Monday, October 31, 2005

Oct. 31, 2005
"Shift Controls the Narnians"
Mark 2:56-3:6

In the book The Last Battle, Shift, the ape, takes over Narnia and orders all the animals to work against their will. He says to them, “You think freedom means doing what you like. Well, you’re wrong. That isn’t true freedom. True freedom means doing what I tell you.”

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus confronts a similar problem. Instead of Shift making people work against their will, the religious leaders of the day, in order to preserve the Sabbath, had made a lot of laws in order to control the people. The Sabbath was no longer a day to honor God and rest, it had become a burden. In chapters two and three, the religious leaders get mad at Jesus because his followers are picking grain and Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. The rules and regulations of the religious leaders had become so strict, that Jesus could not even heal a person on the Sabbath because that was considered “work.” Jesus confronts his accusers and says, “The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath,” and he says the Sabbath is a day for doing good.

I hope we will use the Sabbath as a day to rest and regain energy for the next week. I also hope the Sabbath will become a time for us to worship God and to do good things for others. True freedom is being able to follow God and doing what pleases him.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Oct. 27, 2005
"Sticky Situation"
Mark 5:21-43

In the story The Silver Chair, Jill, Eustuce, and Puddleglum are on a mission to rescue the prince. They find the prince, but he has had a spells cast on him and he is bound to a chair in order to restrain him. The three heroes have a decision to make. Do they follow through with Aslan’s orders and free him which may mean they loose their lives to this madman or do they abandon the mission and save themselves.

“Oh, if only we knew!” ‘I think we do know,” said Puddleglum. “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb. “I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole (Jill) what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that does not let us off following the sign.” They all stood looking at each other with bright eyes. It was a sickening moment. “All right!” said Jill suddenly. “Lets get it over. Goodbye everyone.” They all shook hands.

This is a great story about having faith in something even when you do not know the outcome. The three heroes only knew what they had been told by Aslan, then did not know that that everything would be alright.

In the story on the woman with blood in Mark 5 illustrates this same faith. The woman had faith that if she could just touch Jesus he would heal her. She also knew that coming out into the crowded streets while she was unclean was a risking thing. She had no idea how the crowd would react or how Jesus would do when she touched him, but she went for it anyway. In the end, Jesus tells her “Your faith has made you well.”

I believe these stories are challenging us to follow Jesus, even when we are not certain of the outcome. I think it will be our faith that will see us through.
Oct. 26, 2005
"Uncle Andrew and Hearing"
Mark 4:1-25

One of the most intriguing parts of the book The Magician’s Nephew is Uncle Andrew’s inability to hear the animals talk. The children hear all the animals plainly speaking while all Uncle Andrew hears are animal noises.

"I must have imagined it. I've been lettin my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing? "And the longer and more beautifully the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.

The problem with Uncle Andrew’s hearing seems to be that he was trying to make himself believe that all he heard was roaring and as Lewis points out, the trouble with this is that you often succeed.

In the gospels, Jesus tells a similar story about a farmer scattering seed. Only a small portion of the seed actually produces a good crop. Jesus goes on to say that some people will see and not perceive and hear but not understand. Then, in Mark 4:23, Jesus gives us the key to being able to understand. He says, “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! Be sure to pay attention to what you hear. The more you do this, the more you will understand.” Understanding is not based on hearing facts; it is based on the perception of the listener. If we listen with a receptive mind, then we will hear the truth. If we mentally tune out what we are listening for, we will not understand.
Lewis goes on to say, "what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Oct. 25, 2005
"Fending off a Lion"
Mark 2:1-12

In the book A Horse and His Boy, Shasta and Aravis are on horseback running from the Calormene army when the following scene takes place.

