Weekly Reflections



King's Cross Anglican Church Tucson

3 Year Lectionary

by Jennifer Callaway

believing

Acts 3:12a, 13-15,17-26 1 John 5:1-5 John 20:19-31

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”(John 20:30-31)

            These two verses, penned by the Apostle John near the end of his gospel account of Christ, are known as the “purpose statement” for this writing. John is a unique account of Christ, set apart from what is called the synoptic gospels as the writings of ‘the disciple who Jesus loved.’ It is written in the simplest language of the time, assuring that almost anyone could read and understand it. In fact, for those new believers that want to read the Bible but don’t know where to start, this book is most often suggested as a great place to start. It is here that we find the term ‘believe’ used again and again.

            The word itself is a translation of the Greek word ‘pistuo.’ This word means to believe, yes. But it is what’s known as a present perfect verb, meaning it expresses an ongoing action, not just a one time mental assent. In other words, belief involves action, sustained action. And all that brings me to Thomas, the disciple known for his doubt.

            I love Thomas. I so relate to him! In my doubts and indecision, I spent way too much time running from my destiny. Thomas was running, also. How do I know? Because he wasn’t there when everyone else was the first time Jesus appeared. No doubt he was somewhere in a panic, trying to figure out what to do next. But for whatever reason he came back, and when he did, his eyes saw what his mind could not believe. And when his eyes saw, he had just enough faith to stretch out his hand to feel the wound in Jesus’ side. “My Lord and my God!” was his stunned response. And that was only the beginning...

            Ultimately, Thomas’ faith carried him to India as a missionary, where he was martyred around 72 AD. All because he kept following in the midst of his doubts, and stretched out his hand to test what his eyes were seeing. Such small acts. But acts of faith don’t need to be big. They only need to be directed to the right Person.

~Is there a doubt you need to overcome? Stretch out your hand and experience life in His name.

he is risen

Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:14-17,22-24; Col 3:1-4; Mark 16:1-8


Easter is my favorite day of the year, set in the midst of my favorite season of the year. In the spring, we literally see the new life springing up all around us. The cool breezes are still beating back the heat of summer, and even the sun has a special glow, in between the hazy clouds of winter and the blistering blaze of desert heat.

            It’s most special to me, though, because it was during this season about 25 years ago that I finally got off the fence I had been straddling for a long time. Though I knew Christ, I also knew that my life would have to change drastically if I were going to really follow Him. I was afraid. What would I have to give up to follow Him? How could I turn my life in such a totally different direction?

            It was around Good Friday that year, when I was out riding my horse alone, that I made the decision that would change everything. I realized that in order to find out what He would want, I would first have to take a step of faith and say “yes.” Not yes to what I knew, but to what I could not know; a future of truly following Him. I still remember that moment. It quite literally felt like I was getting off my horse on the other side, no longer straddling both sides of this life of faith. I stepped off to a new life, and nothing has been the same since.

            The things I was afraid of losing, I never noticed were gone. Things that were so meaningless, I can’t even tell you now what they were. In their place I have found miracles, and joys indescribable, and meaning that transcends this life into eternity. And the journey is not over. In fact, it will never end. It will simply change, from the simple pleasures of this life full of hope, to the glory of that hope fulfilled.

            Jesus has defeated death, hell and the grave. I chose my favorite icon today, The Harrowing of Hell, because it illustrates so clearly what Christ has done. The people He pulls out of the grave by their wrists are Adam and Eve, a picture of their absolute helplessness and His absolute power. At His feet are the gates of Hell, forever to remain defeated by Him. The bound man represents bondage to death, a symbol of what He is destroying by His resurrection. He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! And because He lives, we can live a life we never imagined.

CALVARY ROAD

Isa 52:13 - 53:12 Ps 22:1-11 Phil 2:5-11 Mark 14:32-15:39

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus...” is Paul’s introduction to what is called the kenosis, or the self-emptying of Christ. He goes on to say that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We joke a lot about humility. They say it’s the one virtue that the moment you think you have it, you lose it. And I can personally attest to catching myself feeling proud of my humility!

            On the other hand, thinking that humility is considering yourself worthless is also a misunderstanding. Jesus certainly did not consider Himself worthless. Yet He is our example of humility. So what are some things we see in the readings that show us what humility is in the life and death of Christ?

            First, we see that humbling ourselves is an action, not a feeling. Jesus did humble things. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth.” “We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God...but He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities...” Jesus did what only He could do in order to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

            Also, humbling myself isn’t about thinking poorly of me. As Lewis says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.” In a less dramatic way, this is the lesson Paul teaches the Philippian church. He says “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Like the self-emptying of Christ, we come to church setting aside our own preferences and priorities and seek the best interests of others. That is humility.

