Welcome to the April 2010 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, April 2010
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28, ASV
“On the night He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread...” These are very familiar words to us, words we hear each time we attend the altar and share in the Lord’s Supper. With these words, we are reminded of the meal Jesus shared with His disciples and the sacrifice He made in the hours that followed. In the bread and the wine, we experience the loving grace of God and receive the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross.
If you knew that today was your last day, what would you do? What would you eat? How would you spend your final hours? Jesus chose to spend that time with His disciples, sharing in the ritual of Passover. I’m sure the meal was special, like Thanksgiving turkey is for Americans, but it was not out of the ordinary. They probably had lamb, and though lamb would not have been an every day occurrence, it was common fare for the people in that day. Though this was Jesus’ last meal, He didn’t ask them to prepare His favorite foods or to go out of their way to make the evening worth remembering. They shared a Passover meal together, as if there were nothing really different about that night.
If we think the meal He ate was ordinary, let’s look at the food on which He focused during the meal. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it. He took the bread. Bread is about as ordinary as you can get. Every culture has some sort of bread. It is easy to make and it fills an empty stomach for little cost. Even the prisoners get bread with water to eat. Yet, it was ordinary bread that Jesus broke to establish His special meal for His people.
Then He took the wine, blessed it and passed the cup around the table to all the disciples, even the one who would betray Him. Now, we might think wine is special, but it was also commonplace at the Jewish dinner table. They didn’t have the choices we have today: no juice, no soda, no milkshakes. Even water was questionable because it was not always safe and clean enough to drink.
So, Jesus chose the ordinary things for the meal of remembrance that He gave to His Church. Bread and wine was available in some form for all people, especially when they shared with one another. It didn’t matter if it was cheap wine or bread. It was easy to provide for the group, and it seems to go further than every expected. After all, look at how many people Jesus fed with just a few loaves of bread: thousands!
And yet, this ordinary meal of bread and wine is something extraordinary, because when we share it with one another, we are also sharing it with all people at all times. When we are at the table receiving the bread and wine, we are at the table with those first disciples who received it on the night Jesus was betrayed. When we take the bread and wine, we are taking it with our friends who live in other places. The meal is a foretaste of the feast to come, and every time we share it, we escape time and space as we know it and enter into presence of God. The common elements of this special meal are made remarkable by the words we hear spoken. For an instant we are in eternity with our Father at that banquet He has promised!
“For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ASV
Traffic was light this morning because many schools and workplaces had the day off for Easter. A news report showed the many families who are gathering at the local parks for a weekend of camping and fun. I’ve seen advertisements in the mail and newspaper for Egg Hunts and Easter Sunday services. Here in Texas, the weather is going to be sunny and warm, and with the wildflowers in full bloom, it will be beautiful. This weekend will be a time of joy and love and peace.
Good Friday is as much a part of the celebration as egg hunts and camping. Well, I’m not sure celebration is an appropriate word, because we certainly do not make merry over the death of Jesus. However, we can not get to the resurrection without going through the cross. It is not the raising of Jesus that grants us the forgiveness we receive, but His death. His resurrection is proof that He was the One, that He was the Messiah.
Ironically, as you read the story of the crucifixion, the crowds take the cross as a sign that He isn’t the One. Some mourn over the loss of their savior. Some ridicule Him because he can’t save Himself. Some simply run away. But we can see this story through hindsight. We know the end of the story. We have seen the proof. Jesus Christ truly is the One whom God promised to send to restore the world to Him. Today might not seem like a day of celebration, but it should not be dismissed as unimportant. Some would rather ignore Good Friday because it doesn’t make sense. But let us spend today at the foot of the cross, seeing the glory of God in the reality of what Christ has done for us.
To read about the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus, turn in your bibles to: Matthew 27:32-61; Mark 15:21-47; Luke 23:26-56; John 19:16b-42
“Praise ye Jehovah. Praise Jehovah, O my soul. While I live will I praise Jehovah: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. Put not your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in Jehovah his God: Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that in them is; Who keepeth truth for ever; Who executeth justice for the oppressed; Who giveth food to the hungry. Jehovah looseth the prisoners; Jehovah openeth the eyes of the blind; Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down; Jehovah loveth the righteous; Jehovah preserveth the sojourners; He upholdeth the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked he turneth upside down. Jehovah will reign for ever, Thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye Jehovah.” Psalm 146, ASV
“He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” These are the words with which we were greeted at worship yesterday. The Good News of Easter is that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, fulfilling every promise of God and winning for us the salvation that we do not deserve but He longs for us to have. The Good News is that Christ’s death was not permanent, though the work He did there is. Death has lost its sting because Jesus has assured eternal life for every one of us.
I can’t think about this without getting emotional. I don’t deserve this loving embrace, and yet Jesus reached out His hands to draw me into His heart. What amazing love is this? When I read the story (or hear it read) tears cloud my eyes. The emotion of the moment is a mixed bag: regret that my own failures required this kind of sacrifice and great joy that God does indeed love with grace beyond human understanding.
The emotion is increased when music is added. I realized yesterday in church why I’m not a member of the choir. Ok, the main reason is that I can’t sing very well. I can read music and I have good rhythm, but I can’t get my voice to sing the right notes. But what I realized yesterday is that I can’t sing when I’m emotional. I end up mouthing most of the words because the music intensifies the emotion I feel. When it is a story like the one we hear on Easter Sunday, presented magnificently with voices and instruments, fresh lilies and bright banners, with Christians gathered together shouting “Alleluia,” I am struck dumb with awe and thanksgiving.
Lent is over, we’ve been through the Great three days and we’ve celebrated the Resurrection of Christ together. What’s next? Where do we go from here? It might seem as though the story is over: we’ve gone from Christmas to Easter and seen the life of Christ lived out in worship as we’ve heard the stories and sung the songs. But these stories are not simply told to make us feel something. And Christ didn’t die just so that we would be saved. All this came to be so that we might live, not only in the future eternal promise, but also in this world. We can take a moment to experience the emotions that flood our hearts as we worship our amazing God, but we have been given life to take God’s grace into the world. We are Easter people, called to praise God not only in our churches on Easter morning, but also in our every day lives.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And we are also risen—despite our unworthiness—raised from death into new life in Christ, to continue the work He began giving the Kingdom of God to the world.
“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13, ASV
I love the story of Ruth. She was such a brave and generous woman, leaving behind everything she knew and loved to go into a strange nation to take care of a lonely widow. Her choice ended well, with marriage to a fine man and then her name mentioned among the descendents of Jesus Christ. She is an example of extreme kindness and though it is unlikely we’ll need to leave our homes to follow a lonely old woman, we are reminded by her story to look for those opportunities to offer our lives to another.
Today I’ve been thinking about another character in this story; she is a minor character, but worth pondering her place. Naomi had a second daughter-in-law, Orpah. Orpah married Naomi’s other son. After ten years, Orpah and Ruth’s husbands both died, leaving the three women widows. One day Naomi heard that the Lord had returned to His people in Judah, so she set out for home. Orpah and Ruth joined Naomi in preparing for the trip to Naomi’s home. Both women were willing to follow, to remain with the mother of their husbands and care for her.
Along the way, however, Naomi turned to the girls and told them to go home. She sent them back to their mothers so that they can start anew. They were each given a second chance at a happy life, a chance to find another husband without the burden of a needy mother-in-law. What man would want to take on an extra mouth to feed, especially in a land that had recently suffered from famine?
This is the point in the story when we compare the two women. We see the unselfish generosity of Ruth and wonder how Orpah could coldly return to her home, abandoning Naomi. But was she really selfish? Did she really abandon Naomi? We can not compare the two women. Yes, there was something extraordinary about Ruth, but was it something in her own being or something given to her? She had not grown up believing in the God of Naomi, but God have her the faith to go with Naomi. Orpah was not meant to be in the rest of the story. She was obedient to the voice she heard; Ruth was responding to something completely different.
So, why was Orpah in the story at all? Does God give her as an example of what not to do? Are we meant to compare her to Ruth? I don’t think so. If we look at the language of names, Orpah is thought to have two separate meanings. One understanding is that it sounds like the Hebrew word for “stiff-necked,” referring to the way she turned back from Naomi. But the name can also mean “gazelle.” In Arabic literature, the gazelle represents female beauty.
We don’t hear any more about Orpah, but I think God had another purpose for her, one we will never know or understand. She didn’t follow Naomi because God hadn’t given her the faith to trust in Him. Two daughters-in-law would have been confusing – which one would go to Boaz? If she had been a beauty, Boaz may have dealt well with her instead of Ruth. The story could have been very different. But would God forget Orpah? Again, I don’t think so. She is given to us as a reminder that everything, and everyone, in God’s good time. We should never cease in telling our neighbors about God’s grace, but we must remember that He is the one that defines the time and way another follows. We should not judge her lack of faith as indifference or selfishness. She wept as much as Ruth when leaving her mother-in-law. And she was left with a lifetime burden of wondering what happened to her beloved mother Naomi.and sister Ruth.
