People of Life

The Story of Two Daughters: Jairus’ Daughter and the Daughter of Israel

Mk 5.21-43, Mt. 9.18-26, Lk 8.40-56

The hidden lives of people are the places of greatest need. In our stories today their is a child tucked away in a bedroom who is nearing death, and a woman hidden in the crowd who is physically dying a slow death. Jesus cares about the elite in society like Jairus and the disenfranchised like the daughter of Israel. He is just as concerned about disabilities of a woman as he is with death and dying of a young lady. It is in these hidden places of greatest need that Jesus offers crucial conversations to encourage belief and prayers for healing.

In the midst of Jesus’ ministry which was always moving and flowing, there comes an interruption of the immediate needs of the people. (by the way Jesus could handle the interruption). Ministry is interrupted with more ministry opportunities. The crowds are always swarming Jesus and his disciples. Life was happening all around him. The crowds are always fearful, awed, and amazed. They marveled at Jesus’ compassionate response to all people: mentally challenged, near death moments, hormonal imbalances, genetic disorders, diseases, fevers, blindness, deafness, and muteness. Every occurrence of healing was aimed at moving people from exile and living on the fringe of society to community acceptance and involvement. The life has been drained out of both the young girl and the daughter of Israel. Jesus has the power to restore their strength.

Our stories are styled like a sandwich – two pieces of bread and a savory middle! Jairus is a synagogue leader – someone well respected in his neighborhood. He cares for the furnishings and plans the worship at the synagogue. He would be the equivalent to holding both the position of worship leader and trustee chair. It is easy to imagine that Jesus would be interested in answering Jairus’ request. We would assume he is a holy man of God. But what is unique in the story is the savory middle. A nameless woman in the crowd approaches Jesus from the backside. She is unclean from a condition she has suffered for 12 years. I can only imagine how emotionally drained she has become from her disconnection from social interactions with her people. She doesn’t have the courage to address Jesus but finds herself sneaking up just to touch his clothing in hopes that she wouldn’t be noticed. She has lived in the shadows for 12 years, and has been sneaking about in her community hoping not to be noticed with her disability. But Jesus will not leave her invisible! He affirms her in front of her community, and provides the opportunity for her to return to live among the people.

What we experience in the storyline is a transition, and we begin to understand how transitions in life can be a place of encounter with Jesus. The daughter of Israel finds herself on the hot seat, and Jairus is on the fringes of the discussion. Both are waiting for answers!

Contemporary Christian artist John Waller has a song entitled “While I’m Waiting” that really resonants with this passage. There are times that we must be faithful while we wait for God’s answers. And sometimes those answers are not the answers we wished for.

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You Lord
And I am hopeful, I’m waiting on You Lord
Though it is painful, but patiently I will wait
And I will move ahead bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting I will serve You
While I’m waiting I will worship
While I’m waiting I will not faint
I’ll be running the race even while I wait

I’m waiting, I’m waiting on You Lord
And I am peaceful, I’m waiting on You Lord
Though it’s not easy no, but faithfully I will wait
Yes, I will wait
And I will move ahead bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting I will serve You
While I’m waiting I will worship
While I’m waiting I will not faint
I’ll be running the race even while I wait

I will move ahead bold and confident
I’ll be taking every step in obedience, yeah

While I’m waiting I will serve You
While I’m waiting I will worship
While I’m waiting I will not faint

And I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting on You Lord

I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting

Jesus instructs Jairus to believe and keep on believing. It is the imperative in the Greek language which means Jesus is urging him not to stop believing! There are times in our lives that we want to throw in the towel and give up on an answer to our prayers. We assume God is sleeping on the job. He is unable to answer us. We fail in our faithfulness because we cannot see the results of our prayers. The important concept in Mark’s Gospel that I don’t want you to miss is how often Jesus’ actions and timing are connected to our faithfulness in our response to God. As the story is relayed to us here, the young girl was resuscitated in the middle of a funeral (The People’s Commentary, Boring & Craddock, 130). The professional mourners had already been called in and the loud grieving had already begun by the time that Jesus arrived at Jairus’ home.

Mark’s Gospel is filled with faith, prayer, and cosmic battle. For Mark the posture of humility in prayer is kneeling or laying prostrate before Jesus. Mark’s Gospel begins with the story of a man who has leprosy who falls at Jesus’ feet to request his healing (Mk 1.40). We know that even the demon’s would throw themselves at Jesus feet and plead for mercy (Mk. 3.11). Healing required prayer as Jesus came down the mountain (Mk. 9.29). We witness the rich man kneeling before Jesus requesting entry into the Kingdom of God (Mk. 10.17). Jesus declares that his house would be a house of prayer, “He taught them, “Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hide out for crooks” (Mk 11.17 CEB).

Jesus invites us to think on two concepts – whatever and whenever (Mk. 11.24, 25). Whatever requires faithfulness on our part and whenever requires forgiveness. These concepts are demonstrated by Jesus as he lives and ministers to every person. He lives his days faithfully praying and in a spirit of unconditional forgiveness for all people. We might say he was faithfully obedient whatever it took, and he extended forgiveness whenever it was required. In fact Jesus criticized praying for the sake of showing off and expected prayer to be real and meaningful (Mk. 12.40). He urges his disciples to stay alert in prayer so that temptation would not cause them to stumble, fall away, and fail to survive the cost of discipleship (Mk. 14.38). And, at the end of Jesus’ days we experience his prayer life just hours before his crucifixion as a time of kneeling and being prostrate before God (Mk. 14.35). At the cross those who disrespected Jesus are seen kneeling before him as he dies, mocking his authority as the Son of God (Mk. 15.19).

