Take Up Your Mat and Walk!

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S (Scripture): John 5:5 A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.”

8 Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.

10 The Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It’s the Sabbath; you aren’t allowed to carry your mat.”

11 He answered, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”

O (Observation): Sabbath observances were very much a part of the Hebrew culture. Embedded in the Creation story is the Sabbath concept. To give a day of rest / a season of rest.

The Sabbath – as important as it is – became a sort of idol for the Hebrew people. Any work on Sabbath became punishable.

But here sits a person, who, for 38 years, sat by this pool. He was in need of healing. Nothing worked (to heal him) up to this point.

Now, Jesus is offering healing. He asks for consent to heal, not to assume the man’s intentions. The man desires to be healed. Jesus offers this healing – yes, healing on the Sabbath!

Not only that, but the man – now healed – picks up his mat and goes. He is doing a work!

When challenged why he was not observing the Sabbath (for he picked up his mat), the man says that the one who healed him told him to take up the mat and go.

Who does the healed man listen to? Sabbath Law or Jesus? Which brought life to the man that day? Jesus did.

Jesus is for the Sabbath, but if someone seeks new life, Jesus gives it – regardless of the day of the week. And that’s what people will follow.

A (Application): I hope people can see the Gospel as the source of our lives. We try so hard to make religion about doctrine and “what we believe” that we leave folks outside of the circle too often. We withhold grace, instead of releasing it.

I offer what Jesus offers to me: true life!

Why is that so hard to appreciate? Is the work we do bringing life to self or others? Is what we believe readily condemning others? Or inviting them into something life-giving?

We are so afraid to offer the Gospel sometimes, because we don’t know what it will lead to. Or worse, the Gospel will challenge or dispute our broadly accepted doctrine. With our doctrine firmly in place, we can get our heads around belief and understand it. We can tell someone good from evil. That supposedly brings comfort.

Yet that comfort is short-lived. For while it might feel like life to you, it certainly means death to others. Sometimes literal death.

I’m not opposed to being corrected by God or conscience, so that we might look to the Gospel again for Good News. I am opposed to us thinking we know the mind of God, and making others feel like they are not a part of this thing called God’s Kingdom.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, change our hearts and minds to follow Jesus. Amen.

God Works During this Sabath

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S (Scripture): Mark 3:1 Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there. 2 Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they said nothing. 5 Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy. 6 At that, the Pharisees got together with the supporters of Herod to plan how to destroy Jesus.

O (Observation): By this time Jesus’ notoriety was building. He was healing people – and according to the church officials – without God’s or the church’s authority.

Jesus – extremely frustrated – asks the man with the withered hand to come up, front and center. Then Jesus puts the church leaders on the spot: “on this precious Sabbath…shall we do good or evil? Bring life or death?”

In other words, should we let this man suffer, still? When we know he could be healed?

Jesus doesn’t disrespect the Sabbath. He just wonders if the rules the church leaders have created for the Sabbath now promote their own agenda, rather allow the Sabbath to be a day for new life and renewal.

A (Application): How strange a time in which to be living. This is Easter Monday. Yesterday, we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord (albeit online).

The 5 of us in my family (me, wife, our 3 children) had baskets of candy, watched a few worship opportunities online. Had a nice meal. Zoomed with 3 of our family groups.

It was the oddest Easter for us. It was the first time in over 12 years I did not rise early for a sunrise Easter service. I did not notice the small of eggs and sausages and bacon being cooked at church, like in my last call, where they made a huge Easter breakfast.

And as I sit this morning, I wonder about the point of worship and the gathering of God’s people.

Is this really a moment for me to feel the joy of the risen Lord? Don’t get me wrong, I am hopeful. I am not a pessimist. And I know this will all pass.

I guess I just mourn the loss of community this day.

I think of this quarantine time as a Sabbath, perhaps. A time for renewal and rest from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And perhaps this time can better prepare me and my family to see that God can bring new life, even (and especially) while we are in this Sabbath time.

How is God stirring you this day? I sense my own frustration, but perhaps God can work all of this towards the good, eventually. Maybe God is doing the work in me/us already, but maybe I/we can’t see it yet.

