Willowbrook is a bunch of people who are different from each other in many ways (we have people from Rochester and Romania, people born in Detroit and people born in Dominican Republic, we have rock’n’rollers and country music crazies and professional jazz players, we have Republicans and Democrats, Baptists and Catholics, Dolphin fans and Bills’ fans, people who have ulcers and people who give ulcers, we have engineers and ballerinas and woodchuck hunters and school teachers) – we're a fairly diverse group, except for one thing -- we're all discovering that life is better when you choose to do things Jesus’ way!
Tuesday, March 29 – John 21
John takes time at the end of his gospel record to clear up a misunderstanding about himself.
Jesus told Peter how Peter’s life was going to end (by crucifixion), and Peter asked Jesus “What about John?” Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I return, what’s that to you?” Some people heard that and figured Jesus meant John was never going to die. And when John wrote his gospel, he might have been the only apostle still alive, so it looked like Jesus’ prophecy was coming true. But John corrected that. Jesus hadn’t said John would live until He returned! He’d just said if that happened, how was that any concern of Peter’s?
It doesn’t seem like a big thing to us. To take up space in his gospel? Just to correct a misunderstanding about himself? But I don’t think he did it for himself. He did it for Jesus. He’d just written 21 pages to help people see Jesus as He really is, but now people were talking more about John than Jesus, and that wasn’t right, so he threw this last paragraph in to help them get it right.
Because in the end, John wants you to know, it’s all about Jesus.
Note to self: Point people toward Him.
Monday, March 28 – John 20
When Thomas was convinced that Jesus was really alive again, really? The first thing he said was “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus said, “Thomas, good one! You believe because you have actually seen Me. Blessed are those who believe without actually laying eyes on Me!’
I was talking to a lady once who had been taught that Jesus is not God, and that He never implied that He was. I asked her what Thomas was saying when he was looking at Jesus and saying “my God!” here. She thought for a moment and then said, “Thomas was surprised and he swore!” I told her I was pretty sure that Thomas did not see Jesus alive again and say, “OMG!” He was saying that based on the fact that He was alive, Thomas believed Jesus is indeed God.
But here’s the thing. Jesus congratulated Thomas on coming to the right conclusion about Him. When Paul was worshipped as Acts 14, he said, “Stop it. I’m not God. God is God!” When an angel was worshipped in Revelation 19, the angel said, “Stop it. I’m not God. God is God!” But when Thomas worshipped Jesus, Jesus said, “Glad you finally figured that out.” Either Jesus was really confused, or He was God.
Note to self: Worship Jesus. (It’s appropriate.)
Sunday, March 27 – John 19
In CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a royal lion offers to engage in a prisoner exchange – he’ll trade himself for a convicted traitor. The wicked witch accepts the offer and then kills the lion on the Stone Table, but later the lion comes back to life. When asked how that is possible, Aslan, the lion, explains w/ these words: ""
That’s the gist of what Easter is – when through Jesus offering Himself in our place, God started fixing what was broken in the world.
How so? Well, death is no longer the bitter end – for those with Jesus, death is now just a door. Ernest Hemingway said, “Every true story end in death.” And until Jesus offered Himself for us, until God raised Him from the dead? Mr. Hemingway was exactly right. The score up to then was death, billions, not death, zero. But on Easter Sunday morning, the stone table cracked and now our side has One. And He promises that there will be many many more. Oh yeah.
Note to self: If I die, I die, but because of Jesus, I don’t stay that way.
Tuesday, March 22 – John 14
Will good people go to heaven? Will Muslims be part of heaven? Will Jewish people get to be part of God’s kingdom? Will people who were sprinkled as infants and never did anything other than show up on Christmas and Easter make it? Will Jehovah’s Witnesses who go out of their way to say that Jesus is not God get in? Can people who have never even heard of Jesus have any hope that one day they will be part of the perfect world that is yet to come?
In John 14, Jesus tells His guys that no one comes to the Father except through Him.
I used to think that that meant only people who hear the good news of God’s love for us, repent of their selfishness, get immersed into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and stay engaged in a healthy relationship with Him qualified.
But that was before I started going to the funerals of people I love in the groups listed above. Now I’m hoping that somehow, as escaping from the flames, they sneak in. If they do, it’s because Jesus’ kindness is greater than we can possibly imagine (but the cross seems to be a good hint in that direction, does is not?). And whether those people related to Jesus like I think the Bible says we should or not, if He somehow gets them in, I’m going to be fine with that.
