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The Chair – My Easter Sunday Sermon

The Chair – John 20

Preached at Clarksville Highway Church of Christ

April 16, 2017

            Scotty Smalls, Hamilton “Ham” Porter, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, Alan McClennan “Yeah-Yeah”, Michael “Squints” Palledorous, Kenny DeNunez, Timmy and Tommy Timmons are fictional characters from the movie The Sandlot. The Sandlot was released in 1993 and highlights a group of kids who spent the summer playing backyard baseball but also chronicles their mischief typical of kids that age. From Squints kissing Wendy Peffercorn by the pool to the ongoing feud with a massive dog named “The Beast” this movie is filled Americana at its finest. The movie’s main plot is Smalls effort to get a baseball he borrowed from his stepdad that was signed by Babe Ruth that was hit in the Mr. Mertle’s backyard where the beast lies. They have to get it and eventually they do through some divine intervention by Babe Ruth himself. There are a number of lines from the movie that people quote even to this day:

Ham Porter: Hey, Smalls, you wanna s’more?

Smalls: Some more of what?

Ham Porter: No, do you wanna s’more?

Smalls: I haven’t had anything yet, so how can I have some more of nothing?

Ham Porter: You’re killing me Smalls! These are s’more’s stuff! Ok, pay attention. First you take the graham, you stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the ‘mallow. When the ‘mallows flaming… you stick it on the chocolate. Then cover with the other end. Then you scarf. Kind of messy, but good! Try some!

“You play baseball like a girl!”

What I find intriguing about that movie is how that one summer changed the lives of those kids forever. Eventually the kids moved away from the neighborhood and the team was never the same but that one summer shaped the narrative of their lives forever. It changed them. Each character in this story had an integral part and the movie chronicled how that particular summer changed each character forever.

Today is Easter which, if you have participated, is the culmination of the season of Lent that started with Ash Wednesday some 46 days ago. The season is one that historically highlights the need for cleansing from our sin and so disciplines like fasting, confession and repentance are substantial components in this season. If Advent celebrates the birth of Jesus then Lent mourns his death as a result of our sin. All across the globe, most Christians are celebrating today. While Lent does spend time in mourning and repentance, Easter itself is about newness and life. Death, as it were, could not hold Jesus captive. The grave could not contain him. This morning I want to share some stories from John 20 of different characters. Like the Sandlot, the resurrection changed the lives of these characters forever. I want to use their stories as a mirror so that by reading their post-resurrection life we can see ourselves in that story and live in the newness offered to us. I am jumping ahead. First, the text.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

MARY MAGDALENE

After Jesus rose the first one on the scene is a woman by the name of Mary Magdalene. We do not have much to go on about this woman. There are ten references of her in the New Testament and most of those centers around the resurrection. Luke records an incident in Luke 8 where Mary is mentioned in passing. There was a host of women who were cured from evil spirits and infirmities that followed Jesus during his ministry and Mary is listed as one of those but adds a detail: she had been healed from seven demons (Luke 8:1-2). Seven. It is bad enough to have one demon tormenting your spirit with malicious mischief but to have seven of those things inflicting demonic torture must have been too much to bear. Luke does not give us grand details of how it happened so all we have is a simple statement that she was healed.

In our text Mary does two things: 1) She informs Peter the body of Jesus is missing and 2) She is most likely the first person to see Jesus. For Mary, the resurrection solidified her long service to Jesus. We do not have a lot of details about Mary perhaps because she was too busy serving Jesus and ministering to him. Jesus didn’t appear first to his apostles but to a woman. Her job was to share the message of Jesus with the other disciples that he was there. I think many of us think we have to contain some huge mission for us to participate in the kingdom. Her mission during the life of Jesus was to minister to him and when he arose her job was to say, “I have seen the Lord.” Nothing magnificent or book worthy. Just simple acts of obedience.

Many times in my life I struggle at knowing if I am really following the will of God. I have this utopic vision that my walk with God must mirror Paul’s Damascus vision or it has to be grandiose in some divine fashion. Yet, many people who seem closer to God than myself (which is a lot of people) advise that to do the will of God is as simple as doing the next obedient thing. Mary was obedient to Jesus and the resurrection allowed her to flourish in that obedience sharing the message of newness with everyone.

