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The Transfiguration

white cross under blue sky during daytime
 
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them.” Matthew 17:1-2 

It is no accident that the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus is featured on the Sunday before the beginning of Lent.  In many churches, this account is the Gospel reading prior to Ash Wednesday because of the poignant reminder that it gives us as we enter the season where the focus is the cross of Christ.

It’s easy for people to get used to amazing things.  Couples who have been married for many years understandably get used to each other.  They’re not quite as enamored when the other walks in the room as they were, perhaps, when they first met or were first married.  Is that a reasonable turn of events?  I mean, the fact that there has been and remains an enduring love between two people is an incredible thing.  Yet, we just kind of get used to it all.  We get used to people, circumstances, all sorts of things that are worth noticing and reflecting upon.

Do you think it’s possible that the disciples, now two years into the ministry of Jesus, could have been getting used to Him?  They had by now seen some of the greatest of miracles.  Demons had been cast out, water had been walked upon, the blind could now see.  “What’s Jesus going to do today?”  “Oh, probably heal some more people and preach, like he usually does.”  We get used to Jesus don’t we?  He’s always there.  It’s not like we get up every morning and do cartwheels because Jesus is in our lives.  We read the Bible and see Him performing those miracles, saying wonderful things…and we get used to it.

Well, this Transfiguration ought to shake us out of any Jesus-doldrums, just as it most certainly must have for the disciples.  He becomes dazzlingly bright white! Elijah and Moses appear!  God the Father speaks from heaven!  If there was any complacency on the disciples’ part leading into that scene, how quickly it must have evaporated when seeing how Godlike Jesus was looking that day.

And this is one reason why it is so significant that the Transfiguration reading leads us into Lent.  As we walk with our Lord to His cross, let there be no mistaking just who this is that is laying down His life for us.  This is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God who appeared that day with all the glory of God, soon to be bloodied and beaten and crucified to take our sins away.  As we experience Lent, we remember the Transfiguration and understand for the next six weeks just that this is God Himself, sacrificing Himself for us and for our salvation.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive us for our complacency concerning you.  May we always recognize you as true God, especially as we consider your suffering and death for us all.  Amen.

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Valentine’s Day

pink and white hearts illustration
 
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”  1 John 4:7-12
 
Happy Valentine’s Day! Ok, you might be reading this a few days early, but Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, February 14th. Many Christians may not realize it, but this is not just another Hallmark holiday. Instead, February 14th is the commemoration of St. Valentine. According to church tradition, he was a physician and priest who lived in Rome during the third century. While many stories exist about his life, what is fairly certain is that he was arrested, beaten, and beheaded, because of his faith in Jesus.
 
Known as a man who preached about the incredible love of God in Christ, and who shared that love with others, he received in return hatred and persecution from the Romans. What were they threatened by? What was there to fear?
 
Evil hates goodness. Though Christ has won the ultimate victory, until He returns, Satan and his allies will continue to fight to the very end to drag down as many as they can and to hinder the message of the Gospel at every turn.
 
While writing this, the words of Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” came to mind. In the third verse we sing,
 
“Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still   Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed is done. One little word can fell him.”
 
As the hymn concludes in the next verse, “Our victory has been won. The Kingdom ours remaineth.”
 
Men and women through the centuries have given their lives for the sake of the Gospel. The battle wages yet today, but the victory is ours in Christ. We need not fear, only hold on to Christ.
 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, the apostle John declares that God is love. Fill us up with love for you and for one another despite the assaults of the enemy. Make us strong in faith and in our witness to your saving grace for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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Human Traditions

open book
 
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”  Matthew 15:1-2

This wasn’t a concern over hygiene.   This was a concern over religious rules. The Pharisees and scribes were upset that Jesus’ disciples didn’t pay homage to their human traditions. 

In the verses following, Jesus not only didn’t pay homage to their human traditions, he attacked them. 

We all have our opinions about the way things should be in the church.  Maybe we prefer the way things “used to be.”  Maybe we prefer things change to accommodate our culture’s tastes and preferences.  In either case, we must be careful that God’s Word take priority over everything.  A desire for the modern and the new can be as dangerous as hanging on to the old if our motivation isn’t to proclaim the true Word of God, with Jesus Christ at the center.

