Jesus is Coming. Look Busy.

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Zech. 1:7-17Rev. 1:4-20Matt. 12:43-50

As we begin a new week, and a lectionary trajectory that will take us to Advent, it is fitting for Revelation to show up as a text.  Today’s lesson frames the entire book.  We know who is writing, and why, and to what end.

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come….”  Already there is a lot going on.  We know that this crazy apocryphal letter starts like a standard letter in many ways.  Yet already we get glimpses of the earth shattering nature, and good news spilling beyond boundaries.

The description of God the writer employs is a widespread Hellenistic Jewish name for God, “the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.”  This is someone who transcends time!  So much for “God is coming.  Look busy!”

The joy of Revelation is that it is written to a people who understand they are part of God’s kingdom.  They are being reassured that God is coming.  “He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.”

Most likely it was a time of persecution.  The writer is reminding the readers that God is ultimately in charge, and nothing can overcome his “overcoming”.

Sometimes I think we need a bit more of this imagery in our daily lives and churches.  God is the “ruler of the kings of the earth.”  And God is coming.  In that sense, we become not ultimately inheritors of the kingdom, but stewards of God’s kingdom, much like the praefectus urbanus, the prefect of the city, was in charge when the king was away.

How would this change our churches, to focus on the fact that Christ is Head of the Church, and we need to leave it in a state so he could walk back anytime to pick up where he left off?  How would we structure our meetings?  Would we leave a seat open for him at the dinner table?  How would our missions focus differently?  Where would we be putting our money to good use?

Big questions.  Even bigger concepts.  God is in charge, and is coming back any minute now.

I love those bumper stickers, “Jesus is coming.  Look busy.”  It’s bad theology, but it certainly reframes things!  Jesus is coming.  So what are we waiting for?

-Matt

 

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God on the Move

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Ezra 1:1-111 Cor. 16:1-9Matt. 12:15-21

The Bible is full of wonderful expressions of God on the Move.  We see this in the Exodus, with a God moving through the desert with his people.  But this theme continues.  Today, in Ezra, 1 Corinthians, and in Matthew, we see the same God at work!

The Persian King Cyrus is inspired by the Spirit of the Lord, and declares the captivity over, sending home the refugees to restore the temple.  Paul is on the move, making travel plans, and hoping he can do more than pass through Corinth on his next journey.  In Matthew it is a little more obvious, declaring “When Jesus became aware of this, he departed.”

“God on the move” is somewhat different than how most religions see things.  Unlike many of the pagan gods, who resided in golden calves or other objects, our God was above and beyond ritual object, elusive and uncontainable.

In the days of the Temple, God was thought to live there, but for most of Jewish and Christian existence, there has been no temple.  And yet, God was with them during their captivity in Egypt.  God was present throughout the Wilderness journey.  God was directing things in Babylon and preparing a way back.

In the New Testament, we hear in marvelous new ways in which God is on the move.  God has come to earth, and is walking amongst us.  The Son of God travels even to the Decapolis, a place of ten Gentile cities, where greed and commerce reign supreme.  It was considered dirty places for any good Jew to go.  And yet Jesus went.

Then Jesus’ followers traveled to all parts of the world.  Paul went not only to Corinth, but to many places where no Jews or Christians lived.

The message to us is becoming clear: God is coming to you!  You do not need to seek God out anymore to have a “God experience”.  God will find you if you don’t find God.

And we are a part of that story!  We pick up where Paul left off.  And we have some of the same work as Paul, Ezra, the Twelve Disciples, or even Moses had – to lead God’s people into the joyous embrace of a Loving God who found us long before we went looking for him.

Where is God in your life today?  How do you see God walking beside you and guiding you through life’s travails?

-Matt

Being with God in the Midst of Pain

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Lam. 2:8-151 Cor. 15:51-58Matt. 12:1-14

Today in Lamentations, we encounter a poetic and stylized description of the suffering that Jerusalem has endured.  Instead of simply hearing “Jerusalem fell” we hear “God has bent his bow like an enemy, with his right hand set like a foe; he has killed all in whom we took pride in the tent of daughter Zion.”

