Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Houses of Prayer

Pray and Stay Awake
Preached 11/2/2008

Framing Scripture
Psalm 84:1-7, 10-12 (NKJV, my paraphrase)
How lovely is Your home, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs desperately to be where God lives; my heart and my body cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow and the swallow have found homes, nests, where they may lay their eggs and raise their nestlings in Your holy place, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell where You dwell; they continually praise You. Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who are journeying continually toward You; they will find water in the wilderness and will go from strength to strength until they appear before You.

. . .

For a day where You live is better than a thousand anywhere else. I would rather stand by the door in God’s house than sit comfortably in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will God withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, Blessed is the one who trusts in You.

The Temple of the Holy Ghost
The church on earth is made up of human beings who are God’s dwelling place, each a little temple of the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul teaches us. The church represents Jesus on earth—we are his arms and feet and hands, doing the will of our Father in heaven, the way Jesus did. We know God’s will is that no one should perish, that we should model God’s love by loving each other, and that we need to pass God’s love on to those who don’t already know that God loves them. We also know that our local church needs everyone who is a part to bring what we have to Jesus to use in building God’s kingdom and feeding those who are spiritually and physically hungry. So today, we’ll look at two essential characteristics of the church. One is prayer and the other is being awake.

God’s Houses Are for Prayer
The actions Jesus took while on earth often are parables for us, and this is true of the cleansing of the temple. Those who were buying and selling animals for sacrifices and changing money for people from out of town so they could buy sacrifices, and making a tidy profit in the exchanges—Jesus drove them out and turned over the tables and benches, and then he taught them: “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:15-18). Sometimes we emphasize the opportunistic profit being made at the expense of sincere worshipers when we think about what appalled Jesus here. That’s half of the story; the other half is that prayer is the purpose of God’s house, of God’s houses, of you and me.

This event takes place in the context of the fig tree without fruit that Jesus cursed. As they went into Jerusalem, Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The next morning, the tree was dead. This is one of the puzzling actions Jesus took, and again serves as a parable.

Jesus says: “Have confidence (faith) in God.” What does this mean? Faith is expressed partly in the Psalm we read: “my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God; blessed are those whose strength is in You, God, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage, they go from strength to strength until each appears before God in Zion; no good thing does God withhold from those whose walk is blameless; oh Lord God almighty, blessed is the person who trusts in You.”

Love God with your whole heart, mind, strength, soul—love is active, not passive, not emotional. What does it mean to love God? It means to do what God says. If Scott Peck, the psychologist who wrote The Road Less Traveled, is right, “the essence of nonlove is laziness”; the converse means that the essence of love is action.

George MacDonald wrote this: “Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have, this day, done one thing because He said, Do it! Or once abstained because He said, Do not do it! It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe, in Him, if you do not do anything he tells you.”

So when Jesus says to have faith in God, he means—be doing the will of the Father in heaven just as Jesus also did the Father’s will. Faith isn’t a state of mind, it’s a decision to act. This decision to obey underlies why we pray, and helps us know how to pray. We pray in order to listen to God and our faith shows up when we do what God has said. So, if in prayer, we hear God tell us to move a mountain, we will be able to do it.

When we read this verse about moving mountains, we always focus on getting what we want from God. However, in the context of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple, it looks more like prayer works to help God get what God wants from us. For instance, Jesus wanted to illustrate the fact that the Jewish religion of his day did not bear the fruit God was looking for; He uses the fig tree elsewhere in a parable as a symbol for the Jews. They were praying daily for Messiah to come. God sent the Messiah, and they didn’t like God’s version because they were looking for someone to make them free of Rome, more powerful and self-determining, not someone to make them a people after God’s heart. Then Jesus goes into the temple and cleans it out. They were praying for the Messiah to come, remember, and he comes to clean out the materialism and self-serving merchandising and power-mongering of religion and they don’t like it.

Here’s a general example from my own life. I prayed daily for years that God would make real in me the verse, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Here’s how the Messiah came to my temple; first, Jesus took me into a time of emotional disarray and depression; then through a lengthy and difficult process of self-understanding; then through healing; then through disappointment in my job, more depression and more self-understanding and more healing. Along the way, I have grown in my confidence in God even when I don’t know where God is taking me, in my sense of absolute need to know what God wants me to do next on this day, and in my commitment to do it. I don’t know whether I’ve become more creative, but I’m determined to belong as completely to God as I am able. That’s what prayer did and does for me.

And we can’t forget what God clearly says to do in Mark 11:24—if when you are praying you remember that you are holding something against another, forgive that person. Well, if anyone is puzzled about what God wants him or her to do, here’s a good place to start.

Prayer isn’t complicated; it’s just conversing with God, and one aspect of conversation is listening—active, engaged listening. Try it—when you pray, say what you need to say and then sit and listen; use the technique taught us by counselors—ok, God, what I hear you saying is this, is this right? Then, when we hear what God has to say, if it involves doing something, go do it. That is faith in God.

