Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Prepare the Way

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' " John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. ~Mark 1:1-4

Prepare the Way

Do remember your first date? Do you remember how you primped and preened to look absolutely perfect for that night? I love how girls work to get every hair and every piece of clothing perfectly in place and matching just so, while boys have a way of working it so everything is perfectly out of place. Either way we make sure everything is just so for that big night and then we wait with eager anticipation.

Prepare the Way

Holidays like Christmas are often not only about the presents, but they are about having guests over. If you grew up like I did that meant getting ready. There was food to be prepared, exquisite food. There were rooms to be cleaned. There were mountains of laundry to be leveled. We needed to prepare for the coming of our guests. I realize now that it was not all so much about making us look good as the family hosts, but it was about honoring those guests that were coming with the best we had to offer.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

We find ourselves in the season of Advent, a time to prepare for the coming of the Christ child, a time to prepare for Christ’s return here on earth. So we prepare our homes. We prepare ourselves. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord and to call us to do the same. How? We clean our personal houses through repentance and forgiveness. When we confess our sins and repent, we are forgiven.

"Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! ~Matthew 7:7-11

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Romans 7:1-6

Yesterday I attempted to talk some about our being set free from this crazy rat race that the world has us sucked into. We keep moving about life faster and faster. Why? We feel more and more of a need to keep up with our neighbors, pushing many into unbelievable debt load. Why? I don't quite understand it, but that doesn't mean I'm free from it. Frankly, I'm just as guilty as the next guy. However, we have been set free and we can listen to Nancy Reagan and "Just Say, 'NO!'" We don't have to be sucked into this world of speed and greed. I love the way Paul talks about it today. He compares us to a widow. The law no longer applies to her, in terms of commitment to her husband, any more because he is dead. In the same way through baptism, through Jesus' death, we too are free from the laws of the world that once bound us. We are free to commit to something else, to someONE else.

What is binding you today? Where do you find freedom? What do you think about Paul's analogy?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Romans 6:11-23

Paul talks today about being free from sin. I believe we are. Although, I must admit there are a lot of times I don't know if I really feel it. Oh sure, I'm nice and well behaved when I know people are watching. What about when I get in the car by myself? Or the thoughts of frustration, to near rage, that I feel when I'm stuck in a check-out line at the store and something isn't working right and it seems that only idiots are allowed to work on the current problem. Or the subtle ways I take out a tough day on family and friends. Sometimes, even, I just "lose it" for no apparent reason. It's these sorts of things that make me feel like I'm a slave to sin. I don't mean to scold that other driver under my breath, become impatient at the store, take out my frustrations on my family, or to get mad about silly little things. However, I do all of those things, even though they feel out of my control.

What I appreciate is that Paul appears to suggest this is perhaps normal. My impression is that what Paul is saying is that while we are now slaves to righteousness doesn't mean we don't slip over to our old sinful habits every now and again. In the end, because of Jesus, we are forgiven. That sounds good to me. Something, most certainly, to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Just a Minute

It is hard for us to understand Jesus' delay in his coming. God's time clock is certainly out of sync with ours as Little Jimmy learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day.
Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.

"God? Are you really there?" Jimmy said out loud. To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. "Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for you?" Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, "God? What is a million years like to you?"

Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. "A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute."

"Oh," said Jimmy. "Well, then, what's a million dollars like to you?" "A million dollars to me, Jimmy, is like a penny."

"Wow!" remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. "You're so generous... can I have one of your pennies?"

God replied, "Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute."

Romans 6:1-10

WOW! What timing. Today is the funeral of one of the patriarchs of this congregation. What a wonderful reminder, then, to read today about being baptized into the life of Christ, which also means being baptized into his resurrection. There is hope and joy, the angels are dancing as Harry joins them in songs of praise. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Romans 5:15-21

I've just got two quick thoughts today:

1) Looking at verse 18, if sin came into the world through one person and one person brought justification into the world, how much can my actions (just one lowly person) effect the whole world? I'm not saying that I'm any where near the level of Jesus, or eve Adam for that matter. However, if God worked both of those things through just one person, How much might God work through me? Or you?

2) Verse 20 is something that really struck me today. It is so easy to see what goes wrong that we often miss the good that comes along with it. It's kind of like watching the news at night. We get plenty of images and stories about what went wrong, but what about all of the good things that happened today? This summer the youth are traveling to Lynn, MA (rough part of the Boston area) for a service trip. What we hear about Lynn is the crime, the poverty, the gangs...the things that are bad, we hear about sin abounding there. What about all of the good people that live there that are raising families, that are loving their neighbor no matter what? What about those families?