Ever feel like you are at the end of the journey? There are times that we have come to our wits end waiting for healing, and it is only when there is no other way but death – then we will reach out to Jesus. Notice the messengers response, “Why bother the teacher any longer?” We think it is a bother to come to Jesus with our problems. Jairus teaches us to posture ourselves in the prayer of faith that God can overcome life and death obstacles. We learn that circumstances do not prevent God from acting, but our lack of faith can. We might not receive the answers we wish for but God always answers our prayers.

Ever experience that there are no more doctors and no more money? There are times that we have desperate needs, and we know just who to turn to – every doctor in town! We often search for cures for our troubles with doctors before we will take our troubles to Jesus. The daughter of Israel teaches us that we need not be timid about approaching Jesus for our healing. We learn to become bold in our requests for God’s interventions. Even sneaky approaches to Jesus never go unnoticed!

Faith requires humility for both the rich and the poor. Faith engages the cosmic battle between life and death. Jesus Is the victor who oversees the problems of death and sickness, disease and disability. Faith is truly a critical concept in Mark’s Gospel. When we lack faith, we are susceptible to fear and wondering off the true path of discipleship. Let your faith arise and take you to Jesus where you are loved beyond measure and always heard. Today let us come to the altar and ask God for the faith to sustain us!

O God, we bow low before you and seek your favor in our lives. May we experience the touch of healing that we need. May we believe you are the healer of not only our spirits but our whole lives. May we put you first, believing just like the daughter of Israel …if only we could just touch the hem of your prayer shawl then our cares would we lifted and our needs met. May we lay aside our fear of people just like Jairus and come before you with the awe and trembling of knowing you are our God and we are your people, the works of your hands. Let us seek first to love you with our whole hearts so that when our daily needs become issues, we know who to turn to in times of trouble. Amen. 




The Ultimate Question

John 3.3-4

Lent is traditionally a time of reflection, repentance, fasting, and preparation of new birth. Lent is rooted in the belief that all humanity has a fallen nature that according to Jesus needs to be recreated. In fact the phrase “born again” and the analogy of the “second birth” comes from Jesus. He first used this language while speaking to a good man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader. Jesus once told him, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom” (John 3.3 CEV). Nicodemus responded, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?” (John 3.4 CEV). Nicodemus struggled to stretch his understanding to grasp the miracle of this strange new birth. The first birth is one of earthly living, and the second is for eternity. Have you been born again?

People of Faith

Becoming Easter People

Mark 4.35-41

We certainly have had a deluge of rain along the Ohio River in Kentucky. In some locations the rain total has broken a 20-year record for flooding and caused much damage to property in the places like here in Maysville but also in Louisville, West Point, Augusta, and Cincinnati. In this passage there is a serious storm coming. Let’s put on our rain gear because we are about to get wet. In our story there wasn’t any Weather Channel predicting this event. There were no warning sirens for the unexpected storm. No precautionary evacuation plans have been implemented. This unexpected weather threatens the lives of the disciples and causes a crisis of belief, even questioning the identity of their leader. Let’s read the story.

Mark 4.35-41 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.  Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” – Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

Henry Blackaby offers a great tool for practicing faithfulness in his Experiencing God bible study that works well for this passage. God is always at work around us – even in the storms we experience. We are continually invited into an ever-deepening relationship with God. God speaks to us like Moses at the burning bush, which creates a crisis of belief along our faith journey. Will we take the leap of faith and believe in God? We must adjust to what God requires of us, and we join him in the Kingdom of God experiences he has for us. Blackaby invites us to think about the “crisis of belief” that we often face as we grow in our understanding of God. The disciples are experiencing a crisis of belief moment in our passage. Let’s dig deeper into the storyline.

We can surmise that this story comes at the conclusion of a long day of ministry for Jesus. Jesus is wrapping up his day, and he is exhausted. But the people are not, yet, ready for him to leave them. He has given all he has, and he is ready for a nap. Jesus is ministering to the crowds and teaching the disciples. At the end of the day he is worn out with doing ministry – exhausted – he suggests that the disciples head across the Sea of Galilee, to the other side. By this time in Jesus’ ministry other people have caught on to Jesus’ mode of travel. There are other boats with them at the water’s edge. It seems that Jesus has enthusiasts following his ministry. The boats didn’t disband when the ministry was over, they were continuing to follow him beyond the limits of healthy boundaries. Have you ever experienced people who love you to death? Sometimes folks love to be with you so much that they drain the life out of you. Jesus has been drained, and the crowd is still following him. It seems he is seeking to distance himself from ministry, which he often does by taking time away to pray and recharge his batteries.

We can infer from the story that Jesus has spent himself on the care of others and he is tired. Imagine Jesus absolutely worn out from doing ministry. Have you ever felt worn out from spiritual caregiving? This fatigue is not just any kind of fatigue. It is the tired that comes from doing ministry all day at the hospital and pouring out conversation to lots of people – hugging, touching, talking, visiting, and praying. This fatigue is in the context of ministry not the everyday kind of work – imagine yourself spending time at the hospital caring for every person who walks in the door – that’s the kind of tired this is. And, Jesus finds himself in the back of the boat. He is resting on the captain’s cushion and falls soundly asleep.

As we read the story the focal point rests on the sudden storm that threatens to capsize the little fishing boat. As they travel across the sea, a storm approaches. The clouds grow dark and it begins to rain. Living in Kentucky we know what it means for the clouds to gather and the threat of tornadoes in our communities. We know the fear of hearing the community sirens that warn us of impeding danger. Jesus is inviting his disciples to rethink their fearful response and instead trust in God’s saving grace.