When we are tempted to judge a person because he or she is not following God as we think they should, we should remember Orpah and consider the possibility that they are following the path that God has laid for them. We don’t see the rest of the story. God loves all His creation, even those who do not trust in Him today. As we share our faith with the world, some seeds will be planted and God will cause them to grow. We may never see the harvest, but we can trust that God knows what He is doing. A life that seems faithless today might just be a life that grows into a mighty oak tree. Perhaps Orpah’s story didn’t end at verse 14 in the first chapter of the book of Ruth. She may have even planted a few seeds herself, when she returned to her family in Moab.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 11, 2010, Second Easter: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31
“Thou art my God, and I will give thanks unto thee: Thou art my God, I will exalt thee.” Psalm 118:28, ASV
Victoria is taking a class in theatre history and she’s learned some interesting information. The other day she explained the origin of the phrase “in the limelight.” The limelight was literally a special light that was created by burning a lime with hydrogen and oxygen. This created a light much brighter than any other lights available in the nineteenth century, leaving the person “in the limelight” in a light much brighter than the other actors on stage. The modern understanding of the phrase does not necessarily have anything to do with light or even the theatre. If you are in the limelight, it now means you are at the center of the attention.
On Easter Sunday, and through the Sundays of the Easter season, Jesus Christ is in the limelight. Though He is the focus of our attention whenever we gather for worship, it seems like He is more in the limelight these next few weeks. In these weeks of Easter, we gather around Him to get our final instructions before He ascends into heaven. He appears repeatedly, first to a few and then to many, confirming the reports of His resurrection. In a few weeks we’ll look back on the question, “Are you the Messiah?” and wonder how it could have been missed and how it continues to be missed by those who do not believe.
We are reminded in today’s Gospel lesson, however, that human beings sometimes need tangible evidence to believe. For many it simply isn’t enough to hear some good news; we want the same experience of discovery. Peter and John had seen the empty tomb and Mary spoke to Jesus. Did the disciples believe Mary Magdalene when she reporter what she’d heard from Jesus in the garden? We don’t really know. In John’s telling of the Gospel, the disciples were locked in the Upper Room, fearfully waiting for the religious leaders to deal with them as they had dealt with Jesus.
It was into this atmosphere that Jesus appeared and spoke to them. His first words were “Peace be with you.” In Luke’s telling of the story, Jesus was responding to the fear of what they were seeing. They thought He was a ghost. They hadn’t believed the women and still doubted the men who saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus. But in John, He was responding to their fear of what was to come. They didn’t know what had become of Jesus and they didn’t know what would become of them.
We don’t see any reaction from the disciples until Jesus shows them His hands and His sides. In John’s Gospel they are given the proof of His reality even before they ask. Mary recognized Jesus’ voice in the garden and the disciples recognized Jesus from the wounds on His body. When they saw Him, when they recognized Him, they rejoiced. They received their proof without asking and believed because Jesus gave them what they needed.
Unfortunately, Thomas was not in the room when Jesus first appeared and he refused to believe the reports of the others. He needed the same experience of discovery, to hear Jesus’ voice and see His wounds. Now, we often look at Thomas as the doubter since he responds with their reports with unbelief. “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Yet, how many live in today’s world demanding the same thing from God? Oh, I doubt many people are expecting to see the resurrected Jesus on the street these days, but they demand proof from God that it is all real. They want answers to their prayers that match their expectations. They want Christians to be perfect. They want the Church to meet their every need. They continue to doubt when God does not satisfy their demands. We call them “Doubting Thomas” because they refuse to believe our witness. Yet, we forget that all the disciples needed proof. They all needed to see the Lord. It was necessary for them to do the work they were being called to do.
Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” With the Holy Spirit anointing them, they had the authority to go into the world to continue the work Jesus began – forgiveness. How could they be credible witnesses if they were merely spreading second hand stories? His appearance to the disciples was vital to the credibility of the growing Church.
Jesus came to show Thomas His wounds not only because Thomas doubted the word of his brothers, but also because it was necessary for Thomas to experience Jesus in the same way as the other disciples. Without receiving the Spirit, Thomas could not be an apostle.
So, how do continue to witness to that which we have not seen? Jesus answered that question in His response to Thomas, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” We are blessed; we believe because God has given us the Spirit of faith, the Holy Spirit, and by His Spirit we believe. Thomas did not have that advantage. But when Jesus returned, He did what was necessary: gave Thomas the Spirit and the commission to be a witness to God’s forgiveness in the world.
I like the story of Thomas, not only because in it we see that God does answer our prayers, sometimes miraculously, but also because Thomas is not only a doubter; he is a believer. When Jesus appeared to him on the eighth day, Jesus offered His hands and side for Thomas to touch. Thomas did not need to physically feel the wounds. When He saw them, He worshipped Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” When the disciples saw the wounds, they rejoiced. Thomas responded with a confession of faith that went beyond the joy of the other disciples. He put Jesus in the limelight.
We are called to do the same, to put Jesus at the center of our attention by confessing our faith that He is truly our Lord and our God. He is the answer to our prayers. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jesus is the Messiah, the Alpha and Omega, the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The book of Revelation also puts Jesus in the limelight; He is the center of attention throughout the writing. In today’s passage, John writes an introduction of why the book has been written: to reveal that Jesus Christ is the Almighty and He wishes us to live in His grace and His peace. In this introduction, John tells us that Jesus is many things: the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, ruler of the kings of the earth. He also tells us what Jesus does: loves us, freed us and made us a kingdom. In the Day of the Lord, He will truly be in the limelight, not just in our lives but in the sight of the whole world. He will come on the clouds, and His appearance will have a similar affect as that on the first day He appeared to His disciples: fear.
While the rest of the book of Revelation gives us some horrifying images and expectations that are not pleasant, we can remember Jesus’ answer to Thomas’ doubt and recognize that there might just be many who will finally believe because they have seen. We might just be surprised at those who exclaim “My Lord and my God” even though they have doubted for so long.
Now, it seems to me that burning a lime with hydrogen and oxygen must not have been a very safe way of casting light on an actor. In the nineteenth century, buildings were made of wood and thatch, the people didn’t have fire retardant clothing and there was no such thing as silicon gloves. I wonder how many playhouses burnt down or light crews died when the flames went out of control.
Putting Jesus in the limelight is dangerous, too. There are those who do not wish to hear about the saving work of God in Christ Jesus. They do not believe they need to be saved or they think they are capable of doing it on their own. They see the biblical stories as fairy tales, ancient stories with no real purpose for today. Those stories talk about a world that was much different than our own. The parables don’t make sense. The miracles are impossible. The resurrection was just a hoax. And so, we are seen as foolish and weak, using faith as a crutch to deal with the reality of life.
It was certainly dangerous for those first disciples. In the passage from Acts, Peter and the apostles were taken before the religious council because they had refused the orders to cease talking about Jesus. Could you imagine going before the most powerful authorities in our day and saying, “We must obey God rather than any human authority”? If we were to do that today, we’d be counted as insane. “She talks to God? And God talks back?” And though we might just wear our faith on our sleeves, we generally do not go out into the world proclaiming Jesus as Savior to the crowds. We would certainly not accuse those leaders of killing Jesus. And yet, we might just find ourselves in the position when we have to say that we can not obey human authority over that of God. Will we have the courage to keep Christ in the limelight, even when it seems dangerous?
In the Gospel, Jesus promised them peace, but they were in the midst of the most difficult turmoil they had ever known. So, when Jesus appeared to them, He reminded them of His promise. Peace would not be found in giving up, in running, or even in hiding. Peace is found in Jesus.
The psalmist writes, "Jehovah is God, and he hath given us light: Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar." The horns of the altar were a place of sanctuary. They were located on the four corners of the altar of sacrifice. Blood was touched on the horns as a sin offering. If someone was in trouble, they could go to the altar and hold on to the horns. No one could do them harm while they held the horns. Jesus is now our sanctuary. He was the Lamb of God, the final and acceptable sacrifice. By His blood we are saved. He is our salvation and our peace. We are sent in His name to take that sanctuary to the world.
We can do so by remembering that Jesus is as He has been described in the Psalm: my strength and my might, my salvation. He is the right hand of God, the chief cornerstone. As we keep Him in the limelight, at the center of our attention, His strength and might will keep us through the trials we will face. Christ is our sanctuary; He offers us the horns of the altar as a place of peace.
The horns were located on the four corners of the altar of sacrifice. The priest put blood on the horns as a sin offering. If someone was in trouble, they could go to the altar and hold on to the horns. No one could do them harm while they held the horns. Christ is the final and perfect offering. His blood is where we find our sanctuary. It is there we will experience Christ’s peace even when the world around us seems out of control.
We are sent as Christ’s witnesses. We have not seen Jesus as the apostles or Thomas, but we have been blessed and have believed. He has given us the authority to be His witnesses by giving us the Holy Spirit. He testifies through our lives. Those who have ears will hear. Those who have been blessed will believe.
It is a tough job to be a witness. There are many like Thomas who need more than words to make a confession of faith. There are those like the Sanhedrin who will try to halt the work of God. There are those who think that any name will do, any path is right. There are many, too many, who believe that they do not need a Savior at all. But we are called to keep Christ in the limelight, anyway, because God has assured us that He will bless the work we do in His name.
