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We Don’t Want You Here

Matthew 8:34  Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Does that “jar” you? A whole town is stirred enough to go see Jesus. They break away from their jobs, their daily struggles, important activities, whatever occupies their time and go into Jesus’ presence. Not a surprise; but then they “pleaded” with him, not just asked him, to leave. “We don’t want you here.

I think we are inclined to attribute that to the immediately preceding story where Jesus casts out demons and sends them into a herd of pigs who then run into the sea and are drowned. (I know I am.) We think he’s threatening their lively hood. But I wonder.

There is nothing to indicate that they were angry or went with negative intent. In fact, on the surface it seems to indication there was an attraction to him. But “when they saw him” everything changed–“We don’t want you here.” It seems so different from common reactions to him or what we would expect. But it should “give us pause.” When people encounter Jesus, all reactions are not positive. And a short time later, Jesus puts it in perspective: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble [fall away] on account of me.” (11:6)

 

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Made Whole

Luke 17:19-Your faith has made you whole.

One day as Jesus travels he is encountered by ten men who are lepers. The horror of their predicament is illustrated by the fact that they cannot even approach Jesus but, from a distance, plead for his pity.

Jesus issues simple instructions to go show themselves to the priests; a requirement for anyone healed of leprosy to have it verified. And the text says, “as they went, they were cleansed.” Interesting—not “they were cleansed and went” but as they went. They obeyed and were healed.

Then one of them, only one, seeing he was healed returned to praise God and thank Jesus.

Does this incident surprise you?  It did Jesus!  I find it hard to say that and wondered if I could (I know the theological difficulty).  In one sense Jesus is never surprised.  He is God.  But, he is also human and in a human sense, he was surprised.  He was also apparently very disappointed.  It shows in his words: “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then Jesus adds the words that put a whole different light on this story.

“Rise and go; your faith has made you well [whole].” Did you notice? All were “cleansed” or “healed.” But only this man was said to be made whole. Or as the Message has it: “Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Physical healing is great but it is not salvation. Fixing some problem we have, helping us be a better person, giving us insight into a puzzling situation all are things for which to be grateful. But only our faith in Jesus provides salvation, makes us whole.

The point of it all is to be made whole.  To stop short of that is to accept a treatment that deals with the symptoms rather than radical surgery which produces a cure. God wants to make you whole.

The nine received a touch from God, and they probably went on to do what they were told, but they were not made whole. It made them better able to fit into the community, better citizens but it did not produce the indelible stamp of faith: gratitude. When God touches us, then our praise, gratitude takes precedence over everything else!

God, don’t let me settle for anything less than being made whole.

A Life Of Prayer

Matt. 14:23-  And after he [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,…; (NRSV)

Peter Marshall once began a Senate session with this prayer, “O Lord, forgive us for thinking that prayer is a waste of time, and help us to see that without prayer our work is a waste of time.”*

I once calculated that a little over 4% of all my sermons as a pastor had been on prayer.  So I averaged about 2 sermons a year on prayer.  They included a series of sermons on “The Lord’s Prayer.” Some of the titles were “The Most Difficult Prayer To Pray,” “The Least Understood Prayer,” “Jesus’ Prayer For His Church,” “A Pastor’s Prayer,” “When Praying Seems Hopeless,” “A Prayer For The Right Stuff,” and “The Ultimate Weapon.” Of course, I talked about prayer at other times, mentioned it in other sermons and I hope made prayer a significant part of my life.

But, I have to confess that when I talk to you about a life of prayer, I feel a little like the parent who says, “Don’t do as I do, but do as I say.”  Because, in my life, it is more about need and aspiration and goal than achievement.

Notice how this is labeled—“A life of prayer.”  I did not say we need to pray. Or this is how to pray, etc.  When I first thought those words, I was probably thinking more like that. But I realized it’s much more.

It is true of course that a Christian ought to engage in the activity of prayer a lot. A life of prayer certainly means we pray much. We pray with breadth—in and for all things, all forms, places and times. Sometimes we even pray with urgency and depth.

But a life of prayer can never be confined to formal prayer—in church, specific places, times, causes, etc., no matter how frequent or intense.  That is relatively easy. They may be activities of a life which is characterized by something else.

A life of prayer brings God and his work into sharp focus. In a little book more than fifty years ago, Roslind Rinker wrote: “Prayer’s real purpose is to put God at the center of our attention, and forget ourselves and the impression we are making on others.” (Conversing With God, 5)

It is of course to speak with God. But Martin Luther put this in perspective when he said, “The fewer the words…the better the prayer.” Because it is about listening to God. The great missionary Frank Laubach once said, “God is speaking all the time, all the time, all the time.” We need to hear what God is saying.

Prayer is not just utilitarian, how we get something. A life of prayer is in some sense an end in itself. William Law put it this way: “Prayer is the nearest approach to God and the highest enjoyment of him that we are capable of in this life.”

I understand why the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Even more help us to live a life of prayer.

*SermonCentral

 

A Week Like No Other

Christ died for our sins,
He was buried,
he was raised to life -I Corinthians 15:3 & 4

This week is different than any other time in the Christian calendar. It is the only time when several specific events are directly connected to form a whole.

There are seasons in which the emphasis looks to a specific event in the God story. Advent looks ahead to the birth of Jesus. Pentecost is a season where an event is celebrated. Even Easter has a season, Lent, connected to the actual event.

