Waterfront Park in Charleston, SC

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for Oct 23, Jn 9-10

Today's readings are Jn 9-10. Tomorrow's reading is Luke 10.

Jn 9 follows Jesus' statement that He is the Light of the world. The Pharisees reject His claim. To prove His point, Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. While He is talking to the man, a startling revelation comes to the surface. The man was born blind in order to demonstrate the glory of God. He's not defective! The man is not handicapped because something is wrong. He, like all of creation, will in some manner, reveal the glory of God. 

The healing of the man of his blindness holds a number of metaphors. The primary one is this, the Light of the Earth causes a man who has lived all his life in darkness to see. Jesus has come to help those who are spiritually blind to see the truth just as He has helped this physically blind man to see. In the process the man is transformed. He has a new life, a new perspective and has been changed by his encounter with Christ. The same is true of those who are spiritually blind. Jesus can help them see. In the process, they too are transformed. They get new lives and new perspective from their encounter with Jesus.

The Pharisees try in vain to find something wrong about all this. The blind man says, "All I know is that I was blind and now I see." One great irony here is that the blind guy sees the simple truth and the Pharisees don't. 

Jesus links all the realities and metaphors that abound in this passage to judgment (Jn 9:35-41). Those who accept Him will see the truth. Those who reject Him will not only remain blind but will be judged based on their rejection of the Messiah. Jn 9 ends on a chilling note for the Pharisees -- now that they have seen the truth, they have no excuse. They are guilty for rejecting it. 

As witnesses for Christ, our primary responsibility is to present the truth (the gospel) to the lost. Jesus will judge them, not us or the church. The Pharisees had plenty of folks share the truth with them. Ultimately, they would have to face Jesus Himself. Ultimately, they would be accountable to Him. The pressure on you and me to convince anyone is off. We can share the truth without any burden of persuading people that it is right.

Jesus heals--and judges because He is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10). Those that are in His flock hear His voice and enter into His blessing. His blessing is that He is the only way into heaven. He is the only way to heaven becasue He and the Father are one, another startling revelation that lifts the lid and gives us a peek at the Trinity. That makes His flock one with God as well. The only way to be part of His flock is in and through Him. All others who claim to be shepherds are liars unless they are leading their sheep to the Good Shepherd.

The Pharisees continue to reject Him. They are blind to the stakes which are incredibly high. They are not only rejecting His blessing, but union with God as well. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Chronoogical Reading Plan for Oct 22, Jn 7-8

Today's readings are Jn 7-8. Tomorrow's are Jn 9-10.

In Jn 7, we find Jesus becoming increasingly more vocal about who He is and what He's come to do. He and His disciples made the turning point at Caesarea-Philippi, headed back toward Jerusalem  and are now in what will turn out to be the last six months of His ministry leading up to the cross. 

In Jn 7:10-22 Jesus shows up at the Feast of Booths, a feast that looks back on the temporary home that the Jews had in the wilderness. Jesus, the eternal home for those who believe in Him, comes to the festival that reminds God's people that their home on earth is temporary and a permanent home awaits them.

He begins teaching with amazing power and authority, giving glory to God and openly revealing that there are those who want to kill Him. Some are unaware of who He is and the tension that has risen up between Jesus and the Pharisees. They wonder what's going on.

Those who are aware wonder why the Sanhedrin doesn't stop Him (Jn 7:25-31).  They speculate that there is a conspiracy to hide the truth that He is really the Messiah. Apparently conspiracy theories are not unique to modern times. In reality, there is no conspiracy. Most people simply don't believe Jesus is who He says He is. So, when He teaches with this kind of authority and when He does the things He does, they explain it away, choosing to disregard the truth because it does not conform to their expectations or traditions.

After foiling an attempt to arrest Him by simply speaking truth so powerfully it overwhelms the guards sent to apprehend Him, Jesus addresses the crowd (Jn 37-39). His timing is perfect. It is the last day of the feast, a day when the priests carry water from the Spring of Gihon (Hezekiah's Tunnel) up to the Temple to cleanse the altar. Jesus "cries out", emphatically states that He is the cleansing, living water. One thing that beings to become clear as Jesus stands in the middle of this huge celebration is that the festivals and the rituals the Jews have been observing for nearly two thousand years are about Christ. They are nor merely remembrances. They are precursors and shadows of Him and His arrival. 

Divisions being to arise over who Jesus is, even among the Pharisees (Jn 7:40-52). Another thing becomes clear. Jesus came to unite His church in Him, but will be a point of division and separation from the world (Mt 10:34).

Jn 7:53 - 8:11 does not appear in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. To read more about this, you can take a look at "What About Those Double Brackets."

Jn 8:12-30 comes at another climactic moment in the feast,
the moment when they light the massive torches inside the temple walls symbolizing the light and glory of God. Jesus says He is that light and prophesies His crucifixion. 

He also teaches that the truth of who He is will set people free, if they believe it. What the Pharisees teach is not only a lie, but it leads to judgment and doom (Jn 8:31-47).

