A place to ponder the awe and mystery of God in everyday life.

Posts tagged ‘love’

Beyond Question: Do you have anything to eat?

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, [Jesus] said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  Luke 24:41-53

Jesus dies.  Jesus returns.  He is alive.

This week is the anniversary of my dad’s death.  If he were still alive he would, without doubt, still be an active part of my life.  We would still be talking about… well, pretty much everything.  He would be an audible source of encouragement and support in my everyday life.

But he’s not here physically any more.  I am left with wonderful memories and things around my house that he once touched and held.  Even gifts that I lovingly gave him through the years.  But my dad isn’t here, and he hasn’t been for twenty-three years.  My girls were little when their grandpa died.  Only 5, 3, and 1.5.  So they only know my dad through the stories I tell.  They can’t experience him directly.

People we love die and go to heaven where we expect to meet them again for eternity.   How is that different from the relationship we have with Jesus who died and is alive again?

What would happen if we really acted like Jesus is alive and with us each and every day?

What difference does Jesus make in your daily life?

For those of us who are part of churches with a liturgical calendar Sunday began Holy Week: the journey of the events that precede  Jesus’ betrayal, death and resurrection.  This past Sunday was Palm Sunday – the day we remember Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem being hailed as the Messiah.  Palm branches were strewn before him; a symbol of triumph and victory.  The people thought Jesus was going to be a political king and save them from the Romans.

Next we will gather on Maundy Thursday to remember the supper that Jesus shared with his disciples the night he was betrayed. “Maundy” is from the Latin “mandatum” meaning command.  The “mandatum” refers to the commands of Jesus that evening to, “love one another”, “serve one another”, and “do this in remembrance of me”, as recorded in the biblical accounts of the Lord’s Supper.

Then Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.  A somber day of remembrance. Saturday marks a vigil of waiting in many congregations.  And finally on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord!

So, in this series (Beyond Question) that we have been following throughout Lent, the passages for last week and this week feel strangely out of sequence.  Again this week, the passages are post-resurrection accounts, just at a time when we are moving in the church year toward the cross.  In today’s passage Jesus has returned to the disciples after he has risen from the dead.  He needs to convince them both that he really died, and is alive again, and that his dying was not an accident, but part of God’s plan.  Since ghosts don’t eat, Jesus shows them that he is flesh and bones when he eats the fish that is offered.

At the same time the hands and feet of Jesus show that he is scarred on our behalf.  Jesus did not overcome death and the evil of the world with force and might, but with love that transcends understanding.  There is a wonderful line in a Michael Card song titled, “Why”:  “Why did they nail him to the cross?  His love would have held him there.”

Most years during Holy Week I listen to both Handel’s Messiah as well as Michael Card’s album, “The Life.”  I love the musical movement through the life of Jesus in both.  One classical and one contemporary.  If you can, I encourage you to take a listen this week.  Or else just listen for God’s voice in a quiet space of your life. Jesus is alive you know.  And he’s still speaking.  To you, and to me.

Prayer for today
Ah holy Jesus, you come to us in so many ways.  Sometimes we don’t even notice or recognize you.  Open our eyes to see you, our ears to hear you, our hands and feet to be your messengers, our voices to offer your word of hope to others, and our hearts to receive your love.  Help us to notice signs of resurrection all around us.  In your name, and for the sake of the world.  Amen.


Beyond Question: How will you believe what I say?

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”  John 5:46-47

Today’s scripture is the story of Jesus walking the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples.  They don’t recognize Jesus.  It is shortly after he has been crucified, and the followers don’t know how the story ends yet.  They are deep in grief.  Their hearts are heavy and they are just putting one foot in front of the other.  Their minds must have been a blur.  What were they going to do now?

Jesus asks them several questions.

What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?

Scripture says, “They stood still looking sad.  Then one of them answered Jesus, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  Jesus asked them, “What things?”  And the disciples told the man whom they still did not recognize as Jesus, the story of what had happened.

