Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Paralytic Point   2 comments

A verse jumped off the page at me in Mark 2 this morning. The story of the four men bringing their crippled friend to see Jesus is one of those classic tales that is told in early discipleship teachings. Rightfully so, too, as it is a great visual for children to learn of how much Jesus loved the man and healed him. It is also an early look into how the teachers of the day would challenge Jesus because of the forgiveness of sins issue Jesus raised to their objection. There’s another hidden treasure embedded because the man got up, picked up his mat, and walked away. Carrying one’s mat on the Sabbath was also breaking the law.

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What jumped at me today was not the additional tale of the crowd size. The house was filled to the brim and even at the door (and I’m assuming windows) crowds were gathered to hear Jesus. Why? What was he doing? Did they all know about the mat and roof story that was about to happen? Nope!

Between describing the crowd and the introduction of the crippled man and his companions, the text simply says this, Jesus was preaching the word to them (Mark 2:2). That’s it. He wasn’t healing the lame or the blind or the deaf. He wasn’t performing other miracles of any kind or even magic tricks. He wasn’t glowing in the dark and telling people to pray to him. He wasn’t turning water into wine (I’d follow him around for that-just kidding). He was preaching the word to them.

Overlooked a lot in the teachings about Jesus today is how much he preached. The stories and healings and miracles and dialogues are rich with messages to share, and they should be shared. But we see more than a time or two in Scripture that when he is out and about he is teaching and preaching, “as one with authority.” His preaching was powerful, penetrating, unique, bold, and obviously engaging to have so many come from all over the place to hear him.

Maybe I should ditch my scrolls of questions about how things are done when I get to heaven and just do the Mary thing – sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him teach. Perhaps that’s the point.

Lonely, or Perfect?   Leave a comment

Mark’s first chapter indicates a couple of times that Jesus went to lonely or secluded places.

The first reference is that Jesus got up early and went to the wilderness, arid, a lonely place where he could pray. Morning quiet time is what works best for me. What about you? Any other time of day is far too difficult because my mind has already hit overdrive later and is challenging at best to bring to a crawl for a sound, fulfilling time alone with God. It isn’t impossible, just hard to achieve for me.

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The other reference is when Jesus was simply trapped in place by large crowds. Of course he had the compassion to heal them all and cast out all of their evil spirits, so he would do so (and I’d say) with great joy. But this was overwhelming for his human capacity, so for any kind of rest or opportunity to spend time in prayer, he had to go to secluded places. Seclusion is an intentional separation where you are either running from something or being forced somewhere not of your own will.

Seclusion has negative connotations. Loneliness can be similar, but in this case, it is an intentional choice. For me it would be to say that each morning when I get up and around and have my cup of coffee that I have my quiet time because it is mandated, a command, an order. If it is something I have to do, my motivation is decreased greatly. If it is something that I want to do, desire comes easily.

Where I go for my quiet time is in the peaceful setting of my home office. I say peaceful simply because early in the morning it is very quiet. I’m literally surrounded by work opportunities but ignore them for this sacred moment. I’m up long before my wife and can read and meditate, using candles to set the mood if I like or low lighting. I’ll read Scripture and poetry and then open my laptop and write in this journal. Often, my prayer itself comes through these moments without the traditional-formal closing of the eyes and bowing of the head. In here, in this time, I am in the arms of God, sipping coffee and enjoying the presence.

It is a lonely place, but I’m anything but alone. That makes it perfect!

Burned Out Christmas Lights   Leave a comment

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The Christmas lights I grew up with were so much easier to work with. If a bulb burned out somewhere in the string, it was because the first non-burning light bulb was no longer working. All you had to do was replace that first bulb and the rest of the lights would come back on.

As time would have it, Christmas lights have evolved like everything else. Now when a section of lights goes out, it is not nearly so simple a solution. In fact, it could be any one of those bulbs that might have burned out. It could also be that somewhere in that section one of the tiny wires has broken and the bulbs themselves are actually fine.

Pre-lit trees have been even less friendly to me. Heaven help you if one of those bulbs burn out or you have a broken wire somewhere in the tree. The last time we encountered this, we ended up cutting all of the lights out of our formerly convenient tree and replacing them with strings of loose lights. When replacing problem A with problem C, sometimes it seems best to revert to problem B. It’s a trap!

When I hear the story of the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20, I hear a lot of narratives. One that stands out in my mind today is how the glory of the Lord shone about the whole scene when the angels were delivering the Good News about the birth of Jesus. Biblical interpreters refer to this as a radiant light. It’s the kind of light that would cause you to hold up your hand or arm to protect your eyes. Today, we would put on our sunglasses or hope our transition lenses would soon catch up to the display before us. Think Griswold’s house, you’ll understand.

But this light wasn’t blinding. As soon as the angels left and took the light with them, the shepherds huddled together and decided they needed to go find this child. I love how the text refers to their actions as hurried from there. They excitedly went into the village wondering where the child was, found him and worshipped, and then told everyone they saw the whole story about God’s presence and angels and a Savior. They had all become little lights who received their energy from the big light.

Isn’t that the job of all believers even after all this time? We are the little lights that still have the responsibility of shining on everyone we encounter. The light within us is the light of Christ. Scriptures offer plenty of examples of how we should never allow our lights to be covered or burned out.

Life happens, and this year’s events have certainly made it more challenging to shine. How does one live as a radiant beam when only seeing people in 2-dimensional Zoom meetings or over the phone? Everything is different, and what would be challenges any other time have been magnified many times over. Think of all those who have lost loved ones but have been unable to have formal services to declare that love. Think of all those situations where entire households have been wiped out. This of all those who have been out of work for nearly a year now and face life in the streets if something doesn’t happen soon. Think of all those healthcare workers who are worn to a frazzle. Think of all those who have seen injustice upon injustice because of the color of their skin. What happens when so many lights either go out or are turned off?

