"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Monday, January 27, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 4

Last week in chapter 3 we read how John the Baptist called people to repent (turn from every thing in life that hindered them from becoming the people God made them to be) and to receive baptism (change their hearts and lives, accepting God's kingdom life). We then read how Jesus (who had no need for repentance), too, was baptized to demonstrate His alignment with God's kingdom life and to receive God's claim as His Son, chosen and marked by God's love.

How interesting, then, after having read about Jesus receiving the same baptism as the rest of us and learning about His human genealogy, that we find ourselves in the opening verses of chapter 4 reading about Jesus' temptation...something we humans understand far too well. It called to mind these lyrics from a great worship song called Lead Me To The Cross:
"You were as I, tempted and tried...human."
 Fred Craddock rightly states in his Interpretation commentary:
"Being committed to the way of God in the world does not exempt one from the struggle. In fact, it is those who are most engaged in the way of God who seem to experience most intensely the opposition of evil. If Jesus struggled, who is exempt?"
Of course, the answer to Craddock's question is, "No one." We all struggle and temptation is something that never goes away; especially when you consider that our strongest temptations are to do things within our power, rather than things we are unable to do. Look at how the devil tempted Jesus:
  1. The devil said to him, "Since you are God's Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." (Lk 4:3, CEB)
  2. The devil said, "I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours."(Lk 4:6-7, CEB)
  3. The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, "Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone." (Lk 4:9-11, CEB)
See what I mean? Three times the devil tempted Jesus to do things well within His power. And, three times Jesus, filled with God's Spirit, overcame the devil's temptations by drawing upon the power of Scripture. That's good news for us because we, too, are led by God's Spirit and armed with Scripture. So, while the power of temptation may never go away and the devil may always lie in wait, the power of the Holy Spirit and God's Word will always stand for us and with us.

Something else that struck me about this passage and Jesus' temptation was its conclusion. Both the NRSV and the CEB refer to Jesus having finished "every" test and the MSG says the Jesus "completed the testing." I suppose this could mean simply that Jesus successfully completed the three temptations mentioned. (It is worth pausing here to note that Craddock postulates that the first temptation was personal/social, the second was political, and the third was religious.) But, the connotation of "every temptation" has led me to wonder, "Is it possible that during His 40 days in the wilderness Jesus was subjected to every human temptation?" Regardless, the result was the same. Jesus overcame the power of temptation and triumphantly left the desert to begin His ministry, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons with authority that amazed. 
There is so much more that could be said about the beginning of Jesus' ministry since a full two-thirds of the chapter is dedicated to it. However, I will leave you to your own reflection since it really was Jesus' temptation that captured my attention. Remember, this is supposed to be interactive. So, make comments directly to my blog or on Facebook or on Twitter...what captured your attention in chapter 4?

Looking forward to next week...


PS - If you are so inclined, I invite you to please pray for the FL Conference Board of Ordained Ministry as they set about the very important task of interviewing candidates this week in Leesburg. I will be interviewed Wednesday morning, seeking approval to become a Provisional Elder.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Foto Friday - 2014 Rousseau Family Winter Retreat

My family and I returned last night from a week's vacation in the mountains of North Carolina, where we enjoyed the hospitality of our dear friends' cabin. Rather than upload another photo album to Facebook, I thought I would again use my blog to record my Sabbath activity of photography, which I thoroughly enjoyed on this trip and learned more about my camera than all previous outings combined. I may upload more photos here than necessary but I hope you'll enjoy it anyway! 

A couple of shots from our scenic drives together (I logged over 24 hours behind the wheel, including the drive there and back):

Where we stayed:

Some shots from our hikes near the cabin:

Obligatory shots of my beautiful children:

Here are some shots where I was attempting to capture less obvious perspectives (so much natural beauty around, I gather most wouldn't have thought of these):

I also spent some time experimenting with long exposures. Here are some "first-trys" at star trail photography (I was all set to make a second effort on our last night but it was cloudy...boo) and light-painting (I used the flashlight on my iPhone...the kids had a lot of fun with this):

Finally, I learned some valuable lessons in the importance of persistence and composition. There is a rather large creek that runs behind the cabin (hence the name for the area "Land of Living Water") and I had been trying to capture the movement of the water using long exposure. I took dozens of photos before finally getting one that I like. First, here is the location as captured by my iPhone from the adjacent path...it doesn't look like much.

