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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wash All of Me Jesus


Wash All of Me Jesus

 (Luke 13:1-9)



Time was running out.  Jesus knew that in a few days he would be sent to the cross by the Pharisees and priests.  Jesus had done many things to anger them, but often during His ministry, Jesus had forgiven people of their sins.  That had especially made these religious leaders furious.  (Luke 7:44-47, Mark 2:9, etc.)  “Only God can forgive sins” they had fussed, not realizing that Jesus is the Son of God.


Jesus knew his time was running out and He was concerned about his disciple and how they would get through the difficult days ahead.  Persecution and hate would soon cause Jesus to go to his death.   And Jesus knew that in the future persecution and hate would cause most of his disciples to follow him to the death also.     


This would be one of the last times Jesus would be with his beloved disciples before his death and He still had so much to tell them.  As Jesus and his disciples were eating dinner together Jesus rose early from the table and wrapped a towel around his waste and filled a basin with water.  Then Jesus started around the room kneeling down in front of the nearest disciple and lovingly washing and drying his feet and then moving on to the next one and gently washing and drying his feet.


 Two of the disciples had been arguing about which one would be greatest in the kingdom.  And perhaps Jesus, our Servant King, was trying to show these men how they could humbly serve one another and perform the most menial tasks with Christian love.  To be a leader, Jesus told his followers, one should take the role of a servant. 


After Jesus had been moving around the table washing four and then five of his disciples’ feet, He finally came to Peter.  But when He started to wash Peter’s feet, Peter jumped up and stopped Him protesting loudly:  “Lord, you are not going to wash my feet!”


  Jesus answered: “Peter, you do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  (John 13:7)  Jesus perhaps was trying to tell Peter to just trust Him even if he didn’t completely understand.


  But Peter wouldn’t listen!  He stamped his feet!  “No, you shall never wash my feet!” he insisted. (John 13:8a)  Peter probably didn’t think it was proper for Jesus to be his servant. (In those days the job of washing a guest’s feet fell to the servants or the slaves) 


But then Jesus answered Peter: “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with Me!”  (John 13:8b)  There was a long pause!  Uh oh!  Peter hadn’t realized how important it was for Jesus to wash him. – to wash him spiritually, that is.  “Then, Lord, don’t just wash my feet, but wash my hands and my head also,” Peter quickly replied, bowing his head.  (John 13:9) 


Peter was learning that Jesus is the One who would wash away his sins.  And Jesus is the One who will wash away our sins too.  There is no other.  Scripture says that we are all sinners.  (Romans 3:23)  And we are all in need of spiritual cleansing in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. There are no sins in heaven and we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven in our sinful condition.  We cannot come before a holy God in our sins.  We must be covered with Christ’s righteousness to enter in.  (Matthew 22:11)


Peter gave in and asked Jesus to wash him.  He didn’t want to miss out on his part with the Savior.  And we must allow Jesus to wash us too.  We can do that by repenting of our sins and asking Him to be our Savior.  Repentance is the doorway to grace. (1 John 1:9)   


The Psalmist proclaimed:” Wash me and I will be whiter than snow…”  (Psalm 51:7)  and Isaiah writes: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.  Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  (Isaiah 1:18)  We celebrate Communion or Mass to remember that Jesus shed his blood and gave up his body to be put to death in order to take away our sins. 


Scripture records that once when Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, He taught them that when they partook of the bread and the wine they would be proclaiming His death and the washing away of their sins. (Matthew 26:26)


 As Jesus was eating with the disciples, He took the bread and gave thanks and broke it up in pieces and gave it to them saying: “Take, and eat, this is my body, broken for you.”  (Matthew 16:16b)  And then Jesus took the cup and gave thanks and offered it to them saying, “Drink from it all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  (Matthew 26:27) 


Jesus told his disciples and all of his followers (that’s us) to eat this meal together in remembrance of Him.  “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.”  (1 Corinthians 11 26)  Christians around the world have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper or the Mass together down through the last two thousand years to remember that Jesus’ body was broken and that His blood was shed for us to wash away our sins. 


Scripture says that we should examine ourselves before we take communion or Mass.  “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  … For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord, eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have died.”  (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)  We celebrate the Lord’s Supper or Mass to remember that Jesus died for our sins.  It is a holy sacrament and we should not take part in it if we are not believers in Jesus and repentant of our sins. 


