Monday, March 29, 2010

RENEWsletter for April 4, 2010 - Easter

Dear risen people--
This Sunday is a special one... like I really need to tell you! This Sunday we celebrate Christ's rising from the dead, the one event that will make it possible for us too to rise from the dead, as the Scriptures tell us.

The readings for this Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord, can be found on the web at:, and in your Bible at:

Acts 10.34a, 37-43
Psalm 118.1-2, 16-17, 22-23, 24
Colossians 3.1-4 - or - 1 Corinthians 5.6b-8
John 20.1-9

One thing we have seen about St. Peter... the first disciple that Jesus recruited... is that he was bold, brash, and impulsive. He was also an excellent extemporaneous speaker as the First Reading shows. A Roman Centurion, Cornelius, commander of a cohort of Roman soldiers (300 to 600 men), was interested in Christianity and had been praying. God led him to send for Peter. There was a crowd of people there when Peter arrived and Cornelius, in typical military commander fashion, said, "Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord." Never at a loss for words, Peter went for it (Acts 10.34). He told the old, old story: Jesus went about doing good, healing, and forgiving (v. 38). Then he was arrested and executed (v. 39). But he rose from the dead (v. 40). Peter and his friends were eye witnesses of this and ate and drank with him after the resurrection (v. 41). Peter declared that, "he commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that... everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins!" (vs. 42, 43).

The Psalmist, too, is pumped and breaks out into spontaneous song. "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad!" (Ps. 118.24). Something really good had just happened and the psalmist was overcome with joy (v. 16). Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever opened a letter (or an email) from a friend or relative and received such happy news that you burst into song? Oh! happy day! That's what this Sunday is... a happy, happy day (v. 23)!

Paul, in the first of the Second Readings, explains that once we are raised with Christ, the conditions change. No longer are we occupied with mundane, worldly things. We have died! And our life is now folded into Christ's (Col. 3:3). In the other Second Reading, he talks some more to that "folded in" idea. When someone is making bread, the yeast needs to be folded into the lump so it leavens the whole batch. That's what sin does to our lives. But once we have new life in Christ, we are like a fresh batch of dough. The old yeast of malice and wickedness is gone are we are like the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:8).

The Gospel Reading brings us back to impulsive Peter. Mary Magdalene had gone to Jesus's tomb before dawn that morning with spices and oils to anoint the body of Jesus (John 20.1). Happily she noticed that the grave was open. But, oh my God! the body was gone! She ran back to where the disciples were holed up, woke Peter and told him (v. 2). Peter took off at once, but was outrun by "the other disciple" (v. 4). Although the other disciple got there first, he didn't go in (v. 5). Peter, however, didn't hesitate. He pushed past and went right in (v. 6).

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, it is said. Has that ever happened to you? Sometimes it turns out bad, but other times, when the Holy Spirit moves, we respond before we have time to listen to our doubts. What's your habit? Do the things you know about God pop out spontaneously like Peter? I was on the phone one day at work with a tech support guy who was located in India. When we found the problem, he burst out with "Praise God!" Knowing he was Indian, I asked what religion he embraced. "I'm a Christian," he said. Because that man had rushed in, foolishly some would say, and uttered a "Praise God", we each found a brother in Christ.... halfway around the world!

This week, let your joy in the resurrection fill you and overflow. Who knows what potential blessing you have for someone nearby?

Randy Jones
"Those who fear to tread say only fools do that!"

Monday, March 22, 2010

RENEWsletter for March 28, 2010 - Palm Sunday

Dear Renewed people--
Next Sunday we commemorate the Lord's Passion. "Passion" these days means something like "ardor" or "wild enthusiasm", but the word comes from the Latin where its roots are in passus which means "suffering". So... next Sunday we commemorate the Lord's Suffering.

You can find the readings for this coming Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion on the web at:, or find them in your Bible in:

Isaiah 50.4-7
Psalm 22.8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2.6-11
Luke 22.14 -- 23.56

If you want to experience the entire last week of Jesus's life on earth before his death, start with Luke 19.28. Verses 28-40 are actually the Processional Reading and take us through Jesus's triumphal march into Jerusalem. Each year the Processional and Gospel Readings come from a different Gospel: Matthew in Year A, Mark or John in Year B, and Luke in Year C, this year. But the First and Second Readings and the Psalm are always the same.

