cut the worm in half, held his breath and swallowed the half of the worm.  The little girl let out with a fit of screaming and stomping and throwing whatever she could get her hands on.  “What’s wrong,” the mother pleaded.  We cooked the worm and daddy ate half of it, mother cried.  Thelittle girl, in between screams declare, “Yes, but he ate the wrong half.” 

At an early age most of us became initiated into the reality that we don’t always get our own way.  If we don’t have this experience at an early age, the fact is that eventual it will happen.  Still, the fact is that we are born with a desire to get what we want.  But our desires cannot know what the ultimate outcome of their results and our wants are often corrupted by selfish nature that can get us and others into trouble.  And whether we realize it or not, our human nature and the desires it generates are often at odds with the loving desire of our creator, our God.

In this account of the life of Jesus we find such a struggle between the will of humanity and the purpose of God.  The account tells us how Jesus has decided to begin preparing his disciples for what is to come.  Peter has (in the previous verses) declared that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.  Now Jesus explains what this means.  He lays out for the disciples what was spoken by the Prophet Isaiah in the 53 chapter about the one who would be the Messiah of God.  It is not a pretty story.  It is a story of pain, anguish, of punishment and suffering and being crushed.  But Jesus adds the hope to the end of the story.  He speaks of resurrection.

But Peter most likely doesn’t pick up on the resurrection part.  He hears the other stuff.  He hears things that he does not like, that he does not want.  Peter doesn’t think Jesus should be saying these things.  Peter responds.  The account says that Peter rebukes Jesus.  Peter tells Jesus this must never happen.  I doubt Peter was ready for Jesus response.  Jesus calls Peter Satan!  Suddenly Peter who was called the Rock in verse 18 becomes the stumbling stone of verse 23.

But Peter just wanted the best for Jesus.  No, Peter wanted what he perceived was the best and in doing so acted just like Satan did in the wilderness when Satan tried to get Jesus to pervert his purpose.  Jesus had become human for a divine purpose.  Jesus came to fulfill justice.  Jesus came to be a sacrifice of reconciliation.  As it says in Isaiah, it was our sickness and sufferings he bore, it was for our rebellions he was pierced, crushed because of our crimes.  His life was a restitution that would make many righteous as he bore our guilt. 

But that sounds so negative.  That story just doesn’t fit how we think today.  We want a more positive religion.  I guess this just goes to show how much like Peter humanity can be.  People still want to only hear what they want to hear.  Too many people still do not grasp just how serious our situation really is.  Too many say, “I don’t need a savior.  My sin is not that bad. Jesus didn’t need to go through the suffering he when through and die on the cross like he did for me.” 

This story is not about speculation.  This story is about revelation.  The Gospel is not about stories of being good, it is about the sacrifice of God.  It is not about speaking to morality but about our mortality.  It is about how a fallen, foolish, frail figures called humans were so loved by their creator that God would lose his life to give us ours.  It is a terrible tale that would be the ultimate tragedy expect for the fact that its end is really its beginning.  Listen again to what Jesus says at the end of verse 21, “and raised on the third day.”  This is what Satan did not want.  This is what Peter did not understand. 

It is said that most people are terrible listeners.  The reason for this is that when we listen to other people, after a few words, we begin to think about how we are going to respond and thus do not really hear what they have to say.  After Jesus responds to Peter, he then takes the time to put into perspective the reason for his words.  It is very important that we understand this.  Listen again to verse 24.  This verse is about understanding this life.  This life is not the way things were intended to be.  No matter what you gain in this life, you will lose.  What you have will be taken.  In this life there will be sorrow, but that is not what God wants for us.  In this life will be pain.  In this life there will be suffering.  Why would we want to hold on to this life?  Why, because we have been deceived.  We think we can make this life worth it by grabbing a little pleasure here and there.  We seek to live in moments because the reality rushing at us is just too overwhelming.  We try to cling to this existence but no matter what we do we cannot escape from the certainty of death.  We lie to ourselves and say death is a natural part of life.  No it is not.  Death is death.  It is not natural, it is consequential.  It is the result of our being separated from our original purpose of being joined to God. 

Then Jesus enters this world and tells us he came to seek and save that which was lost.  He tells us he came to give us life that will not end in death.  He came to restore that which was broken.  He came to be lifted up in order to draw us to God.  He tells us that when we are ready to let go of this life, this life that ends in death, and are willing to lose this life in order to gain the life to come we will understand the truth and this truth will make us free.