PETER

Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “Only those who are lost will find the promised land.” If that statement is true than there is no better person who bear witness to that truth than the Apostle Peter. One of the worst smells I have discovered in recent years is what I call the post-baseball-softball-soccer-foot smell. The stench is, for all intents and purposes, unbearable. I am not sure what unholy demon camps inside their sock during a ballgame but it is clear that when they take their shoes off evil is on the prowl. Something that is equally as disturbing is that a couple days after their ball game I will open my truck door to get in and to my surprise the smell is still alive and well in my vehicle.

Just two days before the empty tomb the last thing Peter did was deny Jesus despite claiming he would NEVER do so. In Luke’s account he even said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Lk. 22:33). It was also in Luke who recorded Peter’s three denials and then adds this eerie detail: “The Lord turned back and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord…and he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:61-62). Here Peter is, two days later standing at the tomb of Jesus and, like my kids feet smell, the stench of his sin is still very fresh. Fresh is not the word…the smell of his sin is “putrid.” Perhaps this is why he and another disciple get in a foot race toward the tomb. We are not told the name of this disciple. Some say it is the Apostle John while others think it was Lazarus. It does not matter as to the identity of this disciple more so than the veracity of which they ran. Perhaps Peter was beat because he was not as gifted or maybe he spent too much time eating fish. Who knows?

Of all the disciples I think Peter most wanted the resurrection to happen. There was no closure and, more importantly, no meat to the understanding that Jesus died and rose for him. I think many of us are like Peter. Peter truly was not going to follow Jesus like he should until he fell completely on his back in his sin. The same pain that Peter experienced is exactly the same pain that would propel him to helping lead the early movements of the church. Jonathan Martin, in his book How to Survive a Shipwreck, said this:

If you wish to become someone and something else entirely than the you that was before the storm came . . . you will have to peer into the sea that threatens to swallow you whole, dive into the mouth of it— and trust. You will have to let God happen to you, which requires letting life happen to you, all the way down. You cannot continue to flail your arms, beat against the sea, and damn the waves. You have to let yourself go all the way under— into the depths of God, into the depths of your own soul, into the depths, of life itself.[1]

Many of you have been in this chair and are even in this chair right now. Outwardly you look like you got it together but inwardly you have not identified the shipwreck that is sure to happen. You may not deny Christ overtly but inwardly your denial is as fresh as Peter’s was. The resurrection for Peter was a fresh start on an old problem.

THOMAS

Many of you will not be able to relate with Mary Magdalene and perhaps a few of you can relate to Peter but I think all of us, Christian and non-Christian, can relate to Thomas. When everyone made the claim, “We have seen the Lord!” he had his tight fists and shouted, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Since uttering those words folks have dubbed him, “Doubting Thomas.” I don’t think that is very fair, do you? I am going to make a claim that will probably offend some but will hit home with most: “A faith that is free of doubt isn’t really faith at all.” Greg Boyd in his book Benefit of the Doubt said,

A true and living faith is never a destination; it’s a journey. And to move forward on this journey we need the benefit of doubt. There’s a kind of doubt that is appropriate as we’re making our way toward a covenantal relationship with Christ, for we need to rationally decide what and who we’re going to base our faith on. Otherwise our faith commitment is determined by nothing more than chance.[2]

Perhaps we could learn from Thomas a bit and realize that having faith in Jesus is something that is difficult. We do not have the luxury of the disciples who could see the risen Lord but that does not lessen the reality that he did rise!

If you are here this morning I totally understand if you don’t buy into this Christian thing. Perhaps you have lost loved ones tragically and somehow hearing about God’s love just does not resonate with your story right now. Or maybe you would like to believe in Jesus but there are so many who don’t act like him. Perhaps they post heated political messages or maybe they cast judgment on folks when it isn’t their place to do so. I totally understand where you are coming from. Yet, at the same time, our doubt and struggle does not weaken our covenantal relationship with him but it actually strengthens it. Think of how confident Thomas was after wrestling with his doubt and then getting assurance from Jesus himself. He wasn’t a “lesser disciple” because of his doubt, rather I would argue he had a deeper commitment post resurrection. Frederick Buechner said, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving!”