The First Reading from Isaiah is the core of the Suffering Servant passage. It describes what Jesus went through during his last 12 hours before his death. If you've seen the movie The Passion of the Christ of a few years ago, this passage will invoke vivid mental images of the original meaning of "passion". "I gave my back to those who beat me" and "my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting" (Is. 50.6). Jesus was obedient to the Plan. He had to go through this if he was to fulfill the plan of Salvation. So he set his face like flint and he was not disgraced (v. 7).

In the Responsorial Psalm, David sings of the Passion as well. "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Ps. 22.2). Jesus uttered these words as he hung dying on that Roman instrument of torture and death. Those watching sneer, "He relied on the LORD; let Him deliver him" (v. 9). Ever wonder why those people, who thronged around Jesus and sang his praises as he entered Jerusalem triumphantly, turned against him? Maybe they thought they'd been tricked. If Jesus were so close to God the Father, why could he not save himself? Why didn't he overthrow the Romans and give Israel back to the Jews?

The Second Reading has the explanation. Jesus chose not to save himself! Phil. 2.8 says, "He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death." Without the shedding of blood, without the death of the sacrificial Lamb, there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). But the "Principle of the Paradox" kicks in here. "Because of this, God greatly exalted him" (v. 9). Visualize yourself on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the midst of wilderness. Across the mighty canyon is civilization, people, gift shops, restaurants, rest rooms. You'd really like to get there. The direct route would take you down into the mile-deep gorge and back up the other side. Not an easy trip. Better go around. Christ didn't go around. He went through it. And because he did, every soul who ever lived, lives, or will live... every being in heaven or hell... will confess that Jesus is Lord (v. 11).

The Gospel Reading covers the Last Supper (Luke 22.14-38), the Betrayal (ch. 22 vs. 39-53), the Trial (ch. 22 v 54 through ch. 23 v. 25), and Christ's death on the Cross (ch. 23 vs. 26-49). Reading this long passage slowly and prayerfully takes us through the Stations of the Cross. Some are left out of Luke's narrative, but many are there. If you've seen The Passion, you have sharp images and piercing feelings as you read this account. It wasn't pretty.

The narrative closes with the mangled body of Jesus being laid in the new tomb of one Joseph of Arimathea (ch. 23 vs. 50-56), a member of the Sanhedrin, who didn't go along with the plan to kill Jesus. But because it was so close to sunset and Passover was about to begin, there wasn't time to properly prepare the body for burial. Thus the women who had followed the company from Galilee, gathered the embalming spices and oils and planned to do it after the Sabbath. Even they thought it was over and had given up. They hadn't really believed him when he said he would rise again.

Do we believe, truly believe, that there is a Resurrection? Slipping down the wall of the Grand Canyon, scraping our hands, tripping, falling, tumbling, cracking our bones against the rocks... do we really believe that there will be peace for us later? ...comfort? Can our present pain, fear, and frustration succumb to faith, hope, and trust?

Life is a "passion" at times... in the Latin sense of the word. We suffer now, but we are promised a dawn, a resurrection after the horrible night. This week, if things get tough, set your face like flint (Is. 50:7) and look to the Resurrection. Believe that he will rise again!

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot endure the night say there is no dawn!"

Monday, March 15, 2010

RENEWsletter for March 21, 2010 - 5th Lent

Dear Partakers in Renewal--
Next Sunday's readings speak of something new. Now Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, laments that "nothing is new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1.9). Well, there may be nothing new under the sun today, but tomorrow isn't here yet.

The readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent can be found on the web at:, and in your Bible in:

Isaiah 43.16-21
Psalm 126.1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Philippians 3.8-14
John 8.1-11

Otherwise, if your church uses the RCIA readings, see the Year A entry for the Fifth Sunday of Lent:

The First Reading finds Isaiah really pumped about what God can do. He can wipe out mighty armies (Is. 43.17). He can make a way through the desert and cause rivers to flow in the wasteland (v. 19). For his people he can make a happy and prosperous life in the midst of desolation (v. 20). Yes, the LORD is doing something new (v. 19 again).

In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist as well sings of something new that the LORD has done. He brought back the captives to Zion (Ps. 126.1). This was unheard of in those days. When you conquered a nation, you hauled off the leaders so they couldn't incite rebellion. It was nuts to let them go back. Yet Cyrus did. It was something new that God had a hand in. This was not lost on the Israelites. They were filled with joy (v. 3)!

