Reflection on the Gospels…

I think now, more than ever we need to be people who are shaped by the story of the Gospels. In our world of scandal, Supreme Court Rulings, Political Correctness, terrorism, global disaster, the Gospels are a breath of fresh air

  • Regardless of your personal feelings on current events the way of Jesus calls us to radical, crazy, self-emptying love
  • Jesus, continually, consistently reminds us to love our enemies, turn the other check, to put others first (cf. Mt 5-7)
  • Jesus calls the church to a counter-cultural, cross shaped adventure of self-sacrifice (cf. MK 8:34-38)
  • Jesus’ story reminds us of where we’ve been and where we are going (Mt 1:1-17)
    • History is moving somewhere, or actually moving in the direction of someone
  • Jesus’ story (the Gospels) demonstrate the importance of the OT
    • The OT was the Scriptures of the early church
    • The number of OT quotes in the NT = 343 quotes
      • The majority of which come from Psalms, Isaiah, Deuteronomy and Exodus
      • There are no fewer than 2309 allusions or verbal parallels to the OT in the NT
        • So, to deny or downplay, or even downgrade the OT is an injustice for the follower of Jesus
      • Jesus grew up in a culture shaped by the stories of the OT
        • These great Biblical themes take on new light in and through Jesus
        • We need to keep in mind that the early church believed that Jesus fulfilled the longings and hopes of the OT
          • A long awaited Davidic king
          • Israel longed for a deliverer
          • Eschatological hope for manna – Jn 6
            • Lord do it again mentality
          • Because of Jesus and the connectedness to the OT:
            • The creation narrative takes on new light in light of the new creation available in Jesus – John 20:15
            • The central plot of the OT comes to fruition in Jesus – The Abrahamic promise (seed/descendant, land, blessing to the whole world)
            • The Exodus is recast in Jesus as one like Moses leading the people on a New Exodus out of sin-slavery (Mark 1; Matthew 5-7)
            • The provision in the wilderness is magnified by the abundance Jesus offers in his feeding of 5000 and the 4000
            • The pillar of cloud and fire by night is in view when we learn that Jesus is Immanuel in Matthew 1:23
            • The Ten Commandments or God’s wishes and intentions for humanity are in view when Jesus goes up a mountainside and begins offerings the words that set the course for how God wants his people to live (Matthew 5-7)
            • The priesthood of believers takes on new meaning when Jesus turns his followers loose on the world to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19-20)
          • The Gospels show us how to live in the world, and in community with one another
            • Jesus’ new community crosses racial, ethnic and gender barriers
            • There is a oneness in Jesus that the church is called to model
              • You see it in the stories of a centurion coming to Jesus for help, or a Syrophonecian woman coming on behalf of her daughter, or when Jesus prays for his followers to be One (Matthew 8; Luke 7; John 17)
            • The Gospels invite us to a deeper faith
              • Where nothing is impossible
              • Where
            • The Gospels remind us of the mission of Jesus
              • He was friend of sinners
              • He challenged the religious leaders in their understanding of holiness
                • Whereas they tried to protect the holiness of God, Jesus was contaminating the world with God’s holiness
              • He challenged the religious leaders in their understanding of “neighbor”
                • That Samaritans, the poor, women, and the unclean were valuable in God’s sight
              • The story of Jesus is meant for the whole world
                • There isn’t a place, or a people who aren’t meant to hear about God is doing in and through Jesus Christ
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May the 4th be with you…


May the 4th be with you…

Maybe you’ve heard this expression today, or seen it on the Facebook? It’s teasingly called Star Wars Day by enthusiasts. It’s a play on the phrase, “May be the force with you,” spoken in the Star Wars movies by force wielding characters.

If you aren’t a Star Wars fan, I apologize. Star Wars the original three movies were movie magic when they first hit the big screen. It was cinematic gold!

Of all the characters introduced in the film, one of my favorite is Darth Vader. Yep, he’s the bad guy. He is powerful, and scary, and mean. He’s dressed in all black, and seems to be part robot.

You find out along the way, on this cinematic journey that Darth Vader is following the orders of the emperor, who is pulling strings and trying to complete the construction of powerful super weapon that can blow up entire planets.

One of things that floored movie goers and fans, was the big reveal in Star Wars universe that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. It is shocking and scandalous.

The hero is the son of the villain.

There’s this powerful moment in the trilogy where Luke is facing off with his evil dad, and he is overcome, and then the evil emperor tries to kill Luke, but Darthy is persuaded by the power of love, and the light side to protect his son, and overcomes the evil emperor.

Darth Vader was redeemed, and then sadly he dies.

We like redemption stories. Don’t’ we? When villains change teams, or change allegiances. There’s something deep inside of us that is touched by those moments.

