Lost and Found

Read John 20:1-18

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (John 20:15)

“The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven. The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” — N. T. Wright

When Mary Magdalene first saw the empty tomb, her heart sank. The one man who believed in her; the one who had helped her believe, the one she had trusted, now was humiliated even beyond death. 

Mary cries. With her tears, she no doubt recalls the time she had spent with Jesus. The way in which he had received her. He respected her, like no man had done before. To so many others, she was a common prostitute, but to Jesus, she was a child of God. He could see in her the desire for change, the thirst for a new life and he helped her along this path.

Now he was gone. But not for good.

Easter Sunday, 1987. I was driving around aimlessly. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a woman, scarf tied around her head, carrying a large bag. She didn’t know where she was going. I didn’t know where to take her. We were both lost. 

I took her to a downtown church,still smelling of exhaust with the woman in tattered clothes beside me. When we got inside I could feel the stares on us. An elderly gentleman in fine Easter attire ushered us to a quiet space, sat down with us over coffee. You could see the tension slowly lifting from the woman’s face as she began to feel welcomed. He was able to help her find her way home.

I walked out of church that day in tears. I, too, had found my way home. I found Christ not confined to a tomb. I found Christ living in the community of faith, ready to embrace me into his family.

Foolish Prophets

Read Luke 4:14-30

“Truly I tell you,” [Jesus] continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. (Luke 4:24)

“As we see from the Scriptures, it had become a proverbial expression that if someone wanted to refer to a prophet, he called him a fool. — Martin Luther

Steve was a gifted high school student who was asked to serve on the music team of his church. He was reluctant, but agreed to pray about it. In time, he agreed.

Within a month of participating on the worship team, Steve noticed a disturbing trend. Team members were not there to lead worship, but instead to draw attention to themselves and impress their friends. Steve brought this to the attention of the pastor, who dismissed it as immature jealousy. Steve’s prophetic word was ignored and soon the music ministry collapsed.

Some say “familiarity breeds contempt.” One challenge of hometown living is allowing our children to become the unique persons God creates them to be. When we fail to do this, we overlook the Spirit of God who can do new things in unique ways. We also fail to hear what they might teach us about the world, about ourselves. Some of our best leaders and prophets move away because nobody in their hometown listens, nobody accepts them for who they become.

We don’t know what Jesus was like as a child, a teenager, or young adult. But we see that at 30, he is filled with the Spirit of God. He is a teacher who brings the kingdom of God down to earth. People who listen to him find great comfort and encouragement to lead holy and joyful lives; those held captive find release, the blind receive sight, the oppressed are set free. As Jesus teaches, those pushed down are lifted up.

We often place too great an emphasis on visible signs of authority. Prophets are people who speak God’s truth, regardless of social standing. They don’t need formal degrees or impressive titles. True prophets immerse themselves in the Word of God and regularly listen for what God is saying to them and, through them, to the world.

What might a modern-day prophet be saying to you, and to the world today?

How have you treated prophets in your life?

Open the eyes of our hearts and minds, Lord Jesus, to see those who speak for you and hear what you are saying through them.

Our Water, God’s Wine

Read John 2:1-11

… the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. (John 2:9)

“The matters we or the world might consider trivial, He cares about and wants to remedy. He longs to relieve our worries and has promised to supply our most fundamental needs.” ― Charles Swindoll

What do you do when the wine runs out? Is the party over? Do your guests leave? Do you start cleaning up the mess?

When the wine runs out the wedding in Cana, Mary does something about it. She makes the need known to Jesus. At first he seems annoyed. Maybe he is tired of her meddling. Maybe he is playfully chiding her. Whatever the case, he responds to her expressed concern in a miraculous way. Jesus turns sacred water into delicious wine. 

The question for us is, what do we do when our wine runs out?

The wine of romance from your wedding night: a beautiful night with stars shining, music in the air, the smell of roses….gone after 7 years of stormy days, hacking sounds and morning breath. The wine has run out. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine.

The wine of strength from your glory days: lights shining, all eyes on you, carrying the ball across the goal line with a roar from the crowd; now, darkness, alone you hold a pillow over your face. The wine has run out. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine?

The wine of popularity; all pews filled, building projects funded, children confirmed, everywhere holy, happy families. Now, more gaps than bodies, budget crunch, a handful in youth group; broken families, damaged lives. Do you leave? Or do you find some water and let Christ turn it into wine?

When the wine runs out, there is a guest among us who can do something about it.

What wine has run out in your life?

How might Jesus turn your water into wine?

Lord Jesus, you respond to our concerns in amazing ways. Send your Spirit into our hearts that we may boldly come before your throne of grace and lay out our hearts before you.

Get Ready by Giving

Read Malachi 3.1-4

Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,  and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Malachi 3.3b-4)

We need to get ready for the coming of the Lord — not by offering the least that is expected, or the least we can get away with– but, by giving all we can. If we fail to do this, the coming of the Lord will be so intense, so demanding, we won’t be able to stand it.