But this week is different. From the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), to the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday), the crucifixion (Good Friday) and the resurrection (Easter) historical events are uniquely joined. They are all components of The Passion. The events of that week in Jesus’ life clearly are the focus of God’s action for our salvation. Notice how much of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are dedicated to telling about that week. Beyond that think about how much of the rest of the New Testament is predicated on it. I don’t mean to imply that all history is not in some way the stage for God’s work. But this is where it all comes together.

I challenge you to read it this week. Then be “mindful” of it and all that includes. Think about it, absorb it and live in response to it.

What an amazing message—“He died for me (you) and my (your) salvation.” And He lives.

“Things To Come”

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. -Jeremiah 29:11-NRSV

These days we hear a lot about living in the present—“go with the flow,” “seize the day,” “enjoy the moment,” “have it now.” And while, in the right context, these ideas have merit, they also can muddy our efforts to live full lives.

It is not without significance that when God reveals his plan for our life, an inescapable characteristic is that much of it is about the future. It is promise. So, much of the experience is anticipation. Anticipation is a powerful thing. Looking ahead to some desired event, a trip, a family get together can bring as much or more pleasure than the actual event. Negative anticipation can create dread, fear that is worse than what we actually encounter.

God has done a lot to help us have a holy anticipation. And if we don’t pay attention, we can really get in trouble with false assumptions and expectations about what God is doing in our lives and the world.

Joel Barker in his book, Future Edge tells about a man driving on a curvey, dangerous mountain road. As he comes around a curve, he sees this red convertible, careening back and forth across the road. The driver is a pretty, young, blond woman.
He slams on the brakes, and heads for the shoulder to avoid her. At the last minute she swerves and narrowly misses him. As she passes, the woman driver screams at him, PIG!
His face red with anger, he yells back at her, WENCH!” Muttering to himself he steps on the accelerator hits the curve at full speed and crashes into the biggest pig he has ever seen standing in the middle of the road. (as told by Maxi Dunnam)

Anticipation lets us risk as we break out of such assumptions to see a new vision of the world and the future. It will enable us to see beyond ourselves and beyond the obstacles.

God’s word to us warns us that things are not always what they seem to be. Looking around us doesn’t give us a whole lot of evidence for what we are told the final outcome will be.

In Birmingham, England, there is a store called Louis’. It’s a great chain store in one of the main streets, and it wanted to expand. But a little chapel of Quakers, a Friends Meeting House stood in the way. The store sent a letter to the leaders of this Friends Meeting house:

“Dear Sirs,
We wish to extend our premises. We see that your building is right in the way. We wish therefore to buy your building and demolish it so that we might expand our store. We will pay you any price you care to name. If you will name a price we will settle the matter as quickly as possible.
Yours, Sincerely.

They got this letter back:

Dear Sirs:
We in the Friends Meeting House note the desire of Louis’ to extend. We observe that our building is right in your way. We would point out, however, that we have been on our site longer than you’ve been on yours, and we are so determined to stay where we are that we will happily buy Louis’. If therefore you would like to name a suitable price we will settle the matter as quickly as possible. –by Donald English

Can you imagine how the person from Lewis who read that letter must have been laughing? A little Quaker Meeting House will buy Lewis’! All of that would change when they saw, “Signed, Cadbury.”

Yep. Cadbury, as in England’s Cadbury chocolate candy. They are Quakers. Who signs the letter makes all the difference.

The promise of heaven, eternal life is signed by God.

Jesus Could Not

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. -Mark 6:5, 6a (NIV)

“He can do anything, anything.” Those words, applied to Jesus, were the words of a song in one of the most powerful children’s musicals I remember from my years as a pastor. It is a sentiment you’ve probably heard repeated many times if you’ve been around Christians for any length of time. I would guess you’ve probably expressed it yourself or at least thought it. I know I have.

The only trouble with that is, the Bible says differently. In a text, that “stops me in my tracks,” whenever I read it, we are told, “He [Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except” heal a few sick people. “Could not” is not a phrase we connect to Jesus/God. It took a while for that to register.

My initial reaction to that text was focused on the “except” heal a few sick people. That’s not an absence of miracles. It is a powerful expression of God’s power. And it was done in spite of opposition and lack of faith. How we would rejoice to see that. Only after thinking about that for years did I begin to hear “could not.”

The implications of that are sobering to say the least. I don’t understand all it means. But for sure, in some important way, human beings who resist Jesus, who lack faith, hinder His work. Of course I believe that God is sovereign and that His ultimate plan will be fulfilled. However, it surely means some things God wants to do are limited by people just like you and me. And that probably explains why it took so long for that text to really sink in. I am responsible for preventing some of what God wants to do for me and through me. I don’t really want to hear that.

But the good news—you, I can make a difference, in the church, in the community, in the world by cooperating with and trusting Jesus.

What does God want to do where you are?

He Promised

Matthew 28:6b- he has risen, just as he said.

A one time popular Christian TV personality once told a TV audience: “The Christian life is just so great that I think I would become a Christian even if it wasn’t true!”1 Tim Keller says, “As a young Christian, I had come up through mainline churches, I was a religion major at a secular university. The common message he got about the stories of the resurrection was that they “were literalistic, symbolic representations of these higher spiritual truths.”

And then I read what the Apostle Paul wrote: “If Christ is not risen…your faith is useless.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is greatest event in human history. It is in fact the hinge; it is the pillar on which our faith stands. Continue reading