John 1:18

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“No human eye has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the Father’s bosom–He has made Him known.”

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A late friend of mine had a word for much of what passes for preaching. He called it,  “birdwatching”.  According to birdwatching preachers and hearers, God is essentially a conundrum, a mystery to be discussed, a curiosity about whom little can concretely be said. Birdwatcher theology points off into the cosmos and says things like, ‘My, isn’t that interesting. Who knows? God could be this or God could be that. God is in everything. All religions are essentially the same.  No religion has a corner on Truth. ” You get the picture.

The Biblical witness is not so timid  – or spineless – where God is concerned. Every page of the Bible concerns itself with revelation, with making God known. In fact, the essential meaning of the Bible is this: God has spoken.

For those who genuinely seek God this ought to come as good news. Light has entered the darkness. God has expressed Himself in such a way as to be beyond all ambiguity. This revelation culminated in the coming of Jesus, the human face of God.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”. But it is precisely the concreteness of the revelation in Jesus that offends the generosity of our reason, which we use to keep God at arms length.  

My late friend went on to say that we should expect this from the world but when the preachers of the Church demonstrate this same offense it’s time for them to seek alternative forms of employment. Finally, he had a suggestion. Every pulpit should have a sign clearly visible to pastor and people which reads, ‘No Birdwatching Allowed”.

 

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Psalm 127:1

“Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”

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My grandfather on my mother’s side was a building contractor in Minneapolis for many years. After coming here from Norway early in the 20th century he worked building barns in North Dakota. Eventually he moved to the Twin Cities and started his own construction business.

All my grandfather’s carpenters were Norwegians and for many years every house was built by hand – no power tools were allowed.

My mother’s cousin was one of those carpenters and he told her once why he liked working for my grandfather; “Where other builders use three nails”, he said, “your father uses five.”  All the homes they built are still standing, sturdy as ever.

In a temporal, transitory life even our finest efforts cannot stand against  the ravages of time. After all, my grandfather’s houses, as well-built as they are, will one day have to be torn down. 

The Psalmist, reflecting on the work of the Lord, recognized that only those plans laid down by the Living God will endure. And God has made this plan known: through the power of the Gospel the framework of faith, hope and love are built upon Christ, the sure foundation. In baptism God has established us upon this foundation, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John 1

“The true light has come into the world.”

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This week I am in the state of Wisconsin visiting my folks. The other evening, just after dusk, a lone firefly made its’ appearance among the shrubs near my father’s house. I watched for a few minutes but no other fireflies appeared, the result of the dry weather this Spring and summer.

That one small light was enough to penetrate the gathering darkness of the evening but its’ erratic course, as it flitted here and there, made it impossible to follow. Eventually it faded from view and was gone. All that remained was the darkness.

Many have come promising light; Adolf Hitler spoke of a brilliant future for the German people and proceeded to plunge them and most of  the world into darkness. The Marxists promised a bright future to the Russians, Chinese and others and gave them terror and subjugation on an unprecedented scale.

John writes of the “true light” that has come into the world. That true light is God’s Living and abiding Word, Jesus Christ. For now, we follow Him in faith traveling a course that is unerring, straight and true. No darkness can overcome it. One day we live fully in His light. No lesser lights will be required. The one, glorious light of Christ will be enough to flood the eternal vistas of heaven.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Philippians 1:2

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“Grace and peace be unto to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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The year was 1969. The song was “Give Peace a Chance” written by John Lennon of Beatles fame. The context of the song was the contentious atmosphere occasioned by the Vietnam war. 

Although ultimately futile in its’ appeal, Mr. Lennon’s sentiment is hard to quibble with. Peace, like many things in life that are worthy of our efforts, is worth a try. At the same time peace tends to be one of those things that most people think is a good idea but don’t really want to do much about. Human beings have a way of talking  – or singing – a good game when it comes to things like peace, love, justice, etc. If we were serious, however, the world and our lives would not look the way they do. After all, for most of us, peace is nothing more than the absence of open conflict. And that is not true peace.

