Saturday, April 15, 2017

Revelation 7:9-10 By: Andy Wilson

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
-       Revelation 7:9-10
Throughout Lent we’ve focused on the dire needs of refugees and immigrants. Let’s remind ourselves once again of the facts.
First, we’re currently witnessing the largest mass migration of people since World War II. There are more refugees in the world today than there have been at any other time in history. And a huge number of those refugees are escaping from places where, if they returned or were ‘repatriated’ by force, they would be killed or would live in abject poverty under the thumb an oppressive government.
Second, the general trend among developed nations over the last few years has been to tighten border security, severely limit immigration, and admit a small fraction of the refugees seeking asylum. As a result, millions of refugees are barely getting by in dismal camps and slums in developing nations bordering the nations from which they have fled.
Throughout Lent we’ve also been asking ourselves: What is the Lord’s message to his church as it relates to immigrants and refugees? What is his message to each one of us? The Bible tells us again and again to welcome the stranger in our midst and to care for those who are most vulnerable. 
But isn’t that na├»ve? 
Many well-meaning people (including many Christians) think so. They believe the risks these days are just too great, and that restrictive immigration policies are necessary in order to protect our economy, our culture and our lives.
Probably we can all agree: every nation has a right and an obligation to protect itself from bad characters, especially those who seek to kill innocent people and sow terror. Moreover, in an age of terrorism, vetting procedures need to be sophisticated and rigorous. Border control is essential. 
Yet history teaches us that immigration, over time, brings many blessings. Most immigrants struggle when they first arrive. But as they begin to put down roots, their presence leads to increased economic and cultural dynamism, as well as a strengthening of church and family structures. The people of Israel learned those lessons as they obeyed God’s commandment to welcome the stranger. And so have we in America, where, after all, the vast majority of us are the descendants of immigrants.
Today’s Lenten reading gives us a glimpse of the kingdom that is to come. There people of “every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lord’s throne. This signals to us that God loves variety, and that the glory and strength and joy of his kingdom are derived, in part, from the fact that everyone there is an immigrant – everyone there has arrived as a foreigner from a foreign land.
The reading ends with a reminder that salvation is from God alone. It’s good to keep that in mind when we’re faced with divisive issues, and we’re gripped with fear, and our instinct is to hunker down and take care of our own. Salvation is from God and not from us. Therefore, it always makes sense to obey his Word and trust his promises.

Friday, April 14, 2017

1 Peter 2:13-14 By: Darren Pollock

1 Peter 2:13-14
For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.
 Many of the Scripture passages from this year’s Lenten blog have addressed the responsibility of those at the center of a society towards those at the margins. Here we have an example of a counsel directed toward the exile himself. 1 Peter is addressed to Jewish followers of Christ living in exile in Asia Minor. Peter writes throughout the letter of the need for continued obedience to Christ in the midst of the various trials that this community was suffering. If the letter was written in the mid-60s, then the emperor referred to would have been Nero—no friend to people of faith. So we have God’s people living as refugees in a land that had been conquered by a foreign power that was ruled by a tyrannical king—the last thing we might expect Peter to say to this persecuted community of believers is for them to submit to this authority that had been imposed over them. Indeed, as Calvin writes of verse 13, “It seemed an unworthy thing that God’s children should be servants, and that the heirs of the world should not have a free possession, no, not even of their own bodies.” So why would Peter, then, include this counterintuitive advice? One reason is that he views the witness of this community to be more important than their rights and their freedom to do as they please. As we saw in the previous verse (2:12), the conduct of this community is to be such that their Gentile neighbors (even their oppressors!) might be moved to give glory to God.
How should we receive this message—we, who (while “exiles” in a theological sense) are mostly pretty secure in our societal position? How might Peter have framed this message for us, being as we are in a radically different social context than his diasporic readers? One key theme that I believe would predominate is the importance of living in such a way that those who don’t know Christ are moved to glorify him—and to prioritize this over our instinct to protect our own rights and freedoms. When God’s people were the exiles, this meant submitting to the authority of those exercising dominion over them; when the Christ-followers are the ones in the position of cultural dominance, might this mean willingly submitting ourselves to the needs of the exiles among us?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

1 Peter 2:11-12 By: Rachel Woflick

1 Peter 2:11-12
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Let me start by telling you all that writing this blog causes me great stress. I am not a theologian and I am not a great student of the bible. However, I am still thankful for the opportunity to write this. We need to be “pushed” in our walk with Christ and never settle for where we are. 