A bold and major step is taken in Jesus' ministry when he proclaims "...before Abraham was, I am" in Jn 8:58. It is nothing less than the revelation of His eternal nature. He was, is and will be all at the same time. He has the evidence of the signs and wonders, the power of His teaching  and the symbolism of the feast to support His claims.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pastor Appreciation, the view from the bedside of a pastor's wife

I’m Kelly Kuvakas, photographer of thousands, grandma of two (and counting), mother of two (and stopping) and pastor’s wife of one. 

I’m at that age where I wake up more at night.

 I blame water.  

Or maybe I should blame the lack thereof and the consequences of trying to change my poor drinking habits late in life (and late at night).

Maybe this nightly waking up thing at 3:30, 4:30 or 5:30 is a godsend in the month of October – Pastor Appreciation Month.  See, I often find I am alone in bed.  

It certainly has confirmed what my husband has said about himself as a pastor:  “I’m always on.” 

It's a pastor thing, perhaps not dissimilar to the calling of a fireman or a policewoman or an active duty military personnel or anyone else in the search and rescue business.  You’re always at the ready, always on alert.  The clock has no respect for normalcy, privacy or even sometimes sleep. 

Do not read that wrong.  To be upset with people calling or texting or communicating is not the point here. This is the life we signed up for.  This is the love that God has poured into us.  And this is His strength in action even when our bodies are aging and begin calling out for rest (or for the bathroom). 

But it’s even more than that.  It’s God calling the pastor in the dark hours. It’s God inspiring ideas from the Word that has been read and ruminated upon all week long.  

It’s sitting at a computer, tapping on the keys, reading and studying and meditating.  It’s the process of preparation for the next Sunday’s sermon, text and ideas turning over and over in my dear husband’s pastor mind at every hour of the day.  

Did you know that John begins his preparations for the next week's sermon on Sunday afternoon?  

Yes, after a regular Sunday morning of 4:30am rise and shine alarm clock, 

a 5:30 arrival at church, 
a 6am first preaching of the sermon to an empty sanctuary, 
an 8:30 1st service, 
a 10am Sunday School hour (he’s co-leading a new members class this month with Pastor Scott), 
an 11am 2nd service, 
as well as a sometimes lengthy
 stay after the service, where he graciously listens to the critique of his sermon from some and the fears and the needs of others, 
a mad dash to the nearest Five Guys or the like to feed his starving (although she doesn’t look like it) wife, 

then a 2+ hour nap...

Then – then he begins the next sermon.  

That’s the view from my chair (to use his own phrase) or maybe better, as I began this missive, the view from my bedside!

But now I’m fully awake and as I sit here with him at 8:42am on Thursday, October 20, 2016 there are no complaints from him.  

This is a love and a passion and a privilege for him, for both of us.  There will not be a letter or an email from him to tell you all the hours he works.   There won’t be one to tell you when he’s exhausted either.  That’s not the way a pastor rolls, at least not until he’s on the verge of burnout.  But it is the way I’m rolling this morning…  

You know, we came close to burnout this past September.  No, I came close to burnout. I’ll admit it.  It was a difficult start to our postponed vacation. 

At first I struggled with remaining in touch with our congregation. I found myself longing for the total detachment and solitude we both needed. But our vacation fell at a time when crucial changes were happening in the church.  And John’s love for his flock, his staff and his high calling rightly overruled his wife’s and even his own desire for rest. 

In this, we found a beautiful blessing. We both found that once again, when we settle without strife into whatever God places before us, trusting He knows best, not getting angry or frustrated, we fare much better.  Imagine that??  LOL 

One last insight into the life of your pastor, a spy report if you will. 

 Last night when John arrived home we sat in his office and I asked him, as I always do, how his day was.  

He said something like “You know, I’m surrounded by great and passionate people.”  

He was so grateful in his heart for the staff and congregation who pour themselves out regularly for the church.  He had that peaceful look you can only have when you are aware of how much God is moving in the lives of those you love, those whom God has placed around you. 

So, as I type my random thoughts and John continues his morning routine – which I think must but won’t include a morning nap if he’s going to be working until 9pm tonight – I want to say “Thank you Pastor”.  

Correction.  Thank you Pastors!  

Pastor Scott and Leslie’s story cannot be too different from ours, even though their ages are younger and their temperaments perhaps better -- Leslie is the sweetest pastor’s wife I know! 

Thank you Pastors for the hours and hours of unseen work.

Thank you both for pouring yourselves out for us.  

Thank you both for answering the call to Search and Rescue and Continue to Serve.  

I know you wouldn’t have it any other way and for that I thank you too.


Chronological Reading Plan for Oct 21, Mt 18

Today's reading is Mt 18. Tomorrow's readings are Jn 7-8. 