Does that make me a heretic? Or just hopeful?
See, the answer will still be that He did it. If any people in any of those categories somehow get to live forever with their Creator in a wondrous existence after death, it will be because Jesus somehow figured a way to cover their sinfulness through His sacrifice. And if He does, great! But nothing’s different because it will still be absolutely true that no one comes to the Father, except through the Son.
Note to self: Be bolder – nobody gets in except through my Friend.
Monday, March 21 – John 13
Should Christians wash each other’s feet?
Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and said, “Okay, what I’ve done for you, I want you to do for each other. I’ve given you a pattern.” That kinda seems like something He meant for us to do, right? And I think we should.
Here’s the thing. Jesus washed His guys’ feet because their feet needed washing. So, if somebody today needs their feet washed, the answer is yes, we should be doing that. (On the few occasions when it’s been announced that a group I’m part of is going to do a foot washing, the one thing that everybody does before they show up is to make sure their feet are the cleanest and non-smelliest they can possibly be. The last thing in the world those people need is to have their feet washed. Maybe their hands, or the potatoes they’re going to eat at their next meal, or their cars might need washed – but their feet are good, thus kinda undoing the value of the foot washing ceremony.)
Here’s the thing. There is not one reference to Christians washing each other’s feet in the Bible after this event. (If Jesus meant for this to be a ceremony that His followers regularly engage in to consider our humble state, you’d expect that that would have been mentioned at least once in the next 60 years’ worth of apostolic writings, wouldn’t you? But it’s not.)
Here’s the thing. Anytime you know a Christian brother or a Christian sister who needs help, and you give it, you’re washing their feet. (Especially if for some reason of pride, you’d rather not.)
Note to self: If I want to really dress well for church gatherings, I should carry a basin and wear a towel.
Sunday, March 20 – John 12
Everyone who knew Lazarus when he was dead was amazed at the change Jesus had worked in him. Because he used to be dead! But now, he clearly wasn’t. Do people notice that you’re not like you were before Jesus changed you?
Now it’s true that some people didn’t like Lazarus because he always talked about Jesus, but how could he not? Whether people like it or not, a guy who brings you back to life is kinda a big deal.
Heard a couple jokes this week. I heard a guy say he was standing in a line at the bank when an old lady behind him asked if he’d help her check her balance, so he pushed her over. What did the 79 year old pirate say on his next birthday? "Aye . . . matey." And then there was a bumper sticker that said, “RIP boiling water. You shall be mist.” But Lazarus would not be missed. He was still here and many people believed that Jesus was great because of what they saw in Lazarus.
Tim Keller says that the reason most people are not Christians is because they’ve never known one – a “real life, honest to God, following Jesus in a healthy way” Christian. But if you’ll be one of those, some of your friends and some of your family eventually will too. And here’s the reason I most want to be Laz in this Palm Sunday production.
Note to self: I used to be dead, but now I’m not – that matters.
Saturday, March 19 – John 11
John 11.35. “Jesus wept.”
Why did Jesus do that? I mean, He knew that He was going to bring Lazarus back to life, so why cry?
I asked some people why they thought Jesus did that? One smart aleck said He did it because He knew that kids in Sunday School classes would one day get points for memorizing Bible verses and He wanted to give kids one that they could do easily.
Once we got past that, we talked about the fact that Jesus loved everybody but He really liked Lazarus, who was dead, and He really liked the 2 sisters, who were devastated – and it was just a really bad moment for Jesus.
Why did He cry? Jesus wept because death sucks. When someone you love dies, you’re sad. Even if you know you’ll see them again (which we do, when followers of Jesus die), even if you know you’ll see them again in minutes (which Jesus did), the pain of being separated from people you care about can be nearly overwhelming.
Even for the most healthy man Who ever lived.
Note to self: If I cry when somebody I love dies, no big deal, I'm in good company.
Friday, March 18 – John 10
Jesus said that the evil one is here to steal and kill and destroy. He said that He was here to give real and eternal life, life that was more and better than we can even dream of.
You know that I like jokes. I think it’s hard for Americans to sit and think about anything too serious for more than a few minutes – we just don’t do that in life. That’s why I tell jokes. To give everybody a chance to breathe. To relieve the pressure of thinking about life and death matters. (Actually, what Jesus is talking about isn’t life and death – it’s way more important than that!) But I decided a long time ago that I would no longer use jokes about the evil one, because everything that makes him look funny, or cute, or harmless, or kinda on our side is a lie, straight from the pit of hell, and I didn’t want to add to that.