Of course I went to the great biblical expert, Google, for thoughts on these two verses. That was more overwhelming than helpful.

I read the verses that followed and the previous Chapter to better understand the context of the message.
Who was Peter writing to? The letter is addressed to various churches in Asia Minor suffering religious persecution. This is likely in about the year 65 A.D. so the church is in its early formation and in these areas of Asia Christians would have been a very small minority.

When Peter refers to those in the church as “foreigners and exiles” I think he means that we are all “foreigners and exiles” in this world. As new creations in Christ, we don’t belong to this world, we belong to a heavenly kingdom where we will one day reside for eternity. Wherever we travel or settle in the world, Asia or Rome, Jerusalem or Egypt, we are as Christians all “foreigners” because we are not of this world.
As such, we should not be seduced by the things this world usually cherishes: wealth, power, possessions, beauty and all of the related trappings. These are the things that wage war against our soul. If we do nothing but seek these “trappings” while here on earth we will be just like the pagans that Peter refers to in this verse. As a new creation in Christ we should be seeking the fruits of the kingdom, to love others as Christ showed us, to live a life according to Christ’s teaching of humility, compassion for others and forgiveness.

While here on earth we will be constantly seduced by the things of this world. How do we  “abstain from sinful desires which wage war against [our] souls?” I think Peter’s message urges us to have pure thoughts. To reflect on what is good and not what pollutes our spirits. If al I am doing is thinking about how to get a bigger house or more money, I am not thinking about the suffering of the world, I am blind to the needs of others because I am focused on me and my needs and wants.

Every morning when we get up we have to make a choice. I can allow my thoughts to be seduced by the trappings of this world, or I can focus on the things of the kingdom. Where our thoughts go, so will our actions. Throughout the day we will struggle with this but with God’s help we will overcome. It all starts with our thoughts and our discipline to focus on what is good and of the kingdom.

Finally, I believe that Peter is urging the reader to set a good example and to live “good lives” and perform “good deeds” even in the face of persecution and rejection by others. If we only love those who love us we are not much better than the pagans. If we only forgive those who first forgive us we really don’t understand the message of Christ.  We are called to be different even when it’s hard, even when we feel rejected by this world.

This Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His hope for us is that the desire of our hearts for the trappings of this world will die with him on Good Friday and be replaced by the hope, joy and promise of new life offered to each of us through his  resurrection on Easter.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hebrews 13:2. By: Shawn Kelly

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV)

When Scott and I started talking about renting out rooms in our empty nest to tourists via Airbnb, some of our friends were aghast. Really, you’re going to let perfect strangers from other countries stay in your house? While you are there? Seems dangerous. I would never do that. 

Three years later, we have hosted hundreds of strangers from dozens of countries and most states, and the experience has been overwhelmingly enriching, inspiring and fun. We began with the firm belief that the vast majority of human beings are inherently good, and that being open to new cultures and languages and traditions would enhance and invigorate us. We were hoping that we might make the world just a bit more friendly and less fearful. We love to travel, and figured that this would be rather like traveling, but without the jet lag and TSA patdowns.

We have shared many meals, hours by the pool, and neighborhood walks with our guests. We’ve had lots of fun with guests who speak almost no English. You just can’t beat chicken wontons made by hand in your own kitchen, barbeque prepared by Argentinians in your backyard, or Danish meatballs whipped up by actual Danes...and then sharing these delicacies around your dining room table amid raucous laughter and fascinating conversation. We often bid our guests goodbye with hugs and selfies. Our belief that all humans are fundamentally alike was entirely confirmed. 