Our culture is consumed with the idea of success.  If you can just be successful you’ve got it made?  But what is success?  Is it money?  Is it fame?  Is it power?  What do you call a successful person who dies?  You call them a corpse, a dead person.

The cross is not about being successful.  It is about being faithful.  The cross is not about a burden.  The cross is about belonging.  The cross is not about death.  The cross is about deliverance.  This cross does not limit.  The cross offers liberty, it offers us life.  So let us listen to what Jesus has to say about what is to come.  Let us listen to every word.  Let him prepare us.  Let him guide us.  Let him lead us.  For where he is taking is us is resurrection.  What he is offering is a new heaven and a new earth.  He is tell us how we can begin to live it now.  Don’t lose it.  Don’t let it be taken.  Let’s not given in to thinking in the limitations of human thoughts but allow God’s thoughts to fill our minds. 

Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20

This event in the life of Jesus is recorded in all four of the Gospels.  What is happening is a discussion, a discussion about two questions.  The first question asked for a report, “Who do people say that I am?”  Jesus does not ask this question because he is going through an identity crisis or because he feels insecure of how he is being perceived.  Jesus ask this question to allow the disciples to gather their thoughts, bring together what they have discussed, heard, or imagined concerning the true nature of Jesus in light of his miraculous actions and authoritative words.  This question is a set up for the next question, a very personal question, “Who do you say that I am?” This question is the critical question.  Why, because God wants the disciples, God wants us to deal with this issue, “Do you really know who Jesus is?”

This question is the most important question we will ever be asked.  Every human being is asked this question in some way and is offered an opportunity to answer on the bases of what their heart tells them.  It is a answer we dare not get wrong.

The setting of this passage takes place with Jesus gathering his disciples together for this discussion.  Jesus brings it up.  Who do people say that I am?  This discussion was being held throughout the land.  Jesus actions, his preforming miracles, his insightful and impactful teaching, in fact his very presence could not be ignored.  Something amazing was happening.  Who is this man?

If it were today, the evening news shows would be asking the question, “Who is Jesus?”  All of the afternoon celebrity shows would be trying to get him to be on their show.  The late night hosts would be competing to see who could do the best jokes, monologues on “Who is Jesus?”  There would be background checks, theories, speculation and experts brought in.  Everyone would want to know “Who is Jesus?”

At first the disciples give a list speculations.  Some say you are John the Baptist reincarnated.  Others say you are Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet. 

Now they knew that he could not be John the Baptist because they were with him before John had been killed.  He did not act like a prophet because he did much more than any prophet had ever done.  He knew the Spirit of the Law as well as the letter of the Law.  The disciples knew that speculations were wrong.  Each of these individuals had made a decision to follow Jesus when he called them.  Each responded to him not because of speculation, but because there was a reality about him which went far beyond the power and presence of this world.  But still there was the question. 

I can just imagine Jesus looking at them (you can picture the seriousness of the moment).  It was time to move beyond hearsay, beyond rumor.  Now it is time to deal with the real issue.  Jesus speaks.  Who do you say that I am?  It is decision time.  A choice must be made. This is still the critical question everyone must answer and must continually answer by the way we live our lives.  Who do you say that I am?

Some might think that this is just a passage for reaching out to people who do not know Jesus.  No so.  This is also a message for the church, a decision to be made by the church and we need to be careful and reflective how we decide.  Who do you say that I am?  Some would say you are the liberal Jesus who makes me feel good with moral teaching about love.  Some would say you are the fundamentalist Jesus who makes things black and white, right and wrong, fire and brimstone.  Some would say you are the political Jesus of my particular political persuasion who supports my political agenda, my idiomatic idealism.  Some would say you are the Jesus of convenience, a mythical, mystical master whom I find useful in times of crisis or conflict, a kind of God when I need one.  Who do you say Jesus is?

In our passage it is once again Peter who is quick to speak.  Peter, the common everyday guy who seems never to be at a loss for something to say, stands up and says, you are the Christ, the son of the living God. And for once, Peter got it right the first time.  This is who God revealed Jesus to be.  The only way this could be known, the only way it can be experienced, the only way it can be lived is through the power of God. John 6:44 states: No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day

Here is the irony, everyone who encountered Jesus had the same chance to make this decision.  They all had the evidence of Scripture, the opportunity to witness Jesus miraculous power, to encounter the same sense of Jesus’s authority, but they would not accept this revelation.  Why, because they closed their minds to the truth.  God does not force, God reveals. 

