Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Obedient Heart

It is hard not to stop for a moment on the journey of Jesus from Mt. Hermon to Calvary and not wonder about this unnamed woman and her shouted out word of blessing.  Who was this woman who proclaimed the mother of Jesus a blessed woman?  She spoke while Jesus was teaching a growing crowd of people and it took some measure of boldness to raise her voice so that it could be heard in that male dominated world.  "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" she cried out.  In response Jesus said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it."  (Luke 11:27-28)

While it is a rather strange verbal exchange, one can only wonder if was not one of those "good an better' moments such as we hear in the Sermon on the Mount, or one of the "good, but better" moments such as we heard in the home of Martha and Mary.  He certainly did not dishonor women as mothers.  He did not deny the values and goodness of a woman who brought life into the world and nurtured it.  Such is a good thing, but what He did do was to say an even better thing was hearing the Word of God with an obedient heart.  If being a mother is a good thing, then a better thing is to please God.

It should be no surprise that Jesus would be focused on the obedient life.  Obedience was the thing which was keeping Him moving steadfastly toward Jerusalem.  He understood an obedient heart brought great spiritual blessing, a blessing that was even greater than giving and sustaining life.  An obedient heart enables us to move forward into God's future without looking back.  Truly, we are more greatly blessed when we are able to walk after God in such a way. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fathers Speak

Our praying is too much monologue; not nearly enough dialogue.   Actually, in most cases, it is all monologue and no dialogue.  When that disciples asked a just-finished-praying Jesus for a lesson in prayer, he not only got a model prayer, but an important word about an important dynamic of prayer.  Jesus said, "When you pray, say, 'Our Father, hallowed by Your name..." (Luke 11:2).  We know the prayer as "The Lord's Prayer" and it is prayed in worship more than any other prayer. While there are some differences in the one offered by Luke and the one presented by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, both begin with "Our Father."
Addressing the prayer to "Our Father"  presupposes dialogue.  After all, what child talks to a Father who never says a word?  What good Father would sit idly by listening to the concerns of his children without ever responding?  And what respectful child would not tarry after speaking to hear what the Father might have to say about an issue of the heart?  Inherent within the child/father relationship is meaningful dialogue.  Maybe Jesus is telling us an important Word about the nature of God as He directs us to call Him Father, but He is also telling us an important Word about how we should relate to Him. 
To pray, "Our Father" should give us cause to pause and ask, "Is there not something You would want to say to Your child?"  Surely, such would show more respect than talking and running.  Thinking of God as a Father Who desires to share something of Himself with us may require some reorientation, a different prayer structure, and learning to be more intentional to the reality of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, but to do so will certainly take us to a new and more exciting place to be in what is often a dry and mundane prayer life.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Waiting and Listening

After leaving the home of Martha and Mary, Luke causes us to see Jesus alone in prayer.  Watching Jesus pray must have been quite an experience for those men who were His disciples.  Being steeped in the Hebrew religious tradition, each of them was surely well acquainted with prayer.  But, watching Jesus pray and hearing Jesus pray, make them realize they were still children when it came to praying.  There was obviously much to learn and so when He finished praying, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray..."  (Luke 11:1) and He did.
We could learn something about prayer from this unnamed disciple.  He made a request.  Or, to put it another way, he asked.  And, Jesus answered by teaching him and the others.  Apparently, this disciple not only asked, but was also listening.  Here is the part of prayer that most of us need a lesson.  We know how to tell God what needs to be done and we know how to tell Him what we want or need.  But, when it comes to asking important questions and listening, we fall short.  What would happen if we changed our way of approaching prayer?  What might happen if we ask Him to teach us to pray?  What might happen if we ask Him why we had so much trouble turning the other cheek?  What might happen if we ask Him why we continually fall prey to a particular temptation?  What might happen if we ask Him how to love as He loved?
Actually, nothing would happen unless we were actually committed to waiting and listening.  It is a hard thing for most of us to wait and listen.  It is hard because we are not always convinced that there is going to be anything to actually hear when we are praying.  Our low sense of expectation make us learning from Him in our praying almost impossible.  But, just because something has always been a certain way does not mean it has to continue.  Or, does it?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Martha and Mary.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Faith and Works.  Ministry of hands and feet, ministry of the heart.  Service and Contemplation.  Martha and Mary.  Balance.  These two sisters who entertained Jesus in their home in Bethany responded to His presence in two different ways.  Martha made herself busy to the point of losing sight of who it was that she was serving while Mary was so focused on who she was serving that she lost sight of everything else.  And while Jesus spoke of the response of Mary as "the better part,"  it has always been obvious that there was nothing wrong with what Martha was doing, only that the act of service became more important than the One being served.
There is a place in the church for Martha and Mary.  Both provide important service for the Christ and the Kingdom of God.  The problem is the way we lose our sense of spiritual balance.  Some stay busy and use that spirit of being busy to excuse themselves from those moments when the only thing happening is being at the feet of Christ.  And it is also true there are those who get so lost in cultivating their own sense of relationship with Christ that no one else and no one else's needs seem to exist.  Whenever such happens, the church, the cause of Christ, the spiritual life of the believer is diminished. 