Now I realize that Airbnb is probably not what the author of Hebrews had in mind. We aren’t taking in refugees nor the homeless, and we are getting paid for our hospitality. But our Airbnb experience is what first sprang to mind when I read the words “hospitality” and “strangers.” I’m so saddened by the atmosphere of fear and judgement that has reached a fever pitch in our country and elsewhere in recent weeks amid the ongoing refugee crisis. As has been eloquently pointed out by numerous others on this Lenten Blog, fear is definitely not how Christ instructs us to react to the stranger. Instead, we are called to put our fears aside and see the face of Jesus in every person, regardless of class, race, gender, religion, or nationality. In fact, we are to treat “the least of these” with MORE respect and love than the privileged, who already have more than they need. 

While preparing to write this entry, I read that the word “angels” in this context could be interpreted to mean “messengers.” What message could we receive as Christians by showing hospitality to strangers, to refugees, to the homeless? Scott and I have learned so much from our guests from all over the globe. If only we could replace fear with wonder, and trepidation with curiousity. 

The verse just before this one, the first verse of Hebrews 13, reads simply, “Let mutual love continue.” I will pray that we as Christians can look towards the stranger, the refugee, the least of these, with mutual love. That we can welcome all into God’s big hospitable family.  And that if each of us does this, we might together set a shining humanitarian example for the rest of our planet. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Philippians 3:20 By: Greg Cary

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20 (We recommend reading the entire chapter)

  It seems that Citizens of Planet Earth are selfishly territorial.  Spend enough time in the ocean and chances are a shark will try to make a meal of you, spend enough time hiking in Deukmejian and an unnerving mountain lion or bear encounter becomes probable.  “Those wild animals!” we say with a civilized tone…… but go to Music in the Park six hours in advance and you will see people putting up caution tape to mark their territory for later.  Where money or prestige is involved it gets even messier – What If I live west of Pennsylvania Avenue am I a Citizen of Glendale only or can I say I’m from La Crescenta? If I could just live North of Foothill, maybe people would finally accept me!  How about the children living in the Sagebrush Area should they really be in La Crescenta Schools or La Canada?  If you are a Dodger fan and want coffee and cookies at the LCPC Party in the Breezeway you will be forced to mingle with a few of those Cubs fans.  Good or bad, innocent or not, it seems that we Citizens of Planet Earth are selfishly territorial!

  So, if that conversation was all about Citizens of Planet Earth what about Citizens of Heaven? Are we who know Christ as Savior selfishly territorial about our Heavenly Citizenship?......or do we eagerly invite and invest in all who are willing to listen to the gospel of God’s love and mercy? 

  The story is told of a Canadian gospel preacher back in the middle of the last century who was going to take an over-seas trip.  He walked into the Yugoslavian embassy and spoke to the ambassador’s deputy about travel to Yugoslavia.  By the time the preacher left the Embassy he was greatly energized about leading people to Christ and a Heavenly Citizenship based on three observations he made of the ambassador’s deputy:
1.) He spoke enthusiastically of his home country
2.) He faithfully laid out entry requirements, and
3.) His speech gave away his citizenship. 

  We too have been deputized as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) and as we let our light shine today let’s remember that there is only one thing we can take with us to Heaven - the people around us!

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  John 14:2-3

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ephesians 2:14-18 By: Karen Gee-McAuley and Grace McAuley

By Karen Gee-McAuley and Grace McAuley

Ephesians 2:14-18:

Oneness and Peace in Christ: 

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility  that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

These passages seem especially disconnected to the realities of2017 in light of the latest Syrian crisis involving chemical warfare on civilians followed by the U.S. bombing of the Syrian government airfield where the chemical attack was reportedly launched.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written when he was imprisoned in Rome and was meant as a grand vision for the Christian church. But we can’t help but want to scream that thisvision is far from becoming reality with the number of civil wars, terrorism and prolific suffering taking place in our own backyard and around the world. 

How could Christ allow so much strife, unrest and death take place? Why can’t the walls of hostility be broken by “ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations? It’s as if today’s oppression is so complicated, extreme, cruel, inhumane and widespread that Paul’s teachings are too simplistic and, frankly, unrealistic.

Rational thinking can only surmise that until the forces of evil are destroyed, only then will there be peace on earth and freedom for the oppressed.

