Standing Firm on Shaky Ground

The bedrock of our lives has been very shaky lately.

Have you felt the seismic shifts?

  • On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states. Seen as a major victory for civil rights by some and as a final rejection of Christian values by others, this was a seismic shift for our nation. If you had any doubts, the Bible’s views of marriage, human sexuality, and, well, on just about everything, are no longer taken as the “Gospel truth.”
  • On July 16, a gunman – a neighbor from one of our own subdivisions here in Hixson, perpetrated a horrific act of violence against military personnel. Chattanooga got added to a list of cities no one wants to be on – those touched by terrorism.

How do we continue to stand firm on such shaky ground? When values and security seem to be like shifting sands, how do we find firm footing. I don’t have all the answers, but here are some suggesions:

  • Liberate yourself from expecting everyone to live by Christian values. Truth be known, America really hasn’t been a “Christian” nation for a few decades. Confidence in the Scriptures, the importance of Church, the belief that Jesus saves; these have all been waning in America. We can debate the causes and whether the Church is at fault or not. But most Americans no longer trust the church, believe the Bible, or are convinced that Jesus is the one and only way to God. I’m not even sure all church-goers believe it. So for those who follow Jesus, it is unreasonable to expect people who don’t follow Jesus to live and think and act as if they do. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:12 tells us it isn’t our job to judge non-believers. They don’t operate from the same framework. It is God’s job to convince and convict. Not ours.
  • Refuse to live with hypocrisy in your own life. Jesus’ most wrathful words were not for sinners, but for religious leaders who hid their sinfulness behind the appearance of righteousness. He had no tolerance for them. It irked Him. We today have a tendency to do the same thing. We pick and choose the sins we want to rail against. Homosexual behavior is a sin. But so is adultery, greed, cheating, pre-marital sex, lying, gluttony, pride, drunkenness, stealing, laziness, not tithing; and I could go on and on. Where is our righteous indignation against those things? The point is Jesus wants us to be sanctified – a people truly touched and indwelt by the Holy Spirit which makes His own attributes a living reality in our lives. But if I tolerate attitudes and behaviors in my own life that are counter to His life in me, I thwart His work in me. This should not be the case among the followers of Jesus.
  • When we insist on personal holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit, God does something powerful with the church. The church, historically, is at its best when it goes against the mainstream. It is time for the Church to embrace its role as a counter-culture revolution of the grace of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to bemoan that we’ve lost influence in our society. We just have to live faithful, unwavering lives of obedience to Jesus. Our influence didn’t come because we went to church. Our influence in history has always been about our commitment to follow Jesus whatever the cost, no mater what society said about us. It is a great time to be the church!
  • And finally, we must learn to love better, even with people who disagree with us. Jesus boiled His movement down to two things, 1) Love God with all that you are; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. We have to love the homosexual and the Muslim. We have to love the Democrat and the Republican. We have to love the faithful churchman and the next door neighbor who has never been to church. We have to genuinely respect and care, not just in words, and not just ignore them. We must find active ways to show people the love of Jesus by loving like Jesus. “He makes his sun to shine on the righteous and unrighteous alike.” (Matthew 5:45)

The world may be changing. But God is still God. Those who hear Him and obey are like a wise man who built his house on a rock. When the seismic shifts come, we stand firm on Him.

Easter Night

Easter is not a day. It is an age, it is 2 millenia and counting. It is not bunnies, and eggs, or even full churches, and hymns. It is a reality that, once experienced, must be lived.

It isn’t a brief hope, a comfort to our dying bodies, nor anestesia for our grief. It is learning to live. It is choosing to believe, to trust, to rely on a reality not yet fulfilled, but promised. Jesus’ body is the firstfruit of resurrection, the first material of this world to be redeemed, regenerated; the first body to be raised. Those in Christ will be raised in time, on a day when faith becomes sight.

Until that day, Easter waits, not to be celebrated, but to be trusted. Martyr, saint, priest, preacher, disciple, Christian; generations past have lived into the future resurrection, proclaiming it as a sure and certain hope. Their testimonies are a living witness to the courage, the dare,  to live Easter.

