Thursday, December 26, 2019

Jesus Friend of Sinners

We have just about put 2019 in the books.  Year’s end puts us in a unique frame of mind.  We think about what has transpired, what is, and what may be.   It’s fun to look back at what happened during the year.  Recounting the news, events, sports, weddings, and deaths make for good year-end television.

And we give pause for a bit of the same.

We spent a year on the Gifts of the Spirit in First Light.  That will carry over a little into next year.

Our kids went to camp in Oklahoma.  It wasn’t a 5- or 6-hour bus ride this year.

Some lost jobs.  Some found new jobs.

We gave out more food than the year before and that year more than the one before it and that year more than the one before it.  Our compassion and generosity continued.

We worked hard at being less transactional and more transformational.  It’s an uphill battle in this world that wants to mold us in its image—that has already molded us in its image in so many ways.  We were being shaped in the image of the world before we knew that we were fighting against it, but we have not surrendered to the world.  We are still in the fight.

We began weekly reminders to fulfill our commission.

We blessed over 100 children with school supplies.

We were active in going out into the community and hosting events to bring people to us with hopes of ambushing them with love and leading them to the Lord.

We fed a ton of kids on Wednesday night.  We stopped counting and just went by weight and volume.  We fed some adults as well, but the kids get your attention, and I think we snagged their attention.

We had some Wednesday night youth make it to Sunday mornings, pretty much on their own.

We fed the football players again, including an extra meal because they made the playoffs.

We sponsored Martha from Sierra Leone and blessed her and her family each month.

We had a bumper crop of stickers this year.

Flies and allergies had a good run this summer.

Even crickets launched a short-term invasion just a couple months ago.

Make no mistake, we overlooked some blessings right in front of us.

We still have a post office.

We have a traffic light with all three colors and two left-turn signals.

We have a restaurant and two convenience stores that will cook something for you.

We have Dollar General.

We had rain and weeks without rain.

We saw our lakes and ponds fill and start to go down some.

We had no murder in our town this year.

We had no bomb threats, school shootings, or terrorist activity.

God is still welcome in our schools.

The senior class conducted their own Baccalaureate in the school once again.

There is someone in the pulpit in all of our churches.

Tom made his olive oil peppers again and you survived to tell about it.

We made more invitations to know God through his Son Christ Jesus than in years before.

We put some words on the wall a few times in the main service.

We lost some loved ones, but celebrated their victory in Christ.

We celebrated new life.

We saw our country divided more and more with plenty of blame thrown around.

We sought to live in one accord in Christ Jesus in spite of everything going on around us.

We still face apathy and ambivalence when it comes to responding to the grace of God, even here in the Bible Belt.

We had a wonderful Christmas worship service instead of the traditional Christmas play.  There was no hay to clean up and it was wonderful to hear everyone singing.

Aim and flush still remains a valid goal for both men’s and women’s restrooms.  There will be no scholarships awarded based upon 2019 performance.

As we move into a new year, I am reminded of one of those quips that made the rounds more than even this year.  We are drowning in information and starved for wisdom. 

As we look to next year, my hope is that all will embrace our methodology in March as we study the Book of James all month long and that this study will be continuing conversation throughout the week.

As we look forward to our missions and ministries in the year to come, my hope is that the words of God and the traditional symbols of the church will be sufficient as we distinguish ourselves from the world around us.

As we go forward, I charge us all to pray more, encourage more, and complain less.

As we go into a new year, I challenge you to talk more about God’s love than the basketball or football team.

In the year to come, I pray that we will by our study, prayer, and receptiveness to the Holy Sprit be equipped for every good work.

And being so equipped, that we put the words of our Master into practice.

And being so equipped, that we put away our penalty flags and pointing fingers and love as Christ commanded.

And being so equipped, that we spur one another on to love and good deeds.

And being so equipped, that our heart desires what God’s heart desires, that all should repent of allowing things of this world to be our master and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And being so equipped, that we may proclaim Jesus is Lord every day.

And being so equipped, that we don’t have to wrestle with the words, Thy will be done.

This is a wonderful world that we have been given.  This world is an absolute mess.  God made all things good—very good which considered in totality.  It seems that there is nothing which human depravity has not touched.

What can we say about this generation?  That was the question posed by Jesus as well.

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

The world is not concerned with facts.  The world despises wisdom.  The world insists that you align yourself with its dogma.  It doesn’t matter what you do, the world will find fault with you and try to play on your guilt.

The leaders of the day found fault in John because he wouldn’t take a drink of fermented beverage and in Jesus because he did.  Paul would later say that the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but the world doesn’t subscribe to what God has to say.