It’s clear that we live in a world where evil stomps around and eats people alive—the devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom it may devour. We wrestle not against humans, but spiritual powers. How do we do this wrestling? We pray. Ephesians 6 details the armor of God, and it ends with this: “And pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Remember the story of the demon-possessed boy whom the disciples could not help, and how Jesus cast out the demon and said to them, “This kind comes out only by prayer.” Prayer means we talk with God who loves us entirely, we listen to God, and we do what God says to do. Jesus tells his disciples, Watch—be alert—and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. Remember the prayer: Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Stay awake: when Jesus was wrestling with evil in the garden before his death, he prayed a prayer we do well to listen to: Daddy, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.

How do we get to a place where we can pray this Lord’s prayer?

One of my favorite authors is Flannery O’Connor; in one of her short stories, a young man who thinks he is dying calls in a Jesuit priest. He does this partly to shock his mother, who is Methodist. The priest has only one eye, but he fixes it on Asbury and says to him, “Son, do you pray?” Asbury tries to evade the question. The priest says, “How do you expect to get to know Jesus if you don’t pray?”

Exactly the question we need to ask: how can we expect to get to know Jesus if we don’t pray? And when we pray, the Messiah, Jesus, comes, and cleans out our temple and makes it a house of prayer.

God's Fishers

God’s Fishers
Preached 10/26/2008

Last post I wrote about the church as the family of God. This week, we’re talking about the church as a bunch of fishers following Jesus in order to catch people. I’ve been fishing twice, both times bait fishing, both times not very happy with the outcomes. It does not make me happy to kill fish, though I am happy to eat fish. Some people are very happy to go fishing and have pretty strong opinions on what kind of fishing they prefer. I’ll refer those of you who love fiction to James David Duncan’s The River Why for a great debate on the merits of bait fishing vs. fly fishing.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how completely and thoroughly God loves people, and how God wants them to stop running and turn around and see that God has love and forgiveness for them. As people who know that God loves them, followers of Jesus just naturally will want other people to share in the experience of God’s love.

The problem: Wickedness has gone fishing for people and is catching plenty and eating them for lunch. People are living in a world that has no mercy.

The solution: God needs people to go fishing for the kingdom.
My friend Dave Woolsey is a used car dealer, the bottom of the barrel, he likes to say. He retired some time ago, but he has a new business in Newberg,Oregon, and he sits behind his used cars looking for people who are spiritually hungry. He says Newberg is wide open spiritually. I think of Dave as a bait fisherman.

He makes friends of people he calls “not-yet-christians” and he “journeys toward Jesus” with them. He just tells people that nothing they have ever done can make God love them less and nothing they can do will make God love them more. He says it catches them up short—they’ve been on the run and trying to earn approval, and they just don’t need to.

People are hiding from God just like Adam and Eve did because they are at some level aware of their sin and they think God is out to punish them as they deserve. They could not be more wrong.

“I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch my people…For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight” (Jeremiah 16:17, NRSV).

“And as Jesus walked along the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him” (Mark 1:16-20).

The actions of Jesus in the gospels are not only actions but parables for us. So what can we learn from two fish stories? Here’s the first, from Luke.

Don’t Give Up, and Listen to Jesus
“When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they filled both boats, so that they began to sink” (Luke 5:1-11).

Jesus knows where the fish are, so listen to him. Gunner Payne, from Yorba Linda Friends, CA, was an amazing disciple of Jesus who taught Sunday School when I was a young adult. He told us about how he felt led to go to where people were who might not know about God’s love. He figured they weren’t in church on Sunday, so he talked with the elders; in fact, he was an elder. He got their blessing to go out on Sunday evenings and get to know people who were in the bars. He went to where the “fish” were. Additionally, he was an independent cabinet maker, so each of his jobs gave him a chance to share the love of God with his employers. He embodied the love of God in many ways; after his daughter was murdered, he visited the murderer in jail and shared the love of God with him. Amazing. I think of Gunner as more of a fly fisherman.

I remember that it was my children playing sports that moved me out of my church/college circle of Christian associates into a place that might have people who didn’t already know about God’s love and mercy. I sat with folks at track meets, soccer games, more soccer games, more track meets. Then a bunch of soccer moms decided they were tired of just cheering on their daughters, so we got together to play instead, and games were scheduled in the fall on Sunday (still are). I thought, great, a whole bunch of people who aren’t in church (I underestimated how many of them were skipping church like me). I attended a big church, so no one much noticed my occasional absence, but when I became an elder, I explained that I would occasionally be skipping church to play soccer. The challenge to me was to keep my lives integrated—no being holy among my Christian colleagues and being rowdy with my soccer people, no hiding.

When I started to preach occasionally, I at first didn’t explain why I was missing soccer games. Now they all know I am up here preaching, and some of them ask me about it. But out of those experiences, I have been able to pray for people who don’t feel free to pray for themselves, and they have been happy to have me do so. I am just who I am—just human—they have been as helpful to me in hard times as I have to them, maybe more so. I’m just there to love them on God’s behalf. Same with my kids, by the way, and my grandkids, and my nieces and nephews, and so on.

You’re not God’s only fisher; others help
The vision: there are plenty of people hiding from God who don’t know about God’s love and forgiveness, and you don’t have to be the only one who tells about the mercy God has shown to you.

