Monday, March 30, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 35

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 21:33-46

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” (Matt. 21:43)

“A very small percentage of those in the church stand behind a pulpit or sport certain kinds of identifiable clothing. The actual leadership roster of the church includes disciples ministering in every arena of life, in business, law, medicine, education, the arts, sciences, government, and religion. The objective of Jesus’s church-growth strategy was not to build a single, behemoth social institution with a limited set of ordained authorities. Instead, his Spirit was to be poured out on all flesh to effect a widening, deepening base of influence within every nation, worldview, and social institution.” ― Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth

holyweek_6429c  As we enter Holy Week, we have in today’s scripture, Jesus had entered the final week of his life. Jesus has only a limited amount of time to remove any doubts about his mission and message among both his disciples and enemies alike. It was time to increase the intensity. So Jesus lays out this accusatory parable.

  Jesus offers a parable, but a rough relationship between owner and tenant. The parable is not a story of a landlord who abuses his power and fails to care for those living on his land. The parable targets the tenants who take advantage of the landowner's trust and generosity.

  The message was clear. God is the landlord who has leased his vineyard, his kingdom, to local laborers. God leased the vineyard fully expecting that the laborers would produce a good and fruitful crop. The time comes when for God wants a report on the fruitfulness of the land he has provided to them. He wants to see faith in his promises, repentance of sins and trust in his messengers. He wants his vineyard producing a wine that leaves the boundaries of the kingdom walls and fills the entire world with the goodness of what he grows. But rather than produce a measurable crop for the owner, the vineyard's residents have sat on their hands and have nothing to show him. As if that weren't bad enough, they murdered every servants (prophets) he'd sent to represent his interests.

  "Enough is enough," Jesus proclaimed. A time was at hand, “When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.” (Matthew 21:34). God is no nasty slumlord. Israel was proven itself as an unfaithful and unfruitful tenant. The time of eviction had come. The time for new tenants, faith-filled, Messiah-following, cross-focused tenants, tenants capable of producing a fruitful crop had arrived. Soon after saying all of this, Jesus would be arrested.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 34

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Luke 11:14-23

“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luke 11:20)

In this crazy world, there's an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they're never separated. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom. - Henri J. M. Nouwen

10507509025_b87411b3d0  The gospels reveal that it was impossible for people to encounter Jesus and remain indifferent toward him. This passage shows that some people interpreted his influence and power as arising from demonic sources. Jesus exposed the irrationality of their accusation and invited them to join him in gathering the kingdom harvest.

  When those who opposed Jesus’ ministry could not discredit him through rational and fair means, they switched their tactics to slander and irrational ideas. They declared that his power came from “demons by Beelzebul.” They attributed his power not to God but to the devil. Jesus countered their attempts by presenting two logical arguments.

  First, he struck them a shrewd blow. There already existed in Jesus’ time many exorcists in Palestine, who were closely connected to the individuals who were questioning Jesus’ practice of driving out demons. So basically, he says, “If I cast out devils because you believe I am league with the prince of devils, what about your own people who do the same.” If they are condemning Jesus then they are in turn condemning their own people.

  Second, he used a logical argument. Would it make sense for the prince of devils to work against himself by driving out demons, “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (v. 18) If a kingdom works against itself it will not last long, an irrational argument.

  It is not uncommon for people who come to resent or object to something to resort to slander and rumors to paint the other person in a bad light. Evidence of this in our world is quite apparent each day. By simply examining social media, we can see people with strong opinions posting online non-existent facts or half-truths to discredit someone they disagree. They attack the person’s character, their spouse, their children, and perceived wrongs or lacks of judgment. They want to deflect attention from the work or efforts the person is making in the world by attacking them in ways to make them look bad. This same behavior existed during Jesus’ time, except today we can take our attacks world-wide in a manner of hours.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 33

Friday, March 27, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Luke 4:38-44

But he said to them, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose." (Luke 4:43)

“We preach grace, but we don’t always practice it. We talk about God’s mercy, but we don’t always want the people who need it most to know it or get in on it. We say we are in the redemption business, but the door to that redemption is often locked by us from the inside. We say, “Come in! All are welcome!” but “all” is often marked with an asterisk. How, I ask, can the world change – how can heaven come to earth – if we stingily protest against God for his grace to others, grace we have freely received ourselves? How can we pray “thy kingdom come,” and be resentful toward God and those he allows to enter the kingdom in his way and his timing?” ― Ronnie McBrayer, How Far Is Heaven?: Rediscovering the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now

Kingdom-of-God  In our scripture reading today, we have Jesus’ first mention of the Kingdom of God in Luke’s gospel. Jesus came “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities.” Jesus quite clearly states his purpose and he does this after healing Simon’s mother in-law, healing other sick people and casting out demons, who clearly knew who Jesus was. Ask anyone what they know about Jesus and most likely they will mention Jesus’s healing of the sick. Though Jesus healed and cast out demons, he also in this first mention of the Kingdom of God in the gospel of Luke states this is not his purpose for this ministry. “Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” is.

  We have been looking at what it is to enter and receive the kingdom of God as a disciple of Christ, which was a topic Jesus addresses frequently. So then based on Jesus’ parables and illustrations about kingdom, what then is the gospel? What is the “good news”?

  You will often hear others, speak about the good news by saying things, like, “Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” or “If you were to die tonight, and God was to ask you, why should I let you into my heaven, what would be your answer?” Though these are important questions, Jesus, on the other hand, did not approach his world with a question at all, but with a proclamation of the arrival of the kingdom of God. A kingdom that exist in the past, present and future, a kingdom is far off, but is also near, a kingdom that exists in heaven, but also is among us.

  Often churches and pastors reduce our faith to a series of decisions and transactions, and although there are decisions we each need to make as disciples, reducing the Gospel to a decision to accept “God’s plan for my life” or giving the right answer to the question of how to go to heaven seems to only comprehend part of the message Jesus was proclaiming was doing in his earthly ministry.

  The good news is about God and what God is doing. It is not about me and my doing what I think is important. It is not about some idea of success or happiness as the world might define it. For some individuals, they have reduced the gospel to what God is determined to do to fill out our shopping lists of needs and wants. This is not good news, spoken about. This good news is an announcement that things are going to be different. Back in verses 18-19, Jesus gives us more of an idea about this proclamation of the good news when he says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lenten Devotions – Day 32

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Luke 11:1-4

“He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1)

“If you pray and ask God to make bananas red, God won’t, because there is nothing wrong with bananas being yellow. If you pray and ask God to change your health, finances, relationships, employment, and possessions to make you happy, God won’t, because changing them won’t make you happy. Not only is there nothing wrong with the impermanence of the world, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is present in this world of impermanence.” ― Jim Palmer, Notes from (over) the Edge: Unmasking the Truth to End Your Suffering

Print  Based on our opening quote today. Prayer does not mean that particular personal petitions do not matter, or go unanswered. The results we might gain from prayer needs considered from a perspective beyond the particular requests we make of God and whether God answer them. Over the years, I have heard others say, “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.” or “We cannot avoid pain, but we can avoid joy.” and also, “God has given us such immense freedom that he will allow us to be as miserable as we want to be.” Prayer helps us deal with the pain, hurt and difficulties life brings our way by building our relationship with God the Father.