In Mt 18, Jesus begins another teaching, starting with humility. This will be a thread that continues to develop in His ministry culminating in the washing of the disciples' feet at the Last Supper. This particular teaching on humility comes just as the disciples are arguing about who is greatest (again). It is followed (Mt 18:10-14) by an admonition to be cautious about sinning. The flow of the chapter is designed to teach that self-idolization ("who is the greatest?") should be avoided no matter the consequences. Pride has to be excised at all costs! 

The parable of the lost sheep is an addendum to the teaching on humility. It shows that no one is unworthy of pursuing for the sake of the kingdom, no one is greater than the other.

Developing the sin theme further, Mt 18:15-20 lays the groundwork for dealing with blatant, unrepentant sin in a brother or sister in the faith. This is not about someone who struggles with their sin. It is about the alleged believer that sins and refuses to repent, knowing and admitting that his behavior is sinful. This type of open rebellion is a danger and a cancer to the church. The procedure is intended to restore, not punish, making every effort to win him/her over and encourage them to repent. 

The authority to do this is established in Mt 18:18-20. These verses are not a guarantee that Jesus will be present "whenever two or three are gathered in His name". Jesus is present in every believer, whether there are more than one or not! There is no need for a gathering in order for Jesus to be present. Nor is there a guarantee that, if enough people ask for the same thing, it will be given to them. Scripture is clear that there are times when people ask for things that they do not get because they ask with wrong motives (James 4:2-3). 

These verses in Mt.18 establish the judicial authority to discipline based on two or more witnesses. What this short passage is saying is this: "God will bless the church when it stands for holiness, agreeing with the decision to discipline but there is a check and balance, requiring more than one person to be involved in making the decision." Mt 18:18 simply says that the same authority that is in heaven operates on earth. It is not about who has the power to "bind" or "loosen." It refers to Christ and the Holy Spirit functioning in believers in order to bring order and honor to the church. 

For clarity as to how Mt 18:15-20 is to be used, we see the parable of the unforgiving servant. The discipline taught in vs 15-20 is intended to show grace and restore, not punish. Those who are unwilling to forgive will suffer harsh consequences. Forgiveness and grace are evidence of the indwelling Spirit.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for Oct 20, Mk 9

Today's reading is Mk 9 (again). Tomorrow's reading is Mt 18.

Mk 9 begins with a verse that has caused much discussion. To whom is Jesus speaking? Who will not taste death until they see the kingdom? Many believe this is an end-times prophecy and Jesus is speaking to that last generation. If so, what about the ones standing in front of Him. They all died before the end times came. Did Jesus miss it? The only sensible way to interpret what Jesus says here is to apply it directly to the men standing there. If that's the case, then the prophecy is accurate and precise. The power mentioned is the power the disciples will receive in Acts 2, the power that they were to go to Jerusalem and wait upon (Act 1:8). The kingdom is Christ. It is sealed forever more as He rises to His rightful position at the right hand of God (Acts 1:9). 

Mk 9 provides additional detail to the healing of the demon-possessed boy. Jesus tells the disciples that this kind of demon comes out only by prayer (Mk 9:29). This statement has to be taken in harmony with the teaching in Mt 17. Their faith is not yet fully developed. The power to heal and cast out demons is not in them apart from a close and mature relationship with Christ. Jesus is not saying, "If you pray more, then the demons will leave." He's telling them that a deep and committed relationship with Him will lead to them being able to move in faith in all they do -- move mountains, cast out demons, etc. Their goal is not to perform miracles, but to have a deeper walk with Him. Prayer is fellowship and communion with Him. Their spiritual growth will be commensurate with their prayer life. 

As an aside, they are in or near Caesarea Philippi when much of this happens. This is actually the Northern-most part of Jesus' journey. This is where they turn and start heading for Jerusalem. There was an ancient sacrificial site there, in a cave, that was known as "The Gates of Hell". Here's what the cave looks like today;

The disciples miss many of the points Jesus is teaching and fall into a disagreement as to who is the greatest (Mk 9:33-37). They make the common mistake of thinking that the kingdom is about them and the benefits they will receive when it arrives. Jesus brings the correction by telling them that He--and they--have come to serve, not be exalted. 

Jesus addresses minor doctrinal differences in Mk 9:38-41 saying those who are truly on His side will all receive a reward. The point of primary importance is that those "who are not against us are for us." Those who are not actively opposing Christ but moving in "His name", His character and nature, are working for Him albeit not directly with the disciples. Jesus tells the disciples to leave those people alone. This is a snapshot of the diversity the kingdom will exhibit. 

Mk 9 ends with an admonishment to do whatever is necessary to eliminate sin from their lives (Mk 9:42-50). In this, Jesus redirects the disciples to examine themselves rather than others. Far from being an endorsement for self-mutilation, Jesus is encouraging them to actively pursue eliminating sinful thoughts and behavior from their lives.

Examining the flow of Mk 9, we see this incredible teaching of the kingdom. Along with it is a caution that the kingdom is not about me or you, but about Christ and His work. We should welcome and be thankful for all those who are truly working to advance the kingdom. At the same time, we should avoid judging them or each other. Instead we should look inward and examine ourselves.