There was a woman we knew years ago who was a member of our church.  This woman did not believe that Jesus was the Savior or that He took away sins.  She tried to teach the rest of us the error of our belief – our faith.  In fact this woman did not even believe in sin.  She thought that there was no such thing as sin and she joined our church to enlighten all of us! And worse yet, she took the Lord’s Supper with us even though she didn’t believe.   


This poor woman was painfully thin and continuously ill and looked twenty years older than her actual age.  She was allergic to almost all food and could only eat eggs and apples.  Her doctors could never find what was causing her illnesses.  She also had to continuously wear a mask to cover her mouth and nose as she was allergic to something in the air all year round.  And she carried a pillow around with her as she hurt too much when she sat on a chair without the pillow.


I have always worried that perhaps she was ill because she was taking Holy Communion when she did not believe.  No one in our church asked her not to take communion or told her that Scripture warns against this.  None of us cautioned her that there is power in the Lord’s Supper and power in the Mass and power in the blood of Jesus – even though she might not have believed us.  I am sorry that I didn’t speak up!


Just as Peter could have no part with Jesus unless He washed him, we also can have no part with Jesus unless He washes us.  So let us join Peter and use his words to ask Jesus: “Lord wash my feet and my hands and my head also.”  Wash all of me, Jesus!














Saturday, December 20, 2014

Peace on Earth Good Will To Men


Peace on Earth Good will to Men



Many of us never tire hearing the Christmas story about the night that Jesus Christ was born.  Each Christmastime we love singing carols about that holy night!  The night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem with the shepherds nearby in the fields watching over their sheep.  


The Bible tells about that night.  “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tiding of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in Bethlehem (the city of David) a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”.  (Luke 2:9-11) 


And then a multitude of bright angels joined in filling the skies above the stunned shepherds and flying around the heavens rejoicing and praising God and singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14)  What an amazing sight it must have been for those shepherds to see! 


The angels brought good news to the shepherds starting with the first angel announcing God’s gift of a Savior and then following with the multitude of angels appearing and announcing the gift of peace and good will toward people.  It would seem that these two gifts arrived together.  Along with this gift of the Savior comes the added gift of peace and good will.  It is all part of the package.    But if that is true then why is it that when we turn on the world news we usually hear reports of murders and warring nations and terrorist attacks?  Where is this promised peace that people were to receive?


We do have peace and good will in our world today and the generous Spirit of Christ can be seen and felt in people everywhere.  But then we also find rifts and arguments and opposing groups warring against one another everywhere we look. The devil would like to destroy love and family and community and everywhere we go we find that he is doing a pretty good job at that.    


We find husband against wife and children against parents and liberal against conservative.  One side fighting to overcome the injustice of the other side by striking another blow.  And the other side striking back.  And as long as each side is tangled in blow and counterblow, aggression and defense and name calling and more bad will, each side will be drawn back into fresh wrongs.  God calls us to stop playing this dangerous game and forgive.  He forgives us so He wants us to pass on that forgiveness.  Only forgiveness frees us all from the injustice of others. 


We read in the Bible that God is a God of justice and judgment.  Because of that we instinctively feel that we must do something in order for this judging God to accept us.  We have been told that there is no free lunch.  That you get what you pay for.  We think about the God of judgment when we think about the people who have tried to harm us.


 But then God is also a God of grace and love and forgiveness.  When God sent us his Son everything was turned upside down!  Now we receive undeserved grace as a God given gift instead of receiving what we earn and what we morally deserve.  Our salvation does not depend on our performance but on His performance.  We don’t need to “do” anything; all we need to do is follow.  


By giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins, the heavenly Father offers to forgive our sins and makes peace with us.  And because God through Christ has forgiven and made peace with us, He asks us to forgive and extend that peace to those who have wronged us. Because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us, we are to forgive the inexcusable in others.  We are God’s children and we are to forgive because our heavenly Father forgives and because He commands us to forgive.  (Matthew 6:12) 


Forgiveness is not easy so it needs to be taught and constantly practiced.  What a gift we Christians can give to the world when we uphold God’s grace and forgiveness!  Whenever Christians have obeyed God’s command to forgive and have countered hatred with kindness, amazing things have happened.  It would seem that God is able to work miracles behind the scenes when we go about forgiving our enemies.


The Christian message of forgiveness played a major role in South Africa’s peaceful revolution!  When Nelson Mandela was freed from a dismal prison after twenty-six years he held no bitterness toward those who had imprisoned him.  Instead he spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation.  And Bishop Desmond Tutu also insisted the process of reconciliation in South Africa begin with forgiveness.  The Civil Rights movement came about in the United States partially because Martin Luther King insisted that his followers come against violence with non-violence and meet hatred with forgiveness. 


