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Maybe you have heard this in your house: “whatever you want”. And you probably know that simple words like that can have multiple meanings, depending on what’s behind them. 

In the book of Isaiah, God is speaking to King Ahaz through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet. Chapter 7,verses 11 and 12. “Ask the LORD your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.”  But the king refused. “No,” he said, “I will not test the LORD like that.”

God replied, in verse 14, “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”  You might have heard that before. 

This sounds wonderful – the king acknowledging God like that, and God prophesying the birth of Jesus. But if we look into the backstory a little, King Ahaz wasn’t honoring God. Ahaz was a bad king, making metal idols, setting up altars to himself, stealing the utensils of the temple to hire an army, even sacrificing his sons to other gods. So when Ahaz said “whatever you want”, he was really telling God to take a hike. 

Now let’s take a look at another “whatever you want”, with a different meaning behind the words. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before His crucifixion. He’s talking to the same God that Ahaz spoke to. But it’s different. Matthew 26,verses 39 and 42.

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not mine.”

Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

That isn’t someone telling God “Go away, don’t bother me”. That’s someone saying “Father God – Dad – I know what’s coming up, and I know it’s going to hurt bad. I’m going to be physically murdered, painfully, and then I’m going to be separated from you for the first time in literally forever. I would really prefer not to do that, to be scourged and then crucified, and go to Hell for somebody else’s sins. But I know You love Me, and You absolutely know what’s best, so Your will be done.”

And Jesus meant it when He said “whatever you want”. He went to the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and your sins. That is what we are remembering right now, with the wafer and the juice representing His body and His blood. Let’s pray. 

Father God, You hear the words and You know the heart. King Ahaz died and was buried, end of story except to be a bad example. Jesus died and was buried, rose again on the third day, and ascended to Heaven where He sits at Your right hand, reigning in glory. Thank You for Your everlasting love. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Did you ever stop to think about stones? God did – He made them, so He must have thought about them.  And I think He likes stones, because He made a lot of them. 

Stones in the Bible have lots of uses – walls, altars, seats, even pillows.  I want to look at four stones or sets of stones – two around King David, and two around Jesus.

1 Samuel 17, verse 40.  Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.  And then verse 49: Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.   

Good for David, good for the Israelites, good for God.

Then in Second Samuel 16, King David’s son Absolom has gotten friendly with the population, and is having a revolution to take over the throne.  David is running away before he gets killed.   Verses 5 and 6: As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the family of the house of Saul was just coming out. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and as he approached, he kept yelling out curses. He threw stones at David and at all the servants of the king, though the troops and all the mighty men were on David’s right and left.   

Unsurprisingly, his military commanders wanted to kill Shimei.  David says “no”.  Verse 10: But the king replied, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses me because the LORD told him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ ”

With Jesus, the most famous stone is the one that covered His tomb after He died, that an angel rolled away when He was resurrected.

There’s some advice I’ve heard about reading the Bible, and that’s “Always look for Jesus”.  For the last stone, we’re going to go back to the Old Testament, and it will be easy to find Him.  Ezekiel 11, verses 19 and 20: I will give them integrity of heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, so that they will follow my statutes, keep my ordinances, and practice them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.   

Now that was written about the Israelites.  That heart of flesh wouldn’t last – they had to keep going back to the Temple, to offer annual sacrifices for their sin.  It took Jesus, the perfect sinless sacrifice, to make that sacrifice once and for all, to make it permanent. 

And that’s what we are celebrating now, with the wafer and the juice, that all Christians are invited to partake of.  The emblems represent the body and the blood of the One who could take away a heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh.  Let’s pray.

Father God, I thank you for the gift of Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  I am sorry for my sin that caused Him to have to go to the cross.  And I am so thankful that I have a heart of flesh because of His sacrifice.  The whole plan – giving us choices, having a payment for our sin from One who never sinned, and the Holy Spirit living within us after baptism – it’s inconceivable from a human perspective, and it’s perfect.  Because You are perfect, and You love us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

The Bible tells us in Ephesians 5:19 that we are to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.  Good advice – it’s hard to go wrong when you’re following the Bible.

