Weekly Reflections



King's Cross Anglican Church Tucson

3 Year Lectionary

by Jennifer Callaway

look out!

Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:1-9; Hebrews 11:1-16; Luke 12:32-40

"What God has done in the past is a model and a promise of what He’ll do in the future, though He’s too creative to do the same thing the same way twice.”-Dr. James Allman

     I hate to wait. I’ve been quite sure that in my life, I’ve done more waiting than anybody, ever. As I look to the future and all the unknowns it holds, I tend to fall into one of two traps.

     The first trap is denial. I pretend the future looming ahead doesn’t exist. If I’m waiting for a specific outcome or I’m worried about an unsolved problem, I just put it out of my mind. If someone asks me how I am, I say ‘fine,’ and I mean it! If they ask me how they can pray for me, my mind is blank—I literally have put it out of my mind. While it makes me feel better in the short term, this method creates a problem. I am unprepared for reality when the situation comes to its conclusion. I’ve made no plans for contingencies or responses, and I’m left to panic and do the first thing that comes to mind.

     The second trap is worry over the issue. I focus all my attention on the ‘what ifs’ of the future, without any real plan for what to do. This leaves me miserable in the present, while I focus all my energy on worst-case scenarios. Not to plan for them, but just to worry. This leaves me anxious and unable to function well in the present.

    That’s why the  above quote from one of my teachers at seminary means so much to me. When I can remember these words, I can look forward to the future in faith, like the ‘hall of faith’ saints of Hebrews 11. I can see my circumstances realistically without being crushed by them. I can pray and ask God to help me see Him in the midst of the waiting. I can know that no matter the outcome, He is good, He is faithful, and He is with me. He’s been with us since before the beginning, and will be with us into eternity. So don’t look at yourself, or your circumstance. With eyes of faith, look at your God. 

choices

Ecclesiastes 1:12—2:11; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:5-17; Luke 12:13-21

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”(Jesus)

I read a popular book on Christian stewardship many years ago, and it left one vivid image in my mind that has shaped the way I view the world and possessions ever since. The author suggested a trip to a junkyard. He encouraged readers to take in all the rusting, rotting and degrading piles that had once been someones shiny, new possessions. How many put their hopes for happiness on those objects? And what did the junkyard signify about the ultimate reality? The obvious answers can be either depressing, or liberating.

As a culture, we love our stuff! But it is too easy to turn the pleasure of acquiring something new into a need that defines the quality of our life. When collecting becomes a means of fulfillment, we are sliding into the parallel universe of what the Preacher calls ‘vanity.’(Ecc 1:11). When the point of life is acquiring more toys, we will become spoiled, unhappy children who don’t even understand why we’re so unhappy.

The way of Christ calls us to set aside those things that feed our earthly appetites but do nothing to nourish our souls. This takes discipline and imagination; discipline to deny ourselves the impulse of instant gratification, and imagination to turn our thoughts and hearts to Christ. This is what Paul calls “putting off the old self” and “putting on the new self.”(Col 3:9-10) The old self wants to feed the flesh with anything it wants; the new self, or the new creation in Christ, has been given the wisdom of God to say ‘no’ to what it wants and ‘yes’ to what it needs— the love of Christ to dwell in and through it.

It comes down to action. Say ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I forgive you.’ Treat one another kindly and encourage one another to do good. Don’t tear one another down with anger and conflict, but build one another up with love and exhortation. Think you can’t? If you have the Holy Spirit, you can. It is a choice. Vanity or eternal life? You choose.

uncommon grace

Genesis 18:20-33; Psa 138; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13

I find myself today in need of God’s assurance as I pray for a dear loved one. These readings are a perfect example of how He comforts us and why we can know He is listening when we pray.

His first assurance to me came in the form of Abraham’s intercession for the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah. Though the city was known to be wicked, God ultimately agreed to spare the vast majority for the sake of those few who were called by His name. This reminds me that the prayers of the righteous make a difference, and should comfort all of us that intercede for someone in this life.

Second, Psalm 138 is a reminder of God’s personal words to me on the morning my mother died. I have shared the story before; suffice it to say that experience is the most concrete proof of God’s love and mercy I have ever received. Specifically, the line “though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life” assures me that in the middle of a storm, God is with me and all that I care about.

Third, the Colossians reading reminds me that I am walking this road by faith. My roots go deep by the grace of God, and I am thankful when I remember all He has done in the past. This gratitude builds my faith more deeply, and by that faith, I take the next steps on the journey.

And finally, the gospel reading reminds me that God is going to give good things when I ask Him. While that is no guarantee that He is going to answer me exactly the way I think would be ideal, I do know enough to realize only He can judge what is good. I can trust Him that no matter how my situation resolves, God has heard me, He cares about what I care about, and He is always good and wise. He will accomplish what concerns me, in His time and in His way. Do you see what He has done? Through these readings, He has once again reminded me of His care and wisdom. I only had to see it.

All of this is an exercise of faith. But that is what this life is about, learning to grow our faith as we wait for His appearing. He gives us what we need when we look for Him. Where do you need to see Him today?

FALTERING FAITH

Genesis 18:1-14; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:21-29; Luke 10:38-42

I am so grateful for the story of Abraham and Sarah. When I first read it, I completely sympathized with this couple. God had promised Abraham when he was 75 that his son would establish the line of the Savior. So, they waited. And waited. And waited! For about 25 more years, they waited! 

Sarah tried to ‘help’ God by providing Hagar to mother a son. Abraham tried to ‘help’ God by saying he would make his servant his heir to fulfill the promise. They messed with God’s plan in so many ways, we would all understand if He said “forget it!” 