Where do you see grace abounding in your life today?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Romans 5:1-5

I used to have coaches use the mantra, "No Pain, No Gain!" To a certain extent they were right. I needed to push myself just a little bit further each day so I could get stronger, so I could build my endurance. They were right. They were also wrong. Sometimes pain is your bodies way of telling you to stop, "No Mas!" Pain alerts you to injuries or things that can be even more damaging.

In verse 3 Paul encourages us to rejoice in our suffering. Perhaps this is even where, "No Pain, No Gain" started. In some ways this section sounds to me like a rehashing of the beatitudes. I hate when character is being built. It's usually painful and difficult. Yet, when all is said and done I'm grateful for the hope that it has produced.

So it seems when suffering, difficult times, come along in our life we do have a choice. We can ignore it or run away, but it's still there. We can fight it, but that seems only to irritate it and make the suffering worse. We can embrace it, like Paul encourages us and in so doing we find hope. So go ahead and embrace your suffering, and those who are suffering around you.

QUESTIONS: How do we embrace our suffering while avoiding to seek suffering? (I think there are those who read a passage like this and then try and find ways to suffer. I don't think that is what Paul is encouraging.) How do you tell the difference, especially in the heat of the moment, between a good suffering (pain) and a bad suffering (pain)? Where have you seen suffering produce endurance produce character produce hope in your life?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Animals in Heaven

This is a poem given to me by a student of mine at a former church, her name is Amanda. First she gives us a definition for the cross:


and the poem:

The Animals in Heaven
The animals in Heaven never fight
The animals in Heaven don't bite

The animals in Heaven roam wild and free

And when humans come near they don't need to flee

The animals in Heaven would never hurt me!

The lion and lamb graze together

The people that sinned are healed forever

Back on earth, animals will roar and people will sing


When Jesus Christ becomes the King.

Romans 4:15-25...a prayer

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Father, reconcile my faith as righteousness. Strengthen and renew my faith just as you strengthened Abraham in his old age and Sarah in her barrenness. Jesus, may it be your faith working through me today, and not mine. Amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Romans 4:1-14

Promise, that's the word that stuck out for me today. Paul talks about Abraham and his circumcision. When was Abraham chosen? Before the circumcision! The circumcision was a sign then, simply, of what God had already done in his life. Abraham was chosen regardless of his actions. Is that not the case for us as well?

I pray today that I might live those promises given to me by God at birth, through my baptism. That I might know them in a real way. That we all may know them in a real way. That we may no longer be bound by the law, but be free to live beyond the law.

My question for today is, what does this say about our baptism? Has God chosen us before our baptism, just as God chose Abraham before his circumcision? If that is the case, how does that challenge our understanding of what is happening in the sacrament?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Romans 3:19-31

I can't say that I had a lot of thoughts today. One thing that certain stuck for me was Paul's comment, or perhaps I should say question, about what then do we have to boast about? We live in a very boastful society, culture, etc. I watched both the Vikings and Packers play yesterday and there was a lot of dance and celebrating. They weren't celebrating all so much what others had done, but crying out to the nation to see what they had done. Yet wouldn't Paul suggest that they have nothing to boast about, but it is Christ (God) working through them instead? It's an amazing thing to recognize Christ working through you. See, one of the traps of humility is falling into despair, or a lack of self-confidence. However, when you recognize Christ working through you then you can boast like Paul, that you are capable of accomplishing anything. There is a confidence, a confidence in self even, but it is a recognition, a humility that says, that it is Christ doing the heavy lifting.

All that being said, my prayer today is that I, we, would know the kind of faith that Paul is talking about here in Romans. That we would know a faith that frees us to live unencumbered by the law. That we would know a faith that frees us to live life rich and to it's fullest. I pray that we would know it in such a way that we would live it.

Flight Plan

Last week Dawn and I went to see "Flight Plan". I thought it was a fun movie. I think we both enjoyed that it had several twists along the way to keep us on our toes as viewers. If you haven't seen it, I would recommend it for your holiday viewing.

As the week has gone on there is something about it, though, that has kind of struck me. If you haven't seen it you may have at least seen that the basic plot of the movie is that a mother and daughter enter a plane and somehow during the flight the little girl goes missing. It is amazing, really, with what tenacity the mother continues to search and hunt for her daughter. She is unwilling to let anything stop her. It is a powerful testimony to the kind of love a parent has for a child. How much more is our heavenly father willing to search for us when we go missing, when we wander away spiritually speaking? It reminds me a little of Luke 15. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty cool.