We resonate with these stories because they are stories too. We too know the power of the dark side, the allure of the forbidden fruit and the thrill of rebellion.

We aren’t alone in this understanding.

  • Adam and Eve knew the power of the dark side, and yet their story ends with coverings and children
  • Noah built an ark to escape the flood, and yet winds up drunk and naked
  • Abraham would lie twice to protect his own skin, his wife would give him her hand maiden and the Abrahamic promise would be in jeopardy until Isaac was born
  • Moses saw injustice and killed and Egyptian and flees to the desert of Midian

On and on the list of Biblical heroes goes who failed in some way and yet are courted and called back by God.

While Darth Vader doesn’t become a Christian his story reminds me of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, and how someone can go from a bad guy to a good guy.

Read Acts 9:1-9

Saul was on a mission. He was following orders, His mission was to destroy those who were perceived as the enemy. While Saul didn’t have access to the Death Star and Light Sabers, he does have letters from the high priest and the authority to send followers of Jesus to prison, or oversee their death (like Stephen in Acts 7.

Like Vader’s character development, Saul’s mission to Damascus doesn’t end in the arrest of Christians. His mission is arrested, and his life is changed by an encounter with the Son from heaven. He is struck blind, and falls to the ground. While we may not hear, “Luke, I am your Father.” We do hear, Jesus say to Saul I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

This brief encounter on the road outside of Damascus sets a trajectory that will change the world. This one man, the great persecutor of the church becomes the great missionary of the church.

It is a great story of redemption.

We too find ourselves in this story. We too have been enemies of God, and yet to show the great love that God has for us, he demonstrates his own love for us in this “while we were still sinners: Christ died for us.” It is the climatic moment where the bad guy rushes the emperor and defeats him, only this time Our Savior rushes the darkness and sin and defeats it fully for us!


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Some thoughts from Acts 5

The early church was launched into the world with the news of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus had defeated death and promised that those who belong to Him would also live with him forever. In other words, Jesus promised that death isn’t the final chapter, but it’s a spring board into never ending life.

Before you read any further answer these three questions:

  1. How is the story of Jesus a powerful message?
  2. How is the story of the resurrection in direct opposition to the ways of the world?
  3. How as the resurrection changed you?

The early church learned very quickly that the preaching of the resurrection made them rebels in the world they lived in. Their allegiances weren’t to Rome and the Emperor. But, as they proclaimed the defeat of death in Jesus’ rising from the dead, as they proclaimed Jesus Lord, they were overthrowing the powers of the world. Their message of good news was undoing the authorities and powers that tried to squash their very movement. Christianity wasn’t popular because it made disciples nice and good citizens. Christianity was illegal, because it was considered scandalous. Christians weren’t nice people for niceness sake, they lived as citizens of another world and were considered rebels because of their allegiance to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just so we are clear, we aren’t part of a boring social club that requires its members to come three times a week and pay her dues. We aren’t part of a social club at all, and the adventure that I read about that is called following Jesus isn’t boring at all.

God became a fetus. He entered the world the same way we do. His first gulp of the air was a babies cry.  He knew dirty diapers and nose congestion. The most powerful being in the Universe, had to be fed, and burped and bathed. He parted stormy seas, and spoke in a still small voice. God fed the masses in the wilderness with dew from heaven, and again with 5 small loaves and two small fish. It was as if the care given to him as a helpless babe, mimicked the care He provides to all of us.

God was one of us. He understands our weakness and knows our struggles. He touched disease, and hugged lepers. He raised the dead. He is the author of Life!

God uses the imperfect. Pay attention to the first few folks who lined up to walk with him. Fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, traitors. You couldn’t have asked for a more diverse cast of characters and yet here we are the products of persecution and faithful Jesus preaching.

The cross isn’t the final word. Three days later the cross’ power is revealed as burial clothes lay folded in half, and the tomb was body less. The one who became a baby, now was birthed once again, only this time it wasn’t from a peasant teenagers’ womb, but from the borrowed tomb of a friend.

We aren’t part of a boring Sunday gathering, but we are resurrection people, sharing a resurrection hope. A hope that God is continuing to work in the world to put the world back to rights. We resurrection junkies unable to navigate life’s stormy vale without the promise of life everlasting!

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Mark 1:14-19 — An invitation like no other

 Mark 1:14-19

What would prompt a group of fishermen to leave their careers behind and follow Jesus? Or for that matter, think about any of the folks mentioned in the Gospels who encountered Jesus and were invited to join in his journey.

Jesus words to come follow me, first offered to fishermen are just as compelling and just as haunting today as they were some 2000 years ago.

What did it take for these original four leave the comfortable, known world of theirs behind for a life of the unknown, for an adventure?