            Finally, humbling ourselves is about giving up our rights. Jesus could have stopped His road to Calvary at any point. He had every right. He had no sin; He had the status equal to God the Father; He had the power of the universe at His command; and He had not done anything even illegal. But He gave all that up and submitted to the will of evil people so that for a moment in time, it seemed He’d been defeated.

“Jesus breathed His last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” For a moment, His humility led to His death.

            But that’s not the whole story. His death was only the beginning. All because He acted humbly, thinking more of others than Himself, and letting go of His rights. He is our model and promise. Can we follow this Calvary road?

HEART'S DESIRE

Jer 31:31-34 Ps 51:10-15 Heb 4:14 - 5:10 John 12:20-36

When I was a little girl, we had a ritual in our home every year, about 3 months before Christmas. The Sears Wishbook would come in the mail, and my three sisters and I would take turns going through it, picking out the things we wanted for Christmas.

There were years when I thought I might die if I didn’t get the thing that I wanted. But today I couldn’t tell you what any of those treasures were, and whether I ever actually got any of them.

            Over the years, my desires have certainly changed, from toys to cars to houses. I’ve gotten some things I wanted, and others I’ve had to let go. But my heart is fickle; most of the things I have gotten only satisfied me for a short time; then soon, new and different things began to catch my eye. And the ones that got away quickly faded from my memory, not nearly as important as I thought.

            Through all of the years though, I’ve come to see that what I was looking to satisfy could not be found in material treasures. I want contentment, peace, security, fulfillment, comfort, happiness, and joy. Those trinkets that call my name promise to fill these needs, but they lie. What they deliver instead is disappointment, distress, preoccupation, and ultimately a sense that I have settled for too little, and I need to try again. Which leads me right back into the same cycle, over and over again.

            But I am learning make different choices. Because God wrote His law on my heart, and sent His Spirit to seal me as a guarantee, I began to have different desires. I have slowly realized the empty promises of this life, and the pain that grasping onto temporal things can cause. Because He has forgiven my sin, I can live free from the need to fill my empty places with things, and I have the ability to come with confidence before His throne of grace and receive mercy. In Christ, I keep my life forever, and it is a life that I won’t want to trade in.

            Is there anything you have set your heart on, anything that you are sure will fill that empty place in you? That promise is a lie. Turn away from it, and turn to the Truth. Only He offers an eternal satisfaction guarantee.

one king

2 Chro 36:14-23; Psa 122;  Eph 2:1-10; Jhn 6:1-15

“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

 

The Jews wanted Jesus to be their king, since He miraculously provided bread and fish for them. This desire highlights once again the main weakness of the people. They wanted to see where their provision came from, and control the source. Throughout their history, they struggled to wait on God, instead repeatedly taking matters into their own hands. The result was obvious in our OT reading this week; their long journey into idolatry and pagan rituals led finally to a long season of Babylonian captivity, where they would have to learn the ways of God all over again in a hostile culture. How did they go so wrong?

            We don’t have to look far into their history to trace their path. 1 Samuel 8 records the words of God through Samuel when they insisted on having a king. After a list of all the things a king would demand of them, He says, “18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” Still, they wanted a king. So He gave them one, and they followed their kings eventually into captivity.

            Human nature hasn’t changed. We look for someone to fill our needs, or to accomplish our desires, or to be responsible for our well being. When we think we’ve found them, we throw caution to the wind and follow them with all our hearts. Rarely do we stop to count the cost of what it means to serve them, and whether they are worthy of our trust and loyalty. It’s only when they betray us that we begin to understand that there really is only one King.

            There is only One worthy of all adoration, and worship, and complete trust. It is the one who refuses to sit on His throne until it’s time. The heart of this King is true; His burden is light; His compassion is endless. His love is undeserved and unquenchable. He never requires more of His subjects than He has already given Himself. Even the life we give Him is given back to us, abundantly and eternally. All other kings pale and fail in comparison. Only this King gives more than He takes.

~What do you need that only a King can do? Ask, and it shall be given to you.

SIN REVEALED

Ex 20:1-21; Ps 19:7-14; Rom 7:12-25; John 2:13-22

Romans 7:24... “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I came to Christ in a tiny Baptist Church when I was 18 years old. I wasn’t at all sure about what I was doing. I just knew I didn’t want to go to hell when I died. I also knew I wasn’t good enough to be a Christian, and spent much of my first few years of salvation asking whether it had really made any change in my life. But looking back, I don’t think I had a clue just how much change I needed.

