Leaning in when I want to check out…

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John 13: 1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The part that sticks out for me this morning is, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.” There are at least a couple of ways to think about this.

One way is to think of Jesus as one who had the entirety of God’s plan in his back pocket the entire time of his ministry on earth. He knew what would happen, when it would happen, and how. And I suppose that’s possible, but that would exclude Jesus from one of the most significant dimensions of the human experience – surprises.

The other way to think about this (my personal preference) is to imagine Jesus just figuring out that the end is close. Of course he’s known for some time that he would die and be raised. But perhaps he didn’t know precisely when and how that would happen. So in this passage the end-game is becoming clearer. He knows it won’t be long. And perhaps he even knows his ending will be painful. There will be suffering. And yet he moves toward the end, not away from it. This requires courage.

Our world is full of surprises right now. Some pleasant, but many of them not. This Covid world is going to be around for a while – much longer than we anticipated. This puts stress on us in many ways. Yet we really have no choice but to move forward. So today I’m praying for the Lord to give me courage to roll with the punches. To lean in, when I want to check out by pretending things will be “normal” again. There is a new normal emerging which we cannot yet see. I need courage today.

Lord let it be so. Amen

Logic and emotional process..

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1 Kings 4:1 King Solomon was king over all Israel… Solomon had twelve officials over all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household; each one had to make provision for one month in the year.

These verses may not seem like a big deal, but they are. You may recall that God assigned each of the 12 tribes of Israel a particular land area with set boundaries and a group of elders to govern each tribe. We know that some tribes had far more people and land area than others. For instance Judah (the area in which Jerusalem was located) was the largest tribe in land area and number of people. Benjamin was the smallest. Solomon decided a reorganizing of Israel would even things out and make it possible for each of the 12 regions to share in providing for the king and his household one month out of the year. Makes perfect sense. And instead of having local elders oversee their respective tribes, Solomon appointed officials of his choosing (people he already knew). Again, Probably made all the sense in the world.

But logic isn’t the only thing at work in a situation like this. There is emotional process as well.

People have emotional attachments to the way things used to be even if the logic for change is sound. Like everyone else I’m being forced to accept changes in many areas of life – whether I like it or not. Even for someone who generally embraces change, it has not been easy. And I am compelled to make changes in the church I lead as pastor. And while these changes have proven to be reasonably effective thus far, it’s still very hard. As a senior leader I have to remember that logic isn’t the only thing at work. I have to be attentive to the emotional process of change affecting everyone. We all experience grief and loss when change happens, especially so much change in such a short time.

Lord we all need your grace in this day and age. Change may be necessary, but it’s still very hard. Help us to keep hope in the midst of struggle on many fronts of our world. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Take my yoke…

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Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

V.28 basically describes most people I encounter these days, including myself. We are “weary and carrying heavy burdens”. Sometimes it’s a physical weariness as people work crazy hours. Who knew working from home would mean working more, not less? And then there’s sleep, or lack thereof. My sleep isn’t great under the best of circumstances, but our recent time change to daylight savings (I’m in central time zone) and the unsettled nature of our recent election cycle means sleep can be illusive.

But there’s another kind of weary. It’s a weariness of spirit. It’s fatigue that comes from loneliness as we are separated from people we love, or wariness of potential sickness and the need to be careful, or 100 other things. With no end in sight. It’s the feeling of running on fumes – all the time.

In our passage for today Jesus is speaking to a crowd who is also weary. Weary on the inside. Needing a word of hope and a sense that better days are ahead even if they are not visible in the moment. That’s me. Is that you?

This coming Sunday I’m starting a sermon series called, “Take My Yoke” which is rooted in our passage above. Taking on the yoke of Christ means, in one sense at least, attaching ourselves to Jesus by adopting his ways, rhythms, patterns, and ways of life. It’s allowing Jesus to lead the way. It’s embracing the economy of God and its counter-intuitive paradigms. These ways don’t come naturally to us, which is why Jesus invites us to “learn from me” in v.29. And that’s what we will endeavor to do in the weeks to come. To learn the ways of Jesus that bring us life. And rest. And peace.

