Posts tagged Monday Message
Ruth Part Three

9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.” 
Ruth 3:9
 
The story of Ruth is replete with tension. It is a story from the perspective of widows at a time when women had little voice in society. It is a story from the perspective of the poor in a town with no government sponsored safety net. It is a story from the perspective of a foreigner in a community identified by clans and tribes and families.
 
But nowhere is the tension higher than in this sentence in Ruth 3. Ruth identifies herself as a servant. In truth, she is poor, a widow, and a foreigner. She has entered into the intimate presence of one who is the opposite of all of those things. She has exposed her vulnerability and grasped the reins of her own life. Instead of waiting and listening as was expected, she spoke her need and her desire. I am your kin. Take care of me.
 
Each of us finds ourselves in tension in life. Seldom do we find ourselves with the courage to step into the tension like Ruth. Perhaps this is wise. There are not many places like Boaz in life that receives our vulnerability and our voice. That is the tension.
 
Why does Boaz receive Ruth? We immediately suppose the answer to be linked to his own desires and his own needs. But the rest of the text resists this theory. Instead, Boaz speaks readily of God and the worthiness of Ruth. Boaz’s receptivity flows from his own understanding and experience of God and his understanding that she is his kin. He does not identify her as poor, widow, and foreigner. He identifies her as connected to him.
 
This is where this text immediately challenges us today. It challenges us to identify people by their connection to us in God. When we are in the position of Ruth, we must ignore the voices that belittle and sideline us. We are worthy of connection and care. When we are in the position of Boaz, we must resist the temptation to define ourselves by the gifts God has given us. Rather, we must grasp the opportunity to testify to our connection by using those same gifts!
 
Jesus, your Scripture testifies that in You, we are kin (Ephesians 3:15). That is not an idea that is readily acted on by the world around me. Grant me the courage of Ruth today to both be vulnerable and courageous. Grant me the humility and awareness of Boaz. Help me to live into the connectedness that you have placed around me. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Keenan BarberMonday Message, Ruth
Summer Stories: Forgetfulness

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” – Joshua 4:1-7

As I get older, I realize that I am forgetting things more often. I forget where I put my keys. I forget what kind of chips each of my kids does not like in their lunch. I forget dates. I forget times. I forget. Thankfully the people around me are either filled with a lot of grace or just as forgetful as I am ….Or both maybe?

Forgetfulness is not something new as we see if the passage above. Joshua has just led the people of Israel out of the desert where they have been wandering for the 40 years, and into the land that God has promised them. They have waited an entire generation to get to this place, and the first thing God wants them to do is to set up a Memorial? So let me get this straight…. God enlists Moses to lead the people out of Egypt away from Pharaoh. As they are being chased, he makes a way for them to pass through the Red Sea, and then uses that same escape route to bring Pharaoh’s army to its demise. God provides manna, water and the Law while they are in the desert, and now they have finally been led to leave the desert and into the promised land – and God wants them to set a way for them remember? You really think they’re going to forget?

Simple answer – yes. We forget all to easily. We need to be reminded. We need to be reminded of the ways God has been faithful in our lives. The ways He has provided for us in our time of need. The way healing has come when it didn’t look like there was a chance. The way God provides great an influential people in our lives to encourage us and cheer us on in the tough times and to cry with us when the times are challenging. And we live. And we go into the next day. And somehow…. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, we forget.

The stones are there to be a reminder not only to this generation but for us to teach the generations to come. God is faithful – all the way to the point of dying so that we might have life. And so it is for us to remember. How are you reminded? What are the ways that you try to avoid forgetfulness? Are there new practices to adopt in order that you might remember all that God has done? Think about that and see what you can do to be a better rememberer.

 

Blessed Are Those that thirst for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” - Matthew 5:6

Hunger and thirst are only experienced in the absence of food and drink. And when there is an absence, when we are hungry and thirsty, it is difficult to want anything else. It is impossible to deny what we are: hungry and thirsty.

Strangely, the absence of righteousness is not the same. Perhaps it would be if we had not numbed ourselves into believing that it is not possible to be filled. We question whether righteousness is even possible. We joke about our lack of righteousness... even reveling in the degrees and nuance of its absence. When either a prophet or a fool (and, really, who can tell the difference) speaks of righteousness, we stone them from our minds. We debase them in our relationships. We remove them from all consideration. 

I think I know why we do this. I think it is because we don’t really believe hunger for righteousness is a hunger that can be filled. We are not righteousness, that is fairly obvious to most of us (at least those of us who will even consider this devotional). Nothing in our world seems all that righteous. It is easier to believe that righteousness doesn’t exist than to hunger for food that we will never taste… thirst for drink we will never touch.

