Sunday, February 4, 2018

Use It or Lose It!

How is your soul?

We often ask each other, “how are you?” expecting an answer about health or general well-being. But, people are more than their bodies.  We are physical, emotional, rational AND spiritual beings.  We feel hesitant in asking about each other’s souls because the pervasive attitude in our day and time is that ‘faith is a private matter.’  But should it be?

Due to the influence of atheism, we have purged acknowledgement of the human spirit from not only conversations with friends, but from public discourse and public education. When we fail to acknowledge the dignity inherent in each other’s souls we create a dysfunctional society.  When we fail to nurture the souls of our children at home and at school, we abandon our responsibility to give them all the tools they need to live a full life.

Souls, like bodies, can be healthy or unhealthy.  As they say, ‘use it or lose it’!   If we don’t take care of our bodies with food, sleep and exercise, we become physically weak.  When we don’t take care of our souls with prayer, worship and other spiritual exercises, our spirits become weak. They may lose the ability to function altogether.

Many people today say they “believe” in God, but live just like atheists, failing to do anything to nurture and strengthen their souls.  Are you as intentional about taking care of your spiritual health as you are taking care of your body?

As you consider Jesus, think about the fullness of human nature, including the human spirit. History shows us people of all times and places acknowledge the human spirit and how our souls yearn to connect with a larger spiritual presence that we sense, but can’t see.  Part of Jesus’ amazing message is that God, in God’s great love for us, desires to connect with us too. And that includes you.

Exercise your spirit this week and read the Gospel of John, even if you haven’t read Mark, Matthew and Luke.  Be open to the possibility that the Spirit of God is reaching out to the spirit in you.

John wrote his account long after the others, probably in the mid to late 90s, almost 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection.   I imagine John as an old man thinking about all he experienced as he walked the length and breadth of Israel with Jesus and His disciples. John goes deep into the meaning of it all – the truth about God, about human nature, about love, forgiveness and so much more.

Read the first chapter, especially the first 18 verses, a few times and think back on them as you read the rest of John’s Gospel.  Grasp the significance that Jesus, who walked and talked, healed and taught, laughed and wept, ate and drank, lived and died, is God – the God of Creation, the God of Eternity.  As you read, watch what God does and listen to what God says.  Open the eyes of your body, your mind, your emotions and the eyes of your soul to Jesus.  

Dear Jesus, answer my questions about you.  Help me to see what I need to see and hear what I need to hear. Strengthen my soul.  Amen.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Not Fake News

One of the big debates in our world today concerns what news sources we can trust to deliver the facts. The term “fake news” has been coined to describe any number of phenomena – a biased selection of facts to shape a story, the insertion of the writer’s opinion into a news story, or in some cases, outright lies.
In the first century, I am sure that there was some “fake news” circulating about Jesus along with the truth. As Jesus’ original followers left Jerusalem to escape persecution, as others were executed, and as still others moved out into the world to spread the Gospel message, the early church wanted and needed to preserve their eyewitness accounts in writing. Bear in mind, because of the skill and expense required, only things of value and importance were written down. A written document is a big deal.
Mark and Matthew wrote primarily for Jewish audiences, showing how Jesus’ teaching intersected with Jewish law and how the writings of the Jewish prophets, especially concerning the long-awaited Messiah, pointed to Him.
The Gospel of Luke is directed primarily to the non-Jewish audience of his day. He emphasizes that Jesus came for all people, not just the Jews. As the news about Jesus and His resurrection spread, Gentiles (that is non-Jews) came to accept Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. They believed in Him and sought to follow His teaching. There was a great debate in the early church if believers had to become Jews before becoming Christians, and thankfully for us pagans today, the answer was “no.”

Luke was a physician who travelled with the missionary extraordinaire, Paul. Paul established churches throughout what is now Turkey, Greece and Italy and wrote most of the letters that comprise the New Testament. He was executed by Nero in the mid-60s AD. With Paul and in his other travels, Luke probably met most of the major players in the early church. Like the historian he is, Luke investigated, talked to these eyewitnesses and those who knew them, read their writings and wrote his own account of the life and teachings of Jesus. He also wrote a history of the early church, The Acts of the Apostles.

