Sunday, March 31, 2013

Facing the Future ~ Luke 24:1-12 ~ Resurrection of Our Lord

I swear I’ve seen this commercial a thousand times—and still, I find it funny:

A man is standing on the sidewalk beside his wrecked car.  A woman he knows meets him on the street, and she doesn’t believe the man when he tells her about all the benefits of his care insurance company.

“Where did you hear that?” he asks.  “On the internet…  Don’t you know?  They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true.”

And then appears an disheveled, unkempt, fanny-pack-wearing man she introduces as her new boyfriend.  “I met him on the internet,” she says.  “He’s a French model.”  He grunts out a “bonjour” and the two go off happily on their date.

I guess that the reason why I find this commercial funny is because we don’t always make good choices when it comes to what we believe to be true.  We’ve all been there.  We’ve played the fool and believed something that isn’t true. 

When we believe something, we act on those beliefs—for better or worse.  We live our lives based on those beliefs.

Yet at the same time, there are things we should believe—that we don’t.  We either dismiss them as untrue—or brush them off as of no consequence to us.

Take Jesus’ disciples…  The three women return from Jesus’ tomb and tell them that Jesus is alive!  But they dismiss that as “an idle tale…”

And though we may inclined to chide them for their unbelief, we must keep in mind what they’d gone through in the last several days.  The same Jesus they witnessed performing amazing deeds of power like healing the sick and raising the dead—had been arrested, tried, and crucified.  In their minds, all of this pretty much invalidated everything they’d seen and heard from Jesus beforehand.  There simply wasn’t anything to believe about Jesus.  He was dead.

His death changed everything—because they didn’t just lose a friend.  They lost their teacher; the one who brought God down to earth for them.  And they lost their purpose in life.

When Jesus was crucified, their whole world came crashing down.

We all know what that feels like. 

We all find ourselves in times of confusion, pain, and darkness.  Our world turns upside-down.  One day, life is fine; we’re getting by—then the next, everything’s in pieces.  Prayers go unanswered; problems keep piling on, and there’s not a single sign of hope on the horizon.

In times like these, it’s a struggle to believe in any good news from God.  But that’s not the way we struggle to believe.

The other way we struggle is in believing that Jesus’ resurrection has any meaning for our daily lives.  It is so easy to remember it as an event in history—and leave it at that.  We know it’ll mean something when we die, but we struggle to connect it to today.

But God did not raise Jesus from the dead so that Jesus could live up in heaven apart from the world he loves.  God raised Jesus to live in the world he loves—and in new and powerful ways. 

He is alive so that you may live in a relationship with him.  That is the gift God gives you this Easter Sunday.  He is truly present in God’s Word of promise; in the fellowship we share today; and in the meal where he gives us his body and blood.  And he will go with you as you face the daily challenges of life. 

Our beliefs have a powerful influence on how we live our lives and the decisions we make on a daily basis—and this is one belief we must act upon. 

Because Jesus is alive, we can pray with absolute confidence that God will answer hear every prayer and answer us according to what is truly best for us.

We worship God and open the Scriptures with the faith that Jesus will meet us and fill our hearts and minds with his presence.

We commit acts of bold mercy towards others—with the faith that God can use you just as you are to bring new life to others

We commit acts of bold testimony and witness—using our words and our actions to tell the story of our Savior.  Hope that is real is a hope that must be shared.

Facing the future can be quite daunting, with the way things are in this world, and how the passage of time brings changes and losses that make life more difficult.  The tragedies and injustices we see all around us have a powerful way of leading us to believe that the world is spiralling out of control—and that there is no hope.

But Jesus is alive, raising up to new life all that is broken and dead.  That is the good news we take from the empty tomb.  We are commanded by God to believe the good news—because when we believe, we will see the works of Jesus.  We will see and know the new life he brings.

If you are ready to live in an active faith, anticipating Jesus bringing you new life in every day, you will see that Jesus’ promises are not idle tales—but unquestionable truths.  Jesus will walk with you into the future—answering your prayers; guiding you through times of uncertainty, strengthening you in times of weakness, forgiving you in times of failure; saving you in times of trial. 