It is our only hope. Nothing else matters. Living Easter means living.

“Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again.” John 11:25

Saturday – Holy Week 2013


Security. People talk about time, information, and power being the real commodities of our society. But I think security beats them all. How much time would you spend to be sure you were secure? How much information would you acquire to insure your security? Isn’t power good because it helps determine your own security? From the moment Eve, then Adam, ate the fruit in the garden, the quest has been to secure our place in life. When God’s way seems demeaning to our own sense of self, we resort to our own way; after all, isn’t it our security?

So on the Saturday after Good Friday, the leading priests and Pharisees are concerned about their security. It isn’t enough that they have had Jesus killed. When a threat talks about rising from the dead, well, you have to cover all your bases. Matthew 27:62-66 tells us that they are concerned that Jesus’ statements about rising on the third day will inspire His followers to steal His body, then the “second lie” will be greater than the first. How will they be able to contain this Jesus movement if people think He is still alive? Turns out they couldn’t! (But that is tomorrow.)

So Pilate gives them a guard detail and tells them, “…secure it the best you can.” Love that line. How do you secure death. How do you insure the dead stay dead? Seems like an easy job. So they sealed the tomb and they posted guards to keep people out. Too bad they didn’t think about the person inside. (But that is tomorrow.)

It is beyond ironic that the actions of the leading priests and Pharisees are not much different than the actions of Adam and Eve in the garden. Both feel God has lied (they call Jesus “the deceiver” and Eve’s motivation is that God has lied about the fruit causing death). Both are trying to secure their advancement over and against God (Eve sees the fruit as desirable to give wisdom and to make her like God). Both choose disobedience instead of surrender. Both would rather believe a lie than have true security. Adam and Eve secure a certain tomb for themselves. The priests and Pharisees secure the tomb of a man who won’t stay dead. (But that is tomorrow!)

How futile the actions of the insecure. In whom will you trust your security? Things that won’t matter in death? Or One who won’t stay dead?

Friday — Holy Week 2013


The sculpture depicting the moment of Peter’s third denial of Jesus is found in the courtyard of the Church of St. Peter en Gallicantu, or St. Peter of the Rooster’s Crow, it is built over the ruins of the House of Caiaphas, in Jerusalem where Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin. It was in this courtyard that Peter’s denial actually took place.

Friday – Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, and taken to the House of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Coucil, is called in the middle of the night to put Jesus on trial. And so the end has begun, events have been put into motion, beginning with Judas’ betrayal, that will lead to Jesus’ death on a Roman cross at just after 3:00 in the afternoon (Matthew 27:45) Of course, nothing is more significant on this day than his death, which is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. But since I am preaching on that later tonight, I am now drawn to Matthew 26:69-75, Peter’s denial which happens, presumably, in the wee hours, just before dawn on Friday morning.

We might not be so hard on Peter if he had not made such a big deal of his loyalty in verse 35. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” Big words. I’ve said them. Bet you have, too. They are the words of a man who dreams big, talks bigger, loves foolishly, and plans poorly. They are the words of a person who overestimates their ability and overstates their constancy. But they are the words of a person who has great intentions, not of a blowhard. Peter means what he says. He has a big heart, and an even bigger mouth. I believe the very things that led Peter to deny Jesus were the very things that Jesus loved about Peter.

Peter was just being Peter. And he would pay the price. “And he went away, weeping bitterly.” (verse 75) I imagine Peter’s sense of defeat was overwhelming as he heard the rooster crow. How could he face the other 10? Wasn’t he as bad as Judas? How could he face Jesus? Well, at least he wouldn’t have to worry about that one. Jesus would surely die. But how does he live with himself? How can he live with the fact that when Jesus needed him most, when he had the chance to be heard, when he could stand up and tell the whole world the wonders of Jesus, that he was the Son of God, just as he claimed; instead he could only find the words, “I don’t know the man!” (verse 74)

Sadly, the rooster crows for all of us. For who of us haven’t dreamed big, loved foolishly, planned poorly, or wanted to prove ourselves, but failed miserably. Who of us at one time or another hasn’t let fear, pride, or stupidity get in our way. Who of us hasn’t chosen safety over loyalty, denial over proclamation, apathy over love.