YOU

So are you like Mary Magdalene? Perhaps you have faithfully served the Lord for years and your post resurrection task is to simply to follow God’s will by being obedient. Are you like Peter? The freshness of your sin is still on you. Perhaps you need to be washed today of your sin and realize the opportunities for you. Are you like Thomas? You can’t seem to make a commitment to Jesus because there are a list of things you are quite comfortable with and you have more questions than you do answers. My only statement is welcome to the club. Wherever you are these three stories remind us that the resurrection changes us. It should at least. Easter is not about chocolate, pastels, eggs, peeps, Instagram pics, cute outfits, family dinner or lunch. Although those are good things (minus Peeps which are Satanic) Easter is really about the risen Lord who offers us a chair that is at his table. Each one of us are asked to sit in the chair…

” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

Natalie Grant released a song called “Clean” that I want you to meditate on the words. Then after that song we will stand and sing together as an empty tomb gives us an empty chair so that we can sit in it and come to the table. Will you sit in that table?

Grace and peace.

_______________________________

[1] Jonathan Martin, How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is On the Way and Love Is Already Here (p. 23).

[2] Gregory A. Boyd, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty, (p. 151).

 

Lent Devotional 34 – My “Clingy Sin”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us… ~ Hebrews 12:1

My wife and I started watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy again. I had forgotten how powerfully analogous this movie is to the Christian life. The first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, introduces the dark narrative of the ring and how Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, must take this ring to Mount Doom for its destruction. It becomes clear that the ring is a metaphor of evil and destruction. Everywhere the ring goes, darkness and evil propagate and until it is destroyed, it serves as a constant burden to Frodo, the fellowship and all of “Middle Earth.”

Watching this movie and reading the above text I am reminded of my own struggle. The Hebrew author begs the readers to lay aside a weight and “the” sin that clings so closely (NRSV). I notice a couple things from the text.

First, we are to lay aside. This applies to both the weight and the sin. I take it that weight and sin are simply two words describing the same thing although certainly one could argue that weight is general and sin is specific. What does it mean to “lay aside”? The NIV translates it “throw off everything” while the NLT translates it as “strip off.” And you thought stripping was bad!

Secondly, the sin that clings so closely. I like the way the NRSV translates it in contrast to the NIV which says the sin that so easily entangles. The sin that clings so tightly seems, at least to me, to make more sense. Also important to the discussion is the use of the definite article (“the”) denoting a specific sin. It might even be appropriate to translate it, “the clingy sin.”

So what?

This is, by far, the most difficult Lent I have endured in recent years. I am not specifically fasting from something and this has brought to light sin that I struggle with. My sin is a lot like Frodo’s ring in that wherever I go or whatever I do, the sin is there. I am reminded of its presence, I am aware of its potency and I am paralyzed by its power. My “clingy sin” is an ever-present reality of my separation from God and there are moments that are often too difficult to bear.

I could resort to pithy statements sure to give me a reprieve from my battle but in the end I find many of those “Christiany” statements to be, at best, banal. You know the statements don’t you? I have even preached a few of them…

  • “Give it to Jesus.”
  • “Pray about it.”
  • “Let go and let God.”
  • “God is in control.”
  • “The Lord never gives you more than you can handle.”

With this clingy sin I have tried all of those and I wish I could say they work but many of them don’t. No matter how much I listen to “positive encouraging music” some days I just cannot handle my sin. In the raw and exposed moments of my sin I realize that my wrestling and struggle become the action of “laying aside” or, as the NLT puts it, “throwing off” in Hebrews 12:1. One day, like Frodo, I will fully realize Jesus cast my sin into darkness on Good Friday but it seems helpful to remind myself of where I have been so that I know where I am going (or where He takes me…trite saying number 6).

You want to know where I find true comfort?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses…”

Right there in the middle of an exposition on getting-it-togetherness the author shares the concept of community. However one defines who the witnesses are, I think we can all agree to the hard fact that we screw up. The author had his (or her?) own “clingy sin” in mind when he wrote those words. When a preacher is sharing this verse he or she has a “clingy sin” in mind. We all do. When a Christian claims they don’t struggle with a sin then I seriously wonder if they are doing the Christian thing right.

