Be ready…

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Mark 13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 

This is a challenging text. Jesus has been talking about signs of the end-times and here says flat-out “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Here’s what he describes in preceding verses:

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

I would certainly expect that the original hearers of Jesus would have expected the return of the Son of Man in their lifetimes – at least in the lifetimes of some of the younger persons present. That has not happened. What do we do with this?

One thing is to reinterpret what Jesus means by “this generation will not pass away”. Perhaps Jesus is thinking of “this generation” as the generation of humanity before his return. I suppose that’s possible. I don’t buy it, but that’s possible. Jesus then goes on the say that no one knows the day or time when the Son of Man will return.

As we keep reading we shall see that Jesus’ point is to encourage all believers to be ready for his return. Be ready to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. Be ready to give an account of the life we’ve been given and how we spent that life. Be ready to sit in the judgment seat. Be ready to be received into eternity with God by the grace of Jesus Christ alone.

Heavenly Father, make us ready today, for the truth is tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. Let us enter the next life proclaiming the glories of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Wah wah wah… complainers

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Numbers 11:Now when the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, the LORD heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the LORD burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2 But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire abated. 3 So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned against them. 4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” 

After God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt they spent 40 years wandering in the desert before arriving to the land God had promised them. There’s no question it was hard traveling long distances on foot in the middle of a desert. Food and water were scarce. The heat was intolerable at times. Hot, hungry, tired people started to do what hot, hungry, tired people do – complain. They have selective memories related to their days in Egypt. They forget the oppressive hardships of slavery and recall the fish and other fresh foods they ate.

I’m drawn to the word in v.4 describing the”rabble”. These are complainers, sowers of discontent. Most communities have them. They focus on the faults/problems/challenges present and enjoy getting others stirred up as well. But the truth is I’m often the one complaining, at least complaining to God if not to other people.

I’ve been blessed in more ways than I can count, but it’s easy to get into a “glass half empty” mindset. I can tend to see the few things that are wrong rather than the many things that are right. The fundamental problem is a lack of gratitude or, as in the case of the rabble in our passage, selective memory. I’ll think back on the “good ol’ days” when things were better, but most things seem better in the rearview mirror don’t they?

So today I’m wondering where I’m missing my blessings because I’m focused on my problems. Where am I allowing a spirit of ingratitude to get the best of me? How can I intentionally focus on what’s right rather than what’s wrong?

Heavenly Father, remake me from the inside out. Give me grace to overflow with gratitude for your abundant mercies. Amen.

The widow’s mite…

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Mark 12:41 (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

On its face it seems absurd for Jesus to suggest that the widow, who gave almost nothing, gave more than the large sums of the rich people. But of course Jesus isn’t referring to the monetary total here. The currency of the Kingdom of God isn’t dollars, but faith. You might remember Jesus saying:

For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)

Money can’t move the mountain, but faith can. The widow demonstrated extravagant faith, so there’s no telling what God was able to do with her small offering. I have some mountains in my own life. In my family. In the church I lead. In myself. This morning I’m wondering what it would look like for me to demonstrate extravagant faith as I stand at the base of these mountains – like the widow.

Lord give me faith like the poor widow who was rich in you. And give me rest as I struggle with sickness in my chest and lungs. Your Kingdom come in me today. Amen.

Like angels in heaven…

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Mark 12:18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21 and the second married the widow and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22 none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23 In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” 

This is a ridiculous question given in a vain attempt to trick Jesus into saying something controversial, or to trip him up mentally and get him to admit there is no resurrection in the life to come. Neither of these outcomes is what happens. What sticks out for me this morning is v.25 “For when they rise from the dead they neither marry or are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

This verse seems to indicate that when we rise from the dead we will have a different physical form than what we’ve had in this life. We will be “like angels”. Does this mean we’ll have wings? I believe I’ve seen angels a few times in my lifetime, but they weren’t all the same. They were different sizes and had different purposes. I’ve seen warring angels (large, fierce). I’ve seen guardian angels (also large). I’ve seen the heavenly host singing in worship (similar to the pic, fairly small but LOTS of them). Again, not all had the same appearance and not all had the same purpose.

Even more interesting to me is the question of post-resurrection relationships. Will we see the people we love in the next life? If so, will we enjoy the same kind of relationship with them, or will it be different? If we’re in the presence of God, will it matter? So many questions and, frankly, few clear answers for us in scripture. That said, of this I’m fairly certain – we will enjoy complete fellowship with God and that fellowship will be eternal. Thanks be to God for the promise of eternal life. Amen.