In some circumstances extending forgiveness can be extremely difficult.  If someone murdered my child I cannot imagine forgiving that person.  But many people have forgiven in those circumstances.  And God never asks us to do anything that is impossible.  He will give us His strength at the time of need to help us do what He asks.


Just as God commanded Adam and Eve not to touch or eat the fruit of one of the trees in the garden, God also commands us not to have an unforgiving spirit towards those who would try to harm us.  Eating the forbidden fruit was dangerous (deadly) for Adam and Eve and Scripture says that refusing to forgive another is dangerous and deadly for us. 


We are commanded to let go of the ill will we harbor toward our enemy and do what we can to correct the problems and then let God take care of it.  As we walk through life there are dangerous places we will pass by that our heavenly Father forbids us to visit and refusing to forgive another person is one of those places  The strongest argument for forgiveness is the alternative, a permanent state of unforgiveness.   


Forgiving does not mean that the one who forgives agrees that the offense committed against him/herself is justified.  It made the news when Pope John Paul went to the prison and met with the man being held there who tried to murder him.  The pope forgave this man and prayed for him and blessed him.  But the pope did not ask that this man be released from prison.


So then, what is forgiveness?   Forgiveness means that the one forgiving does not wish for revenge, does not hold bad will against the other.  The one forgiving stops seeing the person as the “bad” person the “monster” perhaps and sees him as the person God intended him or her to be – or perhaps a needy hurting person.  The one forgiving tries to see the one he is forgiving through grace filled eyes.  And he prays for this person that God will help and bless this person.  To hate the sin but not the sinner.  Scripture tells us to pray for our enemies. (Luke 6:28) .


On that first Christmas night when the angels joyfully sang about the gift being given to humans of God’s peace and good will, they didn’t tell us how this gift would be given out.  But I suspect that we (you and I) have been enlisted to be part of the act.  God always seems to include us in His work, so why would this be any different.  Yes, we are the ones who have been chosen to help deliver God’s peace and be ambassadors of His good will!  We are to forgive and forget.  To love and bless .  And to turn the other cheek.  Let’s get busy doing what we are called to do. 



Some of the ideas here were taken from Phillip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”   










Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Heavenly Father Loves You

 The Heavenly Father Loves You




The belief that God extends grace to each of us personally is a unique belief only of the Christian faith!  The amazing grace Christians sing about and celebrate is not part of any of the other world faith systems.  The jubilee and the rejoicing at Christmastime are missing in other faiths since the free gift of a Son and Savior are missing.  The Christian faith is like no other faith because our salvation does not depend on how good we are but on how good God is! 


All of the other religions around the world expect their followers to be good.  Expect them to work towards a goal or to “do” something to gain God’s approval.  The Buddhist religion holds out the eight-fold path and the Hindu religion teaches the doctrine of the karma to their followers.  The Muslims have their code of law and the Jewish have their covenant.  In the end when the books are opened, these followers of non-Christian religions believe that their work or what they “do” during their earthly lifetime will need to measure up.     


 Every major religion other than Christianity offers a way for their follower to work their way up and to earn God’s approval.  Only the Christians are commissioned to spread the good news that God’s love is unconditional!  (Matthew 28:16-20)   Only the Christian faith openly broadcasts and generously offers the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone who will take it!  (John 3:16)


The Bible says: “For by grace are you saved through faith and not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works lest people would boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Scripture says that salvation is a gift God gives to us because He loves us so much.  And this gift is given through his Son, Jesus Christ!  We don’t earn this grace or work for this gift.  By faith we just receive it because we are the one He loves.


This grace God is offering seems too good to be true.  And we are used to finding a catch in things that seem too good to be true.  Just having faith seems too easy – too simple.  Just believing and receiving!  Jesus paid it all!  At least we want to pay for some of the price.  We want to work for this salvation so we can feel like we are better than the people who don’t work for it and don’t have it.  But no – Christian grace doesn’t work that way! 


Jesus tells the story – the parable of the Father who has two sons.  The oldest son loves his Father and his home and spends his years dutifully working on the family plantation.  But the younger son is restless and wants to leave the Father and the family home and strike out on his own.  (Luke 15:11-32)  “Give me my inheritance,” the younger son demands.  So the Father sadly gives his son half of everything he has and the younger son takes the money and runs off to a country far away.


