Monday, December 31, 2018

Watch Out, Oppressors! Oh yeah, and the rest of us too...

Last time we looked at the first half of Mary's prophetic words, celebrating that she was bearing the Messiah in her womb, in Luke 1:46-50. That God is mighty and holy, and merciful, and that he took a humble village girl, still a teenager, into his magnificent plan for humanity, is the general theme of the first half. She could have stopped there and we'd all have been

My Soul Magnifies...

Mary's prophecy in Luke 1:46-55 is justifiably famous. One of the few formally-structured speeches in scripture by a woman, and in the form of a psalm (see for instance, Psalm 8), this is praise  to God in thanks for his work ("he who is mighty has done great things for me", v 49) and in recognition of God's goodness "to those who fear him", v. 50.

True to Luke's emphasis in his two books, the Holy Spirit is shown leading Elizabeth to bless Mary (v. 42-45). It seems in context to give credit to the Holy Spirit for Mary's song of praise also. We could imagine that Mary had been thinking of some of these words during her trip to see her cousin, and holding on to these words (see 2:51b), giving them to Luke years later, perhaps for more literary stylizing as well.

The first portion, 46-49, is a joyful song of praise to the Lord. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name." It seems a little forward to imagine "all generations" referring to her in the future, but again, this is formal speech, and as it turns out, she was right.

What can we learn from this? Several different lessons, I believe. First, the responsibility, or perhaps better, the opportunity or privilege, of thanking God for what he does for us; recognizing his generosity, as a child would thank a parent for an ice-cream cone. Second, that we can gain a humble perspective by reflecting on his power and authority, ("he who is mighty") which is so far above ours, yet he takes notice of us and wishes to bless us ("has done great things for me").

The second half of this song has a more difficult tone, and we'll look at that tomorrow.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Mary, Did You Really Know?

Many little girls dream of their marriage to a handsome young man, a life filled with joy and the adventure of raising children. This was little different in the time of Mary and Joseph, with a couple of notable extras. First, they were under the thumb of a ruthless foreign power, taxed to death and never really safe from

Friday, December 28, 2018

Doing and Disbelief

Looking at some of the "supporting actors" in the drama of the Incarnation, in Matthew's and Luke's accounts, we see how they responded to the unique and surprising situations they lived in. Might there be some application in our lives? Perhaps. Let's

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"Anything but God"

CS Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” Isn’t that a very brief but very accurate description of human history? “The woman was convinced. She saw that

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Joy in Waiting

Two elderly people were known to be righteous, but weren’t receiving the blessings one would expect from being faithful. What could be wrong? Children were seen as blessings from God, but these were not so blessed, even with ‘blameless’ lives. Maybe they had

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

And the Holy Spirit, Too

So many times I’ve wished I had more help in my life, to ditch a bad habit (I’ve had lots of those, and still have some) or just be happier. Although I hope your life is

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Idolatry, part 5: The Self

Jesus told us in Mark 12:29-31 that the two great commands are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That means of course we have to love ourselves. Some of us do that okay, but it’s not always easy to get it right — some not enough, and some too much! Either extreme — insisting on loving ourselves

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Comfort: Idolatry, Part 4

I’ve been reading through Isaiah’s prophecies in preparation for Advent, which starts in just a few weeks. One of his biggest gripes against his nation is about their idolatry, but not just carved figures (like in 40:19-20, 41:21-24, and 44:6-20, where Isaiah writes about God makes insulting comments about the stupidity of worshipping idols). We may have thought that the idol

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Moment You Realize...

