Big House

Today I was thinking about the inclusivity of the Lord’s love. From what we see in Jesus’s ministry and the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we learn that God’s love extends beyond all social and geographical boundaries. The limitations which we may have witnessed are human boundaries, not boundaries established by God. Over and over in the Gospel accounts, we observe Jesus shattering any and all boundaries to the love of God. A main component of Paul’s ministry as recorded in Acts and the letters is the message of God’s love to those outside the Hebrew people. This understanding reminded me of the song, Big House, by Audio Adrenaline. I share it with you now in hopes that you can imagine what God intends and that you might offer an invitation to others.

If Convenient

Read Luke 9:57-62

Since the onset of the Industrial Age, people have been on a continuous path toward convenience. We have become people that seek a more convenient life in which we do not labor as hard and have more opportunities for leisure and recreation. If you have been to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, you may have enjoyed the ride, Carousel of Progress, in Tomorrowland. This ride takes the guest through various decades and highlights how inventions have made our lives more convenient and our work easier. We have become people who often reject anything which might be inconvenient for us.

In Luke we are told about a time when Jesus encounters potential followers while walking down a road. In each encounter, the person who speaks with Jesus indicates a desire to follow him. The first man is told by Jesus that he must be willing to accept inconvenient accommodations. The other two will only follow if they can do so at a convenient time for them. Jesus points out that following him is not based upon what is convenient for the follower.

How often we are wanting to be convenient followers of Jesus. We appear to be eager to follow but we would like following to not inconvenience us. We set aside a specific time once a week to worship. We agree to attend Bible studies, informative classes, and fellowship times as long as they fit into our schedules and demand a limited amount of time. Our willingness to participate in service projects inside and outside the walls of a church building is contingent on the other activities in our lives and again, if the time commitment is not too much. Like the followers in Luke’s account we are often “I will follow but…” types of Jesus followers.

Jesus requires ALL from us. He requires our time, our talents, our energy, even our very lives. If we are wanting to be followers of Jesus, we must be willing to be inconvenienced.

Identity

Read Philippians 3:7-9

What would you say gives you your identity? Some individuals might answer this question by describing their employment. Others may choose to answer by talking about their degrees or training or certifications. Another potential response may be linked to their name and/or ancestry. Where the person lives currently or lived previously might be the answer a person gives to this question. A list of accomplishments could be the way the person responds. There are a variety of answers the question night elicit and the one chosen provides insight into what the individual determines as important.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks about what is important to him and gives us a glimpse into how he wishes to be identified. Paul states that any previous accomplishments  or skills are of no value to him any longer. He instead wishes to focus on his relationship with Christ which now has the highest value in his life. He desires to be identified through his faith as connected to Christ.

Reading Paul’s words can cause us to question the man’s sanity. We know that Paul was a very accomplished and respected Pharisee. He also was known to be a Roman citizen which gives him a respected level under the Roman occupation. Since experiencing Christ and changing his direction in his belief of God, he has been a highly effective evangelist, especially to the Gentiles. Why would he say this is garbage in light of his identity in Christ? This talk does not fit the social norms of Paul’s day or of our day.

The truth which Paul discovered is that his most important identifier is found in his relationship with Christ Jesus. Being identified as a follower, believer, and joint heir with Christ was Paul’s greatest accomplishment. This is an important discovery for us as well. Being identified in and with Christ becomes the unchanging determinate of who we are as individuals. The burden of achieving is lessened because we know that in Christ we have achieved the greatest reward. Having to prove ourselves to obtain value no longer is required. Our value is now found in being a child of God, loved by God, redeemed by Christ and identified as righteous.

Ingrafted Relationships

Read Romans 11:1-18

Since moving to our current home, I have become much more involved in the landscaping choices and maintenance. My participation is on the simpler side of these activities. My partner does the harder work in terms of planting and major pruning. I am more of a visionary and trimmer of small plants. I also assumed the responsibility of keeping plants outdoors hydrated. As I have become more active in landscaping there is much which I have learned but there is also a greater awareness of how much more I need to learn. I am clearly not at the point where I could graft any of our plants or control the pollination of any. I do have a rudimentary understanding of both however. I greatly enjoy the success which we have had with our landscaping. Now if I could just figure out how to get some of our plants to grow faster.