  The Lord's Prayer points us to the big picture and the long run of being more prayerfully focused on honoring God, yearning for God's kingdom among us, relying on God's daily providence, seeking God's forgiveness, forgiving others, and trusting God's protection. The Holy Spirit's presence in our lives sustains this focus. Though often when we pray we discover ourselves at loss for words.

  In our scripture today from Luke, the disciples of Jesus may fear this very same dilemma in finding the right words in their future, so they ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (11:1). Jesus responds by instructing them to speak to God as they would speak to a member of their own family, calling God “Father,” an expression of intimacy and familiarity and suggests that they make three requests. They should ask for bread, for forgiveness and for deliverance, and they should trust God to give them whatever they need.

  Intimacy, trust and expectation. These are the attitudes that Jesus advises his disciples to adopt as they begin to learn the language of prayer. He encourages them to approach God in the same way that they would approach a loving parent, and to trust God to hear their prayers and answer them in ways that meet their needs.

  Jesus goes on to encourage us to pray with persistence, using the language of prayer to plead for what we need (vv. 5-8). And then he assures us that God will hear our prayer and answer us, for if we human parents know how to give good gifts to our children, then “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13). But there is one important dimension to these requests that disciples need to keep in mind — all appeals need to be consistent with the words “Your kingdom come” (v. 2). God is not going to grant any request that doesn’t conform to the priorities of his kingdom of love and peace and justice.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 31

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Acts 19:1-10

“He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” (Acts 19:8-9)

“Jesus is not saying, “Make sure you pray a prayer of repentance, start going to church, and wait for Me to come back.” He is saying, “You can live a radically different life because there’s a new world order that just broke in, so stop walking in the direction you’re going, turn 180 degrees, and walk toward Me and life in the kingdom of God.” - Halter, Hugh. Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, David C. Cook, p. 53.

4736df353ed6c4828696b39727bca704  When Luke wrote his gospel and the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the reader of both will observe that Luke had clear objectives in writing each. First, in the Luke’s gospel, Luke gives witness to the work and person of Jesus Christ, as the Son of the Living God. Then, after Jesus’ ascension, Luke begins to tell us of the work of the early church in Acts, but not just the story of the church, but he gives witness to the work and person of the Holy Spirit to proclaim, spread and invite others to enter and receive the kingdom of God. Luke begins by stating, “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2) Luke tells us how the Holy Spirit worked through the early church and apostles to change and transform their world and bring others into the kingdom of God.

  The original apostles, as well as Paul, did not use the term kingdom of God as often as Jesus used it, but not because it was not important to their proclamation of the good news. Luke in his gospel, had Jesus using the phrase, “kingdom of God,” thirty-one times, then in Acts, the phrase is used on six occasions. They did understand and believe in the kingdom of God Jesus taught them, for the apostles and the early church they understood that they were currently living in the kingdom as their present and current reality. They would speak of the kingdom coming to completion at the end times when Jesus returned, but the kingdom currently existed, in part within the community, the body of Christ, but it did not end with the church, they proclaimed it and called to others to follow the “Way” within the context of their known world.

  At the beginning of Acts, Luke has Jesus speaking to the apostles about the kingdom of God before his ascension (1:3) Then, Paul and Phillip used phrases, such as, “proclaiming the good news about….” (the kingdom of God) (8:12); “must enter….” (14:22); “argued persuasively about…” (19:8); “testifying to the ….” (28:33); “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ,” (28:31)

  The use of the phrase, “kingdom of God,” may not be as numerous as Jesus, but they were not deserting Jesus’ concern for the kingdom of God. They were simply expressing the same idea in their own way and spoke of the essential elements that were experienced when one lived in the kingdom. They expressed the kingdom as, God graciously giving salvation as a free gift of grace (extending His kingdom) to anyone who will receive it (enter the kingdom) through His Son Jesus Christ, and this salvation begins now (the kingdom is in the midst of you) and will be completed in the future (the kingdom will come like a thief in the night). As Paul put it, “the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 30

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Luke 10:1-12

“After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:1-2)

“Will God ever ask you to do something you are not able to do? The answer is yes - all the time! It must be that way, for God's glory and kingdom. If we function according to our ability alone, we get the glory; if we function according to the power of the Spirit within us, God gets the glory. He wants to reveal Himself to a watching world.” ― Henry T. Blackaby, Experiencing the Spirit: The Power of Pentecost Every Day

LaborerAreFew  As we have been looking at the kingdom of God, we have discovered in scripture that Jesus’ purpose and parables are his method for calling us to enter and receive the kingdom. In our scripture reading today, we discover that Jesus does not want us to keep it to ourselves, we are to share it. When Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God, Jesus tells us this kingdom announcement is literally the beginning of a new order of things. Jesus was a herald of a whole new way of living and thinking about our lives, both personally and as a community. From the start of Jesus ministry, this kingdom proclamation was expected to change the world and Jesus called people to join that change, beginning with their own lives.

  The kingdom of God turns all the other kingdoms on their head, brings forth the unexpected, challenges our preconceptions of our world around us, and breaks open the unpredictable. We are called to show people how to love God and their neighbors and thereby bring new hope and faith to the lives of our neighborhoods, families, friends, communities, nations, and the world. The world around us is longing for unpredictable ministry of hope, longing for a place where they belong in mutual love and respect, and a place where the grace and presence of God is evident in the lives of those around them. When people witness that kingdom of God actually being lived out, they are first surprised by it and then attracted to it.

  So Jesus needs us to become participants in sharing the kingdom of God with the world around us and it is not an easy task, but as Jesus tells us today, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” We are called to add to the numbers who can enter and receive the kingdom. So Jesus needs to train others to share the kingdom, just as we need trained to share the kingdom.

  Jesus selects seventy of his followers and gives them some instruction and experience in sharing the kingdom and peace of God. He tells them there is a cost to living in the kingdom. It can sometimes be uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus is confident we can do it, by helping to ease people into the kingdom.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 29

Monday, March 23, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 13:10-17 and Mark 4:10-13
(These passages comes after Jesus’ tells the Parable of the Sower)

“When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'" (Mark 4:10-12)

Finding salvation in heaven is part of the message, getting closer to God is part of the message, but the heart of the message of Jesus was a new order breaking into history, changing everything about the world, including us.

That is why we can offer such hope to the world. The church is supposed to be saying, and the church is supposed to be showing, that our life together can be better. In our shallow, superficial, and selfish age, Jesus is indeed calling us to a completely different way of life that people are supposed to be able to see. He called it the kingdom of God, and it is a very clear alternative selfish kingdoms of this world as we say at the very beginning that better way of living was meant to benefit not just Christians but everybody else too. That’s what makes it transformational. - Jim Wallis, “On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good”, Brazon Press, 2013, pp. 22-23.