Balance is an important word for us as disciples.  We cannot serve others and do it out of love unless we are constantly putting ourselves in a position of receiving love from Christ.  If we are to be poured out for others in service, we must be sure something of Christ is going in our lives, or we will soon cease to be of value to anyone.  And if we spend all our time on our knees and never get up to serve, we soon become so self centered, we are of no use to Christ.  We rightly stay busy for Christ only as we spend time in His presence.  And we rightly pray only when we allow it to enable our partnership with what Christ is doing. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fitting In

Excuse the dangling sentence ending preposition, but Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, the woman who sat at the feet of Jesus listening to every word, does not fit in.  Certainly, she does not fit in our culture.  In the secular world no one gets applause for looking like they are doing absolutely nothing.  What counts in that world is staying busy, being productive, and modeling skill at multi-tasking.  There simply is no room for a person such as Mary who is obviously doing little more than wasting time.
Unfortunately, it is also true that Mary does not fit in the church.  Such is a strange thought since Mary is such a prominent person in the gospel story.  But, the truth is that the church has moved away from the lifestyle, or the spiritual mindset of someone like Mary.  In the church today keeping everyone busy is the mark of successful spiritual leadership.  Coming up with new programs and new methods of getting folks to do what they are supposed to be doing as a disciple is the virtue that the denominational leadership applauds.  People want to be on working committees, not attending prayer meetings.  And if too much scripture is read in worship service which might enable people to be in a position of listening more to Jesus, the masses start looking at their watches.  The church looks for those who can keep the wheels of the institution moving, not those whose spiritual life will strengthen the very soul of the body of Christ.

It is interesting that this woman who would not fit in our culture or our church fits in at the feet of Jesus.  At His feet she is at her best.  At His feet she is waiting in a spirit of expectancy soaking up every word which came from His mouth and experiencing completely the love that was in His heart.  Jesus applauds her for her choice.  He would no doubt do the same for us if we could simply still ourselves long enough to experience what it means to be with Him for no other reason than to be in His presence.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Only Way

After Jesus left the lawyer to contemplate new truth, the Word says He entered a certain village.  While Luke does not name the village, the gospel writer John tells us it is Bethany.  It is where Mary and Martha live and as we listen to the Word we hear it telling us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her home.  Things were a lot different for Jesus in Bethany than back in that Samaritan village!   This story of Jesus being in the home of Martha and Mary is peculiar to Luke and is not a very long story, but it is one that has fascinated Biblical scholars as well as students and disciples. 

Much has been written and preached about the different ways these two women responded to Jesus being in their home.  Martha is the kind of person who keeps the church busy with stuff.  And while some of the stuff may indeed be spiritual, a lot of the stuff which keeps the church busy often seems more like stuff that just keeps people busy.  Of course, Martha was serving Jesus.  He was the object of everything she was doing.  But, as the story unfolds, she becomes upset that her sister is not responding to Jesus in the same way.  It is as if her way is the only right way. 

Here is, perhaps, the even greater danger for us as disciples who seek to live together in a community of Jesus centered people.  Countless numbers of churches have fractured because some could envision and allow only way of responding to Jesus.  Forgetting that the Holy Spirit blesses each believers with different gifts for the common purpose of building up the body of Christ has given birth to more churches than church planting groups.  Martha and Mary may have been sisters, but each one had a different way of responding to Jesus and caring for needs of the Kingdom.  Both had a place then even as they do now.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Condescending One