            In the first years, I saw some of the big problems in my life; addictions, toxic relationships, and dishonesty in many forms. In those years God made some major changes in me and in my life. But that was just the beginning.

            As I learned to walk more closely with Him, I began periodically having what I think of now as epiphanies, moments of clarity where I saw a new sin in my life, bringing conviction and slow but steady change. These were not new areas of sin, just areas I had never recognized as such. Slowly but surely, God continued His work, with some periods of growth and change, followed by times of learning to walk more confidently in His Truth.

            Now, I find that God is dealing with the finer points of things, like ungodly attitudes and thought patterns, as well as my speech and other areas where I need more self-control. And He is continuing to change me, convict me and make me more of the person He’s called me to be in Christ. That work will continue until the day I stand face-to-face with Him, and as that time draws closer, I find that I am more eager than ever before to obey in every way.

            In our small group study this week, we talked about what it might have been like if God had shown us all of our sin at the moment of salvation. It makes me appreciate the fear of the Israelites when they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” If we knew how much sin lived in us at the beginning, I think we too would expect death.

            This, to me, is a testimony of God’s grace. He shows us what we need to deal with, and gives us time to turn from it before He shows us another area. And all the while, though we are never sin-free, He calls us righteous because we have trusted Christ to intercede for us, to be sin for us, and to give Himself as the only worthy payment. Praise God for your salvation, for the sin He has graciously revealed and the ones He has yet to show you. All of it is grace. Thank You Jesus! 

MINDSET

Gen 22:1-14; Ps 16; Rom 8:31-39; Mk 8:31-38

In Romans 8, Paul tears down every objection to trusting God through all of the crazy circumstances in which the early church found themselves. He says if we know that God loves us and we are safe in His love, than what can possibly defeat us? Notice that all the possible attackers are of this world.

The Roman Christians were worried about men, and what they might do. Paul is saying who cares? You are safe in the love of God and even if they do their worst and kill you, you still win! Because God has already won, and as long as you set your mind on His interests, you win with Him.

            If we look at some of Paul’s final words in his second letter to Timothy, we can see he never lost that mindset. Right before his execution, he wrote, (4:18) “The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever! Amen.”

Paul knew his time on this earth was about to end. But this doesn’t sound like a man who is defeated! In all his suffering, Paul never stopped setting his mind on the things of God. If he was attacked by a mob, he took the opportunity to preach to them! And we don’t need to wonder how that worked out for him, since we’re reading his words today, 2000 years later. This verse alone has been a tremendous encouragement to me in times of doubt and discouragement. We cannot fail. We only need to keep showing up and as Paul says in Galatians, “not grow weary in doing good.”

            We need our minds set on the things of God like never before. I truly believe that the days of passive Christianity are over. This world is growing darker every day, and though we live in the realm of men, we represent God’s kingdom on earth. If we process and react to current events with our minds on the things of men, we will serve Satan. That’s what Jesus says. We must learn to see through to what God is doing, and process and react according to His mindset. More than a dozen times in the NT we are commanded to fix our minds on things above, or on Jesus. That is a discipline; it’s not something we’ll just naturally do.

There’s only one way I know to do this. We have to spend time in His word and thinking about His ways every day, if we want to have His mindset.           

The world is clamoring for our attention! I learned in spiritual formation classes that we are always being formed spiritually. The only question is in whose image we will be formed.

What do you set your mind on? Change your habits to change your mind.

 

I’M WAITING...

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:3-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-13

What does the Christian virtue of patience have to do with temptation? This question struck me as I read through our passages this week. The themes of waiting on God seemed to run through the verses. Peter said God waited while Noah built the ark. Jesus stayed in the desert for forty days being tempted. And Noah himself I think wins the prize for the humans who have showed patience. Over one hundred years to build it, in a place that had never seen rain. Forty days of flooding, lashed into a boat full of stinky animals. Then an uncertain length of time waiting for the flood to recede, and the land to dry, only to be faced with a world in which they are almost starting from scratch.

            Think of all the temptations Noah faced. The humiliation of community members ridiculing what he was doing. Remember, these people would have never seen a boat! The drudgery of building this massive ark, year after year, after year. His understanding of what God was going to do when it was finished; everyone he knew was doomed except his own family.

            The temptation to doubt, to quit, to join the party while it lasted, must have faced him at some points. Then, the rain started and the reality of the end of all living creatures surely led to a desire to despair, and to wonder what was the point of living. But Noah patiently persevered right up to the day that God made His covenant to never again flood the earth.