I share this information regarding landscaping at our house because in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is using plant husbandry as an image when discussing Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s letter to the Romans is an apologetic in regard to Jesus for the Roman Jews primarily and the non-Jewish (Gentile) Roman believers secondarily. His intent is to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. At this point in the letter, Paul is explaining the relationships between Jewish and Gentile believers. He indicates that while there is a majority of Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God has never rejected the Jews. The Jews who have not rejected Jesus are a remnant who God has saved by grace. The rejection which others have made opened access to the Gentiles. Through their rejection, the Gentiles have been brought into God’s fold, ingrafted to the tree of life. Paul also states that the Jews who have rejected Jesus will always be given the opportunity to rejoin God’s tree. Then he gives a warning to the Gentile believer. He warns that the Gentile believers should never consider themselves superior to the Jews who rejected Jesus. All are supported by God, the source of life.

This passage speaks to all of us about relating to one another. Whether we are considering the Christian-Jewish relationship or any relationship between Christians and non-Christians, including atheists or agnostics, we are to view others as equal branches on God’s tree. The first branch of the tree were the Hebrew people and then God chose to engraft other branches of the human race. This truth must inform and guide our words and actions as we engage in a highly diversified humanity, a humanity in which every branch is a creation of God.

Opening the Eyes

Read Mark 8:22-26

In the story of Jesus healing a blind man near the town of Bethsaida, we see the power of Jesus to open that which has been closed. Jesus takes the blind man who has been brought to him outside of the village. The man is taken out of his comfort zone, his familiar. Once outside the village

Jesus touches his eyes and then asks the man to describe what he sees. The man’s description indicates to us that his sight is only partially restored. Like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NRSV) Jesus touches the man’s eyes again and the man’s eyesight is fully restored.

We are spiritually like the blind man. We are unable to see Jesus in a spiritual way. We remain in the familiar because we are unable to navigate safely in the spiritual realm. Then someone brings us to Jesus. Jesus takes us out of our comfort zone. Our spirits are touched by the Lord’s Spirit. At first we can only partially see the fullness of Christ and only partially understand the grace and magnitude of the Lord’s love. There will come a day when our hearts will be touched by the Spirit again and we will be open to see the completeness of our Lord. 

For now we pray this…

Receiving Good News

Read Luke 2:8-14

Television stations and newspapers occasionally choose to bring to the people what has come to be known as a “feel good” or “human interest” story. This attempt to bring out some good news about something positive happening in the area is usually infrequent or relegated to a specific day once a week at best. The news media is more inclined to deliver bad, tragic and/or scandalous news. The reason given for this skew towards the negative is that “bad news sells.” This view implies that a majority of people clammer for bad news. A look at what people post or share on social media supports this implication.

The passage lifted up today is familiar to many people and associated with Christmas. Luke provides the longest narrative in regard to the actual birth of Jesus. Today’s passage includes the appearance of angels to shepherds who are in the fields tending a flock of animals. When the first angel, messenger of God, is visible to the shepherds, they respond in fear because of the out-of-the-ordinary vision. The angel gives a standard greeting which is intended to bring calm to the situation. Then the angel states that the purpose of the vision is to bring a message of good news. This message is that the Savior, or the Messiah, has been born. The angel tells where the birth has occurred and the verifying sign that this has taken place. The news is intended to invoke great joy among the shepherds and all people. Then a large group of angels appear to sing of joy and praises to place the receivers of the news into a joy-filled mindset.

On the infrequent occasions when the news media shares a story of good news, it is true that a sensation of happiness or joy usually comes over us. Imagine having a vision in which a good news message from God is delivered. All the emotions surrounding Luke’s account would understandably accompany such a vision. Over 2000 years after the time in which this event could have taken place, these emotions can still arise as this story is told. Knowing that Jesus was born so that through his life, ministry, death, and resurrection each one of us can be fully in relationship with God is unquestionably good news. This is news which should not be relegated to one month or one day of our year. This is news which is intended to overcome the bad news of every day in our lives. This good news does bring joy into every moment in which it is told.

Remind yourself daily of this good news. Then go and tell this good news to all people.

Needing Equipped

Read Hebrews 13:20-21

When you are preparing to tackle a project, it is important to make sure you gather all necessary items before you begin the work. If you are making a food dish, you need to make sure you have all of the ingredients. In addition to having the ingredients, you also need to have the utensils and cookware which will allow you to prepare and cook whatwer dish you are making. If your project is a household repair or addition, having the necessary materials and tools is required. Completing a project demands a person to be properly equipped.