Paul did something new too, and he tells about it in the Second Reading. "I consider everything a loss" (Phil. 3:8). He gave up all his wealth, status, and power... "I consider them so much rubbish" (v. 8 again). Why? "That I may gain Christ and be found in him" (v. 8-9).

The Gospel Reading shows that Jesus was doing something new in Palestine circa AD 29. The Law of Moses, handed down from a millennium or so before, stated that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned. Have you ever been hit by a rock? I remember as a kid getting into clod fights. Dirt clods, as you know, can be pretty hard, and when they strike, they hurt. I took one in the temple once and the first thing I felt was an icy cold. A split-second later the pain exploded. I felt momentarily dizzy, then fear struck -- how bad was I hurt? Well, clods usually break when they land. Rocks don't.

John places this incident in the Temple where Jesus was teaching. The scribes and Pharisees brought this woman accused of adultery. The sentence was death... not by anything as "humane" as lethal injection, but by stoning. Yet, right there, in front of God and everybody, Jesus did something new. "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," he said (John 8.7). One by one, they dropped their rocks and turned away. When only the terrified, crouching, sobbing woman remained, Jesus spoke again. "Has no one condemned you?" (v. 10). I imagine that the woman, shaking uncontrollably, raised her head and slowly looked around. She was astonished to see no accusers... just a bunch of rocks on the ground.

"Go. And from now on don't sin any more," Jesus said (John 8.11). "Remember not the events of the past," God said through Isaiah (Is. 43.18). "The LORD has done great things for us", sings the psalmist (Ps 126.3). "...forgetting what lies behind," Paul said (Phil. 3.13). Something new will happen. We can hope. And what is that "realization of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"? It's faith (Hebrews 11.1).

Step out in faith this week and expect God to do something new.

Randy Jones
"Those who have no faith say there is nothing new under the sun!"

Monday, March 8, 2010

RENEWsletter for March 14, 2010 - 4th Lent

Good morning Renewable friends--
It's a good thing we are "renewable", because there are times when we feel worn out, used up, or just tired. If my car felt like I do this week, I'd take it in to see a mechanic. :-)

But... next Sunday's theme is one of renewal, old things passing away, and all things becoming new. Rest, a vacation, a trip to the doctor for some antibiotics, therapy, or even surgery, can make things new again. And someday, we'll "trade in" these old bodies for eternal ones and become really new. Meantime, we greet each new day with renewed hearts because of Christ's great sacrifice in hauling away our old trash in his own body on the Cross.

Again, some churches will go with the RCIA (Year A) readings. But here we'll go with the regular readings for this coming Fourth Sunday of Lent. They can be found on the web: and in your Bible at:

Joshua 5.9a, 10-12
Psalm 34.2-3, 4-5, 6-7
2 Corinthians 5.17-21
Luke 15.1-3, 11-32 (verses 4-10 are two other once-lost/now-found parables)

The First Reading takes place after the Israelites have passed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Josh 3.17). Moses had gone on to his reward (ch. 1, v. 1). Joshua had the responsibility of leadership now (ch. 5, v. 9). When Passover came, they celebrated by eating of the produce of the land (vs. 10, 11). It was a good time. They got to eat real food for the first time in about 40 years (v. 12). No more manna, no more sand. This new land was flowing with milk and honey! I imagine they felt renewed, and very, very happy.

The Psalmist was definitely happy when he wrote this Sunday's Responsorial Psalm. "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" (Ps. 34.9). Some of that goodness is expressed in verse 5: "I sought the LORD, who answered me, and delivered me from all my fears." As you know, fear is what triggers the "fight or flight syndrome". When we are afraid, we have one of two reactions: We either get angry and fight it, or we cower and run away... or some variation or combination of those two. But when we are delivered from our fears, we have peace. Peace triggers the "love-hope-joy-trust syndrome" (v. 6). I'll take peace over fear any day.

The Second Reading includes one of my favorite verses, 2 Cor. 5.17, "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; and look! everything has become new." New food, new tastes of the goodness of the Lord, new absence of fear, new trust, new faith. And how is all this brought about? By God, who did the work of reconciling us to himself through his Son Jesus (v. 19). But you know what? Someone told us about God and the work of reconciliation... Christ's death on the Cross for our sins. Someone was God's ambassador to us. Now, it's our turn to be ambassadors to those around us who haven't heard the Good News in a way they can understand it (v. 20).