SecretKingdom  These two passages in Matthew and Mark has always been a challenge to those who have attempted to understand Jesus’ parables and the whole of the gospel. Some assume that there must have been things that Jesus told his closest disciples that were not revealed to us. The King James Version speaks of the “mystery” of the Kingdom of God. Now this word used for a “mystery” or “secret” was used by the Greek with a technical meaning; it does not mean something which is complicated and mysterious in the sense we normally understand the term. It means something which is quite unintelligible to the person who has not been initiated into its meaning, but which is perfectly clear and plain to the person who is been so initiated. Because of the close relationship the early disciples had travelling with Jesus and hearing the whole context of the gospel proclamation, they were in a position to understand better, while for those who paid attention to hearing, seeing and understanding Jesus words and actions, comprehending was not beyond their ability.

  The challenge and difficulty of the passage lies in the section that follows. If we take this passage at its face value it sounds as if Jesus taught in parables deliberately to cloak his meaning, purposely to hide it from all ordinary men and women. Jesus used parables not to cloak his meaning and to hide his truth but to compel men and women to recognize the truth and to enable them to see it.

  This passage has a similar context to a quotation from Isaiah 6:9, 10. From the beginning it worried people. In the original Hebrew translation: that seems on the face of it that God is telling Isaiah that he is to pursue a course deliberately designed to make the people fail to understand. The Greek Septuagint translators (Greek version of the Old Testament) were worried at this strange passage and they translated it differently.

  “And he said, go and say to this people, 'Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not perceive.' For the heart of this people has become gross, and with their ears they hear heavily, and their eyes they have closed; least at any time they shall see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and shall be converted, and I should heal them.” (Isaiah 6:9, 10)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 28

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Today’s Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4:14-21

“For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:20-21)

“Religion requires perfection, but the kingdom values excellence. If we strive for perfection and don’t allow ourselves room to be wrong, we will never grow. Perfection is an unattainable destination, but excellence is an exciting journey. It’s a journey in which we allow the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and mentor us. If you strive to never make a mistake, you will make the biggest one by never stepping out in faith.” ― Bob Hazlett, The Roar: God's Sound In A Raging World

KingdomNotTalkPower  Paul is speaking to the Corinthians as a father. He appears to speak with a degree of severity, but his main motive is to bring them back to the right path, as a father speaking to a foolish son who has gone astray. Paul wants to admonish his beloved children not to make them ashamed and guilty. He does not wish to humiliate them, only see that they are properly instructed in Christian principles. They are a young congregation and they have learned from Paul, while Paul was with them and like all of us we often forget our early lessons.

  As I was growing up, I had many people in the church, school, college and seminary who gave me guidance, counsel and served as mentors. I did not always appreciate their feedback about my progress, but over time I came to realize they were correct and their remarks were loving expressions toward me. I came to realize, if they did not love and care for me they would have never bothered to take the time to correct me. I have noticed over the past 30 years ago or so, many are offended when others attempt to provide guidance and discipline to correct improper behaviors. There is a tendency to want to blame the person who gives the guidance as the source of the problem.

  I recently read an article about how involvement and regular attendance at church worship and events can help us in many ways, not just spiritual. This did not come as a surprise to me, I knew from experience this was true. Now, some research had been conducted to confirm it. Our involvement in a faith community provides us regardless of age, loving mentors, guides, and counselors. People who care for us, motivate us, and support us in the difficult and often painful moments of our lives. When we go astray they guide us back, when we do things which may harm us they show us the way to health and wholeness and when we don’t know the way ahead they help us sort out the choices before us.

  Involvement in a faith community, points us toward traveling the road leading to the kingdom of God. Within the life of the church many have been able to achieve educations, they never thought possible; careers which they thought were beyond their reach; and helped care for their families in ways thought beyond our grasp. When a faith community leads us to the kingdom of God, it frequently leads us in making life enhancing decisions and choices about our physical, mental, emotional, relational, and economic stability as well as our life as spiritual beings within God’s creation.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lenten Devotional – Day 27

Friday, March 20, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Luke 4:16-21

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

In fact, Christ's image of the Kingdom of God motivated all that He did. (Cannato, Judy, "Field of Compassion," 2010). "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose." (Luke 4:43) Jesus does not preach here-after vision but rather a here-now Kingdom of God where God's will for all of humanity is being realized by the intention of human beings to join with God in co-creativity. Precisely when and how to do that is revealed to us each day. If we are looking for the kind of activities that may be involved, we can read the account in Luke of Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth when the words of Isaiah were read. (Luke 4:18-21). - by Maryanne Rouse

TimeOfFulfillment  One of the most iconic symbols of the United States of America is Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. Even for those in the nation who have never seen the bell, its unsightly crack is known by all who know anything about the bell. The crack, first appeared just after its arrival in Philadelphia in 1752, as it was being rung for the first time. The Whitechapel Foundry in London had delivered a flawed product.

  What was to be done? Sending such a heavy object back across the Atlantic for repair was a daunting proposition. A couple of local foundry men, John Pass and John Stow, repaired the crack and inscribed their own names on its side.

  All was well for the next several decades. The Liberty Bell called the members of the Continental Congress to their meetings and was very likely rung on July 8, 1776, to mark the public reading of the Declaration of Independence. In 1835, as it was being rung to commemorate the death of Chief Justice John Marshall, the crack reappeared. This time, it was not repaired. In 1865, as President Lincoln's body lay in state in Independence Hall, the bell was placed near his head. The verse from Leviticus 25:10 inscribed on its side was visible to the thousands of mourners who filed by: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof."

  Some may think it strange that such a cherished national symbol should be marred by an obvious flaw. Yet, the flaw has now become a part of its character. It is emblematic of the country itself, which is not perfect. As this line from "O Beautiful, For Spacious Skies" attests, we can only turn to God, asking that, by grace, the broken may be made whole: “America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 26

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Mark 12:28-34

Jesus answered, ‘The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."… When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12:29-31, 34)

Religion makes a big mistake when its primary public posture is to protect itself and its own interests. It’s even worse when religion tries to use politics to enforce its own codes and beliefs or to use the force of law to control the behavior of others. Religion does much better when it leads - when it actually cares about the needs of everybody, not just its own community, and when it makes the best inspirational and commonsense case, in a pluralistic democracy, for public policies that express the core values of faith in regard to how we should all treat our neighbors.

There’s a deep hunger, especially among the new generation of young people, for a new ethic of loving our neighbors, in our neighborhoods and around the world, but who will offer leadership toward a new (and old) neighbor ethic for the common good? If the faith community does that, people will actually be drawn back to faith; but if we don’t, our losses will continue. - Jim Wallis, “On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good”, Brazon Press, 2013, p. 6-7.