On the other hand, who could blame them? They were old when the promise came, and they only grew older every year. At the point of this story, Sarah was 90 years old. The promise seemed absolutely impossible, and their bumbling attempts to make it happen would justify any negative consequences that came from their faithlessness.

Then to add insult to injury, Sarah laughed! And when God confronted her about it, she lied to Him. If there were ever a strong case for God to deny them, that cinched it. Yet, their lack of faith and their foolish actions did not deter God from fulfilling the promise in His time.

This is where I have ultimately come to understand a greater picture of God’s power, His grace, and His mercy. Even with all their failures and the sin that caused those disasters, His faithfulness to keep His promise never wavered. What He says He will do, He will do. No matter how much I might mess it up, His plans will go forth. As an omniscient God, I believe He knows exactly how we will fail, and He is never surprised by our human limitations. I take great comfort in knowing that whether or not I am faithful, He will be. Our God is greater than all our sin.

     When has your faith faltered? Trust God to accomplish all His will anyway. And know that He loves you unconditionally. Though our faith wavers, His never does.

have mercy!

Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-14; Col 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”(Luke 10:37)

     The practice of mercy was so important to Christ, because mercy is what we all must receive in order for God to speak to us, and for us to hear. It is by mercy that God revealed Himself from the beginning. By mercy He formed the first humans, and established His love and trust for them. By mercy, not anger, He removed them from the Garden, protecting them from the risk of gaining eternal life in their fallen state. 

Because of mercy He faithfully led them through centuries of failure, rebellion, and distraction.  Though He allowed them to fail, and fall, and even spend time in captivity, He did it in mercy, bringing them out again at the proper time, never wavering in His promises to them. And in His greatest show of mercy, He sent His Son to deliver us from sin and death, even by His own suffering.

     I have read and re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan, and something finally clicked with me. The lawyer asked whom he had to love with all his heart, soul, mind and strength by asking “who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer turned the tables on this man by showing him that it was his responsibility only to show mercy to whomever crossed his path. The Samaritan didn’t check that the man believed the right things. While he was clearly busy in his own life, he took days of his time and a substantial amount of his own money to be sure the man was cared for. He didn’t ask for anything in return, and in fact promised to cover the man’s debt completely, even though he had no way of knowing whether this man was “worthy” of his care. He cared because God does, and he acted as God’s agent of healing.

     What does this have to do with us? Everything. Because while we were still sinners Jesus died for us. Though He was God, He didn’t cling to His throne, but inconvenienced Himself to the point of death—even a humiliating death on a cross—to make it possible for us to know God.  He persevered through all this by keeping His eyes fixed on the joy He saw beyond, when He sat on the throne and now intercedes for us, forever. That’s mercy. Any small kindness we can show in His name makes us look like Him.

limited

Isa 66:10-16; Ps 66:1-8; Gal 6:1-18; Luke 10: 1-20

     What is the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make? What made it so difficult? Was it perhaps something along the lines of “I don’t know what will happen if I do (a) or (b)? In all likelihood, it had something to do with a lack of information, or the inability to see into the future. 

     We are finite creatures in every way. Not only is our life span limited—our knowledge, vision, and discernment are as well. We are so limited, in fact, that we cannot even know what our limits are. What seems good to us can be bad in ways we can’t perceive, and vice versa. And without some kind of guidance that is wiser and farther-reaching than ours, we cannot truly what what is right.

     Our collect hints at this need. “We can do no good thing apart from you” it says, in part. That sounds drastic. Truly, we can do no good thing? I think, though, that we underestimate the brokenness of the Fall. It was in fact in this very way that the Fall came about! Our desire to know what God didn’t intend for us to know, and our willful thwarting of  His explicit command in order to satisfy that desire, is the root of that act. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that in order to know what is right, we must be in right fellowship with Him. Only He can direct us to the right path.

    Our readings this week are full of examples of limited thinking. The Galatians, so easily led away from the Gospel, experience the wisdom and teaching of God through Paul to help them find the right path. The seventy-two disciples, so elated at the power they had over the things they could see in front of them had to be reminded that what they could not see—their names written in the book of life—mattered so much more. And those Jesus warned, who would not listen, were the most limited of all.

     Those who listened were guided back to the path of life. Those who rejected, wandered into death. When you pray about your next decision, first thank Him for the fellowship you have that allows you to ask. Then trust His guidance. He knows more.

for disciples only

1 Kings 19:15-21; Ps 16; Gal 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

    The collect this week says, in part “Put away from us all hurtful things and give us those things that are profitable for us.” That is such an interesting prayer to me. Any person who has walked with Christ can testify that His values can seem upside down at times. What I mean is, we have to redefine words like ‘hurtful’ and ‘profitable.’ What is most hurtful to us usually seems like the best thing at the moment. What is profitable for us often seems anything but!

     The last couple of years, the world is such a hostile place between Covid and all the political upheaval. The anger ‘out there’ makes me just want to hide in my house. I have to admit I even wished I wasn’t a committed Christian, so I could just stay home and stop doing church and ministry. It would be so much easier to become a hermit, which is my natural tendency anyway. It seemed hurtful just to leave the house at times, and most profitable to stay home. I just wanted to stop everything. But the last few months have been a slow process of re-engaging for me—not just in the things I do, but in who I am. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. Refusing to follow Him isn’t an option.

     Discipleship is not a thing to take lightly. The greatest failure I see in the American church is the idea that you profess your faith, get baptized, and just add church to your life routines, with no teaching or accountability to grow in your walk with Christ. The effect is chilling. Church divisions, moral failures, and loss of influence in the culture can be tied back to this one failure. Saying ‘yes’ to Christ is a one time decision, but that is just the beginning. We have to invest in growing up in Him. If the church is going to continue in today’s America, something is going to have to change. Disciples of Christ need to act on the calling and fill the void in our culture.

