Sunday, February 18, 2018

robbing the devil

In today's reading, from Mark 3:7-30, Jesus responds to those who accuse Him of using Satan's power to drive out demons. He says that's ridiculous, because a kingdom divided against itself will fall.

But then He says something even more interesting. He says that in order to rob a powerful person like the devil, it takes someone even more powerful. And this is just after we're told that the disciples were called and given the authority to drive out demons.

So the world when Jesus came was under the power of Satan. There were demons controlling people everywhere. And in order for Jesus and His disciples to bring about the kingdom of God, they had to drive out the demons that were waiting for them.

In church this morning, the pastor said that John the Baptist told people to believe "the gospel". But at that time, what gospel did they have? They couldn't believe in the gospel that Jesus died and rose from the dead, because it hadn't happened yet. It turns out that the gospel John was calling people to believe was the coming of the kingdom, which Jesus and His disciples then brought about by driving out the evil everywhere they went, and bringing God's will on earth as it is in heaven.

So when you face the difficulties that life brings, remember that you're not alone. God is going ahead of you, and using you, driving out the evil that opposes Him. Only someone stronger than the enemy can rob him. And Jesus is many orders of magnitude stronger. You can trust Him. He'll take care of you.

God, thanks for driving out the evil in our lives. Help us to participate in Your kingdom.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

when you know you're a sinner

Jesus talks to us today about sinners. It's a theme carried from the Old Testament reading, where the Levitical laws about what to do when you sin unintentionally are delineated. But Jesus helps us see the difference in types of sin even more clearly.

He calls Levi to follow Him as His disciple. Levi was a known sinner - a despised tax collector. But Jesus called Him, just as He calls all of us, fully aware of his sin, and prepared to deal with it. Levi was aware of his sin and of his need for a savior.

In come the Pharisees. Now, I don't mean to bag on all Pharisees. There WERE some good ones. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, a voting member of the Sanhedrin, were both good men. But the ones we hear from in this story were unaware of their own sin. They knew of the sins of the men Jesus was eating with, and they accused Jesus Himself of sin. They saw the sin in everyone but themselves.

That's the key distinction, it seems. We need to be keenly aware of our own sin, and give grace and forgiveness to everyone else for theirs. This is the heart of what it means to love.

God, please teach us to deal with sin - especially our own - with the love that you demonstrate.

Friday, February 16, 2018

which is more important - to forgive sins or heal?

In today's readings from the One Year Bible, which you can listen to HERE and HERE, we read of Jesus forgiving sins and healing people.

One story in particular is interesting, and different from our usual concepts about faith, sin, and healing. Jesus is teaching in a house, and the place is so packed that no one can get anywhere near Him. Some people were desperate to get their friend to Jesus so he could be healed, so they dug a hole in the ceiling and lowered the paralyzed man through it. This was probably terrifying for the man, who couldn't catch himself if they dropped him, and he wasn't entirely sure what Jesus would do when His sermon was interrupted.

Jesus sees the faith, not of the man who needed healing, but of the man's friends. And He responds to that faith. Isn't that a great picture of what intercessory prayer does? When I'm concerned about my friend, even if he doesn't have the faith himself to pray and ask for help, God responds to MY faith and helps that person anyway. If we tried to count the number of people who end up in heaven because of the prayers of their mothers or grandmothers, we'd probably lose count. St Augustine is probably the most famous example.

Then Jesus, instead of doing what everyone in the room was expecting, doesn't heal the man at first. Instead, He forgives his sins. Notice, nowhere in the story does anyone ask Jesus to forgive the man's sins. But Jesus cuts through to the biggest problem in the man's life. Not that the sin caused his paralysis. We don't know - maybe it did. Maybe the man was doing some dastardly sin and got hurt in the process and ended up crippled. Or maybe he was born that way. But what we DO know is that he needed his sins forgiven. We know that because he was a human being, and all of us humans need our sins forgiven. If He had just healed his body, the man would have walked away whole in body but still broken in mind and spirit. So Jesus healed him where he needed it most - he forgave his sins.

When we come to Jesus, we should keep that in mind. Yes, He wants to hear our requests. He wants us to share our concerns and our fears and our worries and our needs with Him. But we should always keep in mind that the most important thing He can do for us each day is to forgive our sins. Then we'll be pointed in the right direction, and the rest of what we need will make more sense.

