Sunday, November 23, 2014

Open Mouth, Insert Foot!



Scripture:


Matt. 14:5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Matt. 14:6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod
Matt. 14:7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask.
Matt. 14:8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
Matt. 14:9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given;
Matt. 14:10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison.

Observation:

Just because someone has a position of leadership doesn’t mean that they don’t do stupid things. Now, there could probably be a litany of stupid things that were done by Herod, but this was one of those where he opened his mouth and spoke without thinking what he was saying. The problem was that he publicly offered to grant the daughter of Herodias whatever she asked. I’m not sure that promising a teenager (and I’m not sure she was a teenager, but let’s just go there) anything she wants in front of a crowd of people is ever a smart idea. His reaction to her dancing reveals that he’s not thinking very clearly and is a bit overwhelmed by the moment. In that moment he makes a rash promise and now he is stuck.

His ego wouldn’t allow him to go back on this public promise, although it seemed unwise to him. Rather than face the humiliation of doing the right thing, he moves forward and has John killed. Notice that the scripture says that he is grieved! In his heart he knows what the right thing is to do and yet, he will not do it! He had opened his mouth and now had to live with the consequences.

Application:

Where can we find ourselves in this story? Sadly, probably right there with Herod.

Moved in the moment. There are times that we can be moved by the experience of a moment and we simply fail to think. Emotions are a very powerful thing and can overwhelm our common sense! One slip in an emotional moment and we can make a decision that will ruin our lives.

Declaring a rash promise. Obviously Herod did not think about the consequences of his promise and from a leadership perspective, his promise made no sense. I’m wondering whether his advisers sitting around him cringed when he spoke the words out loud. They were the level headed ones who probably recognized the consequences immediately. This was not going to end well!

Following through when you know it’s the wrong thing. I think of young people who tell me that they have allowed a relationship to develop and go on, even when they knew it was wrong. Eventually they get to a point where they have no idea how to get out of it and so they marry someone they know they should never have married. It’s not just in the area of relationships, but when it comes to experimenting with the world. Is it wrong for me to try those drugs, or gamble away our savings, or ??? That gentle nudge says it’s wrong, and yet we go ahead anyway, too embarrassed to say no.

Herod is a good example for us — of how not to do things. He becomes a giant reminder of the ways in which we can head down the wrong path. May God help us to avoid opening our mouth, and inserting our foot!

Prayer:

Lord, please be my guide and give me wisdom to know when to keep my mouth shut.  Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

We Really Do Need Each Other



Scripture:

Matt. 13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Observation:

Jesus was explaining the importance and value of the past when it is connected to the present and future. The things that the Scribes had learned in the past were valuable if they were placed within the context of what they were currently learning about the kingdom. There could never be a time when they would close the books and say -- that is all there is to learn!

There is an appreciation of the things of the past which brings us to a greater understanding of the present. Both are important, and without both lack the richness of the kingdom of God.

Application:

A week ago I had the privilege of eating dinner with Reuben Welch, author of the book, “We Really Do Need Each Other.” He just recently celebrated his 90th birthday and I was reminding him of the influence that he had on so many of us young people — many years ago at Estes Park in Colorado for a Youth Conference. His book and messages spoke to us about this need for one another.

We need those who have gone before us, for they are treasures in the kingdom. Jesus said that the master of the household would bring out the treasure, old and new. There is beauty in a kingdom which is balanced with old and new. There are things that we learn from tradition — and there are things that we learn from the people of tradition. Sitting at a table and listening to Reuben Welch was a blessing for me. He has experienced so much of life and is connected to people and events that I will never be personally, and yet, he is able to make that connection for me. It was a priceless conversation — the old, and the not so new — spending time talking together.

We really do need each other — for it is in this need for each other that we find the beauty of the kingdom. Too often we are encouraged to seek to minister to that one demographic! That’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said to bring out “what is new and what is old.” This was the kingdom.

We are challenged today to serve in the kingdom in a way which reveals the beautiful gems which have been placed into our hands. The old and the new, glistening and gleaming off of one another, producing a most beautiful experience for the world around us. Jesus was warning the Scribes because they didn’t see the value in both. They hung onto the old. What about us? Do we see the value — or are we hanging on, either to the old, or to the new. Jesus had it right — we really do need each other.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for the blessing of old and new.  Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

On Grief and A Flute Player



Scripture:

Matt. 9:23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion,
Matt. 9:24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.
Matt. 9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
Matt. 9:26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

Observation:

This is a simple story which we have heard or read numerous times. Jesus heals the little girl and the people rejoice.