Additionally, you do not have to be perfect to be called into fishing for people.

And one more thing: Jesus says not to be afraid.

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

So what about after the resurrection? Keep working the strategy; in fact, Jesus does almost the same thing as before, and this results in the same parable.

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you? . . . Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish” (John 21).

The message after the resurrection: catch some more fish, then come and have breakfast

Don’t worry if the results aren’t perfect; God will sort things out in the end

Jesus used this analogy also, to teach that we don’t have to be responsible for catching only the best: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47).

In the end, God will bring abundant life and healing

Ezekiel 47:6-12
The water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. The Lord led me along the bank of the river. I saw a great many trees on both sides. He said to me, “When this water flows into the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature will live, and there will be very many fish. People will stand fishing beside it; the river will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds; on the banks will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”

Take some time and listen to Jesus. Ask him to tell you where “the fish” are in your own life. Then spend some time praying for those folks and for yourself to be able to embody God’s love to them and to speak God’s love into their lives when opportunity arises.

Church is Jesus's Family

Church is Jesus's Family
Preached 10/19/2008

Framing Scripture
Romans 8:14-21 (NRSV, throughout, except where I paraphrase)
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba, Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God . . . the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
1) People are on the run from God because they fear God is angry about their sin. It’s like when kids get their good clothes and themselves dirty when their parents have clearly said, “Stay out of the mud.” They want to run and hide the evidence they have disobeyed.
2) God is seeking people to show them love. In this illustration, it’s like how parents want to clean the kids up.
3) People need to stop running, turn around, and see who God really is and how God really feels about them. If the kids stop running and come out of hiding, the worst they face is a bath and different clothes, particularly from parents with a sense of proportion.
4) Jesus came to make this clear: God wants to love us and to do us good. “Bring the kids to me,” says Jesus. “Don’t make it hard for them to trust in God’s love. Sure, God’s going to give them a bath and new clothes, but those are the signs God loves them and won’t leave them dirty and afraid.”
5) Turning around and looking into God’s eyes will give us confidence in God’s love; we can persist in talking with God about what worries us, and we can be generous to others. “What food do you have,” Jesus asks, and the disciples answer, “We’ve got a kid here willing to share two fish and five little biscuits.”
6) All this good news is true even if our world is ending personally or globally.
This is the good news: God is here, God loves you, God has forgiven you. Trust God, talk to God, and be generous. This is what God wants us to tell everyone who is on the run: God wants us to “go home to our friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for us and what mercy he has shown us” (Mark 5:19).

Introduction to Church
I want to talk in this context about what it means to be the “church”: we’ll start with what Jesus tells disciples to do in the book of Mark, which tells us what Jesus expected of his followers, who went on to be the “church” in their times.

The church is Jesus’s family

Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). If I get to be Jesus’s sister by doing God’s will, I need to know: What is God’s will? Jesus says that the law and prophets are summed up in loving God wholly and loving my neighbor as I love myself.

The framing passage from Romans also uses the picture of family. We know how complicated families can be by having come from some sort of family ourselves. Disagreements within a family are often harder to work through than disagreements with acquaintances or friends—in my own family I was not sure it was ok to disagree until I was in my 30s—after a loud family fight in which my father shook his finger at me and said, “you aren’t going to change my mind on this,” and I said, “I don’t know whether I even belong in this family,” we found a way back to each other and learned we could disagree and express that and still honor and respect each other. When my dad was dying, his last words to me were, “Thank you for being you.” That’s redemptive family talk.

The first “church”—the disciples—worried about who was a real follower, a real insider, a member of God’s family—who is doing God’s will?

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:38-42).

Whoever is not against us is for us

This is a framework we rarely think about when evaluating who is in God’s family.

To be sure, Jesus says this differently in Matthew 12:30—Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters—a passage that is easy to misunderstand and use to dismiss others who aren’t part of our kind of church. But I think they say the same thing: when someone does a deed of power or gives a cup of water in Jesus’s name, that person is “with Jesus” and is “gathering with” Jesus, not against Jesus and not scattering the harvest. St. John writes in 1 John 3 and 4: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. . . . The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters . . . We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another . . . We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action . . . this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another . . . Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”

How to be an insider, a member of Jesus’s family
1) To be an insider: trust in the character of God as revealed by Jesus Christ, God’s Son
2) To be an insider: obey Jesus’s commandment to love one another
3) To be an insider: do what you can to set people free and to meet their needs, representing Jesus to them
In Mark 8:34-38, Jesus describes how “the church” will make a difference: “If any want to become my followers, they need to quit thinking about themselves and how to get ahead or be significant or get their way or about how they will set up God’s kingdom on earth. They need to do my work my way—and that involves allowing God to do with their lives what God wants, just as I do.”

Lay it down

Don’t fight to protect your ideas, your rights, yourselves—that’s how you end up losing everything. Instead, lay it down, pour it out, sell what you depend on, throw yourself on the mercy and provision of God, and spread the good news about how God reaches out in love to everyone. That’s where the real profit and protection are. Don’t be embarrassed to tell people what God is doing for you, how God has shown you mercy, and let them know God loves them too.