Peter does not deny Jesus in isolation. In verse 35, Peter says it first, but all the others chime in. If you watch Peter throughout Matthew’s gospel, he is usually the first among the 12 — first to speak, first to act, first to be rebuked. All the other disciples follow Peter. And Peter does his best to follow Jesus. But when he fails, it is always a big fail. On the sea of Galilee, he walks for a moment on the water, but then looses sight of Jesus. But he at least is out of the boat. (14:22-36) At Caesarea Philippi, Peter speaks up to say, “You are the Messiah”, and then is rebuked by Jesus when he says no harm should ever come to him. (16:13-23) And here, he denies Jesus, but where? In the courtyard of the Sanhedrin, just a few yards from the pit Jesus is being kept in. Right among the people who have opposed Jesus. Peter is behind enemy lines! So he is always out front, even in failure.

And after the resurrection, Jesus says to the women at the tomb, “Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” (28:10) Jesus doesn’t see them as deny-ers, deserters, or failures. He sees them as brothers. O the grace of Jesus! When the rooster crows in your life, be glad it is Jesus who gets the last word!HL11Gallicantu_0045

Thursday – Holy Week 2013


The Church of the Agony is built in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

Matthew’s account of the events of the last Thursday of Jesus’ life flows very quickely, beginning in Matthew 26:17, and before the end of the chapter we have crossed over from Thursday into the events of Friday, and again, no clear dividing line.We are told it is the First Day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, referred to often as the Day of Preparation. For Passover begins the next day at sundown. There is a lot we could say about that, the Passover meal that Jesus shares with the disciples, and it’s significance.Jesus-in-GethsemaneBut I am drawn to the scene in Gethsemane, Matthew 26:36-46. Matthew doesn’t tell us us it is a garden. It isn’t really. It was, and is, an olive grove. The courtyard of the Church of the Agony built on the site has several trees, at least one of which is about 2,000 years old. The name Gethsemane means, “olive press.” It was here that the harvested olives would be brought to be pressed, crushed into oil. And here, Jesus, comes, pressed, crushed beneath the weight of the world. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (verse 38)”Stay here and keep watch with me.” Pitiful words. Maybe you have heard them from the lips of someone who needed your presence in a moment of need. The disciples begin deserting Jesus here, even though in verse 35 they were willing to die with him. But now, they can’t even stay awake with him. And Jesus begins to feel the weight of the whole world with no one to share it with.

The world is heavy. We have come so far from where God intended us to be. We press our rights to the point of destroying our community. We demand our own way calling it justice. We backbite and devour each other in our quest to advance, progress. We complain about what we don’t have when most of the world would be content with just a portion. We enslave ourselves to creditors so we can get what we want now. Our cruelty can be disguised by such righteous sounding jargon. The world is heavy. And so othen the weight of my world pressing on me makes me deaf to your cries from the weight of your world on you. We live is such lonely isolation from each other.

“My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” The weight of the world is heavy, but because Jesus was willing to drink this cup, the weight of our world just got lighter.

He was despised and rejected—
      a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
      it was our sorrows, it was our diseases.
that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
      a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
      crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.       Isaiah 53:3-5
Your load need only be as heavy as what you refuse to let him carry.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30


Wednesday – Holy Week 2013


In Matthew 26:14-16, presumably on Wednesday evening, (which may be Thursday, since the day begins at sundown, when three stars become visible) Judas Iscariot goes to the leading priests, and asks, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?”

Why did the leading priests need a betrayer? Seems like they could have arrested Jesus in the Temple, in the streets, in Bethany — why was it so difficult to nab him? Matthew 26:4-5, tells us the leading priests and elders are plotting to capture Jesus secretly, but not during Passover, “lest the people riot.” So, according to Matthew, they need an insider who knows Jesus movements, his resting places, his habitual patterns, so that they can catch him away from the crowds. They, mistakenly, believe Jesus’ power comes from His popularity. If they can catch him away from the crowd, they will strip Him of His power and do with Him as they please. Ironically, Jesus’ popularity is what they fear and what they crave.