     We must accept the responsibility of learning to live like Christ. Our Galatians passage paints a beautiful picture of what the process looks like. Though we are crucified in Christ, our flesh is still trying to crawl off the cross, so the battle between our flesh and the Holy Spirit begins. This is where the choice comes in. We can live as we always have, or we can learn to walk in step with the Holy Spirit. If we live as we like, we will have little of Jesus to share with the world. The rest of our life will be a process of learning how to allow the Holy Spirit to rule our lives.

     We live in hard times with many challenges. We do get tired, and it’s good to take seasons of rest. But we can’t quit. We are chosen. We are committed. And we are gifted. We have both a privilege and a responsibility. Let’s finish strong.


DIE to live

Zech 12:8-10,13:1; Ps 63; Gal 3:23-39; Luke 9:18-24

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” This very famous quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been stuck in my mind since Father Pete’s homily yesterday. (Click here to listen). The homily focused on Jesus’ words in Luke 9, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Notice what this says; all of us are going to lose our life, one way or the other. It’s inevitable for every human being. Coming to terms with this indisputable fact is the first step toward a life with Christ.

When we pretend death doesn’t exist or spend our lives trying to make a name for ourselves, Jesus’ exhortation begins to make sense, and we can learn not only the ‘how’ but the ‘why’ of losing our life for the sake of Christ. This is the way forward on the path to follow Christ.

First, in what way do we try to save our life? We do it by living for our own gain, doing whatever it takes to make us feel that our life has significance. Education, important jobs, money and nice possessions are just a few of the ways we do this. Any of us who have spent time on this road comes to understand that it is always a dead end. We continue to need “just a little bit more” to be satisfied, and in the meantime we turn away from the things that matter not only in this life but for eternity. The things of God, and the priorities of Christ. In the end, we have lost it all, leaving nothing but an empty spot at the dinner table and the pieces of broken relationships scattered around us. 

But what does it mean to “lose our life” for the sake of Christ? It means giving up those things that seem so important in order to re-direct our priorities and align with His. We care more for others than we care for ourselves. We share the gospel not only with words but with our lives. We make sacrifices to put His concerns before our own. We stop protecting ourselves and start projecting Him.

But this doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a process that begins the moment we say ‘yes’ to Jesus. There may be times along the way that it feels He’s asked too much, and we want to save ourselves. Those are the moments when trusting Him may be most important of all. If we truly want to live, that is.


THREE IN ONE

Isaiah 6:1-7; Psalm 29; Rev 4:1-11; John 16:5-15

There is no subject of doctrine more challenging than the doctrine of the Trinity. While it is Christianity’s greatest distinction from other faiths, it is also the one we struggle most to understand. How is it that we worship one God, yet claim there are three? 

Ultimately it is a mystery. There are far too many difficult questions about this foundational teaching for one reflection, even if I had the ability to answer them all. But it explains why we can so fully experience our God. A simple application has helped me to appreciate both the necessity for the Trinity and the implications in the life of the believer. In Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can experience God’s transcendence, His imminence, and His intimacy. 

God the Father pictures His transcendence. He breathed and ‘it was created.’ All events of history began in the moment of creation. And what began lives on because He holds all things together. He is not bound by time; He sees all that has ever happened, or ever will happen. He is not helpless in the face of circumstances; all that He wills will be accomplished.

Christ the Son pictures His imminence. “In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a virgin…” (Gal 4:4). In Christ, God stepped into time and came near to us, to dwell among us, as He had promised. In Christ, He fulfilled all His promises. More than that, He came near to “fulfill all righteousness,” to give an example of righteousness, and ultimately to pay the price for sin that we could never pay ourselves. He not only showed us the way to the Father, He opened the way and made eternal life available to us.

Third, in the Holy Spirit we understand what intimacy with God can be. The Holy Spirit lives in us, teaching us what we need to know, guiding us in what we do, leading us where God would have us go. It assures us of our own salvation, convicts us of our sin, comforts us in our suffering, and empowers us to accomplish all God’s will concerning us. When we embrace the truth of the Spirit, we can have confidence that God is working in us and through us.

Though they each act in different ways, they are One. We cannot separate the three Persons. They are one in essence, though they accomplish different realities for the world. They all exist together beyond time, and place, and our felt and lived experience. They Are. I Am. In Him we are created, loved, and connected by Him and to Him. Embrace the Trinity. He embraces you.

one spirit

Gen 11:1-9; Ps 104:24-35; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17

I have often found that studying small segments of Scripture can cause me to miss the greater arc of the story God is writing. Therefore one of the most satisfying discoveries I have found is the way in which God is working over centuries, even millennia. We see the perfect example of this reality in comparing this week’s Genesis passage with our Acts passage.

In Genesis we find the story of the tower of Babel. Some key things to notice include “the whole earth had one language,” and “ as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” The parallel to the migration of Jews to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks is unmistakeable. All the people come together in one place for one purpose.

Here is where the narratives begin to diverge. The Jews come together to worship God at the temple. On the contrary, the people in Genesis came together to  let us “build ourselves a city” and  “make a name for ourselves.” Do you hear the different motives? This is why acted at Babel. Because they were out for themselves, to try to overthrow God, He confused their language and dispersed them. But that was only the beginning of His redemption story.

Through desert wanderings, rebellions, and many, many seasons of famine and plenty, God encouraged His people through the prophets. Enter Joel, whose words predicting the renewal He planned kept them going in dark days. “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…”

The scene is Acts, centuries later after Joel lived. The promises still haven’t been fulfilled; though the Messiah has come, His life and purpose were so far from what they had expected, most had missed Him altogether. Yet, by God’s grace His plan would unfold. Once again “they were all together in one place.” They came from many, many different places and spoke many different languages. And once again, God came down. Only this time, He detangled their languages, touched them with His fire, and empowered them to do what they had never been able to do before; worship Him as one people in Christ.