In this far away country the son forgets his Father and his upbringing and he goes wild and starts hanging out with thieves and thugs and prostitutes.  The son and his new friends beat up and rob people passing by, and even killed one person who got in their way.  They get drunk every night and pick fights with one another.  And they hang out with prostitutes and have parties and orgies that nice people wouldn’t go to.  And soon the younger son’s inheritance money is all gone and his friends are all gone too! 


The younger son finds himself alone in a foreign country, cold and homeless and hungry with winter coming on. He is sick and desperate and looking for a job. Finally, after months of looking, he finds work feeding hogs where he is allowed to sleep in the dirty hog pen and eat the husks that the hogs don’t eat.  His clothes are ragged and he his has lost 40 pounds.  One cold night when he is shivering and laying there in the mud with the hogs he thinks about his Father and he starts crying.  Why did he ever leave home?  Why did he run away?  More than anything he wants to see his Father again.  And more than anything he wants to go back home.


But how can he go back home?  He has blown half of his Father’s money!  And he has done really bad things.  He doesn’t deserve to be his Father’s son any longer after all he has done.  And he doesn’t expect his Father to take him back as a son.  He will apologize and ask his Father to let him be one of the workers.  Yes, that is what he will do. 


The younger son has been gone twenty long years and the lovesick Father has spent twenty long years anxiously pacing back and forth on the porch and gazing down the road.  He is straining his eyes hoping to someday see his lost boy coming back home again.  His boy is part of who he is so how can he give up on him.  The Father misses his boy so much and loves him so deeply.  Worries about him and desperately wants him to be a good person and have a good life.  The Father can never give up hope that his boy will come back home.


And then one day it happens!  The lovesick Father is on the porch as always anxious and looking down the road when he thinks he sees someone way off in the distance coming down the road!  Who could it be?  Maybe it is his son!  Maybe!  The Father feels dizzy with fear and hope and runs down the road to get a better look.  Yes, it could be his son!  Excited, he runs further down the road.  By now his hands are shaking and his heart is beating so fast he can hardly breathe. 


The old man keeps running, and yes, it does look like his beloved son!  Oh my, this is all too good to be true!  Tears are pouring down the old man’s face as he rushes toward his son.  “My boy was lost, and now he’s found!  Lost and now found,” the Father keeps gasping over and over.  He grabs his son and holds on tight, crying and trembling and laughing all at the same time. 


“Father, I have sinned against you and I am no longer worthy to be your son,” the son stutters out.  The Father has his arms around his boy kissing him and won’t let him go! “Hush my boy, I’ve missed you so much, love you so much!”  “Father, just let me be one of your workers,”    


“My son, we will celebrate tonight.  Celebrate that you arre home.   Have a big party.  Kill the fatted calf, have a feast and invite everyone.  Make merry with fine wine and fancy cakes and music and dancing.” 


 “Father, I have sinned,”   “Hush my Son, You are back!  Here, take off those rags and put on my best robe and my best shoes.  Rings for your fingers, only the best for my son.  My son, my son was lost and is found! ” The Father is jubilant!  His joy knows no bounds!  He is dancing around in circles now laughing and shouting!  All the lovesick Father cares about is that his lost son is found.


 Jesus tells us this story to try to tell us how much God, our Father loves us and to show us what our heavenly Father is like.  Jesus describes God as a loving and dedicated Father who rejoices and celebrates when he gets just one of his children back. Jesus says: “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  (Luke 15:10)  


Other stories in the Bible tell this same truth about God our heavenly Father and his great love for us.  The Shepherd who spends all night searching over hills and valleys looking for his lost sheep while leaving the other ninety nine sheep behind, is beside himself with joy when he finds his lost sheep.  (Luke 15:1-7)  Of course we are the sheep and God is the Shepherd.  And the Shepherd also throws a party to celebrate!   


God’s grace and love for us is shockingly personal.  That’s what the Bible says. We are the younger son in Jesus’ story.  Our heavenly Father paces the floor and grieves for us when we reject Him and when we leave Him behind.  And our Father watches and waits for us to come home to Him so He can pour out his love on us.  When we start walking away from our old life and begin heading towards home, our heavenly Father rushes tearfully down the road to greet us.  He throws his arms around us kissing us and exchanging our dirty rags for his royal robes.  He is a merciful, generous and loving Father who is crazy about us and wants us to be with Him more than anything.  It’s hard to believe but this is the kind of heavenly Father we have!  Isn’t that wonderful?!      


