Confess!

Book-of-Confessions

1 Macc. 1:41-63Rev. 19:11-16Matt. 16:13-20

My fellow minister friends like to poke fun at this Presbyterian – how many rules we have, doing things “decently and in order,” blah, blah.  I shake my head.  I love our way of doing things!  One time it was a Baptist minister friend who got his hands on my copy of the Book of Confessions.  “You don’t actually believe all this stuff do you?”

Of course I believe in confessions!  The Bible is full of them!

Today’s passage in Matthew contains one of the first and most powerful confessions in the Christian tradition.  “‘But who do you say that I am?’  Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”

And in many ways, this is at the heart of each one of our confessions in the Book of Confessions.  They boldly speak of who we are, what we believe, and what we declare to do.  One of the most powerful ingredients about that is a confession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

What does it mean to declare Jesus as the Messiah?  For me it centers on trust.  We are not going to invest our trust in a political system.  We believe that Jesus is in charge of our lives.  We believe that if this world is going to be saved from itself, the answer is not ourselves, or any social, political, or cultural solution.  No, the answer is to look to Christ for our direction.

We are not going to invest our time and energy into building up the systems of this world, but God’s system.  This is a major shift from American culture.  I often chuckle when people refer to the US as a “Christian nation”.  How is that now?  I see a godless nation that loves its guns and money more than it loves God.

And in another respect, while we were founded on many Christian principles, that does not mean this is a theocracy or that we as a nation must subscribe to one particular religion.  So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that we are an anti-Christian country.  We are just like any other country, made up of humans in their brokenness, struggling to find truth.  We grab on to secular “truths” because they are tangible and understandable.

We as Christians must constantly struggle to see beyond culture to the kingdom of Christ, where the poor are the rich, and the meek shall inherit the earth.  God’s ways are not our ways, and the Bible is sprinkled with regular reminders of that, Old and New Testaments.

And so we confess.  We strive to put our trust and our support in that which is above and beyond this world.  And Jesus says to us, “‘But who do you say that I am?’  Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”

-Matt

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Divine Power (and demand for action!)

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1 Macc. 1:1-28Rev. 19:1-10Matt. 16:1-12

Our New Testament readings today deal with DIVINE POWER and its effects.

The Revelation passage is a wonderful description of rejoicing in heaven.  The thunderpeals and bright, pure, fine linen are only small examples.  All of creation, it seems, is rejoicing God.

In Matthew, Jesus warns of the Pharisees and Sadducees inability to read the signs of the time.  He then speaks of the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” and their ability to yield nothing from their teaching.  The people don’t hear him correctly, and Jesus reminds them of the feeding of the five thousand.

This passage is a balancing act, reminding us that it is not just about faith, but about action.  It is not enough to multiply faith, but to feed mouths.  I read these words in the context of recent events – a morally corrupt government with no moral compass, leaders who pad the pockets of the rich, a failure of healthcare reform, and a flimsy attempt at tax reform that has little if any chance of passing because of the public’s disdain for it and its lack of reform for the poor and middle class – all reminders that having faith is not enough; it must be backed up with appropriate action.

If you are thinking “Matt should stay out of politics,” ask yourself what Jesus topic is today.  He is interested in people transforming the world with the simple act of kindness – responding to poverty and feeding others.

They are powerful readings today – exploding with imagery and demands on our lives.  They are a tall order.

-Matt

The Providence of God

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Neh. 7:73b-8:3,5-18Rev. 18:21-24Matt. 15:29-39

Today in Matthew Jesus cures many and feeds many more.

Here’s the takeaway: God loves us as sticks close by. Jesus shows us that God does not stand outside of life, but is right here with us, beside us in our broken and troubled and suffering world.

That is quite a statement given all the mass shootings and acts of terror.  And today as our lawmakers idly sit by waiting for the next mass shooting, only to do nothing, these words from Matthew are also a call to awaken our spirits and engage our hands.

Ours is not a faith of easy answers and unrealistic solutions.  Jesus entered life and died on the cross for us, showing us that in whatever we experience, in whatever may trouble us, in whatever distress or threat we feel, we need not fear because God is in it with us. Often that presence of God comes through us.