But at the moment in which he arrives at the home he encounters the professional mourners. These are the flute players, the ones who have come to make a great noise about the child’s death. It is the flute player that testifies to the fact that she is truly dead. Also, flutes were generally employed when it came to the death of a child. The whole community would therefore understand that it is a child who has died in this home.

The flute player is doing the job they have been paid to do! They are loud and pronouncing a very public grief, in essence, standing in the place of the family who may not be able to express their personal pain. The loud and energetic mourning on display by the professional mourners is probably not a pain that is very deeply felt.  The flute player was accustomed to grieving loud and long, as one one who had no hope (but certainly was being paid). It’s important to remember that the loudest grief is not always the deepest. A shallow river produces much more sound than one which runs deep.

The flute player played the role of assisting the family and community in their grieving but with the arrival of the Messiah, all of that changed.

Application:

The role of the flute player stopped me a bit in my tracks for I was a flute player when I was in school. I enjoyed playing in the band, playing my flute, and hanging out with my friends. We were not called upon to be mourners, but instead had the joy of playing the fun high notes that brought a bit of a twist to the music. Sometimes we played high above the melody in notes which filled the spectrum of the music with joy and anticipation. This was fun!

But being a flute player in Jesus’ day — in this role — was not fun. And somehow I think that we might be able to find ourselves in the place of the flute player that day. We continue to live in a world that is punctuated by pain and often we don’t know what we are to do about it. We respond in the way in which we feel comfortable and somehow we pull out our metaphorical flute and begin to make noise.

Someone is hurt and not knowing how to respond we grab our personal instrument — voice, pen, keyboard — and we make noise! Somehow we think that the noise is helpful, just as the flute player. But the music of the flute was really a sign of hopelessness. There was no hope, so the only option was to grieve loud and long.

The grief of the professional mourners did not match that of the parents. It’s that awkward moment when someone says to a devastated parent, “Oh, I know just how you feel,” and then begins a litany of advice on how to just “get over it.” It’s the flute player that’s playing their tune. It’s loud and yet it is shallow. True grief is so painful and deep that barely a squeak of sound can be heard as the pain wells up from within the very viscera of our being. It feels like a bowling ball has been swallowed and with every breath it lands somewhere squarely in the chest. The sobs are muffled and stifled and yet there is the chatter of the flute player. The noise is but a distraction from the real pain and eventually you want the flute music to go away.

The flute player became unemployed that day. No one had ever experienced the power of the Messiah, nor the joy that he could bring. While the flute player continued doing the assigned job, Jesus came and ushered in a new kingdom in which the role of the flute player would be forever changed. Instead of pronouncing the hopelessness of death, the flute player could become an instrument of praise for the Messiah, pointing the way into the new kingdom.

These days no one thinks of a flute being an instrument of mourning. Instead it is associated with the marching band of my high school years, playing the joyful and uplifting notes of the orchestration.

Jesus takes our grief and our mourning and fills it with the presence of his kingdom and in that moment everything begins to shift. Nothing is to remain as it has always been, but instead it is to point us to the one who has power to raise the dead. The flute is playing a new and different tune.

Prayer:


Lord, please be with those whoa re suffering grief today.  Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Do You See?



Scripture:


Matt. 6:22 ¶ “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light;
Matt. 6:23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Observation:

This passage in Jesus’ sermon has given people pause. It’s not entirely clear what it is that he is trying to say but there are those who say there is a physical as well as a moral understanding. Physically the eye is the part of the body which has an affect on every other part of the body. What we see directs the ways in which we will go. The hand responds to bring the food which is seen to the mouth of the individual. Our feet are led on the pathway that is seen by the eyes. There is something incredibly centering about the eye for it receives data which will then influence the remainder of our behavior. This is the problem with a diseased eye, for it cannot clearly interpret the signs and it makes it more difficult for the entire body to remain on track.

From a moral perspective that which the eye sees will drive behavior. Are we singularly focused in our lives — focused upon Christ? This is the moral question regard to the eye. It is the morally healthy individual who will keep their focus on the things of God while it is the spiritually unhealthy individual who will be driven toward the darkness.

Application:

I would like to suggest another way in which to think of the eye for today we understand the role of the retina. It is the beams of light which are absorbed by the nerves which are found in the retina. These are then sent to the brain that interprets what it is that we see. When we keep our focus on Christ, then the light of Christ is what is absorbed by our retina and it is his image which is then transmitted to our brains. Remember the folks in the Old Testament who repeatedly talked about seeking the face of God! There is something about continually seeking Christ, seeking the face of God that becomes burned into who we are.

