Unfair

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The Jesus teaching that we are going to look at today takes us into a story of family dynamics. He talks about two brothers, and their father. And if you have a brother or sister or even a cousin or friend that hung around a lot, this story will strike a chord with you.

Earlier this week was national sibling day, and people all over social media were posting pictures of with their brothers and sister, saying how much they love them. And we do love them… for the most part.

On the other hand, we also know that having a sibling means feeling the deep and real sting of things being unfair.

Think back to when you were a kid. Even when our parents tried their hardest to keep things equal, we are always alert, as kids, to any slight, any favoritism…anything that might be unfair.

I have one sister, a few years older than me. And I can still remember a moment when I was 8, and she was 13. 8 for me was an especially annoying year, and as soon as my mom left the room, I unleashed all of my 8 year old obnoxious powers on my teenage sister. She retaliated by yelling at me to stop.

Well, I had two choices.

I could stop.

Or I could flick her.

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Easter: The Foundation of Forgiveness

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Easter is a great day to be in church, and on this particular year, it is not only Easter but also…. April Fools Day. Which opens up so. many. possibilities. to mess with the children in our lives today.

Possibilities to do things like this:

One parent unwrapped all the chocolate candy and used the wrappers to wrap us these grapes to put in their kids Easter basket. And what is a parent supposed to do with all that chocolate? Guess we better eat it.

Another parent filled Easter eggs. But not with candy. With vegetables.

Or there was another parent who was really committed and carefully filled this chocolate bunny… with mustard.

There is this Easter basket filled not with toys or candy but with …. cleaning supplies.

Or, I think this one’s my favorite- this person made cake pops with a chocolate coating surrounding…Brussel sprouts.

This Easter may be April Fool’s Day, but this Easter, like every Easter, we come together as the church. The lilies are ready. The music is prepared. The ham is cooking.

And, once again this year, we read the story of Easter in the Bible. The story of what happened on that Sunday morning nearly 2000 years ago is the most important story of why we believe Jesus was more than just a man.

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Palm Sunday

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Do you ever wish for someone to come and just make everything better?

Well, if you are familiar with that feeling today, multiply it by a million and you will be close to how the Jewish people in Jesus’ day felt. Israel’s history was one of being conquered by one empire, then another. One empire carted them away from their homeland. The next one brought them back, but still ruled them. They ruled themselves as an independent kingdom for around 100 years, only to be conquered by the Romans, who didn’t so much conquer the nation themselves, but backed and bank-rolled a usurper, who was then loyal to Rome, and whose family held on to power by using foreign soldiers in the city of Jerusalm.

You can imagine that this all took a toll on the people of Israel. Not only because of the spiritual damage it did to their pride and patriotism. But also because of the heavy taxes they paid because of it.

Not to mention that every Sabbath they would read in their scriptures that the land was theirs, and that God had destroyed Israel’s enemies before.

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Letting Go of Legalism

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Several years ago Dave and I bought an older home in Ohio. The house was perfect for us and our young kids, with a large flat backyard and nice bedrooms.

We were young homeowners, so we worked really hard to follow the rules of good homeownership. We mopped the floors and vacuumed the carpet and scrubbed the counters and cabinets. We watered the plants and took out the trash.

The kitchen was one of our favorite spots, having lived mostly in apartments, with all of the cabinets and space to cook, so we made sure it was especially clean. There was even a corner cabinet, with one of those lazy susan spinning storage shelves built right in, which was perfect for all of the kids’ crackers and snacks.

But one evening just after we finished cleaning up from dinner, I heard Dave yelp in the kitchen. I went running in just in time to see him slam the lazy susan cabinet door shut.

There was a mouse.

In the corner cabinet. It had found a steady source of snacks with the saltines we had stored in there. And the mouse, surprised by Dave’s opening of the cabinet, had leapt off of the lazy susan, right toward him. But he had shut the door quickly enough that it was trapped.

We had a few possibilities. The obvious solution seemed to be to burn down the house.

