Time For A Little Change

molten-metal-571823_960_720

Dan. 2:31-49; 1 John 2:18-29; Luke 3:1-14

The last couple weeks has felt like a fog, but I finally feel like myself again.  It is amazing what a good night’s rest can do.  Many of you know the church is wrestling with budget constraints and the painful recommendation to scale back to one pastor.  It has not been fun for anyone.  But alas, we turn to Scripture for hope and guidance this morning:

Daniel interprets Nebechadnezzar’s dream.  He sees a statue of fine gold, but with feet of clay.  God enters the picture, as one who after the divided kingdom, “will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.”  The king is impressed and promotes Daniel, for he has been the only one able to reveal the mystery of the dream.

1 John speaks of antichrists, those opponents of the gospel who had deceitful ideas about Christ.  And John’s definition is pretty intense: “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist, anyone who denies the Father and the Son.”

What does it mean to deny Jesus as the Christ?  Depending on how you define this, the argument could be made that some of my minister friends deny Christ.  They would disagree.  But an outsider’s perspective on their radical beliefs looks like denial to some.

Perhaps a better question to ask is: What does it mean to abide in Christ?  For I see these friends of mine abiding in Christ.  They show Christ’s love, and bring others to Christ.  Why then would anyone put them in the “deny” category?

The natural human response is to try to put people in categories…to put people in boxes.  We like to define ourselves by what other are (or are not).

I wish the Church would grow up.  What is important is not what I think, or my narrow theological definition of this or that, but Christ’s work in all of us.

Luke comes to our aid.  It is the story of John the Baptist – the one crying out in the wilderness.  “Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” he says.  “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  There is reassurance and hope that our job is simply to clear the way.  The Lord will lay the road.

John gives good advice – hard advice – but he reminds us that someone after him comes with fire.  Think about those images: water versus fire.  Water purifies by cleansing.  Fire purifies by smelting rock!  Things are changed!  Destroyed!  Altered forever in order to get a little purification.

The Church needs a little changing – and by change I mean smelting rock kinda of change.

John is letting us know that the road to repentance (and the road to a better life) is one that we will be unable to fulfill.  Luckily we can ride the wave of the Messiah, the one in whom we all abide in our baptism.  Smelt away!

-Matt

Advertisements

Let Us Pray

alms-1807525_960_720

Dan. 2:17-30; 1 John 2:12-17; John 17:20-26

Prayer is fascinating.  It connects us to God, to others, to ourselves.  Prayer is a mysterious bond, which provides peace, comfort, and hope to the believer.  It is given to the community by God as a gift.  We are taught how to pray from Christ himself.

I remember being part of the exam team for a minister coming into the presbytery.  She spoke very powerfully about prayer during her introductory time, both in her life and in her ministry.  And so I asked as a follow up question, “Do you think Prayer should be a Sacrament, like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?  Why or why not?”  Her answer provided some time for all of us to reflect on the impact of God in our daily life.

Prayer may not rise to the level of a sacrament, but it has sacramental aspects to it.  It is, in many ways, an outward sign of an inward grace – and one that we as community engage in daily.

In Daniel, God reveals Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel, Daniel gives thanks to God for revealing the deep and hidden things, and sets the stage for interpreting the dream.  In all of it, we see a sharp contrast between the magicians of the king’s court and Daniel.  At every turn, Daniel honors God.

As I think more about prayer and giving God thanks, I am reminded it is even more than how we usually see prayer in America – as a pleading for our wants.  And while it is natural to cry out to God in pain and despair, it can also be an exclamation of thanks and praise.  I am not sure I hear many prayers of thanks like Daniel prayed here.

How many of us truly give thanks for all the blessings that God has given us?  Here for Daniel it was the revealing of a mystery.  I wonder how our days would change if everyone treated their lives and all that is in it as a gift from God.  It is hard to do!  I know I struggle with that.

I draw your attention to Daniel today, and ask you to think about how and when you go to God in prayer.

-Matt

Old Testament? Or No?

alphabet-1679750_960_720 (1)

Dan. 2:1-16; 1 John 2:1-11; John 17:12-19

Are you a fan of the Old Testament?  I am!

That may surprise you about me.

Over the centuries, in fact still in today’s churches, there are folks who feel we could throw out the Old Testament and not lose much.  One fella even went so far as to eliminate the entire Old Testament, and just about all of the New with the exception of Luke, and even that was abridged – Marcion was his name – salty guy from the 2nd Century eventually declared as a heretic.

This may surprise you as well, but deep in my core I am an Old Testament preacher, that loves the deep, rich stories and the unfolding of God’s love from the basement of time.

