“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  John 12:25

I love my life.  I have a beautiful, godly, gifted wife who happens to also be an amazing mom.  Together we have 4 children who succeed in all they do.  They actually like each other and when our fourth came along 13 years after we thought we were finished, none of them resented him or the attention he receives, but each became a pretty darn good parent in their own right.  We live in a safe and peaceful neighborhood in a spacious house with everything we need and more.  Our families are supportive and loving and even love each other.  We love our jobs, our church, our friends, and most of all each other.  I love my life.

This makes this verse in John a hard one to swallow.  Jesus is speaking to the tendency of His people toward comfort and self-indulgence.  And truth be told, I don’t know anyone around me who does not fit that description in spades.  To my discredit, I know few if any people who are chronically hungry, or oppressed, or fear for their life.  I don’t know anyone who wants for anything, who is part of the second half of this verse: those who hate their life in this world.  It is a difficult thing to ponder this verse in a land of prosperity.

Does God mean for us to purposely live lives that are hateful, not because we don’t have something we want but because we don’t have anything we need?  Does Jesus call us to give all we have to the poor and come and follow Him?  What would that look like in our context?  What if that wasn’t just a call to that particular rich young man, or a metaphor for needing God, or any of the other misinterpretations we foist upon ourselves whenever we read a verse like this?  What if Jesus really meant it?  If so, I’m in a lot of trouble.  How about you?

“So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.”  2 Chron. 10:19

This verse from our Old Testament reading today foreshadows the end of our New Testament reading.  John’s gospel makes clear the division between the Jews (“Israel”) and Jesus (“of the house of David”).  But there is another verse that also speaks from the Old Testament reading to the New Testament reading today.  “…for this is My (God’s) doing.”  2 Chron. 11:4.  Jesus was opposed by the Jews, the Pharisees, the Jewish Leaders, or the Scribes, depending on which story and which gospel you are reading.  Some say Jesus was killed by the Jews, and some say it was at the hand of Rome.  And both of these would be true in their own way.  The Jewish leaders sought out ways to arrest Jesus, handed Him over to the Romans, and riled up the crowd against Him at His trial.  The Romans were the ones to pronounce the sentence of death and to carry it out since the Jews did not have the authority to do so.  Both are to be held accountable for Jesus’ death.

But ultimately, it was God’s doing that Jesus should die for His people.  This was not a change in God’s plan once people began to sin.  This was not a “plan B” at all.  It was the plan from the beginning of time.  All events happened, were directed by God, to create this scenario, to lead to the cross.  Israel’s rebellion against the house of David personified in Jesus Christ was God’s doing.  It is His fault.

But if we are to lay the blame for Jesus’ death at God’s feet, then we must also give Him credit for the Resurrection, for you can’t have one without the other.  As foreshadowed so specifically in Lazarus’ rising, the stone of Jesus’ tomb would be rolled away and Jesus would rise again as well.  It may be the ultimate proof of God’s omnipotence and direction in our lives, that He would plan to sacrifice Jesus for our sins, only to resurrect Him as the first, but not the last, of us to experience resurrection.  It is God’s plan, God’s doing, but the end of the plan is eternal life with Him.

This summer, our congregational gatherings revolve around our church’s Core Values:

Community – June 13
Authenticity – June 27
Relationships – July 11
Engagement – the week of Aug. 2 through Aug. 7

We’re calling it “LCC C.A.R.E.S.” Each event this summer will focus on one of these themes.  To learn more about each event and to sign up to participate in them, simply click on the word above!  We will also post each event individually so you can get more details.

“It is in our greatest difficulties that God reveals Himself most clearly.”

We humans spend most of our lives seeking comfort and pleasure, security and significance.  We avoid pain, sorrow, and sadness like the plague.  We go to unbelievable extremes to solve every problem, cheer ourselves up, and stay away from anything difficult.  When was the last time you thought, “O goody!  A problem!”

Yet at the same time, we should know by now that all of these things we seek don’t lead us closer to God.  In fact, they lead us away from God, toward self-sufficiency.  It is not in our comfort but in our difficulties that we draw closer to God.

The biggest difficulty we face in this life is death.  It is the ultimate enemy and every movie we watch tells us so.  Even the scriptures call it the Last Enemy.  And for Mary and Martha, it was an enemy who had won the battle, stealing their brother Lazarus away from them.  They had called Jesus, their friend and healer, but He was too late.

And yet it is in the face of death that we get the most powerful statement of Jesus’ identity in the whole of scripture:  “I Am the resurrection and the life.”  John puts this story at the very center of his gospel, literally and thematically, to emphasize this point.  As these friends faced the greatest difficulty of their lives, the premature death of their brother, they saw God revealed in Jesus Christ in a way they never could have before.

When we are tempted to avoid our difficulties, or blame God for them, lets first take a moment, even in their midst, to see how God might be revealing Himself and drawing us closer to Him in the midst of them.

“It is in our greatest difficulties that God reveals Himself most clearly.”

We humans spend most of our lives seeking comfort and pleasure, security and significance.  We avoid pain, sorrow, and sadness like the plague.  We go to unbelievable extremes to solve every problem, cheer ourselves up, and stay away from anything difficult.  When was the last time you thought, “O goody!  A problem!”

Yet at the same time, we should know by now that all of these things we seek don’t lead us closer to God.  In fact, they lead us away from God, toward self-sufficiency.  It is not in our comfort but in our difficulties that we draw closer to God.

The biggest difficulty we face in this life is death.  It is the ultimate enemy and every movie we watch tells us so.  Even the scriptures call it the Last Enemy.  And for Mary and Martha, it was an enemy who had won the battle, stealing their brother Lazarus away from them.  They had called Jesus, their friend and healer, but He was too late.