I find great solace in looking around and realizing there are others who are struggling and placing their burdens, too numerous to count, in the hands of an Almighty God trusting that he is true to his word and will forgive them.

You know what?

I believe that.

I will close by finishing the context of Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Don’t grow weary or lose heart friend.

We’re in this together.

Sunday’s comin…

Lent Devotional 33 – Angry Jesus?

“Then they came to Jerusalem. Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. Then he began to teach them and said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a den of robbers!” (Mark 11:15-17)

This marks the beginning of Holy Week as many Christians move toward the death of Jesus (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter). Historically on Monday Jesus had this memorable incident where he drives out (John 2) folks who are making a sacred place sacrilegious. This is a prophetic fulfillment (?) to Jeremiah 7 where the same thing happened amidst the people of Israel. I have always looked at this story with a bit of confusion. Was Jesus losing it amid the pressure of knowing he was about to die? Was Jesus so frustrated with people that he simply let his anger get the best of him?

Looking at the text over and over I see things differently now. I used to think anger did not have a place in a Christian’s life yet Paul even said, “in your anger do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). The term “righteous indignation” may have some weight here as Jesus sifts through the hypocrisy and blatant disregard for God’s law on the part of those “selling and buying.” Here is what I see from Jesus’ anger…

Jesus had a laser sharp focus for his mission. Earlier he told his disciples to “seek first the kingdom” and it is clear that is what he intends on doing (Lk. 19:10) until his mission is over. Later on this week Jesus is going to witness all sorts of derailments from his mission from his disciples and we will again see the humanity of Jesus in those intimate moments. What we will also see is that with each pressing moment where the arrows of the enemy are firing at will, Jesus responds perfectly in cohesion with the Father’s will.

Jesus addressed the issue. One of my pet peeves is when people passive aggressively address an issue. Social media has unfortunately become a feeding ground for the passive aggressive. We don’t have to address the issue if we put it on our Facebook wall right? Jesus would have none of this. He saw their struggles for what they were and immediately sought to curtail their efforts.

Jesus became angry for the right reasons but did not let that anger consume him. He addressed the issue, and moved on but he did this because of the sharp contrast of their actions in regards to the will of God. Nothing more and nothing less.

Lent Devotional 32 – A Resurrection that Christian Companies Can’t Profit From

“…’Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘He’s alive!'” – Acts 20:10

I got an email from a Christian company that is knee deep in its campaign to help churches prepare for its ever-important Easter service. This company promised to fulfill the church’s mission by providing the best literature, worship backgrounds, compelling banners, emotional vignettes and everything else to make the Easter service memorable. All of this is available, of course, for a nominal fee. Christian companies are not the only ones who are trying to profit from the season as any patron who walks into Walmart will notice, front and center, the aisles of candy, Easter eggs, baskets, outfits and anything accented in a pastel color for the would-be customer to purchase.

Make no mistake folks. Easter sells.

I wonder what Jesus thinks about all of this right now. The man endured inexplicable physical torture, false accusations, abandonment from his closest friends, separation from his father, all for many people who take his name in vain, live selfishly and only think of him when they are in trouble or a couple times a week.

Look, I am not opposed to companies who make a profit and I totally understand what they are trying to do. Yet, sometimes we (me included) divorce ourselves from the mission of Easter and are caught up in the consumerism of our society. We are sure to get our Instagram pic of our Easter outfits all the while our hearts are still dressed in our own selfishness.

What the companies cannot sell and what the stores cannot advertise is the resurrection that can happen in your life.

If Lent speaks anything to this world, it is a stiff-arm to the rapacious narrative of “me” so pervasive among us.

In Acts 20 a sleepy Eutychus has grown tired from Paul’s message. The NIV says Paul talked “on and on” (v. 9). Soon Eutychus fell asleep and the mishap caused him to fall out of the window and to his death.

We are a bit like Eutychus don’t you think? We are tired from hearing the resurrection every year (every Sunday…) and though we are alive many of us have fallen asleep.

