Blog Archives

 

One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1987 classic, “The Princess Bride.” In the movie, Peter Falk plays the grandfather of a boy who has stayed home from school sick (presumably to play videogames).  So, grandpa swoops in to make the boy feel better by reading one of his favorite books.

At first, the boy is skeptical and critical… but before long, he is fully engrossed in the story. And then this happens… [Video Clip]

How can that boy be so sure that the hero will win in the end?  Because that’s how it’s meant to be.  That’s what’s right.  Maybe life isn’t always like that, but it should be.

We just know the hero can’t really lose… not really.   But even though you know he can’t lose, you still get the goosebumps and the chill up your spine when he swoops in and to the rescue.

This is the beauty of Jesus’ life… it unfolds the way our hearts know it should, because He is the hero that we long for.  Every other hero that has come before and every one that will follow after ultimately loses to something – even if only to their own mortality.  But Jesus is victorious over everything – even death can’t stop him.

I want to tell you something – and it’ll offend some people, but I just don’t care because I have to speak truth.  The Christian faith is the only one that is vindicated.  It is the only faith that has a victorious hero at the end of the story.

“Wait a minute!” you think.  “What about Islam?  Muhammad rides off into heaven!  And then there’s the Buddha!  He becomes so enlightened that he just… I dunno.  Whatever he does. And I could go on.”

Sure, you could.  But before you do, let me ask you this question: where are the witnesses?  Who was there when Muhammad rode off in to heaven?  Nobody.  There are no witnesses in the story because there were no witnesses to the event because it didn’t happen.  Who was there when Buddha reached enlightenment and transcended his body?  Nobody.  It had to happen in secret and all alone, because there were no witnesses.  But if there were no witnesses, how do we know what happened?  We DON’T because it is just a made-up story.

But what about Jesus?  His is not a story of a man doing miraculous things is secret.  He is in the streets.  He’s in the synagogue.  He is nailed to a cross for all the world to look upon.  He was killed by trained killers – people who had executed dozens or maybe hundreds of people in the same way.  He was dead as dead can be.  He was sealed in a tomb – literally sealed to prevent anyone from sneaking in.  Guards were paid to keep all of Jesus’ followers away so that no one could fake his resurrection.

But He went and rose anyway!  In glory, he rolled away the stone and stepped out and the guards ran panicked back to the priests who hired them.  And He stayed there, outside the tomb so Mary could meet Him.  And then He walked with people on the road.  Then He appeared in the upper room.  Then He walked on a lake in broad daylight.  And by the time He ascended into heaven, there were more than 100 witnesses there to confirm the fact.  Saint Paul reports that Jesus showed himself to more than 500 people after the resurrection.   FIVE. HUNDRED.  Most of whom were still alive when He made that claim.

And that doesn’t even mention the dead he raised with him who went home to their families to bear witnesses to what Jesus had done.  Jesus stuck around for over a month, eating and talking and showing that He was very, very much alive!

We talk a lot about the cross, and we talk fairly often about the empty tomb.  But the truth is, the empty tomb is not proof enough.  My hope is not in the empty tomb – an “Argument from silence.”  My hope is in the risen Christ… Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh.  That’s the real proof.

I’m making a big deal about this because if you think that Jesus’ resurrection is just another religious myth to help us feel better about our own mortality or something, you have completely missed the point.  The story of Easter is not a metaphor or a fiction or some sort of spiritualized account.  JESUS DIED. JESUS ROSE. AND HE IS ALIVE TO THIS DAY.  Not just in our hearts or memories.  He is ALIVE.

You want to know how I know my faith is founded on the truth – how in the midst of countless belief systems, I can be absolutely sure that Jesus is what he claimed to be?  Because He did it all out in the open, for all the world to see.  JESUS DIED. JESUS ROSE. AND HE IS ALIVE TO THIS DAY.

Which is great for Him… but that is far from the end of the story.  His resurrection is also the proof of the promise that we will rise with Him.  In 1 Corinthians it says, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

See, the story of Easter isn’t just a cool story about something that happened to somebody else ages ago, halfway around the world. His victory over death is for you.  He’s showing you a preview of what’s ahead.

When you pray to Christ, you’re praying to a flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing person who literally loved you to death, and overcame it.  Jesus paid it all on the cross, it’s true, but what good is that if we still end up dead?  But this is the goal.  This is the victory.  This is what He’s about.

And if He was so public about His resurrection, how could we not be?  He doesn’t want us to keep this message a secret, held in these four walls or in the quiet of your own heart.  He wants us in the streets!  He wants us out there and over-the-moon excited. Bold. Joyful. Fearless, because…

CHRIST IS RISEN!

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Maundy Thursday 2017

Here in the garden we are given a glimpse into the full scope of what happened on the cross. Once Jesus is arrested and taken off to be crucified, He is already confirmed in what must be done.  On Good Friday we see no hesitation, no flinching, no fear or doubt. And that is precisely why this time of prayer in Gethsemane is so important for us.

Jesus stood fearlessly in the prow of a boat and rebuked a storm that threatened to capsize them.  He faced off against demons and banished them with a word.  He never looks nervous or apprehensive or afraid.  Except in this moment.

It can be tempting to think that because Jesus knew he had come to die on the cross for us that that somehow made it easy for Him.  Or we might think that because He is the Son of God, that he was at peace with how it had to happen.

But listening to Jesus pray in the garden, it is clear that he was not at peace.  He was troubled down to the bone.  He was so distraught that His sweat rolled down like drops of blood.  And He prayed, “take this cup from me.”