Why beautify such disaster?  It certainly engages the soul, making it memorably, as poetry brings it into the realm of the human heart.  “My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns.”  There are times when we are not asking God “Why?” or spending our energy being angry with God – we are just wrapped up in our own raw emotions.

Lamentations, as a book, is letting us know that is all right.  It is all right to be with God in pain, and to endure pain and suffering along with God, who also grieves for the fallen Israel and Judah.

In Matthew, we get a similar picture of God – one who walks with us.  Jesus is walking along with the disciples and they are hungry.  He gives them something to eat.  They get in a heap of trouble for this, and arguably even more trouble when Jesus ends his defense with, “For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

We learn more than just “mercy is more important than sacrifice”.  What we learn is that God understands and knows, even though God is above and beyond the human experience.  God is Lord of all this, and despite this in not like the lord of the manor who remains far removed from the plight of the slaves.  No, our God is one who walks with us in the midst of pain and suffering, despair and want.

I am not sure what it is, but I have a number of friends who are in the midst of suffering as well.  Some are struggling with illness, others struggling financially, and others dealing with death of a loved one.  And we learn much from Lamentations and this passage in Matthew about how to respond.  We are called, not to try to talk them out of the struggle or the illness, for words like that are not meant to heal, but to simply walk along with them, like God walks with us.

It is the sense of “togetherness” that brings much power to Jesus’ ministry, and to the steadfast love and faithful presence of the Lord God throughout the Old Testament.

May we remain present and faithful and honest and true – to ourselves and to the world to which we minister.  And may we always remember God walks with us too.

-Matt

Resting in God

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Lam. 1:1-5(6-9)10-121 Cor. 15:41-50Matt. 11:25-30

I have been talking to a friend who is struggling with his call to ministry.  He seems burdened in a way that I have not seen before.  It is indeed difficult to hear God’s reassurance and comfort in the midst of distress – in the midst of difficult times.  There are times I struggle – I think every minister does.  And the current state of things doesn’t help.  We live in difficult times in the church – theologically, relationally, economically.

Today Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

While it is a beautiful invitation into letting go of burdens and resting in God alone, but it is also a continuation of Matthew’s theme of “turning from darkness.”

The themes of wisdom and turning from the darkness continue: the context of his words “Come to me” are said in the midst of Jesus explaining that God’s Word has been hidden from some, and that Wisdom resides with those who dwell in him, who dwells in the Father.  He is providing a picture of personified Wisdom.  This is a common biblical theme.

And then the powerful image: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   This, too, is a common theme found elsewhere in scripture, and often used as a rabbinic metaphor to understand the difficulty in following Torah, but yet the great freedom that comes with it as well.

A yoke is a curious image, something that ties two beasts of burden together.  It is a symbol of work – hard work at that.  I’m not sure there is a field easy enough to plow that my thought would be, that yoke is easy and that burden sure was light!

The turning from darkness continues.  The irony of following God continues.  At the heart of much of what Jesus says is the conundrum You will lose your life in order to gain it.”

There is no where these ironies come into focus than at the Lord’s Supper.  At the table the mystery is complete, confounding those who do not understand.  This is part of the trajectory of Jesus’ teaching on wisdom – that of mystery.  He begins today’s passage with “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”  It may seem strange to our Western ears to be giving thanks to God for NOT understanding, but that is precisely what Jesus does.

His ministry is not meant to be fully understood, but to be authentic to the mystery and awesomeness of God.  The cross and the table are two major conundrums that may never be fully understood.  So it is with God, who is holy, sacred, and whose greatness can never be matched or touched.  Jesus gives thanks for this, and declares that in him is rest from the conundrum.

-Matt

On Track

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Jer. 44:1-141 Cor. 15:30-41Matt. 11:16-24

It has been a week of slow recovery.  Rarely do I get sick.  This last week has been one of the most brutal chest infections ever in my life.  I thought it was just a cold, but it kept getting worse and worse.  But when Sunday rolled around and I felt remarkably better, I pressed on to Duncan to preach.  It took a little more out of me than I counted on, and as the drive back to OKC wore on I thought maybe my decision-making was not up to snuff.

“Slow, Matt.  Rest.  Lots of fluids.  More rest.” I keep telling myself.  But do I listen?  Sometimes I’m like an obstinate little child who doesn’t even listen to reason.  And it’s my own reasoning!