Are you tired of waiting for Him? Beginning to doubt His promises? Me too, some days. But this is reality. He is going to do what He has promised. What may seem forever to us is only a day to Him. We are in the last days. Know He has given believers all that we need to thrive, even as the world winds down to the New Heaven and New Earth. His Spirit is in us!

Promising prayers

1 Sam 12:19-24; Ps 47; Rev 22:10-21; John 17:20-26

     John Chapter 17 contains what scholars call Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” This is the prayer in which He asks God to give believers what they need to show the world that He is the Savior. It is important to notice that He prayed this prayer shortly after spending quite a bit of time telling them of all that He has given to prepare them for what was coming. He spoke to them in Chapters 13-16 about the troubles that would come, the peace He gave them, and the promise that He has chosen them and will be with them. 

     He also promised them the outcomes they could expect and look forward to. They would “bear much fruit,” God would answer their prayers and they would experience complete joy. He described the work of the Holy Spirit He would send, who would comfort them, be their Advocate, give them words to say when they needed them, help them pray, empower them to serve Him, and impart the peace He promised, even though the world would bring them trouble.

     And then, He prayed for them. And He prayed for us, when He added the phrase, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” That is a direct reference to you, and me, and every believer that has come to Christ through the Church.

     This is what we need to think about. Do you believe God would answer Jesus’ prayers? Or maybe it’s a better question flipped around, do you believe God wouldn’t answer Jesus’ prayers? If you believe He answers this prayer, then you can believe that we have been given everything He prays for us to have! Not only that, He has given us the Holy Spirit to ensure that we have all that we need to accomplish what He calls us to do.

     The Holy Spirit is the means by which we can do all He asks for us, and of us. As we approach Pentecost, our celebration of the outpouring of the Spirit, ponder the idea that Jesus lives in you. That is not an abstract concept, it is an all-encompassing reality. As you ponder, ask the Lord what He would have you do to accomplish all He has promised. Then hold on for the ride! He will surprise you and challenge you. But He will give you Life.

no more night

Joel 2:21-27; Ps 67; Rev 21:1-4,22-22:5; John 14:21-29

Our readings this week contain two of my favorite passages, one from the Old Testament and the other from the New Testament. They’re favorites for one simple reason—they contain promises from God that I have clung to in the darkest of times and continue to turn to for inspiration and encouragement on a regular basis. 

First is the message from the prophet Joel, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” This promise comes in the midst of Joel’s warnings that if Judah will not repent, God will destroy them. The promise is meant to convey the depth of God’s forgiveness when we repent. Not only will He restore our relationship with Him, He will restore to us the good things our sin has cost. We are no longer defined by the past. His forgiveness is lavish, far more than we have any right to expect. As someone who sees myself more in terms of my failures than His generosity, this reminds me that I am not who I once was, and He has redeemed even my greatest sins.

The second reading is the great crescendo of history, the Revelation we all await. As Joel encourages us to leave the past behind, John’s vision compels us to focus on the future. Can you imagine it? No need for electricity, God’s light will fill the whole world. No more sickness or aging or pain or poverty. The new will come, and it will not wear out. We will know no loneliness, no depression or anxiety or fear or shame. We will cry no more. 

This is our hope. The former things have passed away, and the present struggles will as well. Not politics, or wars, or economics, or health care will not rescue us.  They are humanity’s thumb in the dyke stopping the flood of the curse from destroying the world. Though of course, even those things are by His grace, to help us hold on until that Day. Don’t be afraid of the dark; the Light is coming!


Click on the picture to hear an inspirational reminder of what we look forward to


jesus' love

Lev 19:1-2, 9-18; Ps 145:1-9; Rev 19:1-9; John 13:31-35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

The homily on Sunday, in which Father Pete challenged us to love one another as Christ has loved us, caused me to spend some time thinking about exactly how Christ has loved us. What does it look like to love as Christ loves? It’s easy to get lost in all the examples of the ways Christ showed love to different people in different circumstances, so it seems easier to think about some themes He showed us in His life and ministry, and how those might be lived out today.

First, His love is sacrificial. “No greater love has one than this, that he would lay down his life for a friend.(John 15:13)” Not only did Christ teach this, but He demonstrated it on the Cross. We may think that we can’t hope to measure up to that standard, but our calling is nothing so daunting. Laying down our life happens in small ways every day. When we put off our own desires in order to meet the needs of someone else, that is a form of laying down our life. It doesn’t feel so dramatic as the Cross and can often seem like just a nuisance, but this is the kind of love Christ calls us to.

Second, His love is unconditional. He loved the woman caught in sin, the demoniac He delivered, and even loved His enemies while He courageously confronted them. He meets each person where they are, and calls them to follow Him. There’s no directive to clean up their act first or behave a certain way. Just a call to do the next right thing, and a promise that He will not deny anyone who comes to Him. All of us have people in our lives we desperately want to see changed. Loving them as they are opens them up for the kind of love God wants to give them.

Third, His love is intercessory. He intercedes for us at the throne of God, and because He lives forever, His advocacy does too. What difference might it make in our confidence in God’s love, if we knew that Christ “ever lives to make intercession for us”(Heb 7:25)?