God isn’t simple. He knows all, everything and everyone. It is by his grace  that when humanity suffers we realize we can’t do this alone, that we need to lean on him more now than ever. This is what makes suffering almost too difficult to bear, but also special in that by trusting Him, he brings us closer, more united and “together as one body.”

But how can you, I, our community so far away contribute to eradicating the forces of evil, which, in turn, will help and free the oppressed?  Can it be done? As one drop of water does not feed a plant, but 100 drops will, the same can be said of the power of people and prayerWhether we pray individually and as a congregation,  donate resources and supplies to humanitarian organizations or using your skills in medicine, social work or education to augment an organized effort, the more “good” that is directed toward the oppressed will, we believe, eventually make these psalms reality. 

By living in and with Christ, and reminding ourselves every day what he sacrificed for us, we can begin to tame the hostility that exists today.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Romans 12:13. By: Austin Granier

I just came back from a Youth Leaders Conference in Irvine this past week and one of the speakers said something that was so relevant to the verse we are going over today. This Pastor,  by the name of Drew Worsham, spoke and he said something that has been in my head ever since I left. He said "In your everyday life, is it evident that you have been with Jesus." He continues asking, "Is it clear that you know the Gospel? Because just like how you can't get up and walk away like nothing has changed if you were to get hit by a car, you cant just get up and act like nothing has changed if you get hit by the Gospel." I have been reflecting on those words, thinking to myself, is what I do in my own life truly reflective of Christ's character and truly honoring to Him at all? I think a great way to tell if that sentence is true is by asking yourself, do I have marks of a true Christian? Coincidentally, that is the title of the passage which our verse of the day  comes from, "Marks Of A True Christian." Our verse today is Romans 12:13 and it states:

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So here is a start. Here is one thing that we all can do in the next few weeks that can show others that Christ is in our lives. Here's just a super simple thing that will make others feel the same love that we are blessed to feel every single day. A practical way to practice hospitality is maybe you sacrifice and afternoon and feed the homeless. Or maybe you join us on Men's Mexico this May and serve others and give to others. My encouragement is that we all just make a small step, so that it will be more clear we have been with Christ and we have marks of a True Christian.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Romans 13:1-2 By: Greg Wolflick

Romans 13:1-2
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

Much has been written on the meaning of these controversial verses written by Paul in his letter to the Romans. And one could use these verses to justify all types of political behavior and pose all sorts of vexing questions like “Were Christians in Germany during the Second World War supposed to support Hitler?” I don’t know and frankly I don’t care about the theological answer to that question or any related questions.
If you read the verses that follow you will see that Paul is trying to convince Roman Christians to honor the authority of the Roman Empire given that they were living in its capital. Was this a divine direction that all Christians are to honor the government authority they are subject to in all circumstances? That is a question well above my pay grade.
I believe that Paul was trying to convey a few things.
First, and foremost the ultimate source of all authority is God. It is His authority and His law that really matters. If you spend 90% of your time complaining and fighting about what some earthly government is doing or not doing you might have some misguided priorities. Paul wanted us to focus on God’s law and His will not that of the government.
Second, if you follow God’s law you will likely be OK with the Government. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t fight, love others, and you won’t run afoul of the laws of the government you are subject to.
Third, Paul was not looking for some revolt against the Roman Empire. He wanted the Roman Christians to be spending their energy on growing the kingdom of God, spreading the Good News, setting a good example by loving not only one and other but all people in all circumstances. The revolution was bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, not undermining the Roman authorities.
Finally, I think Paul was likely writing knowing that the Roman authorities would get wind of his letters. And the fact he was urging Roman Christians to honor the Roman law was going to keep the Roman authorities off the backs of the Christians. He didn’t want the Christians persecuted or made out as enemies of the state. That would undermine their ultimate priority of growing God’s kingdom on earth. If people saw the Roman Christians as outlaws those same people would be less likely to listen to Christ’s message as shared by his followers.
I have heard people say I am a Democrat first and an American second (or a Republican first and an American second). For me, I believe we should be Christians first. Everything after that will take care of itself and is of little consequence in the Kingdom of God.
I end where I usually start, I am the most broken person I know saved only by the mercy, grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection we celebrate in this season of Lent.       