In our text, Jesus asks us to dream. Jesus asks us to rebel against our disbelief. Jesus asks us to hold onto a deeper vision of right: right relationship with each other, right relationship with ourselves, and right relationship with God. He points us to rightness that becomes being… righteousness. If you allow him to lead you in that train of thought, a faint hunger appears. The dryness of our spiritual mouths becomes apparent. 

Yet, Jesus does more than ask us to dream. He speaks. He is. He asks us to believe that who he is and what he has done – on the cross, the tomb, and his Spirit fire – will fill the absence and enliven the dream. In knowing the hunger and thirst and Jesus, we will be filled with righteousness.

Jesus, we ask that you give us hunger and thirst for righteousness. We ask that you open our eyes and give us the courage to face the absence of righteousness. Then come to us… meet us in our need. Fill us that we might speak and live as… righteous. In Jesus’ name, amen.

The God Hypothesis

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. - Luke 19:41-42

Many years ago, a German theologian noted a trend where people did not need what he called the “God Hypothesis” to explain things or to meet their needs. Instead of looking to God, they found their strength, boundaries, and understanding for life elsewhere.

There are a number of benefits to living this way. If we live as if God doesn’t matter, then we don’t have to abide by any expectations God might have upon us. We are free to pursue what we want, how we want, and without worry about any outside definition of what we should want. Theoretically, we don’t have to feel guilty (at least not for ways we damage relationship with God… guilt from our relationships with other people is a bit harder to shake). And it is a heck of a lot easier to communicate with other people who don’t expect God to be part of things. On the surface it sounds very freeing.

At the beginning of Holy Week, Jesus points out the downside to this “freedom.” People who don’t see Jesus miss the peace that Jesus brings.

I do not write this so that we can feel morally superior to an atheistic strawman (or even someone who is very real that you may know). I write this because all too often, we who believe in Jesus live practically as if God doesn’t matter. We do not look for God in our work. We do not look for Jesus in our entertainment. We do not expect the Holy Spirit to have any real practical influence on our daily lives. We certainly do not expect to find Jesus on a donkey riding into town. Is it possible that we also miss the things that make for peace?

So, what do we do? Let us be people who look for Jesus. Let us be people who begin to ask God to open our eyes to recognize where God is present in our work, in our entertainment, in our relationships, and in our daily lives. Let us be people who begin to take note and recognize and experience the ways Jesus brings peace.

Jesus, we confess the ways we get caught up in things and find ourselves in a place where you are “hidden from our eyes.” We desire to be people who know your peace. Will you help us to see this day the places you are with us? Help us to begin to recognize your presence, your guidance, and your peace. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Garden of Gethsemane

9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. - Colossians 1:9-10

I often have conversations with people who are wrestling with their faith. Several times, I have wanted so badly to believe for them. I wanted to tell them, “It is true! I know you are having a hard time believing it, right now. So, let me believe for you… attach yourself to my belief and I will carry you through!”

But faith does not work that way. At some point, each person must come to the place of belief on their own. At some point, each person must wrestle until they come to the place of trusting God’s will… of praying, “Thy will be done.” (Matt. 26:39, 42)

This last weekend, we witnessed this in the life of Jesus. Jesus never wavered in his belief in God, but he wrestled with what this meant for his life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed about the things he knew he was walking into because of his obedience. He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” (Matt. 26:39, 42)

Jesus was not alone in the garden. His disciples were with him. But he left them a short distance away. This time of wrestling was something he needed to do alone. So, too, do we each come to times where we must wrestle with our faith or the ways it directs us. We cannot spare another person that wrestling.

But Jesus’ disciples were not without a role to play in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked them to stand watch and support him. He asked them to pray as he wrestled. In this way, he was not alone. In this way, none of us need to be alone. We cannot walk the road of faith for people, but we can pray and stand with them so that they know they are not alone.

As you wrestle in life, find people who will pray for you! Then become such a person for others. Become a person who prays that those around you “may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Col. 1:10) Together, we will be able to believe and pray, “Lord, let your will be done in my life.”

Jesus, we ask that you fill us with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. We also ask that you help us to be people who stand alongside of and pray for those around us. In this way, let us become those who live from a place of vibrant faith and witness. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

A Mountaintop Experience

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. - Matthew 17:1-8

In 1996, I was invited to be a leader on the high school mission trip to Ensenada, Mexico. I had no idea what to expect. I knew we’d be sleeping in tents alongside some 1,000 other high school kids and that we would be working in a small village leading Vacation Bible School – but beyond that I was not too sure what the week would look like. As the week came to a close, and the group participated in a debrief of the week’s activities, I found myself on cloud nine. It was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life.