            His downfall is so undramatic it would be easy to miss. After standing strong and warding off the temptations surrounding him, he succumbed to a careless disregard for overindulgence of wine. Though his sons certainly made their own decisions, his drunken stupor led to the cursing of Canaan through Ham (9:21-27). Noah’s stellar record was marred, and the whole nation paid the consequences.

            Jesus, on the other hand, suffered temptation to its full extent and never succumbed. There is theological debate over whether Christ was not able to sin, or able not to sin. Either way, He was tempted to the greatest degree possible without taking matters into His own hands. The Cross is the ultimate example of waiting on God through temptation.

            Waiting is so hard! When we wait for a God we can’t see, and don’t even really know what we’re waiting for Him to do, the urge to act can overwhelm us. But when we experience His perfect solutions in His perfect time, the experience is so powerful we wonder why we ever thought we should act on our own. Until the next time, that is.

            Lent is the season to practice waiting on God. What situation are you trying to resolve? What solutions are you tempted to try? You have forty days of Lent to practice waiting, and praying, and trusting that God will act on your behalf. I’m praying that we all remember to “be still and know that He is God.” 

UNVEILED

1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 27; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Mark 9:2-9

        I recently heard a true story of a romance gone wrong that is mind-boggling. It was the story of a newswoman who fell in love with the person that was the subject of a documentary she was producing.

            This man had everything; an amazing career, powerful friends, and world renown for his accomplishments. As the romance grew, the couple planned a life together that most people could only dream of. They prepared for a wedding in Italy, inviting 300 of their friends to come and celebrate with them.

            Two weeks before the wedding, a good friend of the bride told her a puzzling story that didn’t make sense with the details of their wedding. She decided to check the story out, and thus began the unraveling of a web of lies the groom had told which made a mockery of all she had hoped and dreamed and loved about this man and the life he promised. He had exaggerated and outright faked most of his accomplishments; the ‘powerful friends’ had never heard of him; and most stunning of all, the ex wife he had told her about was not ex at all. They were living together with their children in a home in Spain.

            As the dream became a nightmare, this humiliated woman had to cancel the wedding, send apologies to many friends who would lose the money they’d paid for airfare, and try to process what had happened. She had given up her job and her home and taken her young daughter out of school in anticipation of their move. Her life was shattered, and it took years for her to pick up the pieces.

            This story is chilling, but what does it have to do with Jesus? Only this; that I can’t stop comparing the uncovering of this man’s lies to the uncovering of the Truth of Christ. As we come to the end of our Epiphany season, we have watched week by week as Christ revealed Himself and His purpose one layer at a time. His transfiguration is the ultimate unveiling. What the disciples witnessed on the mountain gave them the puzzle piece they needed as they prepared for their testing, “This Man is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” said God. As they descended the mountain, they had all they needed to know in the days of trials to come.

            Unlike the “hero” of the story I heard this week, the Transfiguration proved that Christ was who He said He was, and would do what He said He would do. When we peel back a layer of His story, we find only truth. There is always more truth to learn, but there is no danger of disappointment. Every time we dig a little deeper, the story grows. But it is a true story, not the fabrication of a deceptive man. As we are tested in this Lenten season, may we remember the vision of who he truly is, and listen to Him.

DISCIPLEMAKERS

Gen 12:1-3; Ps 86:8-13 Rev 7:9-17; Matt 28:16-20

Our gospel reading this week is so familiar that it can be easy to think that we know exactly what it says. We even have a title for it—The Great Commission. But before we rush past it to read something new, I’d like to pause and consider what it’s really saying.

            The gist of it is Jesus’ command,  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

            First, have you ever noticed that this is really two parts? Making a disciple of Christ requires more than convincing them to say a prayer. It even requires more than baptizing them. I think we like to gloss over the hard part, because it is so hard...”teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...”

            Terms here are very important. Teaching them to observe means teaching them to obey. It doesn’t mean getting them to memorize verses or to understand deeper doctrines. It means helping them learn how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. All of His commands means just what it says, all. And maybe this is where we get discouraged and quit. It’s overwhelming! Where do we start?

            A quick search for how many commands Jesus gave came up with about fifty explicit ones. Anybody who knows their Bible could probably recite several of them. But what if we just started with one? If we are serious about following Jesus, one should be easy, and it should be easy to pass on. In order to avoid differences in interpretations, I won’t choose one like “take up your cross and follow Me.” That’s too vague. Instead, I will choose an easy one to understand. Matt 5:44 says “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Easy to understand; we all know who our enemies are. But love them? Pray for them? Impossible!