Jesus is so exhausted from the day’s events that he slept so hard nothing was waking him up! Sound asleep and resting on the captain’s cushion, the storm grows powerful around the little boat nearly drowning all aboard. Have you ever felt like you were on a little boat in a big sea? I can only imagine how Jesus’ aim was to get some rest from the crowds, and crossing the water seemed the best remedy for the situation. Here Jesus is resting between two ministry events, and a massive storm approaches them nearly capsizing the ministry team. When this passage is usually preached the context of the two ministry events is a side bar, but I want to emphasize what Jesus and the disciples are doing – they are in ministry! They are not just hanging out at home or work, but in ministry to the crowds.

Faithfulness runs in a circular motion. Faith is like a little boat upon the sea. We all are a part of God’s plan anyway. You can be faithful if you let yourself be! – Donovan remake of “Happiness Runs”

We can witness in the passage how Jesus is moving from the Jewish community into the Gentile context as he takes the boat to the area of Gerasenes across the Galilean Sea. Jesus is the captain of this crew. His identity as the Son of God has been a secret throughout Mark’s Gospel, yet, Jesus will reveal his power to his disciples in the midst of the crisis. Perhaps it is most difficult for those closest to Jesus as a friend to understand his identity as the Son of God. Jesus, the Son of God, is presumed to be sleeping on the job. God is described as sleeping on the job from time to time in Israel’s history and it seems Jesus illustrates this best in this passage (Psalms 35, 44, 59). But the bottomline is that Jesus demonstrates how in the midst of a crisis of belief, God proves his love and care for his people.

Jesus, their faithful leader, is asleep on the job. He is not behaving like a true leader. The storm is raging around the disciples.  Have you ever met someone who said they were called into a ministry, but you doubted their ability? God tends to choose the unlikeliest people to be called into ministry. Jesus is seen as an uncaring leader in this passage, but he will prove them wrong by his faith to calm the raging sea in the midst of a life-threatening crisis of belief.

Jesus doesn’t seem to be interested in the welfare of his followers, nor does he appear to know all the problems that the disciples were facing. Jesus invites them to travel across the waters to the other side, all the while a storm is brewing without his earthly awareness. That doesn’t seem very God-like. One would assume that God’s chosen leader would be able to foresee the coming problems, and deal with the situation prior to the problem getting out of control. Have you ever been in a situation when you expected the leader to know ahead of time about impeding problems, and the leader was clueless? There are times we are faced with challenges when God doesn’t intervene! We have to walk by faith into a scary future with unknown challenges and potential danger.

The team of disciples continue to put forth enormous human effort to save the boat and the ministry team, all the while the leader is resting soundly. Teammates are doing everything they know how to do to safely get them to the other ministry opportunity. Yet, they do not have the spiritual strength to wage the necessary fight against the storm. The storm is described in the Greek Linguistic Dictionary as a squall, hurricane, tornado, and earthquake depending on which synoptic gospel you read. This storm was devastating in strength, and easily could have destroyed the little boat and drowned its inhabitants. No amount of human effort could save the situation; it required a God-size intervention. Have you ever needed a God-size intervention in your church? Sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of a ministry storm and we feel like God has taken a nap!

The weather channel might name this storm “Faith” and make a video about it. Mike Slidell or Jim Cantore would be on-site to witness and capture the wind and the waves. It would make the national news for sure! The country would be glued to the replays of this news story, and it would go viral on the social media apps.

While Jesus grabs a little shut eye, the storm pops up out of nowhere. The disciples wake Jesus from a sound sleep – he hasn’t aroused to the condition of the weather front. The leader of this band of fledgling believers is completely at peace in the storm. Some folks just have such a peace about them even in the midst of a storm. Other folks are overwhelmed with fear and their faith can be easily shaken. Have you ever felt like you were perishing while serving Jesus? There are times when we are pushed to the limits of our faithfulness, and we must grow past our reservations about Jesus’ leadership in the midst of our storm. We expect God to rescue us, and God expects us to have faith. We can be caught in a spiritual dilemma, praying for more faith.

Faith is defined by the Merriam-Webster Student Dictionary as trust, loyalty, devotion, genuine, and bona fide.  Faith is defined as devotion to duty, dedication to a person and the quality by which one keeps promises. Faith is our trust in God, belief in doctrines of our religion, and complete confidence in the absence of evidence.

It reminds me of the story of the three little pigs. The three little pigs were inspired by their mother to do their very best as they made their own way into the world. The first little pig built his house from straw because he didn’t like to work at all, while the second little pig liked easy work and built his house out of wood. The two little pigs got their houses done quickly then played and laughed together the rest of the day. While the third little pig labored all day to build his house of sturdy bricks and didn’t finish until bedtime. Our faith journey is much like the story of the three little pigs. Our faith can be made of straw, wood, or bricks. We know the conclusion of the story – the houses made of straw and wood collapsed quickly under the wolf’s attack, while the house made of bricks stood firm through it all.

Often times we spend our lives on a quest to understand who God is and what God is all about. We long for more faith. When we hear stories like this one where Jesus doesn’t seem too interested in the struggles of a natural disaster, we question our beliefs. We struggle with our loyalty. We can ask questions of God, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” When our ministry plan falls apart, we question if Jesus really is interested in us at all.

I have struggled with Jesus’ response from time to time, and I have cried out in despair. I have longed to see Jesus do something about my situation, and prayed for change. I have desired for a community of people to gather together to beseech Jesus with all our hearts to change the current climax of religiosity in the world. I have pressed worship for the sake of revival to all of our hearts! Yet, I have felt like I am drowning in a world that God doesn’t give a hoot about God anymore.