1 John picks up on that today.  “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning, the old commandment is the word that you have heard.”  And that is the joy of the New Testament.  It is the same ol’ story, just told in a different way.  It is like looking through a different lens, but looking at the same love of God.

John goes on to say that the true light is already shining, and that the darkness is passing away.  This “darkness” is perhaps the same problem that the Pharisees had in many of the gospels.  They practiced the law, but they were missing the heart of the law.  What was the greatest commandment?  Love.  The Pharisees had forgotten that, and the gospel writers, as well as the writer of 1 John, is assuring us of the ancient creed by which we are bound – it is the same as the 10 commandments pushed us to do – love God and love others.

One reason I love the Old Testament so much is because it enriches my story of love.  I see the trajectory of God’s love more clearly and fully.  It rounds out the story for me.

So it is with that in mind I encourage you to turn to Daniel and read of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  As the story unfolds, and in the week to come we will read of God revealing the dream and Daniel interpreting that dream.  As we see the story flow forth, we see the secret knowledge become divine revelation, and the divine providence become a staging for God carrying us through to the end of the age.

The Bible is such an extraordinary volume of God’s grace.  I hope you are enjoying discovering its riches with me.

-Matt

No Darkness At All

window-1861888_960_720

Dan. 1:1-21; 1 John 1:1-10; John 17:1-11

Today is a new beginning with our readings.  We “turn the page,” literally.  The Psalter resets and begins with Psalm 1.  We begin the book of Daniel, as well as 1 John.  And so there are a lot of shifts of theme, structure, and style.

I felt particularly drawn to 1 John this morning, although I am not sure why.  This letter of John is one of the few books in the Bible to declare its own purpose.  “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”  And again: “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us.”

One of the central themes is that God is light and “in him there is no darkness at all.”  Between the difficulties of life, yesterday’s Thunder loss, and this stormy time for FPCOKC with the proposed budget cutbacks, some may be feeling a sense of sadness or disappointment.  (I know because so many of you have called me and shared those feelings.  Trust me, I feel sad too.)  But God turns the page, and the reminder comes to us in 1 John that in God there is no darkness at all.

He then proceeds to discuss the confession of sins, obeying God’s word in love, and assurances that sins are forgiven.

1 John knows about human relationships.  It is understood that relationships are hard and one central features of right relationships centers around humility and confessing one’s wrongs.  Being right with God and with others means moving away from pig-headedness and stubbornness, and being able to admit one’s failures.  And how true this is!

Compromise and understanding seem to be at a premium these days.  I see a lot of relationships whose central features are power, authority, and bullish behavior.  I have seen my fair share of that through years of consultant work.

My hope and prayer is that all of us come to understand compromise, forgiveness, humility, and love in new and powerful ways.

I am not saying 1 John is going to be the magical cure for that understanding, but it might be a good prescription to get one started.  Perhaps you might take the 5 chapters of 1 John and choose to use them as a devotional guide with your partner/spouse, praying together sections at a time and discussing and confessing along the way.  Or perhaps you might take those chapters to a small group study, and offer them to be studied next.

Perhaps you will, like me, meditate on them in the morning light, and pray silently to God for new ways to see God more truly and mend the brokenness of your own life.

Whatever you do, know that God will walk with you and abide with you, sharing his light along the journey, for in him there is no darkness at all.

-Matt

The Weird Workings of the Spirit

flame-1444579_960_720

Dan. 12:1-4,13; Acts 4:1-12 or 1 Cor. 15:51-58; John 16:1-15

It is not uncommon for me to trip over one of my dog’s bones in the morning.  I am not sure what goes through his mind, but he has the strangest places he thinks he is “storing” these bones.  My previous dog Boomer was worse!  Sometimes she would get up in the middle of the night and rearrange her bones, often strategically placing one right at the side of the bed.  It sat there like a landmine, until I got up, and would disrupt the whole household as I set off the trap.

This happened this morning, and I laughed as I arose to then read the John 16 passage: “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling.”

Some of you received a letter yesterday from the church.  I did not receive one in the mail, so some of you may be in my USPS boat wondering “what letter?”  Because not all of you evidently have it, please excuse me being somewhat hesitant, coy, shady.  It is a letter laying out a significant budget trajectory shift for the church, and there are some very upset people.

To all of us Jesus says “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling….But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.  Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away….I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

People then were very upset about the change.  They were upset about Jesus saying he was leaving.  They were upset and didn’t see the fullness of God’s story.