  • An invitation? Yes an invitation to follow and fish in a new way.
    • An invitation to learn to live in a new way
    • An invitation to learn to love in a deeper way
    • An invitation to change the world
  • An adventure? Yes an adventure of following and learning from the One whom God had sent
    • An adventure of new, unknown, and uncomfortable
    • An adventure of being re-shaped by the will and wishes of the God they had grew up hearing about
    • An adventure to join into God’s unfolding story

Off they go. The first four and some others like Matthew, without any hesitation!

Do we go as quickly or do we find ourselves stuck in the rut of reluctance?

These first four disciples would have grown up hearing the great stories of Yahweh creating the world, calling Abram out of the land or Ur, providing a child to a very aged Abraham and Sarah, rescuing Israel out of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the protection and blessing of the children of Israel in the wilderness, their entry into the Promised Land and one day God would once again rescue them from their enemies by sending the Servant in Isaiah’s familiar song.

  • These stories shaped them. Inspired them. Challenged them. Sustained them. Captured their imaginations.
  • These stories gave them hope. These stories gave their faith the vocabulary of trust and adventure that their ancestors knew and clung too.
  • These stories called them to a life of trust. While they lived at a time in which oppression at the hands of Roman’s seemed to be the only reality they knew they clung to the promise that there was a day that God would send his Special Servant to undo the suffering of the ages.

Think about the stories we tell ourselves, and tell our children.

  • Sometimes our stories are about the good ole’ days
  • Just this morning, I heard a couple of older men bemoaning the fact that the world we live in today is different, and how people just don’t respect the traditions of yesterday
    • I bit my tongue, but while they are complaining about the present state of things, they represent us when we focus on the problems at present instead of trusting in the One who knows the future
    • Yes things have changed, but God hasn’t changed. He is still in the life change and rebuilding business.
  • Sometimes our stories tell of great successes and great failures. But if we are honest about the way we tell our stories we need to leave room for the adventure and new life Jesus calls us into.

Think about the stories, Peter, Andrew, James and John passed on to their friends, and family.

  • We read quite a few of their stories in the body of work called the Gospels
  • But their lives will never be the same that day in Galilee when Jesus showed up and invited them to follow him.
  • Nets full of fish would never compare to the baskets full of bread left over when Jesus fed the masses
  • Nights out on the sea of Galilee worrying about their haul would never compare to the countless ones who were healed of leprosy, sickness, the blind made to see, and the lame made to walk.
  • Nights out on the sea of Galilee worrying about their lives, their families, their next meal wouldn’t compare to the One who would calm the raging sea and offer provision at the Banquet table of the Lamb.
  • Days spent cleaning and repairing nets wouldn’t compare to the miles traveled soaking in the teaching of the Master.
  • Days spent smelling like sweat and fish wouldn’t compare to the times when they were recognized as having been with Jesus.

You see this invitation that comes in Mark 1:14ff is only a beginning. While they may not know where this adventure would take them, one thing is certain, they leave everything and follow.

We would do well to follow their example and be captivated by the adventure that awaits us too!

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Communion Reflections from 10.25.15

I was blessed the the other day to lead the communion time. The 25th of October was also a special day for me, for I celebrated my 17th birthday as a follower of Jesus.

(1 Cor 11:23-26)

Sometimes these words get so common place. I dare say, almost empty. My prayer for us is when we are together that the Lord would give us ears to hear!)

2 Tim 1, 2 and Titus 3

There’s something special about being together week after week

We are a gathered people

We are a rescued people

We are story people

We are gospel people

We are family!

We share one another’s hurts, carry one another’s burdens, celebrate one another’s victories and accomplishments.

While we are all different, in this moment around this table, the Lords table, we are one!

There’s no rich or not so rich…

There’s no educated or uneducated…

No, we come together as sinners all in need of the grace and mercy of God. We come together as saints clinging to the story of the cross and the empty tomb.

We come together, together to celebrate the life that was given so that we might have life.

Let us pray (bread)

Let us pray (cup)


We come together a blessed people. A ransomed people called to be a open handed people. This morning we have an opportunity to share in the goodness of God’s provision. Passing trays is more than passing trays, it’s an opportunity to contribute in the Lord’s work.

Psalm 24:1 says the earth is the lord’s and all who live in it

We belong to God. Every part of us. Everything about us belongs to God.

This morning let us give back as we have been given too…

Let us pray

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Ingratitude, lepers, and Luke 17

It isn’t a big story. Luke 17:11-19 is one of those stories, if your not careful, you can sort of gloss right over. But, there are some important details I haven’t always paid attention too.