Before they reached him, the lion rose on its hind legs, larger than you would have believed a lion could be, and jabbed at Aravis with its right paw. Shasta could see all the terrible claws extended. Aravis screamed and reeled in the saddle. The lion was tearing her shoulders. Shasta, half mad with horror, managed to lurch toward the brute. He had no weapon, not even a stick or a stone. He shouted, idiotically, at the lion as one would at a dog. “Go home! Go home!” For a fraction of a second he was staring right into its wide-opened, raging mouth. Then, to his utter astonishment, the lion, still on its hind legs, checked itself suddenly, turned head over heels, picked itself up, and rushed away.

In this story, Shasta comes to the rescue of his new friend Aravis, even when it could have placed his own life in jeopardy. In the story found in Mark 2:1-12, four men place their own life in harms way as the cut a whole in the roof of a house to lower a paralyzed man on a matt to Jesus. In both these cases, we see examples of people risking their own well being in order to help someone else. I would call them “real heroes” We all need to be a hero to somebody else and lead them to Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oct 24, 2005
Jill’s Surprise Task
Mark 1:1-20

In the book The Silver Chair, Jill (Pole) and Eustace (Scrubb) find themselves in Narnia. It is Jill’s first visit and she sees herself face to face with Aslan. Then he gives her a task.

“Please, what task, Sit?” said Jill.

“The task for which I have called you and him out of your world.”

This puzzled Jill very much. “It’s mistaken me for someone else,” she thought. She didn’t dare to tell the Lion this, though she felt things would get into a dreadful muddle unless she did.

“Speak your thought, Human Child,’ said the Lion.

“I was wondering- I mean- could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to- Someone- it was a name I wouldn’t know- and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”

“You would not have called me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion. “Then you are the Somebody, sir?” said Jill. ‘I am. And now hear your task.”

The story of Jill’s encounter with Aslan reminds me Jesus’ encounter with the disciples. Jesus meets some fishermen and he calls out, “Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people.” When Jesus calls us, he gives us a job to do. I truly believe God has a purpose for each person and when we respond to God’s call, we begin working with him to fulfill that purpose. I hope we will all be ready to hear our task.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

October 19, 2005
“Those Faithful Recabites”
Jeremiah 35:1-19

As I was reading through Jeremiah, I came across a group of people called the “Rebabites”. I had never heard of them before, but apparently the come from a story in 2 Kings. A guy named Jehonadab (great name huh!) helped King Jehu end Baal worship in Israel. This group of people who helped Jehonadab were told not to drink wine or build houses.

In Jeremiah 35, this same group of people is still upholding their vow not to drink wine or build houses. God tells Jeremiah to invite them into the Temple and prepare wine for them to drink. The “Rebabites” refuse to drink because they had made a vow. God tells Jeremiah that these people will be blessed because they have been keeping their covenant while the people in Judah have not. God’s promise to them is that they will always have descendants who serve God.

I do not know about you, but I have to take my hat off to those “Recabites.” It is not always easy to stay faithful to your commitments. I would imagine there were times when they would have wanted to give up on them, especially after their land was taken by the Assyrians. Now they are being threatened by the Babylonians. Some would wonder, “What’s the point?” Well, the point is, they were faithful to their word. No matter how insignificant that may seem, God honored their faithfulness. I think this goes to show us that when we are faithful, even in the things that seem insignificant, God will honor it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Oct. 17, 2005
“The Truth Hurts”
Jeremiah 28:1-9

One of the most difficult things to do is to tell someone the truth when the truth hurts. Michael R. Baer, in an article entitled Silence isn’t Always Golden tells of a situation in the church he serves. He writes,
We wanted to have something special for the children in our services, so one of our ladies volunteered to deliver a children's sermon. These sermons, however, quickly became discourses aimed at the congregation. (After all, what do three-year-olds care about the various theories of inspiration or eschatology?) I needed to correct the situation. But the best I could manage was to drop little hints.
I am sure we have all been in this situation, whether it is with a family member, friend, or a co-worker. We have all been faced with having to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to tell. In Jeremiah 28, the prophet Hananiah had the difficult task of telling the truth to the Israelites about their future. God had told Jeremiah to wear a yoke around his neck to show the people that there would be taken into exile by the Babylonians (Which did happen). When Jeremiah shows up at the temple, Hananiah takes the yoke off Jeremiah’s back and breaks it in order to tell the people that they would return from exile in two years. Unfortunately, this was false information. Jeremiah told the people it would last for seventy years. Hananiah was not doing the people any good because he could not handle telling the truth when the truth was hard to handle.