Your responsibility as a believer is simple and not designed to solve all the world’s problems. Shine where you are! That’s it. If you shine the light of Christ in the small piece of this world where you reside, then it is hoped that those encountering you will be encouraged to shine their lights. Do the math. If you shine and inspire the next guy or gal to do so, then they’ll inspire the next, and so on and so on. The next thing you know, the whole tree of your community is well lit for all to see.

This Christmas, shine. Sing about that little light of yours. Make it your Christmas song. You know the tune.

Christmas Trips   Leave a comment

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Everywhere I have served as Pastor I have tormented adults and youth with a Christmas IQ quiz. The test is designed to help people differentiate between what Scriptures actually say about the Nativity scene and what traditions we have added to it. Let’s face it, we are professionals at filling in the blanks because we don’t always enjoy stories with missing details.

One of the quiz questions has to do with how Mary traveled when she and Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This trip could have taken a couple of days and she was about to pop with baby Jesus. Pardon my uncaring choice of words there. The multiple choice options are that she:
a) rode a donkey while Joseph walked beside her
b) took Amtrak
c) walked just like everyone else
d) the Bible doesn’t say.

Most people select “a” because it just makes too much sense. A donkey has a smoother back than a camel, I’m fairly certain Amtrak wasn’t around yet, and it seems mighty mean of Joseph to make her walk that far being that pregnant.

The correct answer, if you’re curious, is d), the Bible doesn’t say.

The point? Well, there is none, unless you’re trying to score higher on the quiz than everybody else in the room.

We do not know how they traveled although I’m quite certain you can eliminate Amtrak from your guesses. They traveled from Nazareth, crossed the Jordan to go down it’s east side to avoid Samaria like most good Jews did at that time, crossed back over at Jericho, then trekked up the rocky path to Jerusalem, then a few short miles more to Bethlehem.

Do you remember traveling as a child?

I recall a particular journey when I was a child when my Dad took my sister and I to Florida so we could go to Disneyworld. We were in a Volkswagen van that died on us on the way down. All I know is that it took most of the trip money to get it back on the road, so we didn’t get to do a lot upon arrival but did manage to get into Disney. Along the way, Bonnie, my sister and I did a lot of goofy singing, mostly the jingle to Country Corn Flakes. I never really found out if they didn’t wilt when you poured them on milk.

We were kids, and kids on adventures to places where they know there is going to be great fun are usually pretty happy children. So we sang and laughed and had a ball on the way down. I am not sure what it means, but I have zero recollection of the ride home. Actually, I’m positive I know what it means—that part was not nearly as important to me.

The trek that Joseph and Mary were on was certainly nothing fun. They had to go because it was census time and they needed to report to Joseph’s family’s town, Bethlehem. You can imagine the extra burden of not only Mary’s pregnancy, but then upon arrival the highly serious situation of actually delivering the baby! This journey, of course, ended quite well with Jesus, but it was a very tough trip!

How do you approach life these days? The year 2020 has been anything but a picnic or a fun ride to an amusement park. With all of its pitfalls and unexpected twists and devastation, this has been one heck of a ride that nobody has enjoyed. Yet Christians have this one thing in common that keeps us going. It is something that drives us to continue taking the next step we need to keep moving forward.

It is simply this: we know that at the end of our journey, no matter how or when that happens….is Jesus. The Lord is with us every day as the Holy Spirit never leaves our side. That is how we survive the adventure of life. But at the end of that journey, we get to meet Jesus.

And that, my friends, is what the JOY of Christmas is all about for you and me today.

Unwanted Gifts   Leave a comment

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Have you ever received a gift for Christmas that you did not want? Apparently my dad did…on more than one occasion. There were a couple of times my sister and I had opportunities to go through dad’s things, especially after he passed away several years ago. What we discovered were some gifts we had given him some time ago that he evidently never wanted. They were still in their original packaging, brand new. We found this to be a combination of sad, heartbreaking, and oddly hilarious all at once. We didn’t enjoy the discovery yet it didn’t completely surprise us either. Dad was never someone easy to shop for, so I’d imagine after a few years of socks, underwear, and t-shirts that I would have set them off to the side after a while too. After all, what does one do with unwanted gifts?

The story of Jesus’ birth also had an unwanted gift included.

Poor Joseph. He was pleasantly betrothed to that wonderful girl, Mary. We can only speculate how he felt about her because they likely knew one another somehow. We can make some assumptions, but knowing they were on the poor side makes one imagine if they were from families who lived in the same village who wanted to see these two get married. Speculations can be fun, but are pretty irrelevant.

The betrothal period lasted a year and couples were not permitted to have any hanky panky until after the wedding ceremony and feast. After that the normal activities of married couples could commence.

Sometime prior to Joseph’s angelic encounter we read about in Matthew 1, the worst kind of news possible happened to Joseph. Mary was pregnant, and he knew he had not been involved with the process. Now THERE’s a present nobody would want to receive – the one you love has apparently not been faithful. It is the epitome of an unwanted gift. He probably wished he had received extra underwear instead.

Thankfully, this story includes more than an unwanted gift. Joseph was, among other things, caring. He did not seek to have her disgraced (he could have had her killed) but instead opted to end their relationship without fanfare. This is a story of Joesph’s grace.

All of that happened before we get to the Biblical text where the angel appeared to Joseph, shared the news that he was about to become stepdad to the Messiah, and everything moved gloriously forward from there. Joseph showed remarkable kindness to Mary, and God showed even better kindness to them both. They would usher in the greatest gift of all–God’s love personified in Jesus Christ.

My hope for you this Christmas is that you have received the gift of God’s love too. It lasts much longer than socks.