What else did the leaders say?  Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus told them that it is not the healthy people who need a doctor.

How can you combat the model of this world?  Let’s consider three basic ways—with truth, wisdom, and love.

We spend several weeks on the truth this year.  We want to worship in Spirit and in Truth.  We want the truth to set us free.  We want to demonstrate our Christian growth and maturity and speak the truth in love.

Make no mistake, while the world may recognize that you are right and in right standing with God, it doesn’t care and will oppose you anyway.

We can subscribe to Lady Wisdom.  Wisdom is personified as a lady in the proverbs.  Keeping company with this lady is life sustaining.  God’s wisdom always prevails.  Fools despise wisdom and the discipline that it evokes. 

And there is, of course, love.  We are called to love as Christ loved us.  That’s a tall order.  It came from the Anointed One who fulfilled all the law and the prophets required of him, and it’s his command to us. 

Love one another as much as I loved you.

You want to understand love?  Consider Christ who stepped out of heaven, humbled himself to live as a human, and suffered and died to take away our sin.

Christ didn’t just come and take the earthly tour.  He came to all of us, even those in defiance of God at most every turn. 

The religious hierarchy tried to belittle him because he ate with and was a friend to sinners.  He not only came from heaven to earth, but to those who knew God’s law and his way and yet lived opposed to it.

The words friend of sinners was to put down the one who was confounding the religious practices of the day.  Today we know these words as a life line.  For all who are lost in the world and its ways, Jesus came for you.  Jesus came for us.

Most will say thank you and amen and Jesus is Lord because we know this friendship.  We rejoice in being a new creation because we were a sinner and were saved by grace.

We know how far we had fallen and are eternally thankful that God’s grace reached beyond our transgression.

When we think of the term, Jesus friend of sinners, we cry out hallelujah because that is our story.

The world has its ups and downs and things that just don’t make any sense. Don’t expect that to change.  We have eyes to see how much God loves us.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

We are heading into a new year.  This one is almost in the books.  What will we do with the one to come?

We could just go with new year, same me.

We could set ambitious goals and resolutions.

We could check out of this Christianity business altogether.  Sometimes it’s just a hassle.

We could keep our Christian label but sit on the sidelines and criticize.  You can get yellow penalty flags with Amazon One Click.

Or we could go into the world being full of God’s love that we know in Christ Jesus not concerned about what the world says about us—not concerned about what the world has to say about us.

We could love like he loved and let the insults, cheap shots, and ridicule roll off as insignificant.

We can be a friend to sinners not by adopting their ways but by meeting them where they are and leading them to the love and salvation of God that we know in Christ Jesus.

We could….

This is a moment of so much potential.  We seem predisposed to contemplate new things, resolutions, reinventing ourselves, and so much more as the new year approaches.

But what will we do?  As this year draws to an end, let us all pray and meditate upon God’s word, and listen for his Spirit to speak to us. 

Let’s take the rest of this year and prepare ourselves to respond to the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus in the year to come.

It’s a new year.  It’s another chance to put our Master’s words into practice.  It is an opportunity to love as Christ loved us.  It’s a new year.  Let’s make the most of it.

Let’s be known by our love.

Let’s take the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus to all, not just those that we think would be a good fit for us.

Let’s invite those who have rejected God or are apathetic to him to come and known him, his lordship, and his salvation.

Let’s invite the tax collectors and sinners to follow Jesus with us as we learn to be his disciples.

The new year is upon us.  Let’s make a difference.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Joseph son of David

For those who have served as liturgist, this is one of those times in the year where you check the scriptures early in the week just in case there is a genealogy involved.  You might need a couple extra days to catch the flu.  These Hebrew people were sure wrapped up in their lineage.  Consider how Matthew begins his gospel.

1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

4 Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

6 and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

14 Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Elihud,

15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

What’s in a name?  We could scroll ahead and note that Jesus is the name above all names.  But what about for us?

If your mother called you by all three names, you knew that you had crossed over some line somewhere in the past couple of minutes. First, middle, and last name in rapid succession was not good news.

What’s in a name?

Joseph likely went through most of his young life known as Joseph bar Jacob.  Joseph was the son of Jacob.  The whole who’s your daddy thing wasn’t a thing because you daddy’s name was part of your name, at least for the guys.

It was something of a big deal.  It was defining and perhaps even limiting.  Your father was a carpenter or a fisherman or a shepherd.  That’s probably what you will be.  Your lineage often defined your life, at least your livelihood.