Because the evil one only wants one thing – and that is hurt God, but he can’t because he already killed God, and that didn’t work. Therefore, hurting you becomes the evil one’s goal. He can hurt God if he can steal and kill and destroy the people God loves the most. So that’s his intention. All the time. With single-minded devotion, the evil one is working to kill you. To ruin your life. To destroy your children. To steal your joy. That’s all he’s got left – a scorched earth strategy is not very effective, but it is a strategy.
So no more jokes about the evil one. No more flippant references to hell. No more damning people – because that is what the evil one wants. And we were made for so much more!
Note to self: When I recognize the voice of my Good Shepherd, follow it, like I’m trying to escape from a monstrous evil in a horror movie basement – because I am!
Thursday, March 17 – John 9
Jesus healed this blind man. He’d been born blind. He’d begged all his life, because he couldn’t work and support himself, because he was blind. Jesus made the blind man better. The blind man’s life was so much better, because now he could see. And the only thing the leaders cared about was that Jesus had broken one of their “rules” about how good religious people behave.
They don’t care about the man. They don’t care about the good that’s been done to him. They don’t care that the world is now better by one. They’re mad that Jesus broke one of the most important rules they have regarding what good religious people do. Jesus healed this man, miraculously healed this man, supernaturally made this man better, and they’re mad because He did it on Saturday. They had a Sabbath Day blindness.
Knowing that we’re all blind, just in different ways, this chapter makes me wonder what are some of the rules for appropriate religious behavior that I think really matter, to the point of totally missing what good God might be doing right in front of me. What’s my Sabbath Day blindness?
Growing up, I was taught that if you didn’t dress in your best clothes when you went to the church building for a worship assembly, you were disrespecting God – because you would certainly dress up if you were going to meet the President of the United States, and he’s nothing in comparison to God! I since have come to think differently, and am happy if people come to worship in spirit and truth, whatever they might be wearing.
Growing up, I was taught that people who drink alcohol were not following Jesus well, because we’re not supposed to get drunk, and if it takes you 6 beers to get drunk, and you drink 1, you’re 1/6th drunk. I since have come to think differently, and am fine with people enjoying what God has made, as long as they know that the Holy Spirit lives in their body and we are to represent Him well.
Growing up, I was taught that people who go to theaters with R-rated movies were out of bounds, because gratuitous sex and violence lives there. I since have come to think differently, because Braveheart and Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan and The Passion of the Christ tell stories that have made me better for the seeing.
I’m not sure what traditions I’m holding onto right now that are Sabbath Day blindnesses, but I know that I am probably missing out on some of God’s greatest moves because of them, and who wants to miss out on anything He’s doing?
Note to self: Stay alert, ask for help from Jesus and friends, think – because blind can eventually see with God's help!
Wednesday, March 16 – John 8
The spiritual leaders of God’s people caught 2 people right in the very act of adultery, right at a time when they needed something that might cause Jesus to look bad. Let’s think about how that might have happened. 1) Perhaps the leaders were just really lucky? “Oh, hey, we just happened to walk in on this man and woman right now, and hey, we could ask Jesus a tricky question about that!” Probably not. 2) Perhaps they paid a guy to set this lady up (unlikely but not impossible). 3) Most likely, they knew that this illicit relationship was on-going but allowed it to continue uninterrupted until they realized exposing it could advance their cause. And on this day, they walked in and yelled, “Busted!”
But then they only brought the lady. Adultery takes two. If they caught them in the act, there was a guy that should be drug out before Jesus too, right? Where is the other man? Nope, they didn’t bother with him – just the lady. And the leaders, all religiously, ask, “This lady was caught in a bed where she shouldn’t have been. What should we do with her Jesus?”
Jesus says that perhaps they are not in a position to judge. He writes stuff in the sand, and says, “Whoever hasn’t done something really really wrong, go ahead – you throw the first stone.” And then He writes some more stuff on the ground and they all left, starting with the oldest. Don’t know what Jesus wrote, but if he first listed all the guys’ names in chronological birth order, and then put a blank line next to each, and then knelt down a second time and started to put hidden sins on each line – I bet they would all leave in a hurry. Wouldn’t you?
At the end, He tells the woman that she is forgiven what she’s done, and that she should never do it again. The point of this story is not that we shouldn’t judge others – the point is that Jesus, the Guy without sin, does. He will judge us. But not just that. The point of this story is that He will forgive us our sins, if we’ll let Him.