And so, let us go forth with praise and thanksgiving on our hearts and on our lips. Let us not be afraid to share the Gospel message with the world. Let us all be witnesses to the amazing things God has done through Christ Jesus our Lord. The world needs His grace and love and peace. The world needs us to be obedient to God so that they, too, will experience the risen Christ and believe.
“Give ear, O my people, to my law: Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of Jehovah, And his strength, and his wondrous works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which he commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, even the children that should be born; Who should arise and tell them to their children, That they might set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep his commandments, And might not be as their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that set not their heart aright, And whose spirit was not stedfast with God.” Psalm 78:1-8, ASV
We are blessed to have the letters of Paul to help us understand faith and the role of the Church in the world. Paul knew the scriptures, he had a way of dealing with problems, and he really knew how to preach the forgiveness of sin to those who were dying in the world. The stories found in Acts and in the letters tell us about the extraordinary experiences of this apostle and his faith in God.
Imagine what it must have been like to know Paul personally. The early disciples that were part of his ministry in the far reaches of the known world were given a glimpse of God’s kingdom on earth. He was greatly blessed; the Holy Spirit was strong upon him. He touched thousands of lives, started many new churches and changed the way many people saw God. He paid attention to the world around him and used all of God’s creation, all of God’s people (those who believed and those who were yet to believe) to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.
Timothy was a friend of Paul’s. Actually, Timothy was more: he was a young man who was blessed to have Paul as a mentor. In Acts we hear that Paul was like a father to Timothy. Since Timothy’s father was a Greek and most likely a non-believer, Paul took it upon himself to train him up to be one of the next generation of leaders in the church. Timothy watched Paul at work and learned how to be an evangelist, a pastor, and a preacher directly from the man to whom we look for answers to our questions today.
Yet, Timothy did not learn everything from Paul. Timothy was raised by Eunice and Lois, his mother and grandmother, in the church. They were sincere in their faith, which was obvious to Paul since he comments on their role in his life in the second letter. I can imagine Eunice and Lois sitting Timothy on their knees, singing the psalms to him and quoting the scriptures so that God’s Word would be written on his heart. I can see them taking him to the synagogue and then to the meetings with the other Christians, learning about Jesus together. I can see them doing good works in response to the Gospel message they had heard, feeding the poor and clothing the naked as an example for Timothy to copy. And then I can imagine them introducing him to Paul, so that he could receive more complete training for ministry in the Church.
We look up to men like Paul, including our modern day pastors, preachers and evangelists. We raise them up as examples to follow. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have a great person as a mentor, someone who cares so deeply about us and our gifts that they hold us dear, like a child. While we might be able to point to a mentor who helped us get to where we are, we should never forget the place our mothers, and our grandmothers, and even our fathers, have had in our development. They encourage us. They were the first to sit us on their knees, to teach us the Bible stories, to be a Christ-like example for us. Paul remembered Eunice and Lois for the place the held in the spiritual growth of Timothy, and so, too, we should remember those who have had a place, no matter how insignificant they might seem.
And, we should never forget that even though we are not like Paul, we are also mentors to people in this world. We share our faith in the way we walk, in the stories we tell, in the things we do for others. We are examples to those who are just learning about how to be a Christian. We might think that we are insignificant in the lives of others, or unimportant to their spiritual growth, but we might just be the one who sets another on the right path, so that they will follow God’s Will.
“Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.” James 5:13-16, ASV
I don’t like crowds. I don’t like being in the middle of a mess of people positioning themselves with pushing and shoving. I don’t enjoy going to places that will be crowded because even if you are early and establish your place, others will come and squeeze in, forcing themselves into a better place while forcing you out of yours. It can be dangerous if a crowd of people is battling to get near someone or someplace. Injuries occur when people knock others over or trip others. Crowds make it convenient for thieves, too. I once had my pocketbook emptied on a crowded subway car when we were packed like sardines. I’ve heard stories of people being trampled by a stampede of people fighting to be first.
The Gospels tell us the story of Jairus, a synagogue ruler in need of help: his twelve-year old daughter was ill and he pleaded with Jesus for help. As Jesus was making his way to Jairus’ house, the crowd followed and pressed in on Jesus. Luke even tells us that the crowd almost crushed Him. A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak and was healed. Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” but the disciples just brushed it off; “Don’t you see the crowds?” they said.
We know this story well. It is part of our lectionary and it is often used in devotions about faith. There is so much in this story to consider: Jairus and his trust in Jesus, the woman and her faith, the disciples and their practical point of view, the crowds and their desire to be near Jesus.
But today we are going to look at the character we usually ignore: the man from Jairus’ house. While Jesus was dealing with the bleeding woman, a man told Jairus that his daughter was dead. “There is no reason to bother the teacher any longer.” Jesus answers, “Don’t fear, believe and she’ll be made well.” So, they continued on their way to Jairus’ house. Despite the wailing and ridicule of the mourners, Jesus went in and raised the child. In a short period of time, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and restored relationships.
So, what do we make of the man from Jairus’ house? What was he thinking? How did he react? Jairus was an important man; was the man from his house afraid to tell him the bad news? Was he upset or offended by Jesus’ comment about the daughter being made well? After all, Jesus’ encouragement to Jairus might have seemed critical of the man. If he had come from Jairus’ home, he probably had seen the dead child. How could Jesus know that the child would be healed? Did the man have faith in Jesus, like Jairus? Or, was he concerned that Jairus the synagogue leader would turn to this strange teacher? Was he truly concerned about not bothering Jesus’ work, or was he looking for an excuse to get Jairus away from the dangerous ‘prophet?’
And what can we learn from the man in this story? I think we have all faced those people who are naysayers, who see no hope in the situation. They come to us in the midst of our trials and say, “There is no reason to trouble Jesus about this.” But Jesus tells us not to believe the naysayers. “Don’t be afraid, believe, everything will be made right.” So, when we are confronted by those who would tell us our prayers are pointless, those who tell us we shouldn’t bother the Lord with our troubles, we can listen to the voice of God saying, “Come to me, and I will heal you.”
“But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink.” Acts 9:1-9, ASV
Have you ever been with someone when they have gotten news over the telephone? When the news is good, they react with joy and excitement, sometimes disbelief. “Really?” they ask, uncertain about how this particularly good thing could happen to them. When the news is bad, they react with pain and tears, and usually ask the same question. “How can this be?” We, who are listening, have no idea what has been said on the other end of the line. We don’t know the good news, we don’t know the bad. We only know that something has happened and we have seen the transformation of our friend.
We stand by, not knowing how to react. We shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but it is hard to miss their reactions. We want to be a part of it, but know that our friend will bring us in on it if and when they are able. Then, when the call is over, we have to find a way to deal with our friend. If the news was good, we want to share in the joy. “What’s going on?” we ask. It is harder when the news was bad. We want to be helpful, but we don’t want to intrude. We want to give a hug, but have to learn what happened before we’ll truly know the appropriate response.
Our unimportant character/s in today’s story is the group of men traveling with Paul. Like those overhearing a conversation on the telephone, not knowing what’s happening, the men were witness to a transforming conversation they could not hear. The scripture says that they heard the voice, but could not see anything. They didn’t understand what Paul was going through. Imagine what they may have thought when they saw Paul fall on his knees. How would they have reacted to his answer to the voice? Did they ask, “Who is this Lord he’s seeing?”
These men would have been Jews, like Paul. They were headed to Damascus to help Saul (Paul’s name before his conversion) deal with this runaway religion. Saul had letters giving him the authority to discipline those following “the Way.” The punishment could have been as harsh as death. After all, Saul was present at Stephen’s stoning. What would have happened to the growing fellowship of believers in Damascus if Saul had not met Jesus on the road? Perhaps Ananias would have become the next victim of Saul’s zealous quest to put down the Christian cult.
What happened to them after they took Paul to Damascus? Did they join the Church, too? Did they report back to the leaders in Jerusalem what happened? Were they afraid to do either? If they went with Paul, were they received with the same lack of enthusiasm? Were they rejected by the Christians? Ananias wanted to reject Paul, but God spoke to him and told him that Paul had a place in the ministry of His kingdom. What about those other guys? Where did they end up? Were they confused or did they believe Paul?
What we learn from this group of unknown men is that sometimes people see what is happening as we are transformed by the love and mercy of God, but they do not experience is as we do. So, though they are a part of our journey, they are often outside understanding what has truly happened. Sometimes they join us; they believe what we have told them about our experience and they want to be a part of it. Sometimes they go back to others and tell them about the ridiculous thing that happened. Sometimes they are afraid, and so they run and hide from it. The world will see our experiences much differently than we do. We can help them understand, but they will not always know how to react. For the writer of Acts, they were unimportant, so we never hear what happened to them. That might also be true of those who have been with us along our journey. They might just disappear from our story. But, as we come to know the Lord Jesus, we are called to share Him with others, particularly those who we pass on our journey. We might just gain a partner to help us as we continue the work of Christ in this world.