It’s not like while dad was out fishing, you were home playing video games.  When dad was sure that you probably wouldn’t drown, you were out in the boat catching fish with him.  Even if you were too young to pull in the net, you were there.  This was who you were and who you would be.

You were either in school leaning the Torah or out doing what dad did, until what dad did was what you did.

We can’t really conceive of that life.  We live in this sweet land of liberty.  You can be whatever you set your heart and mind on seems to be our modern mantra, at least until the last decade.

These days you don’t even need to decide if you identify as a boy or a girl until your 15.  Who your parents are and what they do or don’t do is not as much a part of who you are as it was two thousand years ago.

We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on studies about how your family and social situation impact your chances to be successful, however success is defined for that particular study.  But who do we invite to speak at our graduations and special events?

It is often someone who in spite of where they started or who their family was or what was stacked against them, achieved their dreams.  Some had addicts and alcoholics for mothers and fathers. Some never knew they parents.  Some bounced from home to home as their parents didn’t want them, but they are invited to speak and share because their starting point did not define what they did with their lives.

But in this other time that we don’t really understand, who your father was might not have ensured that what you would be, but that’s how you placed your bets.

Joseph, son of Jacob, was looking forward to being the man of the house.  He was engaged to Mary and I’m sure both had good plans for their lives together.  Mary probably looked forward to having a husband who could make her a new dining room set every year for her birthday.

But an angel visit and the advent of the Holy Spirit upon young Mary changed all of that. Imagine Mary telling Joseph that she was pregnant.  I’m sure that Joseph didn’t hear anything after that.  His mind was probably running wild with scenarios.  He’s surely thinking that he is going to have at least one friend who is going to be unfriended.

This whole business of this being a divine conception probably never fully registered.  The proverb trust in the Lord with all of your heart gave way to part two because I think Joseph was leaning fully on his own understanding.

My wife to be is knocked up.  I know how that works and it wasn’t me.  I’m sure Joseph heard Mary’s explanation.  I don’t think Joseph thought Mary was making up a story but what she told him was beyond belief.  She had to be lying, right?

But Joseph was not a vindictive man.  He followed the law.  He surely wanted to do what God told him to do.  He had a little discretion in this matter.  He could make a big deal out of this or just quietly divorce his wife.

He didn’t need to make a big deal out of this.  A single mom—not a widow but an unmarried mother—would have a tough enough road ahead of her.  He would be discreet and this would be his measure of compassion in the matter.

Joseph is surely trying to get on with his life.  His hopes and dreams would have to wait.  His buddies were likely telling him there are other fish in the sea, at least when they weren’t giving him a hard time.

Surely there would be someone else one day.

A man’s heart plans his way,
but the Lord determines his steps.

And an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told Joseph that all of that the Holy Spirit got me pregnant bit that Mary was feeding him was legit.  You go right ahead and marry her.  Finish what was started some time ago.

If you are Joseph, you might be thinking, “Did I eat too many jalapenos last night?  I knew that I should not have gone to the bar with the guys to commiserate my life.  It’s messing up my sleep.”

But Joseph knew this was an angel of the Lord.  The angel addressed him as Joseph son of David.  Did an angel not know that this was Joseph son of Jacob?

Of course, he did.  That’s like basic angelology.  You learn lineages and how to say Fear Not!  That’s a given for angels.

The message to Joseph was not just to take Mary as his wife but to begin to show Joseph that he was a part of something much bigger than himself or Mary or his plans up to this point.

Joseph son of David were words to awaken Joseph to the story of God’s love unfolding through him.  Joseph son of David would not have been the normal address for this young man, well, except maybe as a friendly barb from his friends.

After throwing three gutter balls in a row while bowling with his friends, someone might have chided him by saying Joseph son of David while doubled over in laughter. 

But the angel connected Joseph with the greater story taking place in the persons of Mary and Joseph.

Matthew begins his gospel and begins the Christmas story with a lineage that goes not only back to David but to Abraham as well.  Fourteen generations from Abraham to David.  Fourteen from David to the exile in Babylon.  Fourteen from Babylon to the Messiah.

You have to jump over to Luke’s gospel if you want to go back to Adam, but the angel let Joseph know that something big was happening now and through both he and Mary.

So Joseph did what he was told.  He did not consummate the marriage in the physical way until after the birth of the Messiah, but he was husband to Mary.

Joseph learned what it was to trust in the Lord with all of his heart and lean not on his own understanding.  And since we see that he lived out Proverbs 3:5, let’s consider the next verse.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

The Lord would show him his next steps.  This was a whole new thing.  Joseph knew that he was a part of something big.  Did he know it would be the greatest story ever told?  Maybe, but probably not. 