Jesus responded to their story by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  And then Jesus “interpreted the Scriptures” to them.  They still didn’t recognize him.  Not until he broke bread with them did their eyes open.

Jesus asks his followers questions to help them understand.  To transform their understanding and their very lives.

So how is it going with you?  What would it take for your heart to burn within you?  It is one thing to read the questions that Jesus asked others.  It is another thing to consider how we might answer those same questions directed at us from Jesus.  It becomes personal!

And isn’t that the point?  Jesus asks us personal questions because he cares.  Even when we don’t recognize Jesus in our midst, he keeps showing up.  He promises to be with us.  Dr. Carl Jung had a sign over his office door that read, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present”.  That’s just it.  The same claim that is central to the beloved 23rd Psalm.  “For you are with me”.

Jesus keeps coming to us. He has people to bless, lives to touch, and hearts to transform.  Christ can open our mind to understand his word, and his holy meal will sustain us on the journey.  Thanks be to God!

Beyond Question: Do you Love Me? – part 2

“Beautiful Things” by Gungor:

[Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love [phileo] you.”  John 21:17

The New Testament was written in Greek, and there are three words that all translate as “love” in English, but have very different meanings.  The first is agape (pronounced “ah-gop-aa”).  Agape is the perfect love that God has for us.  It is sacrificial love: with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The second word for love is phileo (pronounced “feel-ee-oh”).  Phileo is brotherly or sisterly love toward another.  The city of Philadelphia is rightly called the city of brotherly love.  The third word for love is eros (pronounced “air-oos”) from which the word “erotic” is derived.  You get the idea.

So in this passage, Jesus is asking Simon Peter if he loves Jesus with a complete, total, sacrificial love.  And Peter just can’t go there.  Twice Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves [agape] him.  And twice Peter answers that he loves [phileo] Jesus.  So the third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love [phileo] me?”  And Peter can finally answer, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love [phileo] you.”

I have often heard it said that Jesus accepts us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.  In this passage, Jesus tries to show Peter the deeper love that Jesus desires from each of us.  Total.  Sacrificial.  Whole-hearted.  But when Peter isn’t ready, Jesus brings it down a notch, to a level of love that Peter understands.

I had a seminary professor who said the toughest job we would have in ministry is convincing the people we serve that God really, really loves them.  After a number of years in the ministry, I’d have to say that he is correct.  It is hard for any of us to grasp the extravagant, unconditional, amazing grace and love that God has for us. It is wondrous love.  If you have time to listen to a choir singing the well-loved hymn, “Wondrous Love” – here it is.  It can be your prayer of thanks and gratitude for today:

* Questions to Ponder
* When and where have you been most aware that Jesus loves you? What words, songs, or images does Jesus’ love bring to mind for you?
* Worshipping, praying, giving, reading the Bible, teaching, inviting, and serving are among the many ways we can grow and develop our love for Jesus. Consider making one of these practices a more regular part of your life for the remaining days in Lent.
* “Material from Book of Faith Lenten Journey: Beyond Question by Eric Burtness copyright © 2012 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission. All rights reserved.”

Beyond Question: Do You Love Me?

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon peter, “Simon son of John, do you love [agape] me more than these?”  He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love [agape] me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you.” John 21:15-16a

Tevye and Golde singing, “Do you love me?” from The Fiddler on the Roof   (<—  click here to hear this classic favorite.)

A few years ago, around the time of our 25th wedding anniversary, this scripture from John came up in the lectionary.  My husband and I were both serving as pastors in the same congregation at the time, and we sang this song from “Fiddler on the Roof” as the opening story for the sermon.  There haven’t been many sermons when we’ve received applause, but this was one of those days!


“Do you love me?” is a question that many people ask of others, either explicitly or implicitly.  Sometimes the answer is known even before the question is asked.  Sometimes it is asked in desperation, and the answer really is unknown.