“In those days, when there was again a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way; and some of them are come from far. And his disciples answered him, Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place? And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And he commandeth the multitude to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he brake, and gave to his disciples, to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. And they had a few small fishes: and having blessed them, he commanded to set these also before them. And they ate, and were filled: and they took up, of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets. And they were about four thousand: and he sent them away.” Mark 8:1-9, ASV
We are familiar with the story of Jesus feeding a multitude, but this particular story is not found in the lectionary. We focus our attention on the feeding of the five thousand which is found in all four of the Gospels. In that story, the crowd is in the region populated by Jews, so the crowd was most likely Jewish. They would have seen the parallels between Jesus and Elisha, who also fed a large crowd with just a few loaves of bread. (2 Kings 4:42-44) It was a sign to the people that Elisha, and later Jesus, was the true representative of God in this world.
We usually focus on Jesus and the disciples when talking about these feeding stories. We talk about Jesus’ prayer and thanksgiving for the food and the disciples’ lack of faith. We talk about the symbolism of the number of loaves and the leftovers. We talk about the interaction between Jesus and the disciples, how He tests them and how they don’t understand the lesson after it is over. On those rare occasions that we do study the feeding of the four thousand, we compare the stories and talk about the differences between the crowds at both incidents.
Today we are going to look at the crowd in this story of the feeding of the four thousand (also found in Matthew 15:29-39.) Since this incident is located on the other side of the lake, near the Decapolis, it is likely that the majority of people were Gentiles. They didn’t have the same connections to Jewish history as the other crowds. They were fascinated by this man who could do miraculous things. They were hearing stories of healing and though He was a Jew, He was willing to teach them, too. They were curious, so they went to see what Jesus could do and hear what He had to say.
What do you think they experienced that day when Jesus fed them bread and fish? The disciples knew what was happening. They knew that Jesus only had seven loaves to share with thousands of people. Do you think the crowd knew? The disciples took the bread and set it before the people. It is possible that they had no idea that they were the recipients of a miracle. They were grateful, I’m sure, to be fed out in the wilderness. There was no place to buy food along the way, but they may have thought that Jesus had the food brought in. We don’t ask the source of the food at a banquet, do we? They may have seen the miracle, but they were probably just so happy to eat that they looked to Jesus not as a divine provider but a gracious and generous host.
As I read this story, I wondered how many times we miss the miracles that have happened in our lives. We all have stories we can share stories about the times when we were aware that God’s hand has been in our lives, but I’m sure we have also missed God’s presence. We can come up with ordinary, tangible reasons why things happen and we ignore the possibility that God might have done something incredible.
I’m not sure it matters: after all, God is not the flashy sort of God that demands attention or who will do the miraculous just to be noticed. That type of miracle does little for people’s faith. They might believe immediately, but as the glory fades away, they turn back to their old ways. God does miracles to change lives; He touches people so that they will be transformed. Step by step, moment by moment, small miracle by small miracle: that’s how God changes His people. Yet, let us always look for God’s hand in every moment of every day, for it is in seeking His face that we’ll truly live the life He has called us to live.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 18, 2010, Three Easter: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
“For his anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a life-time: weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5, ASV
In today’s scriptures we see the life changing power of God’s Word. Our main characters: Peter and Saul, had turned their back on Jesus. Peter denied Jesus on the night he was arrested. Saul was a persecutor of the Church; he even gave word for the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Peter wept when he realized what he had done. Saul continued to persecute the Christians and was even on his way to Damascus to destroy the fellowship of believers that was growing there.
Peter was sad, Jesus offered forgiveness. Saul was on the wrong path and Jesus transformed his life. In these passages we also see how Jesus made a difference in the life of the disciples. They were uncertain about how to proceed, so Jesus gave them direction. Jesus turned their mourning into dancing. He does the same for us. Throughout the Gospels and Acts, Jesus appears before many people in many different ways. Each person is changed by the experience. His presence affects us all in different ways, but we can’t see Him and not be changed. He speaks our name, He breaks the bread, He fills our nets, He speaks His word into our hearts and sends us into the world with His agape love.
We hear the stories of Jesus’ appearance from John in these weeks following Easter. On Easter, Jesus appeared to Mary. Last week Jesus appeared to the disciples without Thomas and then the disciples with Thomas. This week He appears to a group of the disciples: Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and two other disciples. Now, they’ve seen Jesus at this point, been given the Holy Spirit and sent into the world to continue what Jesus started. What does Peter do after he has seen Jesus? He says, “I’m going fishing.” But he doesn’t go fishing for men.
John doesn’t tell us the story about being fishers of men, but we know that was the commission early in His ministry. In John’s telling of the story of Jesus, the miraculous catch of fish came late, after Jesus’ resurrection. Peter got into his boat and did what he knew best, and some of his friends joined him. In the midst of the confusion and uncertainty, they returned to the place they knew and felt comfortable. Unfortunately, they didn’t do very well when they were fishing; they caught nothing.
In the American Standard Version of this text, Jesus said, “Children, have ye aught to eat?” The disciples followed Jesus for three years and we don’t read that they spent much time fishing during that time. They had to trust God for their food, looking to Jesus as provider. They often ate thanks to the generosity of friends and followers. They had a purse, probably donations from followers, with which they likely bought food. In today’s reading, they were more than eight days from the resurrection. When had they eaten? Did the owner of the upper room, where they were hiding, provide food for all of them for so long? How long could they rely on that gracious hospitality?
They could no longer rely on Jesus for their food and shelter. Jesus was gone. So, it is possible that Peter went fishing so that they would have food to eat. He returned to trusting in his own abilities and provision. But he failed. He was not able to catch a single fish.
Then Jesus called from the shore, “Children, have ye aught to eat?” They had nothing to eat. They had no fish. And they didn’t immediately realize that it was Jesus calling them. Jesus said, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and ye shall find.” When we follow Jesus’ direction, we find success in all that we do. When we put our nets on the right side, the correct side, of the boat, we’ll catch plenty of fish.
I think it is interesting that Jesus already had fish cooking over a fire on the beach. They didn’t need to catch any fish to eat that morning. He could have called them in to the meal He had prepared, but told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. He didn’t want them to rely on Him. They had to learn that if they followed His instructions, they would do well.
When the net was so full that they were unable to pull it in, John realized the man on the beach was Jesus and cried, “It is the Lord!” He was in the upper room twice when Jesus stood among them. So were Peter and the rest of them, except Thomas. And even Thomas had seen Him at this point. How is it that they did not recognize Him again?
Once Peter knew it was Jesus, he threw on his clothes and jumped into the lake, rushing to greet Jesus. Meanwhile, the other disciples dragged the net behind the boat and rowed toward the shore. They were joyful at the sight of Him and yet still confused.
“Go bring some of the fish you caught.” Peter went back to the boat and they hauled the net which was full of fish – 153 of them – to the shore. Why 153? It is such an odd number, and why did they bother counting so many fish? Some have suggested that 153 is the number of known varieties of fish or people at that time. Others have identified a numeric code in the ancient languages that suggest a connection between 153 and words related to fishing and nets. Others have suggested that 153 is the 17th triangular number (1 + 2 + 3… + 17 = 153) thus a number of completion or perfection. A friend recently wondered if perhaps 153 were the number of disciples following Jesus at that point. It means something, but perhaps this is one of the mysteries of God’s purpose and wisdom that we just have to accept for the moment.
Another mystery is how these disciples just can’t seem to understand that Jesus is really alive and among them again. Jesus invited them to eat breakfast, but John writes, “And none of the disciples durst inquire of him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.” Why would they need to ask? And yet, how often do we have an experience of God’s presence and still question whether or not it is God? While it is good for us to carefully discern the reality of our spiritual experiences, there comes a time when we simply have to believe and receive God’s grace with joy and unreserved faith.
He revealed Himself to these disciples with the breaking of bread and the sharing of fish. They must have remembered Him giving bread and fish to the crowd of five thousand. In John’s version of that story, the people saw the miraculous sign and decided to force Jesus to be king over them. For the disciples, this experience of eating with Jesus was confirmation that everything they had experienced over the past week was real. Jesus was not a ghost. He wasn’t just a spiritual being. Jesus was alive and He was eating real fish with them, some of which they had caught. After all the miraculous moments they had experienced, Jesus was giving them a very real, ordinary moment so that they would know that the work He was calling them to do was real, tangible work.
Jesus also had another purpose for this meeting. Peter had denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus foretold on the night He was arrested. Peter was joyful about Jesus’ appearance, but I’m sure he was also apprehensive. What place did he have among these others? How could he serve when he had been so unfaithful at the most important moment? Peter had to be restored, not for Jesus’ sake, but for his own.
So, Jesus turned to Peter and asked, “Do you love me more than these?” To what was Jesus referring? Perhaps He was asking Peter if he loved Him more than he loved the other disciples. Or that He was asking Peter if he loved Him more than the other disciples loved Jesus. Or, perhaps He was asking Peter if he loved Him more than the life he’d lived with fish and boats and fishing gear. Whatever it was to which he was referring, Jesus wanted Peter to say, “I love you.”