But I know that his answer will come, and Jesus will accomplish all that God intends to accomplish. When God answers, will I be like the disciples full of doubt and fear about his identity, asking, Who is this? When I lack faith, I struggle with God’s identity and his miraculous works. Across Mark’s Gospel, the people are constantly amazed. Jesus is a leader that challenges the norms at every turn of event so much so that the people who witness his ministry are constantly questioning his identity, Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him (Mk. 4.33)! and his abilities, We’ve never seen anything like this (Mk. 2.12)! In the Scripture stories Jesus is always shifting the thinking of the people.

And even in the midst of this great storm, Jesus doesn’t hesitate to call for a new way of thinking. Jesus’ remedy for the storm? Have a little faith, remain loyal, stay genuine, and trust – be bona fide.

In the text Jesus is moving from one ministry season to another and offers us an opportunity to take a temperature check on our faith. The future for our church and community must be bathed in prayer. We must join together in heart-felt confessional groups to share our life struggles. We are called to care for the souls of our community. Jesus asks his followers to go and make disciples then baptize and teach his word. We are called to address the issues in our culture that we might see systemic change in families.

Our purpose is the share the love of God with others that they might experience God through our hands and feet. Our values are derived from Scripture – we are covenant people in the family of God who seek to bear the fruit of the Spirit unto eternal life. Each one of us have been given gifts and talents to make a difference in the world for the sake of disciple-making. Jesus calls us to expressions of faithfulness. When we stand between ministry seasons, we are believing that God can get us to the other side. Faith requires from us a different set of eyes, and a vision that only comes from God. We must live by faith not by human sight.

​In her bible study entitled Believing God, Beth Moore has five statements about faith​,​ “God is who He says He is. God can do what He says He can do. I am who God says I am. I can do all things through Christ. God’s Word is alive and active in me.”

O God, give us faith to move mountains. Courage that pushes us past our unbelief. Mercy that sings your grace to others. Love that never fails to praise you. Amen. 

People of Purpose

Becoming Easter People

Mark 8.31-38

Mark 8.31-33 NIV He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Mark 8.34-38 NIV Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.For whoever wants to save their life/soul will lose it, but whoever loses their life/soul for me and for the gospel will save it.What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their life/soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their life/soul?If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Last week I was evaluating the effectiveness of my blog. I have a site that I post all my public preaching, teaching, and writings. I discovered this week that I have 451 followers for my blog postings. Wow! That sounds great doesn’t it. When I pulled out the data of who is actually opening my posts there were only 20 people who are consistently opening up the page but only about 5 people actually read the content. How many people would you say are true followers? 451, 20, or 5? Our passage from Mark’s Gospel helps us to understand that sometimes we don’t follow Jesus but our own human desires. We believe we are following him, sometimes we even hang out with the intent of following him, but at the core of our understanding we are not legitimate followers.

Peter has just made the good confession that Jesus is the Messiah in the previous paragraph. He is doing all the proper things of a moral person, and he is following Jesus as one of his inner-circle people. Now Jesus tells him that he has missed the mark in his understanding of the Good News. He directs the disciples attention into a three-part requirement of the New Covenant: deny, take up, and follow. In this passage Jesus is letting Peter in on the secret of the Kingdom of God which is essentially: self-preservation does not fit in the model of the Kingdom of God.

This passage makes me shake in my boots. Jesus is standing and knocking at the door to the hearts of his followers. Our passage encourages us to reflect on our personal relationship with God as well as our corporate understanding of the Gospel message. It invites us to reflect on our purpose as the people of God. What is our aim, objective, intention, and course of execution as the people of God?

Let’s look deeper into Peter’s story. Notice what happens when Peter misinterpreted who the Messiah really is (8.32-33). In chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel Peter has stepped out to declare that Jesus is the Messiah (8.29). And, a few verses later Peter is stepping out again on behalf of all the disciples to redirect Jesus in his role as Messiah (8.32-33). Peter is very comfortable engaging in conversation with Jesus. It’s quite obvious since Jesus has been his houseguest some three years that surely Peter can persuade Jesus to rethink this mission. Jesus’ correction of Peter, the disciples, and his followers points us in the direction of rethinking our understanding of what this church life is all about.

Have we missed the mark like Peter?

The story of Peter is one of dynamic transformation. Peter begins his discipleship as a fisherman along the sea of Galilee. Peter is a married man, and his mother-in-law was living with him. He opens his home to Jesus. We might call this generosity as the first way-side mission. It is here at Peter’s house that the sick, dying, homeless, and destitute arrive in full strength. We know that Peter’s home has been filled up to overflow capacity with those straining to here Jesus speak, and his roof has been damaged by the strangers with the paralytic. This resembled very much a Salvation Army Mission or at least a hospital for the poor and penniless. Peter’s heart must have been the most welcoming of the disciples, and his hospitality outstanding to have been so generous with his possessions. To be sure Peter has not buried his earthly treasures. In fact it seems from the stories of Scripture that he is sharing everything he has with Jesus – presence, prayers, gifts, and service. Peter really seems to be fully invested.

Peter is such a strong disciple that we find him among the inner circle of three that Jesus teaches more intentionally than the others (Peter, James & John). He is one of the key people Jesus invites to pray with him before his arrest. Peter is so close to Jesus that he feels completely natural to correct him on his vision of ministry and his future. I can just imagine Peter inspiring Jesus to recant his position. We just don’t want to miss the intimate friendship that Peter had with Jesus, because Jesus is instructing Peter that he has missed the mark. In fact he has missed the target all together.

What became difficult for Peter was the shift in his thinking. Peter was thinking one way, and Jesus was going another direction. Peter was so challenged by this shift in direction that it most likely caused him to become confused, angry, and bitter. Peter denied Jesus three times. Can you hear the rooster crowing in your own life? When was the time that you were going one direction, but Jesus was going another? Imagine yourself saying, Lord, where are you going? Lord, where are you going. Lord, where are you going! I know myself that when I count to three, my kids better be in line with my direction. Peter has counted to three, and he is done. Have you counted to three with God? With your pastor? With a friend? With your children? And discovered that you were the one going in the wrong direction?