We began the day with 1,000 voices singing worship songs and being inspired by a great speaker. Then we headed out to our little village of Villa Zapata and played with kids all day, sharing food and the word of God with them. We laughed and cried. We worked hard and we played hard. And at the end of the day, there was more worship music and yet another shared message. It was God from all sides.

To be honest, I didn’t want to leave. My life at home was nothing like this. I was working for Countrywide Home Loans at the time, and my work day was not particularly spiritually fulfilling. I had never experienced God in such a consistent and powerful way as I had in the dirt of Ensenada. Why would I want to go anywhere else? This was it. I should move here. I should never leave. I’ll set up my tent and just serve the kids of Mexico the rest of my days. It was never going to get any better than this.

When Peter is on the mountain with Jesus, he has an extraordinary God encounter – so powerful that he suggests to Jesus that he will build booths (tents or some kind of temporary housing) so that they can stay there on the mountaintop. But Jesus is pretty clear that he doesn’t see the top of the mountain as the final destination. Jesus has brought these three disciples here to have a very unique experience with God, to hear the voice of God – and then it’s time to come back off the mountain to continue the work that Jesus has called them to.

How have your mountaintop experiences shaped you? Once you were there, did you want to stay there? Do you find yourself trying to recreate those same experiences rather than allowing God to take you to new mountaintops? And when you’re with Jesus, do you do more talking or more listening? “While Peter was still talking….” Jesus has a desire to reveal more, and God’s voice has to interrupt Peter’s talking in order that he can he heard. Do you talk over God? The voice that comes says – “Listen to him” (Jesus). Are you listening? by Keenan Barber

Prayer – As the season of Lent begins, I pray that you would find time to listen to Jesus and from that time of listening, grow closer to Him and hear his voice more clearly. 

Gospel Inheritance

11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. - Ephesians 1:11-12

We tend to think in terms of money and buying power when we think about inheritance. Often that is how an inheritance is quantified. But, then again, we tend to quantify most things that way. There is a part of inheritance that resists this pull.

A friend of mine graduated college and stepped into an inheritance in his family’s business. While this was a lucrative inheritance, it was also a call upon his life. He was invited into a way of life, an ethic, and a mission that had been his family’s for generations.

In our text, the apostle Paul likens the gospel to an inheritance. In many ways, our inheritance in Christ provides us with purchasing power in life. We find that God provides us with the wherewithal to move through both good and bad times with grace and goodness beyond our capabilities.

But it is also an inheritance that invites us into a way of life. We find that we are part of the family business of love, peace, and redemption in Christ. We are invited into a life that results in “the praise of his glory.” The inheritance of Jesus is to be invited into life that takes part in the glory of God.

Jesus, we confess the ways that we get caught up in so many other narratives in life. We need reminding that our inheritance is to be part of your glory on this earth. Teach us to set our hope in Christ that we might live for the praise of his glory this day at work, at home, in the car, in relationships, in silence, and each step of the way. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Merry Christmas!

7 On each one of us God's favour has been bestowed in whatever way Christ allotted it. -Ephesians 4:7

Merry Christmas! As one of three boys, I remember Christmas morning always had a bit of competitiveness to it. I would excitedly open my gifts while keeping a running count of the number and quality of gifts my brothers received in comparison to my own. I used Christmas as an unofficial referendum upon my parents’ love.

As I read this verse during the Christmas season, I found myself wondering if I do the same counting in life. Do I measure the gifts that others receive as if they are a measure of God’s favor? Does this outlook make Christmas another unofficial referendum, but this time on God’s love for me and my family?

Just speaking those questions aloud steal their power. That is not the way God’s favor works. Our text this morning contends that God bestows his favor in the way that Jesus allots it. This allotment is not done competitively with a limited supply of love. Rather it is done with an awareness of the ways he binds us in one. Together we are bound together in and filled with Christ’s love to bring glory to God’s name.

As with every Scriptural truth, the blessing is not in rational understanding but in spiritual transformation. Here are the steps to allowing that recognition to transform us. First, let us allow the magnificence that God bestows his favor upon us to humble us in thanksgiving. That is enough. Second, let us confess the ways we measure and set up referendums in our competitiveness. Tell God that we are satisfied to be part of his favor! Finally, we must ask God to help us live in this new freedom in ways that glory his name, build his Kingdom, and bless the people he has created and loves.

Let us stop counting gifs this Christmas! Instead, let us rest in his favor given to us, for us, and for the world. Thus, we can gladly say, “Merry Christmas!”