Dominic and I share a common interest in a Christian band named Waterdeep.  They use a lot of scripture in their songs.  On their album Everyone’s Beautiful is a track called Psalm 131.  And – no surprise here – they use the words of Psalm 131.  In the New King James it says

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.

And that sounds wonderful and mellow, the mother and the child, peaceful, serene.  But if you think about how they got to this place, it may not have been so peaceful.  All the child has known is being nourished by his mother.  Cuddling, eating, going to sleep, and repeating as often as the child wants.  Then one day Mom effectively says “No more – that’s it.  From today, you’re eating big people’s food.”  The peaceful child would react – vocally, perhaps with a temper tantrum, perhaps acting out or being disagreeable.  Not fun, not pretty.  He’s probably mad at his Mom.

But you know what?  Mom wins.  In the struggle over supper tonight, the kid is either going to eat from a plate or bowl, or he’s going to be hungry.  That’s how it’s going to turn out.

And eventually the little boy discovers that there can be some good things on that plate, that there are other food sources besides Mom.  And the child is weaned, and then the mother can accept him back, and the little boy has a smile as he is cuddled by Mom.

David, in the Psalm, isn’t talking about the weaning process, that difficult transition time.  He’s talking about being weaned in the past, and now relating to his mother differently.  David says “I have calmed and quieted my soul”, as opposed to allowing external events to take control.

We face the same sort of decisions with our Maker, with God the Father.  Do we want to accept that external, perfect truth, even though we may not understand?  Jesus said “Not My will, but Thine”.  He understood, and trusted.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, as we come to the time of communion, we may have some troubles or concerns inside of us.  Let us, with David, calm our souls.  Help us to remember the sacrifice of Jesus as we take the emblems, the wafer and juice representing His body and blood. Thank You for talking to us throughout the whole Bible.  Thank you for Jesus. In His name, amen.

My Mom died seven weeks ago today. I was able to fly to Arizona and see her before she passed, talk to her, pray with her. 

And then I lived with my Dad until the memorial service last weekend, and flew back this week. 

Part of what I did with my Dad was technical stuff – setting up a new computer and new cell phone, getting a new printer and house phone. Part of it was deciding about my Mom’s stuff – clothes, books, craft things. 

And part of it was getting the house livable. 

When I got there, the fridge was full. Open the door and it was solid. Not shaky – nothing fell out. But nothing could go in. 

I knew that wasn’t right – two people cannot completely and usefully fill a fridge. I’m not going to give details, but after I got done, there was room in the fridge. Space on shelves, visibility to the back wall – it was beautiful. 

But how did it get like that? My Dad had a couple rough months, with my Mom in and out of different hospitals in different cities. The fridge just didn’t rank high enough in his list of priorities. I get that. 

But I also know that time passes and things go bad no matter how busy you are – and it gets worse the busier you are. 

So we are at the time of communion. 1 Corinthians 11:28 says “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” This is talking about your own fridge, your own stacked-full shelves and drawers. Don’t remember that special dinner from two months ago? See it for what it is – old, spoiling leftovers. Don’t hang onto a thing if it isn’t doing anything good, if it isn’t good. See things with new eyes, with Jesus’ eyes. Every time of communion, every prayer, can be a fresh start. Let’s pray. 

Father God, thank you for the encouragement, for your redemptive power to make all things new. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Cleaning up in the bathroom she used. Lotions, soaps, shampoos, ointments, tinctures, shower gel, hair gel, probably some gel gel. Being donated to a charity supporting battered women. They are getting it all, unopened and partially used.

Well, not everything. Loofa gloves, which I didn’t know existed, yes. Razor and toothbrush, no. I’m sure they could be sterilized, but there’s a line somewhere.

None of that stuff, even the highly personal things, caused an emotional tweak in me. She is the one who opened it, the only one who ever used it, and her hand placed it in the medicine chest. But those things were tools, replaceable without a second thought. More shampoo, more toothpaste? She stored her backups on a shelf at the grocery store.

But there are things that are significant, that have an emotional component. Her pincushion, placed on a table beside her rocking chair. A collection of buttons, grown organically instead of purchased. And her Bible, marked-up, and closer to her (physically and spiritually) than the pincushion.

Toothbrushes are not essential. The Word, holy scripture, is.