LoveNeighbor  A scribe from among the established religious authorities of Jesus’ time asks him what is the greatest commandment, and Jesus responds by citing the Shema - "Hear, O Israel ... you shall love the Lord your God" and adding "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:29-31). When the questioner affirms Jesus' response, Jesus says, "You are not far from the kingdom." (v. 34)

  For Jesus the foundation and distinctive mark of the kingdom of God, an ethic that would transform the world into “your kingdom come,” was love of God, neighbor and self. Jesus in this reminder from the Old Testament given to the Israelites from many centuries before is at the heart of the kingdom and there is much for us to reflect upon, but today I want to concentrate on the love of neighbor or others.

  In the book, The Road Less Traveled, Dr. M. Scott Peck shares many interesting ideas about love, what it is not, what it is. He points out that love is a mystery and so cannot easily be defined. He then attempts to give a definition of love; “the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.” It is a definition that starts from the purpose of love, one's own or another's spiritual growth. Love is looking out for the overall spiritual or long-term welfare of the other. God’s love toward us is for our growth and long-term welfare as human beings.

  Sadly, over the years I have discovered in working with families dealing with addiction, much of their so called love is not directed to the good of the other family members at all. Family members may be motivated by their own security, saving face to making an impression rather than seeking the real good of the person. For example, a typical story might be about a child being offered a promising opportunity in another state and the mother or father responding. “You know my health is not good, my heart is bad, so if you go and I die, you will be responsible.” This ends the possibility of a loving relationship. The parent can only see their own need and has now created a situation in which their child is angry if they stay and guilty if they go. Unfortunately, this story plays out daily often in families that claim to be loving. We cannot be loving as Jesus calls us to be by taking a position of authority and power over others.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 25

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14

“Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matt. 22:9-10)

In Anne Lamott's book, Traveling Mercies, a chapter is entitled: "Why I Make Sam Go to Church." Her son Sam, then seven years old, is the only child among his group of friends who goes to church. Sometimes he doesn't want to go, but she doesn't let him get away with that. Here's why: "I make him go because I can. I outweigh him by nearly 75 pounds. But that is only part of it. The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want - which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy - are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith - people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful." - Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (Anchor, 1999), 100.

invitation[1]  A wedding feast was a popular way of describing the final arrival of God's kingdom, a day in the future when the long-awaited Messiah, the bridegroom would receive the honor rightfully due him and enjoy an extravagant feast of blessing and joy.

  The guests have been invited and all is ready, but, rather than be filled with honor and excitement for that day, rather than having "saved the date" in their calendars, they simply couldn't care less whether they attend. The bridegroom had appeared in the person of Jesus and rather than embrace him in anticipation of the party, God's people would eventually throw him on a cross. As a result, the feast, the kingdom, the new age of heaven on Earth, and the blessing from the bridegroom would be opened to everyone else. That's where we come in.

  There are several approaches to understanding this parable, but today we will concentrate on how it is that we have been extended an invitation to the kingdom banquet. How do we make the most of our invitation? So, what does that look like? We will look briefly at a few aspects of making the most of God's kingdom invitation toward us.

  First, this may sound painfully simple, but enjoy the fact that you've been chosen to receive an invitation. If the promises of God are true and the gifts we enjoy now, like forgiveness of every sin, a mission-for our lives, and the power of the Holy Spirit, are just a hint, a morsel of what we will enjoy when the real party arrives, then we should be the happiest people on the planet.

  Yet far too often, followers of Jesus Christ seem to have no joy, as though their invitation got lost in the mail. We get mad about silly, stupid things. We're distracted by the minor details which are not to our standards. We gripe, complain and worry about unnecessary things. When we should rejoice, that, regardless of what happens, you have still got an invitation to the party. So we need to lighten up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 24

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last." (Matt. 20:15-16)

The Kingdom is about the common good the whole of society not just us, first. This most fundamental teaching of faith flies right in the face of all the selfish personal and political ethics that put myself always before all others: my concerns first, my rights first, my freedoms first, my interest first, my tribe first, and even my country first - ahead of everybody else. Self-concern is the personal and political ethic that dominates our world today, but the kingdom of God says that our neighbor’s concerns, rights, interests, freedoms, and well-being are as important as our own. - Jim Wallis, “On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good”, Brazon Press, 2013, p. 6.

vineyard  It's true sometimes. Sometimes we are in charge, it's our responsibility, and the buck stops squarely in front of us. And although we may complain and grumble about those times, most of us kind of like knowing that we are in control of what is going on and what is coming up next. In fact, we like it so much that we tend to try to take over the reins of control when we are clearly no longer qualified to be running the show. We are constantly tempted to "play God." We quickly forget that the most basic kindergarten lesson in spirituality is this: "God is God ... and we are not."

  In the parable told in today’s text, Jesus provides an ironic glance at the difference between God's designs and human desires by engaging us in his story, which many find objectionable. The landowner's generosity is bestowed on these last-hired laborers for a reason known only to him. He does not explain or apologize for the accounting system that lavishes the same wage on everyone hired, regardless of the amount of time logged on the job. The only response the landowner has to the disgruntled first-hired workers is "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?"

  Is God not allowed to do what God chooses with what belongs to God? God is God, and we are not. Jesus understood the value of all people regardless of what the culture thought of them. He gave all people value. Even the last one to arrive at the table is given a full-course meal.

  In one penetrating parable, Jesus leaves us with a lot to think about. We know that we can't work our way into heaven. We can never do enough good stuff in this life to earn everlasting retirement, whether we start our Christian service at six in the morning or at five in the evening. Our IRA’s (Individual Righteousness Accounts) will simply never be fat enough to fully fund a future in eternal kingdom of God.

  We also learn that we are all in need of God's grace and forgiveness, every single one of us. In the kingdom economy, we can be grateful that God chooses to be generous. We learn, too, that in God's service, we do not all have the same work to do. Some of us can teach, others sing, others cook, others organize, others visit the sick, others evangelize, others serve the poor, and others care for children, while others repair the church roof. Like, the workers in the vineyard, we have different tasks to perform, with different time frames, energy levels and abilities.

  But the really cool thing is the equal nature of the rewards. No matter how menial or glorious the task, we all get paid the same. In God's eyes, you see, we are all equal. At the end of the day, we are all paid the same and are paid what is right.