I think we can all learn from this lesson in Jeremiah. Most of the time, people need to know the truth. Not only that, I believe people want to hear the truth. They may be upset for the moment. After all, Jeremiah was treated pretty poorly for telling the truth, but it is his truth that we still read today that helps draw us closer to God. The truth does hurt, but it is important. I hope we will find compassionate ways to share the truth, even when it is difficult.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

October 12, 2005
“The Potter and the Clay”
Jeremiah 18:1-10

I recently read a story by Chelsea Chin called the Potter and the Clay. The story goes:

There was a couple who used to go to England to shop in the beautiful stores. This was their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. They both liked antiques and pottery and especially teacups. One day in this beautiful shop they saw a beautiful teacup. They said, "May we see that? We've never seen one quite so beautiful." As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the teacup spoke.

"You don't understand," it said. "I haven't always been a teacup. There was a time when I was red and I was clay. My master took me and rolled me and patted me over and over and I yelled out, 'let me alone,' but he only smiled, 'Not yet'".

"Then I was placed on a spinning wheel," the teacup said, "and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. 'Stop it! I'm getting dizzy!" I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, "'Not yet.'" Then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me, and I yelled, and I knocked at the door. I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head, 'Not yet.'

Finally the door opened, he put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. 'There, that's better,' I said. And he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. 'Stop it, stop it!' I cried. He only nodded, 'Not yet.'

Then suddenly he put me back into the oven, not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. All the time I could see him through the opening nodding his head, saying, 'Not yet.' Then I knew there wasn't any hope. I would never make it. I was ready to give up. But the door opened and he took me out and placed me on the shelf. One hour later he handed me a mirror and said, "Look at yourself." And I did. I said, "That's not me; that couldn't be me. It's beautiful. I'm beautiful."

I think this is a good explanation of Jeremiah 18:1-10. Jeremiah was looking in on a potter who made a jar, but the jar did not turn out. The potter then takes the jar and squashes it in order to start again afresh. The message for Israel is that God has the same authority to start over with them and create a new nation. Just as the clay has to be molded into a jar, Israel must allow itself to be molded into the nation God has called them to be. Just as the story above and the story in Jeremiah indicate the clay can be molded into a beautiful piece of art when it allows itself to be shaped. In the same way, if we will allow God to mold us, we will become the people God has called us to be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Oct. 11, 2005
"Chruch Belongs to Jesus"
Jeremiah 7

Adam Hamilton in his book Leading Beyond the Walls asks the question, “To whom does the church belong?” This is what he says,

The church does not belong to the denomination, the bishop, or the denominational hierarchy, even if each has a ‘trust clause’ in the church’s legal deeds stating the contrary. The church does not belong to the pastor. The church does not belong to the choir director or any other staff member, even if these if these people have been in leadership for decades. The church does not belong to the lay leadership, the board, or any other official group in the church- not even the trustees. And no, the church does not belong to the members, though without them it would cease to exist. The church belongs to Jesus Christ.

I think this is a message the Jewish people had forgotten in the Old Testament as well. In Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah goes to the Temple and says, “Do you think that because the Temple is here you will never suffer? Don't fool yourselves! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and worship Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, "We are safe!" – only to go right back to all those evils again? Do you think this Temple, which honors my name, is a den of thieves?” They had taken a place designed to honor God’s name and use it to honor their own.