On the one hand, we are hearing his true humanity speak.  The crucifixion is incredible suffering and excruciating death and no one should ever experience.  But I don’t think that that is enough to make Jesus want to turn back.  No, there’s far more going on in the Spiritual realm than in the physical.

God’s Word tells us that Jesus had to become sin for us.  I’m not sure I can fully understand that, but when I imagine how much guilt and shame can weigh me down… and then I try to imagine what it would be like to shoulder that much weight from every person who ever had or ever would live… it’s absolutely crushing.

And when I think about the closeness and love that Jesus and the Father share at all times, and then I imagine what it must have been like to be suddenly and utterly cut off from it.   I can’t fathom the loneliness and rejection that He would endure.  Not just to be abandoned by his disciples – but to be forsaken by the one person with whom he had been in constant communion from before the creation of the world!

I don’t think it’s theater or farce when He asks the Father to take this cup from Him.  In fact, I think it’s wholly necessary that He should feel this way – because to be the Christ He must obey His Father’s will above all.

The whole plan of salvation is Christ setting right what Adam had broken.  Through Adam’s sin famine, disease, and death spread throughout all of God’s good creation.  Through Jesus ministry the hungry were fed, the diseased were healed, and even the dead were raised.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam took the fruit and ate, craving the glory of godhood for himself.  And when he did so, it was as if he said to God, “My will, not thine be done.”  But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus takes the cup that his Father has chosen for him – forsaking the glory of godhood that He rightfully owned.  And in so doing, He can say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

That’s how we know it’s love.  There is no other reason that Jesus would go through with it – but He loves the Father and the Father loves us.  This is a love the likes of which the world has never seen, and will never understand.  And that’s what we see as we follow Jesus to the cross… not tragedy or travesty or injustice.  We see the Love of Christ on full display.

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Palm Sunday 2017
John 12:12-19

You know, I don’t usually think of Jesus as a “party” guy… but there’s actually pretty good evidence for it.  His first miracle was supplying the wine for a wedding banquet.  Over and over he’s invited to somebody’s house for dinner. He was even accused of being a drunkard (which He wasn’t.)

I’m not saying Jesus lived like a frat boy, but I’m saying that He was no stranger to celebration.  And that makes a lot of sense when you think about the work that He did: healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead.  If Jesus did something like that for someone in my family, I’d throw him a party.  Wouldn’t you?

And that’s what we’re doing today: celebrating along with the people in the story that the King of Israel has come to save us!  Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!

Of course, with 2000 years between us and the actual events we’re remembering today, we have little bit different perspective than the people in the crowd.  We know what Jesus actually came to do.  Most of the crowd couldn’t guess how the next week would go – and probably a lot of them had a complete change of opinion about Jesus by Friday.

Ironically, the most clued-in people that day were probably the Pharisees.  They had a better sense of just how much would change if Jesus was king.  He was out of control, and idealistic, and impossible to argue with. And Pharisees were professional arguers!

It was so frustrating for those Pharisees to see people celebrating Jesus this way!  But why?  Was it a personal grudge against Jesus? After all, He keeps making them look bad in front of everybody.

I think that maybe part of it, but I think they were driven more by fear than jealousy.  If Jesus is who he claims to be, it is extremely threatening to them… And to fully understand that, we really need to talk about Jewish life in Jesus’ day.

There was a very high view of the priests, rabbis, and religious leaders.  Now, when I say there was a “high view,” I don’t necessarily mean that these men were well liked, but they were respected as authorities, and your average Joe would never consider himself to be on the same spiritual level as the religious leaders.

And that makes even more sense when you look at how the Holy Scriptures were understood in Jesus’ day.  They were seen principally as a book of spiritual laws – and no mere “sinner” could be expected to understand it for himself.  Hence the Word of God wasn’t taught nearly as much as the writings of the various Rabbis.  And the modern rabbis debated endlessly on how to interpret those writings.

And then, of course, there were different schools of thought (factions… what we would call “denominations”) that would fight over all kinds of doctrines.  How could a layman ever expect to have a clear understanding of God’s Word when the folks who devoted their life to study it couldn’t agree?

So, if you were a teacher of the law or a priest, you held a lot of power in the Jewish community – power that couldn’t really be contested because only the elites could claim to understand God’s Word and His Will.

And these folks wound up with a fairly cozy arrangement with the Roman government.  So long as they were more or less peaceful and compliant to Caesar, they could maintain their way of life more or less unbothered.  If you were a Pharisee, you were probably well-to-do and relatively affluent, and upsetting the status quo would threaten that.

And then Jesus shows up.  He teaches God’s Word without filtering it though the tradition of the Rabbis.  He never backs down, He never compromises… and people flock to Him.  The longer His ministry goes, the harder it is to argue that He’s from God since He keeps on doing miraculous and wonderful works – even raising the dead!

It’d be convenient to think that they conspired to kill Jesus because they thought He was a heretic or false prophet.  But it simply isn’t the case.  Over and over, they don’t kill Jesus because they were afraid of the people.  If they feared God (as they ought) they would have stoned the false prophet.  But they didn’t fear God, they feared the people.  They feared the cost to themselves.

That is, until the Jewish people began to call Jesus their King.  And that was a step too far.  If they had been faithful – if they had been hoping in God’s prophecies of the Messiah who was to come – they would have embraced Jesus and joined in the celebration.  But they were afraid of what it would mean if this Jesus was their king.