Two words are used in this passage, and though some would suggest there is no real difference, I think it is worth noting. The two words are “agape” and “phileo.” “Phileo” is usually a word used to mean a brotherly love, while “agape” is a deeper, more abiding love. If we read this passage using the Greek, we see the difference in the way Jesus and Peter view their relationship.
Jesus says, “Peter, do you agape me?” Peter answers, “Yes, I phileo you.” Jesus tells him to feed the lambs. Again Jesus asks, “Peter, do you agape me?” Peter answers, “Yes, I phileo you.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.” A third time Jesus addresses Peter, but now He changes the question. “Peter, do you phileo me?” It is almost as if Jesus accepted that Peter was not yet ready to give his whole heart. Peter answered, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the third time; but perhaps Peter was also hurt because Jesus changed His question. Jesus knew Peter intimately. T hey had lived together for three years. He knew his faults and his potential. Jesus willingly accepted Peter just as he is. Even if Peter could not give himself into the abiding love of Christ just at this moment, Jesus was still calling him into service as an apostle, to take the Word of God into the world.
Notice how the commission changes with each question. At first Jesus tells Peter to feed the lambs. The lambs are the early believers, unorganized, unsure of this new faith they have gained in knowing Jesus Christ. They are young and immature and need to hear the Word of God so that they will grow in faith and mature into disciples. The second commission is “Tend my sheep.” As the Church grows, they will need more than just the Gospel. They will need leadership, encouragement, rebuke and correction. They will need someone to establish churches and organize leaders. After the third question, Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” The people who are believers need to be constantly fed. They need to hear the story over and over again, to be reminded of what God has done so that they will remain faithful.
Peter was called to give the people the Word of God, to feed them and help them to become mature disciples and faithful followers of the Way. In this commission we see the progression of the Church and individual believers, from first faith, through growing faith, through continuing maturity and discipleship. The comfort we have in this view of the passage is that we can see that even when we can’t quite give to God what we really should give to Him, He accepts us right where we are and gives us only as much as we can handle. Ultimately, Peter did prove to have agape love for His Lord, following Him even into death.
I wonder if we have forgotten this three-fold commission when dealing with our churches and individual Christians in today’s world. Take, for example, the confirmation class. When those youth were children, we brought them to the font and baptized them into the body of Christ. We promised to train them up in the faith, and we did a good job with children’s Sunday school and confirmation classes. And yet, how many churches lose touch with those youth the minute they are confirmed? Are we offering the right opportunities for growth to the long term Christians? Or are we only focusing on feeding the lambs and tending the sheep? Have we forgotten how to feed the sheep? We certainly do not do a very good job at making disciples. Most Christians, though they believe with their hearts and are saved by God’s grace, are nominal Christians at best.
This was a life-changing moment for Peter. He was restored to his place in Jesus’ kingdom and called to service in the world. The other life-changing moment is found in our passage from Acts. Saul was a murderous zealot who sought to put an end to the growth of the Christian movement. He was present at Stephen’s stoning and was on his way to Damascus to deal with the fellowship of believers there. He was stopped along the road, however, by a vision. We just dealt with this lesson a few days ago in A WORD FOR TODAY. And it is a story with which we are all quite familiar, so we won’t deal with it much today. We do know that the vision was life-changing for Paul. He met the Lord and from the he was healed he preached the good news of Jesus Christ to the world: Gentiles and Jews.
I will note, however, the name change of Saul to Paul, although it doesn’t come until a few chapters later in the story. The Hebrew name Saul means “prayed for” or “responded.” This is appropriate for one who is in ministry. However, the name Saul is translated Saulos in the Greek. This word “saulos” means “the sultry walk of a prostitute.” Since Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles, to the Greek world, it is no wonder that he would use the Roman name Paul. It is possible that it wasn’t really even a name change. Even before his conversion Paul may have used both names; after all, Paul was a Roman citizen, too. So, perhaps he used his Hebrew name Saul when in Jewish company and Paul when in the presence of Gentiles. And since most of his dealings in later life were with Gentile Christians, we remember him now as Paul.
John saw many incredible things. He was there when Jesus fed the five thousand and when He ate with the disciples on the beach. He was there when Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons. He heard the Word of God from Jesus’ mouth and he was there to take over the care of Jesus’ mother after Jesus died. When John was an old man, he was sent to Patmos, a place of religious and political imprisonment. The Roman authorities were enforcing the ideology that the emperor was divine, and so worship of any entity other than the emperor was outlawed. John was probably sent to Patmos because of his activities as a Christian missionary.
While on Patmos, John had a vision of God’s ultimate purpose for humanity and God’s sovereignty over all the earth. It is a book of hope for the Christian, offering a glimpse into heaven and the promise that God will overcome all our fears. In today’s passage we get a foretaste of that which is to come for each believer, an eternal lifetime of worshipping our God. John heard the voices singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
This is such an odd picture for us to understand. The lamb was slain. What good is a lamb that is slain? For what purpose can a dead lamb exist? And yet, in this passage we are told that He was slain to receive the power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory and blessing. It was in His willing obedience to God’s will and purpose for His life that Jesus received that which God intended for Him. The lamb that was slain was seated with the One on the throne and all God’s creatures are called to Him give Him praise. The image here is incredible: they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. This phrase “a myriad myriads” equals one hundred million, the largest number named by the ancient Greeks, and also the largest number found in the Bible. Since we now have terms for numbers higher than a thousand (million, billion, trillion, etc.), this myriad of myriads should be understood as a number larger than anything we can define in human terms. The number of those who were worshipping God, from heaven to earth to underneath the earth, is beyond our scientific knowledge and our imagination!
And so we are called by the psalmist to do the same. “Sing praise unto Jehovah, O ye saints of his, And give thanks to his holy memorial name.” When Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus, he was changed from one who persecuted the church into the greatest of all the apostles. He suffered for a moment, made blind by the vision of light and the voice of the Lord. But God’s anger was brief because He had a greater purpose for Paul. His pain was transformed into a passion for the Gospel.
Peter did exactly what Jesus foretold, denying that he was one of the disciples of Jesus. When he realized what he had done, he wept with regret. When he realized that Jesus was standing on the beach near where they were fishing, he jumped out of the boat with joy. But then he had to face the reality that he had denied Jesus. Jesus was angry for only a moment, but He had a greater purpose for Peter, too. His doubt was transformed into a passion for God’s people.
Our own experiences of God’s presence are also life-changing. He turns our mourning into dancing. The pain from our failures is quickly forgiven as God then blesses us with the gifts and the calling to do His work in the world. Jesus transformed the disciples from those wearing sackclothes into those who wear joy, so too He changes our attitude from doubt and uncertainty, pain and grief into rejoicing and praise.
The psalmist begs God for His favor saying, “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?” We are created with the purpose of praising God. We are saved so that we might join the myriad of myriads in singing thanksgiving. His anger is brief and His blessing is eternal. God speaks His Word into our lives, makes His presence known to us, so that we’ll be reconciled and transformed into the people He has intended us to be. Let us pray to God for His blessing so that we can sing songs of thanksgiving forever and ever.
“And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee. And Samuel did that which Jehovah spake, and came to Beth-lehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably; I am come to sacrifice unto Jehovah: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice. And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely Jehovah's anointed is before him. But Jehovah said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for Jehovah seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart. Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath Jehovah chosen this. Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath Jehovah chosen this. And Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Jehovah hath not chosen these. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he is keeping the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he come hither. And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look upon. And Jehovah said, Arise, anoint him; for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.” 1 Samuel 16:4-13, ASV
I like this passage for the reminder that we can’t judge a book by its cover. God chooses people to serve Him not based on any human trait, but on a heart for God and a willingness to be obedient to His word. The reason Samuel was looking for a new king was because Saul fit human expectations; he was kingly. But he didn’t remain faithful to God. He did his own thing, followed his own path, worshipped in his own way. God took his anointing away and gave it to another: one who would seek after God’s heart rather than his own personal agenda.
Samuel went into this task with the usual expectations. He thought he would find a warrior, a man with strength, power and an authoritarian presence. He saw that in the first son of Jesse. And the second son. And the third son, etc. Even though God told him not to look at the outer person, Samuel had no way of knowing what was in their hearts. He had to simply trust that God would tell him which one to anoint. I’m sure he was confused when he got to the final son present and none were chosen. He turned to Jesse and asked, “Are there any more sons?”
Now, think about David, stuck in the field with the sheep while his brothers were invited to a banquet and sacrificial ritual with God’s chosen judge over Israel and all the important people of Bethlehem. Jesse gathered his warrior sons by his side, all but little David. Maybe David didn’t even know there was a special event happening without him. Is Jesse ashamed of David because he is slight in stature and pretty in features? Does he ignore David because he is too young to impress the visiting dignitary?
As I read this story, it does not seem as though Jesse or anyone present is aware of what is happening. Only Samuel knows that he is searching for the next king of Israel. Jesse didn’t know why Samuel was interested in his children, although I can understand how he felt. I show off my kids whenever I can, and whenever they cooperate because I am proud of them. What I don’t understand is why little David was left in the field with the sheep.
