Monday, February 22, 2010

RENEWsletter for February 28, 2010 - 2nd Lent

Good morning dear friends--
As we enter the second week of Lent, it is a good time to lift our heads above the cares and perils that surround us these days, and wait for the promise of the coming Son-rise. Reading the Scriptures set for next Sunday, I find parallels between Abram's situation and my own. I list my woes and my fears and I can almost hear that venerable patriarch saying, "Not to worry! Been there, done that... With Yahweh... no problem!"

The readings for this Second Sunday of Lent are found on the web at, and in your Bible at:

Genesis 15.5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27.1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14
Philippians 3.17 -- 4.1
Luke 9.28b-36

To Abram, as the First Reading shows, prosperity was measured in descendents. In our day it is measured differently. In my case, where I am now, I measure prosperity in terms of my financial state... my retirement fund in particular. I have some concerns there. Abram had some concerns as well. He was old. He had no children. His retirement prospects were nil! But God led him out under the dark skies of Palestine some 4000 years ago and bade him count the stars (Gen. 15.5). These were not the stars of our modern light-polluted skies where only the very brightest shine through the city glow. There were millions of stars visible to Abram's eyes! God promised Abram that his descendents would total up to that order of magnitude (v. 5 again).

God gives us the same kind of promise today. We will be taken care of. Applying verse 7 to my own situation, I read "I am the LORD who brought you out of Omaha of the Midwesterners to give you this condo as a possession." Doubtful, I respond, "But how am I to know that I'll be able to make the payments?" (see verse 8). God understood Abram's fears, and he understands ours. A "terrifying darkness" fell on Abram. Yeah, I relate to that. Not being able to see the future can be terrifying. But God will light our way, a step at a time, as he did for Abram (vs. 13-15).

The psalmist got the same type of promise in our Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 27.1). And he believed it: "I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living" (v. 13). We can claim that promise too. It may not come to be until the future, but "the land of the living" is not a graveyard!

Paul, in the Second Reading, was well aware of God's promise to him. And his mission was to share that information with as many as he could. "Be like me," he admonishes us (Phil. 3.17). With some, "their god is their stomach," wrapped up with trying to feel good (v. 19). "But our citizenship is in heaven" (v. 20). We will win with Jesus. With that to look forward to, we can "stand firm in the Lord" (ch. 4 v. 1).

Peter, John, and James got a small preview of what it will be like with glorified bodies. Luke tells us in the Gospel Reading that Jesus's "face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white" (Luke 9.29). Moses and Elijah, two men long dead, appeared in the same brilliantly shining form (v. 30). "Wow!" exclaimed Peter. "This is cool! Let's build three shrines! One for each of the three of you!" (v. 33). I imagine Jesus just looked at him and smiled.

Then the glory faded and became part of the past. Even the bright day became shadowed by a cloud (v. 34). God himself spoke out of the cloud, "Listen to what my Son has to say" (v. 35).

Talk about terrifying! It shut Peter up. It shut all three of them up (v. 36).

What does Christ have to say? In one place he says "Destroy this temple and in three days I'll have it rebuilt" (John 2:19). In another place he says "Don't worry about tomorrow..." (Matthew 6:34). And in another he says, "Let the dead past bury itself" (Luke 9:60). That covers the future, the present, and the past.

What Christ has to say to me all sounds like "Don't be afraid. I'll take care of you." What does Christ have to say to you?

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot hear Jesus say the future is bleak!"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

RENEWsletter for February 21, 2010 - 1st Lent

Dear Friends of Renewal--
Lent has arrived. Ash Wednesday is this week. Lent is a time to be reminded of our sinfulness and our unworthiness, and a time to be delivered from those and accept the healing and forgiveness of our God.

The readings for next Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent, which can be found on the web at:, are:

Deuteronomy 26.4-10
Psalm 91.1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
Romans 10.8-13
Luke 4.1-13

The First Reading is a passage from the law of Moses. The people were reminded of the faithfulness of the Lord (Deut. 26.4, 5). The people of God had been afflicted by a widespread drought and fled to Egypt as refugees, but there one thing led to another and soon they found themselves taken advantage of by the Egyptians (v. 6). Then they cried out to the LORD (v. 7), and he delivered them from their bondage in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land that flowed with milk and honey (vs. 8, 9). In their gratitude, they gave back some of their harvest of blessings and offered homage to their Deliverer (v. 10).

By the message of the Responsorial Psalm we are reminded that we are safe when we dwell in the shelter of the Most High (Ps. 91.1, 2). Trusting in the LORD, no evil shall befall us and angels watch over us (vs. 10-12). When evil approaches, when we step on a serpent, or stumble over a sleeping beast, we will be delivered if we cling to our God and call upon him in time of trouble (vs. 13-15).