Early in my ministry, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that required hospitalization for several weeks. I was out of pastoral service for much of that year. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the church to move on without me, perhaps offering me some severance pay to fulfill a Christian duty.

But they did much more than this. They prayed for me daily, offered child care service so my wife could visit me, chipped into cover extraordinary medical expenses, and gave me a paid leave of absence until I became well. The church didn’t have to do these things, but I will be forever grateful they did.

Giving to God is much greater than this. Our lives become much richer, much more meaningful, productive and enjoyable when we give our best to God, just as God has given the best to us, in Jesus Christ our Savior.

 

 

 

True Wisdom

Read James 3.13-17

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  (James 3.13.17)

Lillian poured her heart into everyone that she knew and all that she did. Everyone knew her as Aunt Lil. She had two great loves: her family and her church. Her walls at home were plastered with photographs of children: nieces, nephews, cousins, and neighbors. At church, she was the organist and played piano for Sunday school. Whenever there was a need for more classroom space, for teaching supplies, for childcare, you could count on Aunt Lil to give…her time, her money, and her love.

When Aunt Lil died, she left behind a legacy…not through children of her own, but through wisdom lived and passed on.

Wisdom has nothing to do with craftiness, says James. It has no envy, selfish ambition, chaos, wickedness or complexity. Spiritual wisdom is not demonstrated in the ability to get ahead, to get what you want, to deceive others. Wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, flexible, merciful, bearing good fruit. It is fair; it has integrity. Through wisdom, righteousness is sown – right things are done.

True wisdom has little to do with intelligence or expertise. It is a quality of life – living in harmony with God, with others, with yourself.

More than Human

Read James 3.1

Robert was a member of my church who was asked to be a mentor for Steve, a boy exploring faith. One Sunday, Robert took me aside. Out of breath, he said he had to quit being a mentor. “Why?” I asked.

Robert said, “Yesterday morning, Steve showed up at my apartment at 8 wanting to do something and, well… I wasn’t exactly ready. I had a big party Friday night which sort of, well… spilled over into the next morning, and, you know, it wasn’t good that Steve showed up when he did.”

Teachers, pastors, mentors, even Christians in general, are held to higher standards than others. Some resist this, claiming, “I’m only human.” But we are not only human. Our lives are not our own. We belong to God. This doesn’t mean we are perfect, but we do serve One who is and when we fall into sin, we damage the reflection of God’s holy mission we are to represent.

We may be human, but in Jesus Christ, we are also made holy, set apart for a divine mission that requires us to live up not only to the standards of the world, but to God’s standards. The Spirit of Christ not only shows us a better way to live, but gives us the desire and ability to do so.

Gospel Stress

Read Jeremiah 20.7-1 3Luke 12.49-56  

In Luke 12.50, Jesus says, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” Jesus is stressed. The path God has given him to follow is a difficult and stressful one and in his humanness. Jesus is sent to bring fire to the earth, to light a flame of faithfulness that takes awhile to catch on. His mission is not to soothe the faithful, but to stir up faithfulness and this creates division. 

The path God calls us to follow is rarely the path of least resistance. God often calls us to journey through uncertain waters, to take unpopular stands, to speak against the status quo. The prophet Jeremiah certainly experienced this when he cried out, “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.” The word God gave Jeremiah to speak was a word no one wanted to hear. Jeremiah was caught between holding it and letting it burn inside of him or speaking out and running the risk of losing friends, of gaining enemies and opponents.

Jesus, like Jeremiah before him, finds himself in the uncomfortable prophetic position of pointing out to the people what they fail to see, what they fail to notice. This prophetic task is a stressful mission God calls us to.

So where is there good news in this? What hope is there to offer?

The hope is that God strengthens us to bear the burdens placed on our calling. God does not leave us alone to shoulder the stress, but lives it with us. Jesus tells us “my yoke is easy, my burden light.” This is not because our stress is removed, but because we have someone to share the burdens with, someone stronger to lean on when the pressure gets too great.

There is also an important difference between the kind of stress of worldly demands and the stress of God’s calling. Our worldly stress leaves us spinning in circles. It alienates us, leaving us to feel like we are alone in the world. Worldly stress causes us to shut off from others, from ourselves, even from God.

But the stress of the gospel, the demands of God’s calling, draws us closer together. God weaves these into the fabric of our faith. Being true to our faith convictions may be divisive at times, but it is ultimately unifying. This was true in the life and death of Jesus. Jesus stood up for his convictions and was left to die alone on the cross. But through his death, God has raised to life a community of faith. Ultimately, we are brought together in Christ.

In faith, we can trust that as God moves us to live out our convictions, to stand up for what we believe in, we will not be left alone, not cut off from others, but become an important part of one body in Christ.

God does not ask us to follow the path of least resistance, but the pathway of faithfulness. We serve God not so that God will relieve our stress, but because God has first loved and served us. The promise God offers is that the yoke is easy, the burden light, not because there are no challenges or obstacles along the way, but because God, in Christ, shoulders the burden with us.