Join me on the Rejoice Lutheran Church (Coppell, Texas) Facebook page (see link below) starting Sunday at 9:30am and 11am and see the first installment of this series during these two worship services. You’ll be glad you did.

Teach us, O Lord Jesus, to take on your yoke. And live. Amen.

https://www.facebook.com/rejoicelutheran.church.1

Solomon consolidates his power…

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2 Kings 2:19 Bathsheba (David’s widow and Solomon’s mother) went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah (Solomon’s disgraced older brother). The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. 20 Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.” 21 She said, “Let Abishag (a young woman in king’s household) be given to your brother Adonijah as his wife.” 22 King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom as well! For he is my elder brother; ask not only for him but also for the priest Abiathar and for Joab son of Zeruiah!” 23 Then King Solomon swore by the LORD, “So may God do to me, and more also, for Adonijah has devised this scheme at the risk of his life! 24 Now therefore as the LORD lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of my father David, and who has made me a house as he promised, today Adonijah shall be put to death.” 25 So King Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he struck him down, and he died.

Adonijah was a son who created much trouble for King David, his father. He tried to usurp his father’s throne – almost succeeding. When Adonijah was caught, King David didn’t have the heart to execute his son Adonijah, so he banished him instead. After a few years Adonijah convinced his father to allow him back in Jerusalem. When David died it was Adonijah’s younger brother Solomon who assumed the throne, not him. Here Solomon interprets Adonijah’s scheming for a wife as evidence Adonijah did not learn his lesson and would be a threat to the throne – again. So Solomon did what David likely should have done years before. He had Adonijah put to death.

I’m not in favor of capital punishment, but I do favor holding people accountable. I wonder what I would have done if I were in David’s shoes. Perhaps sentenced Adonijah to a long prison sentence, even a life sentence? Hard to know. In any case, Solomon had no qualms removing his brother and the threat he represented to his reign.

Lord I know most of us parents have soft spots for our children. As my own children have grown into young adults, give me wisdom to deal with them in ways that hold them accountable, but that also reflects the mercy and grace you first gave to me. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Trickery and deception…

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1 Kings 1:11 Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has become king and our lord David does not know it? 12 Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?’ 14 Then while you are still there speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.”

In v.13 Bathsheba told David he had promised to make Solomon (her son) king – which was not true. But David was an old man and probably forgot many things (like I do!). So in v.14 when Nathan the prophet backed up what Bathsheba had told him, David assumed it was true. It was not.

It’s astounding how often trickery and deception are involved in the Old Testament, particularly as it relates to inheritance, birthright, or succession to a throne. On the one hand I think, “What the heck?”. On the other hand, this kind of scheming makes biblical characters more human to me. They were not pure as the driven snow any more than I am.

Lord forgive us our human foibles. By your grace restores us to right relationship with you, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Grief and resurrection…

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John 11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus knows he’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead, yet he appears to be deeply moved by his death. Yesterday was All Saints Sunday in the church, a day when we remember our loved ones who have gone ahead of us in death. And while I have faith that Jesus will raise them up on the last day, the grief remains and is very real. Lord thank you for the promise of resurrection. Console those of us who mourn loved ones we’ve lost. Amen.

Strength and weakness…

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Psalm 119:38 I pursued my enemies and destroyed them, and did not turn back until they were consumed. 39 I consumed them; I struck them down, so that they did not rise; they fell under my feet. 40 For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me. 