Note to self: Best not to sin, but when I do, the best place to be is on the ground in front of Jesus.
Tuesday, March 15 – John 7
They can’t stand it anymore! He came out of nowhere. He doesn’t bow down to them. He’s too popular with the people. He’s ruining everything – at least that’s how the establishment saw Jesus! So they sent soldiers to arrest Him. (Ironic that the day we would read about the Jewish leaders trying to assassinate Jesus would be the Ides of March.)
But the soldiers came back with empty handcuffs. When asked why they didn’t bring Jesus back with them, they said, “Have you heard this Guy teach? Nobody’s ever said stuff like He does! He’s really good!” And the leaders spit and say, “You idiots. If He was really from God, we’d be following Him – and do you see any of us following Him?” (Interesting question, because John mentions Nicodemus in the next sentence, and Nick is one of them, and he’s kinda following Jesus.)
The leaders wanted to kill Jesus right here in chapter 7, but John says they couldn’t, because it wasn’t yet God’s timing. They would eventually accomplish their purpose, but not until chapter 19. It seems that if God has work for us to do, we’re going to be given the time to do it. And since we’re still being given time, probably God has work for us to do.
Note to self: Don’t be a-scared to do what God wants in the face of people who are frightening – I can’t be stopped until He says my time is up!
Monday, March 14 – John 6
Jesus told His guys to feed the people. Philip said it would take 8 months’ pay just to give each person one bite! Andrew brought a young boy to Jesus and said that the boy had 5 loaves and 2 fish, but how would that help? Jesus told the people to sit down – lunch would be served shortly! And when they were done, each of the 12 disciples collected his own basket of leftovers!
What Jesus wanted them to do – feeding all the people at a Red Wings’ game – that was nice, but not really possible. It cost too much. They were underfunded. They didn’t have enough help. There were other ways for the thing to be taken care of. The 12 have plenty of reasons, good reasons, why it couldn’t be done.
But Jesus wanted it to happen. So Andrew brings a kid to the front – Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus – and the boy offered Jesus his sack lunch. Not much, in the face of a sea of hungry faces. But little is much, when God is in it, and with that boy’s lunch, Jesus fed 5000 people!
Note to self: Remember that there’s no telling what might get done if I offer what I have (measly though it may seem to me) to Jesus.
Sunday, March 13 – John 5
“The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.” The religious leaders wanted to know who had told the man in today’s text that it was permissible to carry his mat on the Sabbath. And the man thought for a minute and said, ““Huh, I don’t know. He didn’t leave a card.”
One of the odd thgs about Jesus’ miracles is that He often didn’t sign them. He just did them. He helped people and then walked away w/o claiming the credit. (If you’ve ever helped someone w/o anybody knowing that it was you? That’s like Jesus.) But later, because it would help the guy more to know, Jesus introduced Himself, and John says, “The man went away and told the Jewish leaders it was Jesus who had made him well.”
Some people read this and think the guy was giving Jesus up to the local authorities. I think the guy is bragging Jesus up to them. They wanted to know who’d told him to walk. He wanted to tell them. Now he could. What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot. What’s a foot long and slippery? A slipper. Who’s green, has 16 legs, and sits out on the deck all year? Patty O’Furniture. This guy said, “Who’s great, fixes legs, and should be followed all the time?” Jesus!
Note to self: When I’m glad for what Jesus has done for me, let others know!
Saturday, March 12 – John 4
Today’s chapter (4) of John’s gospel is usually called “the woman at the well”. Tomorrow’s chapter (5) is referred to as “the man at the pool”. Yesterday’s chapter (3) could be titled “Nick at Night”. John chapter 2 was about “the wedding couple at Cana”. Chapter 6 is “5000 hungry guys a long way from a restaurant”. Chapter 8 has the account of the “woman caught in the wrong bed”. Chapter 9 is about “the blind man seeing the pool of Siloam”. Chapter 11 is about “the dead man leaving the cemetery”. This gospel is filled with stories of Jesus meeting people where they are, and offering them what they need to live life way way better than they are.
Jesus talked to a lady no one would have expected Him to, about things that no one would have thought she was interested in, and it led to a whole town saying, “Wow, God loves us and can help us!” And as that mob of people head towards Him, Jesus tells His guys that harvest is not 4 months away like they think, but that the fields are ripe and right before their eyes. He’s telling them they need to start seeing the opportunities that are all around them -- all the time!