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Acts 17:26-27 By: Craig Carlson

Acts 17:26-27 - “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

We live in a world filled with racial issues, ethnic divides and a struggle to understand cultural and religious differences.  I find this passage a welcome reminder that this has all been planned by God and we need to remember and apply this teaching from Paul.

There are two incredibly significant statements contained in this reading.  The first statement, that “from one man he made all the nations” tells us that God’s world is for everyone.  The second statement, that “he marked out…the boundaries of their lands” supports the first statement and adds a twist that He intended for His people to live in different nations.

I believe the first statement speaks to physical differences, those of complexion or color for example, and signifies that while we may look different now, we started from the same blood.  Therefore, the treatment of anyone in God’s kingdom based on physical differences is not to be condoned by any means.   I find that most (though sadly not all) Christians agree relatively easily with the concept that the color of one’s skin makes no difference in the eyes of God.

The challenge and the revelation for me can be found in the second statement, which speaks to different nations and lands.  This likely refers to differences in customs or beliefs.  This is where society tends to get more uncomfortable.  But if God has laid out the world intentionally into different lands and boundaries, he has done this knowing that such geographical boundaries would lead to different ways of thinking that lead to different customs, beliefs and even religions.  

The reading goes on to say that all these people should seek Him and reach out to Him.  So if all people, regardless of complexion or color OR even beliefs or customs, are to seek Him, shouldn’t we also be accepting of them?  I believe this to indicate that all the people of the world are our brothers and sisters, regardless of our differences.  I find it revealing, and even inspiring, that God planned for such differences so specifically!  

I pray that I can be more accepting of those from other lands that may look, think or act differently from me.  I pray that as a society we can look past such differences and accept all the children of God equally.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Acts 16:37 By: Jim Larson

But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out." Acts 16:37

 The apostle Paul, unjustly arrested and abused, strongly objected, demanded redress, and so received justice. 

 Most of us at some time in our lives have experienced what Paul did. Hopefully not to the degree that Paul suffered. A teacher's accusation of cheating, an unwarranted traffic stop are but two examples of injustices that may have happened to you. And like Paul, I am sure you protested loudly and demanded justice. 

 Be, let me ask you a question. What if you were witness to the unjust treatment of someone else? If so, did you speak up, protesting loudly and demanding justice? 

 Rural Steele County Minnesota, School District 28, maybe ten or twelve students, year 1945, Mildred Hankerson teacher, that sets the stage. Perhaps Mrs. Hankerson should not have been a teacher. She was quick to anger, lacked empathy, and was very impatient with "slow" learners. 

 La Von Ripka was a "slow" learner. Not that she was stupid, she just needed more time to make a concept clear. Mrs. Hankerson picked on La Van a lot, not in private, but out loud in front of all the kids. 

 One day, after Mrs. Hankerson's tongue had reduced La Von to tears, one of the kids stood up and protested loudly. Interspersed with expletives, he demanded that Mrs. Hankerson back off, stop picking on La Von, treat people fairly, and so on. All this delivered in as loud a voice as a sixth grade boy could muster. 

 Retribution was swift. Abuse was piled on the blasphemer. I remember things; like Reform School, be expelled, and many other dire threats. I remember the villain's younger brother going home from school crying because Jim was going to reform school and he would have to do Jim's chores. 

 Well, reform school didn't happen, neither did the expelling. Mrs. Hankerson didn't change. She still picked on kids. But, she didn't come back the next year. 

 What do you think the Apostle Paul would think about this story? 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Luke 10:36-37 By: Dennis Fernandez

Luke 10: 36, 37
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

These verses come from The Parable of the Good Samaritan. A man walking down the street in a very bad part of town was beaten, robbed and left to die. Could have happened right here in LA. Three different guys see this dying man in desperate need of aid. First, the Priest (like Andy or Lee) does not stop but crosses to the other side of the street and keeps on going. Next, the Levite (churchgoer like you and I) quickly walks by on the other side of the street ignoring the man’s necessity for help. Finally, the Samaritan (the guy you would least expect) not only helps him but takes him to an inn, cares for him, and pays for his whole stay and more.