Remember when we were little children and our parents told us not to look into the sun? Of course, if you are like me, you tried it a time or two! The result was a bright blob in the middle of your vision which remained there for a period of time. No matter where you looked that bright blob was in the middle of your field of vision. The light of the sun had been almost burned into your retina and the image remained long after you stopped looking!

When our eye is healthy — when it can absorb all the light that it sees, then we begin to have a clearer image of Christ, and the longer we look at him, the more the image will remain in us!

The question for us must be, “what do you see?”  What we see will determine how we live our lives. This is true on a moral level, a spiritual level, but also a physical level. Just as the image of Christ can be burned into our eyes and brain, so can the “dark” images that we allow our eyes to see and ponder. This is the problem with pornography. The darkness of the images will be embedded in our brains until there is no room left for the light of Christ. There were problems in Christ’s day with people being engaged in unhealthy practices and he understood this. He knew that if the eye wandered to the dark things of the world, then the whole body would be in darkness.

The only solution to the problem is for the eye to be turned and focused on Christ. He is the source of true light. Whatever it is that we see today, that will control our bodies and become the compass. May it lead us to his light!

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to see your face today.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Massacre of the Innocents



Scripture:


Matt. 2:16  ¶ When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
Matt. 2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
Matt. 2:18     “A voice was heard in Ramah,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
    Rachel weeping for her children;
        she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Observation:

Herod was a man who felt insecure in his position and in no way wanted to be threatened. He interpreted the wise men's lack of return as having been “tricked” or “mocked.” He believed that they were up to something suspicious or else they would have come back and told him about this new “king.”

The scripture tells us, “he was infuriated” and his paranoia led him to over-react. He would have every child in and among Jerusalem two or under killed. An ancient writer by the name of Macrobius let’s us in on a dirty little secret regarding this event. Herod may actually have had an infant son being nursed by a woman in Bethlehem at the time. His own son was among those who was sentenced to death because of Herod’s fears. Macrobius goes on to joke that it’s safer to be a hog in Herod’s land than a son, because Herod had professed to be a Jew and would not kill swine, but would order the murder of his own child!

It is then that we are transported to the time of Jeremiah when the Israelites are carried off into captivity. From very near this same location is found Rachel’s tomb and so now, for centuries the mother of these people has wept over the atrocities which have occurred. Barnes tells us, “By a beautiful figure of speech, the prophet introduces the mother weeping over the tribe, her children, and with them weeping over the fallen destiny of Israel, and over the calamities about to come upon the land. Few images could be more striking than thus to introduce a mother, long dead, whose sepulchre was near, weeping bitterly over the terrible calamities that befell her descendants. The language and the image aptly and beautifully expressed the sorrows of the mothers in Bethlehem, when Herod slew their infant children. Under the cruelty of the tyrant, almost every family was a family of tears; and well might there be lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning.” (Barnes, Matthew 2:18)

The innocent had been massacred because of the insecurity and paranoia of the powerful.

Application:

There are three ways in which we can examine this scripture. The first is in its historical context and gleaning from it the story of what is happening there in the first century. It’s a terrible story that helps us appreciate the power of the new-born Messiah. Although he comes without all the trappings of human royalty his a threat to the kingdoms of this world. This is a reality and he will usher in a new kingdom that will be transformative! Herod ought to be afraid of losing his power to this baby and ultimately, he does!

We may also see the prophetic nature of this physical response to a perceived threat. Sadly this type of response is being repeated today in the Middle East. Innocent people, adults and children, are being massacred because of what some individuals have conjured up in their own minds as perceived threats. We watch the news and read the stories of the innocents being caught in the middle of epic battles for power among emerging groups of leaders. We are overwhelmed by the images of the mothers who are weeping for their children “are no more.” Here is today’s news from friends of mine in Eurasia where you can read about this continued and on-going massacre of the innocents:

http://www.eurasiaregion.org/churches-overwhelmed-in-supporting-refugees-from-radical-extremists/

Finally there is a third way, one in which we may find ourselves culpable. The massacre of the innocents isn’t always on a physical level. Let that soak in a minute. There are times when we take out our own lack of self-image and worth, our own paranoia, on the innocents around us. Those who have power have great responsibility to care for those nearby and not to abuse their power. Sadly, power can be corrupted and the innocents may find themselves being emotionally damaged, massacred, by the behaviors of the powerful.

We may write off Herod as one bad guy, but the story continues to unfold to this day. Caring for the innocent is our responsibility, both physically and emotionally. The massacre of the innocents may also be laid directly at our feet if we refuse to speak up and intervene both at home and abroad.

