Children and Guns

“…and a little child shall lead them” Isaiah 11:6

From the days of the Sandy Hook shooting and all the school shootings since then until now I am told that our government has loosened up the laws making it easier, not harder, to buy assault rifles and large ammunition clips.  Easier!  Not harder!  All under the pretense of protecting the Second Amendment, our citizens’ right to bear arms.  All for the sake of self-defense.  All, it seems to me, a knee jerk reaction to fear based thinking.  Our political leaders have not had the courage nor the right thinking to draft, pass and enact laws that actually protect our children and us from such crazy, random acts of violence.  We need common sense gun laws.  No one is trying to take our guns away.  Our leaders need to take responsibility in passing and supporting laws that prevent military style weapons from being in the hands of ordinary citizens.

No writer of our constitution ever envisioned the American public arming themselves with military assault rifles or the type of semi-automatic and modified weapons that have wreaked so much death and carnage in our country.

The tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida this past week is so hard to accept. If there is a silver lining in the dark clouds of such crazy violence it is the reaction of the high school students who are crying “enough!”

Maybe our youth will force us and our government to do more than just offer up prayers along with expressions of sympathy and condolences to the growing number of bereaved families.  Maybe our youth will have the wisdom and courage in leading our nation’s leaders to take action.  Maybe our children will give us courage to do the right thing!

This is more than a problem of emotional immaturity and poor anger management skills.  It is more than a question of mental health issues, or of who is authorized to buy such dangerous weapons.  To be sure we need more aggressive background checks—at a minimum!  But, who is brave enough to question the abusive rationale of 2nd Amendment thinking that makes this type of violence so widespread and common today?  Our leaders are not!  But after Stoneman Douglas’s tragedy our nation’s youth are!

A little child shall lead them?  Indeed! God give our youth and us adults courage in taking on a culture that allows this to happen again and again.  Give our youth and us adults courage to work for positive change for the sake of the common good!

Birth Mark

finger prints and photographs
connections with the past
place and time
memories
histories that are shared

isolation
keeps us hostage
when we don’t push out
of our cubby holes and dungeons
to see
sunlight
clouds
trees

the past we find
can’t box us in
nor hold us underground
when we discover the
guest, the Unexpected One
who shares our story, His story
we the captives free

the birth canal was scary
the womb so tight, too close
I fought to keep inside
my safety held me in
yet

stand I now in open air
this earth, she holds me loose
entombed no more
not dead am I but living
I am birthed
the shadow of the cross
has left its mark on me

finger prints and photographs
remind me who I am
but the cross it is that shapes me
beyond place and time to be the one I am
becoming

 

Homelessness

When God originally made us as humans God made us to live with together in God’s own house…or home together with God and with all people.  God’s home was a place called heaven.  It was grand and beautiful.  Like an expansive garden.  Warm and sunny.  It wasn’t like a normal house, because there was no bad weather to keep out.  I am sure we could still have gone to the mountains to find snow to sled and ski, and so on. But life was good there and there was no need to hide or find shelter.  There was safety and warmth.

Sin messed that up.  God, in order to protect us, escorted us out of heaven and separated heaven and earth with sort of a veil.  He put a guardian angel there to keep us from getting back in the wrong way and causing even more damage.

Then God set in motion the plan to bring us back home to heaven.  That plan pointed to Jesus—even years and years and years before Jesus came.  The plan was a place where people could once again come close to God and worship God; a place where people could find some hope, peace and joy—some relief from the craziness of the world.  That place was called the Temple.  Originally it was large tent, a Tabernacle in the wilderness.  The inner most part of the Temple was the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.  Priests who served the people and served God would go to that inner chamber once a year and offer a sacrifice of atonement.  Other sacrifices were made every day and at special times throughout the year.  One significant sacrifice that each family celebrated once a year was the Passover.  All these sacrifices pointed to the problem of sin and the consequence of sin—death.

The sacrifices allowed an animal to die in our place, its blood shed in the place of our blood.  This pointed to how serious sin is, but it also pointed to hope and forgiveness.  Through the sacrifices and all the Temple rituals God’s people could be forgiven and come close to God for worship.

Yet all of this was temporary because it had to be repeated over and over and over again.  Every year.  Every day of every year.  To mess up was to risk the danger of being exposed because of the deadliness of sin.  So the rules and laws were important to protect and guide us.

Then, at the appointed time Jesus—the Savior of the world—came.  And when Jesus came on the scene the Temple and all its rites and rituals became outdated.  They were only there to point us to God’s permanent solution.  And when the permanent solution came, the temporary fix was no longer needed.  Hence, today if we were to go to Jerusalem you will find no Temple, no sacrificial system.  No blood letting.  because Jesus’ death on our behalf was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  We no longer have to travel to Jerusalem to worship or to find God.  God has come to us in Jesus.  Through Jesus we are all forgiven.  There is no longer any more punishment for sin.  Jesus took all the punishment for all the sin for all people, for all time on Himself.  So now, we are no longer spiritually lost or homeless.  No one need be excluded.  No one is left out.  Period! All that is left to do is belief and trust in what God has done for us in Jesus!  Do you trust Him?  I do.  Yet this is not a passive belief, or the end of the story.  It changes how we live with each other in this broken world.