Note to self: Maybe, if I’m willing to go places I usually wouldn’t and engage in conversations I’d normally avoid, maybe large numbers of people could be added to the kingdom.
Friday, March 11 – John 3
I think that God made a lot of the visible world to teach us what’s going on in the invisible world. Like butterflies – the caterpillar goes into the cocoon and kinda dies, but then comes out something more spectacular and wondrous than seems possible. (Did you hear about the 2 caterpillars watching a butterfly fly by and one of the caterpillars said, “You’ll never catch me up in one of those things!”) And when the butterfly is working its way out of the cocoon, it’s hard for it to break free, but if you help it out, if you make its emergence easy for the butterfly, it will die because it needs the strain of getting out to become fully formed. (And, I’ve heard that originally, butterflies were called flutter bys, which makes more sense, but kids got their name backwards, and it stuck. Could that be true?) Anyway, that creature seems to have a bunch of truth about the invisible world built into it.
Seeds get planted, and die, and from the sacrifice of their bodies in the ground springs new life. And, if you plant a small seed, it can grow into a huge tree. (Like the acorn, which said when it realized it was an oak, “Geometry!”) And seeds that land on the hardened path when they are sown tend to get eaten by passing birds and no growth occurs, but sometimes seeds get dropped onto fertile soil and they give a harvest 100 times better than what was sown.
The Dead Sea has no outlet. It’s one of the rare bodies of water where water runs into it but nothing goes out, and because of that, it collects minerals and chemicals and nothing can live in it, which is why they call it the Dead Sea. How about that as a visible expression of the non-visible reality – if you only take in but never give out, you rot. And then you die.
Sheep grow wool, which they need to survive the cold nights, but if the wool is never shorn, it weighs the sheep down and it becomes home to insects that hurt the sheep. The wool needs to be cut off – if you don’t fleece the flock from time to time, they get unhealthy. Is there not a lesson there as well?
Jesus told Nicodemus that God is like the wind. You can’t see Him (He’s invisible), but you know He’s there (because you can see the visible results of what He does).
Note to self: Watch and see where the wind blows.
Thursday, March 10 – John 2
If you’re going to be a superhero, you want your first thing to be a really impressive thing. Jesus’ was. Think about it.
He helped His friends. That shows us that He cares.
He made wine. That shows that He’s okay with physically pleasing things.
He made the best tasting wine they’d ever tasted. That shows that He wants us to enjoy life to the max.
He did it at a wedding. That shows that marriage is important to Him.
He did it as His first miracle. That shows that the stories of other miraculous things done as a boy are bogus.
He did it because His mom asked. That shows that He answers requests.
He did it by telling other people to do something.
Note to self: Do what Jesus says.
Wednesday, March 9 – John 1
Each gospel is different.
Matthew was one of the twelve and tells Jesus’ story as an eye-witness. Mark was a good friend of Peter and tells Jesus’ story from Peter’s point of view. Luke was a doctor and a traveling companion of Paul and tells Jesus’ story from the point of view of people he’d interviewed who had actually been part of the action, especially Jesus’ mom. John was Jesus’ best friend on earth, and tells Jesus’ story from right next to Him the whole time.
Matthew has 28 chapters. Mark has 16 chapters. Luke has 24 chapters. John has 21 chapters.
Matthew’s gospel starts out with Jesus’ birth records. Mark’s gospel starts out with John the Baptist’s announcement about the coming Messiah. Luke’s gospel starts out before John the Baptist’s conception. John’s gospel starts out before the world began.
Every gospel is different.
Matthew wrote primarily for people with a Jewish background, and thus has the most Old Testament references in his gospel. Mark wrote primarily for a Roman audience who loved action, which is why his gospel starts out at a sprint and accelerates from there. Luke wrote primarily for a new Christian, which is why his gospel shows what it takes to follow Jesus. John wrote his gospel to convince the whole world to follow Jesus, which is why he shows Jesus to be the “Word” (the Greek philosophers searched for the one thing that would make sense out of everything in the world, if they could just figure out what it was, and they called that key to life the “Word”).
Note to self: Don’t forget that Jesus is the key to everything that happens in my life today!