Paul went down to Eutychus and the people were understandably concerned. I imagine the scene unfolding dramatically. Everything is normal until this man falls out of window and then there are screams from people. The sound of his body hitting the earth must have been excruciating to hear. Paul, in a very calm manner, says these words: “…Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘He’s alive!'” (Acts 20:10). It seems to be a weird story from outside looking in. Yet, in this Lenten season this story makes perfect sense to me.

We all have fallen asleep before but each of us have been revived. The word of God might be whispering to you right now, “He’s/She’s alive!” That is the encouragement you may very well need at this time. It is easy to desensitize ourselves from our mission when there is so much consumerism around us. But isn’t Easter still important? Isn’t resurrection still fundamental?

I think so.

Come alive friend.

Wake up.

May you come alive as we crawl our way to the cross.

Lent Devotional 31 – Turn Around

“And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live. ~ Ezekiel 33:14-16

 

I was in the middle of 135 acres of forest, on a silent personal retreat and I was lost physically and spiritually. In the fall of 2016 I went to Trappist, Kentucky (near New Haven) to the Abbey of Gethsemani monastery to devote myself to prayer and meditation for the week. I chose this particular place because it was the home of a spiritual mentor of mine (who died before I was born) by the name of Thomas Merton. It was a wonderful time roaming the same halls Merton and so many other monks roamed and walking the trails they undoubtedly traversed while deep in prayer. Speaking of trails. The attending monk gave me a trail map and the following day I felt confident in hiking and so I found my way to the edge of the property on a knob overlooking the Kentucky landscape. As I went to the bottom of the knob the trail went in three directions but the map only indicated two. I took the wrong one and in the process became completely lost. I remember thinking to myself: “I am struggling spiritually and now I am struggling physically.” Long story short, I turned back and went a different direction and found some teenagers mudding in a jeep who pointed me in the right direction.

“Turn away from their sin.” Ezekiel’s language is emphatically clear yet innately difficult. The simple solution to their generation long dilemma is an about-face lifestyle change. Think about how long the people have tried to do things their own way assuming that their religious practices and ways of life were the answer. God doesn’t say, “I don’t want any part of you. If you commit to change, I don’t care. Me and you? We’re done!” No. Our God looks at our plight and says, “All you have to do is let me in and give up the race. Trust that I will provide for you and listen to my words and obey my commands.” So simple yet so profound. You and I have work to do don’t we? May you turn about and finally repent from your egotistical disposition and find the wherewithal to let God in.

Prayer: Infinite Father where do we start? We know where to go but are fearful of what to do. If we take the first step will you push us? If we make the first climb will you pull us up? Amen.

Meditation Questions:

  1. What spoke to you from today’s devotional and why? Pay particular attention to certain words or phrases that seem to repeat themselves in your mind.
  2. What have you not turned from in your spiritual walk with God?

Lent Devotional 30 – My Sin Record

“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” ~ Psalm 130:3-4

One Sunday I was talking about sin with the congregation and I made the statement: “What if we had a PowerPoint of all the sins you committed and threw them on the screen for all to see? What would that look like?” To this day I am not sure why I would say something like that. My thoughts, I think, surrounded the idea that we were keeping things from the Lord and that one cannot hide from God in the first place and so we should repent from undisclosed sin. People came up to me after the lesson and gave me the usual, “That’s what we needed to hear,” and, “Wow you really stepped on my toes!” I doubt that statements in that regard make much of a difference in our discipleship with the father. Most of them time they are used as a rhetorical scheme to make people wallow in their guilt.

The psalmist does not use rhetoric to make some huge theological point. He understands the nature of what he has done against God. There is no hiding the long list of his sins. Like a scar, the notebook of sins goes with him. That’s why reminding people of their guilt rarely works. They already know it. Yet the “AHA!” moment comes when the psalmist realizes his fatalistic attitude meets the life-giving force known as God. If a relationship with God were contingent on our record of wrongdoing then the logical conclusion is that none of us can pass the test. But…a word my spiritual inconsistent tendencies has grown to love…with God there is forgiveness. Whoa! In a neck breaking, “Are you kidding me?” sort of way we come to this text befuddled. Bamboozled if you will. The creator of all things who gave us life and freedom which we completely abuse for our own misuse is willing to let that go because he wants our worship…i.e., glory. I don’t know about you but I want to bask in that bit of sunlight this morning. Just let that sit on your heart right now and feel the ramifications of that. May you rest not in the record of your unrighteousness but in the realization of God’s forgiveness.