Have you ever heard of the parable of the foolish fish?  Not a biblical parable.  A fish swims up to another fish and asks him where he can find water.  The other fish replies, “It’s all around you!”  The first fish replied, “You mean this wet stuff?” Yes the other fish responded.  That’s silly the first fish retorted and then swam away in his quest to find the water he was swimming in. 

God wants people to know who Jesus is.  The reality surrounds us in God’s prevenient grace.  It tugs at our hearts and pleads with the depth of our soul.  Even before we know his name we sense a need for him.  We may learn to ignore the need, to close off the revelation, but it is there. God wants us to know Jesus is the Son of the living God. He is God incarnate. He is our resurrected Savior. He is the one who was and is and will always be. He is our blessed hope. Our chance. Our only opportunity to transcend the power of death and enter the assurance of life. 

And when we know him, really know him then (verse 18) the gates of hell cannot prevail against us.  Jesus is not a teacher among teachers, a preacher among preachers.  He is not just good, not just moral, not just a man of justice, He is God.  His life has been given to us in word and in witness of this reality.  When God gives you the chance to know this is true and you are willing to make this truth the foundation of your life, the anchor of your heart then you can make the declaration Peter made and begin to grasp the promise implied by the proclamation. 

Peter’s journey with Jesus was rather profound.  From their first encounter in which Peter said to Jesus, “Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man” to this magnificent profession of faith the Lord was with Peter.  This is a journey, an understanding we all must come to if we are to respond to the question of Jesus correctly.  There is an ancient prayer I pray and teach to people who want a closer walk with the Lord that is founded upon Peter’s confession and profession.  It is called the breath prayer, or the Jesus prayer. Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Jesus responds to Peter by declaring the truth of Peter’s profession.  He states this is the rock, the foundation, the meaning of life that eternal life is built.  With our understanding of this meaning comes purpose, with purpose responsibility. 

Remember, who do you say that I am is an ongoing question for the church.  It needs to define our direction.  It tells us that our identity is rooted in the confession of Jesus as the Savior, the anointed of God, the Son of the living God who has come to be part of us.  It tells us that we will be in conflict but we will win.  The gates of hell are there, but so is the power of God.  It tells us we are trusted with the keys to God’s plan for eternity.  We are the ones who unlock the door for others.  We open the way for our friends, families, and others to come to God.  If we seek to be effective we will be effective.  If we become burdens, then we will be a great stumbling block.  We have a great responsibility.  Who do we say Jesus is?  People need to know.  Look at our world, at people’s lives, at our churches, at the future.  People desperately need to know who Jesus is.  Let us joyful tell them with our words and our deeds.

If Jesus were to come to certain theological schools today and asked the professors who do you think that I am some of them might reply, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the kerygma in which we recognize the ultimate significance of our interpersonal relations.”  And Jesus would probably replay, “Do What!”  If he came to you what would you say?  This is the answer that counts.

Sermon on Matthew 14: 13-21

Matthew 14:13-21


The passage we read is preceded in the Gospel by bad news.  John the Baptist has been killed by Herod.  The voice of the man of God who came from the desert and preached the truth was now silent.  Jesus was hurt by this news.

          What was Jesus response?  He withdrew to the wilderness.  Why, because of his grief.  Jesus and John were related.  John had the mission of preparing the way for Jesus.  John had been the instrument through which Jesus began his public ministry at his baptism in the Jordan River.  John had been an obedient servant of God and those who love God are loved by Jesus.  John 14:21 states: Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

          So Jesus withdraws with his grief.  He seeks a place of reflection, of evaluation, of remembrance. He seeks a secluded place.  He goes to the wilderness, the desert.  But why there?  What is so important about the wilderness?  The wilderness is where the Holy Spirit sustained Jesus during his time of temptation.  In the Scripture the wilderness is a place of struggle, both emotional and physical.  The wilderness was a place where Jacob wrestled with God and became Israel.  The wilderness was the place where Elijah fled and fed and tended to by God.  The wilderness is the place the nation of Israel wandered and learned to depend on God.  Jesus went to the wilderness to wrestle with his emotions, to be comforted by His Father.