But that God had chosen parents from the line of David for this great thing was enough for him. 

What’s in a name?

Those skeptical of Jesus after he began his ministry would ask, isn’t this the son of the carpenter?

But we know more of the story than those people.  We know that we are sons and daughters of the King who happens to be the King of kings.

We are brothers and sisters with Christ.

What’s in a name?

Consider addressing someone you know by their first name followed by daughter of the King.

Consider how you would feel if you are addressed by your first name followed by brother of the Christ.

What’s in a name?  Joseph son of David—King David—revealed to Joseph that he was part of something big.  He and his wife, Mary, would be central in the greatest story ever told.

We are part of something big.  We have been trusted with what we call the Great Commission.

We are commanded to love as Christ loved.

Just as Joseph obeyed the command of God delivered by the angel, so too must we do out part in this story of God’s love for us.

Genealogies help us look back.  They give us some identity.  But our part of the story goes forward.  Our Father is God whom we know best by his Son would died to take away our sin and the Holy Spirit who lives within us now.

We are part of something big.  We are part of the greatest story ever told.
Let us celebrate the birth of the Christ child as God with us.

Let us go forward with the commission and command that he gave us.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Farmer's Patience

Read James 5

It takes 1 woman 9 months to have a baby, but a government study has concluded that 9 women could have 1 baby in only a month.  A 9-month term is too long to wait.  We don’t like to wait.

The kid at the fast-food counter apologized that I had to wait.  My wait was almost 45 seconds.  He stilled messed up my order, but did apologize that the messed-up order took so long.

When I think about waiting when I am dining out, I can’t help but think about what Yogi Berra had to say on the subject.  Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.

You want to understand waiting in the modern world, think FTP.  That’s File Transfer Protocol.  Back in the day, if I needed some information, I had to have my computer dial up the computer that had the information via a telephone line, connect, do the online handshake thing—protocol sounds way more official—and then get the down load.

The 10- or 20-page document that takes 15-20 seconds to download now, took half an hour.  During that entire time, you hoped and prayed that you didn’t lose the connection.

I have waited at our one and only traffic light as the light cycled through a couple times and I am still sitting in the left turn lane on Sooner Road.  There has been no traffic at all for over 2 minutes but I’m stuck at the light.  I must decide to just run the light, get out of my car and wave my arms so the sensor that has been asleep knows I am there, or just wait patiently.  Most of the time that I am stuck at that light are not days in which I have practicing patience on my to do list.

If the people in front of you on the golf course are playing slowly, you want to play through.  It only makes sense.  Why should you have to wait?

After my stroke, the doctor recommended that I limit myself to one cup of coffee per day.  I complied with his instructions on one cup per day.  I have fully complied with one cup per day.  Right now, I am up to January 24th, 2029.  Why should I have to wait for the day to arrive?

We don’t like to wait.  We will pay extra not to wait.  We will complain when we have to wait.  Sometimes we even throw a tantrum when we have to wait.

Do you know who learns to wait better than most?  The farmer.  Unless you are growing radishes, there is usually a significant amount of time between seedtime and harvest.

You just don’t see a farmer sowing wheat on Monday and firing up his combine on Friday.   This whole business of a seed producing a plant that produces something to harvest is incredible, but not instantaneous. 

The farmer without patience is a frustrated farmer.  The immediate gratification mindset of this age doesn’t go well with the principles of the farm.

So the farmer plants his seed and then can binge watch Netflix for the next few months, right?  Not exactly.  The farmer always has something to do between seedtime and harvest.

We need to understand that patience is not procrastination.  Just because the harvest is some time away, does not mean that there are not things that need to be done now.

These things don’t bring the harvest any closer but are essential nonetheless. 

This is the season of Advent.  We prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus.  We celebrate God with us.  We remember what we generally call the Christmas story.  We sing of a babe in a manger, shepherds watching their flocks, a silent night, a holy night, and we even ask Mary if she knew when she kissed her baby that she kissed the face of God.

We get that part.  We celebrate with joy knowing with certainty that 25 December isn’t the date on our Lord’s birth certificate, but it’s when we celebrate his birth into this world.  He was the King of Kings as birth but lived the life of the suffering servant.  We celebrate that salvation had come.

We also look forward to our Lord’s second advent—to his return in which he will claim all of his children.  He is coming for us.  We won’t be looking for him in a cave or a barn or some twig hut—in mean estate as the vision we have of the first coming.  He will come as he left—from heaven above.