 Some of these quotes and ideas are taken from Phillip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” 




Monday, December 8, 2014

Joseph becomes Jesus'Adoptive Father

Joseph becomes Jesus’ Adoptive Father





“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us.”  (Matthew 1:23)


Joseph always tends to hover in the background when we tell the story of the Virgin Mary and of Christ’s birth.  We often picture him reserved and unobtrusive, dutifully standing there behind Mary and the holy Child.  During Christmastime we love to sing the Christmas carols and send Christmas cards with scenes of Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus in the manger along with the shepherds and the angels.  And we picture that first Christmas as holy and peaceful and perfect.  And it was.  But the Holy Family’s beginnings were anything but Christmas-card perfect.


The Gospel of Matthew (1:18 – 25) makes it clear that Mary’s pregnancy was a scandal.  Yes she was truly with child by the Holy Spirit, but who was going to believe such a story!  Pregnant and still a virgin!  Come on now!  Her pregnancy had brought shame on her parent’s house and most likely her whole village was whispering about this new gossip and laughing at Joseph for being engaged to a woman who is pregnant with a child that isn’t his.  No one believed Mary’s story and her pregnancy had put her into an awkward situation.


 And Scripture says that Joseph did not believe Mary’s story either.  We don’t know what words were exchanged between Mary and Joseph, or just how she broke the news to him but we do know that things did not go well between them.  She must have told Joseph about how the angel appeared and visited her and of how he told her that her son would be the Son of God. Mary was joyful about this and wanted to share it with the man she loved. 


  She must have assured Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and that she had never been unfaithful to him.  That she loved him and she was a virgin.  That he could share in this with her – this joy of the coming of the Christ Child!  And she must have begged him to believe her.  But Joseph wasn’t believing any of this.  He tells Mary he doesn’t want to be engaged to her any longer and that he will divorce her!  We wonder if they argued and if Mary cried.  .


If Joseph left Mary, she would become an unwed mother.  In first-century Galilee, such a broken home could have dire – even deadly consequences for Mary since women in that culture had no power.  Matthew says that Joseph was a “righteous man” – he was obedient to the Law of Moses and wanted to do God’s will.  Betrothal or engagement in Joseph’s culture was the first act of marriage and could only be broken by divorce..  Joseph was going to have to divorce Mary since he didn’t believe her and he assumed that she had had sex with another man in order to become pregnant.


Joseph probably felt hurt and betrayed by his fiancée becoming pregnant.  Scripture says that he wanted to break up with Mary “quietly.”  We should note that Joseph could have brought charges against her with the religious leaders.  This would have led – at best – to her public humiliation and at worst she could face death by stoning.  Whatever happened, she would be permanently shamed and stigmatized by her adultery and divorce, and would find it almost impossible to marry anyone else in that area. 


God did not allow Mary to be misunderstood by Joseph for long.  God sent Joseph a dream .and in the dream an angel tells Joseph that the child Mary is carrying is indeed conceived by the Holy Spirit and will be the Immanuel promised in the Book of Isaiah.  Now Joseph knows that Mary is telling the truth and that his dream was from God.  Joseph wants to obey God and be part of His plan.  He obeys God and becomes a husband to Mary and father to this promised Child. 


 God continued to protect the baby Jesus and his family by leading Joseph through dreams.  In Matthew 2:13, Joseph follows another dream several years later warning him to run away with Mary and Jesus, now a young child, to Egypt and to escape the murderous Herod. And then later when Herod dies and is no longer a threat, Joseph receives still another dream to return to his homeland, Israel.


 Finally Joseph obeys yet another dream from God to settle in Nazareth since another ruler might try to kill Jesus if they should return to Bethlehem.  Joseph was quick to obey when God gave him directions through these dreams.


When we open the Bible to the New Testament the first thing we read there is the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.  (Matthew 1:1-16)  Matthew follows the legal Jewish system in giving the genealogy of the father, even though Joseph was the father of Jesus by adoption.


  This genealogy of Jesus demonstrates the continuity between the Israel of the Old Testament and Jesus.  Even though Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, it would seem that because he obeyed God and adopted Jesus that Scripture considers him as the earthly father.  Perhaps our actions and our decisions are more real than biology. 


 Joseph dutifully obeyed God and acted as a loving father to Jesus, his young and vulnerable son.  By taking Mary as his wife and naming the child Jesus (the name given him in a dream), Joseph was claiming the divinely born child as his own: in other words, Joseph adopted Jesus.