Do you love Jesus?  Really love Jesus?  This is one of those transformative questions.  The answer matters.  What does your love look like on a daily or a weekly basis?  Can other people tell that you love Jesus?

In this text, Jesus returned to his disciples after he has been raised from the dead. The disciples didn’t know how the story was going to end, so they were astounded to see Jesus.  The risen Jesus asks the same question of Simon Peter three times. This is the same Peter who denied Jesus three times just before Jesus was crucified.  Peter knows it.  Jesus knows it.

But this is the God of love and second chances.  And third chances.  Even seventy times seven chances.

Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”

In the Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written) there is more than one word for “love.”  They describe different types of love.  More on that tomorrow as we look at “phileo” love and “agape” love.  My teaser for the day. (Come back tomorrow!)

For today just ponder your love of Jesus, and what happens when you turn your eyes on him.  Here is Michael W. Smith singing, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus,” a song I learned to love in my high school youth group.

Or, listen to this lovely surprise by the  Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale when their plane was delayed for a maintenance check: “Give Me Jesus.”  I think they were singing about love.  I leave you with this as your prayer for today.  God bless you!

Beyond Question: Who are my mother and my brothers?

In This House

A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Mark 3:32-33

Family can be a great training ground for learning about love, forgiveness, acceptance and encouragement. Some families learn many of those lessons around the dinner table. Some never have that opportunity.

Pastor Craig Barnes tells a powerful story about lessons learned around the table. Craig’s dad served a congregation in a tough part of town.  There were a number of drug addicts in the congregation, and Craig’s dad reached out to them as best he could.

Twelve-year-old Roger was a member of that congregation.  Roger had two heroin addicts for parents. Although it didn’t seem that Craig’s dad was making a difference in the lives of those who struggled with drugs, Roger’s mom had written the pastor’s phone number on the wall by the phone in case the pastor was needed.

One night the phone rang at Craig’s home.  It was 12-year-old Roger saying that both his parents had OD’d and he couldn’t wake them up. The pastor jumped in the car and drove to the projects.  He got there about the same time as the police.  Roger watched as the coroner zipped bags over both his parents and carried them out of the house.

There weren’t any other family to care for Roger, and the police were ready to put Roger into the system which was not a good thing in that time and place.  Craig’s dad convinced the police to let him take Roger home at least for the night.

Somewhere on the way home, Craig’s dad decided to adopt Roger.  Those were the days before cell phones, and later in life Craig wondered how his mom figured into that decision.  But when Craig’s dad and Roger got home that evening, Craig and his brother were awoken and introduced to Roger.  His dad said, “This is Roger who will be your brother from now on.”

Well, that sort of thing doesn’t happen every night!  Craig was amazed that by the sheer declaration of his father, Roger was now his joint heir.

Did Roger earn it?  No.
Did Roger figure out he needed it?  No.
Did Roger finish studying the catechism first?  No.

Simply by the declaration of Craig’s father, Roger had become part of the Barnes’ family.

Now Roger had been raised by addicts, and Craig’s parents were not only pietists, but actually the ‘green beret’ of pietists!  While it was clear to them that nobody gets into heaven by careful living, they would have been first in line if it were possible.

Roger had a lot of learning to do about what it meant to be a part of this new family he had entered.  And as Craig reflected on those years with Roger, he was pretty sure that most of the lessons Roger learned happened at the table.

Most of the lessons Roger learned at their table were from Craig’s mom.  She was the Holy Spirit figure in their family.  She kept trying to help Roger figure out what had happened to him when he was adopted into this family. For the next five years, the most common phrase in their household was, “No, no, Roger – we don’t do that here!”

When the table was set and they all sat down, Roger would lunge for the food.  He had grown up with addicts, and IF there was food on the table, you had to grab it for yourself.  No one was going to serve you or look out for you.

But Craig’s mom would say, “No, no, Roger – we don’t do that here!”  And she would intentionally start the food next to Roger so that it would have to be served all the way around the table before it reached Roger.  He would watch it, counting the servings and the people, before it got to him.