And some days, we cry out Maranatha—come Lord Jesus, come.  I am so ready now to leave this world.  We want him to come to get us now.   We understand that when we say these words we had better be loving the Lord with everything we have.

But other days, perhaps we are not calling out for his immediate return.  On those other days, we find ourselves doing his work, loving our neighbors, proclaiming the grace and favor of the Lord, bringing our kids up in the way they should go.

We still look forward to the time when the Lord will come and claim us but we are not anxious.  We are patient.

For the Lord is not slow in coming.  He is patient with us.  His desire is that none perish. 

The Lord is patient with us.  James tells us to be patient as we wait uponthe Lord.  But just how can we be patient?

Today, I challenge you to be patient by being purposeful in every moment of your life. 

When you go to work, work as if you are working for the Lord and not for men.  It is the Lord, Christ whom we serve.

When you go into the world, be the salt of the earth.  Be the God seasoning of the planet.  Let others taste the goodness of the Lord.

Be the light of the world.  Let people see what you are doing—not for your own edification—but to bring glory to God.

Purpose your days and your hours.  Lord, teach us to number our days.  Let people see through us how precious this gift of life is.  Why would anyone want eternal life if they can’t see the value of every moment of life?

I have mentioned on many occasions that today’s world has gravitated to the twin gods of apathy and ambivalence.  People are living without purpose.

Sure, people get up and go to their jobs.  They pay their bills.  They even get their kids to school, sometimes they even get them there on time.

But, life, time, work seem like punishments or at best, necessary evils to those living without purpose.  We who live purposeful lives consider these resources, gifts, blessings.  Our lives, our time, our enterprises are blessings of purpose.

How can we patiently wait upon the Lord?  We do so by living a life of purpose.  Jesus said that people will know that we follow him by our love. 

Some fool themselves that they have not found their purpose in life.  The fact is that it is not and was never hidden.  Love God and love each other are surely at the heart of our purpose.  How we work these things out will vary, but we share these common purposes.

Loving God and loving others are purposes that are not hidden.  Let me get Presbyterian on you, and add one.  Let us enjoy God very much.

How can I wait upon the Lord?  How can I be patient while I wait? 


Number your days.

Live with purpose.

Enjoy your relationship with God so very much!

You know the saying that time flies when you are having fun.  It may be true but it’s not all-inclusive.

Time flies when you are living with purpose.

Time flies when you are living a life of love.

Time flies when you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The tasks may be challenging.  The price paid may be high.  There may be some suffering involved but the wait itself is not debilitating. 

I used to dread a visit to the doctor or dentist.  It wasn’t the time with either that bothered me.  It was the time lost in the waiting room.  Well, I don’t mind those appointments so much anymore.

As I wait upon the doctor, I am writing a sermon, preparing a lesson, writing a book, listening to or counseling the person next to me, or sharing the gospel.  Time in the waiting room goes quickly.  I can wait patiently because my waiting time is purposed time.

But you think that all waiting can’t be purposeful.  Life happens.  Pain happens.  Suffering happens. 

James tells us that we are right.  Life happens.  Pain happens. Suffering happens.  Then he has the audacity to tell us to persevere and be blessed.  Perseverance without purpose is just stoicism.  James is telling us to continue in our purpose, to persevere in our purpose, to endure until the day of the Lord.  And while we are at it, be patient and know the Lord’s timing will be exactly right.

He has the boldness to say that waiting for the harvest is just the way it is supposed to be.  Look at the farmer.

James reminds us that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.  We are not waiting and wondering.  We wait with anticipation of the good things that the Lord has promised.

Some of you can hardly wait to celebrate Christmas day.  Immediate gratification is our nature, but we are to be excited and patient at the same time as we wait on the coming of our Lord on a day announced only by his coming.

It sounds like something impossible—be excited and patient.  It’s not impossible.  Our hearts can cry out Come Lord Jesus and we can listen to the Spirit that lives within us and be patient as we wait for the Lord’s return.

You know what I couldn’t stand in school.  It still gets under my skin.  What was it?  Busywork.  Just doing something for the sake of filling the time.  We don’t fill the time!

Waiting on the Lord seems excruciating when we are just filling the time.  Waiting on the Lord’s return while we are living this life to the full, living purposefully, living lives of love is just being patient.  If we are enjoying our relationship with God in the course of serving him, time flies.
Maybe, there’s a little farmer in all of us.

Let’s look forward with excitement and anticipation to our Lord’s return.  Let’s be patient and purposeful while we wait.

Excitement and anticipation.

Patience and purpose.

We can wait upon the Lord.