Seek the risen Jesus where you know he is found—and let Jesus give you a tomorrow full of hope; and a future full of new life.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Love Him Back ~ John 12:1-7 ~ Fifth Sunday in Lent

I was at the grocery store this week, picking up a few things.

I went to the express line, and after a few minutes in line, I came to the conclusion that the sign overhead was an unfortunate contradiction in terms.

While I was waiting, I noticed the male customer ahead of me.  He’d just put on the belt ten cans of Cesar brand premium dog food.   I’m talking prime rib, Filet Mignon; a five star feast for Fido.

Then, he put five TV dinners on the belt—which were on sale this week for eighty-eight cents.  And a Twix bar…

I thought to myself, “the dog will be eating better than him tonight.”

But later that night I saw a commercial on TV for that same dog food—and you know what their slogan is?  “Love them back.” 

As silly as this looked to me, it wasn’t silly to him.  He loves his dog—and he was treating his dog to the best. 

What we see happening in today’s Gospel is not all that different…

A woman named Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with a bottle of costly perfume, and wipes his feet with her hair.  This perfume wasn’t just Chanel No. 9; this was worth nearly a year’s wages.

All the while Judas Iscariot looks on disgust…  “What a waste!” he complains.  Judas sees only the dollars and cents—that he could have taken for himself…  He has no love for Jesus—even though Jesus continues to love him, later washing his feet and eating the Passover with him—all while KNOWING that Judas will betray him.  He doesn’t understand Mary’s gesture as an act of extravagant love.  Love isn’t something Judas understands.

At the same time, it’s important for us to understand WHY Mary does what she does…  She’s not trying and win Jesus’ love.  She does this because Jesus loves her.  Jesus cared for her and her sister when their brother Lazarus died.  He wept for them.  And Jesus raised her brother from the dead.

And Jesus loves YOU just the same.  His body and blood he poured out on the cross because you are precious to him.  Your sins are washed away, and you are forgiven and loved.  And he will raise you up on the last day.

So what other ways have you been blessed by Jesus’ love?  What good gifts has Jesus given?  What prayers has he answered?  Has he helped you through trials and tribulations that you didn’t think you’d make it through?

Jesus’ love isn’t something we merely sing about or hear about.  Since we are baptized into Jesus, his love is our life.  We are given the gift of faith to witness this love every day.  

So the question is: do you love him back?

Anyone can answer yes to that question, because Jesus is easy to love.  But does your LIFE reflect your love for Jesus?  Do you love Jesus with all your might, all your heart and with all your might?  Do you love Jesus with your time and your money and your energy?  Love that is not expressed in LOVING ACTS towards the one you love really isn’t love at all.

Last week, I stumbled upon what has to be the stupidest show on television.  It’s called Guinness World Records Gone Wild.  It’s about people who attempt to set or break world records—and not the kind that improve society.  These are stupid records.  One hour I spent watching people smash watermelons with their heads, and throwing refrigerators.  I stayed tuned to the very end to watch a man dive thirty feet off a platform into a wading pool full of marshmallows. 

And I thought to myself later, “what a spectacular waste of time for a few laughs.”  And with everything happening in my life and in the world, couldn’t my hour have been better spent participating in what is truly precious and valuable in my life?

One of the biggest obstacles to living in passionate devotion to Jesus is that we lack faith that our acts of love are going to yield anything meaningful for us.  Why pray when I’m so tired?  Why read the Bible if I won’t understand it?  Why go to church when I’ve got other things to do?  Why help others if I won’t solve all their problems? 

If we really love Jesus, these should all be no-brainers.  But much of the time, we rationalize ourselves out of these acts of devotion—without even thinking.  We comfortably ASSUME that Jesus will still love me if I do these things or not.  And he will.  But that’s not the problem.  The problem is: DO YOU LOVE JESUS?

In these times of scarcity, there’s part of us that can’t help but cringe at the fortune being spilled on Jesus’ feet.  But Mary has no regrets—and neither will we if we follow her example.  In Mary we witness the JOY of loving Jesus.  Whether it’s passionate devotion, self-denial, compassionate service, or the forgiveness of others; when we love Jesus OUTWARDLY and give that which is most precious and even most SCARCE to us for Jesus’ sake, we won’t be sorry.  The joy of the Lord is ours when we love Jesus this way. 