David was brought before Samuel and God said, “This is the one.” What did everyone present think when Samuel got out the bottle of oil to anoint David’s head? How did the older brothers react when David was chosen and they were ignored? How did Jesse feel when it was David that interested Samuel and not the big strong sons he was so proud to present? We understand the lesson that God teaches that we can’t judge a book by the cover, but I wonder if there isn’t another lesson we can learn. How do we react when we are the ones passed by for someone that we think is less qualified? Do we support our brother, or sister, who is chosen for a task we think we would do better? Do we follow God’s chosen one or do we continue to ignore those that we want to set aside in the field with the sheep?
“And it came to pass the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was of Gibeon, spake unto me in the house of Jehovah, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying, Thus speaketh Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of Jehovah's house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried to Babylon: and I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went to Babylon, saith Jehovah; for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Then the prophet Jeremiah said unto the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests, and in the presence of all the people that stood in the house of Jehovah, even the prophet Jeremiah said, Amen: Jehovah do so; Jehovah perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of Jehovah's house, and all them of the captivity, from Babylon unto this place. Nevertheless hear thou now this word that I speak in thine ears, and in the ears of all the people: The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence. The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that Jehovah hath truly sent him. Then Hananiah the prophet took the bar from off the prophet Jeremiah's neck, and brake it. And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying, Thus saith Jehovah: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon within two full years from off the neck of all the nations. And the prophet Jeremiah went his way.” Jeremiah 28:1-11, ASV
Which prophet would you rather be right in this battle of the prophets? The words of Hananiah are certainly more pleasant to hear than those of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was telling the people that they would be under the yoke of the Babylonians for seventy years. That is a very long time, more than a lifetime. The children born in exile might see freedom again, but the same was not true for those who had been captured by Nebuchadnezzar. Hananiah’s prophecy was more hopeful; it made more sense to a people that knew that God was merciful and that they were the chosen people of that God.
Hananiah’s prophecy was in direct contrast to that which Jeremiah was preaching. Now, if you’ve ever read the book of Jeremiah from beginning to end, I’m sure you’ll agree that his prophecies are not pleasing. Over and over again he warns the people that God is angry with the way they have turned from His covenant to worship idols and sometimes even sacrifice their children to those ‘gods.’ He was concerned about the false prophets of his day who were willing to say whatever they thought the people wanted to hear, benefitting from the people’s trust and their thankfulness.
Though his words sound harsh, he really loved God’s people. He wanted them to have the life that God intended for them. He wanted them to turn back to God, to worship Him and to live according to the covenant which God made with them. His harsh words have a foundation in grace because God knows the best way for us to live to enjoy His blessings fully. So, though Jeremiah’s words are not what we want to hear, sometimes the hard thing is the best way for God to bring us back to Himself.
Jeremiah warns the people, “Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they teach you vanity; they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of Jehovah.” (Jeremiah 23:16, ASV) This is good advice, but how do we know which one is the false prophet? We might think, listening to Jeremiah, that the one telling us the hard news must be the real prophet, and yet there were times when the words given to the prophet were words of peace and hope and joy. In the scriptures we are promised that the false prophets never last: they are proven by their own failure. If their prophecy does not come true, then they are not speaking the word of God.
Hananiah said that the yoke would be broken in two years; Jeremiah said seventy. The people would not know for two years or until God dealt with the false prophet. When Jeremiah confronted Hananiah, he warned that Hananiah’s life would be cut off by God, and by the seventh month of that year, Hananiah was dead. We are constantly bombarded with voices that say they speak for the Lord. They contradict one another and it is difficult to know which is right. It is especially difficult that we live at a time when we are so divided in our understanding of what is right and just. We may have to wait for a long time to see the reality of the prophets’ words. We might not even see the fulfillment of the prophecies in our own lifetimes.
The best we can do is to trust in God, and serve Him with our whole selves, praying for His mercy when we fail and His blessing always. When we do so, we’ll hear the words of God with faith and courage, knowing that even the hard times have a purpose in God’s plan. We’ll hear the pleasing words with shrewdness, carefully and prayerfully discerning if it is from God or the world.
“And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teacheth, to his teaching; or he that exhorteth, to his exhorting: he that giveth, let him do it with liberality; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:6-8, ASV
The bible is filled with many brief stories that give us just a glimpse of a life, a few lines that share one memorable moment. We never hear all of the details in these stories; we are given just enough to see God’s grace and to consider how God’s hand is reaching out to us. The stories often include encounters with people whom God sent, like Peter, the disciples, the Old Testament prophets or judges and especially Jesus.
The story for today is that of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, who died. (Acts 9:36-42) She was a beloved member of the Christian community, a woman of grace and generosity. We know very little about the woman, except that she made clothing for the poor. It just so happened that Peter was staying in a town near her home and the disciples knew of his visit. Two men went to Peter and asked him to come. We don’t know what they expected from the visit. Did they go to Peter so that he might raise her from the dead? Was she a friend of Peter? Was she a well known leader in the Christian community and thus worthy of a visit from a leader such as Peter? Were they looking to Peter as a pastor who might bring comfort to those grieving in the community? Did they want Peter to officiate at the funeral, knowing that he would speak about the saving work of Christ to the community in grief?
Whatever the reason, Peter went to Joppa and was taken into the room with the woman. I think it is interesting that of all the few details we are given about this woman, we are given her name and her name translated. Dorcas is apparently the Greek translation of the Aramaic name Tabitha. Luke, the writer of Acts, gives us the Greek name so that those in the Greek community might identify with her and realize that the grace of God is for them, too. The widows use the name Dorcas, but Peter uses her Aramaic name Tabitha. It seems to me that Peter may have had been more than acquainted with this woman of faith.
The other detail we are given is that she was generous; “this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.” Later in the story, the widows showed Peter all the good things that Dorcas had made. How would you picture this scene? Are the widows gathered around Peter with boxes full of clothes meant to go out to the people who need it? Or, perhaps, the widows themselves were recipients of Dorcas’ generosity. I can imagine them twirling around Peter with their robes swaying, telling him with tears of joy and grief what a beautiful and caring woman she was.
What happened in that room when Peter was alone? Did he plan to pray for Dorcas’ resurrection, or did the thought come to him at that moment? Did he call out her name because he had mercy on the widows who relied on her, or because he knew she still had work to do? There are so many questions we have when reading this story because we are given only a few details.
So, what do we learn? What is the purpose of Dorcas’ story in the scriptures? In this story we see that Peter has the power and authority of Christ to raise people from the dead. This is important to establish Peter’s credibility among the early believers. God was continuing the work of Jesus in and through the apostles whom He selected. We also see that the Gospel was crossing lines: Dorcas/Tabitha was part of both the Aramaic and Greek communities. The Gospel was not going to be limited to one group of people.
We also see an example of extreme generosity. Dorcas did good works; she clothed those who could not clothe themselves. She helped the poor. She took care of the widows. She had the gift of giving. Have you known anyone like Dorcas? Have you known a person who gives selflessly and without concern? These people are so amazing in their generosity that we can see this is a special gift they’ve been given by God. Generosity is a gift, and yet we should never forget that we are all called to be generous. It doesn’t matter if we have not been gifted with this kind of generosity; we are called to share with others. The same is true of all the gifts. We may not have the gift of prophecy or ministry or leadership, but sometimes God presents us with opportunities to be prophetic, pastoral and leading. Whatever gifts He has given to individuals to take His kingdom into the world, He will always ensure that you have all you need to do the work He is calling you to do.
“Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.” James 5:13-16, ASV
We are constrained by time. We don’t like to think that we are held in bondage by the clock, but we have filled our schedules with so many activities that it is necessary to always keep one eye on the clock. I really enjoy those days when I have more time to wander the shops or read a book, but on most days I’m rushing from one place to another to ensure that I’ll be where I need to be on time. We have commitments and responsibilities; others rely on us to keep our promises.
Unfortunately, our time constraints mean that we often miss the opportunity to enjoy a moment of grace or the beauty of God’s world. If we are rushing from a store to a meeting, we can’t stop to chat with that friend we ran into in the mall. If we have to be at a place by a certain time, we can’t take pleasure in the furry, purry presence of a pet that wants our attention. If we are running the kids from one activity to another, we don’t have the time to hear about their day.
The other disadvantage is that we now expect everything to fit into our time schedule. Movies have to be edited into a ninety minute package because we won’t sit in one place for much longer than that. Shopping malls are designed so that the shoppers can park as close as possible to each store, removing the time wasting walk from the parking lot and through the mall. DVD recorders allow us to record our favorite television shows so that we can watch them when we want and in less time because we fast forward through the commercials. Instead of relaxing for thirty minutes during the evening, we rush through that sit-com in twenty minutes in between the other tasks we have to complete.
We’ve been looking at stories of people who have a minor role in the story of God. These people are given little more than a paragraph, with very few details in the descriptions of their lives. We know nothing about Aeneas except that he is a paralytic who lives in Lydda. “And it came to pass, as Peter went throughout all parts, he came down also to the saints that dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had kept his bed eight years; for he was palsied. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ healeth thee: arise and make thy bed. And straightway he arose.”