If there had been a character in John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," like the lawyer who met Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, he would have surely named him, "Condescending."  When this guy hailed Jesus, he was sure he had the upper hand.  After all, he was an educated professional and this Jesus guy was nothing more than a young rabbi from Nazareth.  He was sure of himself, sure of what he knew, and sure than no one knew more.  His response to Jesus' initial question shows he did know what was written in the law about right living, but more than that his attitude said, "Hey, that was easy.  Anything else?"
But, of course, he could not leave it there.   He had stopped Jesus to trick Him, to expose Him, to show who really had the upper hand.  So, he asked one more question, "And who is my neighbor?"  In response to the question Jesus tells the story of the beaten, near dead man by the side of the road, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan.  When He finished He asked the final question, "Which of the three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers.?"   The lawyer answered, "The one who showed mercy."   It is quite a conversation.  The lawyer who knew that God required loving your neighbor as yourself was focused on identifying the neighbor.  Jesus who knew the same God forced him to look at his own heart to see if he was one who really acted toward others as God required.  It did not matter about the identity of the person before him.  What mattered was his willingness to love by offering indiscriminate mercy.

People always seem to get more than they ask for when they start having conversations with God or His Word.  It has surely happened to each of us.  We ask the question thinking we already know the answer only to be surprised that God has a different view than ours.  His answer has a way of going beyond the boundaries of what is expected to a place that challenges us to look at our heart to see if it really is in step with the Kingdom lifestyle. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Not Yet Ready

Unlike today's clergy, Jesus was not into adding folks to the roll.  If He was dreaming of being the spiritual leader of a mega church, He would have responded differently to those three would-be disciples on the road.  While James and John were still fuming about the disrespect shown to them and Jesus by the Samaritans,  Jesus has conversations with three who seemed on the surface to be candidates for discipleship.  The first one was filled with such enthusiasm that he promised to go with Jesus anywhere.  Had Jesus told him what was ahead at Calvary, his brash enthusiasm likely would have cooled.  The second was ready to go, but only after he took care of something seen as a greater priority.  And the third was eager to follow but first he wanted everyone else to know of his noteworthy intentions. 
Jesus left all three where he found them.  One was left with his enthusiasm; another with what was seen as more important;  and the third with the requirements of his ego.  Jesus had no time for such as these.  He was going to Jerusalem.  He was going to Jerusalem to die.  There was no time for those who saw discipleship as something other than the priority of their life.  Jesus had no time or energy for those who were concerned about being inconvenienced by the demands of discipleship.  He was on the road of sacrificing everything and there was no time for those who wanted to find an easier way.

And so these three found themselves watching Jesus go on down the road without them.  It should have no surprise if they had been listening to something He had said just before starting that journey to Jerusalem.  Back before the mountain, He told His disciples that anyone who wanted to be a follower must put aside considerations for self and daily go after a lifestyle which centered on voluntarily embracing the consequences of such a choice.  Those three would be disciples were a long way from that kind of faith decision which remains true of many who would call the name of Jesus today. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

After Euphoria

Any sense of spiritual euphoria was quickly dashed when Jesus made it to that Samaritan village.  Mountaintop moments are special.  They have a way of energizing us to think beyond what is normal.  They inspire us to move toward the deeper things of God.  Sometimes they can even have such sending power that decisions are made which alter the direction of our lives.  It is hard not to think that some of this must have been going on in the mind and heart of Jesus after that moment on the mountain where heaven opened up bringing Him into the presence of Moses and Elijah.  And then came the village of Samaria which was an opening salvo of Satan declaring that no easy road was ahead.
It is actually hard to tell if the Samaritans even laid eyes on Jesus.  The scripture says Jesus sent some of the disciples ahead to make ready for Him.  What is obvious is that those Samaritans wanted no part of the disciples or their Master.  They had long since forsaken the idea that Jerusalem was an important place of worship and they wanted no part of anyone who was so obsessed with the journey there when God could better be worshipped in Samaria on Mt. Gerizim, a holy mountain in their region of the world.  Even while the memory of the moment of Transfiguration was fresh, it became clear that the road of obedience was not going to be a popular road and certainly not an easy one.

As we consider the life of Jesus, we should never be surprised that spiritual difficulties arise in our lives soon after some moment of spiritual euphoria.  It is the nature of the journey.  What is often forgotten, or perhaps, simply not considered, it the reality of the spiritual battle that goes on around us and sometimes in us.  Paul reminded us that we are not struggling against powers that we are able to defeat in our own strength.  Only the power of the Holy Spirit will enable us to make it which once again speaks to our need to be one attune to God through presence moments provided by spiritual disciplines.     