  New Testament professor Darrell Doughty puts it this way: "In the kingdom of God all people are already equal - because all people are loved by God." In the kingdom, every person should receive "what is right" - regardless of the work they do. In the kingdom, all people are equal, rich or poor, wealthy or destitute, righteous or sinners, and powerful or powerless. All people are equal because all people are loved by God. And since this is true in the kingdom, it should also be true in the life of the church, whether we are leaders or helpers, teachers or students, administrators or nursery attendants.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 23

Monday, March 16, 2015

Today’s Scripture:  Matthew 16:13-20

“He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:15-16)

Seeking to provide consolation to his dear friend and former student, Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell, “All that we may rightly expect from God, and ask him for, is to be found in Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what God, as we imagine him, could do and ought to do. If we are to learn what God promises, and what he fulfills, we must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, suffering and death of Jesus. It is certain that we may always live close to God and in the light of his presence, and that such living is an entirely new life for us; that nothing is impossible for us, because all things are possible with God.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 391.

who-do-you-say  For Bonhoeffer, it was a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that was necessary to discover a lived faith and not merely abstract belief in God. The more common notion of belief did not and could not compel persons to risk everything for the sake of the call of God. What resulted instead was a form of religion that had no connection to the transforming power of Jesus Christ. It is precisely the experience of casting oneself upon the living Christ that makes authentic discipleship possible.

  In today’s scripture, Jesus takes his disciples into the district of Caesarea Philippi and says to his followers, in the shadow of the Roman temple, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v. 13). The disciples look around nervously, struggling to find the right words and not wanting to attract the attention of any well-armed Roman legionaries, they answer, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (v. 14). The disciples figure they cannot get arrested for simply pointing out what other people are saying.

  Famed radio and television newscaster Edward R. Murrow was rarely at a loss for words. After visiting a liberated German concentration camp in the aftermath of World War II, however, he could only say this to his listeners: “I pray you believe what I have said about [this camp]. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words ....” In bringing testimony about the horrors of the concentration camps to Americans who could scarcely believe such things were possible, Murrow could only appeal to his towering journalistic reputation. “Trust me,” he was saying, “when I tell you how bad it is.”

  Knowledge and intellectually understanding of a subject or who Jesus Christ is, can be helpful in bringing forth a foundation for faith and life, but knowledge by itself cannot provide it all, witness, experience and action are also needed. We can read about the concentration camps in history books, but real understanding comes only when we hear the stories of those who survived the camps or visit the sites of the camps. I have heard stories from others who have visited the camps so many years later and they state that witnessing the camps first hand made a powerful impression on them and leaves them with a loss for words.

  When Jesus asks his disciples to share good news, he also asks them to declare what they really believe about him and though they had learn much and witnessed a great deal, they are equally at a loss for words. Then Jesus gets personal asking them to step out in faith and take a risk, “But who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). Jesus is addressing not just one disciple with the word “you,” but is speaking to all of the disciples in the second person plural.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 22

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Today’ Scripture: Matthew 18:1-5

"’Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matt. 18:1-3)

Unless you become like a child, Jesus said, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven, and maybe part of what that means is that in the long run what is good about religion is playing the way a child plays at being grown up until he finds that being grown up is just another way of playing and thereby starts to grow up himself. Maybe what is good about religion is playing that the kingdom will come, until - in the joy of your playing, the hope and rhythm and comradeship and poignancy and mystery of it - you start to see that the playing is itself the first-fruits of the kingdom's coming and of God's presence within us and among us. — Frederick Buechner, Now and Then (HarperCollins, 2010), 73.

th3OSCPS34  The 2015 Templeton Prize was awarded this past week. The most prestigious award in the world of religion and spirituality, it is valued at about $1.7 million and honors those who have made “exceptional contributions” to affirming the spiritual dimension of life. The prize this year went to Jean Vanier, an advocate for people with developmental disabilities and the founder of L’Arche, (French for the Ark) a global network of communities where those with and without disabilities live side by side as equals. The following quote from Jean Vanier relates well to our scripture today:

  “They are essentially people of the heart. When they meet others they do not have a hidden agenda for power or for success. Their cry, their fundamental cry, is for a relationship, a meeting heart to heart. It is this meeting that awakens them, opens them up to life, and calls them forth to love in great simplicity, freedom and openness.

  When those ingrained in a culture of winning and of individual success really meet them, and enter into friendship with them, something amazing and wonderful happens. They too are opened up to love and even to God. They are changed at a very deep level. They are transformed and become more fundamentally human.”

  The disciples once again in our scripture today are showing their over eagerness to shine as Jesus’ best ever disciple, so they want to know, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom.” They want to make sure they are doing the right things to measure up, be the best, and become an overachieving disciple. We all want to do our best and shine at whatever we do, but accomplishments, awards, recognition don’t always get us to the desired destination. They may not allow us to enter the kingdom.

  As adults we have a tendency to over think things, we want to be the best of the best, and tend to complicate the simple. In Alcoholics Anonymous they have a saying, “this is a simple program for complicated people.” Jesus by using a child as an example is trying to get the disciples to understand the simplicity of entering the kingdom.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 21

Friday, March 13, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 6:9-13       Part 2

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)

“Christ makes Heaven the standard for God's will be done on Earth. What a high ideal is this! What power it would take to bring such a thing about! Nothing short of the Kingdom of God pulling down strongholds, overthrowing bastions of deeply entrenched sin, and then conquering this present world in such a way as to establish righteousness – nothing short of such things as these can meet the standard that Christ sets before us.” ― Geoff Banister

forgiveness_wordle  The Lord's Prayer teaches us to strive first for the kingdom of God and to pray that God's will be accomplished in our lives. The Lord in turn, gives us what we need to live each day for his glory. Do you pray to the Father with confidence that he will show you his will and give you what you need to follow him?

  To be in the kingdom is to do the will of God. Immediately we see that the kingdom is not something which primarily has to do with the nations and people and countries. It is something which has to do with each one of us. The kingdom demands the submission of my will, my heart, and my life. It is only when each one of us makes his personal decision and submission that the kingdom comes.

  "Your will be done" is what we are saying. We are asking God to be God. We are not asking God to respond to our wants and needs. We are asking God to allow us to conform to God’s will and what God wants. We are asking God to make manifest the holiness that is now mostly hidden, to set free in all its terrible splendor the devastating power that is now mostly under restraint. "Your kingdom come . . . on earth" is what we are saying. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what would fall? Who would be welcomed in and who would be thrown into the darkness of hell? Which if any of our most precious visions of what God is and of what human beings are would prove to be more or less on the mark and which would turn out to be phony as three-dollar bills? To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.

  Placing ourselves squarely in the hands of God is difficult because it is so hard for us to give up control of our choices. And we know that submitting to God's will can be a hard and perilous thing! But without our willing submission to him and a ready conference with his will through prayer and meditation, all of our choices fall at last to dust.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 20

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 6:9-13   Part 1

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)

Those who have prayed the Lord's Prayer with an open heart, as an act of humble discipleship, know that the prayer is powerful and even dangerous. In praying the Lord's Prayer we ask God to lead us down some risky and unfamiliar paths. Praying the Lord's Prayer compromises the sense of security we fumble to maintain within our own power. - Victoria Rebeck, The Christian Ministry, Jan-Feb 1995, 2.

prayer_1028c  As we have been examining the kingdom of God and its role in our discipleship as we follow Jesus Christ, we come today to the Lord’s Prayer. Today will be Part 1 of a two part devotional looking at Matt. 6:10 of the Lord’s Prayer. We will examine the beginning of the prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” (vv. 9-10) The kingdom was important to Jesus in his teachings and parables and now he teaches his disciples to pray a prayer that begins with the kingdom as its first focus.