Practice love on each other in the “organized” church; practice being a redemptive family that can look each other in the eye and say, “Thank you for being you.”

But don’t stop there: get out where people are dying to know that God loves them, and tell them what you know of God’s love.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Preached Oct. 5, 2008

Framing Scripture: Psalm 140:12-13 (NRSV)
I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall live in your presence.

God’s love for us is so great, so thorough. Jesus came to show us what God’s love is like and the extent to which God is willing to go to show love. Our gratitude to God for all the ways he has loved us and is loving us helps us be generous with what we have—talents, time, money—in good times and bad. Our confidence in the love of God helps us persist in relationship with God, in good times and bad. The truly worst thing we can do is make it difficult for other people to experience the love of God and to have confidence in God’s loving goodness. Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived, and we can take what he says to heart both because he loves us so much and because he knows what is best for us. And one of the themes he had a lot to say about was forgiveness.

Once we know how completely God loves us, we can turn around and love others, and one aspect of that generous love is forgiveness. But if it were easy to forgive, we wouldn’t have to be told to do it. A friend of mine at George Fox told me several years ago, “You don’t let things go very easily—you tend to hold a grudge.” I’ve been mad at him ever since.

It is true, however, that when things hurt me, I often have to work on forgiveness for a long time—I have to understand core issues, sort out blame, admit my own fault, and then work hard to forgive. I do try to be honest with God about where I am vs. where God wants me to be, and I invite God to help me when forgiveness is nearly impossible for me.

Chances to forgive someone happen every day. Happily, many times forgiveness is nearly as easy as breathing out. Not every injury is intended nor is it intended personally. Accidents happen, people are thinking their own thoughts and don’t notice me, let alone go out of their way to hurt me. If this isn’t frequent, I can almost exhale the hurt and anger away and forgive instantly.

What is harder is when the injury recurs, when it seems deliberate, when it also causes me to be afraid, or when it involves people I love. I am a strong believer in justice, and this doesn’t always help with forgiveness. I sometimes say to God, “Are you paying attention? Do you see this is happening here?” I think it is better to be open with God than to pretend I like the way things are going. And I don’t think it is necessary to allow another person to wreak havoc on me repeatedly if I can get out of the way.

All the same, the Bible has a lot to say about the necessity of forgiveness. And since Jesus is smart, when He says forgive, undoubtedly he knows this brings good to us we will otherwise miss.

There are three significant words for forgiveness in the New Testament. I don’t want to make a lot of that, but looking at them illuminated some aspects of forgiveness for me that I want to share.

Forgiveness Part I
Mk. 2:5, 11:25 (NRSV) “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Jesus to paralyzed man). “Have faith in God . . . When you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you . . .” (Jesus to disciples). “To forgive” here has in it the ideas of “to send away, to let go, to leave behind”

Mark 2 has the story of the paralyzed man brought to Jesus by friends. It’s a famous story: they rip off the roof and lower the paralytic into the room where Jesus is. Jesus says to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The Father sends your sins away; your sins are left behind; God lets go of your sins. I’m not going to explore the scandal this caused, but I want just to emphasize that the first order of business for Jesus was to let this man know he was forgiven.

Later in Mark, Jesus tells his followers, “Have faith in God . . . Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

So when I come to talk with God, I need to let go of what I’m holding against someone, what I’m holding over someone. I need to leave it behind, I need to send it away. Sounds simple, and sometimes it’s easy. It’s like opening a clenched fist or taking a vacation from my grievance.

The basis for forgiveness is this: I need forgiveness myself. There is no use in pretending I am innocent. Nonetheless, God forgives me and loves me without reservation. When I turn and look at God and see the truth of this, I can have confidence in God’s character and I can turn my own hurts and angers over to God to take care of. If hurt and anger recur, I can turn again to look at God rather than at the offender or my own feelings; God can walk me again through the process of forgiving.

It is a discipline—I need to forgive each time I pray; I need to send the event away from me, open my fist and drop the hurt and anger into God’s hands.

Forgiveness Part II
Lk. 6:37 (NRSV) “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven . . . The measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Jesus to a crowd of followers). “To forgive” here has in it the ideas of “to set a captive free, to acquit a criminal, to release a debtor.”

When I was a child, I was injured in such a way that trusting in God has been hard for me to do. As an adult I began working through this with God’s help. Finally I was able to say, “Ok, God, I know you are scandalously gracious. You can forgive him if you have to.”

I practiced this discipline for years whenever the old hurt would rise up and hurt again. It was good for me to do so. It allowed me to quit protecting myself so carefully, to admit my own faults more easily, to accept that I could also hurt others, and eventually to ask those I hurt for forgiveness. I turned the problem of sorting things out from my ancient past over to God.

It wasn’t a very nice forgiveness—pretty cranky, and not that happy with God’s grace for the offender—but it did me good, and it was all I could do for around ten years.

Then one day God ambushed me as I was driving home from work and said, almost audibly, “You know, you can do better than that.” I said, “You know, You’re right. Please let him into heaven.”