This work of the Spirit, and how things will be after Jesus’ departure, is convoluted.  Sorrow will be turned into joy.  Everything seems veiled.  Righteousness and judgment are wrapped up in the Father and the Son, somehow brought on in accordance with the Spirit.  Things change with God on the loose, as we see in the Daniel reading most clearly, how much of that will be shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

Daniel paints a picture of the resurrection, that at the right time, some who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and contempt.  It is a good read.  If you haven’t experienced Daniel before, I encourage you to follow the link and read it.

Perhaps that is enough this morning.  We live in the mystery of these workings.  We live in discombobulated times.  We are not meant to understand fully why things happen. We are only meant to understand that God is above it all, and yet through it all.  He is our Judge, but also our Advocate.

May the fullness of God’s peace rest with you today – a day of hard news and broken hearts.  Call me if you need to talk.

-Matt

Not Belonging to the World

masks-827731_960_720

Ezek. 37:1-14; Acts 3:11-26 or 1 Cor. 15:41-50; John 15:12-27

Abundance and separation are the themes of today’s passages.

Manna and Quail fill our Exodus story: “In the evening quails come up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance.”

This story is a reminder of the “daily bread” we can expect from our Lord, something that made the Israelites a little nervous, and left them trying to store up more for later.  Eating is central.  But so is trust.  The Lord demands both.

This “daily bread” is increasingly difficult to trust in – in a world of broken promises, hungry people, and 401ks.

John begins to weave his long discourses together: “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you;” “All of this is given so that you may love one another;” “If they persecute or hate you, remember they did the same to me first;” and “Servants are not greater than their masters, but now I call you friends, not servants.”

All of this is troubling.  Where is he going?  What is he saying?  I have thought about this passage at great length, having first encountered it in depth in an undergraduate class in Greek.  Our goal was to simply translate, but I kept second guessing myself, because it seemed like simple, straight-forward Greek, and yet I couldn’t figure out what he was saying.  I was sure I was missing something.

Here is what I have decided this passage means (although a year from now ask me and I will have a different answer): “We do not belong to the world.  We are different because of our affiliation with Christ.”

As we live into this separation, we encounter an abundance of love that supercedes even bread from heaven.  We encounter a freedom from bondage above and beyond any Old Testament writer could have imagined.  The abundance of love means that our daily lives are changed, and that everywhere we see those bearing the fruit of God’s love, experiencing that abundance and fruit through the acts of love we see in each other.

We can also find comfort in knowing that if the outside world is confused or downright disagrees with what we are doing, we don’t listen to that, but only to Christ.  This is not the business world, where only corporate profits or efficiency or sales growth count.  The only growth we are interested in is growth of the fruit of the spirit.

Now that makes for some struggles, for if you want in Noah’s ark sometimes one realizes it is a smelly ark, with its own inadequacies.  But we are all in this together on a ship of grace that overcomes the world itself, breaking the rules, and inviting everyone to become enveloped in love unbounded.

-Matt

Bless the Lord, O My Soul

silhouette-683751_960_720

AM Psalm 103; PM Psalm 111, 114

Isa. 30:18-21; Acts 2:26-41(42-47) or 1 Cor. 15:12-28; John 14:15-31

Have you ever had a sleepless night?  So it was for me last night.  I feel like I am in a fog.  And now faced with singing a solo at James Strider’s funeral.  Ugh.

It came as a great comfort to turn to our lectionary Psalm for the day.  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.”  So states Psalm 103.  It is one of my favorites.  Its focus is on God, and all his mighty works.

God has forgiven all our iniquity.  God has worked vindication and justice.  God redeemed our lives from the Pit.

Even more so, the Lord is merciful and gracious – slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  This steadfast love quickly becomes the centerpiece of the rest of the psalm, and it expands with images of wind and flourishing fields, and that God’s steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting.

Even when life seems to fall apart, we can trust in the infinite presence of God.

The Psalms were aids to worship.  They also walk through the gamut of human emotions.  Despite desolation and despair, which the Israelites were experts in, time and again they turned to God in faithfulness and hope.  The Psalms are a showcase of how to honor God and keep the faith.

What I like most about Psalm 103 is its expansiveness.  When I am feeling gratitude to God, it is so easy to focus on only the immediate things in life.  For instance, on Easter Sunday, just a couple days ago, it was easy to focus on the empty cross and the empty tomb.  But was that it?  Not if you read Psalm 103!  It marches through all of history, giving thanks for things past and present.  It is a journey of graciousness and hope.

It also looks to the future, a sure sign of hope, and a help for when things turn sour.  “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.  But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting….The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”

Past, present, and future.  And in all, we are claimed by the steadfast love.

Bless the Lord, O my soul.  Sometimes it is a statement of reassurance.  Other times it is a plea for help – Lord, please reassure me that you do indeed hold us in the palm of your hand.

-Matt