Our vicarage in Ghana rid me of a slavish view of churchly traditions.  Worshipping under a tree will do that:  no pipe organ, no kneelers at the simple wooden altar, no stained-glass windows.  In fact, no windows at all (or even a roof!).

But the Word of God was there.  Jesus was proclaimed.  His body and blood were received with thanksgiving.  And the faithful praised him in songs that still reverberate in my mind, more beautiful than any church choir I’ve heard since.

Traditions aren’t bad.  They often tie us to the past in wonderful and meaningful ways.  But our calling in the church is to connect people to the unchanging Word of God with the unchanging Savior at the center.  If our traditions are hindrances, distractions, or obstacles, then it’s time to move on.

You don’t have to wash your hands before dinner.  Jesus says so.

Gracious Father, in our sinfulness we often care more about human traditions, rules and ideas than we do about Your Word.  Forgive us.  Give us passion, by Your Spirit, to connect people to the live-giving Word that proclaims our Savior from sin.  When we are distracted by human traditions, bring us back to Your Word.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Silas

silhouette of kneeling man
 
“And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”   Acts 15:39-41
 
The Church Year calendar marks today, February 10th, as the commemoration of Silas, also known as Silvanus. A leader in the early Christian church in Jerusalem, Silas joined Paul on his second missionary journey following the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Little did Silas know what he was in for.
 
The second missionary journey of Paul was a struggle in many ways. While Paul and Silas were able to bring encouragement to new believers, the threat that this “new religion” brought to established Judaism led to persecution and imprisonment. Holding true to the testimony of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, meant that they were not simply unwelcome, but that they were putting their lives at risk.
 
But even in prison, God worked through these men. Their hymns of praise to God touched the hearts of others, including the jailer. Even in the darkest of circumstances, giving thanks to God and the goodness of Jesus, lives are changed.
 
Thankfully, most of us will never find ourselves in prison because of our faith. While Christians may not find themselves behind bars of steel, how many create prisons of their own where they lock themselves away from others, fearful to even talk about their faith lest someone might be offended? It is time that we pray for a boldness of the Spirit who can help us break free from any prison that we might create and share Jesus with others even as Paul and Silas did in prison.
 
The prison account of Paul and Silas in Acts 16 was not the end of the road for them. Their mission work continued for years and though they faced additional persecution, their message and ministry never ceased. May God grant us such boldness in our families, our communities, and nation.
 
Prayer: Lord Jesus, your suffering and death for my sins has given me freedom from the guilt and punishment that should have been mine. As your beloved child, help me to use this freedom to tell others about you that they too may receive what is only available from you. Grant me a loving and gracious tongue to speak your praises now and forever. Amen.

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Rest for Our Souls

book on top of table and body of water
 
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

Rest seems to be in short supply for a lot of us.  Our schedules are too full.  Stress comes from every direction.  Worry and anxiety are constant companions.  And good, solid, sleep is hard to find.

 
We need rest.

But Jesus isn’t talking about physical rest here.  He’s talking about rest for our souls.  And though it’s certainly related to physical rest, it’s not the same thing.

Rest for our souls comes with the assurance that Jesus has taken the heavy burden of sin, death and hell for us.  Rest for our souls comes with the reminder that no matter what suffering, temptation or trial we’re enduring – it all ends well through faith in Christ.  Rest for our souls comes with the promise that Jesus teaches us and leads us in the midst of whatever is harassing us.

We still need physical rest.  Our minds and bodies have limitations, and when we attempt to exceed those, we pay for it.

But more important even than physical rest is rest for our souls.  And it’s found only in Jesus.   He’s the One who paid for our rest!

I’ve always loved the lyrics from this classic hymn:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul!

Gracious Father in Heaven, You sent Jesus to bear our burdens for us, so that we might have rest for our souls in the midst of whatever challenges we face.  Remind us of His love, and continue to give us rest through faith in Him.  In His name, Amen.  
 


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