          Henry Nouwen, a wise spiritual teacher wrote: we all need deserts, places to which we can go and wrestle with God.  Places where we can deal with our grief, our problems, and our needs.  Each of us have a need for wilderness from time to time and if we are not near one we need to create one.  Sometimes God brings us to the wilderness for our own good.  The wilderness, the desert is a place of miracles.  It is a place where God creates a burning bush, it is a place where God separates a sea, causes bread (manna) to fall from the sky, and where God can make water flow from a rock.  Yes, Jesus comes to the desert, the wilderness, a place of encountering God, of experiencing the miraculous, and more.  

          So Jesus leaves by boat and seeks a place to be alone.  But the people find out where he is going and follow on foot.  Imagine the surprise Jesus experienced.  He though he was getting away.  He though he was going to have time alone. It is part of Murphy’s Law: the amount of interruptions and pressures experienced goes up proportionally with the amount of solitude needed. In other words if you want peace and quiet, the noise will be there.  If you want to take a nap the phone will ring or the doorbell will sound.  How dare the people follow him?  How dare they be so selfish?  But this is not how Jesus responds.  Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion.  Jesus deeply cared about the people.  Jesus always has compassion because God has compassion.  God deeply cares about us. 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, (all compassion).  When we look at the life of Jesus we find a continual pattern of compassion.  In the upper room, Jesus last night was spent preparing the disciple for what was to come.  Why because he had compassion on them.  When he was marched through the streets of Jerusalem carrying a cross his concern was not for himself: Luke 23:28 Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. Then on the cross, with the Roman soldiers gambling for his clothes he cried out, Father forgive them.  The compassion displayed by Jesus then and now and forever is more than a miracle, it is the ultimate revelation of love.

          In the passage, Jesus reached out to the people.  He would not let his own grief overcome his compassion.  In Jesus actions in this story we learn that we cannot wear God down with our problems.  We cannot exhaust God’s gracious power.  I believe God is grieved every day.  He is grieved at useless death, grieved b the disregard for the world and life he has given us.  Grieved by the suffering, pain, violence, injustice, and callousness.  God is grieved but not overcome.  God still reaches out to us with compassion.  God seeks to help us because God loves us.

          Then in verse 15, Jesus is present with another problem.  The disciples come to him and say: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”  But then Jesus says to his disciples, you feed them.  The disciples wonder how, how can they do this?  In the Gospel of John it is record that they said: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” But this was the wrong question. 

          A man went for a walk in the park when he noticed a man sitting on a bench with a beautiful German shepherd sitting beside him.  The man walked over to the bench and said hello to the man.  The man replied, hello.  The man then asked, does your dog bite?  No replied the man.  Then the man reached down to pet the dog.  The dog responded by going after the man’s hand with a mouthful of teeth.  The man barely pulled his hand away in time.  I though you said your dog doesn’t bite!  That’s not my dog.

          The disciples did not ask the right question.  The question was not how they were going to feed the people, but how was Jesus going to use them to feed the people.  When God gives us a command, God provide the means for our success.  I am afraid to many Christians have forgotten this.  We have become a people of limited vision.  We have become a people of limited perspective.  We have allowed doubt and the world to get us to focus on what we think we cannot do instead of living in the power of what God can do. 

          Listen again to what Jesus says: concerning the loaves and the fish he states “Bring them here to me.”  If there was one theological principle, one Bible truth, one spiritual commitment I wish every one of us would make the key focus of our lives is this, bring it to Jesus.  Bring what you have to the Lord and watch the miracle he will do through you!  Bring you sins and he will multiply forgiveness.  Bring your despair and he will multiply hope.  Bring your willingness and he will multiply ministry.  Bring your mind and he will multiply understanding.  Bring your heart and he will multiply love.  It does not depend on our ability, it depends on our willingness to trust the Lord and respond in faith.  God wants to show compassion through us.  God wants to do even greater things than this. In John 14:12 Jesus makes a promise: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  This promise is ours to claim if we are but willing.

          Note what is stated in v.20.  They all were full.  All were taken care of.  This is what God desires.  This is what a relationship with Jesus brings.  This is what the Good News offers.  The question is will we accept?  Will we understand and make the commitment to do what Jesus asks?  Will you bring it to Jesus?  Why would you not?

Love and Accountability

The passage of Scripture I am struggling with for next Sunday is one that brings up the issue of judgment.  It is a passage the speaks of a final separation of those who are children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one.

Thinking about judgment is disturbing.  To reflect upon the possibility of a human being living in an existence from which there is no comfort, no possibility of hope is a hard thing to do.  If we love people (to love God one cannot help but love people) eternal judgment seems so against ideas of mercy and compassion. 