Luke’s Gospel begins this way:

“Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)

My prayer this week is that as you read Luke, “you can be certain of the truth.” This isn’t – as it is so popular to say these days - “my” truth or “your” truth. There is no such thing as “my” truth or “your” truth. There is only “the” truth. The truth about our human nature. The truth about Jesus. The truth that is Jesus. Luke’s Gospel is not fake news. Check it out:…

Heavenly Father, help us to see the true Jesus and the truth that He teaches us. It is in His name that we pray. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Teach Your Children Well

Do you remember the song “Teach Your Children” from Crosby, Stills and Nash?

You, who are on the road
Must have a code
That you can live by
And so
Become yourself
Because the past
Is just a good-bye

What is your code to live by?  

I hope you enjoyed reading Mark last week and learned something new about Jesus.  This week your assignment is the Gospel Matthew.  Rather than speed read - take a few days with it.

Matthew, one of the original twelve disciples, is its author.  Some of what you read will be familiar because much of Matthew is a repetition of Mark’s Gospel.  Matthew draws on Mark for what Jesus did, but adds a lot about what Jesus said.

If you are looking for a code to live by, consider what Jesus taught.  Jesus is the voice of God teaching us about God and how God wants us to live.  If your Bible shows Jesus’ words in red-letters, Matthew is quite colorful!

As you read, imagine being in the crowd listening to what Jesus was saying.  Bear in mind, Jesus repeated many these words over and over in different settings and different ways.  It is much like how parents have to teach their children!  Matthew doesn’t repeat each lesson, but if you don’t catch it the first time, read it again.  Here are some highlights:

In Chapters 5, 6, and 7 you will read the famous Sermon on the Mount.  I think of this as Christianity 101.  It was Jesus’ initial orientation to his disciples about what following Him entails.

In Chapter 10, Jesus commissions the disciples to heal and teach and how they should go about it.

Chapter 13 is a collection of parables.  These are stories Jesus uses to explain things to us limited humans.  Here the parables are about the Kingdom of God, or what Matthew calls the Kingdom of Heaven.  There are also parables on other topics scattered throughout all the Gospels.

In Chapter 18, Jesus shares some radical ideas about being humble, about sin and about forgiveness.  

I am also rather fond of Chapter 23 when Jesus lays down a resounding denunciation of hypocrisy and the Pharisees.    No meek and mild Jesus here.

In Chapters 24-25 Jesus talks about what I call “Last Things.”  Here you will read about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and a series of parables about how God will judge our behavior and the consequences.

You may have noticed in reading Mark that Jesus told His followers three times about His death and resurrection  (Mark 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:32-34).   As you delve deeper into Jesus’ teaching this week, think about what I’ve heard Andy Stanley say:  “If a man can predict his own death and resurrection, and pull it off, I just go with whatever that man says.”  Think about that as you read the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Blessed Lord Jesus, help us hear Your words spoken so long ago.  Make them new and alive to us today.  Help us take them to heart.  In Your Name we pray.  Amen.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Tell Me the Stories of Jesus

One of the biggest challenges for Christians is moving from a childhood faith to an adult faith.  I remember learning about Jesus as a child in Sunday School – stories watered down to a child’s understanding.  They gave me a good foundation, milk but no meat.  As I grew older, I never stopped believing in God, but my following of Jesus became, shall we say, lackadaisical?  I stopped going to church but still felt that I was a good person.  It was when my world fell apart that I turned back to Jesus, but more about that in a later post.

One of the most eye-opening things for me as an adult is reading the Bible. Getting the real story for myself.  I began to resent having been taught bits and pieces, fed by others who focused on the verses and stories they liked and ignored those they didn’t. I wanted the whole story.  If you are seriously considering following Jesus, you need to read the Gospel accounts of His life for yourself.

These first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life.  The people who wrote them either knew Jesus or talked to people who had.  Today, we easily believe the testimony of witnesses on the news and in court.  Why not believe the eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus?  Suspend, for now, any concerns you have about the authenticity of the Bible.  Accept the Gospels as true.  If you want more information, send me a note and I’ll get you the academic stuff that supports their veracity.

I’m going to ask you to read the Gospels, one each week for the next four weeks, beginning with Mark.