  The Kingdom of God or Heaven was central to the message of Jesus. Jesus himself described the preaching of the Kingdom as an obligation laid upon him: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43; Mark 1:38) Luke’s description of Jesus’ activity is that he went through every city and village preaching and showing the good news of the Kingdom of God (Luke 8:1).

  We find that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom in three different ways. He spoke of the Kingdom as existing in the past. He said that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets were in the Kingdom, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.” (Luke 13:28) “I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matt. 8:11) Clearly, therefore, the Kingdom goes far back into history.

  Jesus spoke of the Kingdom as present. “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you," Jesus said. (Luke 17:21) Jesus also said the kingdom was near, “cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:9) The Kingdom of God is therefore a present reality here and now.

  Jesus also spoke of the Kingdom of God as future, Jesus taught his disciples to pray for the coming of the Kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer. How then can the Kingdom be past, present, and future all at the same time? How can the Kingdom be at one and the same time something which existed, which exists, and for whose coming it is our duty to pray? We discover an understanding of this in the double petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Let your Kingdom come:
Let your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth. (v. 10)

  One of the commonest characteristics of Hebrew style is what is technically known as parallelism. The Hebrew tended to say everything twice. The writer would said it in one way, and then he said it in another way which repeated or amplified or explained the first way. Almost any verse of the Psalms divides in two in the middle; and the second half repeats or amplifies or explains the first half. For example, in Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 19

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

“Blessings on the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours” (Matt. 5:3) doesn’t mean, “You will go to heaven when you die.” It means you will be one of those through whom God’s kingdom, heaven’s rule, begins to appear on earth as in heaven. The Beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom people. They are not simply about how to behave, so that God will do something nice to you. They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world.” ― N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

beatitudesofJesus  For centuries, people have debated what "poor in spirit" means in Jesus’ Beatitudes, but understanding the context can help us. Matthew's gospel is written primarily to a Jewish audience and is aimed at telling us that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of David and son of Abraham, and that he's the one who fulfills the law by embodying it. So when Jesus talks about the poor in spirit, our beginning clue is the information that Matthew has shared with the reader before chapter 5 about Jesus and the nature of Jesus own life and character.

  Looking back at chapter 3, Matthew tells us about Jesus' baptism, where the voice of God says, "This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well-pleased" (3:17) Matthew and Jesus often used images taken from the prophet, Isaiah, for example, Matthew later describes Jesus by saying, “just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:28) That's an echo back to Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” When God is speaking to the figure called the Suffering Servant. Matthew right at the onset identifies, Jesus, the king of God's kingdom and is marked as a servant who came to give his life for the world (20:28).

  Jesus then immediately obeys the Spirit in chapter 4 and goes out into the wilderness where he engages in radical self-denial. To be "poor in spirit" combines these three traits of Jesus: servanthood, obedience and self-denial. The one who is poor in spirit recognizes that he or she has nothing to offer God on his or her own, that his or her life has no purpose apart from God. They obey God not out of obligation, but out of a desire to gain something better, a life within God's kingdom. The poor in spirit are those who voluntarily empty themselves so that they can be filled by God.

  In both Hebrew and Greek there are two words that are translated into English as “blessed.” The Hebrew and Greek words parallel each other. The first word which does not appear in the Beatitudes is used in the way a worship leader might use it when they ask God’s blessing upon an individual or community eager to receive something from God, i.e., healing, children, wisdom, purpose, etc.

  The other word does not imply a request made to God, not asking God to invoke a blessing. Rather the word recognizes an existing state of happiness or blessing which an individual or community already possesses. The word affirms a quality of spirituality that is already present. We might state, “Mrs. Smith is a blessed person in the church.” We are not asking God to bless Mrs. Smith, we are acknowledging rather that she already possesses this quality as a blessed person.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 18

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Mark 4:26-29

“He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” (Mark 4:26-27)

“This kingdom of God life is not a matter of waking up each morning with a list of chores or an agenda to be tended to, left on our bedside table by the Holy Spirit for us while we slept. We wake up already immersed in a large story of creation and covenant, of Israel and Jesus, the story of Jesus and the stories that Jesus told. We let ourselves be formed by these formative stories, and especially as we listen to the stories that Jesus tells, get a feel for the way he does it, the way he talks, the way he treats people, the Jesus way.” ― Eugene H. Peterson, Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers

sprouting  Jesus choose to use parables to describe the kingdom of God for his listeners and we have looked at these parables in our devotions. Some people might find all this talk about the kingdom of God in parables very annoying. Why didn't Jesus come right out and say what he meant? Why did he leave behind all these cryptic sayings where he seems to avoid just telling us what the kingdom is. Many people have thought that Jesus should have just presented us with a crisp code of laws, rules or a select group of essays, like "How to Be a Good Disciple," "A Comprehensive Definition of the Kingdom of God" or "Seven Key Features of the Coming Kingdom and What This Means to You." Instead, Jesus gives us parables, because in part the experience of the kingdom of God is not the same from one person to the next.

  A list of rules and laws never changes, never adapts. If you still think Jesus would have gotten his points across better with hard and fast rules, try remembering the last time enjoyed reading Leviticus or the first few chapters of Numbers. A parable gives us the fluid nature of a story, a tale that adapts to the hearer and their experience of the kingdom, which over time keeps breathing new life into the Good News. Jesus' parables engage us and entice us into our world, if they did not, even God's Word becomes a hard read.

  In our scripture reading today, this particular parable is unique to Mark. Jesus frequently uses illustrations from the growth of nature to describe the coming of the kingdom of God. The seed parables instruct us not to expect complete comprehension of the transforming power of the Spirit's presence. The kingdom comes by God's initiative and appointment, not by our understanding and manipulation. The seed parables remind us of the large outcomes from small beginnings. (Parable of the Mustard Seed) Huge harvests can come from small seeds. We are called to faithfully plant the seeds and trust the Spirit to work the miracle of transformation. Even small seeds of faith have tremendous power, even to the point of moving mountains.

  The parable tells us when we plant the seed, we don’t make the seed grow. We don’t really understand how it grows. We know some things, we know the best soil to make the seed grow, we know what nutrients are best to promote growth, we know when there is too much or too little water and how much sun a particular plant needs to best grow, but in the final analysis there is much we don’t know about how it all works. Within the seed lies the secret of life and of growth within itself. We can discover some things; we can rearrange them; we can develop them; but create them we cannot. We do not create the kingdom of God; the kingdom is exclusively of God’s creation. In the end we can frustrate and hinder the growth of the kingdom. We can make a situation in the world where it is given the opportunity to come more fully and more speedily. But behind all things is God and the power and the will of God at work, using us to bring the kingdom to the world around us.