This was a milestone experience for me. It was like opening a jail door for someone, or taking off another person’s handcuffs.

Forgiveness Part III
Eph. 4:32 (NRSV) Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . . (St. Paul to the church members at Ephesus). “To forgive” here has in it the ideas of “to extend grace, to offer restoration, to save a life.”

This word for forgiveness comes from the same root as charity and means gift, grace, thanks. Paul makes clear here in Ephesians that the basis for forgiveness is the grace God has extended to us; when we understand, appreciate, and value that grace, the generosity of God to us, how he poured out everything for us, we can also be generous and forgive.

This is where it starts and ends:
The incarnate God in Jesus Christ says to us, paralyzed and helpless, your sins are forgiven. Then he says, now you forgive others. Love your enemies, do good . . . Bless . . . pray for them. Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:27-31, NRSV).

Then in his dying moments he shows us what he means: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

(Thanks to Strong's Concordance for the help in understanding the nuances of the three words for "forgive.")

Gratitude, Generosity, and the Gospel

Gratitude, Generosity, and the Gospel
Preached Sept. 28, 2008

We ended up the last posting with generosity as evidence of having confidence in God.

A lot of what Jesus has to teach us has to do with being generous.

Remember that God loves us so much individually and as a church that Jesus poured out his love and his life to show us that love; Generosity is a characteristic of God.

Let’s look at generosity in Mark, and we’ll start with this puzzling little passage in chapter 8. “Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And Jesus warned them, ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’” Unsurprisingly, they were baffled. Huh? What does he mean? Don’t buy bread from Pharisees or from Herod? They muttered to each other, “Is he saying this because we forgot to buy bread? Who was in charge of that, anyway?” Now this is very funny; it reminds me of when I was teaching my students in one class how to write papers, and then in the next class they took they said, “Oh, you want us to do that in this class, too?” NOOO, I said, just start over like you know nothing. Which is approximately what Jesus said, too. I find it hard to read what he said without hearing a tiny bit of sarcasm:

“What’s up with you? Why are you talking about literal bread? Where were you when I fed five thousand men and their wives and children with five loaves, and four thousand with seven loaves? Think I can’t make one loaf go for 13 people? Don’t you understand? Are you blind? Are you deaf? What is wrong with your memory? Is your heart closed to what I’ve been saying and doing right before your eyes?”

So what has Jesus been saying and doing right before their eyes? He has been illustrating how God takes the little we can give to him and makes it go far enough to meet the needs we are responding to. Our offering plus God’s blessing can satisfy the spiritually and physically needy.

Let’s look more closely at these stories. In Mark 6, Jesus is taking his disciples on a retreat. His cousin John the Baptist has died and the disciples have just returned from their first preaching mission. He wants to go away and rest awhile. It isn’t hard to see an analogy to church. We come to church partly to support each other through hard times and partly to debrief from our work for Jesus in the world. And when Jesus shows up at his retreat, there are crowds of needy people waiting for him. And his heart is moved with compassion because they are so hungry and lost. The disciples, practical folks, say, “Send them away so they can get something to eat.” Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”

Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy says that Jesus is the smartest person ever, so we can take what Jesus says as serious and good advice about how to live. I think Willard is right, so let’s pay attention to what Jesus says to do: “You give them something to eat.”

God is all-powerful and can do anything, and in the Old Testament, God rained down food on the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. But here, in the Kingdom, God’s Son says, “You give them something to eat.” “What?!” They say. “It will take several years’ worth of wages to buy food for this mob.” Jesus says, “Well, what do you have? Go and see.” Turns out they have five loaves and a couple of fish. Other gospels tell us a little child brought this to Jesus. Here in Mark, we have just the essentials. Jesus had the disciples get people to sit down in orderly groups, and he took the teeny tiny bit of food, thanked God for it, blessed it, passed it out, and everyone was satisfied. In fact, there were twelve baskets of leftovers.

This story teaches us a lot about generosity. One, God wants us to be generous. After all, God never stops giving, and his Son gave everything also. Two, pour out what you have, even if it’s small. God’s love is infinite, and it multiplies our gifts beyond our imagination. God can take the little bit we feel qualified to give and with it feed the hungry and save the lost.

It isn’t long until Jesus and his disciples replay the whole drama in the land of Gentiles. Mark 8 has them again with a large crowd with nothing to eat. This crowd has been hanging out with Jesus for three days, so if they had food, they’ve eaten it. Again Jesus is moved with compassion. He says, “I can’t send them home without food; they may faint on the way.” His disciples say, “This is the desert; what are we supposed to do about it?” (They may have thought, “We’re hungry, too, you know.”) Jesus says, again, “Well, what do you have?” Turns out they have seven loaves and a few small fish. Same thing happens as before. Orderly groups sitting down, Jesus blessing the food, disciples passing it around, lots of leftovers.