While Mark is the second book of the New Testament, it was the Gospel that was probably written first, somewhere in the early 50s.  This was barely 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Mark focuses on making the case that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. To put Mark in context, check out this excellent 5 minute video from The Bible Project

Try reading Mark in one sitting. It is only about 12,000 words long.  In comparison, most contemporary novels are in the range of 80,000-100,000 words.  As you read, imagine yourself in the story – as part of the crowd, as someone who had a one-on-one with Jesus, or in whatever way tugs on your heart.  Ask yourself, could Jesus be the Son of God?  And don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t all make sense.  I came across a great quote from Billy Graham this week:  “You may never understand everything in the Bible, but you can understand something.”  

Read whatever translation you like, even that dusty old Bible on your bookcase!  Here is the link to the New Living Translation which I find readable and accurate.  (If you want to know more about translations, send me a note).

Our Father, guide our reading.  Open our hearts and minds to what You want us to know.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

Considering Jesus

Whatever resolutions you have made for 2018, whatever improvements you want to make in your life, consider this:

 “Following Jesus will make your life better and make you better at life.” (Andy Stanley)

Following Jesus can help you with the change you’ve chosen to make in your life, whether it’s abandoning a bad habit or picking up a good one.  I can say without hesitation that this statement is true for me, and I really want it to be true for you too.  

How has Jesus made my life better?

Because of Jesus - I know I am loved.  I am important.  I am forgiven.  I am not afraid of death.  My life has purpose and meaning.  No matter my circumstances, there is a joy and peace within me that nothing can shake. I am hopeful. I am never alone.  Does any of that sound good to you?

How has Jesus made me better at life?  

Following Jesus has made me more loving, more compassionate, more generous, kinder, and more truthful.  He has made me less self-centered. Jesus encourages me to look at the world through His eyes and respond to the world the way He does - by putting others before myself.  Jesus points me toward choosing good and avoiding evil.  Whatever the world throws at me, Jesus gives me the tools to learn from it or deal with it.  Does this sound like the way you would like to live?

People reject Jesus for all sorts of reasons. Whatever it is that is keeping you from following Jesus, I am inviting you to put it aside for a time.  Be open to the possibility that Jesus is who He says He is.

Who is this Jesus I want you to consider following?  

Jesus is a real-life person.  He was a Jewish itinerant teacher who lived in Israel in the first century and died by crucifixion.   He was seen alive after His death by hundreds of people.  Word spread.  He and his teachings changed the world.

Jesus is God.  Christians describe Him as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity.  The One True God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Three persons. One God.  God is love.  God is relational.  God is beyond what we can imagine and as close as our next breath.

If this is true, and I strongly suggest to you that it is, following Jesus will make your life better and make you better at life.  Suspend your disbelief.  Consider Jesus.  You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

In the days and weeks to follow, my goal is to introduce you to the Jesus who is my Lord, Savior and Friend.  My prayer is that as you read my posts, you will choose to follow Him too.  He makes all the difference in the world.

Spirit of the Living God, Open our hearts and minds for the journey ahead, so that we may come to know You as You want to be known and follow You as You want to be followed.  In Jesus’ Name I pray.  Amen.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Making America Good Again: A Day of Prayer

I think it is beyond wonderful that both the Governor of Texas and the President of the United States made formal declarations asking us to pray for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey on Sunday, September 3, 2017.

This prayer business is a big deal.  I hope you took some time to pray today, and I  hope your prayers for the victims of the storm were more than a quick "God please help them."  Take time to look at some of the pictures we have seen on the news.  Pray for the people in them and for what they need.  Thank God for the government, organizations and volunteers who are there to help them.  Think about how you can help.  There are lots of things to pray about.

To my way of thinking, prayer does a lot of things:

It draws our attention to God and how God can accomplish things we cannot.

It puts us in the other person's shoes.

As we pray for those who died, their loved ones, those who were injured, those who have lost homes, property and livelihood, we learn empathy.

As we pray for first responders, National Guard, Coast Guard, law enforcement, and the multitude of search and rescue volunteers, we are grateful to them for putting themselves in danger to save others.  We pray for their continued safety.  

As we pray for those helping the displaced get through another day with food, clothing and shelter, we realize how blessed we are to have what we have.