Jesus, thank you for choosing me as the recipient of your favor! I am humbled and upon bended knee I declare that I trust you. Teach me to live in your favor in ways that bless you, bless the Church, and bless the world around me! In Jesus’ name, amen. 

The Choice to Magnify

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… - Luke 1:78-79


And thus begins the most famous response to Christmas in the gospel of Luke. When Mary finally comes to grips with the weight and certainty of the angel Gabriel’s message, she rejoices. While this was an appropriate response to being told she would be pregnant as the mother of Jesus, God in human form, it was not the only possible response.

The timing and the order of this pregnancy was not the way that Mary would have preferred it. Starting a family is a difficult decision for most people. They worry about whether their income can support the new expense. They worry about the ways the demands of the new baby will affect their career, their social life, and their relationships. Mary was betrothed but not yet fully married to Joseph. Their finances and career and social life and relationship with each other were not yet where they needed to be.

Surely, Mary had an equal opportunity to lament… to worry… to be afraid…. She had to look past all of these options to recognize the threads of promise, the fingerprints of God, and the whispers of hope. Mary chose to magnify her hope in God rather than her fear. She grabbed hold of God’s hand and chose to magnify the Lord.

This choice is the gift of Christmas. Not only has Jesus broken into Mary’s life, but he has been offered to each one of us as a friend, a savior, and a Lord. If truth be told, we don’t always feel ready for the ways this will turn our lives upside down. The worry, fear, and lament of this is often enough to drive good people from committing to know Jesus. But we are also given the opportunity to walk the way of Mary. We can begin to recognize the evidence of hope that God gives to us, grab hold of it, and magnify it as we join Mary in singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior!”

Jesus, this Christmas, we thank you for the testimony of Mary. We thank you for her boldness from a precarious place to seek deeply to see you, to trust you, and to live from you. Grant us the courage to boldly grab hold of the grace, the love, and the friendship of Jesus. Help us to choose to doubt our doubts and believe. Let us magnify the Lord this Christmas! In Jesus name, amen.

Christmas Comes

78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ - Luke 1:78-79

Prophets played an important role in the times of Scripture. They had a way of cutting through all that was going on around them and pointing out where God was at work. We human beings, we need that. We need it because we get used to our routines and sight lines in life. We develop our ways of viewing the world that accommodates everything we think we know and think we need.

Every once in a while, we need a prophet to step in our way to help us to see what we haven’t been seeing.

In our text, the realities of life did not seem difficult to interpret. The daily life of the common person was still defined by oppression. The story of two babies being born didn’t seem to change anything. One was a baby born to an old Jewish couple (John the Baptist’s parents). The other was a young couple whose pregnancy and marriage may have been a bit out of the traditional order of things. There didn’t seem to be anything remarkable here.

But there was. Sometimes it takes a prophet to help us to see. These births were anything but ordinary. That young couple, Mary and Joseph, would bear into this world no ordinary baby. God was on the move. Humanity was being invaded by the tender mercy of God. It would flood over them like the breaking of dawn. The darkness and shadow of death that for so long had taken up residence in our expectation would be washed away in the light of Christmas.

So, Christmas is near. We know because of the Christmas music, gifts, decorations, parties, and all that we have come to expect. But let us also lift our eyes to see. Let us keep the words of the prophet in our ears so that we can recognize what is happening. In Christmas, “by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high breaks upon us, to give light to we who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

Dear Jesus, Christmas is near. Prepare our hearts for the opportunities to rejoice and give and love. In the midst of all that we expect from the season, lift our eyes to see You. Let us know your mercy and your peace. Free us from the darkness and the shadow of death so that we can walk in the way of your peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thanksgiving Freedom

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  - Galatians 5:1

There are a whole lot of things that we typically associate with slavery. We think of oppressive relationships. We think of economic systems. We think of exploitation. Surely, the apostle Paul would have us stand against things like this. But in this passage, that isn’t what he is talking about. In this passage, he is talking about the Bible… or rather, how people he knew were misusing the Bible.

When Paul wrote this text, certain people tried to convince other Christians they needed to obey the rules in the Bible perfectly. Their basic idea was that if you are good enough, God would approve. If you didn’t follow the rules, God wouldn’t approve.

Now, Paul hated this line of thinking. He felt it cuts people off from the grace of Jesus. He equated living in a way that relies upon our own effort to slavery. Jesus came to free us from that slavery!