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The First Encounter

The first encounter Jesus had on the road between Mt. Hermon and the hill called Calvary was with nine of his disciples who had been left behind.  When He went up the mountain, He invited Peter, James, and John to accompany Him.  It is easy to imagine how those three must have felt like they were special and the nine who stayed felt unappreciated.  When Jesus returns from the mountain top experience known as the Transfiguration, He finds an angry and disappointed father with them.  This father immediately begins whining that these disciples could not heal his son as Jesus would have done had He been present.
The failure of the nine to be a means of divine healing is not surprising.  Dissension had already reared its ugly head midst the Twelve.  These men were prone to arguing over which among them was the greatest and Jesus choosing three to go with Him up the mountain for a special time no doubt only fueled the fire that was burning inside of them  When the father shows up with a son in need of healing, they were no doubt to full of themselves to be of much use to God. 
We sometimes forget that there is a connection between our own level of spiritual fitness and our usefulness to God.  Spiritual disciplines such as forgiveness, prayer, and immersion in the Word serve us in many ways, but one of the things which always happens as we practice spiritual disciplines in a disciplined way is the strengthening of our own spiritual life.  A second thing which inevitably happens is that we find our spirit getting in line with the Holy Spirit.  But, let us not think that spiritual disciplines are just about us.  They have a way of putting us in a spiritual position where we can be useful to God as He seeks to accomplish holy purposes in the world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Road with Many Stories

Lent brings to mind the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem.  According to the gospel of Luke and Christian tradition, Luke 9:51 is the starting point.  In that verse is a Word which reads, "When the days drew near for Him (Jesus) to be taken up, he set His face to go to Jerusalem."   A few lines later the Word underscores the single mindedness of Jesus by saying, "...his face was set toward Jerusalem."   While arguing with the obvious is not usually a good thing, a strong case can be made for declaring that the beginning point of this final journey to Jerusalem was not outside of a Samaritan village, but on Mt. Hermon and the moment of Transfiguration. 

It is as if on the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus heard this divine voice saying, "Go.  It is now time to go."   Both Matthew and Mark join with Luke in describing this holy mountaintop moment, and all speak of it as this moment of divine impetus which sets Jesus forth toward the cross.  Once Jesus moved away from that moment of transcendent glory, there were no side road excursions.  Once down Mt. Hermon, it was on with steadfast determination to Calvary.

The journey between starting point and ending point is one filled with the stories of encounters with folks who shared the road with him.  While all shared the road with Jesus, only a few walked with Him as He neared the end, and then, even those who had shared so much disappeared.  We know the names of some who travelled with Him, but there were also many who simply appear briefly to be gone as quickly as they appeared.  However, as is always the case, everyone has their story.  All those folks Jesus met on the road from Hermon to Calvary had a story and so do we.  For some it is the story of good intentions, for others the story of a changed life, and, of course, for some it is a story somewhere in between.  Reading the many stories of the many who encountered Jesus along the way can only cause us to realize we are living out our story with Jesus even now.   

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lent 2015

"Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:  Christians have always observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection.  It became the custom of the church  to prepare for Easter by a season of penitence, fasting, and prayer.  This season of forty days provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for baptism into the body of Christ.  It is also the time when persons who had committed serious sins and had been separated from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the church.  The whole congregation is thus reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our baptismal faith.  I invite you, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; and by reading and meditating on the Word of God."
While these words of invitation are normally heard on Ash Wednesday (which is tomorrow) or on the First Sunday of Lent (which is next Sunday), I offer them to you now as a way of sharing the Lenten journey with me through a series of daily Lenten reflections.  Two of the spiritual disciplines to which the Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent invite us are reading the Word of God and prayer.  This particular Lenten series will focus on the Luke material beginning at Luke 9:28 which is story of the mountain top transfiguration of Jesus and ending at the death of Christ on the cross.  Each of the daily reflections will lift up an encounter Jesus had with someone on the road from Transfiguration to Calvary.  Reading the Word along with me and praying over it might be one way to respond to the Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent.
Regardless of how each of us responds to the Lenten invitation, this season does afford us an important opportunity to reflect on what it meant for Jesus to walk the road that led to Calvary.  It was a journey that ended with an unparalleled act of sacrifice for us.  It ended with an expression of love that is beyond comprehension.  There is much for us to consider as we make this journey with the Christ who bids us to follow Him, "by denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Him."   (Luke 9:23)