One way we have to understand the people in the scriptures is to look up the meaning of their names, since the names really meant something in those days. The name is found in Greek and Roman mythology (which would have been part of the world in which the disciples were taking the Gospel). Aeneas was a Trojan hero, the son of a pairing between a goddess and a man. His name means “to praise.” Who is Aeneas? Was he a Jewish believer or Gentile? What did he do before he became paralyzed? How was he paralyzed? What happened to him after he was healed? Where did he go when he was able to walk again? Who was his family? Were they there when he was healed or had they abandoned him?
I was taken aback when I read this story not only because we do not know anything about Aeneas, but because this story is too brief: a headline without the story. Peter found the man, spoke a few words and the man was healed. That’s it: no relationship building, no questioning about the man’s story. It almost sounds like Peter was running into a convenience store to pick up a quick snack for a trip. “Hey, Aeneas, be healed. See ya!” And it was over.
I think what is most unsatisfying about this story is that we have never experience a healing so quick and easy. For us, God works more slowly, taking us day by day, transforming us a little by little. We aren’t sick one minute and healthy the next. We suffer with our illness for a few days and then gradually get better. The man had been in bed for eight years. I’m not paralyzed and I can’t get up and walk that quickly after sleeping for eight hours!
So, what do we learn from Aeneas? We might learn that God can do things quickly and that the healing can be immediate. This is especially good news for those of us who live in a “hurry, hurry” world: we don’t have to be slowed down by a lengthy process of relationship building. God can just pop in, speak a few words and we’re ready to go. But is that really the lesson we need? It is easy to become disappointed when God is too slow with His answers to our prayers. We can lose hope and faith when we don’t get what we want when we want it.
I think we need to be reminded that though God can do it in a heartbeat, He doesn’t always do so. In the story of Dorcas from yesterday, Peter takes the time to listen to the widows, to see the work Dorcas did, to share in the joy and grief of the community of believers. Peter did not pop in and pop out, he spent time establishing relationships with the believers in Joppa. We might want the answer immediately, but God doesn’t always answer that way. Sometimes He takes the time to build a relationship with us. We must learn to be patient, to cling to the hope and the faith that we have in Christ Jesus.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 25, 2010: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27, ASV
Texas is spectacularly green this spring. It is also blue, purple, red, yellow, pink and white with wildflowers, which is stunning, but there’s something comforting about the green grass fields. When the grass is green, rather than golden or brown, we can see that God’s creation is new and growing. The cattle happily graze in these fields looking very healthy. Healthy herds mean a good harvest for the ranchers. This will be passed on to the consumer with better and perhaps even more affordable meat. We don’t really think about this when we see the green fields; the green is beautiful and gives us the hope that comes from knowing death does indeed lead to new life.
The psalmist writes, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Having lived in Texas for more than six years now, I can tell you that the pastures are not always green. Sometimes they are brown. Sometimes the plants are eaten down to the roots, leaving barren wasteland in the wake of the herd. There is great comfort in the statement that the shepherd makes the sheep lie down in green pastures because in this we know that the good things we need to survive will be plentiful.
Have you ever been terribly thirsty and the only source for water was a maladjusted water fountain? You approach the fountain with the hope of having a nice cold drink of water, but when you push the button the water flies in your face getting you wet. As you step back, you see that the water pressure is too high and it is sending the water flying well beyond the fountain. So, you try, with little luck, to push the button more carefully so that it won’t come out so fast. I hate to admit how many times I’ve done this, only to have my hand slip at the last moment and the water end up in my nose instead of my mouth.
The psalmist writes, “He leads me beside still waters.” We’ve all seen creeks that are fast moving whitewater as it moves across rocky areas but then empties into deep pools that appear still. Those pools are still part of the creek, so the water is moving, fresh and clean. Have you tried to get water from those fast moving areas? The water washes right over your cupped hands. But it is easy to drink at those deep, still pools. The shepherd takes the sheep to those still waters so that they might drink well.
A few weeks ago I took a trip to a local state park to try out my camera. The park had several major hiking trails, although I planned on taking only two. There is a creek that leads through the park with waterfalls on both ends. I wanted to take pictures of the waterfalls. I followed the path from the first parking area and found myself on a large field of granite. The creek was right in front of me, but I could hear the waterfall to the right, so I followed what I believed was the path to the falls. It didn’t take very long before I realized that the waterfall was behind me and the path was going the wrong direction. I turned around and found my way. When I looked at a map, I realized that I would not have gotten very lost on that other path, but it would have led me to places I did not need to be.
The psalmist writes, “He leads me in right paths…” There are lots of ways we can go, but sometimes those other paths are a waste of time, leading us to places we do not need to be. Most of the time our wrong choices mean we are lost for awhile but we eventually find the right way. Sometimes, however, the wrong path is dangerous. When we go those ways we can lose faith, lose hope and worst of all lose sight of our God. Our shepherd leads us on the right path, guiding our footsteps so that we are going His way.
The psalmist writes that the shepherd makes the world safe for the sheep, being present, protecting, providing, anointing and restoring. Even when the world seems dark and frightening, the sheep have no reason to fear. As long as the shepherd is nearby, the sheep are blessed with all they need. The Lord is our shepherd, and we shall not want, for He will provide everything we need.
The most important thing we learn in this week’s passages is that it is the Lord that provides. He is the shepherd. He is the healer. He is the Savior.
In today’s first lesson from Acts, we hear the story of Dorcas, a disciple in Joppa. Her generosity was well-known. She made clothes for the poor and took care of the widows. And then she died. Some of the disciples knew that Peter was close-by, so they asked him to come. When he came, he saw all the wonderful work she had done as the widows showed off some of the clothing she had made. Peter went into her room, prayed and then told her to get up. He gave her back to the community so that she could continue to do the work of God.
Peter did not allow anyone in the room when he was with Dorcas. It would have been very easy for the people in Joppa to give Peter the credit for raising the woman. Though we are well aware of God’s hand in the course of our lives, we tend to focus on the tangible, earthbound vessels of God’s grace. We know that God provides the food we eat, although we are very good at taking credit for the work we do that earns the money to go buy food at the grocery store that has been grown and prepared by others. God is the ultimate source of all things, but the food we eat comes to us through the hands of many, each one deserving of our thanks. They don’t, however, deserve praise. Yet, it was possible that the act of raising Dorcas might have made the people believe in Peter.
Imagine what it must have been like for Peter. Three years or so earlier, Peter was nothing but a fisherman. Though he was probably in charge of his own boat, his crew was likely little more than his brother and a few others. Then he spent three years under the Master, learning about being a disciple and seeing the most amazing things. Finally, he was given the charge to be a leader among the disciples. It could easily have gone to his head. He had such an intimate relationship with Jesus; he was part of the inner circle, present at the most incredible moments. I wonder if any of us would have gone about this healing in the same manner as Peter. Would we have sent everyone out of the room or would we have wanted to have an audience that could verify that we did something spectacular. Peter knew that it wasn’t his gift to give, but that he was blessed to be a blessing and that blessing came from God.
Luke tells us in Acts that when this story became known around Joppa, the people believed in the Lord. They knew that the power and authority that was manifest in Peter was not his, but was from God. To drive home the point that Peter is not the source of the power in this story, we are told that he went to stay with a man named Simon, who was a tanner. This detail is interesting because tanners were not well received in the community. Tanning is the process of preparing leather using such unpleasant ingredients as urine and dung. It was disgusting and smelly. The tanners were located in isolated places, far from the center of the community.
This story sounds much like another story with which we are familiar: when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter. He took her by the hand spoke to her, and then helped her to stand. As Peter grows into his vocation as an apostle, we see him remembering the experiences of his time with Jesus. Though we often think of Peter as bumbling, especially when he makes so many foolish mistakes, we see here that he did watch and learn from Jesus. We see that Peter does indeed have the authority to continue Jesus’ work, and we see Him following Jesus not just in words, but also in action.
One of the hardest words of Jesus for us to understand is in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus says, “I have told you, and you do not believe.” I think this is hard for us to understand for two reasons. First of all, I’m not sure I have found anywhere in the scriptures where Jesus tells us plainly that He is really the Messiah. He says many things that lead us to believe in Him and know that He is indeed the Messiah, but plainly? The other thing that bothers me is that they do not believe because they are not Jesus’ sheep. Doesn’t God love all His creation? Doesn’t He promise His grace to all? How can there be sheep that do not belong to Him?
His sheep are those who hear, but hearing is not a passive verb in the scriptures. Hearing is doing, it is acting, it is following, it is obeying. Have you ever heard of selective hearing? I know that there are times I have called for my children and they did not respond despite my loud and urgent voice. They have claimed they did not hear, but I’m sure they simply were not listening. I am sure I had selective hearing when I was a child; my mom had to call me more times than necessary because I did not listen even though I should have been able to hear. The last thing a child wants to hear on a pleasant summer evening is Mom’s voice calling them to go home. Perhaps they hear it with their ears, but they don’t hear it with their mind or their body. They don’t respond.
