Hope

Rivers in the Wilderness

There is a wonderful refrain in Isaiah 43, “I will make [for you], a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”  This is the promise that God gives to us just before we launch into a new adventure. This is the promise that we hear just before something traumatic upsets the fruit basket of our lives. It’s Lent and the disciples are following Jesus towards Jerusalem. Things are about to get interesting. For the last three years, the Jesus movement has been enjoying the quiet hills of  Galilee and steadily growing as people come out for picnics with the greatest story teller that ever lived. Now Jesus says that we are going to where he will be betrayed into the hands of angry men and crucified. Trauma. And after trauma, wilderness. When it happens to us, can we remember the promise about streams in the desert? 

 

Sunday, March 13, 2016
Lent 4

Past, Present, and Future

Psalm 126 is easy to outline: It starts in the past, with praising God, then touches on the present which isn't going so well and needs prayer, then sings about the future (prophesy)

Part 1 -- past & praise

There is a good remembering of the past, and a bad one. The church spends most of its time doing bad remembering. Bad remembering includes, but is not limited to the following:

Sunday, October 25, 2015
Pentecost 25

What Changes and What does Not

One way to say something different about the familiar Psalm 23, is to list the things that are constant about our relationship with God and give personal examples for each. Then point out that the psalm deals with the scary changeableness of life and its great transitions. This contrast, lulling people into a security with the familiar aspects of their favorite psalm, then hitting them with the harsh realities that demand faith, can be effective, if you don’t show your hand ahead of the big reveal.

 

The Relational Constants:

The hierarchy of Lord/Servant and Shepherd/Sheep

The provision of God - meeting our needs

Ethical certainty - Rod and Staff…

Eternity - I’ll dwell for ever more…

Sunday, July 19, 2015
Pentecost 11

Speaking of Addiction

Here is a challenge: use these words, “for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” (Romans 8:13) to speak about addiction. I say this cautiously: first, because the passage speaks in a very elegant way about the Holy Spirit and most congregations need to hear that message. Second, because none of us want to repeat the judgmental, temperance, language of our grandparent’s church. Third, because only a few in the church will be ready to hear the message and act upon it.

 

That being said, note a few advantages to this passage as a teachable moment in the discussion about drugs and other addictive agents in our society.

 

Sunday, May 31, 2015
Pentecost 2

Old and New

We have this image as we face the New Year of an old man being pushed off of life’s stage by an infant. Meanwhile, in the Bible, we find the baby, Jesus, being brought by his parents to the temple on the first Sunday after Christmas and there are these two old geezers blocking the way to the altar. Simeon and Anna, both older than eight track tapes, have to say their bit before we can get on with the story of the incarnation. And we say, ‘Oh I get it. Everything new gets old real quick.’ But we don’t get it. The exact opposite is being spoken by the Holy Spirit. God has intruded into our cycle of birth - innocence - rebellion - maturity - midlife - old age - and death. He has given us something eternal. What we see is not a generational division, but a timeless unity.

 

Sunday, December 28, 2014
Christmas 1
Sunday between Christmas & New Year's

A German Shepherd Teaches Psalm 23

v1) I have proven myself incapable of distinguishing between what I need and what I want. The Master lays down for me nutritious food and clear water. I beg for table scraps, wolf them down, and barf it all up on the carpet. I root through the garbage, I drink from the toilet. In spite of all this, the Master loves this shepherd.

 

v2-3) Our friendship has been formed by many walks. It is in going out into the world that I have come to know my Master’s will. He leads me around dangers and across busy streets. He seems to know both the destination and the lessons I need to learn on the way. He knows when I need to rest, or take a drink. He always has a bag handy for when I poop. He waits patiently for me and teaches me to wait for him.

 

v 4) I don’t think about death. I know that my Master’s life will go on much longer than mine. I simply hope that he will remember me. The Master has disciplined me when I’ve needed it. He has guided me when I have been anxious. In fact, he has never failed at this. I am comforted. I have the strength to face the unknown.