Last story I’ll tell: A rich young man shows up and asks Jesus what he can do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says to him, “You know the rules.” The young man says, “I’ve kept them since I was a kid.” Jesus looks at him and, Mark 10:21 says, “He loved him.” This is the same compassionate response Jesus had to the hungry crowds. When God sees hungry people, God wants to fill them up, whether the hunger is physical or spiritual. In this case, Jesus says, “you need to give away what you own.” Why might Jesus say that to him? I think it is because when we have things we call our own, whether those are abilities or things, we do not throw ourselves into God’s love wholeheartedly. Instead, God has to work very hard to push through the cares we have for our stuff in order for us to know God’s love.

I grew up in Burundi, Africa, and they do the offering differently there. People were living on about $31 per year on average, most on subsistence farms, and a lot was done on the barter system. The middle class was growing and were undoubtedly providing the main financial backing for the churches, but the working poor still dominated the numbers of attenders in church. Every Sunday, we took our offerings down to the plate in the front of the church, men, women, and children, and we put it in the plate. In the old days, offerings included chickens or produce, which is biblical, by the way. I always participated as a little kid; I liked having something to give to God and I liked being a part of the parade.

I was at the church business meeting this month, and it turns out First Friends here is spending more money than is being contributed in offerings. I’m working on earning an M.B.A., and this isn’t a good business model. I just mention it so that if you have been wondering whether the church needs your giving, the answer is yes, we do. The time-worn model is giving one/tenth of your income. And I like tithing because it is a discipline that helps us remember that God has given us everything we have and has plenty to meet our needs if we pry our sticky fingers off some of it and contribute it. Giving also helps us remember that God’s love for us is absolutely enough. We don’t give money to make God love us more; we give money because Jesus has asked us, “What do you have to give?” and some of us have money.

To the rich young man, Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God.” Then he asks for everything the young man calls his own. Do you believe God is good? If God is good, you can put everything you “own” into his hands. If God is good, you can give away yourself, your gifts, your money, your reputation, your rights—pour yourself out. Your generosity demonstrates that you believe God is good.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What Jesus praises

What Jesus praises in humans
Preached 9/21/2008

Framing Scripture:
Mark 1:14, 35-38 (NRSV, modified by me as noted)
“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”
Or, to put it another way:
This is the time you’ve been waiting for: the kingdom of God is here; turn your soul around and trust in these glad tidings.

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’

We celebrate the love of God embodied in Jesus who came to tell us glad tidings, good news.

God has been looking for lost human beings ever since they turned and ran away, and God is looking for anyone reading this who feels lost. Jesus came to make clear that God’s intention is reconciliation; that God wants human beings to turn around and see the love God expressed by sending Jesus. Jesus also made it clear that it is not ok with God to prevent people from knowing that God loves them and welcomes them home.

So this is good news, glad tidings, the gospel. In fact, it is what we are supposed to share with others. Jesus said to a man he rescued from demons, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you.” That’s what we are doing when we do evangelism, which is a fancy Greek word for telling the good news. If you’re not already in the habit of telling people what God has done for you, try doing so: share how God has shown you mercy with one person this week.

Mark is the writer preoccupied with good news; the term occurs more times in Mark than any of the other gospels. Check it out. Mark was excited about what Jesus came to tell us and do for us.

Last posting, we looked at incidents which made Jesus unhappy with people—Pharisees, his disciples, Peter specifically. This posting, we are looking at incidents where Jesus praised people. The stories are in Mark 5, Mark 7, Mark 10, Mark 12, and Mark 14. We are going to see that Jesus praises people who show that they have confidence in God’s love, a confidence that results in persistence and generosity, even when things look bleak.

Mark 5:24-34
Jesus is on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue leader. A large crowd presses in on him as he walks, and in that crowd is a woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years. “She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.” She was also ritually unclean and could not have attended synagogue or gone to temple during those 12 years. Anything or anyone she touched was unclean, too. She had heard about Jesus and she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

Stop and consider that confidence. What was it based on? Probably some of it was desperation, and God is always available to the desperate. In fact, Jesus sensed her presence and her touch in the middle of the crowd, and he called her out. She knew what had happened to her, and she came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed.”

Think about your own lives. Can you recall in your life when you were without any other hope and you turned to God? A place where Jesus said to you, Daughter or son, your faith has made you well, go in peace, be healed. If you are in a place today where if you could, you would just reach out and touch Jesus’s clothing, knowing that would bring you peace and healing, you can do it here and now.

The kingdom of God is right here and right now, and you are welcome to enter it and to live in the love of God.

Mark 10:46-52
Jesus is on his way out of Jericho and a blind begger, Bartimaeus, hears that the crowd contains Jesus of Nazareth. He cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” over and over, louder and louder. People around him try to shut him up, but Jesus says, “Call him here.” They tell him, “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.” Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus says to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regains his sight and follows Jesus.

Think about your own lives. Can you recall in your life where you asked Jesus to help you see clearly, and Jesus did so? Jesus says to you, “Go, your faith, your confidence in God, has made it possible for you to see clearly again.” If you are in a place today where if you could, you would shout out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” you can do that here and now, and Jesus will have mercy on you.

Notice that both these people were pushy in their efforts to get close to Jesus; one of the signs you have faith, i.e., you have confidence in God, is that you won’t let anything stand in the way of getting to God—you are persistent. Jesus said in another place, “The good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed and people are pressing into it” (Luke 16:16).

