Friday, February 29, 2008

John 2

In this chapter we have what is thought to be Jesus' first miracle and it is his mother who asks him to do it. I guess we might say this is Jesus' first public miracle because it seems that Mary knows Jesus can help in this situation. She knows there is something special about Jesus. So I assume sometime she has experienced what Jesus can do. She tells the servants to do whatever he says.
Since I have experienced Christ in my life I can't tell you how many times I have encouraged people to do whatever he tells you. Although many will get into difficult situations they will not follow Jesus' way to live a full life. We keep trying our own way and if we would just listen to Jesus we could move in the right direction.
I know what Jesus tells us to do does not always sound like the solution, but it is. He says to gain our lives we must give them to others. He says to be first we must be last. It doesn't make sense, but it works. When we offer ourselves to others because of our love for them God touches both them and us in a miraculous way. Try it!
(Side note: I think it is interesting that Jesus' first miracle here is making more wine for people who have already had enough to drink. I personally don't drink because I don't like losing the ability to make good decisions and that is what happens when you drink too much. I also feel that as a role model for youth I need to be free from alcohol to be able to encourage youth to do the same thing.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mark 16

Well, we have finished reading the Gospel of Mark. The end is may favorite part. I get goosebumps when I read verse 6 where an angel says, "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here."
Because Jesus was not there in the tomb we know he is here with us today in the Holy Spirit. Because he was not there we know he conquered death and promises us new life as well. Although this event happened 2,000 years ago it changes my life even today as I remember the love that brought him to that point and then the power of God to raise him from the dead. This is what we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. (Although we should really celebrate it each day.)
Please comment to me any thought or questions from the Gospel of Mark now that we have read through it. And join me as we begin the Gospel of John tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mark 14

I know Mark 14 was yesterday's reading, but I wanted to comment on the first section of that chapter. It is the story of the woman who broke her alabaster jar to anoint Jesus. The disciples are mad that such an expensive perfume was "wasted" by pouring it on Jesus' head.
What came to my mind was the expense of building a new church building. We are building a $1.2 million building for Phase 1 and later with the addition of Phase 2 it will be around a total of $2 million. This congregation has taken on this challenge and is giving with such generosity that this task can be completed sooner then we ever expected. And this is grrrrrreat!
I compare this to the alabaster jar because I know many people in our congregation are giving more generously then they have before. To this woman that jar was probably one of the most expensive possessions she had. Our church family is giving of what they have because they see this need and want to give our church a building from which to minister to this community and world. Some have even stepped into sacrificial giving by giving above 10% of their income to fund our general budget and this project.
My prayer is that once we do have the building paid for (not just built) is that we will recognize that when we give generously God can do miracles. If every member would just give to that tithe (10%) level the ministries we could provide to this community and world would at least double what we are doing now. We could be vital partners with ministries in Iowa County, a orphanage in Romania, a hospital in Nigeria, or a church in India. We could spread God's love and grace to those who are often overlooked because funds are not available. By continuing to grow in our generosity we would be pouring the blessings we have received on to others, who are themselves the image of Christ.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fear and Faith

Jesus calls us in Matthew 6:25-27 to not worry. God will take care of us. The Bible also says 366 times "Do not be afraid." God does not want us to be afraid because he is with us. So why do we still worry and fear?
Some will say this is because of our lack of faith. If we just had enough faith we would not worry or be afraid. I think that is a logical answer, but when I see several people who I know have extreme faith wrestle with worry and fear I question that answer. However, I believe there is some truth to it. Let me explain.
When we say a person lacks faith we are often pointing to a lack of faith in God. They are saying the person does not trust God enough. What I think may be happening is a lack of faith in something other than God. I think the problem may be a lack of faith in their ability to make decisions, a lack of faith in the information they have, or a lack of faith in other people.
The last one being a powerful one. In our society we learn, whether taught or intuitively, to not trust other people. We often jump to the conclusion that others are out to get us and they are only looking out for their own good. We also have been let down by other people, so our faith in others declines.
I know our faith first needs to be strong in Christ, but I also believe we need a strong faith in other people especially in other Christians like those in our church family. I believe God especially calls us to build our faith in our church family. To live the life God has called us to we are going to have to work together and be able to trust and rely on one another. This means we need to be willing to open ourselves up to our church family and trust they will not hurt us. It is a difficult thing, but it is a step God has called us to as a Christian community. God does not promise you will never be hurt, but he does call to us saying, "Do not be afraid, I will be with you."