And what kind of King would he be?  His clothes weren’t as nice as the Pharisees.  He was homeless and penniless.  His disciples were mostly blue-collar nobodies. He couldn’t be bought or bargained with.  And He refused to side with any of the current administration.

His presence challenged everything they knew.  He was a man of peace, meek but powerful.  He was wiser than any of them, but disclosed the mysteries of heaven in the simplest of words.  He was a holy man, but he showed love and kindness to sinners.

What kind of King would He be?  The kind who wears a crown of thorns.  The kind who leaves His throne to serve the lowliest.  The kind who wages war by laying down His life willingly.  The kind who reigns forever.

That’s what is so threatening to the Pharisees.  With a King like that, what would his Kingdom be like?  What would His people be like?  Under Jesus’ reign, there is no room for pride, for elitism, for self-importance, for greed, for jealousy.  Under Jesus’ reign, these things must give way to humility, grace, love, gratitude, and service.

This King Jesus would literally stop at nothing to rescue His people.  That’s what this parade is – it is a conquering king come to liberate his people, and it is the lamb of God come to die for the sins of the people.  It is the culmination of God’s justice and God’s mercy coming to offer the ultimate act of love for people who would reject and despise Him.

He isn’t the kind of king we would make for ourselves – thank God!  But He is exactly the king that we need. And He shall reign forever and ever. Amen.

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer

It’s weird to me that you hardly ever hear about charity in the context of church.  As a matter of fact, the word “charity” has drifted pretty far away from its place as a Christian virtue in the modern parlance.

On the one hand, people might think of a charity – as in, some non-for-profit organization that is aimed at helping the underprivileged or oppressed.  A charity is something you might give money to, or volunteer with.  It has organizers, it has commercials on television, it has experts.

These organizations are often a very good thing – and make a positive difference in the world.  But someone can heavily support a charity without actually having or experiencing anything like Christian charity.

On the flipside, most people don’t want to be a “charity case.”  They want to earn what they have.  They don’t want pity or the sort of pride-swallowing that goes along with accepting help from some one else.  After all, aren’t we told that hard work and determination are all you need to make it?

But if we can get back to the heart of charity, we’ll find that it isn’t about donating to organizations or helping anonymous people.  It’s personal, and it’s even more about the orientation of our hearts than it is about the movement of our bank accounts.  And as Christians, we have to recognize that we are all charity cases.

Maybe let’s start with that. So, Charity is acting in response to love and compassion.  Before we talk about our practice of charity, let’s look first at God’s.  Each day He feeds and clothes me.  Each day He gives me a home to live in and a world to inhabit.  He has given me my family, my friends, my church.  He daily and richly supplies me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He gives me these things, but not because I’m deserving.  He gives them to me because I need them and because He loves me.  It’s that simple.  He is generous and gracious and is moved by love to show kindness to me.

The goal of spiritual growth is to become more like Christ – to reflect God’s character in our own lives.  And this is what the practice of Charity is meant to do: to teach us to grow in mercy and compassion, in practical love and in generosity, to value people over possessions and even to value others ahead of ourselves.

Some folks make huge donations to charitable organizations to put them in a better tax situation. That’s not an act of charity.  It may do good and it may bring relief to some suffering people – and so I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from donating to worthy causes.  But Christian charity is firstly a disposition of the heart and secondarily the acts that flow from it.

There’s any number of barriers to charity.  Sometimes it’s skepticism or cynicism.  Perhaps we see someone begging, but they seem healthy enough to work and we say to ourselves, “If they’d spend the day looking for a job, they’d be better off.”  Or maybe we think a more judgmental thought than that. “They’ll probably just buy booze with this money.”

Now, it’s a fine thing to be sure that the help you give is actually helping. But if you’re going to do that, it will require a higher investment in this person – it’s not an excuse to do nothing.  In reality, there are a lot of healthy looking people who – because of mental or emotional issues – are almost unhireable. If they interviewed with you, you would pass them over so fast.

Could you imagine if God looked at you and said, “If only you’d stop asking me for help and go take care of yourself!” or “You’ll probably just waste the blessings I could give you…”  If we see the poor among us and feel disgust or indignation, then we have a long way to grow before we have anything resembling God’s charity in our heart.

Sometimes the barrier is feeling like we don’t have enough to be generous.  I remember one time when Alisha and I were leaving the grocery store.  We had grabbed a couple sandwiches and were going to eat on the way to our next stop.  As we were leaving the parking lot there was a man who was in obvious need… but I didn’t have any cash on me.  So, I felt bad for the guy, but I didn’t think there was anything to do for it.

Well, thank God for my wife.  She gave the guy her sandwich, and then she and I shared mine…. And we didn’t go hungry.  I learned in a small way that day that we can usually make do with less than we think, and that frees us up to be generous with others.

And while the practice of charity is often in money or material goods, there is a bigger application.  Can we be charitable with our time?  Can we be charitable with our words?

After all, charity is about being moved by the needs of others to act in love and compassion.  It what’s needed is a sandwich, we can share that.  But if what’s needed is a listening ear or a word of encouragement or a friendly smile, we can share those too.  We don’t define for ourselves what charity we engage in – God defines it for us by putting the needy in our path and invites us to speak and act on His behalf toward them.

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Fifth Sunday of Lent
John 11:1-45

When I was a kid, I thought spiritual growth was about knowing more stuff about God. Which was good news for me, because I was pretty good at Bible trivia.  And I’d been in Sunday school my whole life. I went to a Lutheran school, where we studied the Bible every morning.