The church has also been doing some singing. If I were to give a title to the great anthem of the Church universal it would be this: ‘Give Grace a Chance’. It’s grace that we need. “Grace and peace”, Paul wrote. The order is important. Peace is a by-product. All the tangled contentions of the world are a result of humanity’s refusal to live by grace, to receive in humility and gratitude all the gifts of God. Jesus came, full of grace and truth, and we killed Him. This is evidence enough that we rather prefer a graceless world.

So, we can sing all we like about giving peace a chance. But know this, there is no peace apart from the Prince of Peace and the grace that is in Him alone.

 

“May the peace…AND GRACE… of God that passes all undestanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Galatians 2:20

 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

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I read a book many years ago by a seasoned parish pastor. He reflected on what he thought were the ten most important things to keep in mind regarding parish ministry. The very first, and most important point was this: Nothing works.

As a young pastor I found this startling and unconvincing. I still thought something was possible.

He went on to say that many people are disillusioned with the church because they approach it with a faulty expectation. Namely, that religion is supposed to make life work. Faith sees things differently.

The Christian life is defined by baptism, not our expectations. Paul tells us in Roman 6 that baptism is, first and foremost, a participation in the death of Christ. It is an invitation to dying as a way of life. We have been crucified with Christ. Our life and the world are not progressing, they are being brought to end.

At the same time, we have been raised with Christ in baptism. It is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. Our wagons are hitched to Christ Jesus and the future that He alone will bring. This is a great promise of the Gospel. 

Our short-sighted expectations, constantly on the hunt for solutions, can only lament that in the midst of life we die. Faith, on the other hand, has no such expectation but receives the life that is given, rejoicing that in the midst of death we live!

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Corinthians 5:19

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”

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On the face of it the crucifixion of Jesus was one more example of an innocent man unjustly condemned.  But the symbol of the cross, and the church buildings over which it has been lifted are not meant to merely signify a noble death. There have been many noble deaths throughout history. What’s different about this one?

As the early Christians took up their life in the wake of Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit gradually revealed to them unfolding dimensions of Christ’s death.  Paul’s summation captured something essential; “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”  The Church continues to proclaim the meaning of the cross as central to the faith. The following are three aspects of that proclamation.

The cross is a window into the nature of God, addressing our blindness.  The cross reveals to us that God is more than an all-powerful cosmic engineer designing and creating worlds. Through the cross God has revealed that He is love.

The cross represents a battleground addressing our bondage to sin. Throughout His ministry Jesus was tempted to change course and not face the cross. He did battle with this temptation to the very end. Evil did not want the cross to happen, and thereby see its’ power over humanity broken. Through the cross God has won our freedom from sin, death and the power of evil.

Third, the cross represents the highest court, addressing our disobedience. Humanity stands before its’ Creator as a responsible creature who, in believing the lies of the evil one, has attempted to steal its’ existence from God. Through the costly death of His only-begotten Son upon the cross, God has revealed that the forgiveness of sins is the deepest expression of His love.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Philippians 2

“…it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

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A  pastor was called to officiate at a graveside service for a woman from a small town. Her family was known to the pastor and other citizens of the small community where they all lived as quarrelsome, meddlesome and difficult. The dead woman and her family, to put it mildly, were a wildly dysfunctional bunch. After the brief service, as the mourners were leaving the grave site, the pastor overheard one of her relatives say, “I know she is up there looking down on us.”  The pastor thought to himself, “Not if God has any mercy.”

Speaking for myself, it gives me little comfort to think that those who have preceded me have a front row seat as our lives, with all their works and all their ways, are played out on the human stage. I like to believe that in their joy, God is shielding them.

However that may be, I  believe God is not only watching the errant world, He is deeply engaged with a love that relentlessly pursues the good. In Jesus Christ we see this God deeply immersed in a life committed to mercy and grace. So Paul could confidently remind the Philippian Christians that in His nearness to them and knowledge of them God is at work, carrying out His will in Christ Jesus.

The work of brooding over the fallen world must be left to a love so deep and so enduring that it is able to look into the heart of this broken life without flinching and have the capacity and will to do something about it. In Jesus Christ we see such a love.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Matthew 18

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“…the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

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What qualifies one for greatness? For some the bar is set high. The Olympic games offer one definition as athletes compete for gold medals. Silver or bronze will not do. Winning gold equals greatness. 