 

Sunday, May 11, 2014
Easter 4

Consequences of Easter

A while back there was a song by Bob Carlisle which went; "We fall down, we get up... and a saint is just a sinner who falls down and gets up.” In I Peter 1, we are reminded of the three consequences of Easter: Eternal Life, Living Hope, and Glorious Joy. Our celebrations on Easter tend to focus on Eternal Life, because that is the ‘big sell’when presenting Jesus to our secularized, unbelieving, world. But to our friends, family, and even ourselves, Hope and Joy might be the harder sell. All three Easter consequences, have a “we fall down, we get up” quality.

 

Living Hope: My Father loved to play chess when he was a boy. He was good at it.  This made it hard for him to find anyone to play him. He had a sister named Betty. To get Betty to play chess with him, he invented a new rule. The rule was, whenever Betty was losing, she had the right to stop the game and turn the board around and play the winning side. Part of what makes hope alive for Christians is the way we get to turn the tables on our defeats. We don’t go to church because we are good at life. We go because we are losing and need God’s grace to turn the tables on life. Where we are failing, we find forgiveness. When we are alone, we find fellowship. Sometimes the support for life comes in strange and mystical ways, from God directly. Other times it comes as the person beside us in our Sunday School class. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014
Easter Day2

John, Mary, and Mandela

In this season, as we remember Mandela, one of the great prophets of our time, we should be mindful of the parallels between his life and message and that of John the Baptist. Mandela, like John, was imprisoned for speaking truth to power. Be careful not to think that John lost his head, and Mandela spent decades breaking rocks in the sun, because they criticized the morals of those on the throne. The revolution that Mary, Mandela, and John were involved with went much deeper than a few sermons against marrying your brother’s wife. John was a thorn in the side of the Herodian dynasty. He preached dignity for the laborer, transparency in government, and the accessibility of God’s Kingdom for all.

    Mary sang of the hope that drives great prophets, both old and new; “[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). These were political words. Then, as today, women were instrumental in manifesting the new vision. We think of Winnie Mandela, who articulated the vision while Nelson was in prison. We think of the persistent widow in Jesus’ story (Luke 18:1-8) about prayer. Jesus ends that story by saying that God hears our cries for social justice.

Sunday, December 15, 2013
Advent 3

What Zerubabbel needed to see

The Sadducees were ‘sad-you-see’ because they didn’t believe in a better world to come. Haggai asks Zerubabbel to remember the former glory of the temple, and then compare it to how things stand today. I find it hard not to be ‘sad-you see,’ whenever I’m asked to make similar comparisons. It’s hard to be upbeat about the months to come when it’s November. Already, I awake hearing the furnace rumble and shiver as I walk the dog. It’s hard to believe that the best is yet to be when you get a senior discount with your coffee at McDonalds. It’s hard to believe in eternal life when everything you know rusts and falls apart. Yet Jesus came blessing people with hope. Haggai was sent to Zerubabbel to say that what lies ahead will be far more glorious than the gilded age of your fondest memories.

    There is an important word in Haggai 2:4; Courage. It is repeated three times as if there are a trinity of applications for God’s people. When we look at our personal lives, we need to take courage in the reality of Heaven. Our bodies are mortal, from the moment of our birth we begin to die. Our culture idealizes youth and denies the wisdom of believing in a pie in the sky. Our culture wants us to become sad-you-see. It asks silly questions like, “If there is a heaven, whose wife is Elizabeth Taylor now?” or “If the big bang and evolution explains everything, why do we need God?” Today, it takes courage to trust in the resurrection of the dead.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fundamentals

One key fundamental is ‘soul.’ Soul was there at the beginning of my journey with Jesus. Even now, forty years later, I know that the reason I became a Christian is because something deep, true, and beautiful, resonated with my soul. But, soul is difficult to define. I am attending the funeral today for an 84 year old man. The priest is sure to speak about John’s soul. I will nod as I am reminded how the soul provides a much needed continuity to life. Over his lifetime John’s body and mind underwent many changes.