            Unless of course you follow Jesus, and His Spirit dwells in you. You just need someone further down the road with Him who can help you understand why this is so important and how it reflects the kingdom of God. That teaching takes time, and trust, and a track record of faithfulness to God and to Truth.

            Paul said it best in 1 Cor. 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” This is our calling. So simple, but so hard! As we pray for the world on this World Mission Sunday, let’s also pray for ourselves, that we will fulfill all of The Great Commission. Making disciples is hard, messy, at times discouraging work. But it is our work to do.

weakness

Deut 18:15-22; Ps 111; 1 Cor 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

            As I write this, I am celebrating a terrible, but special, anniversary. Three years ago today, I was life-flighted to Banner Hospital. I still confuse many of the details; from my perspective, I went to sleep in my own bed on February 2nd, 2018, and when I finally became aware of my surroundings again I was in a hospital bed and the date was February 17th. It took some time, but I came to understand that an aneurysm had burst in my brain, causing what doctors call a hemorrhagic stroke. My life is a miracle. But my life is also different than it used to be.

            As I’ve healed, I’ve grown aware of new limitations in my life. I tire easily, and need much more sleep than I once did. I have moments of confusion when two things I’m trying to say get tangled together and I can’t figure out what I mean to express. I spend many days in a bit of a fog, and skills like time management are things of the past.

It has been frustrating and at times humiliating to try to accomplish what I want to do and to fulfill my responsibilities.

            Now that I’m three years out though, I have begun to focus less on my limits and more on God’s abundance. Our collect this week said “Grant that your strength and protection may support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation,” and I can say without a doubt He has done that. He did it through having my daughter find me semi-conscious and call 911. He placed me in the right place and time to cross paths with the neurosurgeon who treated me. He placed me in this body of Christ, King’s Cross, to be supported and surrounded by prayers, visits and lots of other help.

            He has continued to patiently carry me as I questioned His purpose and timing, and battled dark depression that left me questioning why I am still here, and what I have to contribute to a busy American Church where we are judged by how much we serve. He has given me a new appreciation for things like rest, quiet, and a slower pace of life.

He has blessed me with strong relationships with my family and friends. And as my brain continues to heal, I have slowly begun to rejoin life.

            It is all His time, His way. My life is not mine, it’s His. If He wants me here, there’s a reason, so I will practice thanking Him for each day. His mercies truly are new every morning.

CALLED

Jer 3:19-4:4; Ps 130; 1 Cor 7:17-24; Mark 1:14-20

            The day that permanently changed our lives was just an ordinary Sunday. Kevin had stayed at church to do his Bible study, and I was at home. When he came home, he said he needed to tell me something. He said, “God is calling me to get out of the Army and go into full-time ministry.” I was horrified! “Have you lost your mind?” were the first words out of my mouth.

            That was the beginning of a different life for us. Though it didn’t all turn out anything like either of us thought at the beginning, that call set us on a path to follow where God led. Because of that, we have both spent a lot of time thinking and talking about God’s call. What is it, and will you know it when you hear it?

            This week’s readings give many examples of God’s call and our response. In Jeremiah He calls His people to repentance; they have repeatedly chosen other gods, and He is calling them back to Himself. The Psalmist calls His people to hope in Him. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians calls them to be content in Him. And Jesus calls the disciples to follow Him.

            Each of these calls comes with a promise. He gives salvation, blessings, contentment in life, and redemption. Follow Him and He says He will make us fishers of men. There is no downside to answering His call, whatever it may be. Though He does not promise an easy life, He does promise a blessed one.

            Do you sense the blessings of God in your life? I’m talking about things far beyond material wealth, perfect relationships, and easy circumstances. The blessing I mean is a sense of wellbeing and peace regardless of what’s happening around you, a security that comes only from God. He is calling all of us to that kind of blessing. Have you responded?

speak, lord

1 Sam 3:1-20 Ps 63:1-9; 1 Cor 6:9-20; John 1:43-51 

Is that really God speaking? Or me? How many times have you wrestled through that thought? It isn’t always clear. In this age of misinformation and even purposeful deception, trying to sort out what is true from what’s false can be extremely confusing. How do we know who to listen to? It seems a better time than ever to revisit the God we know. The better we know Him, the more secure we can feel in these insecure times.

            1 Samuel introduces us to the boy Samuel. His mother Hannah had dedicated him to the Lord in gratitude for his birth, so he’d been in the temple since he was weaned from her. Eli the priest had cared for him and taught him. It was a dark time in Israel; the passage says “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” God was about to do a new thing, and Samuel was part of that plan. But the first time God spoke to him, he didn’t even know what was happening. When God spoke, Samuel heard Eli. It was Eli who realized what was happening and instructed Samuel to listen. Through Samuel’s words of prophecy, God’s voice set a new direction for the priesthood.