Here is the final product from my Nikon. It required several attempts at finding the "just right" composition (which included me stepping into the creek to move an uncooperative branch from the frame), waiting for the right light, the right exposure, patience, and most importantly, a tripod. I indeed learned a lot from this one.

So, there you have it...the Sabbath activity of photography (what I call "searching for God through the lens of my camera") is so good for my soul. Friends, I pray you all find something like it for those times when you are resting in who God is and all God does.

Shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 3

Writing this morning from a beautiful cabin in an area called the "Land of Living Water" in the mountains of North Carolina. Snow on the ground outside, fire burning inside. I could get used to this...

John the Baptist, Jesus, and baptism are on display in Luke chapter 3 and it's quite a passage. Coincidentally, a couple weeks ago I preached a sermon on Luke 3:1-22 in the 6:35 service titled "Baptisms of Life Change" as part of our January series "New Beginnings" and to mark the Baptism of The Lord. Here are some of my reflections.

John's purpose:
John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. (Luke 3:3 CEB, emphasis mine)
And so, John's baptism ministry was wildly successful. So much so that people began to show up for baptism because it was the "popular" thing to do. For those in the crowd seeking a free baptism (meaning baptism without their repentance), John had strong words.
“Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9 MSG, again...emphasis mine)
For some, these words had their desired effect, leading them to remorsefully ask, "Then what are we supposed to do?" Their answer, of course, began with what had been missing in the first place...repentance. For our lives to change, we need to turn away from all that separates us from becoming who God wants us to be. Only then can remorseful repentance lead to the realignment of our lives to God's kingdom life. 

It is this alignment with God's kingdom life that demonstrates the significance of Jesus' baptism. Jesus, whose life was blameless and knew no sin, did not need baptism in order to be cleansed. Rather, Jesus was showing us what it looks like to say, "Not my will, but Yours be done." By receiving baptism, Jesus was claiming God's kingdom life is far better than any other. And, in response, God made a claim of His own.
“You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” (Luke 3:22 MSG)
My friends, to be chosen and marked by God's love is reason to rejoice. God loves each and every one of us and, in baptism, we are all sons and daughters!

Remorseful repentance.



And I'll add one more...


Remember your baptism and be thankful for what God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has done for us.

Monday, January 13, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 2

Have you ever heard anyone say, "I love Jesus, but the church...not so much."? I know I have. In his invitation for us to join the Luke/Acts reading plan, Bishop Carter made reference to this sentiment, stating that there are many in our culture who wish to separate Jesus from the church. But, he also reminded us "this is not an option for those who take the Bible seriously." This is why I believe that reading Luke and Acts throughout this year is so important and why I pray it is a transformative experience for everyone participating and for our churches all over the Florida Conference.

Luke goes to great length in his gospel and Acts to show the reader that there is continuity between Judaism and the temple life, portrayed in the Old Testament, and Christianity and the church, being introduced by his "carefully ordered account." The gospel of Luke begins (1:8) and ends in the temple (24:53); and, chapter 2 contains two important accounts of Jesus in the temple.

The first account (2:21-40), Jesus' circumcision, naming, and temple presentation, shows that Mary and Joseph fully intended to raise Jesus in a family that would observe the law of Moses and nurture him in the Jewish faith. 

The second account (2:41-52), Jesus in the temple at Passover, shows the family commitment to Judaism and life in the temple continues. The story tells us that Jesus is now twelve years old, which likely means he has gone through the ceremony of "bar mitzvah." As a result, Jesus would have attended the Passover festival at the temple as required by Mosaic law.

Of these accounts, one commentator writes:
"Luke's primary interest is to establish that Jesus was a true Israelite, from birth brought up in the moral and ritual life of Judaism. Home, temple, and synagogue formed him...at every significant period of his life he was in continuity with Judaism." (Interpretation - Luke, p. 41)
This statement resonates with me. While I have absolutely no idea what it is like to be perfect like Jesus was perfect, I do know what it means to have been formed by family life in the home and the church. Also, the most significant moments of my life somehow included Jesus and the church. 

I will admit that in some ways I understand those who love Jesus but not the church. The church is, indeed, imperfect. Very imperfect. Still, to those who express their discontentment with the church, I often ask, "Why do you think Jesus uses imperfect people for his work in the church?" Obviously, it is because we are all he has to work with. And to this I often add: By all means, love Jesus. He loves you. But please, love the church because Jesus loves that, too. Love is an action verb, not a stative verb. Simply put, this means love is a work in progress, not something we possess.