Now, as an adult, I treasure the foundation I was given in God’s Word as a child. Without it, I wouldn’t be very able to instruct others, or to preach, or to even articulate my worldview in a compelling way.  But as I’ve matured I’ve learned that the growth that God really intends for us is not an ever-increasing store of Bible trivia, but growing closer to Him.

At this season in life, I want to know Jesus personally.  I want to know what He likes and dislikes.  I want to know how He feels about things.  I want to be able to intuit what He would do in any given situation.  I want to cultivate a friendship with Him.

And I’m finding not only is it possible to get to know Jesus personally, but it something He wants for all of us.  If you think that just because you didn’t live in the middle east 2000 years ago you missed your shot, you are very mistaken.  The same Jesus we read about in scriptures is still alive, is still both God and Man, and is still revealing the Father to us.

See, when I was a kid, I knew John 11:35.  It is a someone notorious passage for confirmation teacher because every year there is some kid (or several kids!) who want to choose it as their confirmation verse because it is the shortest verse in the Bible – just two words. “Jesus wept.”

Now, even at my most pious, I understood those words to be a historical fact about Jesus.  But today, when I read those two words, they mean an awful lot more to me than they did when I was a 13 year-old confirmand.

I used to picture Jesus as a guy who is mostly calm and collected.  I used to picture him healing the lame or the leper with cool passivity, because the problems of this world are no big deal for Jesus.  He can heal disease, calm the seas, and even raise the dead with a word.  So, no big deal, right?

But that’s the kind of view you get of Jesus when you just read the highlights without getting to know the man Himself.  The Bible talks about Jesus having a heavy heart or a gut wrenching sympathy for the sick and needy.  He wasn’t dispassionate; He was (and is) the very picture of compassion.

I don’t think there’s any other way to read this story.  From the moment Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick (and maybe long before) He knew how the whole story would unfold.  He knew that the Father had ordained a miracle – not of healing but of resurrection!  He said so, “This illness is not for death, but for God’s glory.”

And of course, God had chosen this path for Christ so that He could reveal a new truth about Jesus.  Not only is He a healer, but He is the resurrection and the life.  Even when all seems hopeless, when death seems to have won the day, Jesus is victorious.  And we have a beautiful anticipation of the greatest miracle of all – Jesus’ own resurrection on Easter.

But if Jesus is armed with all of that information – if He knows that Lazarus is only moments away from returning to life – why does He weep?  Well, because He’s broken hearted.  His friend died, and no matter how certain you are of the resurrection, that is a terrible thing.  So here, at Lazarus’ tomb, the Resurrection and the Life weeps openly.

Look at it from Jesus’ perspective. How many of Jesus’ enemies and antagonists were healthy and comfortable?  And yet, here is the tomb of a beloved friend of Jesus.  And Jesus is surrounded by Lazarus’ friends and family, and they are all aching and mourning.  They are struggling to make peace with the situation (and I suspect maybe even some anger that Jesus didn’t show up in time to save him).

Why did this happen?  Because we live in a broken world, and because we are all sinners.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  We were meant to live forever in peace with God and one another.  But instead, this.  Suffering, death, loss, tears.

Jesus weeps because sin is a terrible thing.  The damage it does is incalculable, and Jesus hates it.  Even the faithful, even his beloved suffer because of it, and that breaks his heart.

That same Jesus who wept outside the tomb of Lazarus walks with us today.  His compassion is every bit as powerful today as it was 2000 years ago.  It’s part of what makes Him the Christ that God intended Him to be.  Hebrews talks about Jesus as being the perfect high priest for us because He sympathizes with us.

Understanding this tiny verse helps me understand so much more.  It helps me understand why Jesus is so passionately opposed to sin.  It helps me understand that you can both mourn death and hold fast to the resurrection.  It helps me see that Jesus understands exactly what I’m going through (whatever that happens to be) and He is right there, going through it with me.

Now, that’s obviously not the end of the story… and I’d be remiss if I stopped there.  No, they roll away the stone, and Jesus lifts up his voice and says, “Lazarus, come out!”  And just like that, with a couple words Jesus undoes the power of sin and breaks death’s hold.

How dare I ever think any less of Jesus than that?!  He is not too late.  Lazarus is not too far-gone.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  He is the antidote to the poison of sin.  With a couple words He breaks the unbreakable curse.

He didn’t meet Mary and Martha’s expectations… but what he did exceeded their wildest dreams.

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Lenten Midweek 4
Matthew 25:34-40

 

This week we make a turn from solitary spiritual disciplines to social ones, and tonight specifically we’re considering service.

This may not seem like an overly spiritual topic on the surface, but it really is.  Service isn’t just about “doing what needs to be done.”  It is about that, but that’s not nearly the whole picture.  In fact, God wouldn’t need our help if it was just about getting tasks done.

No, service is the potter’s wheel on which we are shaped into Christ’s likeness.  It’s the place where we smash the idol of self-importance.  And, if you want to really get down to the hard truth of it, you can’t really live a Christian life (that is, a life that follows Christ) and without becoming a servant.

I suppose a good starting place would be to examine why we don’t serve.  Perhaps the first and most innocent reason is ignorance.  We simply don’t know that someone needs our help.  But when you still drilling down into why we don’t know, some things may be exposed to us.