Paul wants us to live from our relationship with God instead. He writes, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” Perhaps living in faith and hope in the Holy Spirit is even more important than being good all of the time. Even if someone could perfectly follow the rules, it would be like having a son or daughter who learned to live perfectly from a book or list of rules. They might put together a great resume, but their Heavenly Father would miss the opportunity to intimately be part of it all. 

The best way to learn to live for God is in relationship. We pray and read the Scripture to learn to love like God loves. As we experience God’s Presence and grace, we are shaped by that love. In this text, Paul will eventually say that this is the way that the rules get obeyed in the way they were meant to be obeyed.

So, if your inability to toe the line keeps you from prayer. If you have guilt or shame that you just can’t shake. If you can’t seem to quite pull off being a good Christian, relax. Jesus has set you free from those things. Use that freedom to love God and be loved by him. That is really the only way to grow in the character and depth of your heavenly Father any way.

Dear Jesus, thank you that this Christian way is a way that leans into you. Thank you that you forgive and pick me up as readily as I need. Thank you that you love me. Please shape me by that love so I might live fully the freedom you give me. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Broken World, Glorify God

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. - 1 Corinthians 10:31

 

Many years ago, a friend of mine asked me who I thought the greatest Christian of all time was. I remember thinking about it for a few moments, slowly picturing than discarding so many of the names of the giants of the church. Eventually, I replied, “I bet it was some un-named farmer at some point in human history who would pray and love God each day as she ploughed her field or tended his livestock.”

I don’t know why I replied that way so many years ago. But I still hold to that answer.

So often, we imagine that Jesus is hungry for us to do great things for him. We assume that God is too important or lofty to consider the common things of our lives. But this text from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians pushes us to consider Christ in our everyday. The choices we make in faith are opportunities for us to be part of nothing less than the glory of God.

Is it possible to plough a furrow to God’s glory? How about close a business deal… or eat a meal with family or friends? How about changing a baby’s diaper?

The beauty of this verse is that it is not speculative but inviting. It invites each one of us to try it with whatever is closest at hand. Are you about to drive home from work? Try to make your way in traffic with your heart set upon God being glorified. Try speaking with the people you pass in the office or on the phone as if the weight of glory was in the air.

If we do, we will find that the default patterns of selfishness or anxiety are crowded out. We may find our plans more interruptible but we will also discover the grace and presence of God in every square inch of our lives.

Don’t be disappointed if you can’t sustain the effort. Over time, little efforts will turn to habits which will be filled with a way of life that knows God always and everywhere. But great things with God always begin here and now in that thing that is as common as everything.

Jesus, thank you for your intimate love for us. We bless you that you whisper eternity into our every breath. Help us to take up your invitation to live in glory. Help us to do it this moment, today. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Broken World Love

…we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. - 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

I had a discussion with two church members about one of the divisive or hot topics of the day. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what the topic was. Think of the one that gets you most riled up or most sends your friends into indignation. Got it? Pretend that’s the one.

The two church members disagreed about the issue.  To their credit, they disagreed very respectfully. But they still disagreed so they asked me where I came down on the issue.  I decided to sidestep the question and exit the conversation as gracefully as possible. In retrospect, I think I avoided the argument because I still wasn’t sure that it mattered where I came down on the issue until I could figure out how I would come down.

This Sunday, we looked at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he addressed one of the hot topics of his day. The first thing he said about it was, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Before giving an answer as to where he came down on the issue, Paul wanted to make sure that the Corinthians knew how they came down mattered most.

When we move in knowledge alone, even if we are right, we move with the temptation to lift ourselves and lower others. “We value truth and justice,” we tell ourselves.  Maybe we do.  But justice and truth are not best served by knowledge that puffs up.  They are best served by love that builds up.  Forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing are the fruit of love.

So, I have been trying to figure out how to engage in the polarizing issues of the day in love. I am trying to be sad rather than mad.  I am trying to avoid pointing out other people’s faults and instead listen to their pain. I am trying to love. And it is in the loving that God is most clearly known through me.

Jesus, we thank you for the ways you love us no matter where we stand. We thank you for your grace that reconnects and forgives. We want to be people who move in your love. Help us to engage with even the difficult things of our world in ways that build up the people around us. This… so that we might be part of the healing, grace, and love you offer to us all. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Keenan BarberMonday Message
Christ Undivided

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? - 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

The truth is that churches are broken. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because Christians are broken people. Usually, it is when Christians don’t think they are broken that churches manifest brokenness most clearly.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul is writing to a broken church. Ultimately, the brokenness of the church is alright. When Christians are aware of their brokenness they tend to rely upon God. Paul tells us that God “is the source of our life in Christ, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption….” (1 Cor. 1:30). That is a pretty good place to be: broken and filled with the life of Christ.