We each have a unique story. Yours are all different from mine. And there's someone who will not understand the message of salvation until they hear it the way only I can tell it. And there's someone else that my story will be Greek to, but they'll understand your story. Jesus told lots of stories, and in the Gospel Reading there were those who had trouble understanding him (Luke 15.3). So he told the story of the Prodigal Son (v. 11ff). Which person in that story comes closest to relating to you? The father? The errant son? The faithful brother? When I hear this story, I wait for the part where the servant tells the faithful brother what the ruckus is about (v. 26). That's the one I relate to. He told it like it was: "Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound" (v. 27). Short, succinct, accurate. But it wasn't a story the brother could understand. He got angry (v. 28). That servant went for help: "Master, your faithful son is upset because you're having a party for his brother. You might want to go talk to him, sir."

When we run into a roadblock, we stop, back off, and go get help. But we keep telling our story. Let's try to think of ways this week we can share our story about the goodness of the Lord with those who may be trying to understand.

Randy Jones
"Those who cannot tell their story may not have a story to tell!"

Monday, March 1, 2010

RENEWsletter for March 7, 2010 - 3rd Lent

Hello Renewed folks--
The readings for next Sunday show us several ways God helps us deal with our sinfulness. He gives us something to do that we can handle. He gives us guidelines by which we can order our lives. And he gives us more chances.

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

Exodus 3.1-8a, 13-15
Psalm 103.1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11
1 Corinthians 10.1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9

NOTE: If your church uses the RCIA readings, they're found at:, which are the same at Year A's. But for the purposes of this RENEWsletter, we'll look at the standard readings.

In the First Reading God comes to Moses in the form of a burning bush (Ex. 3.2). Before Moses realized it was God in the bush, his curiosity was piqued and he turned aside to see what was going on (v. 3). He was already on holy ground when God spoke to him out of the bush (v. 4). Now, it was well-known in those days that you didn't look upon the LORD and live, so Moses, acutely aware of his unworthiness, quickly hid his face (v. 6). But God wanted to talk to him, so he gave him another way to approach him. "Take off your sandals. The ground here is holy ground" (v. 5).

Curious! Moses's sandals weren't good enough for holy ground, but his bare feet were. While his feet prob'ly weren't much cleaner than his sandals, he could easily comply with God's wishes, so he did. And God spoke with him, giving him some heavy assignments (vs. 7-8). Moses didn't think he could handle those, but God did (vs. 13-15).

The Responsorial Psalm is a refreshing interlude of joy at God's kindness and mercy. He's really not a God who will kill you for looking at him. In fact he "pardons all your iniquities" (Ps. 103:3). We are encouraged to look to him for all our needs, which he abundantly supplies (v. 8).

Paul, in the Second Reading, explains how God would have us comport ourselves. He briefly describes the ordeal of the Israelites in the wilderness after they had been led out of bondage in Egypt (1 Cor 10.1-5). Then he says, "These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did" (v. 6).

The selection we have ends with the exhortation to take care not to fall, whenever we think we are standing secure (v. 12). That's kind of a heavy warning, but the next verse, not in the official selection, is helpful. Verse 13 says, "No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it".

The Gospel Reading, as Dr. Luke relates it, includes a parable of Jesus that is the most reassuring of all the ways God aids us in being righteous. It's the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13.6). The owner of the fig orchard comes to gather figs from this tree, but there are none. Disgusted and disappointed he orders his gardener to cut the tree down and use the area to grow something else (v. 7). But the gardener entreats the owner to give the tree one more chance. "Let me cultivate the ground around it, and fertilize it, and see if it doesn't start bearing fruit next season." (vs. 8-9).

God has standards. We humans have difficulty meeting those standards. But God will let us "take off our shoes" to stand on holy ground, even though our feet may be dirty and smelly. He gives us guidelines and rules of behavior and patiently teaches us how he wants us to behave. And he never lets us face anything he knows we are unable to handle. And when all that fails, he gives us another chance. He cultivates and fertilizes us and we get to try again.

Lent is a time for reflecting on God's mercy and kindness, and to realize that we have another chance to become the people God wants us to be. Let's take that other chance this week and find out how we can serve God.

Randy Jones
"Those who know not God's mercy condemn themselves!"