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Archive for February, 2016

What Did I Do to Deserve This?

“Do you think that the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans?”  Luke 13:2 (CEB)

How often have we asked, “What did I do to deserve this?”  When we are struck by illness or a loss that leaves us shaking; when we are laid off or feel as if the weight of the world lands on our shoulders, do we ask that question?

It’s so easy to believe in the cause and effect of our actions, and there are many times when our own behaviors bring on consequences.  Yet, catastrophic events or life-changing events are often not of our own doing.  Somehow, though, we interject our own unworthiness or sinfulness into the mix thinking we might have done something to deserve whatever it is that has befallen us.

In Luke 13, Jesus continues his journey toward Jerusalem, and as he travels, he teaches people about God and how God interacts with us as human beings – as children of God.  Pontius Pilate had murdered some Galileans in cold blood, and the people were questioning why this had happened.  That’s when Jesus answered with “Did you think they did something to deserve this?”

He went on to say that there was a tower that fell on eighteen people and asked, “Did you think THEY deserved it?”  The underlying implication is that we can’t explain why such things happen, and apparently they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Yet, he warns them that they must repent, change their hearts and lives so that they honor God in their living.

The parable of the fruitless fig tree follows this teaching, and although we may think they are unrelated, the story builds on what Jesus had just told them.  Most fig trees don’t produce fruit for a few years after they have been planted, so the vineyard owner may have felt that this particular tree had been given enough time.  Thanks to the gardener, the tree was given a reprieve, and the gardener promised to nurture it along to see if it would produce within the year.

If we think of God as the gardener, we have a better sense of the second chances we are offered by the grace of God all the time.  The parable doesn’t say if the tree would continue to have second, third, fourth, and more chances, but the implication could be that God does, indeed, invite us to turn our hearts and minds toward God over and over again.

So, the next time we are tempted to say, “What did I do to deserve this?” we might want to turn that question around to say, “How will I find God in the midst of this to help me get through it.”  Just a thought!

How have you found God in the midst of trials and difficult situations?

In what ways do you “dry up” and need nurturing to repent and turn your life back to God?

How does the parable of the fig tree give you hope in God’s grace?

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Tempted – again!

“. . . [Jesus] was tempted for forty days by the devil.”  Luke 4:2a (CEB)

I’m actually relieved that Jesus was tempted.  Being tempted is part of life, and I give in to temptation WAY more than I should.  Reading the story of Jesus’ temptation from the gospel of Luke reminds me that he was also human.  He could be and WAS tempted.  Of course the BIG difference is that he was able to stand firmly in his identity as the Son of God and not let the devil goad him into giving in.

Yes, I DO wish I could do the same thing, and there are times when I can resist temptation, but there are many other times I give in.  Of course, the majority of those days when I give in to temptation have to do with eating.  Underneath the desire to eat a large bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup and walnuts is something else that is crying for attention.

That’s the big difference between Jesus and us.  Jesus knew himself, knew who he was, knew Whose he was, and was confident in his identity.  We may be confident in a lot of things, but there are still things that draw us away from being baptized children of God.

Baptism is the start of our identity.  This is where we are named and claimed by God as God’s Beloved child.  It is the beginning of our journey with Christ.  Baptism is a way of life, not just a ritual from a church worship service.  This is where we are enfolded into God’s family and loved with a love beyond all understanding.

So, as God’s baptized people, our calling is to grow in faith and share that faith with others in the way we live our lives.  Jesus had just been baptized, and he was led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he encountered the devil.  He was there for a long time; the Bible says forty days and nights – a long time.  He didn’t eat, and he was subjected to the devil’s tantalizing offers of food, power, and safety.  Yet, Jesus didn’t give in.

How I wish we could do that!  I have learned over the years that we can’t even deal with what causes us to overeat, have addictions, misbehave, or whatever we do until we can name what it is inside that is bugging us.  After years and years of attending Weight Watchers meetings, some of what I have learned sinks in sometimes, and I ignore it other times.

Maybe it’s because I just don’t want to deal with it.  Yet, once I have eaten the ice cream (a huge bowl!), I don’t really feel better!  Instead, I feel guilty.  Temptation is a lie.  It offer the idea that something else is far better than what God has to offer us.  Maybe we can learn a little from Jesus about sticking close to God and trusting that the Spirit won’t abandon us when the times get tough.  Maybe we just need to name our issues and turn them over to God, trusting that we will be shown the way to deal with them other than giving into temptation.  Maybe.

In what ways are you able to resist temptation?

How do you trust that God is with you during those times?

 

Transfigured and Transformed

While [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”  Luke 9:29 (NRSV)

I wonder what it would have been like to be on that mountain with Jesus.  So many incredible experiences happened to the disciples, and yet they just didn’t get it most of the time.  At the end of this reading in Luke 9:28-43, we read that they didn’t say anything to anyone about what they had seen (until later).

Seeing Jesus transfigured would have left its mark on them, but maybe they just couldn’t describe it or felt like they had to process it for a while.  Have you ever seen anyone who looked transfigured?  Once I heard a television worship service in which the pastor talked about doing a wedding for a couple where the bride wasn’t “anything to look at.”  At first I was a little appalled by his description, but he talked about the love between the couple, and he said that as she looked at her groom during the service, her face beamed and transformed.  The pastor could see the beauty in her.

Sometimes we judge others harshly by their outward appearance, and we fail to see the whole person.  We might not like the way a person dresses or wears his or her hair.  There are any number of outward appearances that can be off-putting to people.  Seeing the inner person helps to overlook those outer “trappings.”

A person can be transformed when their life is changed by an experience that makes them feel happy or joyful.  Jesus’ transfiguration to dazzling had a huge impact on the three disciples who were there with him.  In witnessing the Transfiguration, they were transformed.  Their lives would never be the same again.

Throughout scripture, we find the belief that if someone encountered God, they would surely die, and yet, the disciples didn’t die, but lived to share the experience with others.  An encounter with the Divine usually gets our attention and changes something within us, bringing transformation and a renewed joy in life.

One summer I read a lot of books about people who had died, gone to heaven, and returned totally changed.  Their families could see the change in them, and they had a new outlook on life.  They had met God and were sent back to earth to fulfill a mission of some kind.  In my ministry, I have met a few people who have had that experience, and they say that they are not afraid to die.  They also say that they find a renewed direction for their lives, a renewed appreciation for what they have, and a sense of purpose.

How are we transformed by knowing and following Jesus?

In what ways can we learn from him and from others about living faithfully?

What experiences of transformation have we witnessed in others?

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