Getting beyond “this” or “that”

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Mark 12:13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

The people sent to trap Jesus were people who had already rejected Jesus. They began with simple flattery in v.14 then try to set Jesus up with a trick question. Do we pay Caesar or not? The options implicitly offered to Jesus as responses would be “yes” or “no”. Either one would potentially put Jesus in jeopardy. Jesus chose a third option. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.

The thing about viewing life through the lenses of faith and scripture is that we will often discover more options than the simplistic choices the world has to offer. Are you for this or against it? Are you right or left? Are you a believer or not? The Lord gives us non-traditional options.

I think about Moses standing on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army in pursuit. Do we fight or do we drown ourselves in the sea? Neither. God said, “Moses, raise the staff I gave to you.” And the sea parted so the people could cross the sea on dry ground.

I think about Joshua leading the people to occupy the Promised Land. Faced with the formidable city of Jericho they no doubt asked, “Do we try a suicide mission to take the city by force or do we go around it?” Neither. God directed them to march around the city seven times then blow their horns. The walls came down.

This morning I’m wondering where the world around me is trying to get me to do this or that, accept either/or as the only possibilities. How might the lenses of faith and scripture open other possibilities which may not be obvious? How does God view the situation? What biblical stories come to mind in relationship to my issue?

Gracious God, the bible tells us that your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. Give us grace to see the world as you see it. Open our minds to possibilities which may not be obvious, but which honor you and your Kingdom. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Maturing in faith and used cars…

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Psalm 66:10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; 12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

As children of God we know that God cares for us, provides for us, guides us on the path of life. But, as these verses indicate, God will also challenge us, test us so we might grow/mature.

As father of three young adult children, I’ve become accustomed to helping my kids buy cars. There are many potential pitfalls in a car purchase, particularly in a used car purchase. Particularly in a used car purchase when you only have a few thousands dollars to spend. There’s so much junk available for sale it can take a while to find one that appeals, that is mechanically sound, and can be bought with a small budget. I’ll be honest, I don’t particularly enjoy the process, but I don’t want my kids getting fleeced, so I generally play a very active role, even when they’re the ones forking over their own money.

Recently my older daughter Victoria has told me she wants to replace her 17 year old vehicle with something a bit newer. Ok. But Victoria is now 25 years old – not a kid. So I’m helping her get started in the process, but it’s going to be different this time. She will take the lead role in the search process. I will give her guidance, but she’s the one who will do the work.

I expect she will find that getting a car you want on a small budget is not easy. It’s frustrating when people misrepresent what they’re selling, which you only find out after making the drive and wasting lots of time. Or when you think you’ve found what you’re looking for, only to find out there’s something seriously wrong with the car which wasn’t immediately obvious. Or when the car you want is just out of financial reach and the owner won’t budge on price. Ugh….

And I know my instinct will be to jump in and do it for her. She will get tired and want me to take over, but I must resist and let her work through the process. It will be harder on her, and harder on me in some ways, butI want her to grow. To learn. To be able to navigate things without her daddy.

This morning I’m wondering how my heavenly Father is testing me, pushing me, inviting me to grow in faith and maturity – out of love for me. There are a few things that come to mind for me. What about you? How would it change your perspective on your struggles if you understood them as opportunities to get stronger, smarter, better, more faithful?

Lord, listen to your children praying. Give us grace to not only enjoy the blessings, but embrace the struggles. Amen.

 

Have faith in God…

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22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

When I read passages like this one I’m tempted to read it as an individual. What does this passage have to say to ME? But today is different. As I read the passage it’s helpful to remember that the gospels were written with people groups in mind as they were dealing with the normal blessings and struggles of living in close community with others. The word that sticks out for me here is the word “faith” as in “Have faith in God.” Faith is the invitation to believe that all things are possible with God.

Yesterday I was interviewing some 8th grade members of my church who are going to be confirmed on Sunday. In other words, since they were baptized as infants and had no say in the matter, they will publicly profess faith in Jesus Christ and affirm their baptisms. One question I always like to ask is, “What did you learn about your faith that will stick with you?”

One 8th grader got a very serious look on her face when I asked this question. She told me that her family had been through a lot over the last couple of years – some very difficult hardships including the death of her father. She said she didn’t know if she and her family would survive the incredible pain and grief of that loss, but the Lord saw them through. She chose as her memory verse Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In a time that seemed hopeless, her faith gave her and her family courage to go on with life. THAT is faith, my friends. From an 8th grader.

Lord, give me faith to believe all things are possible with you. Amen.