After Resurrection we see the transformational decision that Jesus required of Peter, Do you love me? Do you love me. Do you love me! (John 21.15-19). There’s an important requirement of the Gospel message that we may fail to understand, and that is the unconditional love of God that is placed into our hearts. I’m always stunted every time I read John’s story about the restoration of Peter in John 21.

After the resurrection, Jesus has arrived on the beach and is cooking fish for the disciples who have just fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus inspired them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. Then the story goes on and Jesus restored Peter to discipleship status. As Jesus invited Peter to become a leader of the church, Peter was humbled in front of his young friend John. And, in Peter’s attempt to squirm out of the situation, he finally deflected the conversation to John: what about him? Peter’s last statement always gets me in my heart, What about him? We are always looking over our shoulder to see if the other person is watching us. Are you crossing your arms and tapping your foot at the fact that the other person is watching you, and Jesus is expecting you to make a heart-felt move?

After Pentecost, Peter became an amazing leader in the early church. He was the first person to welcome Gentiles into the Kingdom of God. Peter was in trouble with the Jerusalem Council for baptizing the Gentiles! We see the transformational love that Jesus required of Peter when Peter explains to the Council, I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather in every nation whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him (Acts 10.34-35). When we arrive at the place in our hearts that we are done looking at what the other people are doing for God, then we can listen to what God has for us. If Peter’s eyes had remained on the past, he would not have been unable to accept what God was doing in the present for the sake of the future.

My son recently reminded me of the experience of the Apostle Paul. Saul was going the wrong way and needing redirection. Saul was murdering Christians because he did not understand. We may not be murdering people to redirect a move of God, but we certainly can complain about the direction we are heading when we are uncertain of the outcome.

John Wesley had a similar experience. He discovered that the Moravian Christians had something of God’s peace and assurance of their salvation that he did not possess. It lead him to Aldersgate Street where he experienced a heart-warming sensation that changed his life. Later he wrote a sermon entitled “The Almost Christian.” In this sermon John Wesley suggests that the church truly needs to be discerning about our relationship with God. If we were to take Peter, Paul, and Wesley’s transformational stories, we would discover three people that were all religiously proper, but they were heading in the wrong direction. I think we can apply John Wesley’s understanding of the “Almost Christian” and the “Altogether Christian” to our own experiences and gain greater insight. Perhaps we can discover remarkable similarities to our own walk of faithfulness.

Wesley proposes that the “Almost Christian” is essentially an honest person, a well-spoken person (don’t swear), one who limits the use of liquor and food, one who lives in peace with others by doing no harm, a person who seeks the welfare of others and does all matter of good toward others, doing no harm, one who goes to church regularly, and a person who maintains a personal family prayer life. In fact if you are only practicing your faith to avoid the punishment of hell, then to Wesley you were considered an altogether hypocrite. All of these faithful things just miss the mark of what it means to be an “Altogether Christian.”

An “Altogether Christian” loves God more than the world around them. Because you love God, you can love your neighbor (even those who are “Almost Christians” may need your love) more than you love yourself. It isn’t about loving this person but not that person. In the event of being an “Almost Christian,” John Wesley advises like Jesus does here in our passage with Peter, You are going the wrong way.

Have you ever gone the wrong way on a one-way street? Have you ever driven up the down ramp of an interstate? Have you experienced driving the wrong direction and having other cars warn you that you are going the wrong way? I have. In the dark of the night when I couldn’t see in front of me… in a violent thunderstorm that was roaring in my ears… I was navigating an unfamiliar area of downtown Louisville by myself… I made a turn down a two-lane one-way street and up the down ramp of an interstate while cars were driving at me. This passage in Mark’s Gospel is just that! It affords us the opportunity to redirect our faith walk and head in the right direction.

Perhaps the difference between an “Almost Christian” and an “Altogether Christian” is like putting together the pieces of a stain glass window. You might have all the pieces but you need the solder to keep the glass together, and that solder is the sanctifying gift of the profound love of God. If you have not experienced God’s gift of the profound love of God, you are invited to the Table today. This is your altar call.

O God, I lay my life before you. I invite you to pour out your profound love into my heart that I might love you, love myself, and love others the way that you love them. Amen.

People of Hope

Becoming Easter People

Mark 2.1-17

The story today is one of the most remarkable stories of hope in the Gospels. It may very well be one of my favorite passages. There is so much hope here among friends and in the community of faith that brings the opportunity for healing. There is so much hope that strips away our religious pride, haughtiness and indignation as a self-righteous people. Aren’t you glad that we have these stories that help us to humble ourselves before Jesus, and accept the miserable, wretched mess that we are? Praise God that we can receive the forgiveness of sin when we are really looking for something less condemning in our lives. We long to look to others for the purpose of our brokenness, when it often lives within ourselves. There’s just something about Jesus that moves us to get up and walk away from our sick bed to live again!

Our story begins with Jesus. All eyes are on Jesus from the disciples to the crowds to the sick and his friends to the local religious leaders. It is Peter’s home that is about to be disheveled, and his roof totally destroyed. I can only imagine how Peter would have been so indignant. Perhaps we can stretch this to be the first real Trustee crisis in the New Testament! Sometimes we get derailed with the initial problem of people coming to Jesus. We find ourselves frustrated with the turn of events that can be very messy and we can get our nose bent out of shape. Let’s review the text. Jesus has come home to Capernaum.

2.1-2 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.