Of course this only scratches the surface; but I pray it gets you to also think deeply about what it means to love as Christ has loved us. What would His love working through you accomplish? May we all learn to love more like Him.

wool Gathering

Numbers 27:12-23; Ps 100; Rev 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”(John 10:27)

    Jesus words here to the Jews are just one variation in John Chapter 10 of the many ways He said this same thing; His sheep will hear His voice, know His voice, and follow Him. This is just one of what we call the “I am” statements in John; I am the Good Shepherd.“I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and “I am the Light of the World,” are just a few of the others.

    The shepherd was a figure the Jews understood intimately. Sheep were part of their livelihood and their sacrificial system, so knowing how to care for them was an integral part of the Jewish culture, even though the shepherds themselves were marginalized; no one wanted to keep company with those who smelled like sheep and spent most of their lives in isolation with the livestock they cared for. Nevertheless, the job was important, and a bad shepherd could be ruinous to the flock (see Ezek 34). 

    I completely embrace the idea of myself as a sheep. Sheep are not known for their independence and quick thinking, and I can relate. In fact, I feel so inadequate at times that I doubt my ears when I think I may have heard from Him. Jesus’ repeated declarations that I will know His voice and follow Him are therefore a great comfort! He has promised I will know His voice and follow Him, so I will believe that promise and listen with confidence. I may doubt myself, but I need not doubt Him.

   What about you? Do you trust the Good Shepherd? Do you know His voice? If you are unsure, read all of John 10. See how many times He says we know His voice. You can know, and confidently follow. Just listen!


god with us

Jeremiah 32:36-41; Ps 33; Rev 5:1-14; John 21:1-14

One of the things that I cling to in times of loneliness is the knowledge that God is always with me. Yet with the exception of Christ’s life and resurrection, and the times He has spoken to individuals, His actual presence can seem abstract or even unrealistic. If we could always sense His presence, what difference would it make in our walk of faith?

That question is a trick question, if you didn’t notice. The very essence of faith is believing what we cannot yet see or feel, and acting in accordance with that knowledge. If we could always feel Him with us, we would be walking by feeling, not faith. Therein lies the conundrum. How can we believe with our whole being in what we cannot see, or feel, or hear?

This is where the promises of Scripture become essential for our growth. From the ancient history of Jeremiah (and much earlier), to the future certainty of Revelation, we have God’s declarations to His people—“I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”(Jer)—to dwell with us in His incarnation—“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias…”(Jhn), to the future kingdom over which He will rule and we will be with Him— “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered…(Rev)” He is with us.

God repeats His promises and gives us glimpses of their fulfillment from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible is our inspiration for faith, and reading its words reassures us again and again.

There is another resource we have, though. It’s the simple steps, day by day, of walking and sitting and staying home and going about all while knowing He is with us. When we live like we know this, we’ll speak a little more, pray a little more, step a little further. These are acts of faith, and when we act in faith, we see Him a little more clearly. 

In fact I often say that in the times when I’ve been most desperately clinging to my faith, I see Him everywhere I look. The promise hasn’t completed its course yet, but He certainly gives us enough encouragement to know that it will. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”(Julian of Norwich) We are often told to believe what we see. God says “Believe, and you will see.”

because he lives

Isa 25:6-9; Ps 118:14-17; Col 3:1-4; Mark 16:1-8

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Last week, I talked about living the crucified life as the Apostle Paul laid out in Philippians 2. His point was that Christ humbled Himself to the point of death; therefore, we humble ourselves by not thinking more of ourselves than others, and by serving others instead of ruling them. Following Him means imitating Him in His death.

This week we celebrate the fact that He is risen! Therefore, in Him we are risen as well. Though all that Paul laid out in Philippians still applies to us, what he offers in Colossians is a method by which we can change our minds to think like the eternal beings that we are, so that what seems so important in this temporary life comes into proper perspective. He says “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” 

Think about this. If we are seated at the right hand of God with Christ, we are symbolically His right Hand of power. It is precisely because we know this that we can resist the temptations of the world, temptations to seek power and mastery over others. Instead, we can submit to God’s authority over that person or situation and be free to act in His behalf, laying aside our own concerns of ego and self-promotion. Even when we command a situation, this mindset impels us to serve with the security of the knowledge that we are in Christ, and in Christ we already have everything.

It’s sometimes said that Christians can be ‘so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.’ This passage reminds us that we do the most good when we are properly heavenly minded, finding our worth in the glory that will one day be ours, the day that Christ appears. That sounds like a moment worth waiting for. It is a promise that we can live for.


because he died

Isa 52:13—53:12; Phil 2:5-11; Luke 22:39-71; 23:1-56

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” This short passage in Philippians gives us a clear mandate regarding the ways we interact with one another in the Body. I think it’s worth breaking down and looking at exactly what He asks of us.            

First, He calls us to set aside our advantages. He, who is God, ‘did not grasp’ or cling on to His rights as the Lord of All. Instead, He ‘emptied Himself.’ What this means is a whole separate theological discussion, so I won’t go too deep into that. What it means for us, though, is letting go of our superiority, refusing to use our rightful position to bend others to our will, but instead it means voluntarily giving up our rights, becoming servants when we are accustomed to being masters. 

Second He calls us to radical obedience to God. “Obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This means a willingness to give up our life for God. Sometimes it might literally mean death. More often, it means daily dying to our own desires, our own preferences, and our own agendas in order to serve those that God has called us to serve. The smaller repetitive sacrifices are often more difficult than a one time life-sized gift, and should be taken every bit as seriously.     

Third, we should avoid self-exaltation of any kind, resisting the temptation of pointing out our good deeds, even if they seem to go unnoticed. This is the essence of humility, refusing to satisfy our own ego with others’ applause and seeking only to please God. In return, we know He promises we will be exalted by Him at the proper time. 