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Letting Go of Pride

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Every Sunday night at our church youth group, all of the kids and leaders eat a meal together, on real plates, around tables, the works. It’s a really cool thing that we do. Every week, Jonathan and Vanessa, our youth and children’s ministry directors (respectively), buy the supplies, and a parent cooks and serves. A few weeks ago, it was our family’s turn, and I got to make spaghetti with meat sauce. Easy peasy.

I got there a couple hours early, because I wanted to let the sauce cook as long as possible. So I browned up all the meat, and I added in all the sauce and got it to a nice simmer, and then I look over at the pasta Vanessa had bought.

It was angel hair…

Angel hair is fine pasta. But it’s not what you serve with meat sauce. So I went to Publix and bought real spaghetti. The good thick kind.

When I got back, I saw Vanessa, and told her not to worry, I had saved dinner. Turns out, she likes angel hair. She bought it on purpose. So I made both kinds of pasta, and put everything out for the kids to make their plates.

Big bowl of spaghetti. Big bowl of angel hair. Big bowl of sauce. Big bowl of salad. All laid out in that order.

So the kids came in, and saw the pastas laid out, and guess which kind they overwhelmingly went for?

The angel hair. Even my own kids! The traitors.

It was an exercise in letting go of pride.

There’s nothing quite like reality to show you when you’re wrong. And there’s nothing like a roomful of witnesses to help you admit it. Especially when those witnesses are eating heaping bowls full of angel hair pasta.

But under different circumstances, it’s harder to admit.

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Letting Go of Shame

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We’re going to get to what Jesus teaches us about shame. But first, we need to tease shame out from two other words we often use interchangeably with it.

And those are embarrassment and guilt.

We end up switching these three words out for one another when we talk, because all three make us feel pretty similar.

Whether we are embarrassed or guilty or ashamed, we might feel our face flush, our palms sweat, our heart race. All of these feelings make us cringe.

But they are, nonetheless, really different in their cause and especially in where they take us.

Let’s start with embarrassment.

Embarrassment happens when we do something foolish or uncomfortable or even gross, especially in front of someone else.

For example, I was embarrassed when I got all the way to the top of a five flight staircase for a water slide, then chickened out, and how to walk all the way back down the stairs to the ground squeezing past the other kids waiting in line for the slide. That was embarrassing.

And it was especially embarrassing because I was 30 years old.

Or, for another example, I was embarrassed when I was talking with my hands one afternoon like I always do and forgot I was holding my cell phone and it flew out of my hands and right into a lake.

And I was especially embarrassed when we took it into the cell phone store to have it fixed, and water kept dripping out of it, after I told them “I don’t why it’s not working!”

So that’s embarrassment.

Then there’s guilt. This one has some of the same effect on us as embarrassment – the flushed face, the sweaty palms – and may have started with a foolish or stupid action, but it comes with the added awareness of having done something wrong, especially if it hurt someone else. Guilt is a tough one.

But guilt has one small positive piece. Sometimes it actually motivates us to become better people, to repent, to make things right. We’ll look at that more later.

But then there is this third one. The insidious cousin of the other two. And that’s shame. Again, flushed face, racing heart, sweaty palms.

But here’s why it’s different.

Shame makes us feel not just that we did something bad, but that we ARE bad.

So embarrassment is when we say “I did this foolish or even horrible thing” and guilt says “I did this horrible thing and it hurt someone” but shame says “I am horrible and wrong.”

Today we are going to focus in on this last one. Because we dole shame out, all the time.

We shame other people by looking at their lives and deciding who they are because of what we observe and perceive as breaking our version of the moral code.

And we shame ourselves.

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What is God Going to Do About Evil?

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My first experience of evil in the world was the school shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. I was in college at UCF, and the evil of it affected me in a real way…a way that no previous act of evil had… I feel that again this week.

Columbine, for me, was the first time that I saw how powerful evil could be in our world. It was the first time that I was forced to ask, “How could God allow something like this to happen? Why does he allow us the power to kill innocent people? Where is God now?”

