Recovering Sabbath

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Prov. 8:1-212 John 1-13Matt. 12:1-14

Every time Jesus breaks commandments, it is for a good reason.  He destroys expectations and transforms our faith.

Today his disciples break the Sabbath, and Jesus runs to their defense.  He uses it as a time, not to justify their behavior, but to declare scripture as not as black and white as the Pharisees would like.  He also goes on to cast the Law in a different light, declaring that “…the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Then he himself breaks the Sabbath by curing a man with a withered hand.  His bold initiatives get him in trouble and help cast the trajectory of the Gospels.  Now the Pharisees have some ammunition and “went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

Just as we discover in the Wisdom literature, scripture and “God’s will” is sometimes elusive, and I believe Jesus is making more than just a point about compassion or hunger on the Sabbath, but is making a bold statement about interpretation of Scripture.  He is declaring that righteousness and integrity are essential components.  Wisdom is subjective and lives in reality.  As a result it must bend and flex with the situation, revealing its truth each and every day in new ways.

Here, in these two situations, Jesus had come to the conclusion that “the Law” said something different than what the experts in the Law had decided.  He went all the way to the cross for his interpretation of Scripture.

Today’s Matthew passage is a delightful personification of Divine Wisdom, which reveals to us a God who wants us, above all else, to be fed and whole in his sight.

Now all that being said, I want to invite you to the Pastor’s Class on June 3, at 9:30am, in the adult Sunday School room.  The topic will be RECOVERING SABBATH, and we will talk about Sabbath practices and how we can experience it afresh in 2018 and in a culture that never seems to stop and rest.

-Matt

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“LIKE” me, pleeeeeaaase

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Prov. 6:1-191 John 5:1-12Matt. 11:16-24

The internet is a crazy place today.  From videos of corporeal punishment with people’s children, to videos of Trump making a fool of himself, to all the “yanny” and “laurel” memes, to so many scenes of daily living, I wonder if we have any filters any more.  I am no exception, taking pictures of my food before I eat it (why do I think you all care!?)

Our whole lives have become a show – a billboard for others.

And while I see an undercurrent of yearning for connection and community, I wonder if most of us are wise when it comes to internet.

In Scripture today, wisdom is a topic.

In Matthew we see Jesus paint himself as the healing Messiah, the Servant, and the Son of Man, whose mission is to his people despite the opposition from the Jewish authorities.  Jesus seems agitated as he defends John the Baptist, and his own ministry: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

It is apparent we will need to faculties of our own minds again to determine the truth behind Jesus’ ministry.  Wisdom will guide us to know he is the Messiah, the Servant, and the Son of Man.  Through his miracles, deeds of loving kindness, and teachings we see a person who stood with John the Baptist in breaking forth the kingdom of heaven.  His deeds speak for themselves.

Behind his words, though, there is agitation.  One can almost hear, in the John the Baptist exchange, Jesus throwing up his hands and saying, “You see?  I am cursed if I do, or cursed if I don’t!”  John was made fun of because he didn’t drink and eat.  Jesus was called a glutton and drunkard for eating and drinking.  Well, I guess you can’t win here with the crowd.

Part of what Jesus is saying is that “what the crowd thinks” should be at the bottom of our list of things to worry about.  What he is demanding is the excellence of our ministry – a reaching out to the poor, the outcast, the sinners.  If we do that well, we will see the kingdom break forth, just like Christ brought it forth.

We would do well to put at the bottom of our list of importance “what the crowd thinks.”  It is not all about how many LIKES you get on Instagram, folks.

While the cross is of central importance to our beliefs and understanding, from the mouth of our Lord, we also get a strong push into the here and now of daily needs.  We see that tending to the daily needs of people is of key importance if we want to follow our Lord.

And wisdom will alert others as to whether we are genuine followers of Christ or not.

I see the Church in North America struggling too – struggling for LIKES – struggling for numbers.  We seem to think this is a popularity contest.  It is not.

