Archive for March, 2012

He was much stronger than most people seemed to think.  When Jesus wanted to get your attention and he put that hand on your shoulder, well, you noticed.

I still remember what happened that day. I was just walking and talking with the other disciples when he walked up beside me, put his arm around me and pulled me close.

“Are you up for a special mission today?” he asked, and when Jesus smiled at you everything in the world just seemed to be perfect.

“Sure,” I said, “What do you need me to do?”

He started to explain to me that there’s a village a few miles from where we were standing.  And there’s something special about this village.

“In the middle of that town,” he said, “You’re going to find a donkey.  And it’s a donkey that has never been ridden by anyone.  And I want you to untie that donkey and bring it back here to me.”

I must have had a puzzled look on my face.  Or, maybe he thought I was thinking Jesus is sending me to steal a donkey.

So, he smiled again and said, “If anyone in town says anything to you about taking the donkey, just tell them you’re borrowing it for your teacher and we’ll bring it back when we’re done.”

Jesus didn’t send me on this journey alone.  I went with another disciple and on the way there, I relayed the information about the donkey. (The other guy thought we were going to steal it too.)

When we got to the town, we found the donkey just where Jesus said we’d find it.  As we started to “borrow” it, some of the people who were nearby came over to stop us.

“Where do you think you’re going with that donkey,” they asked. “Who gave you permission?”

We explained that this was for our rabbi and that we’d bring it back when we were finished and that seemed to satisfy the crowd. They returned to doing what they were doing.

We made the journey back to Jesus with that stubborn donkey.  Really, have you ever tried to move a donkey? They absolutely have minds of their own!

When we got back to Jesus, we realized that he was going to ride on this donkey as we were heading in to Jerusalem and we started to think that it just wouldn’t do for Jesus to ride on the bare back of a donkey, so some of us took off our coats and let him sit on them.

Then we started to move toward Jerusalem and people lined up in front of us and behind us.  People were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessings on our king!”  They saw Jesus as the king who is descended from David.  It was a celebration!

I thought about it in the years that followed and I realized something had happened at that moment. God was giving us a clear message. God had not forgotten us – he never forgets his people and our rescuer, our redeemer, came riding into town on the back of a donkey.  Salvation is here!

But we really didn’t see what was coming.

Jesus had told us so many times along the way, “My time has not yet come.”  But it had.  He acted differently as we were approaching Jerusalem. He started to teach us with even more passion. He was preparing us for what would happen next.

And what we didn’t realize at the time was that ahead of us was a storm, a hurricane.  When Jesus sat atop that donkey and started to ride, he was heading directly into it.  He made the choice to face down everything that stood in the way and to see what was on the other side.

Another display of power had taken place at this time too.  It was a column of Roman soldiers dressed in full gear and marching in step into Jerusalem. They were arriving to secure the city for the Passover and they were the escort for Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect who represented Emperor Tiberius.  He so despised this annual trip to Jerusalem for the Passover and his only goal was to keep the peace.  By comparison, this parade was much larger and much more powerful.  With that parade came the storm of power and might.

And there was another crowd watching these events.  We had watched Jesus help so many people and teach so many about love, but there was a group that saw him as challenging everything they stood for.  Time and time again, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had tried to trap him with questions.  We loved Jesus because he always seemed to flip those question right back on them.  They squirmed and sulked and went away.

But now, they were here, slipping into the background and when they saw Jesus moving into the city with this group of followers, they realized that something had to happen.    It was another storm of discontent and pride.

That day, what you call Palm Sunday, brought that storm of power and strength, in contact with this storm of discontent and pride and then Jesus rode right into the center of it.

That day, our journey took us to the temple and we walked through it with Jesus.  The temple was such a large structure and filled with so many people.  As we stood there and looked around, all of us had a sense that this was going to be a Passover unlike any other.  Something was going to happen and Jesus seemed to know it too.

After the end of our tour, he said he was tired and needed some rest.  We made the two-mile trip back to Bethany and to the place we would be staying for the week.  The next day, we’d make that trip back into the city.

But the storm was already churning in the background.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but the events that would happen over the next few days would change the course of human history forever.  All we knew at the time was that this was tragic and painful.  But Jesus did it because he loved us.

Time, though, gives us a different perspective on the events of our life and, in time, I’ve had the chance to reflect upon the events of that day.  Here are some things that I’ve come to understand.

Jesus made the choice.  Jesus is the one who sends us to get the donkey.  He’s the one who chooses to get on the donkey and ride it into the city.