For others it is fame. The bar is set low.  Our celebrity-mad society elevates people to positions of greatness for no other reason than they appear regularly on television and movie screens or have their music distributed widely.

For others wealth is the key qualification. I have seen otherwise normal, self respecting people descend into servile flattery, hanging on someone’s every word, for no other reason than the object of their adulation has lots of money. This sets the bar about as low as it can get.

Jesus also offers a qualification for greatness. But there is a caveat. This criteria for greatness has its’ basis not in this world but in God’s Kingdom. To be great is to become like a child. ‘Lowly’ is the word Jesus uses. 

The kingdom’s greatness is not seen in its’ capacity to give access to wealth and comfort. Nor does it take pride in glory and fame. The Kingdom’s greatness is made known in simplicity of faith, genuine cheerfulness, a lack of self-pity or bitterness, affection for people, and devotion to their well-being.  

I am thankful for the lowly, childlike ones whose greatness honors the kingdom of God. I have known but a few and do not count myself among them. I am also thankful that my falling short of the kingdom’s greatness does not disqualify me from receiving its’ benefits. For it was upon the cross that our Lord Jesus Christ revealed the true depths of the kingdom’s greatness when in lowliness and humility He gave Himself for sinners.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Psalm 118:24

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“This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

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The reflection below is by the late Gerhard Frost. Dr. Frost was one of my favorite professors while at seminary and like most poets he was reflective and thoughtful. He was also a man of great strength and compassion. He had a Lincolnesque bearing which commanded attention and a heart for Christ which made him transparent for the Gospel’s sake.

 
Dr. Frost wrote a number of books and poetic meditations. The following piece is among my favorites and comes from his book, “Blessed is the Ordinary.”
 
 
THESE RUDE FEET
 
In the Scottish highlands
a man of science knelt,
crouched in the morning dew,
the better to hold a microscope
over a heather bell.
 
Lost in the blue traceries of exquisite design,
he saw a sun-drawn figure,
the shadow of a man.
Gazing up into a shepherd’s face,
he quickly bade him look.
 
One long moment
the old man stood, beholding,
pierced by microscopic patterns
in the flower.
Then he spoke: “I wish
you’d never shown me that!”
“But, why?” was the surprised response.
“Because,” the old man said,
gazing at two worn boots,
“these rude feet have crushed
so many of them.”
 
These rude feet,
and this God’s day,
this most resplendent hour!
Father of mercies,
give me eyes,
make me aware:
I walk in Gift today.
 
 
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
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John 11:35

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“Jesus wept.”

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Once there was a man who lived alone and never cried, although he had plenty to cry about. His life had been hard with much disappointment and bitter loss. He became stoic and kept everything inside. He had given up on feeling much of anything, Really, he had given up on life. He traveled a lot on business and one night, while resting in his hotel room, he picked up the Gideon Bible that was on the nightstand. It opened to John 11:35. He read those two words; “Jesus wept.” They were the only words he saw on the whole page. They pursued him, opened him up with light and fire. He started crying. He couldn’t stop. He cried and cried until, sobbing fitfully, he had cried himself to sleep. He slept long and hard and when he awoke the next morning some things that had been with him for as long as he could remember were gone. Something new had come. It was as if he had been dead and was now alive. He knew he was not alone.

 
“Jesus wept.” is the shortest verse in the Bible. That means that God has arranged things in such a way that it is the easiest  verse to remember. It also makes it the easiest thing to remember about Jesus.
 
If Jesus wept then He knows loss and heartache, emptiness and loneliness.
 
If Jesus wept then no one falls unnoticed into the abyss of death.
 
If Jesus wept then God is more personal, more intimate than we can ever imagine.
 
If Jesus wept then “Father forgive them…”is not a theological abstraction but a word spoken from deep sorrow by “… a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” 
 
If Jesus wept then He can fall in a tear, any tear, and that means your tear, anywhere, anytime.
 
 
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
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