I am not saying God brought this on us…just like I don’t think God made the man’s hand withered. I guess I’m saying that in the Sabbath, God can still work things for the good.

P (Prayer): Lord God, create in me a heart that is open to your will being done, in spite of this virus that keeps us apart from loved ones and strangers alike. Amen.

6 + 1 > 7

S (Scripture): Leviticus 23:1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘These are the Lord’s appointed times which you must proclaim as holy assemblies – my appointed times:

3 “‘Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there must be a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy assembly. You must not do any work; it is a Sabbath to the Lord in all the places where you live.’ ”

O (Observation): This one is a throwback to the 10 Commandments: Keep the Sabbath!

As God’s people are being established with all of these Levitical laws this part of Leviticus begins the appointment of festivals and holy gatherings.  

The fact that keeping the Sabbath is the first on this list should not go unnoticed.  After working, set aside time to rest. Very important, indeed!

A (Application):  I think the concept of Sabbath has been lost on most of us.  The idea that rest can make us more productive is just a concept in which people just don’t want to believe.   

We always have things that need to get done: dishes, bathe the pets, vacuum, pull weeds, mow the yard, do the laundry, drop kids off, pick them up, deal with the bills, dust…and…and….and then you consider your work life: meet that deadline, respond to those emails (day and night w/a smartphone), make those meetings, fly out to the convention, apply for a raise, work from home…and…and…and…

When did you rest?   When did you spend Sabbath with God or family?   

The crazy thing about keeping the Sabbath is that, with God, we end up being more focused, have more energy, and have more clarity on the things we are called to do.  

With God, 6 + 1 > 7!!!

Take that rest.  Let the dishes sit for a day.  Is it that important to reply to that email this minute?   Find your rest and guard it with all your energy!   You will see a blessing from the Lord.  

And remember that 6 + 1 > 7, in the Lord.  
Have you experienced this before?  What has that felt like?

P (Prayer): Lord, you give us rest to be able to bear fruit in abundance.  Bring the abundance!  Make us believe!  Amen.  

Discerning God’s Will

  S (Scripture): Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pick heads of wheat and eat them. 2 But when the Pharisees saw this they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is against the law to do on the Sabbath.”  3 He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry – 4 how he entered the house of God and they ate the sacred bread, which was against the law for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that the priests in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are not guilty?  6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

O (Observation):  As Jesus is becoming more known and is receiving some resistance, the Pharisees start mounting attacks against Jesus.  Most of these attacks were about Jesus “breaking the rules.”  

What rules?  The rules that the Church established.   In this case, the rule about the Sabbath.  Any self-respecting Jew would have known better than to “work” on the Sabbath.   Jesus and his crew were working by taking grain from the field on the Sabbath. 

Jesus is scolded for working on the Sababth.  In return, Jesus points out where the “rules” were also being broken by the priests who desecrated the Sabbath, and David (their national and religious hero) was also known to break the Sabbath.  

Jesus is starting to point out the fact that He is Lord of Sabbath.  The concept of the Sabbath is to remind God’s people that rest is part of the equation for abundant life, not just a strict law of obedience.  

A (Application):  Trust me when I say that rest is important.  I need rest, so that God can speak to my mind, body, and soul.  

But even more important, Jesus is pointing out that their salvation is not to rest in laws of human origin, but to be in tune with God’s call for them that day.  For whatever reason, Jesus said that he trumps the Sabbath, and not the other way around.  

This is very odd, and puts us in a conundrum.  If the rules are not always okay, what is okay?  Is this not a slippery slope?   Well…it is a slippery slope.  And I can live with that.  : )

The problem I see with a religion that allows borders to trump discerning God’s will is that we will forget God’s bending towards grace and mercy, God’s abundant and steadfast love.   

So, where do we draw the line?   Perhaps the line is something we always discern?   And if that is our way, then we need to train members of the body of Christ to discern God’s voice.  

At our congregation we ask people to notice “kairos” moments (aka “God moments” or “Aha moments”).   These can be positive or negative moments, which give us pause (like a Sabbath).  At this point, we discern 2 questions: What is God’s word of grace for me this day? And What would God have me do?