With my Mom’s passing, there is an immediate reaction on my part to turn everything about her into something to be venerated, something holy. The numbers surrounding her final days – time of death, heart rate, breathing rate. The last recipe she gave me. Her projects that were in process.

This is the first time I have been through a great loss. The avoider part of me wants very much to get into the details – build that time-line of when she was in and out of the hospitals. I could spend years looking for missing details – while ignoring the details of my own life, my own grieving.

This is not meant to belittle her or her death. She was a wonderful woman, very strong, a creator, loving, caring. She was unique (like we all are). She liked lighthouses. She baked Christmas cookies like no other. She wasn’t perfect, but she was my only mother.

She showed me the way to Christ. I remember as a cynical teenager, I walked down our driveway and found her kneeled at the back bumper of her car, praying. I remember being awed that she was serious about this Christianity stuff. And those prayers didn’t stop.

She was greatly into crafts. Basket-weaving was a specialty – she gave classes, sold her baskets at craft shows (and donated the money to charity and missions), and knit scarves (again donating proceeds). One of her last projects is a mystery. She had gathered Halloween cards my brother and I had received from our grandparents. Unsure what was going to happen with those,but the cards were on top of the working pile.

To bring this back around, I’m interested in what that project was. But I’m not going to research what it could have been. Not going to look at her browsing history to find the how-to. I took pictures of the cards, shared them with my brother. And I know it was motivated by love.

The numbers don’t matter – she passed from congestive heart failure. The hospice nurse told me that she was following a textbook path towards her death. If there were minor variations along the way, so be it.

And I really felt the need to enshrine that recipe. From her hospital bed, in a video call, she told me about a sweet potato / apple / maple syrup recipe. Now understand she had never made it – this wasn’t a family favorite. She didn’t have the recipe, and told I could find it on Google. (potentially this one) But I was ready to decree that we absolutely needed to have this every Thanksgiving, because – Mom.

But I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, recorded in Matthew and Luke: “Let the dead bury the dead”. She made a big difference, in many lives. But she’s gone. David’s “But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” in talking about his infant son applies. And “we grieve, but not as the world grieves”.

My Dad said “life goes on”. Not flippantly or irreverently, but truthfully. Do not forget, but do not live there.

Cherry bonbons

My Mom, Mary Kathleen Fluharty Aubrey, gets to worship in a bigger congregation today.

85 years old. November 28, 1936 to December 5, 2021. Permanant residency transferred to Heaven.

I was thinking the other day about ones and twos.  One cat, two cats.  One dog, two dogs. It kind of breaks when you get to one fish, because it’s also two fish, or a school of fish.  Fish are different.

And then there is the United States.  It’s not really as big of a jump as it seems.  Just like you can’t tell from the word whether “fish” is singular or plural, some people think the United States is singular – “The United States is”.  Some people think it’s plural – “The United States are”.  Sometimes it depends on the context – looking outside can be different than looking within the borders.  And sometimes it depends on who you’re talking to – a big believer in states’ rights is much more likely to see the plural, as opposed to somebody who’s in favor of a big federal government.

All those things are examples, helping us to start thinking about important things like the church.  Ephesians 5:23 says “Christ also is the head of the church”, so that’s pretty clear.  And Colossians 1:8 says “He is also head of the body, the church”.  We have Jesus as the head and the church as the body.  One head, one body.  But wait – are we part of the same body as that church around the corner, that church down the road?  That megachurch in California? Well, only if you believe the Bible.

And that means when you read First Corinthians 12:16, which says “And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body?”, you should think about your place in this church, Connections Christian Church.  And you should think about the place of Connections in relation to all the other parts of the body.

Then we start applying this same thinking in hard ways.  First Corinthians 12:27 says “As for you, you are the body of Christ, and individually you are members of it”. Is that true? When you think of yourself and Jesus Christ, do you think single or plural? Integrated and one, or a duality? First Corinthians 11:28-29 says “Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

If that makes you scared, congratulations. You have started to understand Philippians 2:12 – “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. But notice that it says to continue – you aren’t coming into this as an outsider, because Jesus Christ, the head of the church and the head of you, gave himself as a sinless sacrifice on the cross. First Timothy 4:10 says “we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, that is, of those who believe”. That’s you and me, because of the body and blood of Jesus.  Let’s pray.