Finally, our actions will lead to the day in which ‘at the name oof Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ When that day comes, the crowns we receive will be cast at His feet as we bow in reverence and awe at His majesty. That day, none of the things we think are so important- position, autonomy, and recognition—will matter at all. 

If we live this way, we will be practicing the reality of a kingdom already established, a kingdom that one day will reign in all its glory. Until that day, our responsibility is to practice the ethics of our King in all we do, and this passage gives us a great place to start.


ONWARD

Isa 43:16-21; Ps 126; Phil 3:7-16; Luke 20:9-19

I confess that early in my Christian life I resisted full surrender to Christ because I was terrified of what He might ask me to give up. My worst fears were realized when Kevin came home one day saying “God is calling me to ministry.” 

That was the beginning of our journey. It was a winding, seemingly wandering span of twenty years, all the while God showing us what really mattered, what we valued most, and what a true blessing was. Little by little, He gently pried my fingers open and removed the things I thought I couldn’t live without, replacing them with the awe and wonder of a life lived with Him. And the journey continues, as we learn to trust Him more, fall down and get back up, and grow in our love for Him. The more we love, the less we fear.

What do you care about most? Would you be willing to give it up for Christ? This is the choice that faced the apostle Paul. In Philippians 3 he reminds his readers of all that he came from—“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

But if Paul struggled with that decision, he didn’t advertise it. This weeks passage, coming immediately after the quote above, begins “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” He goes on to use a strong word that is usually toned down, calling it ‘rubbish’ when in fact the word is more bluntly translated to mean something like ‘dung.’ He had discovered that giving up everything he valued for Christ was actually gaining more than he had ever imagined.

However, it’s easy to forget that Paul was on the other side of that chasm labeled ‘mine’ and thriving in the land of ‘His.’ He hadn’t completed the journey yet, but he was close enough to know that nothing he’d left behind was even worth a glance back. This is what He desires for us all, but He knows our weakness; He is mindful that we are dust, so He is gentle. Rather than force us, He woos us, until we gladly cross over. 


RECONCILED

Josh 5:1-12; Ps 34:1-8; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Luke 15:11-32

One of the things I teach when I work with people in recovery is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. What I say is something like this; “You need to forgive others for your own sake, and for the sake of your relationship with God. This has nothing to do with the other person; it is the way to freedom for you. But you should consider reconciliation only if that person is repentant for what they have done, willing to make restitution if it’s appropriate, and is open to rebuilding the lost trust betrayal has caused.”

            We see this kind of reconciliation in both Joshua and Luke. The people of Israel signified their repentance through obedience when they followed God’s command to circumcision. The physical mark set them apart as God’s chosen people.

            The Prodigal son signified repentance when he a) realized his own sin; b) turned back to go home; and c) recognized that he was not worthy to be called a son. His actions supported his claims, and he was received home with joy.

            These are very different pictures. One is of a people who in the midst of fear and danger relied more on what they could see than they did on the very real God they could not see. The other is of a much-loved son who boldly rejected his father, in effect wishing him dead by demanding his inheritance then dishonoring that inheritance through greed and waste.

            In both cases the Father was wronged. In both cases the children were reconciled when they turned back to Him in repentance. And as we see in 2 Corinthians, our main purpose in this life, as those who have been reconciled, is to call others to reconciliation with Him.

            Forgiveness has already happened on God’s side of things. Jesus already died to make it possible. But the only way it will be received with all the benefits of relationship are for the sinner to repent, admit his or her wrong, and submit to reconciliation.

            God will celebrate. Sinners will be liberated. And the kingdom of God on earth will expand again. We are ambassadors, calling all to be reconciled to God. Who is waiting for your call?

holy sweat

Ex 3:1-15; Ps 103:1-12; 1 Cor 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-17

One of the most inspirational and encouraging books I’ve ever read was called Holy Sweat, by Tim Hansel. If you’ve never heard of it, that doesn’t surprise me. He wasn’t widely known. But he is worth knowing about.

            He was the founder of Summit Adventure, a ministry that seeks to drive out apathy in younger generations through intense weekend wilderness experiences, designed to get them out of their comfort zones through challenging terrains and the mentoring of guides who not only help them survive the wilderness, but also gain courage and desire to tackle life’s challenges.

            He didn’t come by his life message through comfort and ease, though. In a terrible climbing accident that happened a few years after he founded the ministry, he suffered a devastating back injury that would cause him incredible pain for the rest of his life. An excerpt from the book expresses his lowest moments.

            “I feel almost dismembered this morning by outrageous pain. It is almost comical to have reached such a ludicrous level of disorder. Me, with my desire to be agile and free, barely able to get up and out of the chair this morning. Teach me to live in new ways, O Lord. Teach me and show me your ways in the midst of this.”

He goes on to say “I began to realize that it wasn’t my imposed limitations that held me back as much as my perception of those limitations. It wasn’t the pain that was thwarting me as much as it was my attitude towards the pain.”

            With this mental and spiritual shift, his focus and efforts slowly birthed the life changes that caused him to write the book, among others. Going through my own struggles at the time, his words were a lifeline to me. And one quote in particular helped me turn a corner to see life in a whole new way.

            Addressing the fears and inadequacies so many of us feel, he wrote about Moses and the burning bush. He took a quote from another Christian writer and tweaked it, saying,  “it is not the bush that sustains the flame. It is God in the bush, and so, any old bush will do!”