God, thank You for reminding us what's most important.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

on earth as it is in heaven

Today in our reading from the One Year Bible, which you can listen to HERE and HERE, we read about the tabernacle that Moses and the children of Israel built.

And it's interesting to note that God clearly directed the construction of this place of worship. There are similarities to modern day churches. And when you read the descriptions of heaven, which are found in the books of Revelation, Isaiah, and Daniel, you see some similarities to what Moses built.

Moses put the tabernacle together from pre-fabricated pieces, which the Israelites made. One is almost tempted to think that the Israelites were the ancestors of the modern day people of Sweden. There is an IKEA feeling to the way these pieces were constructed to fit together perfectly, and then Moses took the pieces and made the thing that they were made for.

But all along the way, the reading tells us that Moses did these things "just as the Lord commanded him." And that brings us to our take home lesson. Moses made something rather like heaven, here on earth. And he did it in obedience to God. God gave him every little step along the way, and he walked the way God told him to.

We have that same privilege. God wants to bring His will "on earth as it is in heaven" in our lives, too. And if we are careful to do "just as the Lord commands" in our lives, we will find some amazing things coming into existence. And the things we find, more often than not, will be the result of a whole community of people who are doing God's will and following His teaching.

God, thank You for giving us such a great, tangible example of Your will on earth as it is in heaven. Please help us to do "just as You command."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

love and ashes

Today we read about Jesus's resurrection. And what a day to read about it. Today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day. Which is really strange to anyone who isn't Catholic. BTW, you can listen to the OT reading HERE and the NT reading HERE.

It's not weird to us Catholics just because St Valentine wasn't a cute little cupid baby with an arrow who went around shooting people and making them fall into romantic love with others. St Valentine was actually a hard core follower to the risen Jesus, whose resurrection we read about today. St Valentine was right at home with ashes, and eventually he put his life on the line and was ultimately beheaded for his faith in God.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with romantic love. God created it. You might even say God experiences it toward us. But the kind of love that St Valentine demonstrated was the kind of love that begins in ashes, like our lenten journey does today, and ends at the resurrection, where we know Valentine ended up meeting with Jesus, because he is now a saint.

Thank You, God, for all the forms of love that we celebrate today.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

a lenten reflection

You can listen to the OT reading HERE and the NT reading HERE.

Tonight, we read of Jesus's crucifixion. It is an apt reminder as we move into the lenten season. We experience Ash Wednesday tomorrow, when the season of lent begins. Let's fix on the moment of the crucifixion, and keep it in mind for the next forty days, as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter.

It's easy to skip ahead and try to celebrate before we allow ourselves to experience the fasts and repentance of this season. If we jump to the celebration, we do ourselves a disservice. Like faithful pilgrims, let's journey through the land of lent and prepare a place inside of ourselves to be filled with joy on Easter Sunday.

God, thanks for giving us a time to prepare for the great thing that we know is coming.

Monday, February 12, 2018

martyrdom vs suicide

Today we read about how Jesus was tortured and killed in the selection from the One Year Bible - you can listen to the OT HERE and the NT HERE.

Chesterton talked about the difference that we see in the martyrdom of Jesus. We don't usually refer to Jesus's death as a martyrdom, for several reasons. The chief being that He didn't stay dead. But then, when we think about it, none of the Christian martyrs stay dead, either.

Chesterton said that martyrdom is the opposite of suicide bombers. And I think that both of those things are true. Giving up your life for what you believe in is the opposite of giving up on life because you don't believe in it anymore. Choosing your faith, even when it means that you have to die, is diametrically opposed to killing other people because they don't share your faith.

I don't mean to take the issue of suicide lightly. I have close friends who have chosen to take their own lives. None of them were in their right mind at the time - all of them were dealing with medication against depression which then turned against them. And I have nothing but compassion and grief for those who find themselves in that place.

But choosing to strap on a vest of explosives and kill yourself along with as many people as you can take along with you... or choosing to take a rifle into a hotel room and shoot the country music lovers across the street... that is the evil opposite of what martyrdom means. And we see this difference in the garden of Gethsemane. Because Jesus didn't want to die. He gave up His will to God's, and chose to follow the divine drama. But He was life itself. And, hanging on the cross, He forgave those who did that to Him. His love even permeated His own death, shining out through the wounds in His hands and feet and side.

Let's follow Him. Let's seek out the life and love that would lead to such an embrace of both, that it might lead to martyrdom. Let's show the hate of the world what love really looks like.

God, thank You for being Life, and for being Love. Please fill us with both.