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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Passion: Betrayals

Wednesday of Holy Week…

The lectionary Gospel reading for Wednesday of Holy Week finds us reflecting on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. 

I recently heard in the midst of a sermon a reflection upon the betrayal of Judas and the betrayal of Peter. Both betray Jesus, both experience remorse and even repentance (remember, Judas tries to undo his act of betrayal only to find that sin unleashes uncontrollable consequences… trying to manage our sin is like trying to manage a wild lion… it can’t really be done). 

But their stories — Peter’s and Judas’ — end very differently.

We only know Judas by his failure, but we see Peter’s failure simply as one step on a journey to great leadership and influence in the church.

What happened?

Judas became defined by his failure, while Peter became defined by his eventual restoration. As is so often the case, how the story ends is more important than each step along the way. How our stories end is what counts.

We all betray Jesus. That is one of the core messages of Holy Week. We are guilty.

The question is how will our stories end? With misery or redemption?

And more so… the question for the church at-large… will we allow people’s stories to come to completion? Will we allow the work of divine reconciliation and redemption? Or will we define people more by their failures than the redeeming work of Jesus in their lives?

Or, in other words, will the religious bureaucrats take the day (as with Judas) or will the Lordship of Jesus win the day (as with Peter)? 

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Posted by on March 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Goal Achievement

Every year I set some personal goals for myself — some are successful, some are not. But I think it is a good discipline.

2009 was a crazy (aka hellish) year for me — and most of my goals went right out the window. However, I did lose 20 pounds in 2009 (and 30 to date), so that is a good thing. I also achieved some significant financial goals this past year.

I just finished my taxes and that is when I usually evaluate how I did in terms of personal financial stewardship.

Personally, I only look at four metrics for my finances: Income, Giving, Saving & Debt. 

In 2009, my income dropped by over 30% (which was not one of my goals).

But I managed to almost eliminate all consumer debt (I paid off my last credit card in January) and am now debt free with the exception of student loans — and plan to stay that way.

In terms of savings, I am not in great shape. I pretty much used my entire emergency fund to get through the year, but now am rebuilding it.

In terms of giving… my actual cash donations (tithes, offerings and missions support) was 13% of my gross income and 16% of my net income. My goal is to increase my giving by 1% a year and this year I met that goal.

My goals/projections for the coming year:

  • I expect my income to drop another 20-25% this year. (Sad, but true).
  • My goal is to increase my giving by another 1% this year.
  • My goal is to remain debt free (except for student loans).
  • My goal is to rebuild a 6-month emergency fund. (I can do this now that my credit cards are paid off by applying my “debt snowball” to my emergency fund. And given my new income level, I need a smaller emergency fund, lol).

Why do I tell you all this?

When I was a pastor I was always very open and transparent about my finances. I think that is important. Also, as a big fan of Dave Ramsey, I like to share the success I am experiencing following his Financial Peace Principals. I hope it encourages others to keep at it! Finally, I hope it challenges and encourages you to be intentional about your financial goals and your personal giving.

I could list for you all the goals that I failed to achieve last year — but that is another post.

(By the way, another goal I reached was “to cook more in the coming year” — that one I achieved in spades, lol).

DO YOU SET GOALS?

DO YOU WRITE THEM DOWN?

DO YOU EVER EVALUATE HOW YOU ARE DOING ON THEM?

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Passion: Bride & Groom

In many church traditions — especially among the Orthodox church — Tuesday of Holy Week is taken as a time to reflect on Christ as the Bridegroom of the church.

The Bible is full of powerful imagery to describe the church. We are the Body of Christ, for example. To me, one of the most beautiful images of the church found in scripture is the idea of the church as the “bride of Christ.” It is beautiful because of its intimacy and mystery.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus (5:31-32), the Apostle Paul writes it this way: 

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
A profound mystery indeed! 

Then in Revelation 19, the Apostle John records this vision (19:7-9 TNIV):

 

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! 
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” 
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s people.) 
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited 
to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” 
And he added, “These are the true words of God.” 

 

Awesome and powerful stuff! 

 

Here is a parable that captures for me what it means for Christ to be the bridegroom of the church — and for us to be His bride:

 

There was a King who was without a bride. And there were two brides, vying for the love of the Bridegroom and preparing themselves for him.

 

One, because she loved him so much, clothed herself in the finest white linens, made herself as beautiful and pristine as can be. And she sat at the foot of his throne, singing beautiful songs to him and professing her undying love.

 

The other was not at the foot of the throne. She was not dressed in white nor particularly interested in making herself physically beautiful for the prince. Her nails were cut short and often dirty. She had no high heals (too cumbersome).

 

She wasn’t at the throne because she noticed that the King didn’t sit there very often. You see, she loved the King very much and longed to be with him forever. She was so in love with the King that she decided to find out what he loved. She began to follow him everywhere he went (I think they might call this stalking).

 

And she noticed that he went to some not-beautiful-type-places. He went to places that were dirty and dark, where hope was hard to find. He spent his free moments talking to and praying with and reaching out to broken people, poor people, sick people, lost people. He spent times on the streets and in the prisons and in the local AIDS hospice.