Now, another act of evil has exploded across our world, taking seventeen lives, and forever altering hundreds more, shocking us at the callousness of those among us, and we ask the question again, “Where is God? Where is God in evil?”

Now, the correct answer is to say that God has no part in evil.

1 John 1:5 says that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” And I believe that, and our church teaches that, because it’s true.

So if the cause of evil is what really matters, then we can ask the question “Why did God create a world where evil is allowed to happen?” And if that’s a question you’d like to discuss, I would be happy to buy you a cup of coffee so we can talk about it.

But I won’t do it today. Not this week.

Because that question is a dry, intellectual question that doesn’t really respect the pain and suffering and loss of life that evil has caused this week.

The better question is “What is God going to do about it?”

So what is God going to do about evil?

 He’s going to punish it.

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Healing

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We have all wanted healing, for ourselves, or for someone we love. Reading the stories about Jesus’ healing miracles (and there are 27 of them, told multiple times)  makes us think, “I sure wish Jesus would do that today.” Or where was Jesus when any number of the people we loved and lost died?

If Jesus can heal, why doesn’t he heal the person I love more than anyone in the world?

If miracles are real, why did that person get them, but not my spouse or my parent or my child?

If 1. Miracles are real and 2. Healing is a miracle Jesus did and 3. Jesus loves us then where is our miracle?  We long for them. We yearn for healing. We go searching for them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of us when we do.

There are a lots of “Christian” teachings out there that want you to believe that no one needs to be sick if they’ll just believe. The most popular teaching about miracles today is that they’re for sale. That healing can be bought by a certain number of prayers or faithful acts or even by sending in money to a preacher on television. One of the Copeland’s even got a tweet on the front page this week for saying that the flu can’t affect true Christians.

It's NOT flu season! Yes, you heard it right. The flu is NOT a season we have around here because Jesus bore ALL our sickness on the cross. This includes the flu! -Kenneth Copeland Ministries
Not true. But a great way to pay for a plane!

But that’s not the way that miracles work.

That’s not what healing really means.

So before we read any further in Everything Jesus Taught, we need to know how to interpret all the healings that Jesus did, and how to interpret life with all its fragility, today.

In this post, I want to share one important Bible study principal with you. This is the key to understanding the healings in Jesus’ life and teaching.

Here it is.

When you read about a healing, keep reading.

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Good In, Good Out

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On the podcast that Dave and I have been doing each Monday, we were talking about how what we watch on television gets into our heads and affects what we do.

This seems to be especially true with reality television.

For example, if we watch home improvement shows Dave and I start taking down walls in our house.

When we watch traveling shows we start planning a trip.

Once Dave and I binge-watched an entire season of American Ninja Warrior. That’s the one where people compete on these intense obstacle courses after training for years to prepare. A few episodes in,  I decided I was, in fact, a future ninja warrior and started doing push ups on the commercials and jogging in place.

But then we took a break from ninja warrior to watch the Great British Baking Show. A few episodes into that one I was making a layered chocolate cake in the kitchen with raspberries on top and talking about its “crumb.”

(I realize that the baking show and the ninja warrior competition don’t create complementary goals for my life. So I’m going with the  cake.)

Whatever we are watching tends to affect what we talk about, think about.  Or, in other words:

What we put in is what we get out.

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Loving Our Enemies

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For all of the things we may hate about the internet, there is one thing I think we can all agree is truly fantastic…  Stories and pictures of interspecies friendships.

Cats and dogs napping together.

An elephant and a black lab playing.

A gorilla cuddling a kitten.

Amazing.

One of these stories recently caught my eye because it seemed so unlikely. The two species weren’t just uncommon together. They were enemies. Predator and prey. At the Primorsky Safari Park in Russia there is a Siberian tiger named Amur. Twice a week they throw in a live goat for Amur to eat. And every time, he quickly pounces on the goat and devours him.

Until he didn’t.

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