And yet it is in the face of death that we get the most powerful statement of Jesus’ identity in the whole of scripture:  “I Am the resurrection and the life.”  John puts this story at the very center of his gospel, literally and thematically, to emphasize this point.  As these friends faced the greatest difficulty of their lives, the premature death of their brother, they saw God revealed in Jesus Christ in a way they never could have before.

When we are tempted to avoid our difficulties, or blame God for them, lets first take a moment, even in their midst, to see how God might be revealing Himself and drawing us closer to Him in the midst of them.

The major difference between moving cows and moving sheep is that you drive cows from behind but you lead sheep from in front.

Jesus has proclaimed Himself “the Good Shepherd” and the metaphor is apt.  As our Good Shepherd, Jesus leads us from in front.  He goes before us and only then calls us to follow His lead.  But all too often we forget this, thinking we are blazing a trail, attempting a task nobody has tried before.  But we are never called anywhere that Jesus has not gone before.

So how do we follow our Good Shepherd?  By following His voice.  If we are Jesus’ sheep, we will recognize His voice when we hear it or read it.  We will know which messages come from Him and which come from us or the world around us.  And when we hear His voice, all we need to do is follow where it leads.  When we do, we will truly prove ourselves to be His sheep.

As Jesus celebrates the next Jewish feast, in this case Hannukah or the Feast of Dedication, we get another “I am…” statement: “I Am the Good Shepherd.”  This is not only a beautiful metaphor of Jesus’ ministry, but also a public accusation of the temple leadership.

While the Feast of Dedication was a celebration of the anniversary of the dedication of the temple, it also became a feast of remembrance of the Maccabean Revolt.  In the time between the testaments, a time not recorded in scripture (except for the Apocrypha, a collection of writings inducted into the Catholic bible but not the Protestant one), a group of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees rose up against the Romans in a successful, if temporary, revolt.  Hannukah was a celebration of this revolt.

During this festival, the temple priests read aloud from the book of Zechariah the prophecy of God’s judgement on the bad shepherds of Israel at the time, namely the priests and rulers.  It was likely during the reading about God’s judgement on the Bad Shepherds that Jesus stood publicly and proclaimed Himself the Good Shepherd.  While the lower class people would love this creative way of calling out their current leadership and likening them to the bad shepherds of Zechariah, it also placed Jesus in a role reserved for God alone, that of Shepherd of His People.

It was yet another way that Jesus identified Himself, through the Jewish feasts, as both God in the flesh and the true leader of God’s people.

Each time we have a sermon on financial stewardship, the basic message is “we need to give more”.  Whether out of need (like a building campaign or to meet a budget to fund a mission project), or out of thanksgiving (God has given us so much that we really should give some back to Him), or out of discipleship (we need to let go of our addiction to money by giving it away), the message is always basically the same: we need to give more.  This is not a bad message.  It is true to the gospel.  It maps out a Godly use for our money.  But there is another message we could share.

This text (1 Chron. 29) is seldom used for a lesson on financial stewardship, and yet it may be just what we need.  David begins this prayer with a beautiful ode to God, and then comes something new.  “Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?”  The Israelites have just caught David’s vision for a temple to God and have given a ridiculous amount to see it happen.  And in thanksgiving for their generosity, David prays this prayer.

It is not a prayer of thanksgiving to the people for giving, but to God for blessing them to such an extent that they have so much to give.  This prayer is humble, heart-felt, and bursting with gratitude.  It is the very prayer we should be praying today.

God, we have given so much to Your work, yet all we have given came from You in the first place.  Why me, God?  Why have you determined that we should be so blessed with abundance that we can give so much, and even that comes from our excess most of the time.  If we could pray this prayer, we might remember (1) that all we have comes from God and is still His to do with as He pleases, (2) we have infinitely more wealth than most of the world, and therefore a duty to use it righteously, and (3) it is a privilege, not a right, to have so much that we can give it away to God and others.

Our June/July newsletter is now available.  To download it, click here.

“Light” and “Darkness”, “Blind” and “Seeing”… John uses these metaphors regularly throughout his gospel, and they are good ones for us to ponder today.  As we look at Jesus healing a man who was born blind, this question of Who is Really Blind? comes home to the Pharisees.

Jesus and His disciples approach a man who is blind from birth and the disciples ask the typical question for a first century Jew (and a 21st century American): “Why?”  Why was this man born blind?  Why do bad things happen to the innocent?  How can a loving and all powerful God allow evil like blindness to happen if He could stop it?  For the disciples, the assumption that God is all powerful is a given, so there is no question of God causing the blindness.  The question is why.  Was it his parents’ sin?  Was it his?

Jesus gives us the only answer we get to such a difficult and ever-present question:  Neither.  This blindness is not a punishment for sin but is a means of revealing God’s glory.  And through Jesus’ miraculous healing, God’s glory was indeed revealed.  Sadly, this is not the answer we want for our sicknesses, grief, or pain.  That God might inflict unhappiness on His people just so He can reveal His glory seems wrong at best, sadistic at worst.  But this reveals once again what I consider the biggest idolatry in our world today: ego.  Of all the idols we can list, our own self-focus and self-interest is our biggest idol.

To believe as we do that reality, life, and even God’s responsibility begins with us and our happiness is idolatry.  To begin every philosophy and even theology with me denies the Kingship of God in my life.  And it is this that leads us to the epidemic of godlessness we are seeing from the top to the bottom of our culture.  “It’s ultimately all about me” is the motto of the world Jesus came to save from itself.

Why was this man born blind?  Why would God do something that made someone unhappy for His own purposes (without checking in with us about it first!)?  Because He’s God!

And this may be our biggest blindness of all.  May God heal us of it that we might follow Him in truth.