As we reflect on this passage we are reminded that the church should never be a place designed to honor ourselves. The church is not in existence to satisfy our own wants and needs. The church is not a place where we can come and “be in charge.” The church is not a country club for us to meet friends. The church is here to give honor and glory to Jesus Christ. I do hope we get our needs met at the church, but I hope our needs are met because we are worshipping God and through our worship, our lives are being transformed and we are living out God’s will for our lives. This passage challenges us to look critically at ourselves rather than look critically at the worship leaders. Remember, the church belongs to Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Oct. 10, 2005
Hollywood Marriages”
Jeremiah 3

As I read through the first five chapters in Jeremiah, I could not help thinking about Hollywood marriages. This is in part to watching a special about Britney Spears. You may remember on New Years she married a long time friend Jason Alexander in a wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Fifty-five hours later, the marriage was annulled. The commentator on E-TV said that it was not really a marriage, “just a joke gone too far.” Britney is not the only Hollywood couple with marriages ending quickly. Starts such as Drew Barrymore, Tom Green, Angelina Jolie, Billy Bob Thornton, Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, and of coarse Elizabeth Taylor and her eight marriages.

Just as Hollywood stars have had trouble being faithful in their marriages for whatever reason, Jeremiah accused Israel of being faithless in their covenant with God. He says that Israel is like a prostitute sitting around watching for a client. Jeremiah is making reference to Israel worshiping other gods when they have committed themselves to worshiping the one true God who delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians.

Just as Jeremiah warns the Israelites about committing adultery with other gods, we are reminded of our covenant with God through Jesus Christ. I fear that sometimes our relationship with God becomes more like a “joke gone too far” than a marriage. We can duck in and out of our commitment to God based on what feels right. However, we are to remain faithful to God by keeping Jesus our first love.

The good news is that Jeremiah tells the people that although they are like “wayward” children, God will heal their “wayward” hearts. God wants to be our first love. I hope we will be faithful to our marriage to the one true God.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Oct. 6, 2005
“The Good News”
Isaiah 56

Brian McLaren, in his book A Generous Orthdoxcy says, “Remember in a pluralistic world, a religion is valued based on the benefits it brings to its nonadherents. [T]he gospel brings blessings to all, adherents and nonadherents alike."

In Isaiah 56, the writer is reminding his readers that God’s blessings also extend to those people who were not born Jewish. I think it is safe to say that the Jews in Old Testament times felt they were the only ones who could experience God’s blessing because they were God’s chosen people. They had forgotten that God had told Abraham that he would not only be blessed, but that he would be a blessing to other nations. They had forgotten that God called them to be a royal priesthood so that God’s salvation would extend to the world. In other words, God’s election for Israel was for the purpose of extending grace to the world. As verse three indicates, “God’s blessing is for Gentiles too, when they commit themselves to the Lord.”

Brian McLaren poses as a real challenge to us as Christians because we tend to fall into a similar line of thinking as the Jewish people of the Old Testament did. We sometime get into the mindset that our election and salvation is only for our benefit. We see the church as being the only ones capable of receiving God’s blessing. This passage reminds us that our salvation should change the world because we are sharing God’s love with the world. Therefore, the good news is that God wants to bless everyone. As Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” Remember, the gospel brings blessings to everyone

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

October 5, 2005
"In God We Trust"
Isaiah 44:9-20
As I was reading through Isaiah, I was reminded of some words by
Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ. He says, "Whatever I can desire or imagine for my comfort, I do not look for it here, but hereafter. For even if I alone could have all the comforts of the world and enjoy its delights, it is certain that they could not long endure. Therefore, O my soul, you cannot be fully comforted or have perfect refreshment except in God, the comforter of the poor and patron of the humble."

In Isaiah 44, Isaiah confronts Israel because they are relying on idols instead of God for their help. Remember, the people are in exile and God is telling the people through Isaiah that God plans on brining the Jewish people back home. Apparently, Israel has been turning to idols instead of trusting in God because in several places ( Isaiah 41:21-24, 44:6-20, 46:1-2, 5-7, 47:12-14, and 48:5) Isaiah compares the one true God of Israel to the idols Israel has been turning to . He goes into great detail about how idols are made and fastened together. An idol does not know the future nor can it help in a time of need. After all, it is just a block of wood. Isaiah pleads with the people to put their trust in the one true God.