So, what borders have your religious inclinations mounted?  Where have you seen folks cross borders to be the Gospel to others?  What kairos moments have you had lately?  What have you done in response to those moments?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to discern your will for us in this place and time.  Amen.  

Are We Still Listening?


S (Scripture): John 9:13 They brought the man who used to be blind to the Pharisees. 9:14 (Now the day on which Jesus made the mud and caused him to see was a Sabbath.) 9:15 So the Pharisees asked him again how he had gained his sight. He replied, “He put mud on my eyes and I washed, and now I am able to see.”

9:28 The Jewish religious leaders heaped insults on him (the man born blind), saying, “You are his disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses! We do not know where this man comes from!” 9:30 The man replied, “This is a remarkable thing, that you don’t know where he comes from, and yet he caused me to see! 9:31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is devout and does his will, God listens to him. 9:32 Never before has anyone heard of someone causing a man born blind to see. 9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 9:34 They replied, “You were born completely in sinfulness, and yet you presume to teach us?” So they threw him out.

O (Observation): Phew! Lots going on here. Man born blind – Jesus heals him on the Sabbath – Jewish leaders try to trap Jesus again – Man born blind progresses in belief – Jewish leaders pull rank and dismiss the man born blind as a sinner, because he considers himself a disciple of Jesus.

Two things stand out to me.

1. Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
2. When push comes to shove, the Jewish religious leaders default to titles and tradition, not God.

Healing on the Sabbath was considered sinful. This was a work, and people were not to work on the Sabbath. (See the 10 Commandments.).

Once again, Jesus bumps up against the traditions. This puts him at odds with the religious leaders. This also means that he is coming back to the main point: Which is more important? Sabbath, or bringing someone back into the community where that person can worship God?

When challenging the man born blind, the religious leaders have the tables turned on them by this very man who has been healed. He seems to think that they want to follow Jesus, but they end up claiming to be disciples of Moses. Moreover, when they get frustrated with this man they just pull rank and fall back to their titles as positions of privilege. They then declare that this man just simply must be sinful, even though he’s been healed. Have the religious leaders stopped listening for God’s voice, and instead, clung to their human-made traditions to seek life in God?

A (Application): Are we still listening? Do we still listen for God’s voice? Do we still listen to seek what it is that God would have us do in this world?

I wonder if we are not like these Jewish religious leaders at times – leaning on tradition and titles and positions of power in the church and in the world.

Do business people and bankers and politicians and entrepreneurs and cooks and nurses and doctors and lawyers still listen for God’s voice? I hope they do. Yet, too often we rely on our hired religious leaders to speak about faith and do the “spiritual thing” for us.

Whether we are in a church building, at home, in the workplace, at school, listening for God’s voice is extremely important. When we fail to stop and listen, we fail to notice God breaking into the world. When we don’t notice God, we fall back on our own traditions and our own ways. These traditions and ways are not life-giving in and of themselves.

The Protestant Reformation is a testament to continually looking for God in the world. Martin Luther, and many others who helped paved the way for him to lead, challenged the traditions of the church, and God’s voice was heard and acted upon.

May we continually live in a state of “reformation.” A reformation not of our own doing, but of God’s doing. Let us hope that God can take us…broken, tattered and torn, heal us, and then set us free to do God’s will.

Where have you seen a need for reformation? At home? At school? At work?

Listen for God to call you forward. God heals. God saves. God empowers. Follow.

P (Prayer): Healing Lord, bring us to see you in our simple, normal, everyday lives, and bring us new life to share with others. Amen.

Adventures in Missing the Mark (…and getting some grace)


S (Scripture): John 7:20 The crowd answered, “You’re possessed by a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” 7:21 Jesus replied, “I performed one miracle and you are all amazed. 7:22 However, because Moses gave you the practice of circumcision (not that it came from Moses, but from the forefathers), you circumcise a male child on the Sabbath. 7:23 But if a male child is circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses is not broken, why are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? 7:24 Do not judge according to external appearance, but judge with proper judgment.”