 

And because she loved him so much, and because she wanted to love the things he loved, she went to these places too. She wore jeans and a tee shirt and sneakers and didn’t have time to paint her nails or write love songs or even to dream about their perfect wedding… because she was in the gutter, getting dirty. She was in the gutter because that was where here prince was. And what better way to prepare yourself for the King than to do the things that the King does, she thought to herself.

 

Some days she worried. She knew other “brides” were vying for his attention. She knew that they were more beautiful on the outside because of their white dresses, she knew that they sang beautiful love songs and wrote beautiful poetry. She wondered if she would be noticed by the prince in the gutter. Would he even notice her, would he care?

 

Then the day came, when the King came in his glory, to call his bride. All the nations were gathered before him, and he began to separate the potential brides one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats–kind of like the TV show “The Bachelor” (but not really…)

 

He put the Bride from the Gutter on his right and the singing Bride with the beautiful dress on his left. 
Then the King said to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

 

“Then the Bride from the Gutter responded, “My King, my Lord, when did I see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did I see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did I see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

 

The King replied, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

 

Then the King turned to the singing Bride with the beautiful dress on the right and said: “Depart from me… For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

 

The singing Bride in the beautiful dress was confused and hurt. She responded, “My King, when did I see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

 

And the King replied: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

 

Then the singing Bride with the beautiful dress was sent away; but the Bride from the gutter was ushered in to the great wedding banquet. And as she walked, she noticed that her dirty jeans and t-shirt were being transformed before her very eyes into the most beautiful white silk dress she had ever seen.

 

She looked confused and stunned. So the King leaned over and whispered in her ear: “Let me clothe you in beauty to reflect your inner beauty as a deep thanks for going to the gutter with me!”

 

And the Bride and the Bridegroom celebrated and rejoiced and spent eternity together!.

 

I pray, O Father, that we would become the Bride in the Gutter.

Let us prepare ourselves for you by loving the things you love and doing the things you do.

May we be indeed a missional church, a church that is the Body of Christ, the incarnation!

May we be living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to you!

And may our clothes of righteousness be the deeds that we saw you do and therefore did!

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

Amen.

 

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Creating A Culture of Honesty in the Church

A few weeks ago I gave a guest sermon at Riverfront Family Church in downtown Hartford. The topic was “Creating A Culture of Honesty in the Church” — this was the first sermon I have given in 10 months.

A bunch of folks asked if I would post it, so here it is… thoughts and comments welcomed.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Passover

Tonight marks the beginning of the Passover celebration. I always like when Passover falls on Holy Week — because you can’t really understand the Passion of Jesus apart from the Passover.

For the Jewish people, Passover is the pivotal moment of redemption history — as for followers of Jesus (both Jewish & Gentile) the Cross and empty tomb are the pivotal moments. Both represent the faithfulness of God to save his people from slavery — one from slavery in Egypt, the other from slavery to sin.

Whenever I get frustrated or angry — at the lack of grace, the absence of forgiveness, the rejection by community — I am reminded again and again of the faithfulness of God: Hos grace, His forgiveness, and His promise to never leave nor forsake us, no matter our failures.

As Moses declared (Exodus 15):

The LORD is my strength and my song; 
       he has become my salvation. 
       He is my God, and I will praise him, 
       my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Pray for me as I pray for you this Passover season and Passion Week.  Please let me know specifically how I can be praying for you! (Either leave a comment or use the “Contact Me” link above.)

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Passion: Institutional Conflict

Matthew 21:12-17 —

 12Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13“It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’

 14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

 16“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. 
      “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, 
   ” ‘From the lips of children and infants 
      you have ordained praise’
?”

 17And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

Monday of Holy Week brings us to the temple and Jesus’s overturning of the tables and money changers. In this we see a righteous anger from Jesus that we have not seen before.

This scene is filled with important themes: Jesus’s anger at injustice (the money changers were most likely set-up in the Court of the Gentiles and were therefore making it difficult for Gentiles to worship at the temple); and his challenge to earthly authority and institutional power (even… and especially… religious institutional power). This conflict also sets the stage for why the religious leaders want to arrest and kill Jesus.

But even more importantly, this scene paints Jesus in the long tradition of Old Testament prophets. This is what is known as an “enactment prophecy” (think Ezekiel, for example)– the act itself is the prophecy. Jesus is fulfilling all that had been written and spoken before him… 

The Passion of Jesus… His cross… His death… His resurrection… is indeed about salvation for people. But it is not only about salvation for individuals. It is about much more — destroying injustice, fighting earthly powers and principalities, and redeeming all of created order.

This scene in the Gospels is a reminder that we should not be fooled by the King on the Donkey… He comes in peace, but is also a Warrior King who will stop at nothing to redeem his people, establish His Kingdom, and seek justice, righteousness and shalom.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Passion: From Palms to the Cross

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I love Palm Sunday and reflecting on the Triumphal Entry, especially as we begin our Holy Week journey together. I was able to be in church this morning and we reflected on the narrative and shared communion together.  Very powerful.

For me, I cannot separate Palm Sunday (“Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest!”) from Good Friday (“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”)  

Here is a sermon I gave on Palm Sunday 2008 called “Palms to the Cross”… I would love to hear your thoughts and hope it blesses you as you begin your Passion Week journey.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

 
 
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