MISSION: Find another Christian that you trust and share about what you can do together to work on building trust with others.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mark 10

Is anyone else hearing a message loud and clear from the Lord through Mark the last two days? This is probably more apparent to me because we had our Radical Renovation Workcrew last night and focused on this subject, but three times in the last two chapters Jesus has said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." Jesus is turning upside down our view of being great. He really wants to get across to us that until we make that shift in our hearts, minds, and actions we will not fully know what it means to be great in the kingdom of God.
I was also reminded in this chapter about the way to salvation. Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to be saved. I have been guilty of making that a metaphor instead of being literal because I don't want salvation to be difficult.
However, as I read it this morning I saw in my mind's eye someone trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle and realized how often we do try to push our way into heaven. In our minds we have to work to get to heaven, it takes effort for us to get there. That is a lie. Salvation is a gift given by the grace of God. We can keep pushing at that camel, but it will not go through the eye of a needle by our efforts because that is not the way to heaven. Jesus says all things are possible with God and that is where salvation comes from. It doesn't come from our efforts. It comes when we give up trying to be good enough, smart enough or holy enough, and just accept the gift. Thank God it is a gift because Jesus did something none of us could do in going to the cross to cover our sins. He paid the price to offer the gift and we just need to accept it.

Please comment back to me if you have thoughts or questions I know some have tried but they have not come through. Be sure to type the security code in the wierd looking letters and then pick an identity. Pick anonymous if you don't want to input anything else.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mark 8

How many of you were surprised reading Mark 8 that twice it is recorded that Jesus fed a large crowd? We often read these stories seperate which mixes them together and this illustrates the importance of reading through the Gospels as a whole every once in a while.
It is also amazing how the disciples have seen these two events and still they worry when the bread for 13 is running low. How often do we focus on what is lacking instead of the potential?
I was struck most this morning by what Jesus said in verse 12, "Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign?" How many people are still waiting for a miraculous sign to tell them that God exisits? They want to have a sign that will lead to their belief. What I have often found is that it works the other way around. When you have belief you see the signs. The signs are already all over the place in creation, in answered prayers, in large miracles and small ones, but until we believe we overlook them. We either explain them away or pass them off as chance. Open your eyes today to the signs of God and see his majesty all around us.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Doorway to Servanthood

Since we had a small crowd yesterday in worship I figured I would share my main point here instead of after thoughts because I think it is a good practice we can get into.
For the message I had some of the youth group build me a four and half foot tall door, which is of course shorter than regulation. I talked about how many doorways we go through in a day and one day last week I went through 268 doors. Then I threw out the idea that if we turned all of these doorways or at least the one to our home into these four and a half foot doorways we might have a different attitude towards those on the other side of the door.
The short door would force us to bow our heads, to humble ourselves, as we walk through that door. This would be to remind us of what Jesus says in Matthew 20:28 that he did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. This door would be a doorway to servanthood. We would be reminded that we are here to serve the person on the other side of the door. I know if I would be reminded 268 times a day of my call to serve I would be more ready to serve then to demand service.

MISSION: Try for one day to bow your head every time you walk through a doorway as a reminder of your call to servanthood. Then serve others without complaining.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mark 4

There are several interesting parables in this chapter about what the kingdom of God is like. Each with similarities and differences, but I always get stuck here on verses 10-12 where Jesus says these are the secrets of the kingdom of God and that many will hear, but not hear, see, but not see.
I wrestle with the idea that God's message is a secret of some kind, as if God doesn't want everyone to know about his love and grace. But then I also think about how much of a mystery God is to those who have not experienced him. If you have not experienced God then it is hard to understand the peace he offers in the midst of life's storms. And similarly God's message does not hit home unless we have someone to help us understand it.
So the secret of the kingdom of God is not a secret we are to keep, but it is a secret that needs to be shared and explained. As Christians, it is our job to help those who don't see to SEE and those who hear to understand. The message of God may not be planted in someone's heart unless we will continue to sow the seed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mark 2