Have you ever longed to be a part of something that didn’t seem possible? Jesus makes room for us! Jesus has a new hometown and it’s not Nazareth. It’s Capernaum. It is believed that Jesus is staying with Simon Peter right next to the local synagogue. Such a large number of people are with him that there isn’t room to move, even outside the door. And, he moves into his purpose statement: preach the word! The last time he was in town the whole town had gone out to him for healing by bringing him every kind of sickness, disease, and demon-possessed person in order that he might heal them. The ministry had gotten upside down, and now that he is back in his new hometown and he is making his purpose clear by preaching the word. Jesus brings us back to the main purpose (Mark 1.38-39)! Repent and believe the Son of God (Mark 1.14-15). And, we will soon discover in our story that repentance and belief in the Son of God produces much fruit: forgiveness of sin. Let’s read on.

2.3-4 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.

Have you ever experienced a situation that seemed impossible? The impossible becomes possible with Jesus. Friends make a difference in this man’s life! So often we allow our gaze to linger too long on our medical situation instead of hoping in God’s restoration. We may have found ourselves lying on our poor man’s mat wondering if anyone even cares that we are down and out. But the friends of this man did not fall into the self-pity trap of discouragement. They hoped for something more so much so that they were willing to become fools for the sake of someone else’s healing. Notice here that they didn’t pray at home and not respond. Instead they put their prayers into action!

The roof diggers are a big surprise! Who digs the roof off of a house? The story says some men had carried a paralyzed man on a mat, a poor man’s bed. There were so many people clamoring around to hear Jesus preach the word that there wasn’t any room for them to help this man get to Jesus, and they weren’t going to wait for a break in the preaching to find their way forward. There wasn’t an altar call! They climbed up the outside stairwell and made their way to the flat rooftop and began to dig through the hardened clay and thatch. They pushed through the branches and twigs until they tore open a hole in the roof just above where Jesus was and big enough to lower the man down into the crowd below. They have stuck their neck out for their friend in a mighty public display.

We have all stuck our neck out for our friends in hopes that they would come to know Jesus. We’ve invited them to church in hopes they would find Jesus. Perhaps just the suggestion isn’t enough. Perhaps we have to be like these men who took the next steps to put their prayers into action. We have all offered hospitality like Simon Peter, then found our home trashed by visitors. It’s easy to get caught up in frustration when you offer hospitality that pushes you beyond your comfort zone. Simon Peter was sinned against, but he had to deal with the fact that Jesus was not disturbed by the fact that he was going to have to make repairs to a leaky roof. These four friends had destroyed his property – intentionally. Peter is going to have to do some forgiving for this act of mercy. What was a merciful act for the friends became a Trustee’s nightmare. What comes next in the text might surprise you!

2.5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Have you ever felt an unwillingness to forgive, unforgiven or unforgiveable? The unforgiveable becomes forgiven in Jesus. The paralyzed man is forgiven! The paralyzed man has been dramatically carried, dropped through the roof, and is now before Jesus. When the paralyzed man meets Jesus, I can only imagine what this encounter was like… Did he close his eyes and grit his teeth with stage fright? Did he desire to be healed or was it thrust upon him? Did he request the forgiveness of his sins or was he confused by the kind of healing he received? Was he embarrassed that his friends made such a fuss over him? So many questions!

In his most vulnerable state Jesus declares not his physical healing but the forgiveness of his sins. I can only imagine how he must have felt when the whole crowd heard this declaration. How deeply touched he would have been to have his sins removed from his inmost being. He had a heart healing. This was not simply a token word, but a deep felt need that was met. Surely each of us have been bound to our beds with illness from time to time, and we have prayed to be healed. But healing does not often come instantaneous like this paralyzed man in our story. What we don’t want to forget is that this man suffered from paralysis for some time before he was healed. Sometimes healing takes time, but it often begins with the profound act of the forgiveness of our sins. Because of their tenacious pursuit to get their friend to Jesus, they found what their hearts desired – their friend’s healing.

Jesus witnessed the faith of the friends and the paralyzed man then was moved to respond. These folks so desperately needed to find healing that they ripped the roof off of a home to lower their friend to Jesus. These folks were tenacious. They gave their friend every opportunity to find his healing. And, the answer they received went to the very core of the problem: sin. It was Jesus who saw the heart of the issue and addressed.

No one had spoken a word to Jesus about the man’s condition. Jesus was simply moved to a compassionate response. Jesus was moved to express deep love for this man. Jesus was touching the heart of the injured man and offering the perfect cure. It is at the point of the cure for sin that Jesus’ authority is challenged by the religious leaders. Jesus is the cure, and the religious leaders are jealous. They are struggling with change as they are about to lose their jobs. Jesus takes away their job security. It’s like a corporate buy out, a hostile takeover.

This cure for sin was not how they understood forgiveness. How could this Jesus exact a cure for sin apart from the traditions of the religious leaders? There was a sacrifice that needed to be made to atone for the person’s sins. There was a ritual and a process. But now Jesus is saying that he has the authority to forgive sins. Well, that was just blasphemy to the religious leaders. They believed Jesus was insulting the One True God. But to drive his point home, Jesus teaches that he has the authority to forgive sins and he further demonstrates his authority by inviting the man to get up, take up his poor man’s bed, and walk on home. This same story is found in both Matthew 9.6 and Luke 5.24 and emphasizes the fact that Jesus has authority to forgive sins. And, the conflict heightens as Jesus declares forgiveness of sins which is considered something only God can do! Jesus is taking away their job security, and the familiarity of the way they have always lived as a people. Jesus is introducing something new that is really very old.

