Posted in Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

submitting to Freedom

In reading of Paul and Silas in jail recently (from Acts 16), I was drawn to pay attention to part of the story happening in the background. The narrative we often celebrate are Paul and Silas, in chains and imprisoned right after being stripped/beaten/flogged. In the midst of singing hymns to God (v. 25), a violent earthquake shakes the foundations so that all the doors are opened and chains unfastened. What a miracle! The jailer enters the scene assuming the worst, and is thankful to discover Paul and Silas and the others are all still there! He’s drawn to Jesus, becomes a believer, and his entire family is baptized as they enter this new community of “The Way”. The story continues forward after that.

Mamertine Prison, Rome – Just one of the places Paul spent time imprisoned

But looking back over those moments there’s a story within, we often overlook. There in that prison were other prisoners, even though we’re not sure their number or the crimes they committed. We can assume there are some in the prison who deserve to be there. Yet when the earthquake happens and the chains and doors are unfastened – everyone remains. Why might that be?

For that answer, we look back to verse 25, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

I remember sitting in the waiting area of a doctor’s office on our honeymoon (we both had tonsillitis, yuck). As I waited for Sarah, I met an older man and we began to talk. He had served the country in combat, and was telling me a story of his escape from a POW camp in Germany. I didn’t know him that well, but I was riveted. I would have listened for hours.

I imagine the fellow prisoners surrounding Paul and Silas, seeing them beaten and suffering. I imagine their countenance as they entered the prison – genuinely thankful for new witnesses to share the good news with. The compassion they may have looked upon the other inmates with, even through swollen eyes. The whispers of “Have you heard??…” as rumors swirled about all the things these followers of Jesus had seen and experienced. Stories were shared, no doubt: Paul’s vision of Jesus, and work with so many churches. Silas’ prophetic words for those in the prison. The conversion of the local woman, Lydia. The other prisoners would have been transformed in hearing about Jesus, and in listening to the worship being offered in such a low place of pain and suffering. It’s a testimony to the the Holy Spirit we believe is active in these moments.

I believe the other prisoners were transformed by the witness of Paul and Silas, in ways that made them so aware of freedom in Christ, the chains and doors being unfastened seemed to make little difference to their present condition. They had already been set free in Jesus.

We’re reminded by all of these things – to be those who are willing to share our stories of God working in our lives. Speak of the hope and the peace you have, even as one who is looking honestly at our world; as one who has wounds from being hurt by it. Those around you today may have chains of bondage you’re completely unaware of, and you are able to offer freedom simply by sharing the living presence and Love of Jesus in Your words.

We’re also reminded – the story of who becomes transformed by our words may never be shared. Our world often celebrates the most compelling (or most profitable) narratives, but leaves many to be known only by those who live them. That doesn’t make such stories less important to the Kingdom. Every one of those prisoners who came to know Jesus is just as precious to God as the jailer, or Paul and Silas themselves. In fact, in the stories written down or passed on to their families and loved ones – the fact that they remained in prison that night instead of escaping -offered powerful testimony that revealed the absolute freedom Jesus offers.

Maybe that’s the message you need today also – even more than other aspects of the story. You need reminded of the Freedom we have when we come and submit all of our identity, our story, our shame, our hurts, and our joys to Jesus. It’s a freedom that transcends the momentary/temporal experiences we face. The peace of full submission to His Loving Freedom is so much more powerful than the temptation to run when we see an open door.

May we be challenged by all of this today in healthy ways. In a world that counts pageviews, book deals, and followers/subscribers, may we humbly and gladly submit our stories to being “His” story, revealing and responding to Love wherever and however we can. May we relate to all others today understanding that in life there are no “major/minor characters”, as all have become part of His redemptive narrative of Love.

Posted in Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

the waters…

Matthew 14:22-33 doesn’t seem like a “Baptism Passage”. But as it involves Jesus, water, and our relationship to them, it spoke to me recently. The disciples are out on the water, in the middle of the night, being tossed in some waves. I know there are many of us who love being out on the water. Many of these men were fishermen, who were very comfortable on the water – and they were used to being out there all hours of day and night.

Yet as comfortable as they were on the water, as we read of Peter’s fear in verse 30, we realize there is still a sense of fear involved in the uncontrollable forces of nature. Throughout scripture, there is something important that happens to water from Genesis to Revelation…and this moment is just one of those transformational moments.

In Genesis 1:2, we read “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

There wasn’t much yet, except what God had brought into being. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters of chaos and formless-ness. We see water being symbolic of mysteries, even death, and sources of fear and unknown. We see this in the stories of Noah and the floods, or as the parted waters return to vanquish the armies of Pharaoh in the story of Exodus.

But listen to what happens to our relationship with water by the time our story with God reaches Revelation 22, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Let that reality sink in for a moment. How wonderful and hope-filling does that sound? But here in today’s scripture, and here in today’s broken world of 2022, we are not there yet. We live as a community in a way that proclaims the incoming of that future reality. In moments of Baptism, we join with Peter and Jesus, transforming our relationship to the waters.

First – Jesus enters the scene as someone who is able to walk on the waters.

Think about the sources of chaos, fear, mystery, and all the things you can’t control. The things in your life that you wish you could overcome, and “walk over” in ways that they have no power over you. We look to Jesus, walking on the water, and we are filled with hope. We join Peter in calling out – “Let me join you.” Jesus extends a hand to us, and says “Come.”