Sometimes it’s because the person who needs our help refuses to let us know.  Maybe it’s a matter of pride, or maybe they don’t want to “waste” your time.  When you discover that is the case, it can be tempting to just “respect their choice.”  Sometimes you’ll have to.  But it’s usually a good idea to insist.  Maybe you could even say something like, “I’d really like to do this,” or “Please.  I think God really wants me to do this.”

Sometimes we don’t know about the needs around us because we’re preoccupied.  Preoccupation is one of the devil’s favorite tactics in preventing kindness because he can use anything to do it: a bad day, a noisy baby, a wobbly shopping cart wheel, a big project at work, a text message conversation. All of these can be used to keep yourself inwardly focused an ignorant of the needs of the people around you.  It is a subtle way that the devil convinces us that we’re the most important person in our life.

A more overt tactic is busyness.  I think that our lives are busier today than ever – we may be the busiest people who ever lived. We have lots of important things to get done, and lots of people counting on us to respond right away, to meet our deadlines, to make our appointments.   While those all may be important, they can also be blinders or stumbling blocks or excuses not to help the people around us who need it.

You will remember the Priest and the Levite from the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Presumably, both of them were busy and probably doing important business.  Hey, they might have even been doing “the Lord’s work.”  But they missed out on doing the Lord’s work on the way to where they were going… and I think it’s clear that God would have preferred them to stop than to get to the temple on time.

Maybe the worst reason not to serve is simply not caring.  It takes the form of self-righteous judgment.  “They made their bed,” we might tell ourselves, “now they’ll have to lie in it.”  Or it may just be indifference, “That’s not my problem.”

You know, it was Jesus himself who gave us the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  I find, for myself at least, that sometimes I’m a little too proud or a little too cynical to apply those words properly in my life.  Sometimes if you ask, “How would you feel if they treated you like that?” I’d be self-righteous and indignant enough to say, “Fine.  That’d be just fine.”

So, maybe we can take the golden rule a step farther to account for wicked hearts like mine.  Maybe we could say, “Do unto others as Christ has done unto you.”  I mean, can you imagine if Jesus had looked at us and said, “I’m too busy” or “It’s not my problem,” or “He’s made his bed, let him lie in it?”  He would never treat us that way.

And it’s at this point that we should consider why it is that Jesus says, “Whatever you’ve done for the least of these, you’ve done for me.”  Jesus is never hungry or naked or sick or in prison. How can you possibly take your love for him beyond just words and emotions and translate them into actions?  You can’t feed or clothe Jesus, can you?

Spiritual growth is about being shaped more and more into the image of Christ.  It’s learning from Him who we are and what we’re meant to be and do.  So, if I want to learn love and humility from Jesus, the road to that is in serving my neighbor freely, generously, and gladly.

In fact, when you start to see the world in this way, you’ll come to find that the people you serve are not a burden.  They are a gift that God has given you so that you may become more like Him.  Jesus speaks of himself this way, “The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  In Philippians, it is written that your perspective should be like Christ Jesus, who – even though He is GOD, made himself a servant of all.

The goal is an increase in humility and love… both for God and for the people that God has surrounded you with.   But humility and love have a cost – the same cost, in fact.  To grow in them, we have to give up our own sense of self-importance.  We have to learn to let go of our own rights, our own preferences, and our own plans.

We’ll need to come to church – not thinking about what we’re getting out of it, but how we can bless someone else.  We’ll need to start looking at our homes and families as opportunities to see them through Jesus’ eyes.  We’ll need to widen our circle of friends to embrace the outsider.

We’ll need to start thinking about every moment as a divine appointment from God – an opportunity to do something sacred.  Because when we feed the hungry and clothe the needy and befriend the friendless, we aren’t just meeting a need.  We’re meeting God.

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Fourth Sunday in Lent
John 9

Have you ever been driving down the freeway at roughly the speed limit, and then had somebody blow past you like you were standing still?  They weave between lanes with the pedal to the metal until they disappear over the horizon.  And you think about every time you ever got a ticket… and you ask yourself “Where are the traffic cops now?!”

Then, a few minutes later, you see the whirling red and blue lights of a patrol car pulled off on the shoulder with… guess who?  Speedy McWeaverson!  And you think to yourself, “Serves him right!”

It does. But what about the guy who lost his job because the company was downsizing?  Or the woman whose purse was stolen out of her shopping cart when her back was turned?  Or the woman who has lived a life of service to her family and community, but who is diagnosed with a rare, terminal illness?  Does it serve them right, too?

There seems to be a lot of injustice in the world. Many evil people live in luxury and comfort while many good people suffer.  How is that fair?  How does that make sense?

Now, I am a firm believer that we should try and view the world in which we live with a through a spiritual lens.  God is deeply and intricately involved in our lives – far more than we will ever know on this side of Heaven.

But the spiritual view gets a little cloudy when you begin to assume that there’s a direct correlation between righteousness and prosperity or sinfulness and suffering.  Now, it’s definitely true that this man was born blind because of sin.  But the mistake of the disciples was assuming that it was a specific sin from a particular person that was being punished in this man.

Because of sin, we live in a broken world. Because of sin, we suffer disease and famine, hatred and violence.  Because of sin, we will all die.  In most cases, God won’t draw a direct line between a particular sin and a particular suffering.  My sin is my problem.  Your sin is my problem.  Adam and Eve’s sin is our problem.  Everyone’s sin is everyone’s problem.