I cannot come up with an explanation for why this must be.  I can only accept the fact that Scripture does teach the certainty of this event and the awareness deep within my own heart that what the Scripture teaches is true.  The necessity of this reality is not something we can rationalize or fit neatly into some theological construct we might create to easy our distress.  It is, however, something that should motivate us out of love and concern to reach out in urgency to those who may be at risk.  It is also something that we should be concerned with ourselves as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  Assurance comes with intimacy not complacency.  Confidence comes with commitment and involvement not with assumption or ignorance. 

In my reflection, I also believe that if the promised coming of judgment is hard for us, we cannot image how hard it must be for God.  It is my limited understanding that God is omnipresent.  In this statement I am expressing the belief that there is no place that God does not exist.  If this is true, then the eternal state of separation is a place that God endures as well as those who have rejected God’s grace.  How painful will it be for God to see these people created out of God’s love in this state of separation.  The omnipresence of God would seem to indicate that God too carries a great burden for those who chose the path of perdition. 

My theological task this week is a challenge.  It will require a lot of prayer and reflection.  I will have to seek diligently the guidance of the Holy Spirit for understanding and direction as I seek to mold a message that has meaning and inspires motivation to respond in faith to what is a hard truth to face.

I do this because I do love the Lord.


Contemplation, thoughtful observation

The word contemplation can be defined as thoughtful observation. 

When we set down with the Scripture and read it with the understanding that it is a gift given to us out of God’s love toward us then thoughtful observation can become a means of intimate discovery.  To spend time reading the accounts of human shortcomings that are met over and over again by God’s efforts of restoration and transformation thoughtful observation brings a realization of how love is magnified.  Giving thoughtful observation to forgiveness, calling, indwelling and communion can produce powerful perspectives.  Contemplation opens us up to inspiration by the Spirit that indwells our hearts.

We live in the midst of limitation and finiteness.  In the Scripture we are told that God wishes for us to become aware of God’s desire for us to want to transcend our limitations and our finiteness.  Through contemplation, thoughtful observation, we can grow in our understanding of this desire.   This understanding gives us resources that cannot be bought or acquired by any merits on our part.  Through thoughtful observation we can come to embrace grace in a more expanded manner.  Through thoughtful observation we can find the means to trust providence beyond our understanding.  Through time spent in thoughtful observation we can gain confidence that God is present even when our circumstances, situations, feelings, and perspectives pressure us to doubt.

In any relationship there are times for spontaneity and emotional response.  However, a relationship that also has its time of thoughtful observation, times of reflection, that allow the encounters of the relationship to be viewed in different and more profound ways, the relationship is given the chance to develop depth.   Contemplation requires the giving of time and intent.  It is an offering of worthiness.  Thoughtful observation is a demonstration of the value and importance of the relationship experience.  It is another positive way and means of loving the Lord our God and discovering more deeply just how much the Lord loves us.



A Double Blessing

Today was my first Sunday serving the two church of the charge I have been given.  In both churches, communion was served.  This means I had the privilege of being blessed twice through taking of the sacrament with God’s people at both churches.  I can understand the joy and commitment found in John Wesley’s exhortation to take communion as often as we can.  I was almost brought to tears in the joy that I felt.

Communion is a means of grace.  To come to the Lord’s table in remembrance and in worship, receiving the body and blood of Christ, joining with other believers in anticipation and expectation can be a glimpse into the joy that is ours to come and yet already is.  In Eucharist the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is strengthened.

Communion for me is an act of intimacy.  It is time of remembering what has been and looking forward to what is to come.  It is a reminder that the Lord is with us always even to the end of the age.  What great love is found is this most blest of sacraments.  Today, with believers I have been called to pastor, it was truly a time of loving the Lord.

Loving People

Yesterday was a national Holiday.  It was also a day to begin to get to know people in the community into which I have just moved. My wife and I attended a community gathering in the center of town.  It was an event put on by the chamber of commerce.  It was a wonderful gathering of local people.  It was a delight to get to meet some of the folks who live in this town.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has the responsibility to seek to meet people, to get to know people.  Why? Because God desires to love people and a follower of Jesus seeks to desire what God desires.  As beings created in the image of God we have at the center of our being a nature of love.  This nature is deformed and corrupted and thus separated from God.  In this state we do not love as we were intended from creation but through the gift of grace we can grow toward wholeness, toward loving as God loves.  It is this growth in love that awakens within us just how important people really are and how important it is for us to get to know them.