But as we look at Jesus, we see not only His Lordship, but also His sacrificial Love. We realize that even though Jesus could have “walked on water” his entire life, he didn’t. He purposefully dove under the surface of our human experience, allowing the waters to overtake him with everything they could.

The Second thing I see – Jesus, who could walk on the waters – chose to enter into them. Literally, he was baptized by John. But also figuratively – in the compassion of God, he chose to “suffer with” us, as one who felt the pain and brokenness of living within a world impacted by sin. He experienced the worst of what this world offers, and was even put to death in one of the most shameful ways that existed…and then rose again, victorious over all of these forces.

The Third thing I want to point out – is that this Jesus who walked on water, yet chose to enter the waters – is the same Jesus who says “follow me”. He doesn’t say it to you individually – he says it to each of us together as a body also. “Church – follow me.”

There is so much symbolism in baptism, but it’s important for us to know these moments were always about community, and becoming part of the body of Jesus. It’s the path toward entering into the local community of the body of Christ in a tangible way. We enter through the waters of “dying to our self”, and “coming alive in Jesus”. We give up our identities, and the claims we had to becoming whatever it was we previously wanted for our own sake. We often do this for our children also, when we have them baptized at younger ages, saying “This is the identity of our family.

We become literally “The people who have passed through the water.” We enter into that which used to symbolize mysterious forces of death, chaos, and formlessness…trusting that we will emerge as New Creations on the other side. The waters of death have become the waters of cleansing & New Life. We lay down our lives, relinquishing all things, for the sake of coming alive as God’s Flesh. When we take our first breath after coming up for air, we are like newborn babies gasping for breath for the first time. No longer our own, we are now part of this community of those who have died to self.

Some of this sounds so desirable, even those of us who were baptized long ago may think to ourselves, “Man, it’s been a while and I’ve sinned since then – I want to go through it again.” To those of us having these thoughts, I want to encourage you – there’s no need.

When you come alive as those “New Creations” who have entered the community of believers, we have joined with Jesus who has conquered and brought freedom from all sin. Just like welcoming someone to a “Surprise Party”, it’s fun to watch them enter and yell “Surprise!”, but the point is the banquet and celebration itself. We are now a community where forgiveness reigns. Where reconciliation and redemption are our native language. Where shame has no power, because we are all in need of God’s grace.

Here among us, the waters no longer represent death because death has no power.

(Let the Church be a living “Amen”.)

Posted in Different Scriptures

An Eastertide Reminder…(you already know this)

Don’t put away your Easter Tree just yet!

Oh, you don’t have an Easter tree? That’s fine. Whatever your Easter décor or traditions, don’t shove them into storage at this point. We’ve only just begun our celebrations of Easter. It’s ok if your candy has run out, as we can now pursue much more celebrative ways to announce “He is Risen!”.

“Eastertide” on the church calendar is traditionally the 50 days between Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. There are many traditions and connections to this season, but notice this: 50 days is just about 1/7th of a year. So in a sense, Eastertide is like the “Great Sunday” of the year! During this season, we are invited to contemplate the Resurrection of Jesus, what that means for the ways Resurrection Life unfolds & is available to us here and now, and to anticipate the future Resurrection when God brings all things to completion.

There are so many reasons for us to spend more time than we do, talking about and celebrating resurrection life. It’s literally one of the foundations of who we are as Christians. Early believers thought it was so important, they even moved their weekly gathering of worship to Sunday – believing the resurrection to be a sort of “8th Day of Creation”, or “First Day of New Creation”. It has transformed reality as we know it!

One of the keys (I think) to embracing the resurrection as something to truly celebrate, is to become increasingly aware of the difference between “coming back to life” and “resurrection”. Many people in scripture come “back to life“, meaning they return to the way of existing before they died. But this is not what happened to Jesus. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Paul clarifies it even stronger in Colossians 1:18, “ He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” The “coming back to life” of anyone else was something to be celebrated for that person. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. Here we see in the person of Jesus Christ, the coming together of Heaven (where God exists fully) and earth (where humanity dwells). He was given his “resurrection body” that is able to exist both where God is fully and where humanity dwells – a way of existing never before experienced by mankind. This is a reminder to us as believers that we are not ultimately looking forward to Heaven, even though it will be great to be with God fully. Even scripture reminds us that, “..in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” (2 Peter 3:13) We all – those of us still here on earth, and our loved ones who currently wait in the presence of God – are waiting on the coming New Creation where Heaven & Earth are united as never before.

The exciting thing is: We are not waiting passively! We join today as we are literally brought to new life from the Life of the Age that is to come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” The good news isn’t that if we accept Jesus into our hearts, we will eventually join him in Heaven. The good news is that for ALL people, when we abide in the Life of Christ (who IS the beginning of the coming New Creation) NOW, we become places and people through whom the coming New Creation is bursting forth TODAY, being proclaimed and revealed in ways that announce what it will be like fully some day!

Whew. Okay. I need to take a breath and calm down. But you can see why it would be a really big shame if we spent all that time building up toward Easter throughout Lent, celebrated with a big breakfast, pretty pictures and some candy, then went about our year as usual the next day, right? We can see why an entire “Eastertide” season is needed, and why every Sunday throughout the year becomes a miniature celebration of the resurrection. We are resurrection people.

The question then: If celebrating the resurrection means revealing/embodying the ways of Jesus and His coming New Creation – how will you celebrate this week?