            “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” This statement about Samuel holds hope for all of us. We can grow like Samuel, in our knowledge and experience of God, especially in these times. The hopelessness and helplessness of our world situation gives us the best motivation and the greatest need we have ever had to know Him more. And we have everything we need to know Him, to experience Him, and to glorify Him.

            As believers, we have the Holy Spirit. We have Scripture. We have prayer, and the promise that God hears and answers our prayers. The power is not in the prayer! It’s in the God to whom we pray. He hears our silent prayers as loud as He hears us shout. And Jesus ever lives to intercede for us. We know that, because we know Him.

            Finally, we have each other. The isolation of COVID may make us feel alone. But have you considered that God’s work is to give us tools like phones, and Zoom, and all the other forms of technology we have available to stay in touch? No, it’s not as easy as it used to be. But maybe the effort required is part of God’s work in us, to teach us new ways to glorify Him in this new world.

            When we act on what we know of Him, we experience Him in new ways. And as we grow in Him, we glorify Him more. So we can ask the question like Nathanael, “Can anything good come out of Coronavirus?” As we hear God’s voice, trust His character, and pay attention to His ways, the answer is yes. God can be glorified through us.

servants

Isa 42:1-9 Ps 89:20-29; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11

One danger we face in the church today is consumerism. As Americans, we always look for value in our investments, and we’re taught that the more you get for your time and money, the better the deal. This leads us to ‘shop’ for a good deal when we go to church; do they have what I/we want? Do we like the way they look and sound? Do we leave every service feeling like well-fed sheep?

That mindset means the churches that look and feel and sound the best become mega churches. It also means that the church faces the temptation to please people so they’ll choose us out of their many options. This often makes for a fun church to visit. But what happens when those ‘awesome’ churches face a crisis?

            We are seeing what happens when great attractors become great failures. If you follow any Christian news at all you have heard about the scandals that are taking down some of the most popular Christian celebrities. And the massive fallout they leave in their wake means dozens or even hundreds of lives are shaken to the foundations. What happens to cause such calamities? I think we can trace it back to one little word we forget in the life of the church‑the word “servant.”

            The church is a body of servants, not customers or bosses. We are called to the attitude of David, of Peter, of John the Baptist, and Jesus. Our readings this week highlight our identity in Christ as a people who serve God, and by extension His creation. We do not own our lives anymore. As servants of God, we live to please Him and do His will. This includes, but isn’t limited to, the local body of believers. It means that in every area of life—personal relationships and work and every other public venue—we listen to and obey the Master. Nothing is off limits in the way our servanthood guides our lives.

            John the Baptist understood this better than most. He knew that his job was only to announce the Messiah. He didn’t presume to deserve special treatment. In fact, he made it clear he considered himself unworthy even to tie Jesus’ shoes. He lived like a servant, and he died like a servant. As did Jesus.

            Do you think of yourself as a servant? If you want to test yourself, think about how  you react when someone treats you like one?

Because Jesus

Jer 31:7-14; Ps 84; Eph 1:3-14; Matt 2:13-23

Yesterday in his homily, Father Pete juxtaposed the kingdom of Herod against the kingdom of God, illustrating why we need Jesus by the reminder of the “Herod” who lives inside each of us, demanding power and control at all costs. But the story of Herod’s attack on the small boys of the land drew me up short and made me think about the evil in the world.

            There was a time I would have said, in answer to the question ‘does God cause bad things to happen?,’ that yes, He does, in the sense that what He has the power to stop, He doesn’t. He allows little boys to be murdered—in fact, these little boys were murdered in direct response to the birth of Christ. Because of Jesus, a king came unglued and went on a rampage. Because of Jesus, countless people have lost their lives to jealous tyrants over the centuries. Because of Jesus today Christians live in hiding in some countries, their lives in danger for claiming His name. Does that mean this is all somehow under the umbrella of God’s will?

            I won’t pretend to solve the problem of evil here. But I do think I have a better understanding now of how all this works together. Evil comes not from God, but from the broken world, a world that He gave us in pure perfection, and we broke like children playing with a toy too precious for them. Evil comes from that brokenness. Some of it is the evil that men do, men like Herod, or Judas, or Cain, or me.

            Some of it is the profound disunity of nature and people and God that happened in the fall. Think cancer and natural disasters. What I understand now though, is that God so loved the world, Christ entered into all of the mess we made as one of us, with the ultimate goal of setting everything right. In the fullness of time, He will finish what He started. In the meantime, He enters in, walking with us, crying with us, praying with us, dying for us, until the day comes that He makes all things new again. It is not an easy journey, and we see plenty of evil on the way. Nothing has changed since Herod.