We need to be struggling with daily living instead.

We need an increase in wisdom, not an increase in LIKES.

-Matt

God Sightings

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Prov. 3:11-201 John 3:18-4:6Matt. 11:1-6

Yesterday was a big day for the Church.  Pentecost has historically been second only to Easter in terms of celebration.  It is a time when we reflect on the powerful sightings of God in our midst, and the way the Holy Spirit has breathed into us the breath of life.

Our readings today don’t stray too far from this Pentecostal fire.  They witness to the powerful sightings of God.

Paul summarizes what he knows to be the “good news of the gospel” today.   Despite what many people think Christianity to be, Paul does not summarize the birth narrative or a series of Jesus’ miracles.  He mentions no parables, and does not spend much time on how Jesus treated the poor.

He mentions instead: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

Notice how Paul zones in on 1) the simplicity of the story.  2) his personal connection to the resurrection.  3) the way Paul enters the story.  Just like recounting a story of Abraham, or David, eventually a genealogy shows up and the story reconnects with the present reader.  The power of the gospel, for Paul, was that in time the risen Christ also appeared to him.

Are we part of this line of apostles and disciples?  Have we seen the risen Christ?  I know I have.  I have seen Christ at work in my life, revealing a path to take, a direction to follow, a decision or stance in the world with which I am to be firm.

But how well have I told our children of that sighting?

When do we do the all-important “genealogy” report, and let others know that the line of sightings ends with today?

May today be filled with yet another glimpse of the risen Christ in your life!

-Matt

The Power of Care

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Isa. 4:2-6Eph. 4:1-16Matt. 8:28-34

From Ephesians: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

This understanding of love is the focus of a book by Kenneth Haugk, the founder of Stephen Ministry.  In it he explores the role of a Stephen Minister, as one who cares, and listens, and prays with a person in the midst of difficulties or brokenness.  Often, in the midst of brokenness, the world becomes hazy, out of focus, or skewed.  Part of the role of a Stephen Minister is to have the courage to speak the truth in love.  This could be challenges or insights – opportunities to explore where our lives in faith meet the world of tomorrow.

I have worked in congregations where there is Stephen Ministry and in congregations that do not.  And while it is an investment, why would you NOT want specially trained people in listening, prayer, care, and speaking truth in love?  Every congregation can benefit from this training by equipping those called by God to this caring work!  I am a Stephen Leader and can help you find a place to receive training.

In Paul’s imagery of the body, he helps articulate that with Christ at the head, we are no longer thrown to and fro by our own desires, but knit together into a new reality – that of Christ’s will.  This is, of course, core to Stephen Ministry too, seeing Christ as the center of our lives, even in the midst of brokenness.  Being knit into Christ’s will can be great comfort and leading.

But ultimately choice enters the picture.  Do we follow our own selfish desires, which so often include greed, oppression of others, and self-sufficiency, or do we follow Christ who demands we love our neighbors as ourselves?

The transformative power of the cross was one that turned the whole establishment on its head.  No longer would we follow Rome, or the Jewish authority.  Nor would we follow ourselves.  Instead, we have renewed our vows, and accept God in charge.

This impacts more than just our pocketbooks or own prayer lives – it involves every fiber of our being.  We are no longer the same person, but knit together into a unified existence of radical change.

Where God will lead us, we do not know.  Where we are ultimately going is sure.  In the mean time, we choose the path of love.

-Matt

P.S. If you would like to know more about Stephen Ministry, or if having a Stephen Minister walk with you through some of life’s trouble, feel free to email me back, or call me sometime.  There is a Regional Stephen Ministry network in Greater OKC, and some of our larger churches like Westminster Presbyterian Church and All Souls Episcopal Church often cross-train folks who end up serving in their home congregations.  I can also connect you with a Referrals Coordinator, who can get matched up with someone in this special kind of confidential, caring relationship if you feel you need to talk to a Stephen Minister.