Tuesday, March 8 – Luke 24
The 2 guys on the road to Emmaus didn’t think Jesus was really alive again until He was sitting at the table with them, thanking God for the food, and passing them some bread. I think they saw the scars in His wrists, and then they looked up and recognized His face, and then they realized this stranger they’d been talking to was indeed Jesus! But at that point, He vanished. After those 2 guys ran back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples what they’d just seen, Jesus shows up in the room and asks for something to eat! And they handed Him a fish sandwich, and He ate it! (Hallucinations don’t eat fish sandwiches, but Messiahs come back to life do!) Can you imagine them all staring at Jesus, watching Him take a bite, listening to Him chew?
But the part I really like is when Jesus was explaining to the 2 guys what the Old Testament said – and how it was all about Him! And later, when they were talking about it, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while He explained the Scriptures?” When you’re open to hearing God’s truth and it’s explained in a way that makes sense, your heart burns within you! You think, “Yeah! That’s so right! That’s so true! That’s so good! Yeah!” I’ve listened to preachers who have made my heart burn within me! I’ve read books by people talking about Scripture that make me yearn for what God says! I’ve had teachers that I couldn’t wait to get to class because they opened up the Bible for me in a way that changed me for the better! And I find that the more I give myself chances to hear smart people talk about Jesus, the more I enjoy hearing about Him.
And I think that will be true, from now until the day when we are sitting at a table with Jesus and He asks us to pass Him another piece of fish.
Note to self: Make room in today’s schedule for some heart-burn moments!
Monday, March 7 -- Luke 23
The #1 gov’t guy said he had examined Jesus and found no fault in Him. A hillbilly from the sticks helped Jesus carry His load. A criminal being executed thought Jesus was still going to win, even though He was nailed to a cross. A Roman executioner announced that Jesus was an innocent man. One of the religious leaders offered to bury Jesus, and a lot of women who loved Him watched as Jesus’ body was laid to rest.
Jesus said if He was lifted up, He would draw all (kinds of) people to Him.
He certainly did.
Note to self: Every person I meet might end up following Jesus – I will not assume otherwise.
Sunday, March 6 – Luke 22
In today’s sermon, based on Luke 22, I said, “As often as you have opportunity, give people the chance to come back. Jesus, sitting at the table with a traitor, gave him a chance. Knowing Peter would deny Him, Jesus asked God to bless him. About to be betrayed with a kiss, Jesus still left the door open. Having been wrongfully arrested and beaten, Jesus tried to help His captors see God more clearly. Are you kidding me? He never stopped offering people a chance to do better. Do we? Are you good at seeing past the bad and trying to coax the good out of people? Or do you hold grudges tightly? If someone hurts you, will it be a long time before you think about doing him good? Mr. Rubio insinuated something about Mr. Trump a couple debates back. Mr. Trump took time out of the most recent debate to address that insinuation. I don’t think Mr. Trump is big on offering forgiveness. But then, since he’s never asked God to forgive Him for anything, why would he be offering it to others? Those of us who follow Jesus’ example need to be learning to be so gracious to others.”
After the assembly, some people told me it was not my place to talk about Trump’s relationship with God. I agree. I have no business guessing what his religious practice is. But I was just quoting him. At the 2015 Iowa Family Leadership Summit, moderator Frank Luntz asked the presidential candidate whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions. Here are Trump’s words, "That’s a tough question . . . I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so." He added, "I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't.” Trump said, “When we go to church – and I drink my little wine -- which is about the only wine I drink -- and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed. I think in terms of 'let's go on and let's make it right.'"
My intention today was not to talk about Donald Trump’s politics, but to point out that anyone who follows Jesus will be getting better at forgiving because we have experienced forgiven ourselves.
Note to self: When quoting something controversial in a sermon, make sure to add the words, “and I quote!”
Saturday, March 5 -- Luke 21
The widow gave what she couldn’t afford to, and so, even though what she gave was almost nothing, Jesus said hers was the largest offering that day! Turns out God is more interested in “percentage kept” rather than “amount given”. He’s more impressed with sacrifice than He is with lots of zeroes. Wow, this chapter starts out with Jesus discounting offerings given if you aren’t really going to miss the money you gave, and that’s not even the hard part of the chapter.
The hard part of what He says today is that following Him will really cost you something. If you decide that Jesus deserves the number 1 slot in your life, you’ll have parents, siblings, relatives, and friends turn on you. People will hate you because of your connection to Jesus. It’s going to be crazy. It won’t make any sense, but they will treat you unfairly, and hurt you, they'll disdain you and mock you -- they’d try to kill you if they thought they could get away with it. All because you have chosen to follow Jesus.