In just a few days, the crowd moved from cheering for Jesus to shouting for his death.  Oh, how fickle we can be in our faith!

This is just the beginning of our story and the Journey to the Cross is just beginning.

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Text:  John 12:20-33

Thoughts: In the previous week, I concentrated on the statement of “Quit looking at your feet and lift your eyes to the cross.”  This passage has a similar thought — look up at the cross and be drawn to Jesus.  There’s a contrast to be made of how we are drawn to Jesus and how we can also do some things that repel people from Jesus.  Jesus’ name gets attached to a lot of causes he never spoke to and he gets credited with a lot of statements he never made.  In the end, it is when we love, when we give to another, when we show compassion, grace, love and mercy — and not just talk about them — that we truly show the world Jesus.  When we show the world Jesus, people are drawn to him.

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There are days in church ministry that are tougher than others.  It’s the days when all of the best laid plans go out the window, when nothing seems to be working, when everything is falling apart around you and you still have to, in the middle of the chaos, stand there, smile and deliver a sermon.

To me, honestly, it is in those days that I’m so reminded of my reliance on God. Those are the days when, if it was just me, I’d want to hide in a room in the back of the building.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, our broken and flawed moments can be redeemed into something incredible.

Then there are the moments when it all seems to come together.  And it’s just as powerful as the moments when it doesn’t. I’m finding now that in ministry, I want to open myself up in such a way that I am present to experience what the Holy Spirit is doing.

I thought about that while watching Coldplay’s “Austin City Limits” appearance.  It’s a phenomenal show!

At the end of show, the band members were interviewed.  And what I took away from the interview was the statement that they admit they aren’t the world’s greatest musicians, but they give everything they can. They don’t believe in holding back for tomorrow and if they don’t end a concert soaking wet from sweat, the fans deserve their money back.

That hit a nerve for me in ministry.  I don’t have the best voice.  I’m going to struggle to fill a room with the assistance of a great speaker system.  Sometimes my own fears and anxieties can get in the way of getting the words that are in my mind to come out of my mouth. But what I can do is make the pledge to give everything I am in a sermon every week.  I should walk out of the service feeling as if I’ve been poured all over the place.

I was thinking about the issue of commitment last week.  In the passages we’ve been reading throughout Lent, there’s the language that reminds us that Jesus is giving everything in going to the cross.  He’s making a total commitment of all that he is.  Jesus gives us no less than 100 percent and we struggle to give him .5 percent of our time in a year (that’s just 52 hours of worship).   Someone else, and I wish I could remember the source, tweeted last week that the greatest issue facing the church isn’t an issue of resources — it’s an issue of low commitment.

What would happen if I could be committed even more to the GOD who is totally committed to me?  That’s how I can truly use my gift and honor my call – by letting go of what holds me back and giving it all to God.

Maybe every Sunday isn’t the best service ever, but it was certainly me opening myself up to an amazing and loving God.  And that’s still the best news ever!

For the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on the John 3:16.

As a reminder, here’s the verse in the King James Version:  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Today, my thoughts are on the idea of everlasting life.  Strong’s Concordance defines αἰώνιος (aiōnios), the Greek word for everlasting, as “without beginning and end, that which has always been and always will be.”

In light of that definition, I see everlasting life as more than something in the future.  It’s something that’s already started.

And if we believe that we are now living everlasting life, what would it change in the way we approach life?

At the most basic level, it means that things in this world matter.  Our relationships with others are important.  We’re to love others as Christ loves us.  We’re to speak up when we see injustice and to see others through the eyes of God’s grace.

In fact, if we live as if we already have everlasting life, our lives change completely.

Yet, sometimes the conversation on eternity points out to a future event.  It gives the impression that what we are doing now isn’t the real thing, as if it doesn’t matter.  There’s a song I heard on the radio today about how this isn’t our home. It bothered me.  Eternal life is more than a future event — it’s the now AND the not yet.  What we live today is a part of our everlasting life and it matters.

I ran across this on the United Methodist website in the section called, “We are Saved.”  Salvation “happens to us both now and for the future. It’s “eternal life,” that new quality of life in unity with God of which the Gospel of John speak—-a life that begins not at death, but in the present. But how does salvation happen?”

If we lived out what we find in John 3:16 and the rest of the Gospel message, this world would simply be transformed. In one book I’ve read, the author says that with every action we take, with every word we say, we bring Heaven or Hell to earth.  We bring Heaven when we reflect the actions and the life of Jesus.