            It is this idea that removes every excuse for following God’s call. You aren’t special, and neither am I. But the God who lives in us is, and when we simply cooperate with Him in every circumstance, He can accomplish anything. Time is short. There is much to be done, and we are all called. The question isn’t whether we are, but whether or not we’ll go. Click on the picture to see the website for Summit.

believe, and see

Gen 15:1-18; Ps 27:1-17; Phil 3:17—4:1; Luke 13:22-35

 ‘I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!’(Ps 27:13-14) The 27th Psalm is one of my favorite ‘anchors’ for times of anxiety and doubt. I particularly like the NASB translation of verse 13, in which the fuller meaning is given in italics:

‘I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.’ It always makes me ask the question; will I despair, or will I believe? Do you believe you will see the goodness of God while you are alive? I would guess that if you are alive you have seen it, many times. But believing is the key. That makes me think of a phrase I’ve heard many times in my studies of Scripture —Faith seeking Understanding. By faith we believe that God is good. By faith we seek to understand. And by faith we see His goodness, even when what our eyes are looking at isn’t so good.

            But how, you may think, can I see good where there isn’t any? By remembering that God is always good, and in any situation He is always present. He may not make the circumstances conform to our preferences, but He always, always gives us grace and mercy to see Him in the midst of them.

            He may look like the comforting words of a stranger. He may look like the ability to stand under a weight that should be crushing us. He may look like an unexpected redemption of an otherwise terrible event. Whatever He looks like, when by faith we believe we will see Him, He will be everywhere we look.

            I know this by these words from Psalm 27, but I also know it by experience. You can too. You will see His goodness when you look for it, no matter what. Believe, and you will see.

name calling

Deut 26:1-11; Ps 91:9-16; Rom 10:4-13; Luke 4:1-13

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13).

What does it mean to ‘call on the name of the Lord’? What does it mean to ‘confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord’? It seems important to understand, since it is by these things we will be saved.

            My childhood denomination taught that confessing Christ meant that one thing, literally. Part of the process of membership to the church involved standing before the congregation and admitting that you had asked Christ into your heart, to be your Savior. From that moment on you were heaven-bound, regardless of what your life on earth testified. Can that be right? Does that sound like the life Christ envisioned for His followers? In any other context such empty declarations would be called ‘lip service’, or worse. It cannot be all there is to the Christian life.

            Calling and confessing both require faith. Faith goes beyond an intellectual agreement with the truth. It is a sure conviction that the One in whom I hope can and will help me, regardless of how dire my situation is. This hope opens our mouth to lift our voice and say “Help!” Our faith is confirmed and strengthened when He answers our need. He may be Deliverer, or Comforter. He may be Healer, or Shepherd, Sword or Shield. He may be the Strong Tower. He is what we need. And the need He fills is the name we called on. And we are saved, again and again.

            Jesus gave us the perfect example of how this works when He faced the temptations in the desert. With every temptation, He called on the name of God by the word of God, and He resisted. He simply said ‘it is written,’ and the devil had no comeback. Finally, Satan threw up his hands in disgust and walked away. But as we know, he wasn’t done. And he isn’t done with us.

            When he brings you temptation, where do you turn for help? Do you call on the name of your own willpower? Or do you call on the name that promises to save you?

 

glory revealed


Ex 34:29-35 1 Cor 12:27—13:13 Luke 9:28-36

 The dictionary definitions of the English word “glory” include “manifestation of God’s presence,” and “splendor, holiness and majesty of God, often associated with a person experiencing Gods presence in a tangible way.”

            I am a practical thinker, so often the abstract concepts of things like God’s glory can be hard to wrap my mind around. I need application to understand a concept. The progression of God’s glory that starts with Moses and ends on the Mount of Transfiguration this week gives us some understanding.

            Moses in our Exodus passage experienced God’s tangible presence, and it caused his face to shine so brightly he had to wear a veil. Of course, coming off the mountain to reality likely drained the shine from his face! Which is why he had to return to speak to the Lord again and again.

            Fast forward to Luke 9, and the story of the transfiguration. The glory of God manifested so strongly in Christ, that His whole body and presence shined. I have this mental image of God’s glory building and building, growing over the centuries until it overflowed in Christ, and His presence was fully manifested in the person and work of His only begotten Son. God confirmed this when He spoke from the cloud and said “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”

            What does that have to do with us? Can we really experience His glory today? I know that some who read this will say ‘yes’! They will say ‘yes’ because they have experienced it. It’s that hard-to-describe feeling of awe and amazement we feel when we see God’s will unfold before us. When things happen that can be explained no other way than God, we have experienced a manifestation of God’s presence, and an example of His glory revealed. There’s nothing like the joy that comes from seeing His glory; we might want to laugh at Peter for wanting to build tabernacles, but haven’t we all had that sense of trying to make the experience last?

            God has so much more for us than drudgery and duty. He wants us to know His glory, and we can. Ask Him to show you His glory, then do what He says to do. You’ll be astonished and there will be no turning back.

KNOW THIS

KNOW THIS

Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1; 1 Cor 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

            “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jer 17:9).

            For many years, this verse from the prophet Jeremiah confused me and left me feeling a little hopeless. If my heart deceives me, how can I trust that anything I think is right and true? The strong wording didn’t help my despair. Words like “desperately sick” reinforced the idea that I could not trust my own perceptions, nor could I trust anyone else. After all, if my heart is sick, so is theirs.

            Then I learned about the importance of context. I had been guilty of something we all tend to do when a verse has a strong, immediate impact. I had taken this verse as a truth standing on it’s own, without considering the words around it. So with this in mind, I went back and re-read the verse. But instead of stopping at the end of that verse, I read on to the next. And there I found the clear answer to what seemed a rhetorical question; “who can understand my heart?”

            “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jer 17:10). Who can understand my deceitful, sick heart? God can! That small addition to the reading opens up a world of hope and possibilities.

            If I want to discern the deeper motives of my heart, ask God. If I want the truth about my best and worst reasons for being a child of God and doing His work, ask Him. In Christ, I have the promise of an intercessor Who will facilitate our conversation. In Him I find grace along with absolute truth, so that while I may not be able to see my own heart, I have confident access to the One who knows, and who promises to search my heart and mind and show me. That gives a kind of confidence I would never find in myself!