Prayer:

Lord, may we not be responsible for the weeping of Rachel.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What I want is you!



Scripture:

2Cor. 12:14 ¶ Here I am, ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, because I do not want what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children.

Observation:

There were some who were becoming wealthy by preaching the gospel. They were a burden on the churches where they served and expected the people to care for them in lavish ways.

Paul loved the people in the church as his own spiritual children. As his spiritual children his desire was for their spiritual welfare, not his own material gain. His statement is powerful, “I do not want what is yours but you.” He wants to be with his dearly beloved children, fellowship with them and bring them into a deeper relationship with Christ.

He is their spiritual parent, and just as earthly parents do not expect young children to support them, so he does not expect his young believers to support him. He is to be there for their growth and development. His desires have nothing to do with earthly gain. He loves his children, wants to fellowship with them, disciple them and know that they are following the Lord.

Application:

“What I want is you!” How often is this the message that is sent by those in spiritual leadership?

I’m afraid that some of the difficulty that Christianity faces these days is the fact that this is not the message! I am appalled at some of the wealth that has been accumulated by those who are preaching the word. We have all heard those television appeals for more money and it becomes the spiritual children who have been supporting the parent. Paul said it should not be this way!

But let me take this a step further and maybe a little more personal. Let me translate this verse into our context:

I am not going to be a burden at church and insist that everything happens in the way that I like to have it done. I don’t want it to be about me, but rather, what I want is you. I want you to be at church and learning about the Lord and worshiping him, and if that’s the case, I’m willing to do whatever it takes for you to experience Christ. You see, it’s not important for the older generation to have church the way they we it, because we are spiritual parents to the younger ones. Just as I loved caring for and nurturing my children as they grew up in my home, so I want to do everything I can to provide for the spiritual care and nurture of my spiritual children. All I want is for you to know Christ!

If this were truly the heartbeat of our congregations, things would change! Paul was not selfish but willing to give himself up for those whom he loved. He made it clear that things were not important to him and he wanted to be with and nurture the Corinthians. To truly love others we will give sacrificially for them to know Christ and our response will be the same as Paul, “What I want is you!”

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to love sacrificially.  Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Case for Generosity



Scripture:

2Cor. 8:9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Observation:

Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be a generous people and his arguments seem to always have an illustration which comes from the life of Christ. For Paul, Christ is the example, he is the road map for the believer. Yes, a follower of Jesus Christ is to genuinely follow the example of Christ.

This verse is an echo of the kenosis passage in Philippians 2 — where we see the self-emptying of Christ on behalf of you and me. Again, we see that Jesus gave up the richness of God’s kingdom to enter earthly poverty on our behalf.

Could it be that we see Christ in the beggar who stands on the road carrying the hand-written cardboard sign? The word Paul uses here for “poor” is at its root the word for “beggar.” Yes, our king became a beggar and so we must recognize that in the beggars we may see Christ.

At the same time we must know that Paul is constantly calling us to follow him as he follows Christ. The followers of Christ are called to be a generous people — a people who will give to the poor. The case for generosity is based on the example of Christ.

Application:

If we are to follow the example of Christ then I think we must evaluate what that looks like for us on a daily basis. Obviously this has been a part of the Christian culture. Putnam tells us, “half of all charitable giving in America is religious in nature.” ( Bowling Alone (Kindle Location 2077).  But we should not give, just because it has been historically true for Christians to be generous, but we should be generous because it is the way of Christ.

This really relates to discipleship. Are we learning what it means to be true disciples and followers of Jesus Christ? Jesus was willing to intentionally live a life of poverty to provide a way for us to come to God. Jesus’ entire incarnational life was an act of generosity. As we are living and growing in him, participating in him, we are to be transformed into the likeness of his image, which includes generosity, and while Christians are generous, they still, on average, only give away less than 2% of their annual income. That’s not even a tithe! What does that say for us as Christ’s followers?

Jesus was born into a poor family and he worked hard to help the family. He never aspired to a job that would pay him great amounts of money, but instead lived and worked among the poor so that he could minister to them. At the same time he was comfortable with wealthy folks who were “poor in spirit.” He had wealthy supporters of his ministry and they helped him and the disciples as they did their work.

What do we learn from Christ?

*Intentionality — “he became poor”

*Generosity — he gave away what he had

*Love for the lost — he did this so that we might become rich — rich in becoming partakers of the divine nature.

May we follow Christ practicing intentional generosity from a heart overflowing with love for the poor.

Prayer:

Lord, mold me in your image today.  Amen.