O (Observation): To what “deed” is Jesus referring? This points to Jesus healing the paralytic at the pool at Bethesda, on the Sabbath (John 5:1-9). This was a big no-no, according to Jewish law. So this healing already has the Jewish authorities on edge.

Add to that his “teaching, with authority” in the early part of John 7, and you’ve got a bunch of ticked off church leaders!

So what is Jesus pushing back on here? Here’s some research on circumcision, which is allowed on the Sabbath:

The Rabbis counted 248 parts to a man’s body. So absolutely binding did rabbinic Judaism regard the command of Lev 12:3 to circumcise on the eighth day, that in the Mishnah m. Shabbat 18.3; 19.1, 2; and m. Nedarim 3.11 all hold that the command to circumcise overrides the command to observe the Sabbath.

Jesus’ re-interpretation of the commandment regarding Sabbath seems to be: If the human-made law would allow circumcision to suspend the Sabbath, which deals with 1 part in 248, why not let the whole body be healed on the Sabbath? Jesus points out the err of the Levitical law. Another big no-no : )

A (Application): . Riding home from church services one Sunday, my 6th grade son asks: “Dad what is circision…um…circocision…(trails off)?” I say, “Do you mean circumcision?” He says, “Yeah, that’s it.” They had a lesson about Abraham in Sunday School, apparently. I told my son what it meant. … So that conversation happened : )

Anyway…the place where God is moving me today is not about circumcision…but about our ways of messing things up…about a God who chooses to love us and work in us and through us, in spite of our ineptitude.

We make lots of rules in the church that miss the mark. And the problem is that a lot of our rules today are “unwritten rules.” A seminary professor of mine said we would learn some traditions of the congregation we would serve, but some traditions would just sneak up on us. He called this “tripping over the norms.” Well, I’ve tripped a fair number of times.

So what do we do about the rules and the norms? I say we continue to call one another back to the center. Part of being Lutheran Christians is that we are semper reformanda (always reforming). This goes back to Martin Luther, one of the many reformers who helped to pave the way for Protestantism (for better or for worse : )

Simon Sinek has a TED talk and a book titled “Start with WHY”. This is brilliant. Jesus started with WHY. Why have Sabbath? Why have a law that affects just one part of the body, and not the whole, on the Sabbath? Why have these human-made laws?

I’m not against rules and norms, but I do think we should always be asking: Why is this rule/norm in effect? Does it point us to Christ? Does it celebrate the grace and mercy God has shown to each of us???

What are some rules and norms in your church, or your family, or your workplace? Do you know why they exist? Some good questions to ponder today.

P (Prayer): Lord, bring us back to the center…always…to your grace and mercy. Call us to repent and believe. Set us free to represent you in this world. Amen.

Authority to Heal


S (Scripture): John 5:19 So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed. 5:21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.

O (Observation ): Jesus has just healed a man who ailed for 38 years. And “Poof”, just like that, the man is healed. Too bad it was on the Sabbath, in plain site of some religious authorities. Or was it “too bad”?

Jesus is always trying to point God’s people back to the center. Is the main thing “Sabbath”? Or is the main thing that people be restored to life and health?

And what’s more? The religious authorities question where Jesus gets his authority. Where does he say he learned all of this from? God, who happens to be his Father! Oh Jesus…now you’ve done it! You’ve stepped in it big time! How dare you claim God as YOUR father!!!

Two strikes against Jesus: healing in the Sabbath, and claiming God as Father.

A (Application): Sometimes we get comfortable in the Church. We are pretty good at believing God does miracles, but not to me. God brings life, but not for anyone I know. When is the last time you prayed for healing, and believed?

Other things cloud our vision of the church. So we ask: what is the main thing for us as Christians? More Christians? More in “church” on Sunday morning? How about mature disciples? I’ll go with the last one.

We are called to believe in God who brings life. We are called to abide in God daily, like we do with this blog. Let us remain in God. Let us believe in the one who brings life.

For what do you need healing? Do you know others who need healing? Pray for them.

God gives authority and power to those who believe. If healing doesn’t come, repent and believe, and try again.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to believe that healing still comes. Amen.