In whatever crisis or issue we face in life, in whatever trouble may come our way, we learn through stories like today’s that the power of God’s love will ultimately triumph and heal this broken Body.  From the midst of the Body of Christ, God will lift up the resources to accomplish his loving purposes, and provide for our needs.

These stories are reminders.  We pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God may give us daily bread.  We learn in these stories that it is we who are to be involved in, not only the receiving of daily bread, but in the giving of it too.

A good image of this is in the context of the Lord’s Supper, especially when we pass the bread around in a circle, or serve each other in the pew.  In that image of receiving bread and then turning to share bread with the person to our other side is the reality of God’s gracious action within the meal: each person is fed solely through God’s grace, but each person also plays an important role in making sure God’s grace continues with the others gathered there.

May these stories of curing and feeding enrich and enliven your day.  May they also be reminders that you play a part in God’s inbreaking kingdom.

-Matt

Tests of Faith

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Neh. 9:26-38Rev. 18:9-20Matt. 15:21-28

In Matthew today we encounter a very troubling passage about the Canaanite woman’s faith.  It isn’t her faith that is troubling, but how she is apparently treated.  She is an outsider from the region of Tyre and Sidon and Jesus ignores her for a while.  Then Jesus seemingly insults her when she comes and kneels before him, and he says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

The “dog” reference is apparently referring to Gentiles in general, but is considered rude at best, derogatory at worst.  And yet it appears to be a test of her faith, as Jesus is pleased with her response of “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  In the end Jesus heals her daughter, and declares the woman’s faith to be great.

Is your faith being tested?  Are you living under spiritual duress?  Maybe physical or mental anguish?  When the going gets tough, does your faith tend to crack?  Or does it carry you through? What keeps you focused on Jesus in difficult times, or focused on God’s ways?

I could argue that these times of ours are a test of faith.  Churches are experiencing historic lows in terms of worship attendance and giving.  Our country’s leaders seem to be morally bankrupt at best.  Our healthcare is under attack, with medical bankruptcies devastating families.  Then there is our gun violence epidemic.  Don’t get me started on opioids and the way they have torn apart Oklahoma families.  There are tests of faith all around.

As we face Stewardship Season, more tests come.  Where do our priorities lie?  Do we truly believe in hope?  Are we willing to invest in God’s future?  Where is abundance in your life?  I am thankful for all my brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian Church in Duncan.  Things seems to be on track financially.  Our hearts are in the right place, and our pocketbooks are soon to match that (at least I hope so!!!).  While our worship numbers could always be better, which church doesn’t say that?  We are a much more mobile society, bound together in the body of Christ, often separated by many miles.

But the reality is that we are on the move as a church, looking into God’s new future.  The reality is we had a New Members class last night, and two individuals are all set and ready to join FPC-Duncan this Sunday, with a 3rd hoping to join but unable to make the class last night.

It has occurred to me that all of you Morning Reflectors are part of our church parish in many ways.  Being a part of my ministry means connecting to FPC-Duncan where I am the pastor.  It is a wide circle to draw, for many of you are in France, a few in China, some serving in the military abroad.  Some are retired bishops living in warmer climates, far from me.  It is amazing watching the WordPress statistics and analysis.

It occurred to me that I should offer up a way that you all can give back, if you feel God calling you to.  While I haven’t set up a PayPal for this website yet, supporting the church where I am the pastor is the easiest way to contributing our ministry.  Visit http://fpcduncan.com/giving for more information on how to give.  There is also a link to the 2018 Pledge Dedication card there if you would prefer to pledge support into the coming year.

If Morning Reflections have meant something to your spiritual walk this last year, I encourage you to consider a one-time gift, or a regular pledge.

In this season of stewardship, may you be filled with the faith of this Canaanite woman, and may you experience healing in your lives and feel refreshed in your faith.

-Matt

Confess

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Neh. 9:1-15(16-25)Rev. 18:1-8Matt. 15:1-20

In Nehemiah today, restoration continues.  The city wall has been restored.  Temple worship has returned.  Some of their festivals have been restored.  Now it is time to restore their spiritual lives, with a national confession.