As we grow in faith and knowledge of Jesus, it won’t be long before we’ll count as RUBBISH everything else that distracts us away from him.

We waste ourselves and our lives on so much that is fleeting and gone; laughs and cheap thrills last for a moment; material things we eventually throw away or sell for pennies at a yard sale.

Jesus Christ is no cheap thrill.  He is the life and light of the world.  In this world of sin and pain, joy can be ours if only we will rest ourselves in him.

This Lenten season we journey with Jesus to discover anew his love for us in the life he gives for our sake.  Now is the time for us to empty out the rubbish, so that Jesus may fill us with the love claims us and the love that saves us.

The best news you will ever hear is that Jesus loves you.  So rejoice—and love him back.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Grace Standard ~ Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 ~ Fourth Sunday in Lent

Now that we’re older, my younger sister and I love to reminisce on all mischief we got into as kids.  We fought and argued like siblings do, but there were a few times when we were a tag-team of mayhem.

When we were in pre-school, we got the idea that we wanted to make our own snow.  So we raided the cabinet under the sink in the bathroom—and took out two bottles of talcum powder.  We shut the bedroom door, opened the bottles, and began shaking them feverishly.  With flying colors we succeeded in making our own little blizzard.

Then Mom opens the door to find her two little snow-makers caked in powder, along with all the furniture in the room—and the carpet.  To make matters worse, the open door created a vacuum which sucked the powder blizzard out into the rest of the house.  Mom said it took almost two weeks to clean up the mess.

That’s childhood mischief; small potatoes when compared with the disgraceful antics of an adult son who certainly should’ve known better.

He goes to his father and asks him to “advance” him his share of his father’s estate.  To do such a thing basically says, “Dad, I wish you were dead because I want your money.”

The father gives the son the estate, and immediately the son takes off to another country to live the high life.  But it isn’t long before the money runs out—and he hits rock bottom.  He has no choice but to hire himself out as a slave—but still, he’s starving…  All out of options, he sets out for home—concocting an apology along the way.

Now we all know that he has no reason to be optimistic.  Why should he expect anything from his father, other than for him to slam the door in his face and leave him in the filth he created?  The son “made his own bed” and now he has to lie in it.  Isn’t this the way it should be?  The father would be fool to accept his son’s phony apologies and give him a place in his household, EVEN as a slave.

But what happens?  The father has gone far from home to search for his lost son—and then finds him.  The father runs to him, with arms wide open, embracing him and kissing him.  Notice how you hear no stern lectures or words of rebuke.  Instead, the father gives him the finest robe, a gold ring, and sandals for his feet.  He kills the fatted calf and they feast—and for what reason?  “My son who was dead is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

So now—who’s the bigger fool?  The wayward son—or the Father?

The eldest son seems to be the only voice of reason in this whole family.  He’s never been unfaithful to his father—and yet he gets not even a measly goat as a reward.   But the father is undeterred.

This parable teaches us that God does not operate on human standards of what’s fair and unfair.  God operates on one standard alone: that of grace. 

In this parable, we behold a God who mercifully sees past your sins; through your shame and self-loathing remorse or your pride and self-assurance.  Even when we reject God and go our own way, ours is a God who seeks us out, finds us, and brings us home. 

In Christ, we are not just saved from death.  Jesus saves us even from ourselves.

Therefore, we can all, all approach the throne of God with the utmost confidence that God will never reject us. 

God rejoices to lavish us in compassion and forgiveness and saving love. God’s righteous anger is for a moment; but God’s mercy is everlasting.

So what are you waiting for?  God has prepared for you a banquet; to celebrate that you are God’s own. 

NOW is the time to join the feast of God’s victory.  Now is the time to bring before God your cares and your prayers; your sorrow and shame.  Give to God your life; lose yourself in his mercies, and he will transform you from the love of sin to being one with Jesus in his righteousness.  God will give you the eyes of faith to believe.  God will give you the courage to embrace tomorrow, with the utmost confidence that the wicked one has no power over you.

All thanks and praise to God that God does not deal with us according to what we deserve.  God gives us what we need.  No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, God rejoices to call you his own. 