Prayer: Help me to acknowledge your forgiveness and not the guilt of my past. It’s so hard Lord. Amen.

Meditation Questions:

  1. Why do we spend so much time talking about guilt?
  2. What does it mean to rest in God’s forgiveness to you?

Lent Devotional 29 – Foreigner

The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” ~ Psalm 146:9

I have traveled to eight different countries in my lifetime. I know that is not as many as some but it is more than most. Whenever I am in a different country I immediately feel the tension of not being at my home. I am no longer a citizen but have merged into an outsider. A foreigner. One year the church I worked for at the time went to Mexico to help build a church building to help what God was doing in the churches there. We crossed the border in a town called Nuevo Laredo and stayed at a hotel just inside the city. That evening one of the gentlemen who led the trip gave us all “the talk” (not that one J). He became very stern and said, “You have got to realize that you are not in the United States anymore. This is their country and you have to abide by their rules. Don’t do anything stupid.” As we ventured down to Monterrey where we would work for five days I remember passing many Humvees with mounted .50 cal machine guns on the back with officers waiting for someone to challenge them. I felt a lot of things that week but in a foreign land I felt very much disjointed.

You might make the argument that all of us are foreigners when it comes to our spiritual home. The words of a famous gospel hymn come to mind: “I am a poor wayfaring stranger, while traveling through this world of woe. Yet there’s no sickness, toil or danger in that bright world to which I go.” The psalmist points to an ancient tradition of God taking caring of the foreigners who had nothing (see Lev. 19:34). The Israelites were to take care of them, which included letting them glean from the fields of their harvest. Like the Israelites, we too are simply foreigners who have lost their way and are wandering about searching and longing for a home. Like Dorothy we are looking for our Auntie Em, which represented home but until then we are pitted against the forces of darkness. Will you trust that God takes care of you? May you rest in the care that God provides during times of the wilderness.

 

Prayer: God of mercy and direction. We wander aimlessly and our hearts are restless. Give us navigation and direct to an ever-increasing knowledge of your presence and goodness.

Meditation Questions:

  1. In what ways do you feel like a spiritual nomad?
  2. What does home look like to you?

 

 

Lent Devotional 28 – Rescue 911

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~ Colossians 1:13-14

            When I was younger I remember watching a show called Rescue 911 where William Shatner was the show’s host. The show chronicled 911 calls where crimes, accidents, medical emergencies, fires and other dire situations found their eventual resolution through the help of the proper authorities. One episode from Season 3 called, “Unconscious Driver” is typical of this series: “An ambulance crew is traveling during a non-emergency when they encounter a car being driven erratically, and they take action to stop the vehicle. It turns out it happened to be a mother who had suffered an epileptic seizure with a child inside.”[1] The series had the ability to capture my attention because I was always anxious to find out how the calamity ended. It was not a morbid fascination more so than a simple appreciation for the rescue. Of course, Shatner’s voice made it more dramatic![2]

The apostle Paul talks about a different type of rescue in his letter to the Colossians. Paul is spending time talking about the power of Jesus over the dominion of darkness. When I think of the word “dominion” I am reminded of ancient empires who controlled the world. Empires like the Ottomans, Persians, Mongols, Huns, Romans, Greeks and the British Empire. All of these had control or dominion over the people. More so, the world we live in is unfortunately under control of dark forces beyond the scope of our imagination. Evil lurks at every corner and crevasse of this planet and exercises its control freely. Paul shares that Jesus rescues us from those forces and redeems us through forgiveness. Did you catch that? We no longer have to live in bondage or darkness because we have been rescued. The word used for “rescue” carries with it the connotation of deliverance from imminent peril (see 2 Cor. 1:10). I like that! May you trust in Jesus who will rescue and deliver you from whatever evil that besets you.