2.6-8 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

Have you ever experienced judgment from others? Jesus silences the voice of the critics in our lives! The teachers of the law are muttering in their hearts. We have seen the muttering leaders who questioned someone else’s actions in the church perhaps even their forgiveness and unconditional love toward someone that seemed undeserving. Sometimes it’s hard to love unconditionally, and to forgive freely as Christ has forgiven us. When we look across the Gospels, we read that we are to forgive unconditionally like Jesus did. Our choice to forgive others provides the opportunity for God the Father to forgive us (Matt. 6.14 and John 20.23). When we choose to release others from their sinful debt, then we have healing in our own hearts toward God, self, and neighbor. The story we heard today highlights the religious legal experts or scribes who were muttering under their breaths (blasphemy). They muttered that Jesus was “insulting God” in the way that he taught and demonstrated forgiveness of sins. Ultimately, they did not submit to Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. The lack of submitting to Jesus’ authority would soon create enough tension in their relationship that they would find a way to have him crucified under the Rome leader Pontus Pilot. But in the text, Jesus is holding his ground. Let’s read on.

2.9-11 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

Have you ever wanted to tell Jesus just how you expected him to fix someone’s issues? Jesus chooses his own answers to our requests! Jesus doesn’t submit to triangulation. When multiple parties are involved in the acts of healing, Jesus goes to the source of the situation. He cuts out the middle person. The conversation becomes between the person and Jesus.

Jesus becomes the man of the hour, and amid the distractions his attention remains on the paralyzed man. The healing process is between Jesus and the man. Jesus doesn’t ask his friends what they wanted, and he doesn’t consult the religious leaders about their opinions. Jesus doesn’t take a poll from the crowd as to whether the man deserved being healed or even why he was sick to begin with. Jesus simply extends grace and mercy to someone who would not otherwise have had a chance at living a full life. No questions asked. His healing is between him and Jesus. The cure was instantaneous just like Peter’s mother-in-law who had been sick in bed with a fever then Jesus helped her up, the fever left her, and she waited on them.

2.12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

The crowd is amazed! Across Mark’s Gospel the people are constantly amazed with Jesus. We have seen the crowd who has stood by and watched as others have made their way to Jesus and found their healing. Sometimes it seems like others have cut in line ahead of us when we really thought they were behind us. We watch in awe and amazement as lives have been lived out transformed before us. Yet, in the back of our minds do we still wonder what that was all about. Did they really have an encounter with Jesus?

And, as the man walked home that day we see the crowd of people were afraid, amazed, and praised God. But the crowd beyond the walls of the home did not hear or see the whole story. They simple saw a man and his friends cutting in line to get up on top of a house. They watched the men dig a hole in someone else’s roof, probably thanking God it wasn’t their home being destroyed. Then the mat disappeared inside the home. I can only imagine how the next thing they saw are men jumping up and down on a roof they had just demolished, and the paralyzed man on the mat is now walking out into the crowd with his mat in hand – going home completely whole. What a bizarre set of circumstances to witness.

Perhaps the key ingredient in this text are the acts of hope. Simon Peter opened his home to Jesus and the crowds, expectantly. The friends bring the paralyzed man to Jesus desiring for him to have complete healing. When they couldn’t get him to Jesus easily, they took the initiative to do whatever it took to make sure their friend got to Jesus – even ripping a roof off a home.  Their hope was in the Son of Man. Hope was stirred as the paralyzed man submitted and trusted his friends to get him to Jesus. Because of the hospitality of Simon Peter and the friends, Jesus has the opportunity to encounter an injured soul with the hope of the Good News. But let’s not forget that Jesus has made himself available to all people as the hope of the world. There’s a lot of hope being shared among these folks, but there are some folks there that did not have hope in Jesus. They were the leaders of the old guard that was being reordered to align with Jesus’ new way. They were not impressed by the exchange of hope but muttered amongst themselves. They could not see the hope of Eternal Life seated right in front of them. Together we must guard our hearts not to be like those who have no hope! We want to hope even when we do not understand the circumstances or the answers.

Can you find yourself in the story? I can only imagine that each one of us have been all of these folks at some point in our lives. We have been Peter whose house has been wrecked by extending hospitality. We have been the friends who are doing everything they can to get their friend to Jesus. We have muttered in our hearts and thought ill of others. We have been lived like we have no hope. We have been amazed when someone actually received a healing of their heart or a physical ailment. We have been the paralyzed person whose life was turned around by some life altering event. And, we have been radically healed by Jesus with the forgiveness of our sins. Our passage today leads us to Eternal Hope in Jesus Christ. He is the Good News! He forgives all our sins, even when we don’t know we need to be forgiven!

O God, we are hopeless without out you! Today we come humbly before your throne of grace to receive the mercy we need and the forgiveness of our sins – whether we know we need it or not. Expose our hearts to your grace and mercy that in the places we are harboring sin, set us free to live in the hope of Eternal Life. Amen.




A Sweet Surrender

Galatians 3.26-29, Romans 13.12-14

I love truffles. I remember the first time I was introduced to truffles many years ago. I hated to unwrap the paper because they looked so perfect and special in their shiny wrapping paper. And, the inside was a gift of chocolate that was so rich and special it makes my mouth water just thinking about the treat inside. As I unwrapped the sweet treat I wanted to savor every bite with a nibble at a time. The shell of chocolate was filled with this soft sweet middle that was just the perfect consistency of softness that didn’t drip into a puddle of goo. Yum!

Over the years I have treasured the expensive treat of truffles. I have bought them for special occasions and shared them with colleagues who were having a very difficult time. I remember some of my colleagues who would so appreciate a chocolate treat after a long day of stressful work at the hospital with no time for breaks. Expressions of love can be very simple in times of great distress and anxiety like a small bite of chocolate. Each little truffle is wrapped in paper like a birthday present ready to be opened and cherished as an act of loving kindness.