I know I mention this more than necessary, but it always strikes me how different is the posture of God’s anointed in the Old Testament than in Jesus. David’s favor is defined by strength and victory in battle. Of his enemies he writes, “I consume them; I strike them down, so that they did not rise; they fell under my feet.” This is in obvious contrast to Jesus’ teaching, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

But more than that, in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew chapter five Jesus teaches that those who inherit the Kingdom of God are not the strong, as one might expect from this psalm. Instead they are the meek, the poor, those who mourn, the peacemakers, and so on. It’s an image of God’s favor via humility rather than pride. It’s victory via the cross rather than the crown. It’s as the Lord speaks in 2 Corinthians, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect through weakness.”

Radical stuff, man.

Lord there are many, including myself, who feel as though we’re being laid low. Life is heavy. The burdens of leadership profound. We’re just plain worn out Lord, weary of spirit. Revive us O God. Strengthen us this day so that we might serve you well. And then do it again tomorrow. For now, more than ever, our hope is in you. Amen.

Not what I asked for…

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John 11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

I’m imagining myself as the messenger telling Jesus that his dear friend Lazarus is very sick. I’d want Jesus to get right up and follow me back to Bethany. Stat! When someone is as ill as Lazarus was, time is of the essence. Then there’s verse 6, “after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was”.

What?! Dude! What are you doing?! Let’s go! Two days must have seemed like an eternity. And to then learn Lazarus was dead… devastating. In the messenger’s mind Jesus was supposed to prevent Lazarus from dying in the first place, not raise Lazarus from the dead.

I have found myself praying for God to save someone from death many, many times. My desired response from God is for God to bring healing to the person near death so they might extend their life. Sometimes that’s what happens, but sometimes not. Sometimes, like Lazarus, what happens to the person I’m praying for is death, to be followed one day by resurrection from the dead.

In just a few hours I will preside at the funeral for one of the saints, Karyl. And I do mean “saint”. Karyl was a remarkable woman, a person of deep faith who cared for others right up until the end. And boy did she love Jesus! And so today I will gather with Karyl’s family to grieve her loss, but also to take comfort in the promise of the resurrection. Lord let it be so. Amen.

The word of God is a light…

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Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. 

There’s a simple wisdom here. When we’re unsure of our next steps, the word of God can be the lamp we’re looking for. That said, there are many times when I see the path illuminated by the word of God – and choose another path anyway.

Lord I am a stiff-necked man who wants to do my own thing. Give me grace to follow after your lead. Amen.

Thinkers and feelers…

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2 Samuel 19:1 It was told Joab (the commander of David’s armies), “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; for the troops heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. So go out at once and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.”

David and Joab provide an interesting contrast. David seems to me to be a (Myers-Briggs personality profile) “feeler”, meaning his feelings often drive his decisions. He is resistant to take action which will be painful to others and/or jeopardize a relationship – even if it puts the overall mission at risk. This was never more evident than in his dealings with his rebellious son Absalom. Joab, on the other hand, seems much more a “thinker” in that he lets facts and logic drive his decisions. If strained or severed relationships are the cost of getting the best outcome, Joab has no problem with this. It’s the successful outcome that takes priority. Since both perspectives have value, David and Joab were a great team before they split.

I’m by nature a feeler. The impact of decisions on others and on important relationships takes a high priority for me. However I’ve also learned that when feelers shy away from difficult leadership decisions in order to protect relationships or feelings, an organization can get stuck. Not good. I’ve heard it said a change leader’s job is to disappoint people at a rate they can tolerate. That has certainly been true in my experience. In fact, sometimes I’ve disappointed people at a rate they cannot tolerate. As a natural feeler, I hate that.

As you’re reading this I wonder if you more closely identify as a “thinker” or “feeler”. Everyone has some of both in them, but most of us lean more towards one than the other. What’s important to know is that both perspectives have value. In fact, the best teams are those which include both perspectives. This is why David and Joab worked so well for so long.

Gracious God, today I thank you that you did not create people to be alike, for there is great gift in diversity. Your kingdom needs all kinds of people to prosper. I especially thank you today for the thinkers you’ve put in my life over the years, who have shown me how to see things from their perspective even if it’s not my nature. Give me grace to lead well. Even when it hurts. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.