Today we have homeless children and families in Utah, across our country and around the world.  War causes this.  Poverty causes this.  Selfishness and greed causes this.  Draught and weather affects it too.  Many children and adults are exposed to the storms and cold of weather because they do not have a place to call home, no shelter to live in.  No place of safety.  We care about them, or at least we should!  We care that they are in such predicaments.  And we try to do what we can to make a little difference.  We pray for them.  We try to be generous in a variety of ways to help them.  We do what we can.  A little bit can make a big difference.

Jesus makes it safe for us to be back in fellowship with God.  We need to work hard and make it safe for all to live with dignity, respect and safety in this world until Jesus comes again!

What you looking at?  The Witness of John the Baptist

John 1:19-34

My question today is, what if we consider letting others follow our gaze?  Let them see the focal point of our faith? Our witness can be words of hope and faith we share, but it can also be how we focus on Jesus and allow others to see Jesus as the focal point of our faith.

Faith is not about us.  It is about Jesus.  Our faith is never strong enough.  Our faith is never pure enough or above reproach.  It is the object of our faith—the focal point where the gaze of our hearts is fixed—that is important.  Being humble about what we believe is important!

John’s disciples followed the gaze of John the Baptist as he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold (look at and consider), the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  They followed John’s gaze and saw Jesus.

John did not push them for a decision.  He did not tell them how lost they were.  He did not tell them ‘I know something you don’t know; I have something you need to make your life complete…” He pointed to Jesus.

He did challenge them to be consistent.  Make your life match your lips.  Make your walk match your talk.  Be kind.  Be generous. Care for the poor.  Care past yourself.  Be content.  Be good.  Turn your life around.  And he visibly and audibly looked to Jesus.

In effect, John challenged his listeners to follow his gaze, and see who Jesus is; consider what Jesus’ purpose in life is about.  Then John let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

Not all witnessing needs to be confrontational or filled with apologetics (a word theologians use to talk about doctrinal truth—telling others how wrong they are, etc.).  Sometimes witnessing might be giving others permission to struggle with what they believe and not push them.  Sometimes witnessing might mean accepting that not everyone will immediately (or ever) agree with what we believe.  We shouldn’t be threatened by that.  Maybe we can express our faith out loud and own it personally without being arrogant or pushy.  Sometimes maybe just believing for ourselves and humbly holding on to our convictions and focusing in Jesus is a valid way of witnessing.

Let me know what you think.  I’d be interested in your response.

 

 

 

 

 

What Child is this–through Joseph’s Eyes

sermon based on Matthew 1:18-25 & Galatians 4:4-7

Greeting—Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  May God bless our reception and consideration of His Word for us and our world.  Amen.

“What Child is This?”  Written in 1865 by an Englishman named William Chatterton Dix.  It is one of my favorite Christmas carols, and sung to the tune of Greensleeves, a wonderful melody.  The main characters in the story the song tells us:

Mary and the baby—baby Jesus, the child sleeping on Mary’s lap

The angels are mentioned, as are the shepherds.

Even animals—the ox and ass are mentioned

Calvary and the cross are mentioned, and by inference—all those involved with Jesus’ crucifixion; Pontius Pilate, the soldiers, the chief priests, Pharisees, and temple guards, etc. even us as believers—in the phrase, “nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be born for me, for you.”

And the Magi, the noble wisemen from the East are referenced through the gifts they brought, “incense, gold and myrrh.”

All are mentioned.  Except one main character.  Who is missing?

Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.

There is no mention of the man who helped raise “the Son of Mary.”  Mark’s Gospel completely skips any mention of Joseph.  The other Gospels barely mention him.

Yet Joseph is there.  Quietly present before the manager, at the manger and after the manger.

Joseph is present when Jesus “gets lost” in the Temple at Jerusalem.  Mary scolds the twelve year old Jesus who is talking with the educated scribes and Pharisees by saying in effect, “Your father and I have been worried sick about you!”

Do you remember Jesus’ response?  “Didn’t you know I had to be about My Father’s business!”  Meaning of course, His heavenly Father.  You can find that in Luke 2.

Talk about being overlooked!  Unimportant!  Dismissed!  Did Joseph feel invisible?

You might remember Neal Diamond’s song, “I Am” where he sings:

“I am I said

To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

“I am”… I cried

“I am”… said I

And I am lost and I can’t

Even say why

Leavin’ me lonely still…”

What do we know about Joseph?

He is a good man.  He cares for Mary.  He is gentle and kind.  His sense of propriety didn’t demand justice in the sense of punishing Mary who mysteriously was with child—not Joseph’s.

Ultimately, with the help of a dream, Joseph comes to believe Mary’s incredulous story and takes her as his wife.