Then there are the untold volunteers donating time, energy and money to provide what needs to be provided and do what needs to be done.  Thinking about them might just encourage us to think about how we can help.  Prayers are important.  So is giving.  So is helping.

National days of prayer remind us that we are more powerful and effective together than on our own.  We need each other.  We are grateful for our combined resources flowing through Texas, Louisiana and the entire United States to help.  We are grateful for the many churches and non-profit organizations who, like the government, were on the ground, ready to help before the storm even hit.

Our prayers might also  lead us to think about how we would respond if a disaster happened to us.  Andy Stanley shared a great prayer about preparing for trouble:  "Heavenly Father, help me see trouble coming from a long way off and give me the wisdom and strength to deal with it."  This doesn't just apply to to those of us who live in hurricane prone areas, but what disasters might await you - and how prepared are you to meet them.  As you pray today, pray for yourself as well.

Prayer is not only us telling God what we want, but opening ourselves up to listen to God.  It is often said that prayer changes things by changing us.  As Mother Teresa said:  "I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I'm supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I'm praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

How will your prayers for the victims of Hurricane Harvey change you?  How will the fact that they we are praying together change us as a nation?

Make America Good Again - let's pray.....

In case you missed them, here are the links to Governor Abbott's and President Trump's proclamations.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Make America Good Again: Disgusting

Who is the person in your family who invariably shares a disgusting observation at the dinner table?  The person who talks about seeping wounds, broken bones or the ever popularly 'poopy' stories?   Ewwwww.... That person is often me, although my predecessors in this could top me on my best day.

Today, I have a disgusting analogy to share with you.  Think of America as a relatively healthy person who has had a huge festering boil on her face.  It is getting bigger and bigger.  It disfigures her.  It hurts and threatens to make her whole body sick. Friends and family have all sorts of suggestions, but nothing works to make it go away.

Along comes a doctor who diagnoses the root of the problem.  The only cure is to get the pus out so that the body can heal.  It will be painful, but the only solution.

The boil on America's face is racism.  Imagine a leader who comes along and condemns white people who feel superior to blacks and Jews.  Imagine a leader condemns blacks who want to kill white people, including white police officers. Imagine a leader who shifts our focus to what it means to be a whole and healthy America, and not a nation divided into white Americans, black Americans, or Hispanic Americans, and the rest.

Whether you like him or not, Trump's comments after Charlottesville have lanced the boil of racism in today's America:

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time."  (8/12/17)

His words are painful, but true.  Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in America.  In response, we are seeing all sorts of ugly things spew across our cities and towns, including my own, but we have to let it out if America is ever going to heal.  My prayer is that by calling out the violence, bigotry and hatred for the evil that it is,  we will come to our senses.

Things may get worse before they get better.  But hope is on the horizon.  Did you see how folks came together to watch the eclipse?  Did you see how folks helped each other in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?   Where can you help rather than hurt?

That which unites us is infinitely more important than that which divides us.  We are all created by God.  We all bleed the same blood.  We all live on this planet together.   As Americans, we are strongest when we unite in our common belief that the best way for us to live together is by upholding the founding principles of our Constitutional Republic.

White supremacy has no place in America.  Neither does a group that promotes "Black Lives Matter."  Both are racist in their own way.  America has come a long way from the days when slavery was legal.  America has come a long way from Jim Crow laws and "separate but equal."  In the eyes of God and the eyes of the law, all Americans are equal.   Sadly, we still aren't equal in the eyes of each other.

Within each of us is that little bit of "I'm better than you" mentality.  Football player Benjamin Watson is repeatedly quoted as saying,  "It's a sin issue, not a skin issue."  And he is spot on.  And the cure for sin will not by brought about by laws, education, protests or violence - the only cure for sin, including the sin of racism, is found in the Gospel.

Let me leave you with an event recorded in the Gospel:

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” ( John 8:1-11)

My friends, America's race problem is a sin issue, not a skin issue.

Rather than condemning this group or that group, this person or that person, lance the boil on your own sinful soul that makes you think you are superior to your neighbor, to the protestors on TV - or even the president.  We can disagree, but we shouldn't hate.  Jesus says, "Love each other the same way I have loved you."  (John 15:12).

Go and sin no more.  Let America's healing begin with you.