When I opened up  the Jeremiah text, with people on the move, I almost got light-headed all over again.  Of course theirs is a completely different context.  Instead Jeremiah provides a lengthy sermon rebuking those Jews who fled to Egypt and left those in Israel high and dry.  And now Jerusalem has fallen, and he implicates everyone in the disaster.  He certainly was given harsh words to convey.

Firm, sometimes even harsh words are something that are common in the lies of youngsters, as they learn the boundaries of their lives (i.e. where they can and cannot go, what they can and cannot touch).  And so when I read Jeremiah sometimes I think he was dealing with a bunch of children.  And perhaps in many ways we all are.

We are all at the beginning of our faith, and in the eyes of God, we are probably like little children.  Luckily we have a God who has patience, and whose way is always mercy.

This we learn most clearly as we see the Old Testament stories unfold – time and time again the people are given other chances.  And they are given the voices of the prophets to reprove and correct them.

Glory be to God, for the gift of mercy, and at times, the gift of harsh words, which keep us on the straight and narrow.

In the meantime, I am going to ease into this week, and try to listen to God and my body a little better.

-Matt

Scripture’s Power

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Jer. 37:3-211 Cor. 14:13-25Matt. 10:24-33

I am back from a week-long conference.  The Mid Council Leaders Gathering was delightful time of connections and relationship-building.  Unfortunately I had limited internet and then came back with a nasty head cold.  It’s gonna be a rough day.

I turned to our scripture for today and that didn’t help my state of mind.  The readings are strange at best.  They speak of thoughts of the mind, speaking foreign languages, cutting old family ties, and the cost of discipleship.  Out of context they hardly make sense, and it is difficult to reflect on them in many ways.

Sometimes what is required is a step back from scripture.  One must see things in their context, or understand the underlying plot at hand.  Too often I see preachers zone in on a small slice of scripture and totally misrepresent it.  This can be almost universally experienced with television preachers.  There is sooo much bad preaching on TV!

What is required is critical thinkers for Christ.  We need deep thinkers, and people willing to spend a life-time reflecting on how these words are true.

That is, in many ways, what you are doing by enrolling in Morning Reflections!  You are committing yourself to daily scripture reading – to a broader understanding, a contextual understanding.  I am thankful to be able to share these random thoughts with you and engage in daily prayer and study with you.

Sometimes I think very intensely about these scripture.  Just not today.  My head hurts.

Today is a day to just let the texts wash over me.  Sometimes even that can be a comfort.

-Matt

Spiritual Gifts

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2 Kings 23:4-251 Cor. 12:1-11Matt. 9:18-26

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

I think back to the many times I have heard this passage read in worship, often during the commissioning of mission workers or Christian educators.

“To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing, to another working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discernment, to another various kinds of tongues, to another interpretation of tongues.”

Best Icebreaker: Have everyone take out a sheet of paper.  Give the instructions, “Best you can, rip it into a circle.”  Then say, “Each of you is your circle.  You have gifts.  You have strengths that I do not have, or the person next to you may not have.  Write down one or two of your greatest strengths…those gifts which you possess that may enrich our time together.”

Then, if it is a large room of people working in small groups, I simply ask the group to slide their circles into the middle of the table so all can see.

Say, “All of these are activated by one of the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

It is a wonderful way to start.  When I have done this, often participants almost immediately feel a sense of community – of working together toward a common goal.  I certainly did!  I felt invigorated, as if I was surrounded by many gifts, especially if it is a gathering that has been asked to share openly and freely, taking a covenant to respect diversity and awareness of gifts.  It is a wonderful way to value the expertise already in the room, build an attitude of collegiality immediately, and deflate any sense of “teacher – student” in the room.

Sometimes I have groups post all the circles on the window of the classroom, and periodically would draw from people’s strengths.  Or if names had been included on the circles, sometimes in the middle of a presentation, someone would get up an add a strength to another person’s circle – some spiritual gift they noticed about the person then and there.

I wonder if we shouldn’t do this at board meetings.

This passage strikes at the heart of who we are as the body of Christ – a covenanted community with a diversity of gifts – and in that diversity we find our unity, our strength, and our power.

-Matt