Jesus then asks a no-brainer question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer answers, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus then responds, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus’ statement is very simple and to the point – Be a neighbor. Our calling from God is this – to love God and be a neighbor to others by meeting their needs. To love God means to show mercy to those in need. Neighbors should not be determined by race, religion, nationality, sexuality or gender; neighbors consist of anyone in need. Jesus would not want us to rule out certain people as neighbors.

Even though Jesus’ message seems so simple, we still struggle with being a good neighbor. We often, like the Priest or Levite, are too busy and hurried to stop and help. Sometime we fear being injured ourselves or getting sick from touching or assisting the needy. Or the neighbor is not like us so we avoid engaging with them. The bother, the situation or discomfort stops us from helping.

I often struggle with judging or challenging those begging or looking for handouts. Do they really need money; are they really homeless living on the streets? In front of Carl’s Jr in Montrose I was approached by a man who rode up on a bike. He said he was hungry and asked for money to buy some food. I don’t like to give cash so I asked him what he’d like at Carl’s, then proceeded in to purchase a burger and fries. Coming out to provide a needed meal and feel good inside for helping a neighbor, the man was nowhere to be found. This just compounded my distrust for beggars and the needy.

But then I’m reminded again by this parable, Jesus says “Go and be a neighbor” – no matter when, where, who or how.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Mark 2:27 By: Elisabeth Kennedy

Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.” Mark 2:27

Jesus got into a lot of arguments about keeping the Sabbath! Six verses after this one, we hear how much these debates got to him: Mark tells us he was both angry and deeply distressed at the attitudes he was encountering. Here in our verse, he goes to the heart of the debate swirling around himWhy did God create the Sabbath? People were getting tied up in knots about how to keep the Sabbath because they missed the point, they forgot the why, and Jesus wanted to take them back to that. 

The Sabbath was made for us, Jesus insisted. It serves us, it helps us, it lifts us up, it frees us. I think of this and a familiar tape plays in my head. I really should keep a Sabbath, the tape says. It’s so good for me!Every few years I have a surge of resolve and I do keep a Sabbath—for a few weeks at a time, sometimes for a few months. It’s always both tremendously difficult and highly rewarding. Resting for one day a week is a compelling discipline, with abundant benefits. Self-help gurus generally back up biblical wisdom in this area: it’s good to rest. My perfectionism, my competitiveness, and my addiction to productivity are well into overdrive most of the time, and a siesta from all that crazy is just what the doctor ordered.

Rest is good. That’s why we are supposed to have a Sabbath, right? To rest. But it’s so easy to think of rest as a luxury, an option that is nice, but not exactly at the core of what Christians are called to do. It’s an enriching self-help idea that is easily dismissed when something urgent takes up our bandwidth. Maybe that’s why this is the only commandment of the Ten Commandments we consider optional—not really a moral issue, like the other nine are.

The Hebrew verb “shabbat” doesn’t mean rest, though. Shabbat means STOP! Cease. Desist. Halt. Quit. End. The good, valuable, meaningful stuff we do for six days—on the seventh day, it needs to stop. God didn’t stop what he was doing (creating the world) on the seventh day because he needed rest. God stopped, and made the seventh day holy. Then God commanded us to do the same. For us, for our sakes, God made stopping holy.

When we still don’t get it, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 spells it out in all caps. We need to stop for one day a week, Deuteronomy says, because unless we stop, NO ONE ELSE WILL GET A BREAKOur kids. Our staff.Our servers. Our cars and appliances (that’s “oxen and “donkeys” in the old world). Deuteronomy specifically mentions low-paid workers and foreign immigrants (v. 14). There are people that serve us for nothing or almost nothing, and unless we suspend our rounds of consuming, they don’t get to stop their rounds of labor. There are immigrants who are vulnerable to how people on the inside call the shots, and if we aren’t careful to build in buffers and safety zones, they don’t get to stop their cycles of desperation and dependence. 

