(Newspaper Article in Park Rapids Enterprise Faith Section - February 25, 2017)
Thanks be to God! For in union with Christ we are always led by God as prisoners in Christ's victory procession. God uses us to make the knowledge about Christ spread everywhere like a sweet fragrance. For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost. For those who are being lost, it is a deadly stench that kills; but for those who are being saved, it is a fragrance that brings life. – II Corinthians 2:14-16
For Paul, to think of the church as the spoils of war was not too difficult. Being those captured by a love that is not reminiscent of some Friday night passion forgotten in the morning, but a lifelong devotion to the beloved, we are those won in battle, paraded before the Father as a gift of what was won.
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. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” - Matthew 17:1-9
We always want Jesus to stay right where he is, or where we think he should be. An unmoving Jesus. A tamable Jesus. A Golden-retriever-Sit…good God, Jesus. A Jesus that we know where to find him when the crap hits the fan, or when we feel really religious. That is, we want a certain place Jesus. Not the intrusive Jesus. We want a Jesus that is a Jesus of church, you know the Jesus things. But fortunately for you, Jesus knows you, knows that every part of you needs him, not just the parts you think.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." - Matthew 5:38-48
The love of Christ is an unjust love. It is an aggressive love given to those for whom we think don’t deserve it, even us. It is a love that tells us that even the unlovable are loved. The ones we hate or hate us are loved. The wicked, the abuser, the thief, the bully, the needed – loved. But this works against every form of love or affection we have ever heard of. Not some puppy love that causes us to think of Valentine’s Day, or snuggling by a fire. It is a dangerous, invasive love. A transformative love. Maybe even a conquering love, a love that bullies the bully out of sin into life. Pouring it out from the cross of forgiveness, like an overflowing stream to drown sin and self-righteousness, to cover over what we may think makes anyone lovable or not.
(Article in the Faith section of the Park Rapids Enterprise, Park Rapids, MN - February 18, 2017)
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:38-40
Jesus has no problem with signs. He is a miracle worker after all. He loves to do things that are absolutely extraordinary in order to speak to people of who He is and what He came to do. However, when we come to Christ and ask for a sign, what we expect or what we want tends to be obscured by what it is He wishes to bring to us.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. - Matthew 5:21-37
The Christian life, the life found in Jesus Christ is not about a grading system. It is not about waking up in the morning and saying to yourself, I am going to try really, really hard to be very, very good today. It is not about you supposing there is a set of standards that you need to meet in order to graduate. There isn’t a MCA test, or an ACT, to show your proficiency. Until we get that through our heads, all the talk we make of who is Christian, what is a Christian virtue, or how we can be better Christians is pointless. Because until those standards are wiped away. Until we are brought to our knees to find that the only standard we have is the one we murdered on a cross, but he rose from the grave, then all other parts of this Christian life are meaningless, because they don’t need Jesus in the end.
(An article for the Faith section of the Park Rapids Enterprise - February 11, 2017)
“Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Luke 11:17-23
We are kingdom people. We like to build up our castles, shine our armor, pick our boundaries, and savage one another. We do it well both out of desire for progress and out of fear of loss. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Jesus is a kingdom person too. He has His own agenda. He is actually an active force working to enter into our worlds, the worlds we use to hide and fight, to bind up the strong and to plunder the castle.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:13-20
Jesus is a salty fella. He’s rather spicy in the ways of his works. His words bring with them the seasoning of heaven that offers life and flavor to our souls. The works of hands and feet pierced, body broken, blood shed, are the salt to melt the coldest of hearts. He is that saline solution of the spirit to hydrate the lives of his people with mercy and grace. To bring them back from a dry and weary land. Therefore, he says to you – you are the salt of the earth; the light of the world – for we live in Christ, and He in us.
(Article published in the Faith section of the Park Rapids Enterprise, February 4, 2017)
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after Me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Me. For the one who would save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a person, if they gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Or what shall someone give in return for their life?" - Matthew 16:24-26
To follow Christ is not a doing but a dying. Life in Christ is not about giving us our best life now, or opening up for us a path strewn with roses. Life in Christ is actually death, because we are actually dead - the walking dead of the world, scraping our way through life, with only one option, to trust in the One who says that He has come to bring us life. We trust in Him only in the way He has come to us - in a death; a death on a cross that crushes all other things, all other possibilities, of what we might see as best for us under the weight of salvation.