It is more than a ritual of penitence or mourning, but one that sets them apart in their religious distinctiveness and commitment.  They also are renewing their covenant with God to commit themselves to prayer, to hope, and to worship.  It is a stunning scene and I hope you have an opportunity to click the Nehemiah link and read it for yourself.

Oh how desperate our nation is in need of this same trajectory.

The Presbyterian Church has a history of confession as well.  We “confess” in both senses – confessing the “bad” as well as the confessing the “good”.  You will probably notice this in any of the services that I plan.  We confess our sin nearly every week.  (If we don’t have a Prayer of Confession, you will find confessional elements elsewhere in the service.)  These petitions are taken directly to God, not needing a minister through which to make the intercession or receive absolution.  Individual sins are not the focus, but how we as a people have lost our focus, have violated God’s commandments, have misused our own bodies or the earth or each other.  We know that sin is so ingrained in who we are, we cannot escape it.  So we turn from our sin and return to hope in Christ.

When I say we have “good” confessions as well, I speak of the second definition of confession.  Rather than disclosing our sins, we also confess together what we believe – formal religious documents like creeds.  We Presbyterians are a confessional church, meaning we have a number of confessions to which we subscribe.  The Apostles’ Creed would be one.  The Confession of 1967 and the Belhar Confession that we just had a class on a few weeks ago are a couple more.

They become, along with the Bible, the core of our beliefs, and guide our faith.  They are an expression of the Holy Spirit, speaking to us through the ages, and binding us together as a people.  They are meant for instruction and guidance in these turbulent times.  In many ways, they function like the Jewish Talmud would for Jews, an ongoing conversation of God in our midst.

Occasionally in our services, we confess the Brief Statement of Faith, our newest document, written just a little over 20 years ago.  In it we did both kinds of confessing – our sins, and also our beliefs.

In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.

We trust in God, whom Jesus called Abba, Father.

In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community.

 But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator. Ignoring God’s commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care. We deserve God’s condemnation. Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation. In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all families of the earth.

 Hearing their cry, God delivered the children of Israel from the house of bondage. Loving us still, God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant. Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home, God is faithful still.

In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, Come, Lord Jesus! With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

May you find restoration today – in your beliefs, and in your lives.

-Matt

144,000. Really?

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Ezra 7:(1-10)11-26Rev. 14:1-13Matt. 14:1-12

Occasionally I have a student from some university call looking to interview me about what Presbyterians believe, or some such questions.  Recently I got one of those calls.  And I finally got a ZINGER of a question.  This student wanted to know if I believed that our church was part those referred to in Revelation as being sealed (i.e. the 144,000).

Maybe it was a question from his professor.  Maybe he wanted to see my reaction.  Nevertheless, even the question shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the book of Revelation.  And here is what I mean:

Those who believe that every word in the Bible is literally true are in deep trouble today.

144,000 stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion and approach the throne.  The 144,000 sing a new song before the throne, and no one else can learn the song except those.  These are those who have been redeemed from the earth.  “It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins….”

I remember many, many years ago some Jehovah Witnesses came knocking on my door.  One of their first statements to me was, “Do you want to be one of the 144,000 that are saved?”  They have realized this question gets them absolutely no where so you don’t hear them ask this question anymore.  But do you know when they really ditched the question?  When their numbers exceeded 144,000!  Their biblical ethic seemed inadequate, so they changed to another ethic.  Oops.  Talk about flawed theology!

To complicate matters, if you are tempted to revise the number, but still take the rest of the passage literally, let me warn you: There will be no women in this number saved.  And of the men saved, none of them have ever had sex.  These are the unmarried and completely chaste among us.  Leave anyone out?  I probably left most of my readers out.

I hope I’ve made my point.  First, we need to give ourselves permission to not always take the Bible literally, but to read it for its deeper truths and meanings.  (I hardly think that the kingdom of heaven is JUST like Jesus said – an actual mustard seed.  Of course there are metaphors!)  We need to come at the Bible and look for DEEP TRUTHS, not surfacey trite statements.