If we are honest with ourselves we may have to admit that there are times when we turn to idols for our help and comfort in times of distress. They may not be made of wood and we may not call them gods, be we use them in our times of need for comfort. We say things like, “If I just had more money then I could make it.” Sometimes we turn to the god of alcohol or we become a workaholic to find our comfort. Oftentimes we turn to our relationships and make them into a god. Thomas a Kempis reminds us that nothing in this world will endure; rather we find our refreshment in God. Even our money reminds us that, “In God We Trust.”

Monday, October 03, 2005

October 4, 2005
Isaiah 40:27-31

Isaiah 40 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. From what I can tell, chapter 40 provides a dramatic shift in the narrative. Some people say it begins a second book within Isaiah. Up to this point, Isaiah has primarily been a warning to Israel that if they continue in their sin, they will be removed from their land. Chapter 40 begins with a proclamation of comfort because God has pardoned Israel's sins. A messenger will come and prepare the way for God and the proclamation of good news.

Verse 27 picks up this same theme by telling of how God has not only heard the cries of Israel, but responded. Israel has been an underdog to other nations who have come in and swept them away into exile. Although these nations are strong, they do not compare to the God of Israel who has taken notice of Israel’s cries for help. Unlike even the strongest nation, God never grows weary, but gives strength to those who are weak. Isaiah tells his readers that if they wait on the Lord, He will lift them up on wings of eagles so that they will run and not grow weary.

This reminds me of a song by Audio Adrenaline called Underdog. Here are the words,

I am so weak and I'm so tired
It's hard for me to
Find enough strength to feed the fires
That fuel my ego
And consequently all my pride has all but died
Which leaves me
Down on my knees
Back to the place I
Should have started from

Been beat up
Been broken down
Nowhere but up
When you're facedown
On the ground
I'm in last place
If I place at all
But there's hope for this underdog !
That's the way, uh-huh, we like it!
That's the way, uh-huh, we like it!
You can call me the underdog

In many ways, like Israel, I believe we are all underdogs. There are many things in life that beat us down and destroy our pride. Certainly Israel was an underdog compared to some of the mighty nations around them. The good thing about being an underdog though, is that it brings you to your knees and causes you to wait on the Lord. It reminds us that our strength really comes from God. Therefore, there is hope for all of us underdogs because we wait on God’s strength.

October 3, 2005
Found Wanting?
Isaiah 5:1-7
In the movie, A Night's Tale after William defeats Adhemar in the final match, he says to him, "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting." This is the same way God feels about Israel in the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah 5 records a love song in which God, the beloved, builds a vineyard on a rich and fertile hill. He plowed the land, cleared the stones, and planted a vineyard and expected it to yeild good fruit. Instead, it yeilded fruit that was wild and sour. The writer of Isaiah says that this is a picture of Israel whom God rescued from the Egyptians and prepared a land for them. Instead of being fruitful by being just and righteous, they kill and opporessed the poor. The owner of the vineyard has found Israel wanting.
Just as God found Israel wanting, I sometimes wonder how God finds the church today. Are we people who baring fruit or are we sour because we oppress the poor? Does God find us righteous or unrighteous? I think if we are honest with ourselves and God, we would have to admit that we are found waning.
There is some good news however. In chapter 27 of Isaiah, we find another illustation to the vineyard. This time, Isaiah is saying that we will sing a new song of a pleasant vineyard. One that God will watch over and will water. God can do this because God has exiled Israel from the vineyard for a time in order to purge their sins, but God will restore them and make them prosper.
The good news for the church is that we too can be restored to the vineyard and we can bear fruit for God. We can again be the people God has called us to be and we will be watered and nurtured. I believe our task is to recognize that it is God's vineyard and we are God's laborers called to minister to everyone we come into contact with.