Prayer: Kind and compassionate father we again find ourselves in the midst of the mire. The mud is incessantly creeping its way up to our heads and it is almost hard to breathe. Rescue us from the evils of this world starting with us. Sometimes we need rescuing from ourselves. Deliver us Jesus. Amen.

Meditation Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to be rescued?
  2. Why is it so hard to trust in Jesus’ deliverance?

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Rescue_911_episodes#Season_3

[2] For a full intro to an episode go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzjDvfyIKGw

Lent Devotional 27 – Desmond Doss

Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” ~ Acts 9:13-16

When you picture a person in your mind that is a war hero what does he or she look like? Strong? Muscles raging? In World War II a guy from Virginia by the name of Desmond Doss[1] decided he wanted to serve his country and enlist. The only caveat was that he refused to pick up a rifle based on religious reasons. He believed strongly in the scripture’s commands to not take someone’s life and so he was a conscientious objector. You could imagine his company’s distaste for his choice and he was even court marshaled for not picking up a rifle. Eventually they allowed him to be a medic and Doss found himself in the pacific front of the war. On a hill called the Maeda Escarpment (nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge) the battle of Okinawa forged ahead and many people lost their lives. Doss ended up saving close to 75 soldiers lives by dragging them to safety under heavy fire. In the end, a conscientious objector from the hills of Virginia who was a small, lanky specimen ended up receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts. An unlikely hero.

Ananias had reservations with Paul because of all the negative things Paul did against the church. Paul held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58) and he drug many men and women to prison because of their faith (8:1-3). Think of someone like Osama bin Laden becoming an apostle and you are asked to help him. How would you respond? God does this type of thing all the time doesn’t he? He takes the vagabonds of society, misfits on the edge, and makes them become his “chosen vessels” and puts them to work. How can this be? The Spirit of God moves on people who might otherwise be cast off as a “waste of time”. Think of people you have given up on because you might think they will never respond to the gospel. Don’t give up. God chooses the unlikely because they are made in his likeness. May you look to those who need to hear the word and may you share it with them.

Prayer: Lord, we too are unlikely in the sense that we do not deserve the grace freely given. We rest in you. Amen.

Meditation Questions:

  1. Who are some unlikely people in your life you need to focus on? List them.
  2. What does it mean to say you are a chosen vessel?

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[1] Mike Miller, “The True Story of Hacksaw Ridge and Desmond Doss: the Medal of Honor Winner Who Never Fired a Shot,” http://people.com/movies/the-true-story-of-hacksaw-ridge-and-desmond-doss-the-medal-of-honor-winner-who-never-fired-a-shot/

 

Lent Devotional 26 – Fourth Sunday in Lent

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

~ 1 Sam. 16:7

For the most part, I didn’t like high school. Toward the end I started enjoying it more but most of the time I saw it as a grand façade where people were welcomed based on status, looks and what they wore or the car that they drove. One of the most painful moments came when there was a girl that I liked who was on my tennis team. We rode together on the van a lot and I remember finally mustering up the courage to ask her out. Then, just when I thought I had an opportunity, she started dating this guy who was attractive, older and had more things than I did. I was defeated mostly because I knew how he talked about girls and more so I knew what his motives were. I thought that most people in middle school and high school were shallow and it was a constant battle of vying for popularity based on things that nobody really cared about…save them.

We should be equally thankful and terrified that God looks at our hearts rather than what is on the outside. Saul was chosen as Israel’s king because of his impressive physical stature and his warrior capability. So when it comes time for the next king to be chosen Samuel assumes that a warrior-like specimen is what God wants. David, a little shepherd from Bethlehem, the runt of a family was chosen as Israel’s next king. What people scoffed at and dismissed as unworthy, God took and said was anointed. No matter how the world is defining you or what categories they use to say you are important, know that God looks at the seat of your existence, which is your heart. May you understand the awesome responsibility of your heart and how God uses it for his purposes.

Prayer: Protect our hearts God because from it, flow the issues of our lives. Amen.

Meditation Questions:

  1. How is your heart right now? Be honest.
  2. What work do you need to do to heal your heart?