We need to become explorers again.  This is where we Presbyterians have an advantage and can show the way.  We are good at study, and we think a lot (sometimes we over-think and it gets us stuck, but go with me on this).  We need to engage our imaginations and explore these metaphors and the depth of God’s Word for us, and help others get deep into God’s Word too!

What are we to make of these dramatic pictures of the throne, and visions of salvation of the world?

In Revelation, numerology is important too.  7 is a holy number.  7 times 77, something that Jesus used in reference to “how many times one should forgive,” is not considered to be 539, but meaning more along the lines of “forgive a WHOLE LOTTA times”.  It is a number too big to count.  In the same manner, 40 days in the wilderness, or raining for “40 days and 40 nights” is code for “a long, long time.”  40 years in the wilderness is an “unfathomably long time,” so large we all lost track of how long it really was.

And so here, our number 144,000, ties in with the disciples.  The number of disciples grew from 12, to 12 times 12, and that grew 1,000 times!  The writer of Revelation is saying, “The number of those saved is too large to be counted, but it will stem from those who heard and understood the Word.”

Rarely do I see Revelation – or much of the Bible – speaking literally.  It is far too complex for that!  It is a dramatic portrait of God at work to conclude creation.  That which was begun in Genesis, and fell victim to sin, is cleaned up.  Another way to say it is, “In the end, nothing can resist the power of God.”

This ultimately is great reassurance, especially to a readership that was under persecution.  To hear that beyond their daily lives, God was in control and God had a plan, was great reassurance.  The same was true of many of the African slaves, who when the going got tough, their theology and songs focused more on the afterlife, redemption, and freedom from this world’s pain.

It is no wonder that we turn to Revelation at dark times – we come for reassurance of God’s sovereignty, and see our life’s purpose, and that by the end of the story, nothing will be able to resist the power of God.

-Matt

Fruity Stewardship

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Neh. 12:27-31a,42b-47Rev. 11:1-19Matt. 13:44-52

Today it is clear we are in a season of stewardship, a season of harvest and plenty.  The earth gives us signs of the harvest all around, as the trees and the weather turn.

Then I turned to our readings for today.  In Nehemiah the city wall is dedicated and it is a time of rejoicing, thanksgiving, and giving.  Matthew is all about stewardship with kingdom parables of treasure.

Three short parables in Matthew, each begin “the kingdom of heaven is like….”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”   The kingdom is not guaranteed and safe.  It is accessible to some.  One must be persistent.  Work is involved.

So too the kingdom is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, and he finds a big one.  The kingdom is also like a net that is thrown into the sea and catches fish of every kind.

It is apparent that “fruit” is important – to produce, to claim value and worth, or to be worth something.  There are divides – good and evil, rich and poor, joy and sadness.  Producing fruit means there are decisions to be made.  In short, we are called to be fruity!

As I write to you, I have a letter from the Stewardship Committee and Bennie Drake in front of me on the desk.  They spoke of setting priorities, of being workers in the kingdom, and spreading faith.  It was a powerful letter, and it reminded me that much of being a Christian today is about taking risks.  Being a Christian is not meant to be flashy and bring one glory.  It is meant to bring God glory.  For us it means simplicity, generosity, humility – as we face the awesome work that God is up to all around us.

If we were to listen to the voices of the world, we would end up building ourselves up, hoarding resources for ourselves, and we would see ourselves in competition with the community and people around us, rather than partners in God’s grace.

That is not what God calls us to.

Furthermore, we are called not to bury treasure, but to be fruitful, to be bold, to be forward looking, to be self-less, to look for value where others have forgotten.

We are to produce fruit through risk and conviction.  We are to give thanks for the abundance we have this harvest season, renewing our covenant with God who gave us everything.

That is a tall order!  I pray that you will find strength and courage in this stewardship season.  We have an exciting year ahead.

If you would like to be a part of the Stewardship Campaign at First Presbyterian Church in Duncan, Oklahoma where I am the pastor, I would welcome your support.  Click here for the letter/pledge card: https://mattmeinkedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/2018-stewardship.pdf

-Matt