The problem for most churches comes when we notice other people’s brokenness and not our own. Apparently, that was happening in Corinth. The members of the church were segregating into factions. One might follow Apollos with the implicit idea that those who do not follow Apollos are missing out. Now, you probably don’t know much about Apollos or Cephas or how they differ from Paul. So, rarely will you find Christians today saying they belong to Apollos.

The problem is that doesn’t always mean we aren’t part of the factions shown in Corinth.

One faction in Corinth is very apparent in our churches. The apostle Paul says that a group in the church in Corinth said, “I belong to Christ.” That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? It is a good thing if it is said in brokenness. The problem is that too often it is said with an awareness of other peoples’ brokenness rather than our own. So, the subtext is, “I belong to Christ but I’m not sure you do.”

When we disagree about a bit of theology or practice with someone, we are pretty quick to question if “those” people are really Christians at all. I guess it is plausible that “those people” might not be Christian. But the moment we make that a part of our own definition, then we are just part of the quarrels of a broken church… or, as Paul puts it, we are part of dividing Christ.

The answer for a broken church is the grace found in the cross of Jesus Christ. Grace in the cross for us and for them. When we say it like that, the “them” gets swallowed up in grace to become part of us. And, when that happens, the broken church is able to say, “We belong to Christ undivided.”

Jesus, thank you for your grace that has grasped me in your embrace and is making me whole. Thank you that your grace is meant not just for me but for every person around me. Show me how to be part of your embrace for a broken world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Jacob's Ladder

50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,* you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

John 1:50-51

This Sunday we explored the story we commonly call Jacob’s Ladder from Genesis 28. In the story, a guy named Jacob fell asleep under the night sky while on a long journey. God appeared to him in a dream and revealed a stairway between heaven and earth with angels going up and down.

The man awoke the next morning and was keenly aware that God had revealed Godself to him in his dream. He trembled with fear and declared that the place he slept was the gate of heaven!

When we follow his story from that moment, it is hard to see where his dream had a discernable impact upon his life. He was less than upstanding before the dream. He was less than upstanding after his dream.

None of that should surprise us. Many of us have had experiences like that. Perhaps it was not a dream of a stairway to heaven, but it was a moment where we were keenly aware of God’s love, forgiveness, guidance, or presence. Perhaps something in a sermon or a song or a sunset struck us deeply. For a moment, God and faith and us all seem to be clear and balanced.

The truth is that many of us have also walked away from experiences like that and not done much with them. Perhaps we have been buoyed for a bit and were thankful that God lifted us. But we were no less a scoundrel after than we were before.

In the gospel of John, Jesus pushes a guy named Nathanael to dive more deeply after such a moment experienced under a fig tree. He said, “That impressed you? You will see more than that if you use that to press closer to me. Let it affirm you not just to go about your business but to follow me. And if you do, you will see that heaven and earth are connected in me!”

There is no end to the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. Those moments are invitations to begin to see life through a lens of faith where we can be part of the stairway that connects heaven to us.

Dear Jesus, we long to know your touch to strengthen us for the journey. Perhaps that is only half of the story. We ask that you would also give us courage to allow your touch to define our journey. This, that we might be part of heaven being known here on earth. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Being Worthy

13 Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ 15And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. - Matthew 19:13-15

We tend to love this text.  We think its sweet because we tend to be a culture that values our kids.  We are more likely to think too highly of them.  So discipline is hard for us.  We find ourselves more interested in the happiness of children than anything else.

We look at the disciples in our text and think: “What bullies!”

But, I’m not sure we are all that much better.  The disciples were operating in a culture which told them who was worthy of attention and who was not.  To the disciples, kids were not.

We may add children to our list of who is worthy, but usually that is children who fit our cultural expectations.  I know because I have been around Youth Sports for some time now.  We tend to love kids as long as they conform to a certain image.  We love a winner.  We love a well-dressed and well-behaved kid.  We are quick to shoot nasty looks at a family in a restaurant whose kid is having a meltdown.  I’ve been at Little League games where the parents literally groan when certain kids come to the plate. I’ve called out to my own daughter when she was more interested in the ants on the field than the soccer game she was playing in by saying: “You better be good at math!” (Subtext, soccer is not your path to college.)

Even our love of kids has cultural boundaries… we love success… we love power… we love well-behaved and clean.

Part of Jesus’ point is to let them all come to him – even the snotty nosed ones… the ones tantrum-ing on the ground… the colicky ones… the uncoordinated ones… the ones with special needs… the less than cute ones.