            But because of Jesus, we have hope. Because of Jesus we can rejoice that this is not the end of the story. Because of Jesus we have more riches than the richest of men. Read our Ephesians passage for a glimpse of all we have to celebrate. Evil may yet live for now. But it does not reign. It cannot. Because Jesus does.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Isa 61:10-62:5; Ps 147:13-21; Gal 3:23-4:7; John 1:1-18

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”(John 1:12-13)

John Chapter One is so full of truth and layers of meaning that it’s breathtaking. There’s one little phrase I want to focus on today, because I think that embracing it’s fullness would change our lives. It’s the phrase, “believed in His name.”

            Names in the Hebrew tradition were full of not only meaning, but description. This is why God sometimes changed a name to signify the change in a person. Two examples come to mind immediately; Abram, who became Abraham, and Saul, who became Paul. The small change in the name meant a change in identity. And the name became not just a label but a description.

            Jesus is called many names in Scripture. As a young believer, this was baffling and confusing to me, until I started understanding what the names said about His identity and work. I could not list them all here, but I’ll give a sampling. There is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” There is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of everything. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the path to truth that leads to life. He is the Lamb of God, the only sacrifice that will satisfy forever our sin debt. He is our Faithful Witness, whose testimony is 100% reliable. He is the Bread of Life, who gives us the only food that will sustain us forever. He is the Good Shepherd, who cares for us when we can’t care for ourselves, who protects us and guides us. These of course are just a few, and as you can see, these few names tell us enough about Him to know He is Worthy. And that leads me to the other part of the phrase, “who believe.”

            Belief is not just a nod of the head. Believing in His name means life changing acknowledgment and actions that all He says He is, we know to be true. It means we act according to Who He is, not who we are. Immanuel tells me I am never alone, even when it feels like I am. Faithful Witness means that what He says is absolutely trustworthy. Good Shepherd means that He is always protecting and guiding and caring for me. Believing these things is not just a one-time event. It is a way of life that changes my focus and my fears and helps me honor His truth in times when truth is hard to find.

There is only one Truth. Believe in Him and all the other truths—and lies—will become clear.

PROMISES, PROMISES

2 Sam 7:1-17; Ps 132: 8-19; Rom 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

            Making a promise is the easiest thing in the world. Keeping it is not. A promise is defined as “a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified.” I have lived long enough to make and break many promises, and to be on the receiving end of such treatment as well.

            Most promises are broken for good reason. Life happens, and we cannot always fulfill what we’ve said we will do. We are only as good as our strength, our resources, and our lifespan can make us. This is why the most binding of promises we make in this life, the marital covenant, has so many conditions in it. Sickness and health, better or worse, etc. And the only way out is death. Thus the admonition and promise, ‘til death do us part.

            I am so thankful that our God is not like us! In our readings this week I counted 34 direct or implied promises that God made. Many of His statements included reminders of all the past promises He kept, so that the listener could remember and trust Him. “What God has done in the past is a model and a promise of what He will do in the future” is one of the most helpful quotes I got from my time in school. Along with the reminder, He is too creative to do things the same way twice.

            And that leads us through the long years of waiting between His promises to David, and Gabriel’s words to Mary. God is in this for the long game. But He is keeping His promises, just as He has in the past. And unlike us, He has no reason to break them. He is eternal. He does not change. And as our Luke passage says, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

            God has promised to give us rest, to protect us, and to deliver us safely into His kingdom. No matter what we face between now and then, His word is sure and true. Stand on His promises, and no matter what, you will not fall.

~What promise of God do you struggle to believe? Pray and ask Him to give you faith that His promise is true.

rejoice!

Isa 65:17-25; Ps 126; 1 Thess 5:12-28;  John 3:22-30

What are we to do when God takes over our plans? As I thought about John the Baptists’ prophetic words, “He must increase, but I must decrease” I’m quite sure that John had no idea that his own death was close at hand. He had surrendered his life to the work of preparing the way, but like most of us, he had no idea where that way would lead him.

            Like John, we may choose to follow the way of Christ, but we cannot choose where that way leads us. We want a roadmap, a set of clear instructions, and a play book that says “if (a) happens, do (b).” We feel ill equipped to make decisions whose outcomes we can’t predict. After a time, we learn to live with the constant sense of helplessness, but few ever learn to be comfortable with it. How do we cope with such uncertainty?