  Nature’s growth is often imperceptible. We do not see a plant growing. If we see it every day we cannot see the growth taking place. It is only when we see it, and then go away, and then come back after an interval of time that we see the difference. It is so with the kingdom of God. There is not the slightest doubt that the kingdom is on the way if we compare, not today with yesterday, but this century with the century which went before.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 17

Monday, March 9, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 19:16-26

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.… But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’" (Matt. 19:24, 26)

“One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. Now, quite plainly natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex or dipsomania or nervousness or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap, and between ourselves, you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing, and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until one day, the natural goodness lets them down, and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are rich in this sense to enter the kingdom.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

lent_3593c  When we think about Jesus' teachings, parables, sermons and prayers, we hazily assume that Jesus spent most of his time talking about God, love and salvation. Two subjects dominated Jesus’ teachings most often; the kingdom of God and money.

  In His preaching, Jesus regularly invited people to receive and enter the kingdom of God, he asked them to open their lives to the ruling and reign of God. It is important to notice whom He invited, Jesus invited everyone. He did not restrict the invitation to the respectable people, or the religious, or the wealthy or powerful. In Jesus’ day, as well as with many today, wealth and power were often thought to be signs of God’s blessing. Jesus invited everyone without distinction, but he also knew that many would allow other distractions, wealth, attachments, addictions, power, and etc. prevent them from accepting the invitation.

  Jesus revealed to the rich young man the heart of his distractions. His "possessions" blocked his entry into the kingdom and blocked his way to genuine discipleship. After the rich young man left the scene, Jesus told his disciples, “that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (Matt. 19:24). Jesus did not say it would be impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom, only that their attachment to their wealth would increase the difficulty. Instead of relying upon their own efforts and their stuff to make good things happen in their lives, they needed to trust in what God could do, “because nothing was impossible for God.” He said that the tax-collectors and prostitutes would go into the kingdom before the moral and religious people (Matt. 21:31). The reason was that the least in the world had less to give up and more to gain, by trusting in God’s invitation and they recognized how God’s grace would make what seemed impossible possible. In brief, God is very gracious and loving toward all people, and His kingdom is offered to everyone.

  When I was in college in 1972, I had the opportunity to spend a week with Millard Fuller before he founded Habitat for Humanity. Fuller was a living example of the rich young man who responded positively to Jesus’ invitation. I heard him share this story personally, which was later written about in Christianity Today. Millard Fuller was a successful lawyer and businessman, but his life was falling apart and his wife had left him. Fuller followed his estranged wife Linda to New York to try to convince her to come back to him. She was not easily convinced that he could turn back from his headlong rush for material wealth.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 16

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Luke 13:22-30

"Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able…. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:24, 29)

“Listen carefully: Recognizing God is not the same as coming to Him. Hearing God in your heart is not the same as answering. Working for the kingdom of God does not mean living in the kingdom of God. Christianity is not believing the truths of the Bible; it's acting upon them and allowing God control of your life. You must respond to God and make the choice to interact personally with Him.” ― Henry T. Blackaby, Experiencing the Spirit: The Power of Pentecost Every Day

Luke13_24  Despite the way many Christians portray it, Christianity is a very difficult faith to live on a daily basis. Many believe if they simply belong to the right denomination or follow the correct faith traditions, doctrines or spiritual practices they will certainly become citizens of the kingdom.

  The effect of all this leaves Christians wondering what is the true way to God. Many people wonder do these Christians have it all worked out, at least, they claim they do. Some Christians are absolutely certain that they know the path that leads to God, they are absolutely certain they are on that path, and they are absolutely certain everyone else is wrong.

  The problem lies in the fact that we human beings are always seeking and believing that there must be a clear and certain way. We desire clarity about life. We want to know, what is the right way and what is the wrong way, because we are extremely uncomfortable living the ambiguous, uncertain, and hazy lives we all live. We want to find the perspective that clears up all the murky spaces and tells us what to do without our needing to struggle or think for ourselves.

  When it come to our faith and following Jesus there is a severe problem because Jesus’ way does not necessarily lead to clarity and certainty. Jesus tells us to “strive to enter through the narrow door.” Jesus declared that entry to the kingdom can never be automatic, but is the result of a struggle and striving first for the kingdom. Jesus tells us, “Keep on striving to enter.” The word for striving is the word from which the English word agony is derived. The struggle to enter in must be so intense that it can be described as an agony of soul and spirit.

  We run the danger, that, once we have made a commitment to Jesus Christ, we have reached the end of the road and can as it were, set back and relax, as if we had achieved the kingdom. There is no such finality in the Christian life. We must always either be going forward or necessarily we start to slip backward. For the life of a disciple of Jesus is ever an upward and onward way.

The narrow path we are invited to enter and walk is both an individual and a communal one. The decision to enter the door and walk the path is ultimately ours to make, but at the same time it must be shared with others. We need others to help us stay on our path. While, at the same time ours is a path that requires us to struggle with our own particular torments and desires. We need the wisdom and support of others who are also walking their narrow paths, but at the same time our particular and unique path winds in different directions.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lenten Devotion - Day 15

Friday, March 6, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 13:36-53 (same scripture from past two days)

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.” (Matt. 13:47-48)

“You will not find Jesus in heaven, reclining on a cloud. He isn’t in church on Sunday morning, sitting in the pews. He isn’t locked away in the Vatican or held hostage by a denominational seminary. Rather, Jesus is sitting in the Emergency Room, an uninsured, undocumented immigrant needing healing. He is behind bars, so far from his parole date he can’t think that far into the future. He is homeless, evicted from his apartment, waiting in line at the shelter for a bed and a cup of soup. He is the poor child living in government housing with lice in his hair, the stripes of abuse on his body and a growl in his stomach. He is an old forgotten woman in a roach infested apartment who no one thinks of anymore. He is a refugee in Sudan, living in squalor. He is the abused and molested child who falsely feels responsible for the evil that is perpetrated against her. He is the young woman who hates herself for the decisions she has made, decisions that have imperiled her life, but did the best she could, torn between impossible choices. Jesus is anyone without power, ability or the means to help themselves, and he beckons us to come to him; not on a do- gooding crusade, but in solidarity and embrace.” ― Ronnie McBrayer, How Far Is Heaven?: Rediscovering the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now

prayer_6437c  In chapter 13, Matthew continues to tell another short parable about the net thrown into the sea which follows the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl. In each parable, Jesus identifies how we can compare or understand the kingdom of Heaven. Each can be understood separately to teach us about the kingdom, but Matthew clustered these three them together for a reason followed by asking the disciples if they understood and telling about the scribe who brought out treasures both old and new, covered in a devotion on Feb. 21.

  John tells a story about the disciples responding to Jesus’ request to cast a net on the other side of the boat in chapter 21. Though not a parable but a story after the resurrection, it was a similar meaning related to where he is calling them to share the good news of the kingdom.

  Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is like a net." And he wasn't talking about just any old fishing net; he named a very specific kind of net. In fact, this is the only place in the entire New Testament that this particular word for “net” is used. The net depicted in the parable seems to be a unique large dragnet, which was usually about six feet deep and several hundred feet wide, requiring a number of people to maneuver it.

  As is the case with dragnet fishing, the net catches all kinds of fish both good and bad, which are then sorted out with the good being kept and the bad thrown out. Matthew uses the word “rotten” to refer to the “bad” fish and also occurs in other places in the gospel to describe the bad fruit of Christians, “In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matt. 7:17-18) and "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” (Matt. 12:33)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lenten Devotional – Day 14

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 13:36-53 (same scripture as yesterday)

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:45-46)

“The spiritual life is a gift. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who lifts us up into the kingdom of God's love. But to say that being lifted up into the kingdom of love is a divine gift does not mean that we wait passively until the gift is offered to us.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

clip_image002  A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In a room of 200, he asked, “Who would like this $20 bill?” Hands started going up.

  He said, “I am going to give this to one of you, but first, let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the bill up. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” Still the hands were up in the air. Well, he replied, “What if I do this?” He dropped it on the ground, and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. “Now, who still wants it?” Still hands went into the air.

  No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it, because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth 20 dollars. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel that we are worthless, but no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value, dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who love you. The worth of our lives comes not in what we do, or whom we know, but by who we are.

  Over the years as I have read this parable, I generally thought it referred only to pearls, diamonds or other precious stones which Jesus said had great value and told us about the great value of the kingdom of God. At some point, I did not just see this parable as referring to something materially precious, but about the precious nature of discovering the unique individuals among God’s people who add value to our lives by their mere presence. People of God who are of great value and beauty, which we would invest all we have, in order, to spend more time with them and hang with them for a while.

  I have come to understand that the kingdom of God is most often discovered in the midst of others, within the church, in acts of service, giving care, compassion and concern for others, and discovering people who are precious ones we are glad to spend ever a short time. We too frequently give value to those things with monetary value. Poverty in life is not the lack of money, it is the lack of relationships. We are poor, if we lack nurturing, loving, compassionate, relationships with other children of God.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lenten Devotion – Day 13

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 13:36-53

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matt. 13:44)

“Consider these questions: Did Jesus ever suggest by word of example that we should aspire to acquire, let alone take over, the power of Caesar? Did Jesus spend any time and energy trying to improve, let alone dominate, the reigning government of his day? Did he ever work to pass laws against the sinners he hunted for and ministered to? Did he worry at all about ensuring that his rights and the religious rights of his followers were protected? Does any author in the New Testament remotely hint that engaging in this sort of activity has anything to do with the kingdom of God? The answer to all these questions is, of course, no.” ― Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church

clip_image002  We have all at one time or the other heard stories of people who have been cleaning and sorting through possessions of the home of some relative who had recently died. During the process of cleaning closets, they discover in one or many places where their relative had hidden small or large amounts of money. Some of these discoveries have included millions of dollars. These relatives generally were individuals who did not trust banks, so they hid their money, “under their mattress”. Jesus uses a setting similar to this example to tell this short parable.

  Individuals in Jesus time did not have secure places to protect their treasures so they buried their treasures. They buried their treasures to protect them from thieves or from invading armies. The setting here presupposes that someone has buried a treasure and later died. The current owner of the field is unaware of its existence. The finder, perhaps a farm laborer, is entitled to it, but is unable to conveniently extract it unless he buys the field. For a peasant, such a discovery of treasure represented the "ultimate dream."

  Jesus in this parable is illustrating the great value of the Kingdom and is similar in theme to the parable of the pearl. The good fortune of the finder of the treasure reflects a special privilege and a source of joy, but also reflects a challenge, just as the man in the parable gives up all that he has, in order to lay claim to the greater treasure he has found.

  The hidden nature of the treasure may indicate that the Kingdom of Heaven is not yet revealed to everyone. Jesus is all about the joy that comes from discovering something priceless while perusing the ordinary. In fact, for Jesus, the greatest of such joys is the discovery of something unexpected. We might find the most magnificent treasure at a flea market, a yard sale, or browsing through eBay items. Treasure we can take to PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” and discover we have a treasure worth thousands.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lenten Devotions – Day 12

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Today’s Scriptures: Matthew 13:31-35 and Luke 13:20-21

“He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." (Matt. 13:33)

“The Kingdom of God works into us like yeast, and it grows like a seed in good soil. It enters quietly, holistically, radically, joyfully subversive, right into the core of our humanity, unfurling, renewing, and giving work to our hands. It shows up when we live loved and where we love each other well. And the Kingdom of God lasts.” ― Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women

thLYY1VZW1  In Matthew, chapter 13 there is a set of parables where Jesus helps the crowd understand the nature of the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus proceeds to tell the “great crowd,” around him many things in parables. He begins with the parable of the sower, then explains to his disciples the purpose of the parables and explains the parable of the sower. He follows with the parable of the wheat and the weeds (13:24-30, which we covered on Feb. 26 in our devotions). Then he tells two short parables about the mustard seed (we used Mark’s version on Feb. 18) and then today’s parable of the yeast. Later, Jesus tells a cluster of four short parables, which we will cover later. Each parable addresses some aspect of the kingdom and though some are short, each tells us something about the nature and purpose of the God’s kingdom and keeping in mind this whole cluster of parables can help us best in understanding the kingdom.

  This parable is part of a pair, and shares the meaning of the preceding Parable of the Mustard Seed, namely the powerful growth of the Kingdom of God from small beginnings. As with the Parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin in Luke 15, this parable is part of a pair, (mustard seed and Leaven) in which the first parable describes Jesus' work in terms of a man's agricultural activities, and the second in terms of a woman's domestic activities. Jesus is asking the crowd whether male or female, privileged or peasant, it does not matter to enter the domain of a first-century woman and household cook in order to gain perspective on God’s kingdom.

  Although typically leaven symbolized evil influences elsewhere in the New Testament (as in Luke 12:1). The use of leaven as a positive symbol for the kingdom of heaven is that it was widely regarded as an agent of corruption (fermentation) in the ancient world. A strange aspect of parables is their often paradoxical nature. They present as good something commonly regarded as bad (leaven as metaphor for kingdom of God, a "Good" Samaritan) or they present as bad something we regard as good.

  What would have strike Jesus’ listeners as odd was Jesus' comparison of the kingdom of heaven to something from the sphere of women's work. The kingdom comparable to something as mundane and menial as making the dough for the daily baking! Bread baking was not only woman's work, it was servant's work - a daily drudgery necessary to keep the most basic dietary staple on the table.

  The parable describes what happens when a woman adds leaven (old, fermented dough usually containing lactobacillus and yeast) to a large quantity of flour, enough flour to feed about 100 people. The living organisms in the leaven grow overnight, so that by morning the entire quantity of dough has been affected.