We all are living eternal lives.  The challenge of John 3:16 is to live a life that reflects that fact.

In Sunday’s sermon, based on a text from John 3, I offered the challenge to reflect each day for the next week on John 3:16.  In keeping with my part of the challenge, I’m posting some reflections on this key verse.

As a reminder, here is John 3:16 (As found in the King James Version):  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Today, we concentrate on “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish.”

What else needs to be said?  It’s about as straight-forward as it comes.  If you believe in the son, you’re not going to perish.

The problem though is that maybe we have trouble accepting that it can be that simple and straight-forward.  So, we start to add additional requirements and qualifications to what that verse is saying.

We do thinks like think it involves a special prayer that has to be said a certain way.  Or you have a set of beliefs about life that you have to hold to really be considered one of the Christian group.  Or if you really are a believer, then you vote for certain candidates in elections.  or, only the people that attend this specific denominational flavor of church are really safe.

The more I’ve reflected on the verse this week, the more convinced I become that God doesn’t need our help in figuring that out.

He takes us all. He takes the rich and the poor and everyone in between.  He takes Republicans, Democrats, independents and people who don’t even vote.  He loves Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and everything else in between. God doesn’t seem to be nearly as concerned about a lot of the things that we spend a whole lot of time arguing about.

God loves.  God loves the people we love and God loves the people we struggle to love.  God even loves us.

And Jesus’ invitation in John 3:16 is for us to simply believe and thrive in it. 

I love this restatement of John 3:16 in The Message (It’s actually 16-18!):

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”

Can you simply believe in that God without qualifications?

Welcome back to Day 2 of reflections on John 3:16.  As a reminder, here’s that verse, straight from the King James (with today’s portion for reflection in bold).

  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I love people who are “cheerful givers.” They give of themselves and they pour themselves out into everything they do.  They’re going to be the first people to volunteer and they’re going to give of themselves in amazing ways.

Yet, when I think of the example of their giving, it pales in comparison to what John 3:16 is talking about.  In a stewardship sermon, you can remind a congregation that it is impossible to out-give God.  When God gives, he gives us Jesus.

Begotten is a King James king of word.  It’s a word that was sometimes used in reference to only sons or daughters. In the case of Jesus, it means there’s nothing like him ever — he’s the “begotten” son of God.

When God gives, God gives Jesus.  The Trinity gives of itself.

And interestingly, the response of the people to Jesus was mixed.  Some loved him and followed him. Many rejected him.

God gives his son who is the perfect gift and some walked away because Jesus didn’t meet their expectations. They wanted a king. They wanted someone to raise the army.  They wanted someone to drive the Romans out.

And they get Jesus.  Jesus is not the king that people expect, but he’s the savior we desperately need.

Today, I’m thankful for a God who gives and gives and gives for all of creation.  Maybe the response I need to make and consider is that I should be more willing to give of myself.  Maybe I realize that God gives all, Jesus gives 100 percent and I struggle to give a mere fraction of my time in a year to worship and praise him.

God gives. Now, how do we respond?

The Lectionary took us to John 3 this past Sunday and to the passage that includes John 3:16.  It’s a verse that I can remember saying in a Sunday School class as I was growing up.  It’s probably the verse I have referred to more than any other so far in ministry.

Today, I prefer to use such Biblical translations as the Common English Bible and the NIV.  But when I learned this verse, it was in the King James Version.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. — John 3:16 (KJV)

As part of the sermon, I challenged those there to reflect on John 3:16 each day this week.  And so to keep up my end of the bargain, I’m going to reflect for the next few days on parts of this verse.

It begins with “for God so loved the world.”

It’s one of the most revolutionary statements that we can ever hear.  God loves the world.

I’ve heard a lot of claims to the contrary.  Humanity is worthless and filled with sin and there’s no possible way that we could have value to God, some say.  Yet, Jesus paints a different picture with a single statement. “For God so loved the world…”

What a wonderful statement of hope from Jesus.

And there are no exceptions here.

Jesus isn’t saying that “For God so loved the righteous, the holy, the people who are perfect, the people who voted for a particular candidate or the ones who hold a particular view.”  Jesus is saying, “For God so loved the world.”

Yes… this world.  As broken as it is.  As conflicted as is as.  As frustrating as it is.

God loves it.

And if God can love this world, then maybe I can come to realization that I’m not better or more privileged than God.  God loves all the people I love and he also loves all of the people I struggle to even like, much less love.  If God can love, then I can probably be a lot more loving too.

“For God so loved the world” — and I have no excuse to be judgmental.