            In a word, rejoice. Rejoice in a sure future with no more death, no more tears, no more loss. Rejoice in all that God has done in the past for His people and for us personally. Rejoice that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.

In John’s own words, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice.”

            Finally, rejoice that Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, quoted below, has been, is, and will continue being answered with a resounding “Yes!”

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Amen.

COMFORTED

Isa 40:1-11; Ps 85:1-13; 2 Pet 3:8-18; Mark 1:1-8

Comfort is a big commodity in our world today. Whether it’s a mattress, shoes, pillows, or clothes, this is probably the most often advertised advantage in a product. And it doesn’t stop there. We have comfort food, comfort zones, and the comforts of home. We all long for comfort, and we sacrifice other important qualities to get it. For evidence, just look at the popularity of Birkenstock shoes, whose ugliness is only surpassed by their amazing ability to conform to the foot of the wearer.

            We live in a world that leaves us seeking comfort wherever we can find it. This year of conflict and sickness and death strips away any illusions of a world that is safe and secure. The reality of its brokenness and eventual end is harder to ignore when we face such insurmountable problems every day. Every attempt to save it is met with a new set of equally challenging problems, and while politicians fight over how to save the world, the groans of pain and exhaustion get a little louder and more frequent every day.

            In addition, most of those places we look for comfort have costs of their own. Turning to other people is risky. Only those who have learned how to comfort themselves well can be any help. Many other forms of comfort, like eating, shopping, or snuggling under a blanket behind a locked door, have their own limitations. There is only One whose comfort costs us nothing, and whose only limitation is the boundaries we place on letting Him in.

            Isaiah’s words reflect the heart of God, “Comfort, comfort my people..” and God’s word reflects His heart for us. He promises His word is eternal, all-powerful, and will stand when everything else has burned. He promises it will bring peace and justice, salvation, and restoration. Ultimately He assures us that all will be made new, and our only challenge is to wait patiently and peacefully and faithfully as He prepares the way in us and through us. We need strength, and renewal and joy. And the way we find those things is through the comfort of His word.

            There’s only one catch. We must read it. Often. While it seems logical that once we’ve read and studied it, the comfort will be ours, that is faulty thinking. We may know what it says, but His word is alive, and active, and when we read it we aren’t just performing an intellectual exercise. We are listening to words of comfort directly from the Source of all comfort. And when we’ve received such comfort, we are equipped to offer it to others who don’t know where to look. We can offer the world a comfort no amount of money can buy. It’s our calling as comforted people in a comfortless world.

stay awake

Isa 64:1-9; Ps 80:1-7; 1 Cor 1:1-9; Mrk 13:24-37

            I’ve driven many, many miles in my years as a military wife. And one of the things I dreaded most on those trips the feeling of trying to stay awake when my mind and body wanted to sleep. The smart thing to do, of course, is to pull off the road and park so I could nap. But I must admit to many times just gritting my teeth and fighting the sleep, thinking I’ll sleep when I get there. I am certain I’ve been a hazard on roads on those days, and I’m thankful that God protected others and me from my own foolishness.

            Have you ever experienced that? I hope I’m not alone! When we have our minds set on a goal, it can be hard to take orders from our bodies to eat, or rest, or take care of any of our other mundane human needs. But when our body says “enough” it can be hard to argue.

            Jesus certainly knew that. How many times did He tell the disciples, “come away” or stop to eat and rest Himself? While it’s clear He often pushed His physical limits for certain seasons and purposes, He knew when to go and when to stay, when to fast and when to eat, when to pray and when to act.

            When we read His admonition to ‘stay awake,’ along with this explicit command is an unstated, implicit one. That is ‘take care.’ By this I mean, get the rest you need so when the time to wake comes, you will be prepared. As we enter into Advent, this seems a timely message.

            Advent is a time of preparation for the biggest event in history. His first coming is the biggest by far, up to now. But we also prepare for the event that will eclipse it, the return of our King. When He returns, everything will be shaken until only what cannot be shaken remains (Heb 12:27-29). We would be wise to spend our time tending to our spiritual health and strengthening our spiritual muscles for the Day.

            Advent is a perfect season to add a new spiritual practice, or to remove something that makes you spiritually sleepy. In the same way the physical rest we get affects our mood and energy, our spiritual health will only give back what we put into it. “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”(Rom 13:11).

That's our king

Rather than write my own thoughts this week, it seemed appropriate to  share the YouTube short version of the Lockridge sermon Father Pete referenced in his homily yesterday. It is inspired and inspirationsal. We need this reminder as often as we can get it right now. Click on the picture, watch and be blessed.