Once you were lost; now you are found.  Therefore, let us join the celebration and live together in the joy of the Lord.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Urgent Message: Immediate Action Required ~ Luke 13:1-9 ~ Third Sunday in Lent

I don’t know about you, but there are stories and passages of Scripture I find downright disturbing.  It is always with certain discomfort that we read passages which warn of God’s judgment and wrath. 

It can be downright scary to read of an angry God striking down sinners.  It’s hard to know what to make of such texts.
It begs the question: should we live our lives in a state of mortal terror before a holy God?  Is our salvation uncertain?
Or, should we just ignore these passages?  After all, we’re not a hell, fire, and brimstone kind of church.  So, perhaps these just apply to people other than us…  Or, maybe they don’t apply to anyone; as if God is making threats that won’t be carried out…
But who are we to say that God would make an empty threat?  Who are we to say that Jesus’ words  don’t apply to us?
If we look carefully at today’s Gospel, we’ll find that Jesus is not threatening us with hell.  He’s warning us about life—and how quickly it can change—or be ended…
Jesus speaks of to two notorious events that would have been fresh in everyone’s memory.  The first was an absolute atrocity: Pontius Pilate brutally slaughters Jewish pilgrims from Galilee, and then uses their blood to desecrate Tempe sacrifices .  The second was a freak accident: the Tower of Siloam falls, and eighteen people die. 
If we listen carefully to Jesus’ words, we won’t find him saying that any of these persons were being punished for being especially heinous sinners.  But Jesus uses these events as warnings: we never know what can happen in life.  That is why the time for repentance is now.  This is something we cannot afford to put off until another time…
 The call to repentance is one we must all answer with utmost urgency.
And yet—the first thing we must bear in mind that repentance is not something we do to make ourselves right with God.  Repentance happens when Jesus makes us right with God.
It begins when we realize the depth of our own sin and face the fact that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.  And thanks be to God, we don’t have to…  We have only to receive God’s gifts through faith: Our sins are forgiven.  We are accepted as God’s own unconditionally.  No matter where we’ve been in life or what we’ve done, God receives us as his own.
So repentance begins by taking hold of Jesus Christ and his righteousness.  But we cannot do that without first letting go of everything else—and this is the hardest part.
For there are many other urgencies in our lives.  In all our lives there’s this thing called worry. 
Do you know what worry is?  Worry is that twisted belief that “God can’t, but somehow I can,”  as if to say that we have the power to make everything right; to fix the past and control the future.  At the same time, we worry about what we cannot change; we worry about a future we cannot control or predict. 
What keeps you awake at night?  What brings you stress?  What is it that distracts you most when you’re trying to pray or study Scripture—or even as you sit here today?  What in your life do you fear you cannot live without? 
Repentance is our refusal that any of these to take precedence over Christ.  It is an act of faith: in that by putting Christ first, we are entrusting everything else in our lives to God.  It’s giving up our insatiable need to control everything—then entrusting to God all the uncertainties; all the unknowns.  Instead of worrying and feeling sorry for yourself, just imagine using that time and energy on participating in Christ.  Imagine the peace and joy of trusting and obeying Jesus—instead of living at the mercy of worry.
A big part of repentance means accepting the fact that life will bring us a lot of stuff that just downright stinks—and there’s nothing we can do to change that.  But today, Jesus assures us that when heartache and suffering come our way, God will use these as fertilizer to nurture us in our daily walk with him.  In the midst of things that crush us, weigh us down, and drive us to doubt, Jesus can work in and through them all for your salvation.  It’s true that we can know Jesus more deeply as he helps us deal with the crap of life.
So many Christians live their lives at the threshold of God’s grace…  They acknowledge Jesus in name—without ever really knowing him.  Some just can’t let go of that need to control everything instead of resting in the hands of a loving God.  Yet life can change in an instant—and we don’t want Christ to be a stranger when that happens.  So we must obey Jesus’ urgent call today: to take hold of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ, so that he may become our consuming passion.  Where there’s worry and stress, we must redirect our energy away from things we cannot control or change to participating in the life of Christ.  And finally, we must trust God, that when the bottom drops out and life downright stinks, that Jesus is still working even then to care for us every step of the way.  Imagine trading in worry and frustration for the peace of Jesus—and the unfailing hope of knowing him.  That gift is yours to receive today.  So seek the Lord while he may still be found.