Luke chapter 2 reveals to us that Jesus went through spiritual development, maturing in wisdom and years and in favor with God and with people (2:52). So too may it be with us as we grow in grace and in our love of God, Christ's holy church, and our every neighbor.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

#LukeActs2014 - Luke chapter 1

I'm sure that how I use this blog as part of the Luke/Acts reading plan will continue to evolve, but for now I wanted to simply make a few observations about my impressions from Luke chapter 1.

First, it is worth noting that I read chapter 1 in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Common English Bible (CEB), and The MESSAGE, and intend to do so throughout the reading plan. Bishop Carter wrote he will be doing this as well and these are typically the three versions I turn to most often during sermon preparation.

Luke begins his carefully ordered account of Jesus' life in chapter one by telling these stories: Gabriel's appearance to Zachariah foretelling his wife Elizabeth's pregnancy, Gabriel's appearance to Mary foretelling her pregnancy, Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, Mary's exuberant song, Elizabeth giving birth to John the Baptist, and Zachariah's song.

If you were with us on the fourth Sunday of Advent, I preached a sermon titled The Symphony of Peace that focused on the songs of Luke gospel, two of which appear in chapter 1. Mary's song, in particular, is a beautiful passage of Scripture. But, when re-reading Luke chapter 1 in the The MESSAGE this week, something I hadn't noticed before in Eugene Peterson's paraphrase really stood out to me.  

From the story of Gabriel's appearance to Zachariah:
It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense.
While the CEB and NRSV indicate only that Zachariah was chosen by lottery or lot to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense, which indicates his assignment was random, The MESSAGE indicates it was Zachariah's "one turn in life." Either way, there are are indeed no coincidences in the kingdom of God and Zachariah's encounter was a moment he had long been waiting for...which brings me to the second thing that stood out.

From Gabriel's words to Zachariah:
"Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time."
 And about the congregation outside the sanctuary waiting for Zachariah to return:
"Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary."
God's time. The idea of it is both a curious and challenging thing for us who live in a world where we want what we want when want it. Zachariah and Elizabeth had likely been restless much of their married life as they waited to conceive a child. Waiting is hard and it is very likely that they had resigned themselves to the fact that they would never have a child...until Zachariah's one time to enter the sanctuary of God. Their dream, and God's will, fulfilled in God's time.

So...what are you waiting for? What might you learn from the waiting?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reading Luke and Acts in 2014 - Introduction

In yesterday's sermon, I extended Bishop Carter's invitation to read Luke and Acts, one chapter per week, throughout 2014. There are 24 chapters in Luke and 28 chapters in Acts, for 52 total chapters to take us through the year ahead. We were invited to read Luke chapter 1 yesterday, then Luke chapter 2 on January 12th, Luke chapter 3 on January 19th, and so on. 

Bishop Carter's Weekly Scripture Reading 2014 can be found here. 

A downloadable reading schedule can be found here. 

And, I am not yet sure what my precise plan is for using my blog during this journey through Luke and Acts, but I will endeavor to post something weekly (as one of you suggested to me yesterday).

I'll begin today by offering some words of introduction to the gospel of Luke, found in the Wesley Study Bible (CEB), that tie well to the Bishop's intent for the reading plan.
 "When read side by side (as they were probably designed to be), Luke and Acts form our most important sources for understanding the history of earliest Christianity. The two books are held together by the theme of the plan of God. The history in these volumes relates how God acted in Jesus of Nazareth to bring peace and justice into the world and how God continued this same mission through the apostles whom Jesus chose."
Reading Luke and Acts to understand how God is even today continuing His mission to bring peace and justice into the world is indeed an important exercise for us striving to become disciples of Jesus committed to making a difference in the world. 

In Luke, we will read for ourselves the "carefully ordered account" of Jesus' life and ministry, which will hopefully lead us to ask such questions as, "Am I becoming more fully the person God made me to be? Am I following Jesus' example and becoming more like Him? How do I need to change?" 

In Acts, we will read for ourselves how, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles whom Jesus chose continued His ministry, caring for each other and proclaiming the gospel to all the world. I hope their example will lead us to such questions as, "Are we, the church in the world today, becoming more fully the people of God, the unified community of believers, who God is calling us to be? Are we following the example of the first disciples in our witness to a watching world? How do we need to change?"

I am looking forward to this journey together and encourage you to make it interactive! Reply to my blogs about what speaks to you in the weekly reading. Post on Facebook. Join the conversation on Twitter using the Bishop's suggested hashtag #LukeActs 2014

Now on to Luke chapter 1.