Father God, I remember the Shema. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord is one”. You don’t want division, disunity. The world was created as one, and then separated by sin. Jesus’ sacrifice, which we celebrate now with the wafer and the juice, brought the hope of salvation, the hope of unity to all of mankind. Thank You for the gift of Your only begotten Son, Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

Communion Meditation 2021-09-12

Yesterday was the twenty-year anniversary of 9/11, when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania.  That was a terrible, tragic event, one that I hope never happens again.

The whole country, the whole world, was alarmed, very watchful, on high alert – and rightfully so.  Everybody was glued to their news sources – television, radio, newspapers – for days on end, wanting to find out more, to understand what had happened.

Which brings me to my own twenty-year anniversary, which is today.  On September 12th, twenty years ago today, I was scheduled to have my gall bladder removed.  We had confirmed that yes, the surgery was going to go forward.  So I went.

My memory is a little hazy, because of the anesthesia, but my recollection is that everybody, from the receptionist up to the surgeon, was watching the TV.  The nurse feeding me jello afterwards would kind of aim the spoon at my mouth and let me finish the action, because she was looking elsewhere.

Did this concern me, make me wonder about the quality of the surgery I had just gotten?  Yes, it did – but without reason.  As distracted as they might have been, the doctor and nurses were still professionals.  They got their job done, regardless of the cost.  They may have had relatives or friends on the planes, or in the buildings, but they did what they needed to do.

And that makes me think of Jesus.  He had a task – to do God’s will.  That included living a perfect, sinless life, and dying on the cross without guilt.  He gathered and taught the disciples across years, teaching and correcting them. He had one job, and he did it perfectly.  Was it easy?  No – He was tempted in every way, just as we are – but He resisted temptation.  Did He want to pour out His blood on the cross?  No, He prayed the exact opposite.  Did He do His Father’s will?  Yes.  Hebrews 12:2 says “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He did the job, He ran the race, He won the prize.  That is what we are remembering now, with the bread and the juice.  Let’s pray.

Father God, You loved and still do love Your Son.  You loved and still do love us.  Thank you for having Jesus show us the way, and pay the price for our salvation.  In His name I pray, Amen.

James 1:17 says “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

I had a friend who used to say that if you’re ever asked a question in Sunday School, and you haven’t been paying attention like you should, it’s a pretty safe choice to answer “Jesus”. And here, he would be right. 

We are surrounded by good gifts – I think of the physical world here. The breaths we take in, the wonderful food we consume (and sometimes over-consume), the medical support system available to us when things go wrong – these are all good gifts. 

And then perfect gifts, I tend to think of as spiritual. This church – not the building, which is good, and for me would fall into the first group. But the people – this church is a blessing. Salvation is a perfect gift. And the means of salvation – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – well, I don’t know how to rank perfect gifts if everything is perfect, but He’d be at the top. 

And yet, after He had offered His sinless body on the cross as a sacrifice for my sin and for your sin, He descended to Hell. Did God His Heavenly Father turn away from Him? Habakkuk 1:13 says of God the Father “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil”, and Jesus Himself quotes Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?“. 

But we just read that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning”. So how could both be true? 

I think God’s light shines everywhere, even into Hell. I’m no theologian, and I’ll accept any guidance or correction on this. When Jesus spoke of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, the end of verse 22 and then 23 says “The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” He was seeing from Hades – what we would call “Hell” – into Heaven. I don’t know if this was optical light or spiritual light, but the rich man saw

And I believe that God cannot look upon sin, but He sees people. When Jesus went to the cross and died, he became sin. The first part of 2 Corinthians 5:21 says “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us”. Christ was not a sinner – He was carrying the guilt, the shame, the punishment for our sins. The final verse of the chapter Jesus quoted from the cross says “For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from Him and but has listened to His cry for help.” 

And because of that, on the third day Jesus arose from the grave, triumphant. That’s the second part of that verse in Corinthians: Jesus was made sin for us “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”. 

And that is what we are remembering now, with the wafer and juice representing the body and blood of Jesus. Let’s pray. 

Father God, You who do not turn, thank You for the perfect gift of Jesus – His example, His teachings, His work on the cross. All part of Your perfect plan. Because of that, I can approach Your throne boldly. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

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