But why would Judas initiate such an arrangement? There are all kinds of theories: Judas was disillusioned by Jesus’ care for the poor instead of political power; he was trying to force Jesus’ hand thinking Israel would rally to Him once arrested; or that he was a thief and not to be trusted in the first place. All of these have some merit and any one or combination might be true.

But Matthew does not give any of these as a reason. In the very next few verses, Matthew 26:17-25, Matthew gives a subtle, but significant clue to the motivation of Judas’ betrayal. At the last supper, Jesus announces that one of the disciples gathered with Him around the table would betray Him. Each of the disciples is distressed and asks, “Am I the one, Lord?” Each one, that is, but Judas. Judas asks, “Rabbi, am I the one?” (Matthew 26:25)

Did you catch it? To the eleven Jesus had become “Lord”. To Judas, Jesus remained “Rabbi”. There is a huge difference between Jesus being a Rabbi, a teacher, and Him being Lord. It makes all the difference. And to see Him as only a teacher, and not Lord, is to betray Him, deny Him, abuse Him, and ignore Him.

Who is He to you? Teacher? Or Lord?

Tuesday – Holy Week 2013

I’m a geek when it comes to the Bible, I look at things and want to talk about things,



details, relationship of one passage to another; things, it feels, not everyone wants to discuss. So bear with me if it doesn’t interest you.



The last week of Jesus’ life in Matthew begins on Sunday in chapter 21. Now, from there figuring out what happens on each day isn’t quite clear, and it basically means you take your best logical guesses. But there are some clues. It is pretty clear the cursing of the fig tree, spoken of in the last post, happens on the next day after Palm Sunday, Monday. (Matthew 21:18). Matthew 22:23 puts everything between the


cursing of the fig tree and and the question of the woman who married 7 brothers all happened on the same day, Monday.

We don’t get a clear break between the events of Monday and Tuesday, and Wednesday, but Matthew 26:1 indicates that he is speaking to them on Wednesday, two days before the Passover. Days begin at sundown, when 3 stars are visible. So when Jesus says the Passover begins in two days, we know it is Wednesday. (Passover would begin on Friday at sundown, according to John 19:31.)

So, the events recorded in Matthew 21:18 through Matthew 26:5 happen over M


onday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. But Matthew doesn’t tell us when each day ends or begins. Most likely, the conversation which concludes in 26:5 happens at the end of the day, late afternoon, on Wednesday, as they are leaving Jerusalem for the day to return to Bethany. Perhaps the meal that begins in Matthew 26:6 is after sundown, which would make it Thursday.

In any event, the counting of days is confusing, with the start of a day at sundown, and Matthew isn’t concerned with what happens on each day, but the focus is on Jesus’ final sermons: the criticizing of the religious leaders in chapter 23, and signs of the end in chapters 24-25 (which probably occurs on Wednesday).


So, Tuesday…most likely…
Leonard Sweet tweeted recently, “Jesus was the only perfect man who ever lived (who never sinned), yet sinners flocked to him.” Isn’t it interesting that it isn’t sinners whom Jesus condemns, but the religious leaders of His day. He forgives a woman caught in adultery, a tax collector who has cheated thousands, a sinful woman on Wednesday/Thursday evening will touch him and wash his feet, sinners are all over him and he accepts them, loves them, forgives them. But the religious, the righteous-


in-their-own-sight, they draw his harshest criticism in chapter 23: they crush people (verse


4), everything they do is for show (verse 5), they crave honor and respect (6, 7), they shut the door of the Kingdom in people’s faces (verse 13), they corrupt their own converts (verse 15), they use sacred things to dishonor God because they miss the whole point of mercy, justice, and faith (verses 16-24). They look good on the outside, but on the inside they are full of rotten decay (verses 27-28). And this all leads Jesus to weep and mourn over Jerusalem longing to care for them and nurture them, but they won’t let him (verses 37-39).