From Kenneth Tanner on Facebook: 
The moment you realize that Jesus' incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are not just about saving YOUR everlasting soul but about saving the one human nature shared by all who bear flesh, about renewing the good Creation.
The moment you realize that salvation is not only about entering eternal life when you die but a real-as-blood participation in the divine nature RIGHT NOW.
In other words, the moment you realize that the incarnation, embodied life, cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus are not just about YOU and not just about HEAVEN.
THAT is the moment you LEAVE BEHIND infancy in Jesus Christ and GIVE your life and future (which no longer matters, which no longer causes anxiety) to God's saving mission for the life of the world.
That is the moment you GROW UP, remove the focus on yourself and your eternal future, and take up the self-sacrificial love of Jesus that seeks not only the eternal glory of others but that ALL PERSONS might enter the DIVINE WAY of life and love all things as God loves all things HERE and NOW.
That is the moment you become an ACTOR in Christ the human's saving mission to make ALL THINGS NEW.
That is the moment you are no longer the exclusive center of God's saving words and actions but one who bears the cross with Jesus on behalf of OTHERS so that ALL MIGHT LIVE.
That is the moment you JOIN Christ's saving purpose to restore the created order, still subject to chaos and decay because of human and demonic rebellion.
That is the moment you cease worrying about your eternal destiny and FIND ETERNAL LIFE NOW by living a life that reveals heaven in the present moment.
This profound humility of God in Jesus Christ is not about YOU but about ALL PERSONS and is not merely about all persons but an offering that heals time, redeems nature, and brings all things once more into that unity that God—the Father, Son and Spirit—intended from before time, from before all worlds were framed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Idolatry, Part 3: Hubris

The Greeks who wrote their famous tragedies tended to put ‘hubris' as the cause of the main character’s downfall. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes it this way: “Typically, overconfidence led the hero to attempt to overstep the boundaries of

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Idolatry (Part 2): Self-Importance

In the first post, we looked at how idolatry is described to Israel as having something before God, and/or worshipping a created thing instead of the Creator. But if we remove the limitation of the focus on some ancient local deity, or an actual carved idol, we can see more clearly how this might still be an issue in our lives. And if

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Idolatry (Part 1)

Israel as a brand-new nation was given very clear direction by Yahweh about who was in charge: "You are not to have any other gods before me" and "You shall not make any images, and not bow down to them or serve them," found in Exodus 20:3-5. These give us much of our thinking about idolatry, and the problem wasn't unique to Israel of course; Paul talks about

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

"I Need Blocks"

A dear friend of mine told our pastors’ group recently about a shopping trip he and “Mimi” had with their granddaughter. As they went around the store, the little one found a bag of children’s blocks, grabbed it and put it in her little shopping cart. She said “I need blocks” rather emphatically. Her grandpa responded “let’s go ask Mimi,” as though that would change anything, and then

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Center of the Plan

“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.” (Heb. 1:1-4, NLT)

Jesus Christ, through his life, ministry, sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension, is the One in whom the Father founded and entrusted his entire plan. Does that mean the earlier messengers and messages were wasted? No, for God does not waste anything. My friend Lance McKinnon compares this to pregnancy, which only foreshadows, darkly, what will be true of the baby once it is born. Pregnancy is necessary for birth. The story of Israel was the ‘womb of the incarnation’ as Thomas Torrance writes, and was completely necessary for us to understand the depth and breadth of what Jesus would do as the Son of God/Son of Man in the world.

Let’s give praise and thanks today, for the wisdom of God for us! (Rom. 11:33-36).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Last Sunday, we looked at James's instructions on prayer in chapter 5. One note that especially struck me is in 5:17, where he describes Elijah's prayers as "he prayed in prayer," an unusual

Thursday, September 27, 2018

How Are Your Toes Getting Wet?

I have seen God challenge me, many times in the last 50 years or so, far beyond my own willingness to perform. Many situations in life have made me dig deeper than I wanted to, into my own motivations, subtle ways of twisted thinking, and broken ways of

Friday, September 21, 2018

Wisdom from Above

Some days I just need a lot more wisdom. In many ways, even as old as I am, I don't make wise choices every time. (Of course, that probably doesn't apply to you, right? But you may learn something from reading along...) If you were to say where wisdom comes from, where would it be? From knowing a lot? From bad experiences leading you to not

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Unbending Grace of God

I've spent most of this morning working on internet technology that normally works pretty well, but that decided to make today more 'interesting' for me. Do you have days like that with technology? Or maybe you're blessed enough to get by without it! Regardless, anything made by humans will have its failings. What I'm glad about right now, is that the grace of God does not

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Jesus and "All"

When I was in middle school, I had a teacher who was from Oklahoma and had the accent to prove it. One time she mentioned her brother who worked on 'all wells,' and it took us awhile to figure out she meant 'oil wells'! The same kind of misunderstanding can happen when people read the 'all' scriptures in the Bible and assume it means something less than 'all.' And that reading

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What's Hiding in There?