When I think about what it means to be a Christian, the illustration of a truffle comes to mind. A gift so small and simple can become a great gift of joy and compassion to others. We too are small and simple in the big scheme of things. But God has chosen to knock on the door of our hearts and fill us with the sweetest gift, the Spirit of Jesus. Our shell of humanity contains the most delicious gift for all the world, and we are to share this sweet treat with others. Our shell is protected by the most beautiful wrapping paper, the image of Christ Jesus. We are clothed in Christ from the moment we are baptized into Christ. Paul’s letter to the Galatian community notes that we are part of a holy community,

Gal. 3.26-29 NIV “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

There are times we are tempted to live out our lives in ways that do harm to ourselves and others. Yet we are called to live like Christ, to be like Christ, to think like Christ… to be clothed in righteousness and holiness. Paul writes to the Roman church offering this critic,

Rom. 13.12-14 NIV “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

We all called to something greater. We are called to be children of God, baptized into and clothed with the Lord Jesus. We are called to be heirs of the Kingdom of God. When we make that commitment of faith, we have a calling to live life differently than the world around us.

I’m so grateful for the reaffirmations of faith that have been a part of our faith community. I’m excited to see our long time attenders become members and step up their commitment to serve. I’m pleased to see the smiling faces of a fresh expression of Christ in the hearts of the people I serve. But my greatest joy is always that their relationship with Jesus is growing in daily devotion and commitment, not simply a moment or two of revitalization. Faith grows daily, and requires grit and tenacity. May the hearts of those I love and cherish in the Kingdom of God have a new found strength to be disciples that know the cost of their decision and choose daily to live the commitment with passion.

O God, we are blessed beyond measure to be called children of the Most High God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. We celebrate the great gift of the infilling of your Holy Spirit, and our new countenance as we are clothed with Christ Jesus. We are grateful that we no longer belong to our self but are part of something bigger in the community of faith. Have your way with us that we would fulfill our call to something greater! Amen.



People of Heart

Becoming Easter People

Joel 2.1-17

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. … ‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2.1, 12-13 NIV).

A clarion call has been issued. The invitation has been given for God’s people to renew their faith and trust in Almighty God. Lent is like the trumpet call of the Old Testament priests. Lent calls us to self-examination. It provides an avenue whereby we examine ourselves in light of God’s grace given to us. G.K. Chesterton declares, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair” (Common Prayer App). And, that’s what the season of Lent invites us to contemplate: Loving God.

When we look across history on this day, we discover that St. Valentine was inspired not by human love, but for love of God. According to tradition, Valentine cared for the persecuted church in Rome. Under Emperor Claudius II a priest named “Valentine of Rome” was assisting Christians in their escape from persecution. Valentine was discovered marrying Christian couples and was arrested, imprisoned, and condemned (Common Prayer App). Valentine was stoned, clubbed, and beheaded on February 14, 269 (Common Prayer App). In 496 St. Valentine’s Day was established (Common Prayer App). Although we know little about the real Valentine of Rome, to be sure his love for God was his inspiration for loving others. Lent gives us the opportunity to rekindle our passion and love for God.

Across the pages of Scripture, God’s people are notorious for forgetting about God. We are no different. The weight of the world’s troubles can snare us causing us to become lax in our devotion. Lent is a season when we take discipleship more seriously than other times of the church calendar year. We remember the tools of spiritual formation long tucked away since last Lent. Understanding the means of grace provided for us is the key to our growth in our love for God (Thompson, The Means of Grace, xiii-18).

  • The instituted means of grace we learn from Christ alone includes Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Searching the Scriptures, Prayer, Fasting, and Christian conferencing (Thompson, The Means of Grace, 21-95).
  • The prudential means of grace we learn from one another include Small Groups that aim toward spiritual formation by working toward Holy Habits as well as Works of Mercy. We might craft what is called a “Rule of Life” that enables us to live more intentionally (Thompson, The Means of Grace, 99-120). Our small group experiences should always lead us to loving God more deeply.
  • The general means of grace we learn through contemplation, and contemplation leads us toward exercising the presence of God (Thompson, The Means of Grace, 123-134).

Nicholas Herman, better known as Brother Lawrence, served to blend his faith with his everyday life by practicing the presence of God during the 1600s. Brother Lawrence once wrote to a friend to describe his devotion to God thus, “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and [when it’s] done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God” (YouVerse).  When we practice the presence of God in our daily lives, we have the opportunity to draw near to God as God draws near to us.

Our acts of discipleship are no longer about duty or obligation as we no longer are bound by Law, but now we are bound by love for God. It’s about loving God and loving self so I can love my neighbor. It begins by listening to the still small quiet voice of the Almighty in daily devotion, moment by moment. Asbury Theo. Seminary publishing company Seedbed share daily devotions electronically. Their desktop theologian J.D. Walt notes, “We do not live our lives for God. We live our lives from God. We do not work for Jesus. We work from Jesus.” He further notes, “Discipleship is not about mastering a body of knowledge or conforming to a behavioral code. Discipleship means learning to live freely under the mastery or Lordship of Jesus Christ, which is to say – in the abiding zone of his active presence. It means learning to be ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’” (Seedbed, February 14, 2018).  The foundation of our discipleship is rooted in the abiding and affectionate relationship we possess in Christ Jesus.

During the season of Lent, we are invited to a deeper walk with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. May God always be our first love! In the midst of celebrating a day set apart for loving others, let us not forget what it means to be Christian. It means that we are called to give God our undivided hearts forever.

O God, you have sounded the clarion call to “rend our hearts.” Come Holy Spirit and teach us to pray and fast that we might love you more dearly and for the sake of your Kingdom on earth. May we reach the world to make new disciples in your name and for your glory. Amen.