See, what the disciples were doing (whether they realized it or not) was trying to make this man or someone in his family a special class of sinner.  None of the disciples were born blind.  This man was.  Who’s fault is that?  (Oh, and I’m so glad I and mine aren’t guilty like that…)

Jesus just blows that perspective out of the water.  The disciples were looking for the right person to blame. But Jesus isn’t interested in the blame game.  He wants to turn the focus to God.  The disciples want to ask “why him?” But Jesus wants to answer, “What can God do?”

I love to read about the miracles of Jesus.  I love to imagine people’s reaction when they happen.  I want to see them happen in the world around me.  Don’t you?

When these things happen, people get a glimpse of Jesus that’s hard to deny.  Over and over in scripture, when Jesus works a miracle the result is a confession of faith and sharing the news of who Jesus is.  It’s what happened in the story we read today.  “This Jesus must be from God.  I don’t know how he did it… I just know that I was blind, and now I see.”

That’s a powerful, but uncomplicated testimony.  And it’s impossible to argue with.  It can be disbelieved (and you’ll note that it was by the Pharisees), but it cannot be argued with.

But the thing about miracles is this: they only happen in the midst of need or suffering.  It’s in those situations that God’s love and power and compassion can shine through.  And it doesn’t always look like we’d expect.

Take, for example, the apostle Paul. He had something wrong with him.  We don’t know for sure what it was, but it was a drag.  I think that earlier in his career, Paul might have thought that it was limiting his ministry.  So he prayed.  And prayed.  And prayed for God to remove whatever it was.  And God said no.

Whose sin caused this thorn-in-the-flesh for Paul?  Was it God’s punishment for his former sins – which were quite heinous?  Nope.  What God showed Paul is that his suffering wasn’t punishment – it was a platform for God to be revealed.  God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I think this way of viewing the world is important for us if we’re going to learn to see things Jesus’ way.  Where there is sin, we need to repent of it.  But our first response to suffering shouldn’t be casting blame.  It should be looking to see what God is going to do.  It should be asking for Him to bring relief – then trusting and even praising Him whether he chooses to or not.

Tragedy is a given in a sin-filled world – and there aren’t always easy answers as to why they occur.  And if no good can be accomplished out of them, then the tragedy is only compounded.  But when God brings about good from tragedy, then it is redeemed.  Then tears can be replaced with joy, and hurt can be traded for peace.

We aren’t called to be passive observers of the suffering of the people around us.  We are called to bring hope and compassion, love and grace.  We are called to display the works of God in the places where hurt and need prevail.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

 

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Lenten Midweek 3
Psalm 119:10-16

If I were to ask a dozen people at the mall what the benefits of meditation are, what do you suppose they’d say?  Lowered blood pressure? A deeper self-awareness? Inner peace?

And if I asked how to meditate,  what do you suppose people would do?  Sit in a lotus position and touch the tip of the middle fingers to their thumbs?  Close their eyes and chant, “Ooooooohmmmmm….”

We have a lot of strange ideas about meditation in our culture – and I think most of it comes from eastern and new age religions. People tend to picture Buddhist monks or some sort of mystic entering a trance.

But there is such a thing as Christian meditation.  And it is not adopting these other practices and just layering Jesus on top of them.  Meditation has always been a part of the worship of God, and it’s only in recent history that we’ve lost sight of that.

If we can define prayer in a simple way as “talking to God,” then the definition of meditation will make perfect sense: “listening to God.”   It seems to me that most Christians I know agree that God does speak to them sometimes – usually in little nudges or gut-feelings (though not often in actual “words”).  And most Christians I’ve met agree that the Bible is “God’s Word,” and is the primary way that He speaks to us.

That said, I can tell you that no one in my life until a few years ago had ever helped me understand how to listen to God through His Word.  I just assumed it was related to Bible Study in someway… But I’ve come to learn that growing in knowledge of the Bible does not necessarily mean you are learning to listen to God.

Now, don’t get me wrong – Bible Study is important.  God wants you to grow in your knowledge of the Bible… and the benefits of your meditation will be limited if you don’t know what the Bible says.  But meditating on God’s Word is not the same as studying it.

So, what is meditating on God’s Word?  How do you do it?  Much like prayer, meditation is meant to be a time of closeness between you and God.  But unlike prayer, you are not aiming to disclose your heart to God – you are instead asking Him to disclose His heart to you.

From a practical standpoint, there isn’t a lot of fancy technique to teach.  There’s no sacred hand poses, nor mantras to be recited.  Quiet and solitude can be quite helpful (that’s how Jesus did it.)

The first – and probably most difficult – step is to carve out the time to do it.  A half hour is not an unreasonable goal, but it may seem like it right now.  So instead, perhaps find 5 or 10 minutes a day.  You might find it works well to begin your day with those 5 minutes.  Or maybe you do better at the close of day.  Or maybe you can find a quiet place for 5 minutes on your lunch break.  There isn’t a prescribed time of day – just find the time you can commit to and do it.

As far as posture – it’s a lot like prayer.  The Bible doesn’t outline a particular way you have to stand or what to do with your hands, so find a position that is comfortable and undistracting.  Sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground is typically a good approach.  You can fold your hands in your lap, or rest them on your knees.  If you are going to meditate with a Bible in front of you, then you’ll probably want to hold it or rest your hands on the page to keep the passage you’ve chosen open to you.  You can close your eyes or not.  I prefer not to unless I find I am distracted by something I’m looking at.

The act of meditation itself is quite simple.  Take a passage of scripture, and let it fill up your mind.  I’d advice you to choose only a sentence or two at most.  Meditating on Scripture will not power through the Bible cover-to-cover in a year.  There’s no rush here.