As the letter to the Hebrews is coming to a conclusion, the author lifts a brief prayer. The petition, or hope, is that God would equip the believers. The task set forth is doing God’s will, not an easy task for any human. The letter writer knows that the only way the believers might be successful in doing God’s will is if God gives them the necessary items to accomplish the task. Humanity has proven time and again a lack of being properly equipped.

A favorite quote of mine is by Rick Yancey who wrote in The Fifth Wave, “God doesn’t call the equipped, son. God equips the called. And you have been called.” This quote applies to all who strive to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Anyone who has accepted the mantle of ordained ministry quickly becomes aware of all their inadequacies and being ill-equipped for such a calling. But all who strive to follow Christ’s example and teachings have the same experience of feeling ill-equipped. Throughout all of Scripture we witness great leaders, teachers, prophets and apostles voice their apprehensions in regard to adequately fulfilling God’s will. This reality should drive us to God in prayer; seeking the equipping only God can provide.

Like An Ocean

Read Ephesians 3:14-19

When I was a young boy growing up in the church, there was a song which we often sang during Sunday School opening gatherings, “Peace Like a River.” One of the verses in the song says, “I’ve got love like an ocean.” I would sometimes ponder what that amount of love might be like. I always came to the conclusion that it was love which was boundless. Even though at that age I had never actually been to an ocean, I had seen images on television so the idea that you could not see the other side of the ocean from the beach upon which you stood gave me the boundless image. The image of wave after wave hitting the beach and rocks also created for me the endless waves of love coming upon me.

At the conclusion of the part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which we read from today, Paul speaks about praying for them. In his prayer, Paul says that since the people are rooted and established in love, he asks that they be able to understand how wide, long, and deep Jesus’s love is for them. This love goes beyond their knowledge. He also indicates that this love is the full essence of God.

Reading what Paul tells the Ephesians brings to mind the images from my childhood Sunday School song. Taking hold of such a boundless love seems impossible. Realizing the vastness of this love brings an overwhelming sense of acceptance, security and great joy. Imaging Christ’s love lapping over one’s self over and over provides comfort and warmth.  May you come to the understanding of Christ’s love for you being like an ocean!

Focus On You

Read John 21:20-23

People who live in a small community have easy access to the personal aspects of one another’s lives. Having grown up in a small, rural, Midwestern town of less than a thousand people, I knew that my parents would know anything I was a part of or the opposite end of town before I could even reach home. This unfiltered sharing of personal activities is a double edged sword. On one hand, it lends itself to a sense of safety and immediate crisis response. On the other hand, it can lead to the possibility of personal information being shared too freely among individuals who are not involved in a situation. A town of busy bodies can arise with people attempting to interject themselves where they should not.

Our passage today appears at the end of the Gospel according to John. Jesus is talking to Peter about feeding the sheep. Peter sees a disciple who was next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Peter asks Jesus what will happen to this disciple. Jesus responds by saying Peter should not worry about the other disciple’s future, if Jesus wants him to live until Jesus returns that is what will happen. Peter is told to focus on following Jesus.

Jesus is telling Peter something which can benefit us at times. There is a clear difference between being concerned about a person’s well-being and attempting to interject ourselves into a situation which does not concern us. Jesus makes it clear that our first priority is to follow him. Before we concern ourselves with the spiritual health and welfare of others, we care to focus on our own spiritual health. We can play a support role for others as they follow Jesus but it is not our place to play a judgment role in how they are following Jesus. Jesus said it well when he said, 

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus’s point here in today’s passage is to focus on following him and let him focus on how another is following.

Into the Water

Today as I was looking at some Christian artwork, I came across a picture created by Yongsung Kim (click here to learn about the artist.) As I viewed the picture, the story of Peter attempting to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33) came into my mind. Then I began to consider the many times I have needed Jesus to reach into the water and pull me up in life. View this picture and share your thoughts.

1. What do you notice about Jesus?

2. When you see Jesus’s hand, what thoughts come to mind?

3. When have you needed Jesus to reach into the water for you?

4. What led you to need Jesus’s saving act?

5. How did you respond to Jesus?