How to Read Scripture

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Lev. 19:26-372 Thess. 1:1-12Matt. 6:25-34

Today we learn in the Old Testament that I am in violation of the Levitical code.  “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it (Fail.  I like my steak medium rare!).  You shall not practice augury or witchcraft.” (OK. I pass the test on this one, unless my obsession with Harry Potter counts).  “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard (Fail).  You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you.” (Pass, then Fail.)

Yes, I like my steak medium rare.  Yes, I just had my sideburns trimmed at the barber a few days ago.  And yes, I have a tattoo.

Those who demand that we take the Bible “literally” have difficulty when presented with issues and discrepancies such as these, demanding we simply follow everything in the Bible without knowing what they are talking about.  One is on even shakier ground if you argue for getting back to the Bible’s “family values.” How many wives did Solomon have again?

I wonder what values they are talking about.  Here in Leviticus, which is ultimately a Wilderness Survival Guide, the demands on us are pretty stringent.  And yet “the family” looks much different than we might expect.  And those who say that Jesus came to free us from the dietary laws and the ritual sacrifices of the Levitical code, I point out that the requirement to put children to death who speak against their parents doesn’t sound like a dietary requirement to me!!! And yet we don’t follow it.  So everyone is in the “pick and choose” boat whether they like it or not.

So what’s up?  Why do we feel we can pick and choose what we follow in that big book?

The Matthew passage sheds some light on this.  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

Jesus came and felt strongly that it was the inner core of being that was of primary importance.  The gates were also open to the Gentiles, who did not claim to be a part of the heritage of the Old Testament, and therefore of its laws either.  The early church had to struggle with this.  So, what value do we put in the requirements of the Old Testament?  Where does it stand in the canon?  What authority does it have?

It has all the authority that any other passage has!  One just has to KEEP READING.  What is the story?  Where is the story going?  How does each passage relate to one another?  Furthermore, what do the scriptures principally teach?

In many ways, Jesus supersedes the law.  But he does not cancel it out.  I have many friends who have no need for the Old Testament.  And this breaks my heart.  It is so rich in stories of God’s grace, and it provides the footing and understanding of everything in the New Testament.  What they miss is how God’s law evolves (or more rightly, how it comes into better focus as the Law of Love as the pages turn, taking some time to understand the underpinnings of the Law).

Our passage for today, as an example: for without the Old Testament it is easy to misread these passages. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” becomes simply “Don’t be anxious.”  But that is to completely miss the point.  The following verse is “For the Gentiles seek all these things: and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.”  In fact, this passage was a commentary on the Levitical code of dress and dietary requirements.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t worry so much about whether you are staying Kosher and don’t spend your whole day worrying about things that don’t matter.  Seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else will fall in place.”

Priorities.  The Bible is teaching us about priorities.  Examining priorities in our lives, which are so filled with “busy”ness and pressure, would not only do our blood pressure good, but probably our families, and our society as a whole.

-Matt

Chaos

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Lev. 16:1-191 Thess. 4:13-18Matt. 6:1-6,16-18

It is always a little difficult to come back from an extended time of vacation.  The normal morning routine doesn’t feel very normal and I wonder what’s going on.

Life in the early church I can imagine was quite a bit more confusing.  Chaos abounded.  Stories traveled fast of Christ’s resurrection.  What’s next?  Who leads us?

It didn’t take time for dissension to crop up.  As the news spread to Gentiles and Jews alike many questions began to arise.  Who was in?  Who is out?  Much of Paul’s writings deal with this reality.  There was another question though that hung in the minds of believers: “When was the Lord coming back?”

Many thought the answer to that was, “Very soon.”  But as time passed and the catacombs began to fill up, the harsh reality that the church needed some structure and order also began.  Folks also needed to be reassured in the resurrection.  Our 1 Thessalonians 4 passage provides some of this reassurance.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do  who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. “

Paul goes on to declare that the coming of the Lord will not leave out those of us who are still alive, but that the trumpet will sound and all the dead shall be raised first, and then we who are alive will be swept up in the clouds together to meet them.  It is a wonderful picture of togetherness that is painted.  Paul is trying to reassure the chaotic 1st Century Church that all will be well, it will just not be happening the way they had first intended.