The way I do it is I open with a very short prayer asking God to speak to me through His word.  Then I read the passage I’ve chosen.  And then I think about it.  This is a good time to engage your imagination.  Picture the words as coming directly from God’s lips.  Picture the setting that they were first spoken or written.  And listen to what God is saying through this passage with the expectation that He is speaking to you.

God has promised that His Word does not return to Him empty – so you should anticipate that He will speak.  He may bring clarity to some area of your life.  He may reveal something to you about yourself.  He may reveal something about Himself to you.  Chances are, it won’t be a new piece of information, but will instead be something you already knew about Him.  Only now, you’ve gained a deeper appreciation or a fuller understanding of that part of Him.

The discipline of meditation is an invitation to closeness with God.  In a world of busyness and hurry, it offers a moment of stillness and openness.  It can’t be rushed.  And no one can do it for you.   It’s an invitation that God is extending to you, personally, to find peace in his presence and to learn to hear His voice.

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Third Sunday in Lent
John 4:5-26

Last month the most coveted awards in cinema were given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  The Oscars.

There’s a lot of categories – some of which get very little attention.  Sure, you may hear about who won best leading actor or best supporting actress or which film took best motion picture.  But there’s only a dedicated few that care about best Sound Mixing or best Production Design.

But the one category you’ll never see at the Oscars is Best Extra.  I think that’s kind of a shame, but it’s just a fact of being an extra.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, extras are the “other people” you see on the screen – the ones without names.  It’s the couple laughing and sipping coffee way off to the side while big name actors are having a serious conversation front and center.  It’s the dozens of anonymous people walking down the sidewalk while the hero of the film races down the street in his sports car.

Extras are important in plays and movies, because it makes the scene look full and alive.  Without them, things just look empty and dead.  But, it’s their job to be seen but not noticed, talking but not speaking, looking natural and casual, even though they are just going through the motions.

If you’ve ever been an extra in a play, then you know what a weird experience it is.  See, when two extras on stage are having a “conversation” silently to the side… they aren’t really talking at all.  They may be reading each other’s lips, they may laugh silently on occasion, but there’s no real conversation happening.  They look like they’re talking – but they really aren’t.  They’re paying attention to what the other actors are doing so that they don’t miss their cue to move on to the next beat.  It may look good, but if you could hear their “conversation” the illusion would be shattered.

Extras are fine in the movies – but there is no such thing as an extra in church.  Sadly, though, I think it’s easy to lose sight of that.

As the guy who stands up in the front and actually looks at the whole congregation each week, it’s really hard to not feel bad when our numbers aren’t so good – and it’s really easy to feel a little prideful when our attendance is a little extra good.  I like to see the sanctuary nice and full.

Now, a full sanctuary is by no means a bad thing.  But in reality, I have no way of knowing who is actually here to worship and who is just filling up the scene.  And truth be told, I don’t think it’s the same folks every week.  In fact, if I can confess to you a little bit, sometimes I struggle worshiping heart and soul because I’m thinking about what comes next and watching to see that the volunteers are doing their jobs and thinking about the email I forgot to send this week and… and…

And this is the season of Lent – a time for honesty and self-examination, repentance, and renewal.  And so today, as we hear from Jesus about the true worship of God, let’s take up the invitation to turn to Him anew.

Jesus tells the woman at the well that the true worship of God is in Spirit and in Truth.  She had asked him a procedural question; where are we supposed to worship?  Jesus’ answer exposes a truth that we probably already know and take for granted – but things taken for granted are also easily forgotten.

Jesus’ answer to the woman is that “where” doesn’t really matter.  Or, probably more accurately, “where” answers itself if you understand what worship is.  You may have noticed Him say, “a time is coming and has now come” when the worship of God won’t happen in the “designated areas.”  On the one hand, He’s prophesying the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.  But that’s decades off.  He’s also saying that this is already going on.  In fact, this woman is about to do it herself.

Over the course of their conversation, this woman was gradually learning more and more about who Jesus is… a teacher, a prophet, and then the very Messiah.  And what does she do?  She runs and tells everyone who will listen what He has said and done for her.  She’s worshiping Jesus in the town square.

The Magi did it in Bethlehem… they recognized who he was and were compelled to bring Him gifts and bow down before Him. When Jesus walked on the water, the disciples realized that He was the Son of God and worshiped Him.  Every time someone sees even just a sliver of who Jesus really is, their reaction is worship.

See, that can’t be faked.  I can say all the right things, I can sing my lungs out, I can drop a huge check in the offering plate, I can well up with tears during the sermon and shout Amen at all the right times… Look, those a good things to do in church.  But why I do them makes a huge difference.  If I’m trusting that doing this or that thing in this or that way is what God likes, then I may not be worshiping at all.

The true worship of God isn’t about learning all the words and all the right moves.  It’s about being overwhelmed by who God is and what He has done.  Worship isn’t really a gift you give to God – it’s just what happens when you see even a sliver of who He really is.

That’s why the worship of God is in Spirit and in Truth.  He doesn’t care how many extras are pantomiming a conversation with Him.  He is looking for people whose hearts are His.  He’s looking for people to worship – not just in a particular time and place – but with their innermost being.

That sort of worship is never contained to a 75 minute church service.  Oh, it’ll happen there, but then it spills out into the rest of your week.  That sort of worship wells up from within you in your home, and in your office, and in the grocery store, and on the soccer field.