In the Second Reading from Paul's letter to the Roman Christians, we are reminded that the Word of God is very close to us. It is in our mouths and in our hearts (Rom. 10.8). That is, God's laws are the most natural, sensible, intuitively obvious rules for life we could possibly come up with. Here it is, "If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God has raised him from the dead, we shall be saved" (v. 9). Those who confess verbally and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord will be delivered from sin and shame (vs. 10-13).

The Gospel Reading in Luke recounts how Jesus, after fasting for 40 days in the desert (Luke 4.1, 2), reminded Satan of what God had said in the Scriptures: You don't live by bread alone, but by every word uttered by God (vs. 3, 4); you are to worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone (vs. 6-8); you are not to test the one true God (vs. 10-12). It's interesting how Satan quoted Scripture to the Lord, the very psalm that we have today in our readings, in his final attempt to tempt him. But he twisted it and took it out of context. Yet Jesus quoted Scripture back at him and thus was delivered from the wiles of the devil who went away to sulk for awhile (v. 13).

The point here is that Scripture is the key to a victorious and happy life. The Scriptures prove that God is faithful. They promise that believers will not be let down. And they show what God expects of us in return. "If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we are saved!"

And to tell you the truth, I'm looking forward to that Promised Land that eternally flows with milk and honey!

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot see the deliverance of the Lord need to be reminded of his faithfulness!"

Monday, February 8, 2010

RENEWsletter for February 14, 2010 - 6th Ordinary

Good morning Renewers--
There's a song that goes, "You can rise / from the ashes again. You can rise / to the morning that breaks in your eyes. For what looked like your heart's demise / has turned out to be a blessing in disguise." * I have a story of a blessing in disguise. Many years ago I found myself deep in debt and unable to make ends meet. I had a Mustang with $522/mo payments from a more prosperous time and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Then the car was stolen! How could things get any worse! But you know what? My insurance company paid off based on the market value of the car. It had appreciated in value and I received a thousand dollars more than I paid for the car 18 months earlier! I paid off the car loan and couple of other little loans, and got an Escort at $221/mo. I avoided bankruptcy and eventually was able to get completely out of debt. Talk about blessings in disguise!

The readings for next Sunday which is the 6th in Ordinary Time address the prevalence of blessings, some going around in disguise, that those who trust in the Lord often find at their door. The readings are on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Jeremiah 17.5-8
Psalms 1.1-2, 3, 4, 6
1 Corinthians 15.12, 16-20
Luke 6.17, 20-26

The First Reading from Jeremiah gives some comforting words for those who feel downtrodden, neglected, or persecuted. The prophet proclaims that those in power, the in-crowd, the elite of the day, are too busy feeding off of, and preening in front of, their elite peers to take any thought for the oppressed (Jer. 17.5). But they'll have their come-uppins, because God is watching, making a list, and keeping track (v. 6). Then he assures the second-class citizens that their lot truly is a wealth of blessings from the LORD. Those who've learned they can't trust the people in power, turn to the LORD and put their trust in him (v. 7). This is a wise thing to do, because God promises that they will be drought-resistant, like a tree planted near a stream. Though no rain fall, water comes unseen up through the roots, and their leaves stay green (v. 8).

The psalmist of the Responsorial Psalm sings the same song. Blessed is the one who doesn't listen to the counsel of the wicked, who doesn't emulate their behavior, who doesn't hang out with them (Ps 1.1). But those who delight in the Law of the LORD are again like draught-resistant trees planted near water (v. 3). And again, as in the First Reading, the wicked are not so (v. 4). The wicked will not survive the judgment (v. 5), but the LORD himself is watching over the just (v. 6)!

In the Second Reading, Paul tears apart the "counsel of the wicked" who say there is no resurrection (1 Cor. 15.12). The whole passage shows how their argument is internally inconsistent. (The skipped verses say about the same thing the surrounding verses do.) Christ was presented as raised from the dead, but these scorned the idea of resurrection. "Excuse me!" says Paul. "If there's no resurrection, then Christ never rose. And if Christ never rose, then we have no salvation!" (vs. 16, 17). But Christ did rise from the dead (v. 20), and is the first fruits of... well, of that tree planted by the river whose leaves stay green and which continues to bear fruit even in draught!

The Gospel Reading from Luke relates Jesus's Beatitudes speech. (Here the skipped verses indicate that Jesus did some healing before he began his teaching.) The version of this speech in Matthew is called the Sermon on the Mount, but Luke describes the setting here as a level field (Luke 6.17). Maybe it was a stock speech that Jesus gave all over Galilee and Judea. The setting doesn't matter. The speech does. Basically it says the same thing Jeremiah and the psalmist have said. Blessed are those who are oppressed, for God is keeping track (vs. 20-23). Those who have it soft, who wallow in luxury, who abuse their power, get their reward up front (vs. 24-26). The rest will be laying up treasures in heaven. And because God is with them, they can be leaping for joy in the here and now.