            That is what I learned from reading a little bit more. But the real lesson comes in understanding that no verse of Scripture stands on its own. It was written in a time and place for a purpose, and if I take something out of the context in which it belongs, I am likely to misunderstand it. God doesn’t speak in sound bites, and when we reduce Him to that, His language is distorted and bound to be misunderstood. Reading for context takes a little more time and concentration. But understanding is a great reward.

the call

Jdgs 6:11-24; Ps 85; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

Many Christians go through life with the mistaken belief that God hasn’t called them. They think that calling is a concept meant for a special few. But that is faulty thinking, with profound effects on the church and on the world.

            On the contrary, He calls every one of us. If you are a believer, He has called you to salvation, and you have responded. But in different ways, in different seasons, He calls each of us to play a role in His redemption story. In our readings this week, we see several principles at work that can help us discern how, where, and when God is calling.

     First, we see that God calls us where we are. Gideon is hiding in the winepress beating out wheat. Paul was on the road to Damascus, intent on ending the lives of Christians. Peter, John and James were engaged in their lifelong work of fishing. None of them left what they were doing to go look for Him. He came to them where they were.

Second, God sees us for who we can be, rather than who we are. He called a man hiding from the enemy “might warrior.” He called Paul, a persecutor of the church, “apostle.” And He called three men who had never known anything but fishing, “fishers of men.”

     But He doesn’t stop there. God gives us enough information to follow Him. Notice in none of these stories does He give the disciple a master plan, or an outline of exactly what will happen along the way. He told Gideon to save Israel. He told Paul that he would preach to the world. And He told the three disciples He would make them fishers in a way they had never experienced. The only guidance He gives is “I will be with you,” “My grace will enable you,” and “do not be afraid.”

Along His assurances, God does through us what we cannot do ourselves. Gideon is a coward. Paul is a persecutor of the church, and the three disciples cannot even catch any fish, which is their area of expertise. But God assures them all that He will accomplish His will through them. The only requirement is their obedience to the call. He says “I send you,” “Preach My Gospel,” and “Follow Me.”

     And finally, God promises to finish what He started. He says Gideon will defeat the Midianites “as one man.” His grace toward Paul will result in untold millions of believers. And the three disciples witnessed signs and miracles, healed and delivered in His name, and went on to form the foundations of the church we serve today.

            If this were fiction, it would seem unbelievable. Yet we know the truth of all of it. Through willing men and women through centuries and millennia, His life continues. Few are rich, famous, brilliant or beautiful. They are simply obedient. The call is what matters, or more to the point, the One Who calls. Will you answer?

body language

Nehemiah 8:1-12; Ps 113; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Luke 4:14-21

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”

            Where is your church? What do they believe? Can you dare have anything to do with the people in that church over there? After all, they don’t believe exactly the way that you do about ______ ... These are the kinds of words and issues that have divided the body of Christ for centuries. Fill in the blank with any hot topic you want—baptism, open or closed communion, church organization models, and on and on.

            When he invented the printing press and began making copies of the Bible, Gutenberg made two predictions—that he would die rich, and that the availability of the Bible for everyone would unite the global church. As for the first prediction, he died in 1468 completely destitute. And the second prediction? I think we all know the answer to that; the church of Jesus Christ divides, and divides, and divides...

            But on one thing, we are not divided, and that one thing is what matters. Jesus Christ. For those who believe in the Truth of Jesus Christ, there is no “us” and “them.” There is only Him, and His Body. If your neighbor that goes to that “other” church believes in the same Jesus Christ as you, then you are united in His Body. To reject that person because they don’t believe the same jots and tittles you do, is to reject a part of yourself, and a part of Christ’s body. Even more, it is a rejection of God’s choice of that person.

            We may not agree on practices and expressions of our faith in Christ, but we do not get to say we are right and they are wrong. We do get to say “this person is a part of the same body I belong to, and I will care for them as I care for myself. I will honor them and their role in accomplishing God’s work. And I will be grateful for the things they do, which I cannot.”

            In this way, the mission goes forth, not with uniformity but with a miracle of harmony that only God can orchestrate.

say it!

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

            One of the most powerful gifts God has given us is speech. He spoke the world into existence. In the beginning was the Word. Isaiah declares, “I will not be silent.” The Psalm is full of voices singing, declaring, praising, and ascribing to the Lord glory and strength. Paul reminds the Corinthians how they strayed to mute idols, then he goes on to encourage them to use the gifts the Spirit has given them, gifts that speak spiritual realities into the earthly realm.

            We believers worry and think often about what we shouldn’t say, but what if instead we focus more on what we can and should say? How much spiritual reality could we bring down to earth if we were bold in using the words God has given us? What if we spoke our secret hopes out loud?

            I thought about this as I read the passage from John’s gospel this week. It was so early in Jesus’ ministry that most didn’t even yet know who He was. The miracle He did at the wedding at Cana is the focus of the story. But what about the words of faith spoken that brought the miracle about? Look at the text...

             “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

            Mary understood it was early for Him to show Himself, but her faith could not keep silent. She knew what He could do, though not necessarily what He would do. By faith she said, in effect, “Your will be done.” He could have turned away, or just refused to act. But He rewarded her trust and spoke His first miracle.

            Her faith spoke. He acted. And that is the pattern we see, over and over again in Scripture. Believers’ words are powerful—not our power, but the power of the faith manifested through our speech.

            What spiritual realities do you want to bring to earth? Do you trust God enough to say it out loud and trust Him with the results? Faith speaks!