I wonder if the church today would draw these criticisms from Jesus? Hav


e we become what Jesus hated? Do we crush the unchurched? Do we comfort ourselves with our own decency, excluding those whom Jesus loves? Does our political wrangling and cultural fighting reflect our craving for the honor and respect society once gave the church, but does so no longer? Do we shut the door of the Kingdom with self-righteousness and hypocrisy because we refuse to live authentically holy lives. Does the church today make disciples of Jesus or disciples of our own self-justifying, self-pleasing religion? Do we value church over faith, religion over relationships? Does Jesus weep over us because we could be something great? We could be a community of redeeming grace. But are we?


Now that is a little heavy handed, I know. I don’t know of any churches that make it their aim to be hypocritical and un-grace-filled. But unless we intentionally aim to be open, inviting, accepting, we are judgmental by default. I hate sin. I can pick out all kinds of sin and sinners to rail against. I don’t like a lot of the things I see in society. But we are called to introduce people to the grace of Jesus. Jesus died for all of us. We are all in the same boat.


Monday, Holy Week 2013

taqshWow! My first blog. A lot of things I love to talk about, I don’t know how many people want to listen. . .but I don’t guess that keeps many of us from talking.

But since it is Holy Week, the celebration of Christianity’s central proclamation, I thought I’d open the floodgates of my thoughts walking through Jesus’ last week. I’m using Matthew’s account.

Monday – the day after Palm Sunday, Matthew records Jesus returning from Bethany (on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives) back to Jerusalem for a day sparring with the leading priests and elders. (Matthew 21:17-18, 23) But on the way, Jesus stops to relieve his hunger at a fig tree. (Maybe he missed breakfast.) He went to find figs, but there were only leaves, so he curses it, “May you never bear fruit again!” and the fig tree withers. (Matthew 21:19) The season for figs begins in June. This is the Monday before Passover, March-April. So it isn’t time for figs. Why does Jesus curse a fig tree for not having figs when it isn’t time to have figs?

I have read that the fig tree begins to produce pre-figs, taqsh, which are edible, but fall off as the real figs begin to form. If the fig tree doesn’t have taqsh, then it won’t have figs, and is therefore barren and hopeless for the season. Could it be that Jesus sees in this fig tree a symbol of Judiasm and Israel, since he has already begun to share with his disciples since Matthew 16 that he will go to Jerusalem and be crucified?

There is an interesting verse among the prophets, Micah 7:1, where God says: “How miserable I am! I feel like the fruit picker after the harvest who can find nothing to eat. Not a cluster of grapes or a single early fig can be found to satisfy my hunger.” Micah is talking about God’s assessment of Israel’s spiritual state. The lack of honest and godly people is the source of God’s hunger. God’s misery is casused by Israel’s corruption (Micah 6:10-13) and a day of judgement is coming. Israel careless way of keeping (or not keeping) God’s commands had degenerated into corruption and idolatry. Once filled with the promises to Abraham and to David, Israel now is barren and hopeless.

The cursing of a fig tree by Jesus is fulfillment of God’s unsatisfied hunger in Micah 7:1. The cursing of the fig tree is a cursing of, not only the barreness of Israel/Judaism, but of all human attempts to manipulate the holy God to pardon their offenses without honest, fruitful repentance. Jesus finds no figs, and among us, he finds no one worthy. And since none of us are worthy, Friday is just 4 days away.

Is Jesus still hungry when He looks at our lives?   Has repentance replaced posturing? Am I barren and hopeless? There is no hope for us if we are fig trees with no figs. John the Baptist at the beginning of Jesus ministry warned the people: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) Repentance looks different that non-repentance. You can’t change and still do what you’ve always done. God isn’t fooled. I know because I’ve tried.

Hope isn’t in finding figs on a cursed tree trying to manufacture fruit that isn’t there. Hope is in finding a God on a tree, who allowed Himself to be cursed for my sake. (Galatians 3:13) I can imagine that Jesus as he looked at that barren fig tree thought of His own tree that would bear fruit for you and me.