Do you feel like leaping for joy? I sure didn't when I discovered my car stolen! But I did later when I got the insurance check! If we broaden our perspective, lift our eyes up from the rock-strewn path before us, we just might catch a glimpse of what God has in store for us in heaven.

May the LORD bless you so richly this week that it embarrasses you! :-)

Randy Jones
"Those who eat dessert first, will have nothing later!"

* "Blessing In Disguise" written by Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Billy Sprague. Copyright 1994 by PolyGram International Publishing, Inc., et al. Available on "Along the Road" CD released by Sparrow 1994.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

RENEWsletter for February 7, 2010 - 5th Ordinary

To those called to Renewal--
Good morning folks! The readings for next Sunday are about the callings of three great men. Their names are written in history and their writings have been read for thousands of years, yet each one of them was sin-ridden and unworthy. It appears though, that unworthiness may actually be a requirement for being called by God, as you'll see when we examine the readings.

This Sunday is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time and the readings can be found on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Isaiah 6.1-2a, 3-8
Psalm 138.1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15.1-11
Luke 5.1-11

The First Reading is a scene right out of a modern day rock concert! The building shook and the room was filled with smoke (Is. 6.4)! It was loud with the screaming of the seraphim and terrifying with all the violence, and Isaiah was afraid he was in the wrong place. As a man of "unclean lips" (do you suppose he ever "cussed like a sailor"?) he feared for his life (v. 5). But the King had a remedy for this. Isaiah's lips were about to be purified by a holy fire even hotter than the fiery speech that would come out of his mouth. That glowing ember was too hot for the seraph to touch. It needed tongs, and "seraphim" means "burning ones" (v. 6)! But Isaiah kissed that hot coal and his former vocabulary was expunged from his person, from memory, and from history (v.7). Then came the next step. "Whom shall I send?" says God (v. 8). Isaiah didn't hesitate... he was ready now, freed from accusation, freed from guilt, and freed from the fear that had so recently paralyzed him. "Here am I," he said. "Send me."

The Responsorial Psalm finds the psalmist David singing praise and thanksgiving to God (Ps. 138.1-2), unafraid of what anyone will think. When he cried out, God answered and strengthened his spirit (v. 3). The kings of the world hear him praising and are moved to join in (vs. 4, 5). Once purified by the love of God we have no guilt, no shame... and no inhibitions (vs. 7-8).

In the Second Reading, Paul, bless his heart and his words, knew where he stood with God. He was alive and undamned only because of God's grace (1 Cor. 15.10). And by that same grace, unfit though he was to be called an Apostle (v. 9), he brought the Word of salvation to as much of the 1st century Mediterranean world as he could. Do you think he knew whereof he spoke? He had personally experienced God's life-transforming power first hand, as Isaiah had (v. 8). And he did one of those, "Here am I, send me" things. God sent him.

The Gospel Reading is the story of Simon Peter's calling. There he was with his crew washing the nets after a night of fishless fishing (Luke 5.2). He was prob'ly looking forward to getting the nets packed away so he could head home for some breakfast and a few hours sleep before the day got too hot. But this day the routine was about to change. Here came Jesus with a mob following him and with a request for Simon. "Will you take me in your boat a few meters offshore so I can speak to the crowd without being crowded?" (v. 3) Simon must have rolled his eyeballs and shook his head, but the hope of getting some sleep was prob'ly gone, anyway, with the mob filling all the streets. It'd be a long commute to home and no doubt there'd be too much noise for sleep when he got there anyway. Maybe he could catch 40 winks in the boat.

The sermon ended, and Jesus had another request. "Put out into deep water. There's some fish out there" (v. 4). If Simon rolled his eyeballs before, he was even more incredulous now. His words are recorded by Luke as very mild and reasonable. "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets" (v. 5) I wonder if he was quite that compliant. He was a sailor, wasn't he? I'm sure he didn't have much confidence in a landlubber's fishing wisdom.

But Jesus did know what he was talking about and Simon was suddenly on his knees (v. 8). Embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, and repentant for the way he had spoken, he had Isaiah's same fear that he was caught and doomed by God himself. But Jesus has a remedy for sin: "Don't be afraid. You know, I need someone to help me catch people. How about you?" (v. 10). Like Isaiah and Paul, Simon did one of those "Here am I, send me" things, and the rest is history.

Do we think we're not pure enough to tell people about Jesus Christ and the peace and salvation he gives? Purity is not a job requirement. "Here am I, send me" is. What are we waiting for?

Randy Jones
"Those who hear not the call think the missionaries mad!"