I’m not sure, but I would guess that this chapter is probably not used a lot by guys who preach what is known as the “health and wealth” gospel. While it is absolutely true that God wants everyone to prosper, and the Bible says God wants everyone to experience the abundant life, and there’s no question that God’s desire is to bless each person beyond our wildest imaginings – acknowledging all those things as givens – it is also true that in Luke 21, Jesus says that if you follow Him, life can be really really really bad sometimes. And that we should make up our minds right now not to worry about that. We should keep on asking for and expecting His help. And we should hold onto Him, no matter what, until the end, at which point, we will experience life like He intended from the beginning.
Note to self: If I live my day today for Jesus and it proves more difficult than I can possibly imagine, that just proves that He knows whereof He speaks – and I should consider myself lucky to be on His side!
Friday, March 4 -- Luke 20
The religious leaders, trailing in the polls, knew they needed to trip Jesus up. So they asked Him about politics. How much control should God’s people grant government? How far can governing powers go? Can the government really tell us how to live? They asked, “Is it right to pay taxes?” Jesus said, “Show me the money.” (The fact they pulled some out demonstrated they were complicit in what the emperor was selling, right? I mean, these Jewish religious leaders had Roman coins jingling in their pockets!) Jesus asked, “Whose image is on there? Whose name?” The leaders had to admit that the legal tender of the day screamed Caesar. (Sweden’s King Gustav was once asked for ID, and not having his wallet with him, he pulled out a coin, pointed to the portrait on it, and said, “That’s me!”)
At this point, Jesus said, “So, give Caesar what is his, and give God what is His.” John Ortberg points out that this is the first time the concept of separation of church and state ever came up. Before Jesus said this, the two were the same. Do you remember studying the “divine right” of kings back in high school? (“In a democracy, your vote counts. In feudalism, your count votes.”) Ruling families used to think God had given them the right to rule, or they’d skip that step altogether and just say they were God. Either way, to obey your ruler was the same as obeying your deity. It was Jesus Who first said, “You should obey your rulers, true, and you should obey God. You’re citizens of two kingdoms – and you should be good citizens of both, but if it ever comes down to a choice, there’s no choice. If government ever tells you to do something contrary to what God says, you have the right (and you’re right) to tell them ‘Ah . . . no!’”
Jesus (as He so often does) gives us a way forward on a difficult matter – be involved in politics, but know Who your real ruler is. Luke says people listening that day considered that a good answer. I agree.
Note to self: My hope is not in this country, my hope is in the One Who gave me this country.
Thursday, March 3 -- Luke 19
As little kids, we used to sing a song that went like this: Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he (Zack was vertically challenged, but we were little kids, so we could relate to having everybody look down at us). He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see (David Underwood was a friend of our family, really tall, and once when I was about 6, he put me on his shoulders and carried me around the NYS fairgrounds so that I could see everything, but Zack didn’t have any friends so he had to climb a tree). And as the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree, And He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down!” (and everybody watching, including Zack, thought, “Busted!”) . . . “For I’m going to your house today!” (and everybody listening, including Zack thought, “What? No way! Not his house! Jesus wouldn’t go to his house!”) . . . “For I’m going to your house today!” (and Zack thought, “Really? You’d come to my house? You? And me? Together? At my house? Alrighty then!”, and he was so happy that he fell out of the tree. Nobody there, including Zack, could believe his luck – Jesus deigned to hang out at his house!)
Zacchaeus. You know the type. He was the richest, wrote the book on always getting the best of people in business dealings, changed political ideologies depending on how the wind blew, never apologized for anything he ever did, and was most famous for an oddity in his appearance. If you were to put together a list of the 10 people in Jericho most unlikely to ever be interested in Jesus in any way, Zack would’ve been at the top. But there he was, out on a limb, just trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus. And Jesus did more than Zack could’ve dreamed – He offered to go home with him!
The rest of the story? Overwhelmed by Jesus’ friendship, Zacchaeus became the most generous, honest, and humble person in the whole country!
Note to self: There is no one I know so far from God that a friendship with Jesus can’t change him into an amazing guy, into a beautiful lady – today I will look for people sitting in trees.
Wednesday, March 2 -- Luke 18
One of the questions I get asked a lot is “Why pray?” If God is all-knowing and all-loving, what can we possibly add to His view of things? Isn’t He already going to do what He’s going to do? And theoretically, shouldn’t we be glad for Him to do that?