You have a stream of living water welling up inside of you.  Its source is so deep and full that that stream will stretch into eternity.  Just… just imagine that for a moment.  However small or powerless you may feel, you have this thing that is infinitely large and life giving growing inside of you.  Picture it. Really try to visualize that.   A river that flows endlessly from Jesus, flowing endlessly down into you and out into every corner of your life.

No Comments
 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Lenten Midweek 2
Luke 11:1-13

Our series on Spiritual Disciplines continues tonight with prayer.  While this may be much more familiar to many of us than fasting or meditation, I’ve still found that some folks have some pretty strange ideas about it.

To define it simply, you could say that prayer is nothing other than “talking to God.” That may sound a little casual to you, but it really is that basic.  It is as simple and as vital as breathing.

I understand that this can seem daunting to some people.  After all, in prayer we are brought into the presence of the King of the Universe.  This is an awesome privilege, and one that should not be taken lightly.  When we pray, Almighty God inclines his ear toward us – and that idea makes some people very nervous!

“Who am I to tell God anything?” they’d say.  “Who am I to bother God with my worries or needs?  I’m sure He has more important things to do than to hear about my life!”  And sometimes it goes deeper into fear. “What if I mess it up?  What if I pray for the wrong thing?  What if I say something wrong?”

Well, He is the King of the Universe, and He does have important things to do.  But no, He doesn’t have more important things to do than to hear your prayer.  As a matter of fact, God is so powerful and wise that He can spend as much time as you want with you and still get all of the rest of His work done.

Still someone else might say, “Sure, but there are other people with more important prayers than mine.”  Maybe, that’s true.  But God has time for them and for you.  God is big enough to hear your prayers and theirs.  And He isn’t judging your prayers.  He is gracious and kind and He cares about your life – your highs and lows, your triumphs and failures, big and small.

So, rather than thinking about God as remote and busy and critical – let’s learn from Jesus about prayer.  He says that God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and who gives good gifts to His children when they ask for them.

You know, my son isn’t quite 2 yet… and he is working on talking, but it’s still very rudimentary.  “Book!  Book!”  “Milk!  More Milk!”  “Up!  Up!”  “Dada!” I don’t read him books or give him milk or pick him up because he has asked for them with eloquence and persuasion.  I answer his pleas because I love him, and I know him well enough that I can make sense out of the broken words, moans, and cries.

How much more ready is God the Father to hear and answer the prayers of His children.  He isn’t looking for fancy prayers – indeed, sometimes you won’t even find the right words, but He still hears and answers.  That’s what a good and loving Father does.

Also, God isn’t looking for you to become more independent.  He isn’t hoping you’ll grow out of needing to ask for things.  I think a mark of spiritual growth is a growing dependence on God – inviting Him into continually more and more areas of our life.

I hesitate to say this, because I don’t want to turn the gift of prayer into burden, but it may be a good thing occasionally to have an honest look at how frequently you are in prayer.  It’s not that God favors quantity over quality, but I think that how often we are in prayer is an indication of how involved in our life we think He is.  The reality is, He’s more involved than we will ever know – after all, this is the same one who has a running count of the hairs on your head.  I want my prayer life to reflect that reality.

So let’s make the turn to talking about prayer from a very practical standpoint.  Firstly, who should pray?  Since prayer is a free gift that God gives to all His children, I think it’s a shame if anyone is not actively engaged in it.  God wants to show you love by hearing and answering your prayers.  Even if you feel awkward or uncomfortable, even if you don’t think you’re very holy or deserving – you should pray. After all, your prayers will be heard not because of who you are, but because of who God is – your loving Father.

How do you get started?  And what kinds of things should you say?  There’s always a temptation to over think this.  This is especially true if most of your exposure to prayer has been in church where we pray with a somewhat lofty and high-toned style.

I would actually encourage you to do the opposite.  Keep it simple.  Speak plainly.  If you are anxious about finding a job, say, “God, please help me find a job.”  If you just finished a great day, say, “Thanks for a great day God.”  Those simple prayers are heard and answered by God.  If you want to close out the thought and bring your prayer to an end, the traditional thing to say is, “Amen.”  Amen pretty much just means, “truly.”  When you say Amen to someone else’s prayer, it’s like saying, “I second that!”

I try to keep a balance of things I say thank you for and things I ask for.  That’s not a rule, I just think it’s good way to remember that God has already done so much for us.  In fact, I sometimes try to remember to praise Him for who He is in addition to thanking Him for things He’s done.  If you’re trying to understand that distinction, it’s kind of like the difference between thanking your husband for working hard and telling him that you appreciate his patience.

Many people are only used to praying in silence.  That’s fine, but it’s also kind of a new idea.  When you read about people praying in the Bible, it was most likely done aloud every time.  I find that praying aloud can really help me focus on the act of praying, even if no one else is around.  If you haven’t tried paying aloud before, you may feel a little foolish.  It may not come out as polished and eloquent as you hope.  That’s fine.  I’d encourage you to keep at it.  Let your ineloquence fuel your humility as you gradually grow in your confidence in talking to God.

If you are comfortable praying aloud alone, you will grow more confident in praying with others.  Praying with someone in need is one of the most basic and powerful acts of compassion that a Christian can do – and literally any Christian can do it!  Just remember that the power of your prayer isn’t in choosing the perfect words for the situation – the power is in your Father who hears and answers the prayer.

So as we continue our walk towards Calvary, may God draw you more and more frequently into the simple act of conversation with Him until the words of scripture are made manifest in us: pray without ceasing.

No Comments
12345...