As I meet people, I pray that God will allow me to see them as God sees them.  I pray that as I am given grace I will be able to understand how important it is for me to help others receive the gift of grace as well.  In this bond of grace we can develop true community.  In this involvement in true community we can join with one another in building on the foundation that has been laid in our lives, the Kingdom of God where the love of God reigns.

We only have a certain amount of time in this world to “get it”.  So much of our time is consumed in doing things that matter only to this world and in a very limited way.  But the spiritually grounded relationships we seek to develop now, the people in whom we invest our time and togetherness with now, these things will bless us forever.  In these relationships we have the opportunity learn more about love and to love the Lord as the Lord lives in the life of others.

Developing a Central Theological Statement

In a recent seminar, I was asked to write a (my) central theological statement in 50 words or less. A central theological statement is an expression of the foundational concepts (beliefs) upon which a person bases their service to Jesus. I believe taking the time to write one’s own central theological statement can be very productive spiritually. Writing out this statement and then using it as a tool to reflect on how we are living our lives in accord with what we have written can give us insights into our consistency in faith and practice.

The central theological statement I wrote for myself is: Practicing Christian Theology is done in guiding the church to be faithful in growing in intimacy with God, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and living in anticipation and preparation of Jesus return.  In this statement I hoped to capture the things I consider to be of most importance as I seek to serve my Lord.  I feel this statement gives me workable parameters upon which to reflect but is also broad enough to allow for growth.

As can be seen in the statement, the focus is about guiding the church in a certain direction.  What is not stated is that in order to do this I must make sure it is a reality in my own life.  In order to do, I must be.  I believe this is the way a central theological statement must work.  This is how it is practical. 

Disciples in the early church developed tools for spiritual reflection to aid them in maintaining their focus and purpose.  Today, I believe we face greater distractions than the church faced then.  In light of this, I believe disciples of Jesus today must be attentive to those spiritual practices developed in the past but also to look for new tools to help us in our spiritual growth today.  I believe developing a central theological statement and reflecting upon it regularly can be such a tool. 

In all we do let us seek to love the Lord.


Love the Lord Your God (3)

In John 14: 15 Jesus states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We have been taught that the love of God is unconditional.  That word “if” seems to place a condition.

Yes it does, but the condition is not on God’s love for us but on our ability to love God.   Jesus states that true love of Him is tied to our keeping the commandments God has given to us.

We human beings are very good at rationalization.  In fact, we are so good at it we that we believe our rationalization are what make up reality.  We reason what we want and then believe this is the way it must be.  We can get angry at other people and then blame them for our anger.  We reason they made us angry.  No, we respond to a stimulus in ourselves and decide to be angry.  The creation of anger is all our own.  A person does something and we respond with sadness.  We say they made us sad by their actions or inactions.  No, we chose to respond out of our reason with a reaction of sadness.  When we say we love God are we responding with an emotion made of our reason, our rationalizing that we “love” God?  Have we set the criteria for what constitutes love?  What role does God have in this?

God’s commandments set up the foundation for true reality.  God’s commandments come out of God’s very nature.  God is love.  God sets the standard.  God’s commandments set the standard for behavior within reality.  God states that love is defined within the actions God has determined.  If we are to love then we must conform to this reality.  There is no room for our rationalizations within this reality, thus the condition, “if you love me.”

In our mortal state, corrupted by our nature, our rationalizations are not a reliable standard by which to judge what is true or real.  This is why God must give us the gift of grace to be able to respond to God and to come to understand what truth is.  The command to love the Lord our God is a command to action.  This action is not determined by our reason but by God’s revelation.  Without our accepting this we are caught in a cycle of reasoning that is centered in deception.  Grace opens us up to the chance to break out of the cycle of human rationalization into the reality that God desires for us to know.  In responding to grace we can keep the commandments God gives to us.  Grace reveals to us this reality and gives us the ability to take action in accord with it.  It also gives us a basis for self reflection on how we are doing.  We can look at our lives and the commandments God gives and see if they are in sync.  In this way we can know what real love is.

Loving God takes a commitment on our part.  It is a duty that becomes a delight.  This is a hard task in our world that places so much emphasis on our deciding what we want rather than discovering what we really need.  So if we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, soul, and might we need to understand we can only do this IF we keep God’s commandments.