Luke 18 is where Jesus teaches us about asking God for things. He starts out by telling a story about a widow’s importunity in front of a judge who was disinclined to acquiesce to her request – and He says that that’s a good thing! Then Jesus talks about the battle between the guy who’s got it altogether (religiously) vs. the guy who’s only got a prayer, and Jesus bets against the crowd’s favorite. Some parents asked if Jesus would spend some time with their kids, and Jesus said, “Nothing would please Me more.” A really really rich guy asked Jesus what He needed to do to get eternal life, and Jesus said, “Please Me more.” Peter asked, “Is following You enough?”, and Jesus said, “Nothing more.” And a blind man heard that Jesus was walking by, and he yelled and yelled and yelled (kinda like an importunate widow we read about once) until Jesus heard him and stopped and asked the blind man what he wanted. The blind man asked Jesus to let him see again, and Jesus said, “Okay.”
The reason Jesus tells you to ask for things is because you matter to God. You matter. He cares about what you care about. Like any good father (only to the nth degree), God likes giving His children stuff they like. And yes, He is omniscient, and yes He’s omnipotent, and yes He’s omni-loveful, which is all the more reason why when you ask for something that you’d like, He really thinks about doing it your way. Because you matter to Him. Sometimes, God will do things because you ask that He wouldn’t otherwise do. (Don’t believe it? Just ask the man who used to be blind until he yelled and yelled and Jesus helped him see.)
Note to self: Jesus said to ask, so every time I think of something that could help someone today, ask God to do it, and let's see what happens.
Tuesday, March 1 -- Luke 17
In today’s chapter of Jesus’ life, He heals 10 lepers. They beg Him to help them, and He says, “Okay.” Then He tells them to go get their certificates of health from the priests. At that point, the 10 had to decide if they trusted Him or not, because it was a 3 day walk to Jerusalem, through populated regions, and lepers could be stoned to death if they went were normal people lived. But they bet their lives on Jesus, in the hope that He could make them better, and they started on their way. As they were going where Jesus had told them to go, they got good.
At which point, one of them turned around and went back to say, “Thanks!” Well, actually, he didn’t just say it, he ran back and knelt at Jesus’ feet, and he shouted his praise to God! And Jesus had the most interesting response. He didn’t say, “You’re welcome.” He didn’t say, “Ah, isn’t this nice?” Jesus said, “Didn’t I heal 10? Where are the other 9? Only 1 comes back to give God His due? Really?”
Here’s why the other 9 might not have come back to thank Jesus for what He’d done for them. They had families – they wanted to hug them! Who could blame them? They had jobs – they needed to get back to work! Who could blame them? They had religious commitments – they’d been told to go see the priests and they were going to do that, no matter what! Who could blame them? They had doubts – it looked like Jesus healed them, but He hadn’t actually touched them, nor was He there when they got clean; there was no empirical evidence. Maybe some of them wondered if it was just a coincidence? Who could blame them?
Many legitimate reasons why the other 9 might not have gone back. Who could blame them? Well, apparently, Jesus. He wondered out loud where they were, and why they weren’t expressing their gratitude. He had, after all, given them their lives back.
He has, after all, given us our lives back.
Note to self: Make sure to thank Jesus for what He’s done for me today.
Be Lazarus. Here’s what we know about Lazarus.
He had been dead, but because of Jesus, He now was not. That’s us!
Everyone who knew Laz as dead man was amazed at the change J had caused in him.
B/c he used to be dead. But now, he clearly wasn’t.
Do ppl notice that you’re not like you were before J changed you?
Some ppl didn’t like Laz b/c he always talked about Jesus, but how could he not?
B/c whethr ppl like it or not, guy who brings you back to life is kinda big deal.
Got sent a couple jokes this week.
Stdg in bank line when old lady behind me asked if I’d help her check her balance.
So I pushed her over.
What did the 79 yr old pirate say on his next birthday? Aye . . . matey.
RIP boiling water. You shall be mist. But Laz would not be missed. He was still here.
/many ppl believed that J was great b/c of what they saw in Laz.
Tim Keller “the reason most ppl are not Xians is b/c they’ve never known one.
A real life, honest to God, following Jesus in a healthy way, Xian.
But if you’ll be one of those, some of your friends/family eventually will too.
And here’s the reason I most want to be Laz in this Palm Sunday production.
B/c what’s he doing when we find him there? Hanging out at a party w/ J.
Jesus created you so that you could hang out with Him. At a party.
/on the day when the world almost got it R? That’s what everybody was doing.
/on the day when the world will be made all R? That’s what we’re heading towards.
And what a day that will be!
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