 

Jesus’ real point in this passage is that he wants us to approach like those kids. We aren’t to come in power or cuteness or put together-ness.  We are to come as if we bring nothing to the table.  We are to come as the kid who can’t hit and isn’t good at math… we are to come so that we can be loved, accepted, and embraced.

Jesus, thank you for loving us and making room for us at your side.  We confess the ways we see children and ourselves with the expectations of worthiness.  We ask that you show us your great love for us as we bring nothing to the table.  Then show us how to love others with the same fullness and grace.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday Message: Tearing down our strongholds

3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds...  2 Corinthians 10:3-4


This Sunday at church we spoke about the walls of Jericho in Joshua 6.  We talked about the ways that we are often rendered powerless by opposition to our faith or life circumstances.  We bump up against walls and fortifications that seem impenetrable.
 
Over the past week, I have felt powerless and deeply troubled by the events that unfolded during a political demonstration of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I have been speaking with a college friend who lives in Charlottesville.  We have been processing together what happened.
 
As we talked, we met walls in two places.  Most obviously, we were both grieved by what we read and witnessed in news accounts of the rhetoric and actions of the protestors.  This was easy for us both to condemn as contrary to our values and beliefs rooted in Christ Jesus.  More difficult were the walls that we bumped into within ourselves as we wrestled with our own history and complicity (if only indirect) with the racial divides and prejudices in our nation and our world.  Both grieved us and loomed large over us like the walls of Jericho.
 
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  Rather are weapons are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds,” the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and to us.  So, we talked, prayed, and invited the Holy Spirit to convict our hearts, to lead us in righteousness, and to show us how to face these walls.
 
We decided that the easy path would be to react in self-righteous anger at the broken and perverted actors in this drama.  Yes, it would protect us from introspection and give us the moral high ground that we craved.  But it would merely be warfare according to our flesh.
 
Instead, we chose to do the two things.  First, we prayed for ourselves.  We talked together and confessed and asked God to move us into his righteousness.  We submitted aspects of our world and culture that we had grown up with but fell short of this righteousness.  Second, we chose a man who we had both seen in news coverage who seemed instrumental in the worst of the events in Charlottesville.  We covenanted to pray for him by name.  We would ask God to protect others from him and to rescue him in Christ… even as Jesus is rescuing us from the brokenness of our pride, our fear, our hatred, and our self-righteous condemnation of the other.
 
We believe that the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds… even the walls revealed to us in Charlottesville, Virginia.
 
Jesus, search us and know us.  Lead us to lay down all within us… all that has defined us that falls short of your best for us, for our neighbors, and for your glory.  Then teach us to move in you to tear down strongholds in our families, our work, our schools, our neighborhoods, and our world.  Move in your mercy through us to bless those around us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday Message: Samuel Hears God

By Drew Hanson, Family Ministries Director

1 Samuel 3:1-4:1

In the story told Sunday, Samuel hears the voice of God. Even though Samuel is still very young, this event launches him into his life as one of Israel’s greatest priest, prophets, and leaders. It is a fun story; a story we love telling in Sunday School, as Samuel hears his name called and thinks it is Eli, the priest in charge of Israel’s worship and of Samuel’s development as a servant of the Lord. The story takes a serious turn, though, when God’s message comes to Eli through Samuel. 

God’s message to Eli, Israel’s priest, is that his job as priest is coming to a shameful close. Eli was not able to prepare the next generation of priests – his own sons – to be faithful priests. His sons are despicable priests, profaning God with actions and words. But Eli, imperfect as he is, does not allow this to diminish his role as Samuel’s mentor. He failed his first try to equip the next generation of priests, but in Samuel, he sees someone he can mentor. 

And so it is Eli – who is not at his best in his relationship with God – who leads and demonstrates to Samuel how to listen to God (v. 9). Then, Eli, when he hears the bad news against him, says “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” It is as if Eli uses his some of his final words in Scripture as priest to teach Samuel one last lesson: obedience to God, even if it’s against you, is crucial in our relationship with God. 

We are faced with Eli’s challenge. We are not always at our best in our relationship with God. We are imperfect. We sin. We fail, at times, to prepare the next generation for its responsibilities. But, we must never allow these failures or imperfections to keep us from continuing to mentor and lead the next generation. This past Sunday was Youth Sunday at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. At our church, we recognize that our youth need Christian mentors. They don’t need perfect mentors. They don’t need mentors who have everything together, spiritually or otherwise. They need mentors who have walked the road of faith, no matter how bumpy it is, and still have a relationship with God. Young people need mentors. Can you pick up the call to be one?