The Lovely Joanne and I just purchased a carpet cleaning machine to restore our old carpets a little. We vacuum regularly, with a good vacuum cleaner, so even with the cats, the carpets should be pretty clean. So we thought. You should have seen the amount of dirt and gunk that came out with the cleaner! (Or maybe not...) I expected some, but not that much!

The same can be true in my spiritual life, and yours too. We tend to know some

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Following Jesus More, Loving More

On Sunday, I read a tribute about a member of a sister congregation in Ohio, that finished with these words: "He loved the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart." That's about as good as anyone could write about anyone, I think. That's far above accomplishments, work, golf scores, or anything else I can imagine. That love, responding to God's love for us through Jesus, is what

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


In Sunday's sermon I spoke about the church (and its members) being the temple of the Holy Spirit, a place where God himself dwells, and that we as that temple can be a place where others meet God. Yet, to accurately 're-present' Father, Son and Holy Spirit to another person, we must be in an intimate relationship with that God by the Spirit who lives in us. How?

Intimacy with another human being necessarily involves

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Jesus Is our OEM

Long ago, in a land far, far away, I owned a car that was having some mechanical issues, so I took it to the garage down the block. They replaced some parts, and the problem got worse. I took it back and asked what had gone wrong, and they finally admitted using after-market parts instead of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer, for those who don't deal with it much). The mechanics replaced the after-market parts with the OEM versions, and suddenly the problem went away!

Without listing all the scriptures, (and knowing all analogies fail eventually) we could say that the gift of our renewed humanity from Jesus, is that he is the OEM for our humanity. He takes our shoddy after-market parts -- which got us in trouble in the first place, and still don't work right -- and provides us the factory original, shiny and new. He even 'takes it out of the box' for us and installs new thinking in our heads by the Holy Spirit. You could say the "new parts" still have the factory lubrication (the oil of the Holy Spirit) that helps them run smoothly.

Having trouble in life? Poor thinking leading to poor actions that end up hurting yourself and others? Let the Master Mechanic take the after-market parts out, put in the OEM, and everything starts to run more smoothly. Slow down, 'open the hood' of your mind and emotions, and surrender to his loving ministry in your life. You'll not regret it!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Healing: Much More than Physical

In looking over the scriptures from the Lectionary for next Sunday, I see several different aspects of how our lives are changed by the touch of God. We tend to struggle with many things in life, including our physical health, but also with

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit of Love

Something every human wants, is to be loved. No matter how messed up someone has been in life, no matter how discouraged and depressed, that person still wants -- needs, is desperate for -- real love. Love without prior conditions, love without judging first, love that is not taken back when they do something wrong. And theology -- the study of God -- is first and foremost about

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Graduation Time!

Congratulations, graduates, wherever you are! Graduation is often called "Commencement" and for good reason: your classes are over, you've passed your exams, and you're starting life in the real world, ready to apply what you've learned. This is a big moment! Even for those of us who graduated many years ago, we remember what an important part of life this is.  --And did you know, there's a similar 'commencement

Friday, May 11, 2018

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Jesus Is Over Our Heads...Sort Of.

Wouldn't it be strange to start a story with the departure of the story's hero? But that's just what the book of Acts does: chapter 1 is the summation of Jesus' personal ministry on earth, showing him being raised up into the clouds! Why did that action lead

Monday, April 30, 2018

Campfire Bread and a Piece of Fish

I like food. In that way, at least, I'm like Jesus! Have you read how many times the Gospels show him dining with people? Some asked him questions, some needed forgiveness, and a few just wanted to

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The NT Scriptures Are Reliable

Tuesday night some of us viewed a film called "Fragments of Truth" by Faithlife ministries on the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. Scriptures have come under attack again the last couple of decades, from supposedly scholarly sources as well as from popular fiction like the

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

3X3: A Good God, and Evil in the World

My nephew's young daughter died last week. It's started me looking again at the question "If God is good, why is there evil in the world? Much smarter people have opined on this, but I've come up with three basic ideas, outlined as A, B and C below. Please bear with this non-philospher as I struggle

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Humanity 2.0

Jesus had a habit, after his resurrection, of showing up in a locked room and shocking everybody. Imagine, sitting in a circle with the others, worried that the temple police were going to show up and haul you off, and suddenly there's Jesus, whom you thought was dead, standing