Mark 7:24-30
In this story, Jesus leaves Galilee and goes among Gentiles, or non-Jews. He doesn’t really want anyone to know he is there, but a Gentile woman with a disturbed daughter hears about him and comes to see him. She bows before him, showing him respect, and begs him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He says to her, in one of the more puzzling responses of Jesus to a needy person, “The children have to eat first; it isn’t fair to feed the children’s food to the dogs.” Think about this: he has suggested to her that the good news is limited to Jews, “the children” and she’ll have to wait to see if there is anything left over. It is shocking, really, because it is clear that Jesus came to make the truth of God’s love for human beings clear, and that this love is for all human beings. So this is a huge test for the Gentile woman. Is she just grabbing at straws in desperation, or does she have confidence that God can help her? Her reply reveals that she has that confidence, when she says, “But the dogs can always eat the crumbs when they drop from the table,” and Jesus says, according to Matthew’s gospel, “Woman, great is your faith. You may go, the demon has left your daughter.”

Think about your own lives: have you wondered whether you are eligible for God’s love and mercy? If you have been discouraged and felt hopeless, and you have still held on to confidence in the sufficiency of God’s love, Jesus says to you, great is your faith. Even today, you can say to Jesus, I’ll take the crumbs of God’s love, infinite crumbs of an infinite love, and that will be enough for me. I believe in the sufficiency of God’s love for all human beings.

The effect of believing that God’s love is sufficient and universal, as well as deeply personal and relevant to your everyday life, is to make people generous, and Jesus points that out in two additional incidents. One is in Mark 12, when Jesus praises the impoverished widow who gives all she has to God, which is a sign that she believes God will take care of her; and he praises the woman who pours perfume on him, saying “She has performed a good service for me” in her generosity. When we understand how God loves us, we understand that we can afford to be generous and pour ourselves out in gratitude to God.

So there are three characteristics that, when acted on, call forth praise from Jesus in the Gospel of Mark:

Confidence that God’s love is sufficient and universal, personal and relevant;

Persistence in seeking for God and God’s help as a sign of confidence in God;

Generosity as a sign of confidence in God.

What makes Jesus glad, sad, mad

What makes Jesus Glad, Sad, Mad
Preached 9/14/2008

Framing Scripture: Mark 12:28-34
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher . . . These are much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

The entire Trinity is looking for the lost and if we turn and look God in the eyes we will find we are in our true home. This is the good news Jesus came to tell us and live for us. This is the Kingdom of God; this is our adoption into God’s family, where Jesus is our Elder Brother, as the book of Hebrews says. We keep our eyes on God’s eyes so that we know how God feels about us and that we can trust God with our whole selves.

God shows a central preoccupation with seeking the lost and teaching them to trust in God’s love for them. Jesus clearly shares this central preoccupation—seeking, finding, restoring the lost. Sometimes we are lost because we have hidden from God and are afraid to come out of hiding, but when we come out and look God in the eyes, we see nothing but love. We can trust that love.

Take a minute or two to look into God’s eyes. Remember that love—which can’t be earned or lost. And then think about this: There is no shortage of God’s love; the pie of God’s love is not fixed in size; every single person is loved by God in that simply astonishing fashion. It is enough to fill us with awe that shuts our mouths.

And yet, it was possible when Jesus walked the earth, it was possible to make him mad. I wonder if you remember in Mark’s gospel when it is noted that Jesus became emotional—the words are “anger, grieved in spirit, indignant” and he speaks words of rebuke and confrontation. Since Jesus had trusted God entirely with his “image,” he didn’t get mad to protect himself. This is the freedom he gained by keeping his own eyes on God and knowing all the time what God thought of him—my well-loved Son, I am so pleased with you—All of you out there, listen to my Son. If we pay attention to what upsets God’s Son, we can get insight into what is important to God also.

What makes Jesus mad? 1) he didn’t want anyone to try to persuade him to do something different from what God set before him to do; 2) he didn’t want people to question the authenticity of others’ encounters with him; 3) he particularly didn’t want anyone to put up barriers between people and God.

Do the will of God

Jesus told this disciples three times that he would be arrested, tortured, crucified, and would then be raised from death. The first time, Peter said, “No, it doesn’t have to be this way.” Jesus rebuked (scolded) Peter and said, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33, NRSV throughout).

In the teaching that follows, Jesus tells those around him: “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save them. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their lives? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Trust others’ experience of Jesus
Another time when Jesus scolded the disciples, he did so because they didn’t believe the women and others to whom he had spoken after his resurrection. “Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided [scolded] them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen [Mary Magdalene and two others who weren’t part of the eleven disciples]” (Mk. 16:14). And they doubted the witness of these people despite Jesus telling them three times that God would raise him from the dead.

Let God work even when it violates tradition
Jesus’s harshest feelings are against the Pharisees, not because they were religious, but because they hid from God in their religion, placing tradition ahead of obedience and making it hard for others to trust God.

He was actually angry at the Pharisees for their willingness to let a person suffer rather than violate the law about keeping Sabbath. “The Pharisees were watching him to see what he would do when confronted with a man with a withered hand in synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus asked them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ but they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness [blindness] of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mk 3:1-6).