Many had thought Christ would come back very shortly, in their minds complete his Messianic role, and crush the Roman empire.  That did not happen.  Others thought he would come back to destroy the temple.  Once some of those 1st generation believers died and did not come back to life, the Christian community looked in hope to the future.

Goodbyes are never easy.  And with the recent death of Sue Beall who joined the ranks of the Church Triumphant, it has been a tough time for many of us.  Normal routines are completely out of wack for many.  And yet, as the great saints of our lives journey onward, the church is reminded that Christ’s message continues, and that we are not called to live in the present only, but to live into the future.  With this comes hope too, for death among our ranks has always been a normal part of the church’s humanly experience.  Out of the chaos comes the sure confidence of God above it all, wrapping all of creation into his loving arms.

May your day be filled with renewal and hope, as we look to a future day when all of us will get swept up in the Great Story of God’s grace meant for us all, bound together always.

-Matt

 

Balanced Leaders

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Exod. 18:13-271 Pet. 5:1-14Matt. (1:1-17),3:1-6

Being a leader is never easy.  The mantle of leadership means hard, unpopular decisions from time to time.  Being a spiritually-fit and balanced leader is tough too.

Moses has proven that he is an effective leader.  A wonderful leader.  He has led folks out of the land of Egypt, done all God says, helped enter a new phase of being fed with manna and quail, and brought water from the rock.  Now people know he is wise and come to him to seek God’s will.

Jethro, Moses father-in-law, catches wind of this.  He sees how Moses sits to serve as judge from morning till evening.  And Moses is doing a good job!  But Jethro wisely objects: “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Find others to do most of this work.”

Isn’t this often the case?!

There are principles of church growth that come into play with regard to a pastor’s leadership.  Sometimes churches get stuck not growing despite the excellent leadership of a pastor.  But sometimes the pastor can greatly add or subtract from the overall mission of the church to spread the good news.

It is often said that a pastor, in his/her first few years, will shrink or expand a church to fit the pastor’s own abilities.  That means if I am a pastor who only has the skills to handle a 500 member congregation and I come to lead a church of 1000 members, I will quickly find subconscious ways to derail and shrink staff and programs until I have whittled the church down to something I can personally manage.  It is sad and awful, but a true dynamic.  I have seen this happen first hand in my many years of ministry.

The inverse is also true.  Some leaders have a vision of the church that is much larger than the current setting, and they have the skills to morph it and change along with them.

This is happening to Moses today.  Jethro takes a step back and says, “This job is too big.”  Yeah, he was doing fine now, but what about burnout?  What about cultivating leadership?  What happens if you die tomorrow?  Who is in a position to take up where you left off?  It turns out the “excellent” leadership of Moses wasn’t quite as excellent.

I am sure there are aspects of your life that intersect with Moses or Jethro.  Our culture is very anti-sabbath.  It is almost a sin in American culture to think about taking a break.  “And why would we train assistants to do our job?  That would be corporate waste and take my personnel figures over budget!  It would also make me vulnerable to being let go!  I know, I will just work 70 hour work weeks, and forget about my own needs, my family, and my friends!”  And so we “consolidate.”  Most of my friends seem to be doing the jobs of three or four people (and no offense) but spread so thin I doubt they are doing anything WELL.

Does this sounds familiar?  Are you struggling to balance your personal, professional, and spiritual lives?  And I am one of the worst offenders some days.

How difficult it can be to let go sometimes.  But that is part of what it means to be Christian.  If we are all in this ship together, it makes sense that very few things are “mine” and nearly everything is “ours.”  It is one of the reasons I like corporate confessions and the Nicene Creed which uses “we” and not “I”.  Christendom has never been an “I” society.

May we live this day in the “we”.

-Matt