Boy, this chapter is full of interesting events in Jesus' life. I have always wondered what people said about the four guys who dug a hole in someone else's roof to get their friend to Jesus. Sure we say what amazing faith they had and people were probably distracted by the paralytic walking around, but when Jesus left that person's house it still had a hole in the roof. Did they fix it or offer any help getting it repaired?
Then we have people looking down on Jesus for eating with "sinners and tax collectors." Those were people a good religious person should not be with. Then Jesus says one of my personal favorite lines (he has a lot of them I know) "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." The church should not be a place where we show off how healthy we are, but a place for those who are sick to be cared for and restored to health.
As a pastor with much of my time dedicated to caring for my congregation, who I see as mostly healthy people, at least they have a relationship with God, I wish I had more time to be with the sick. I wish I had more time to be with people who do not have a relationship with God in order to draw them into that relationship. But I also hope I help prepare my congregation to be the people to go to the sick and help them.
Well, that is probably enough on Mark chapter 2. Hope you will continue to build your faith with me through this Gospel and comment with your questions and insights, so we can learn from each other.

Monday, February 11, 2008

High Hopes

Yesterday we began our Lenten Season of Radical Renovation. We talked about committing to build on the faith foundation we have. The challenge I gave was to read through the Gospels of Mark and John during the 40 days of Lent. If each person took five minutes a day during Lent to read one chapter they would be through those two Gospels in 37 days. This would mean during Lent each person would have read through the life and teaching of Jesus twice.
And when we read God's Word, especially the life of Jesus, we see the example of the life we are called to live. I believe that God's Word is so powerful if we read it and take it in we will be changed. We will see the areas of our lives that we are living God's way, but we will also see the areas of our lives that God needs to renovate.
I always have high hopes that everyone will give five miniutes a day for building their faith, but I also know that realistically there will be few who are willing to do this. I get frustrated when people are so willing to go to great lengths to be sure there is time for a tv show, a sporting event, or a hobby, and then they can't take five minutes to interact with a God who loves them. (If you can tell me how to fix this let me know.) Sorry for the pity party, but I just hope anyone who reads this will be willing to give five minutes a day to the Lord to know him more and to live a life that will reflect Christ to others.
During Lent I am going to blog more often, at least twice a week, with Mondays to reflect on Sunday's message, but another time in the week to reflect on the reading from Mark and John. If you read with me and have questions or comments along the way comment me and I will respond with my thoughts to your questions or insights.

MISSION: Read one chapter a day during Lent starting with Mark's Gospel and then moving on to John's Gospel. Second mission: invite someone else to join you in this and keep each other accountable.

Monday, February 4, 2008

What's in a Name?

Yesterday I delivered a difficult meesage when I called on our congregation to consider changing our church name. It was difficult because I know there will be people who do not want this change, but it really is a sensible change considering there is another church in town with the same name. It also is something I have wrestled with God about, but he has told me a name change is what we need to do. If we keep our name the same we will continue to have confusion in the community between our churches and if we change it there could be a short period of misunderstandings, but in the long run it will have many positives.
I was thinking back to my own name change. (This information may not be used to tease or otherwise poke fun of me.) When I was younger I was Jamie. A cute name for a little kid, but when I became a man I didn't want that little kid name. It also didn't hurt that we had two other Jamie's in our grade and they were both girls. So in ninth grade I decided to go with James. And I have really enjoyed that name since. I surprisingly do not meet a lot of James', many go by Jim, which I do not plan on doing. Looking back, my name change was not that big of a deal, but to me it felt like I became the person I was supposed to be.
A name change can be difficult at first when you are helping others to remember your new name, but eventually people make the connection. When the connection is made they do not forget everything that happened with the previous name, your history is still there, but now it connects to this new name.
I believe God wants to give this congregation their own new name. A name that will communicate who we are as we help this community SEE Christ. And maybe this is a transformation God has been planning for this congregation from the beginning.

MISSION: 1)Pray for our congregation's decision. 2) Talk with someone from the church about your thoughts and feelings about a name change. Also feel free to comment me any name suggestions.