He’s poor.  But he’s a hard worker and a good provider.  He’s a carpenter, a builder and repairer of broken things.  He’s creative and handy with his hands.  He’s dependable.

And, he adopts Jesus as his own son.  Think of that!  Raising whose Son?  God’s!  How do you do that!

I remember being a new dad and being terrified.

For those of us who have raised children, or are still raising them, you know how unqualified we are and how scary it is!  But God gives us children as little ones so we can learn and grow with them.  We parents learn from raising our children as much as we teach and raise them!  And none of us do it without mistakes and growing pains!

Joseph as raising not just anybody’s boy—He was raising God’s Son!  Yikes!  Jesus was his adopted son!  He was Jesus’ adoptive father.

Adopted children.  Adoptive parents.  That’s a challenge!  There is always a natural, normal part of us that wants to know where we came from.  It helps us to understand who we are.  I believe Jesus knew He was adopted and knew His “birth dad,” i.e. His being God’s only begotten Son.  He knew where He was from and why He was born.

Reba and I have two adopted grandsons and we love them dearly.  They are chosen and loved and secure.

Adopted parents choose their adopted kids.  Adopted kids end up choosing their adoptive parents as well.  Both choose.  Deliberately.  Intentionally.  It is a two way relationship!

The Jewish Middle East custom was for a father to take a new born child and lay it across his knees claiming that child as his own.  It was a way of saying, “yes, this child is legitimate and mine.  I am his father.  He is my son.”

Joseph, doing that with Jesus, is making a public statement for all to see. He is claiming Jesus as his own son.  When Jesus is circumcised Joseph held Jesus and gave Him the name Jesus, just as the angel  had commanded.

The Christmas carol “What Child is This?” doesn’t dismiss Joseph, but deliberately focuses on Jesus dual nature.  Jesus is both “the Son of Mary” and God’s only begotten Son.  Both human and divine.  This carol helps us to see why Jesus was born—His purpose in life.

Jesus—born as a little baby boy.  Jesus was born into a broken and torn world.  Jesus was born to go to the cross “for me, for you!”  Jesus was born to die so we could live!

Jesus was adopted by Joseph so you and I could be adopted by God.

We were God’s kids originally.  God made us.  But sin messed with God’s plan.  You and are all effected by sin.  We are all spiritually broken.  We all need healing and forgiveness.  The message of the Bible is Jesus takes on our brokenness.  Jesus took on our frail human flesh.  Jesus became a part of our fallen humanity so that He could bring us back into God’s plan—God’s family.

Thank God for Jesus!  Thank God for Mary!  Thank God for Joseph!  Thank God for this incredible truth that is way more than just a heart warming story.  Jesus has entered history, and because He did He has changed history—for me and for you and for our world.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

Jeremiah’s Letter to Exiles

Exiles.  Refugees.  Immigrants.  Foreigners.  Who are they?  What are they doing here?  How should we treat them?

Maybe we are the strangers and foreigners.  Maybe we are the exiles.  Read Jeremiah 29.  Verse 11 has long been a favorite.  “I know the plans I have for you..”

The prophet Jeremiah wrote to his fellow Jews in Babylon telling them to build homes,  plant gardens and eat the produce, marry, have children, give your children in marriage.  In effect, settle down and get used to be in Babylon because you are going to be there for a long time.  They were exiles, but still in God’s plan–still cared for by the Lord.

1 Peter 2:11 also reminds us that we are sojourners, exiles, strangers to this world.  We are temporary!  The difference is that we live and pray and act in such a way that we influence and change the culture and world we live in.  We are not trying to escape through the rapture!  We are God’s people living in a world that is often violent and bent toward the powerful, rich and privileged.  We are salt and light!

God doesn’t call us to escape or bewail our predicament, but to pray for and bless the place in which we find ourselves.  As our communities prosper, so do we.  Selfish motive?  Maybe.  But God would have us know we are connected and part of this world too.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven as well as citizens of this world.  Let your heavenly citizenship show by how you conduct yourself here, by how kind, patient, good, loving, self-controlled you are.

Peace to you fellow sojourners!

I Quit!

Elijah’s Experience on Mount Carmel and the Still Small Voice.  Check out 1 Kings 18-19.

Driven.

Passionate.

Zealous for God.

Mega effort.

God acts.

People are wowed.

Yet the public is fickle… we never change.

Elijah burns out, is tired and throws in the towel.

Then God helps Elijah discover something totally different.

God is not a God of drama and performance for show!

God’s awesome presence and power are most evident in the little things, the quiet things—the quiet times.

Little things can turn a day around, lift our spirits, make us smile, give us hope. A bird’s call, a butterfly, a listening ear, a puppy’s kiss.  Little things we do help others see that God is indeed still on the move.  Don’t expect the world to change.  It won’t until Jesus comes again.  So quit complaining.  Stop your moping.  Do what you can.  Do good.  Be kind.  Don’t retaliate.  Give a listening ear.  Be different.  Live the Gospel out-loud!