The Core

Read John 15:9-17

Yesterday I provided my readers with a series of questions to respond to after reading this passage. I benefited from the responses which I received. My promise yesterday was that I would write a response today.

This passage allows us to be insiders to a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples prior to his death and resurrection. He is trying to prepare them for what will come soon and how they are to respond. This conversation provides a core for us as we strive to live life post Jesus’s death and resurrection as well.

As I look at this passage, I have two images which emerge for me. The first image is one of a package completely wrapped in a red cellophane. The second image is one of dough with red food coloring flowing completely through it. Both images involve the color red because it is the color that for me is connected with love. Love is the main point of what Jesus says here. A love which surrounds and is fully integrated in a person’s life.

A friend of Jesus is anyone who is surrounded by and infused with the love belonging to the Lord. Since this person lives all of life in Jesus’s love, this love flows naturally out to others. Jesus chose us to be the recipients, receptacles, and bearers of love. Because this love became a part of who we are, we naturally share it with others. While we continue to be imperfect in consistently sharing love, we see here that the Lord desires us to continue in the effort.

We also see Jesus makes a connection between joy and love. Joy and love are expressions and experiences of the soul. Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting and is a reaction to events around us. Love can be an emotion which is also fleeting but the love Jesus references here is lasting as described above. When thus love envelopes us and penetrates us, as Jesus’s love does, it enhances and partners with the joy of our soul.

All of who Jesus is and does finds its core in love. Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, that anyone who is a friend of the Lord has love as their core. When love is your core, your life expresses it and your joy is complete.

The Big House

Read John 14:1-3

There are many varieties of houses in this world. Some people live in small, one-room homes while others have places to live which have over twenty rooms. The materials used to build houses may depend on factors  such as location, climate, resource availability, financial resources, and/or the owner’s needs. Some houses are single-storied, while others have two or more stories. Just as individuals vary, so do the houses in which each person lives.

In an attempt to reduce the anxiety of his disciples, Jesus tells them about a house with plenty of room which he is going to prepare for them and others. Prior to this passage, Jesus had told his disciples that he would not be with them much longer. After having followed Jesus around for almost three years, the disciples want to follow him wherever he is going next. They are afraid of being left on their own. So Jesus assured them that he is going to prepare their place where the Father dwells. He also tells them that there is plenty of room for them and he will return to take them to the place.

During Advent, part of our focus was on this promise of Jesus’s return. In today’s passage we hear of this promised return. The promise speaks of a big house where all are welcomed. Through other passages in Scripture, we gain an understanding that there will be abundance at this place. Sadness, pain, and suffering will be replaced with joy and uninhibited life. The place of Jesus’s promise is clearly a place we all would desire to experience. This place is also a home to which we should want to invite others.

Audio Adrenaline captured the promise of Jesus and created images to which we can relate today in their song, Big House. I invite you to consider the promise, the invitation, and the images which form in your mind as you listen to this song today.

Sharing Good News

Read Matthew 28:1-10

Think about a time in your life when you had exciting news to share. Maybe you had something to tell your spouse, your parents, or your best friends. Remember how it felt to try and keep this news contained until you had the opportunity to share it? The time it took to get ahold of or come to the person who you wished to receive the news may have seemed way too long. Your excitement drives you to hurry without delay. In your thoughts you hope that the recipient will be as overjoyed upon hearing the good news as you were upon learning it.

The passage lifted up today is a familiar one from Matthew’s account of the first Easter morning. In Matthew’s telling of events, two women who each were named Mary come to Jesus’s tomb. When they arrived there was a violent movement of the earth and the stone at the door of the tomb was moved away. The image of someone is visible. The women are told the good news that Jesus is not in the tomb because he is resurrected as he said he would be. They are invited to verify this news with their own eyes. Then the Marys are told to go tell this news to the disciples and to direct the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Jesus appears and verifies the news. Matthew tells us that “the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy…”

The enthusiasm, joy and urgency of the women as Matthew tells the story is much like how we have felt when we have had great news to share. Do we feel these same feelings when we think of Jesus’s resurrection today? For many believers, the good news that Jesus is risen has become just an everyday element of their faith. Since this happened centuries before us and our learning of it may have been many years ago when we first became involved in the church, we have lost the enthusiasm, joy and urgency. A sense of it may return if we attend a worship service on Easter morning but it is likely to fade again a few hours later after the songs end and we return home.

The word “gospel” means good news. This good news of the Christian faith is in part the reality that Jesus is not dead in a tomb but risen and alive today. Each one of us has had someone who has declared the gospel with us. We are given opportunities to share this good news with others. May we recapture the enthusiasm, joy and urgency we had when it first became real to us if we have lost it. May we be like the two Marys who “hurried away from the tomb, afraid and filled with joy” as they ran to tell others that Jesus is no longer dead. Share the gospel with energy and urgency because you are so excited that you cannot contain it!