As the text opens, Jesus is on his way, as is often the case in the gospels, Jesus is heading somewhere. And this time the text reveals he is on his way to Jerusalem. He is set out for his final showdown in Jerusalem, so this story sets up the happenings of the last week of his life and functions to continue to reveal one of Luke’s overarching themes in the book (I will come back to that in a moment).

As Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem, he is on the border of Jewish and Samaritan territory. This is an important description and helpful clue in the text. Jews and Samaritans were at odds with one another. Jews hated their Samaritan neighbors because at the time of the Babylonian captivity those Jews who weren’t carted off into captivity intermarried with the influx of new Babylonian residents. Over the course of time they lost their distinctive Jewishness. Samaritans were the equivalent of “mudbloods.”

As Jesus is entering a village he is greeted by ten lepers, standing at a distance and pleading with Jesus for him to have pity of them. Leprosy was and is a terrible disease. In Jesus’ day, people with leprosy were excluded from community. They would have been forced to live in relative isolation outside of their hometown, and when passerbys were nearing, they were to yell, “unclean, unclean.” Instead of yelling out their uncleanness, they shout for pity! Whatever their lonely existence had entailed, they must have heard about the carpenter from Nazareth working wonders all over Israel. You can almost hear their hope wither once they were labeled as leprous. But the stories emanating out of the towns all over Israel, about demons being driven out, about the lame walking, about the blind seeing, about the sick healed continued to spread. Once these stories reached leprous ears, that tiny flame of squashed hope must of have been reignited because these ten lepers run to the edge of town and greet the coming Savior! As they greet Jesus they call him master. Master is a word that denotes authority and power. Remember the gospels paint a picture of Jesus having power over all things.

These lepers plead for pity. Jesus sends them to the priests. The law demanded that in order to be declared clean, or in order to have community restored to you, one had to go show themselves to the priests. Luke 17:14 says, “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Jesus doesn’t touch these men. He could have. In Mark 1 he reaches down and touches the leper in the text. There is power in a touch, and for one who hadn’t been touched by another, that meant even more. Jesus could have touched these men. I think he did, only his tough wasn’t physical it was emotional/spiritual. The Jesus touch in this text in Luke 17 restores community, vitality, life, family, and worship back to these men withered by leprosy’s ugly contamination. That Jesus even responds at all to lepers is a marked contrast from the norm in his day. The religious leaders in Jesus day tried to protect the holiness of God. Jesus contaminates the world with God’s holiness.

Of the ten healed of leprosy, only one returns. We aren’t told why the other nine didn’t, or the why the one returns. We are told that the one who returns is a Samaritan. The one’s hated by the Jews, the one’s thought to be lost and without God in the world, comes back praising God and throws himself at Jesus’ feet (Luke 17:15-16). What is so remarkable about the story of the one Samaritan leper coming back to thank the Lord, is that Luke touches on one his major themes in the book, that this story of Jesus, is “goodnews of great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10) In other words, what God is doing in and through Jesus is available to all races, nations, tongues and tribes.

The lack of thanksgiving from the other nine got me thinking about ingratitude. Do we take for granted our blessings? Do we take for granted our health? Do we miss the beauty of God;s work in us and around us because we are to busy doing our duties or blinded by religious observance? If we are honest with ourselves, the answers to the above questions are “yes.” From this text, I am reminded of the following few things about ingratitude:

  • Ingratitude isn’t always noticeable. Remember the nine lepers were on their way to see the priest.
  • Ingratitude gets in the way of praise!
  • Ingratitude is no respecter of persons.
  • The only way out of ingratitude is to praise God and practice giving thanks for what the Lord has done and is continuing to do in our world today and in us!
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Some thoughts on giving thanks…

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1 HCSB)

Giving thanks is a common theme throughout Scripture. God’s people everywhere are giving thanks for his work on their behalf, and when they pass their faith story on to the next generation they give thanks for God’s past faithfulness. Part of remembering who we are and where we’ve come from is about giving thanks for those who have gone before you. In this case, all through the Scriptures, God has directed the steps of man from the land of Ur, to Egypt, out of Egypt, though the wilderness and into the Promised Land. You could make the case, we aren’t really living if we aren’t thanking God for his protection, provision and purpose.

Throughout this season of thanks, I have been reminded of a couple of things from Scripture about thanks giving:

  • When we give thanks to the Lord we acknowledge that we aren’t God. That is okay! We don’t do so good when we try to be God. The psalmist reminds us “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1)
  • When we give thanks to God we are expressing our faith, trust and dependence in the Lord.
  • When we give thanks to the Lord we join a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. Their stories encourage us, inspire us, and challenge us.
  • When we give thanks to the Lord we have better attitudes. When we have better attitudes we are more enjoyable to be around
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