Because they said they knew what God wanted but resisted the work of God through Jesus, Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites.

The Pharisees asked why the disciples violated the tradition of the elders and ate without properly washing their hands. Jesus told them they were teaching human precepts as doctrines, that they paid lip honor to God but their hearts were far away, and that they abandoned God’s commandment and held on to human tradition. Then Jesus moved on to saying that what a person eats just passes through the body and does not defile the person; but that what defiles a person comes out of the evil intentions of the heart (Mk 7:6-23). So it makes Jesus mad when people teach tradition as doctrine, when they substitute tradition for God’s command, and when they think if their hands are clean, they don’t have to worry about their hearts.

Allow outsiders to be close to God, despite their youth or their social status

Jesus even became indignant with his closest disciples. People were bringing children to him so that he might touch them, and the disciples were speaking sternly to them; when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them (Mk 10:13-16).

What makes Jesus glad? The same things that make God glad.

We can learn four lessons about how to please God from the stories above.

1) Listen to God and obey God’s direction (do what we see the Father doing)
2) Affirm and nurture others’ experience of the risen Jesus
3) Come out of religious hiding behind tradition or status to stand without pretense or shame in honesty before God
4) Clear the way for others, particularly children, to trust God

Look again into God’s eyes. What do you see there? Listen to God’s voice. What is God saying to you?

Let’s help each other towards God.
Jesus Reveals God
Preached 9/7/2008

Framing Scripture:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. . . . The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory of the only human who shares the same essence as God Almighty, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God Almighty, but God’s Son, Jesus, who is close to the Father’s heart, has made God known” (John 1, NRSV throughout).

Have any of you ever had this experience? You are a little child; you are told not to touch something, and you touch it anyway and it breaks. You hear someone coming, and you run and hide. After awhile, you come out of hiding, and you blame the dog. But you are still hiding inside.

Genesis 3 suggests one way of thinking of how there came to be distance between God and human beings. God gave Adam clear instruction not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve gave in to the temptation to eat it, and when they did, they knew themselves to be no longer innocent, and they ran and hid.

However, God shows up anyway. It is silly to think that God didn’t already know they were disobeying the rules. What good is omniscience if a couple of disobedient humans can take God by surprise? So we can see that this chapter also tells us some important things about God and how God responds to humanity. God knows Adam and Eve have disobeyed and are hiding, and God shows up anyway for their daily time together. This is key to understanding God. God persists in looking for relationship, even when God’s children are running away and hiding. Running is the tragic consequence of disobedience.

This picture of God is confirmed by the character of Jesus Christ, and it holds true today as well. God comes seeking his lost children.

And later in history, Jesus comes as God’s ambassador to seek God’s lost children and bring them into the family. And Jesus is more than a representative of God; Jesus is God in human form. When we see Jesus, we see God accurately taking part in conversations, confrontations, and other restorative and redemptive actions.

Listen to what God says about Jesus.

At his baptism (Mark 1, Matthew 3, Luke 3): “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

At his transfiguration (Mark 9, Matthew 17, Luke 9): “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

On the recommendation of God Almighty, we can take Jesus as a credible witness to the character of God and God’s intentions toward us and as a reliable reporter of what God wants from us.

Listen to what Jesus says about himself.
(John 5:19, 20, 30) Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing . . . I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

We can conclude, therefore, that Jesus and God behave the same.
In other words, there is no difference in behavior or character between Jesus and God. Both come looking for the lost, and both are interested in restored relationship between God and humanity.

Listen also to what the Apostle Paul says.
St. Paul also helps us understand how Jesus relates to God: Jesus makes the invisible visible, but Jesus retains the essential characteristics.
“For in him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15).

Jesus doesn’t have to persuade God to like us; but Jesus may have to persuade us to like God.

What are the implications for us?

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view . . . If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:16-20).

Or, as the Message puts it: “We’re speaking for Jesus Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”

Jesus Christ was in the world, reconciling the world to God.

Reconciling in its root means to again bring people brow to brow, looking each other in the eyes.

The Garden of Eden describes when human beings quit being able to look God in the eye. Jesus comes to make clear to us that God wants us to look right in God’s eyes and see how he feels about us and what he plans to do for us.

Remember that little child who broke the rule and ran away to hide? If that is you, please think about this: What prevents you from looking into God’s eyes today? Is it a sense of having trespassed, of having sinned? Is it shame or guilt or fear? Are you angry at God? I’ve been pretty angry at God lately, and I told God so (again didn’t surprise God at all); God said to me, “Look into my eyes and see how I feel about you.” I will not recover from that vision of the thorough and persistent love of God.

Let’s take some time and sit before God and see if we can imagine looking into those eyes.

I have a challenge and invitation for you:
In order to get to know Jesus better, and therefore also to get to know God better, will you read with me the whole Gospel of Mark at one sitting before next Sunday? I did this some years back and found it life-changing. I believe that when we get to know Jesus better, we will hear God calling “where are you?” and our first impulse will not be to hide, but instead to run to God and be where God is.