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.

Spirit Fruits

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25 (NIV)

This is the time of the year when many fruits and vegetables are ripening and bring enjoyment to our tables. The melons, tomatoes and other garden vegetables enhance our meals. On a hot, summer day, a watermelon can seem to be a refreshing treat. The fruits add a nice, sweet taste as a snack or part of an after-meal dessert.

In the letter sent to Galatia, there is a conversation about fruits. The fruits here are not apples, grapes, or plums. The fruits discussed here are what the Spirit produces in human lives. These fruits benefit society and all people so there are no prohibitions restricting us from exhibiting these behaviors. Living within the Spirit, we are to practice these behaviors regularly instead of the selfish behaviors and desires we exhibited prior to our knowledge of Christ. We experience the fruits of the Spirit in our lives just as we practice them towards others.

Come and See

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
    Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!

Psalm 66:1-5 (NIV)

Hiking can be an activity filled with many wonderful benefits. Being outside along trails allows one to exercise which helps to reduce weight, improve heart and lung health, and benefit sleep. This form of exercise can also reduce stress and improve mental health. Hiking also offers beautiful views of nature, including experiencing wildlife. Viewing nature can create feelings of wonderment and awe.

Like many of the psalms, Psalm 66 is a psalm of praise. The psalm begins with a call for all creation to express joy. Singing of God’s glory and offering of praise sets the tone for this psalm. The fifth verse in the psalm invites all people to come and see. The psalmist seems to indicate that by seeing what the Lord has done it is almost inevitable that one would shout for joy and sing praises to the Lord.

Experiencing God’s marvelous work in creation is one of those come and see moments. How the Lord has created the brilliant colors, the amazing effects of sunlight on rippling water, and the interaction of creatures, communicates the awesome deeds of the Lord. The key for us in hearing the invitation. Most people benefit from first-hand experiences. We are surrounded by the awesome deeds of the Lord but we must take the time and open our eyes to see.  Our praise will follow. 

Good News

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
    in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
    the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:7-10 (NIV)

These days there seems to be an endless amount of bad news to be shared. Throughout the day my phone gives me notifications of new posts from news sources and social media which contain accounts of negative events in the world. Turning on the local news at night also reminds me how bad situations are in my community. I am reminded of times during my life when watching a news broadcast carried a running count of trouble; Vietnam War deaths, Iranian hostage days, World Trade Center deaths, and soldiers killed in the Middle East. Now we hear each day the number of infected people and deaths connected to the pandemic. All sobering reminders of how difficult our world can be at times. But even in the midst of all the bad news, there is good news to be shared.

Isaiah speaks of the sharing of good news in today’s passage. He shares how beautiful are the ones who bring good news to the people. Here Isaiah is referring to God’s messengers who tell the people that they will experience God’s presence in their midst. This is the God who has redeemed them after years of submission to others. God will comfort the people. Joy will fill the people again. All of the people in the world are going to see God’s power and salvation. After years of struggle and sadness, the people will shout for joy.

Today we may struggle to see good news in our situation. Many people only see the illness, death, destruction, division, and economic crisis surrounding them. Each day people lose hope. Yet in the midst of all this, the good news of which Isaiah speaks remains and has been increased. God is still very present with us. Through Jesus Christ, God has redeemed the world and brought salvation to all. We are the ones who have the beautiful feet to bring the Good News, the Gospel, to the world. You and I can, and must, share the message of the Lord with a world of people searching for hope.

Being Restored

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126 (NIV)

Have you noticed that we seem to live in a disposable world these days? Everything made appears to be made in a manner which assumes a limited period of usage and it is often cheaper to purchase a replacement rather than have a product repaired. We expect to throw everything away then acquire the latest model. Unfortunately, this way of thinking has been extended to even humans. When a person seems to have outlived their usefulness, we usher them out of our lives just as we throw away an object when it no longer is useful. There is no longer a view of permanency or a desire to restore.

God takes a much different view. The Lord is all about restoration, especially of people. Look at the story of Job. In the end, God restored and increased all of Job’s life (See Job 1:13-19, 2:7-8, 42:10-17). The psalmist writes of God’s restoring powers in the psalm for today. We hear of the Lord restoring the people and turning their sorrow to songs of joy. The Lord does not discard the people but instead restores them.