Then Deuteronomy delivers the zinger. Remember, it says, that you were once a slave too (v. 15). You’ve been freed! So just stop—stop once a week, put it all down. Otherwise you’re creating some serious crazy that’s putting everyone around you into bondage. 

Jesus got really mad about people missing the point of Sabbath, endlessly wrangling about what was technically “work” and what checked the box of “rest. He was criticized for freeing a woman from a lifelong disability through healing her on a Sabbath day, and he responded that it was right to untie a bond on a Sabbath (Luke 13:16). Healing and setting free are what Sabbath is about

What do you need to STOP so that freedom can happen? When you STOP, who else will also be set free?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Matthew 25:35 By: Darren Kennedy

“…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Mat 25:35 NRS)

When I first read these words from Matthew back in my childhood home of Kansas, they meant something much different than they do today. Since I moved to Cairo to teach in a seminary here in 1999, I have started taking special interest in the Bible’s references to Egypt. According to Matthew 2, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled the terror of Herod’s death squads to find refuge and peace in my current home of Egypt (Matthew 2). In a literal way, Gentile Egyptians welcomed a family of refugees and literally welcomed Jesus Christ himself. As a Presbyterian minister with a son named Calvin, I am also pleased that the people of Geneva welcomed the stranger and French refugee John Calvin into their midst after he fled from persecution in France. In both these cases, we can look back in hindsight and see the remarkable ways that God used the hospitality of ordinary people like us in the larger purposes of God’s Kingdom here on earth.  

Jesus’ words from Matthew 25:31-46 picture him in the future judging “all the nations. Unlike many other prophetic words of the future, Christ’s words here are self-referential. In essence, Jesus describes in some detail both how he will assess the way we spent our time on earth and in doing so what he values most. With these words, Jesus fleshes out more what he has already proclaimed to be the greatest commandments just 3 chapters earlier in Matthew 22: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Surprising his eschatological audience, Jesus tells them that when they offered the poor food and drink or welcomed the stranger they actually welcomed Jesus himself. Here, loving God in Jesus Christ is directly connected to loving the suffering, the stranger, and the powerless.

Living here in Egypt, I struggle with this theological truth. Each day on my way to work, I pass broken people who are desperate for food, water, and welcome. While I strive to serve where I can, the overwhelming needs often leaveme pondering the reality that Christ identifies himself with many of the hungry, broken people I pass by every day. My prayer for myself and other Christians is that these words of Christ would not produce guilt so much as compassion and hope inside us; that they would empower and inspire us to serveIn other words, the suffering people of this world offer us an opportunity to draw closer to Christ here and now in this world. When we love others deeply throughour words, time, and actions, we embody the love we proclaim for Jesus and wonderfully experience his intimacy with us even more.

Like the United States, Egypt is currently facing a dramatic refugee crisis prompted by turmoil in the Middle East. Syrians are pouring into Egypt in an effort to escape the terrors of Islamic State (IS). In the past few weeks, many of our Egyptian Presbyterians fled their homes in and around Areesh on the Sinai Peninsula in the wake of brutal attacks on Christians there. I remember in the past, joyfully traveling to Areesh for our seminary’s annual retreat and the wonderful times of fellowship, laughter, and worship we experienced there. Today, the people who once hosted us have fled for their lives in fear and sadness. These people—Christians and Muslims alike—are the strangers that Jesus calls us to welcome and serve. My heart swelled with pride when I saw our seminary’s graduates open their doors and welcome these refugees: feeding them, quenching their thirst, and finding them housing. There, in cities like Ismailia, my former students inspire and teach me with their compassion, empathy, and embodied faith.They are doing the very things Jesus calls us to do in Matthew 25.

Jesus’ words here reframe and rephrase the questions I often ask myself in regard to the stranger or refugee. My human suspicions often presume an equation that assumes the Other is dangerous until proven otherwise. Here, Jesus overturns such a view by putting himself into the place of the stranger. As a follower of Christ, I am invited to encounter the loving heart of God here in this broken, haggard, and culturally different stranger. May we all enjoy the blessing of welcoming the stranger and some day experience the joy of Christ saying, “…you did it to me.”