Well Placed Hope

The definition of faith as the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1 KJV), has always felt to me like an algebraic equation. You just plug in faith as the unknown ‘x’ and the math leads to saintly people doing dangerous things. So you read on in the chapter and you find that by faith: Noah builds a really big boat, Abraham leaves Ur and sacrifices his son, Moses leaves the palace and splits the Red Sea, and Rahab the prostitute commits high treason. All this seems a bit mysterious until you circle back to the word hope.  Hope, not faith, defines the passage.

 

I write fiction, from time to time. Call me Ishmael, but the greatest challenge to writing a best-selling novel is not making up the words. It’s developing realistic characters. And, what makes characters believable and interesting is their hopes and dreams. The author of Hebrews understands this. He or she, begins with the most basic hope we all have. In verse 3, we read that by faith we know that the world is not a meaningless collection of random events. Our lives have purpose. The creator of all that is, did it with a plan. God set us into this particular time and place, did so knowing that by faith we would come to glimpse his plan and find hope for our lives. 

 

Sunday, August 11, 2013
Summer

What's It Like Not to Die?

+ Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... + + Therefore my heart is glad... because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead +

The good news is, death has been conquered! We shall not sleep away into dust and forgotten-ness. We shall share the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament provides some good places to reinforce the Easter message that people forget long before the dog days of summer. My favorite is Job 19:23-27:

 

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
    that they were written on a scroll,

that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
    or engraved in rock forever!

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!”

 

Then, there is the story of Elijah being carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:1-14). Because Elijah does not die, he is allowed to make a cameo appearance in the New Testament. I feel it is my duty in preaching to stitch the New and Old components of the Bible back together. Many in our churches have fallen into the Marcion heresy of dismissing the Old Testament and its, supposedly, wrathful Hebrew god. Such Gnostic gibber-jabber is running amok in today’s church and preventing people from grasping the full joy and mystery of the Gospel we proclaim.

 

Sunday, June 30, 2013
Pentecost 7

Three Kinds of Faith

+ I have not found such great faith even in Israel +

“The Great Gadsby” is really about faith and character. Nick seems to be searching for something to believe in, a guiding-principle for his life. He has left the stable confines of his mid-western upbringing. New York is chaotic in its rebellion against prohibition. New York is problematic in its failure to deal with social issues or provide an examples of great persons living noble, charitable, lives. Nick begins the book (or the movie) in need of a Christ-figure. This is what makes it a good launching off point for discussing people like the centurion, and ourselves, that put their faith in Jesus. 

 

Nick’s first New York friends are Tom, Daisy, and the golfing pro, Miss Baker. He observes with horror their lack of faith and their failure to develop anything that approaches an ethical system for life. In a great quote, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes:

 

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made"

Sunday, June 2, 2013
Pentecost 3

What a difference a day makes...

‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’

Today I picked up a book about how blogs are changing the world. The book began with the story of 9-11-2001, as it unfolded in the blog-o-sphere. It was a day that changed many things in America. The day before 911, web pages that provided news content were valued less than the paper they weren’t printed on. In January of 2000, Time Warner had spent half a gazillion dollars to purchase AOL.  In March of 2000, the dot.com stock market bubble burst, making AOL practically worthless. Everyone associated with posting news on the web slinked off the stage in disgrace. On 911, all that changed. The real-time posting of events and commentary throughout the tragedy rolled away any shame the new fangled media might have felt. Before that day, no one would have expected the internet to become the dominant provider of news content that it is today.

 

Joshua 5:9 tells us how on a particular ‘Today,’ God rolled away the disgrace of the children of Israel. They had been slaves in Egypt. Then they became pilgrims wondering across the Sinai desert and depending upon quails, manna, and magical water bearing rocks to stay alive. But this day, this today, they became inheritors of a promised land. On that day, they celebrated the passover with joy and ate the first fruits of Palestine. What is more important, that day they stopped thinking like slaves. They stopped being homeless people. They start being ‘Israel,’ the people who God fights along side.

Sunday, March 10, 2013
Lent 4

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Hope