Then after supper, Roger would leap from the table.  And Craig’s mom would say, “No, no, Roger, it’s your turn to do  dishes tonight.”  That was another new concept – chores.

Roger would get angry and start yelling, but Craig’s mom would say, “No, no, Roger – we don’t speak in loud voices here.”

Occasionally Roger would break forth with some words that had never, never – ever, been said in the Barnes’ home.  And Craig’s mom would say, “No, no, Roger – we don’t ever, ever, say that here!”

Bless his heart, Roger made a lot of changes.  It wasn’t easy on him receiving all that grace!

Craig is the one who told me this story, and he went into the ministry like his dad.  Craig said that almost every time he stands at the table to preside over Holy Communion, he looks out over his congregation and he watches them try to bring all kinds of stuff to the table that doesn’t belong there.  He thinks about his mother’s phrase. He can hear the Holy Spirit saying, “No, no – we don’t do that here… Don’t bring that anger to the table; not with your brothers and sisters. No, no – we don’t do that here!”

“Don’t bring that victim-thing here.  You’re actually going to try to be a victim at the table of Christ, for Pete’s sake?!  No, no that won’t work here.  You can’t be a victim in this family!”

There is  transformation that happens when we commune with our true family identity.  Roger learned and was changed by that.  Roger learned what it meant to be adopted into that family he entered.

Roger was just enough older than Craig and I that rather than be caught up in the draft during the Vietnam era, he chose to volunteer.  He wanted to do something to make his mom and dad proud.  And, like so many of the volunteers in Vietnam, Roger was sent to the front lines.

One day Roger lost his life in a heroic act of sacrifice that saved the lives of many of his buddies.  It was a dark day in the Barnes’ home when that telegram arrived.

Craig most remembers his mother’s tears.  One day she stopped crying long enough to look at Craig and ask, “Do you think any of those crazy table lessons had anything to do with Roger changing from someone who was frightened and lost, into someone who was a hero?”

last supper graphic

Absolutely!  Welcome to the table!  The table has always been a place where incredible love is offered.  As Jesus has commanded us, choose to love one another, as difficult as that can be.  May we all take the lessons learned at this table to heart and be changed.

Beyond Question: Why do you not do what I tell you?

questionsWhy do you call me “Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”   Luke 6:46-47

Eric Burtness has a wonderful paragraph in his book Beyond Question, as he reflects on this question that Jesus asked.

… it is clear that Jesus looks for us to not only say he is Lord, but to do what he says.  He seeks consistency between our beliefs and our behavior, our convictions and our conduct, our values and our lifestyle.  He calls us to live with integrity, a word that comes from the root “to integrate.”  Integrity means integrating our beliefs and daily behavior.  This isn’t something you just slip into.   Living with integrity is a decision.  It’s a daily commitment.  Saying Jesus is Lord and doing what he says means aligning our convictions with our conduct, what we believe with how we act, every day.*

As we began this series of reflecting on the questions Jesus asked, we talked about them in terms of “transformative” and “life-changing.”  This morning I reflected on how we choose to follow Jesus – or not – throughout our week in all our daily activities.  How do we live out the ten commandments and their obvious direction, as well as the more subtle meanings as Martin Luther defined them?  When we observe a commandment being broken by others do we join in, say nothing, or risk taking a Christian stand?  How often do we compromise our Christian integrity?

Or if following ten commandments seems too difficult, what about following the last commandment that Jesus gave us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

How different would our lives, and the world, be if we could follow only that one commandment?

Thomas Merton wrote an insightful prayer that I use often.  From Thoughts in Solitude, a prayer for today:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart form that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
thought I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me.
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

May you choose to live each day with integrity.  And may God bless and multiply your efforts.

* Material from Book of Faith Lenten Journey: Beyond Question by Erick Burtness copyright © 2012 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission. All rights reserved.
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