These words can prove to be important at times in our lives. We can feel worn out and useless. Others in our lives can seem to have discarded us. Sorrow can surround us and hope can seem to fade. The psalmist’s words remind us that we can be restored. We have a God who is in the human restoration business. A God who finds tremendous value in us. The Lord will turn our sorrowful tunes and tears into songs of great joy.

Wonderment

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia[a] in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits[b] thick.[c] 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.[d] 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.

Revelation 21:9-21

One of my favorite places to go is the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. I especially enjoy being there after sunset because when the lights come on, everything seems even more magical. Cinderella’s castle, in the heart of the Magic Kingdom, sparkles in a magnificent way at night. I think one of the reasons for my enjoyment of the Magic Kingdom is when I am there at night, I am transported back to my childhood home where I watched The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night. The show began with Tinkerbell flying around a beautiful castle at night. That imagery comes alive for me when I stand on Main Street of the Magic Kingdom. I am in complete awe and great joy as I gaze on the beautiful, gold-accented, and sparkling castle under the lights.

This sense of awe is noticeable in the words of John as he relays his vision of the Holy City. The angel takes him to a vantage point where the city is fully displayed before him. John provides a detailed description of the city which allows us, the readers, to feel transported to the location of John and our mind’s eye is filled with the beauty described. The accuracy of the details in this vision here may be up for discussion, the emotional response which it elicits is fully intended. One cannot read John’s account without feeling awe. The described massiveness and beauty of the Holy City is almost overwhelming. When thinking about the eternal dwelling place of God, and each of us, having this imagery makes a person eager to arrive at the Holy City. I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that this is imagery intended to create a specific emotional response in the reader. This should not be seen as a factual description of the Holy City.

Each time I walk into the Magic Kingdom, the same memories and feelings flood over me. Whenever you read this portion of John’s vision, a similar experience can occur for you. Do not get caught up in the accuracy of the details. Instead, experience the wonderment and joy which these words can provide you. Let the anticipation sweep over you. Be secure in the knowledge that these words cannot fully capture what awaits us in the full presence of the Lord.

Not Just For Easter

Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed!!!!

For centuries, this has been a greeting often used during the Easter season, especially on Easter morning, in the church. Not a lot of words but words with a profound meaning. Yet what do these words mean? Why do we say them? Do we believe them?

At first glance, these words easily appear absolute absurdity. One of my friends who is not a strong believer struggles with these words. He reminds me that no physical proof exists for these words. He reminds me that all we know about the human body and the rules of nature indicate that this is not a possibility. So how can one respond to a set of logical facts like these? Well, my response is grounded in faith. At first, I agree with my friend because according to logic and our understanding of the world, my declaration of Jesus’ resurrection is not supported. But since I believe in the God who created all logic and all that is in the world, I believe that was is impossible according to human standards is not impossible for God. So if God chooses to resurrect Jesus, then it can (and did) happen.

Another notable aspect of these words are that they are said with enthusiasm, hence the exclamation points above. Why should such words cause this type of response? Well, the reality of what those words proclaim is something that causes tremendous joy in those who believe them. For we know that since Jesus was resurrected, death no longer has any power. We also know that we share in that resurrection which means that life here on earth is not the only life. Our life here is a portion of our complete life. We will share in a never-ending life with our Lord. The joy that comes from this truth is one that cannot, and should not, be contained. Christians should be shouting from the rooftops. Our lives should show this great joy.

However, this prompts two important questions for me. Do I live my life in a manner which demonstrates my belief in these words? Second, do I limit my expressing of this belief to one Sunday a year?

The Church made a decision hundreds of years ago to refer to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. People began to think of the Lord’s Day as their sabbath. In fact, not that long ago in the history of the United States businesses were closed on Sunday, it was unacceptable to mow your lawn or hang out laundry on a Sunday, and only essential human/animal care need providers were allowed to work on Sunday. The Christian Church had adopted many of the rules of the sabbath from their spiritual ancestors, the Hebrew people. All this because Sunday was intended to be a day to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Not one Sunday a year, but every Sunday. This leads me to wonder why in worship services we do not declare the same statement which we tend to use on Easter morning.

Taking the above thought a step farther, why do we limit the greeting to Sundays alone. If I truly believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on Easter morning, and if this belief is something which brings me great joy and benefit, why would I not live every day in a way which demonstrates my belief. I will be honest, I am not truly sure how that might look since I have never tried to live this way before. I suffer from a behavior pattern which other believers seem to suffer from as well. I tend to compartmentalize my life so much that I have certain times for faith matters.

What would it look like if I lived my life in a manner which demonstrates my belief in Jesus’ resurrection?

This is a question to which I would enjoy hearing your responses. I will ponder this some and it will be the topic of a future blog. Please give me your ideas as catalyst to my future post.