For the youth of our church, you can also look to Samuel as a guide. Samuel listens and follows the leadership of his mentor, Eli. This act of following launches him into a career of being one Israel’s most important leaders.  When you find a mentor, learn from their experience. Learn from the mistakes they have made. Ask them about their faith, their walk with God. Ask them about bumps in the road and ask them about good times. Their experience with God will help you in your own discipleship. 

Lord God, you have placed us in others’ lives to lead. Help us to be faithful mentors. You have also placed others in our lives to follow. Help us to be faithful students. Give us the desire to continuously learn about you, follow you, worship you, and obey you. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday Message: Seek God

7 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” --Exodus 32:7-8

 
When you examine the story of the golden calf, the intentions of the people of Israel are not diabolical. 
 
Moses was the person who had always told them how to relate to God.  He had gone up on Mount Sinai to speak with the Lord and had not returned for six weeks.  If someone disappears in the wilderness for six weeks, it is safe to assume that something is amiss.  The people of Israel likely thought that Moses had been eaten by a mountain lion or fallen down a crevasse.  He did not seem likely to return.
 
The people of Israel assumed they needed a new way to relate to God.  They took a little of what Moses had given them, a bit of what they had learned in Egypt, a bit of what they wanted things to be like, and came up with a golden baby cow statue.  Likely they didn’t believe the statue was God.  But they needed something to rally around, a place to sacrifice, a central point to worship, and something to follow.  So, they cried out, “Here he is!  The God who saved us from Egypt!”
 
Of course, anyone with a children’s bible knows that this is the wrong way to relate to God.  You can’t just make up what you want things to be like and expect God to be flattered.  In our story, God wasn’t.  God became angry.  God was insulted.  They had chosen to be in relationship with what they wanted God to be.  God had been offering an opportunity for them to be in actual relationship with God.
 
Though the intentions of the people of Israel were not diabolical, the outcome of their actions was pretty close.
 
Now, I know that few of us are likely to worship a golden baby cow statue.  But it takes a bit more introspection to wonder if we are truly pursuing relationship with God.  Are we doing the hard work of seeking?  Are we doing the work of being in relationship?  Sometimes that goes against what we see in Egypt (the world we grew up in and know).  More often than not it challenges us in the way we want things to be.  At times, it even requires us to wait upon God’s answer to come down from the mountain.  But the result of this is being people who relate to the Living God.
 
The formula is as old as Moses.  We must make space in our time, our thoughts, and our hearts for God.  Pray.  Read the Bible.  Journal.  Allow the Holy Spirit to speak into our worlds… even to challenge what we see and what we assume.  Obey.  Live from that relationship.  If we do these things, we will begin to know and be shaped by the God who is… not the God of our own creation.
 
Dear Jesus, teach us to seek you.  In the midst of this busy day, we ask that you would give us the ability to recognize where we mistake You.  We ask for pockets of space to pause and pray.  We ask that in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday Message: Test Your Faith

After these things God tested Abraham. 

Genesis 22:1


The first verse of our text from this past Sunday should be enough to give us pause.  The idea of God testing our faith is terrifying.  But it should not be surprising.  We know that life is full of places where our faith is tested.  Knowing that God is present in these moments empowers the testing.
 
With God’s presence, another side of the testing is made known.  In the test, God is asking us to trust him.  When we are tested, we are being invited to test God.  We are invited to test whether God is… whether he loves us… whether he will show up when we need him.  When we test, we are opening our lives and making space for God to prove his faithfulness.
 
In the midst of the story of Abraham being tested, Abraham tested God.  He held his life open.  On the way to the place God asked him to sacrifice Isaac (listen to the sermon for the story here), Abraham continually voices hope. When he is pressed on his plan, he faithfully responds that God would provide.  Abraham steps into the testing by giving space for God to rescue.

Up to the very point of no return, God asked him to have faith.  Abraham held onto faith and tested God’s faithfulness.  God did show up.  He paused Abraham’s hand.  He affirmed his faith.  It was because of his faith that God said, “I will indeed bless you… and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:16-18)  It was because of this faith that God would bless Abraham, Isaac, and all of us.
 
In the test of faith, God discovered Abraham’s faith.  In the test of faith, Abraham discovered God’s faithfulness.
 
And so, it is with us.  In this life, our faith will be tested.  We are not alone in this testing.  God is with us.  With God’s presence, each test becomes a place where we can discover God’s faithfulness.
 
Jesus, we pray that in the tests of life we might discover how close you are to us.  We pray that, step-by-step, we might discover faith and your faithfulness.  Deepen us so that though we might question all else in life, we might rest securely in your love and faithfulness to us.  In Jesus name, Amen.