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fifty Years Later

It was 50 years ago today that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been the leader of a peaceful protest movement that had brought to America's conscience, as a whole, the injustice of racial discrimination that so permeated the South. There were others in his day who were less convinced that non-violence was a mandatory method, but he stuck to his principles. When the evening television news showed police in various cities setting dogs

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Holy Saturday: the Sequel

The other women and I rose very early that morning, the first day of the week. We had been able to sleep, finally, after being exhausted from the labor and horror of the last few days. But I heard the first cock crowing well before it was light. It was time to get moving. We had a lot to do before leaving

Saturday, March 31, 2018

For Holy Saturday

(This is a repeat from 2015. I hope it's a blessing to you.)

We sat in that room all that Sabbath day. We men sat pretty much in silence, scattered around the floor, in shock; not trying to talk, not knowing what to say. The women were huddled together in the corner, sometimes whispering to one another then breaking out into quiet sobbing. Mary

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dirty Feet and Messy Hearts

This is Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples in Jerusalem, the day before he died on the cross. I wrote this post three years ago and I believe it's still got a lot going for it.

On Thursday of the week he was to die, Jesus

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Good Shepherd Gives His Life for His Sheep

In the middle of the week when he was to be crucified, Jesus knew he was only a short time away from being stripped, beaten, cursed, spat upon, slapped, scorned and humiliated. Whatever bullying you

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I Gave Up ___ For Lent, and Look What it Got Me

This year, I gave up bread for Lent. Sandwiches, burgers, donuts, cake...well, you get the picture. Maybe for you it's coffee.  Now, you don't have to actually give up something for Lent, in order to please God or prove your obedience. Giving up something is an exercise in learning what you've grown

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Fake Snake, or the Real Deal?

If one day you realized you had been living in a fantasy world that you had constructed for yourself, a world that let you be in control but that was going to end badly, would you

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Door Is Open

This time of year, Christians talk a lot about God's forgiveness. But we humans so often think that we need to clean ourselves up of at least some of our sins before we can become 'acceptable enough' that God will forgive us. We're trying to keep our hands on the steering wheel, so to speak, even if we think that what we're doing is just 'repenting harder' so God will

Thursday, March 1, 2018

He Did it Because He Loves You

We're only a few weeks away from Easter, the celebration of our Savior's resurrection. But before he could be raised, he died a horrible death: an innocent in the hands of sinners, the Just One killed unjustly, the Sinless One thrown in with criminals, the Ruler of All betrayed by everyone in power in his time. The one who made humanity from dust was laid in the dust for us, the One who breathed life into Adam breathed his last so he could bring eternal life to us all.

He did it 2,000 years ago because he loves you today. As the

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Tribute to an American Evangelist

It's all over the news today. Billy Graham has died. Or as he famously said, "if you hear I've died, don't believe it. I've merely changed addresses." He spoke in evangelistic gatherings to over 100,000,000 (one hundred million!) people during a career spanning more than 60 years, and there was never a hint of scandal about him. What made him so special? Or another way to ask the question would be, what practices

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

40 Days of Fast Can Go Slowly

An Olympic athlete recently posted on Twitter that she became "hangry" from not finishing her breakfast. 'Hangry' is becoming angry because of being hungry, and it points up one of our weaknesses as humans. Not eating, or abstaining from something we enjoy, can leave us cranky, and needing to apologize for mistreating others (and yes, an apology is necessary!). This season of Lent is one in which many people 'give up something for God' but often, we can simply get

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

From Ashes to Glory

Next Wednesday, February 14, is Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent (Easter Sunday is 40 days later, April 1 this year). Ash Wednesday is a day that reminds us of

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Kingdom of God Is Upon Us

We've been studying the past few weeks about what is formally called "Epiphany" in the early chapters of the gospel accounts. It's about the unveiling or revealing of Jesus Christ to the world in different ways. One of the things he immediately starts to teach is about

Monday, January 22, 2018

Epiphany: the Revelation of Jesus

This season in the Christian calendar is called Epiphany. (This season in the Colorado calendar is called "shiver"!) 'Epiphany' comes from the Greek word which means 'revealing or manifestation.' It refers, broadly, to the various ways Jesus Christ was revealed to the world, beginning with his birth, presentation at the temple, and so forth, even as far as his first