The Jews demanded proof. They wanted to see Jesus do and say what they expected from the Messiah, and Jesus didn’t fit their mould. He refused to do so because God had already proven Him. In the signs (especially in John’s Gospel) and in the words He spoke, Jesus’ authority and power were established for all to see. Saying He was the Messiah would not do what they thought it would do. I’m a writer, but the only way you know that is by reading my words. I’m also a photographer, although most of you only know that because you’ve heard me talk about my adventures. To really believe I am a photographer you would have to see some of my photographs.
I once knew a woman who claimed she was a prophet. She’d heard me chatting in an online chat room and was impressed by what I said. “You are a prophet, too,” she said. She asked if I would take some time and look over some of her writings and sermons. She wanted me to say she was a prophet, but after looking at her work I could not do so. Besides the terrible spelling and grammar (which would not prove she wasn’t a prophet), her interpretation of the scriptures were so far off the mark that I began praying for her home church. When she asked what I thought, I shared a few thoughts. She accepted one or two, but realized that I was not going to call her a prophet. She quickly decided that if I would not accept her words, then I must not be a prophet. She knew she was and she didn’t have to prove it to anyone. The difference between this woman and Jesus is that His words and the actions proved Jesus was who He said He was. Her words and actions proved she wasn’t.
Jesus clearly declared with word and deed the truth of His identity and purpose. He was the Good Shepherd. He was the Light. He was the presence of God they so desperately were seeking in their oppression, and they did not hear because He was not what they wanted for a Messiah. He could not be a king; He could not deliver them from their enemy. His teachings were different than the established Jewish thought. They did not want to hear because they had rejected Him. He did not fit into their expectation, so they ignored His voice. They were not His and it was not because Jesus rejected them. They rejected Him.
There is another parallel in today’s texts. A few weeks ago, we saw the crowds cheerfully welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem with a parade. They treated Him like a king, throwing their cloaks in front of the humble donkey on which He road and waving palm branches in His path. On Palm Sunday we gathered together and processed with palms as they had done on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. The Romans would have understood this to be a victory parade, since palms were used to reward returning heroes and the champions of the games. The Jews were also known to carry palms at festive times. As a matter of fact, palms played an important role in the Feast of Tabernacles, as the people presented their offerings in thanksgiving to God they were also to wave palm branches as they rejoiced over His blessings.
The palm branch means many other things. In Judaism, the palm is a symbol of peace and plenty. It is also believed that the palm represents the Tree of Life. The Muslims believe that Mohammed built his house out of palm branches because they are considered a symbol of hospitality. To the ancients, palms were considered a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth and were also a symbol of longevity. It is said that at the thirtieth year of a Pharaoh’s reign, the Pharaoh was given a handful of palm branches to hold. The marks on the midrib indicated the number of years the Pharaoh would continue to rule.
Today’s passage from Revelation describes Jesus as the Lamb of God whose blood sets us free. In this vision of heavenly worship, a great multitude from every nation and tongue are standing before the throne of God in white. They are waving palms, just as been done in religious ceremony for generations. The symbolism here can mean many things—God’s victory, His hospitality, His peace and strength. It can represent the joy of the multitude and their thanksgiving for God’s blessings. The white of their robes does not come from their own righteousness, but because they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. They cry out, “Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb.” They sing praise and thanksgiving to God for to Him belongs the blessing and honor and glory for ever and ever.
It is all about God, what He can do and what He has done. He is the shepherd. He is the healer. He is the Savior. We might buy the food produced by others to fill our empty stomachs, but it is God who provides. We have no needs or fears that God can’t overcome. Peter didn’t raise Dorcas from the dead, God did it through him. We believe because we heard the words God spoke. He does not need to prove Himself because He has given us the ears to hear.
God’s sheep are those who are active listeners. They not only hear the word but they put it into action. They are like Peter; they continue to do the work of Jesus in the world. Peter remembered when he saw Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter and he did the same for Dorcas. Will we raise people from the dead? I don’t know. I do know that we can reach out to those who are wallowing in darkness and give them the Gospel so that they might have the hope, peace and life that come from faith in Jesus.
Though we may not raise someone from physical death, it is up to us to actively follow Jesus, continuing the work He began by speaking His word into the lives of those who are without faith. Who knows? We might just be the vessel through which God’s voice gets through and as we reach out to them and tell them to get up, they might finally respond and join us in the great company of saints singing God’s praise and thanksgiving at the foot of His true throne.
“And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring in certain of the children of Israel, even of the seed royal and of the nobles; youths in whom was no blemish, but well-favored, and skilful in all wisdom, and endued with knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability to stand in the king's palace; and that he should teach them the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed for them a daily portion of the king's dainties, and of the wine which he drank, and that they should be nourished three years; that at the end thereof they should stand before the king. Now among these were, of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And the prince of the eunuchs gave names unto them: unto Daniel he gave the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's dainties, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God made Daniel to find kindness and compassion in the sight of the prince of the eunuchs. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your food and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse looking than the youths that are of your own age? so would ye endanger my head with the king. Then said Daniel to the steward whom the prince of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the youths that eat of the king's dainties; and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. So he hearkened unto them in this matter, and proved them ten days. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer, and they were fatter in flesh, than all the youths that did eat of the king's dainties.” Daniel 1:3-15, ASV
As a former military family, we’ve moved around a great deal. We have lived in California, Washington state, England, Arkansas and now Texas. It has been a fun life, but the transient lifestyle takes the ability to adapt to new things. Though many things are available nationwide, and even worldwide, there are brands and region specific specialties that can be hard to find. And then, just as we got used to a new product or brand, we moved to a new place where it was not available.
One of our favorite meals in England was an alfredo dish using peas and English bacon. English bacon is different because it is cut from the back of the pig and has more meat on each strip. We had to adapt the recipe when we returned to the U.S. We tried several options, and decided that ham was the best choice, that it was closer to the meat we used in England.
Fortunately we don’t have any nutritional restrictions in our family, and our faith doesn’t require any specific types of food, so we can find adaptations to our favorite foods without difficulty. I’m sure it is much more difficult for those families that have health issues, especially allergies. You can’t be certain, without checking all the labels, which brands will suit the needs of the family. It can be deadly if a brand uses peanut oil instead of vegetable oil in their product. It is no wonder, then, that some people prefer to stick with one particular brand of food or type of cuisine.
Nebuchadnezzar took the people of Judah into exile, causing them to live in his land. He paid special attention to the young men who would be leaders in their community, the sons of the nobles. They were given special treatment, separated to be educated in the ways of Babylon so that they would lead their people according to the laws and customs of the land. They were given the best of everything, the best food, the best shelter, and the best clothes. They shared the very things that Nebuchadnezzar used. After three years of preparation, these young men would have an audience with the king, when some would be chosen to lead.
Daniel knew that the rich foods would not be good to eat; they were unacceptable to his God. He refused to do as the one in charge of the young men demanded. He told Daniel that he would have to face the king, too, if any of the men fell short of expectation. Daniel assured him that they would be healthier if they followed his diet. The steward gave Daniel ten days to prove his case, and at the end of the ten days the men were healthier than those who had been eating the diet of rich food.
Parents spend a great deal of time trying to convince children to try new things. It is necessary in families that move around from place to place, because the old foods just might not be available. However, in today’s story we see that there may be times when it might be best to stick with the familiar diet. For Daniel, it was an issue of honoring the commands of his God, but it was also an issue of health. The people of Babylon thought their food was best, and it might have been excellent fair. However, it was not the right food for the young men who’d never had it. It might have even been deadly since their systems were not used to that type of food.
We might find ourselves in the position of that steward, trying to follow the direction of our leaders but recognizing the wisdom of listening. He gave Daniel and his friends a chance, and learned that their way was better than the expectations of his culture. The young men grew healthier thanks to Daniel’s diet, and so the steward probably found himself in the good graces of the king. Are we willing to listen to those over whom we have been given charge? Are we willing to give those who refuse to give up their own cultural practices a chance to prove that their way might just be the best thing for their life?
“And as he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” John 9:1-3, ASV
I volunteered yesterday. It was a crazy day, with many visitors. Several schools were scheduled to visit and it is always a challenge when hundreds of people show up at the front door at the same time. The process was made even more challenging because there was an error with the reservations with one school that was bringing many students and other guests. The parent chaperones were asked to wait patiently while everything was settled. Unfortunately, they were as anxious as everyone else about visiting and they were not patient. They crowded the doors, complained about the disorganization and some even tried to sneak in through another door.
Meanwhile, we had to continue to do our work. There were other schools and individual families that needed to be served. I am sure it must have been frustrating to see other groups easily entering while they were stuck waiting. I am sure that they did not think it was fair that others were being escorted through the crowds while they had been standing there for a long time. They did not understand our system and could not understand why those latecomers were allowed to go inside while they were stuck outside the door. They took their frustration out on anyone wearing a uniform. I heard the grumbling; those of us on the front line were blamed for their inconvenience.
We are very quick to lay the blame on whoever happens to be in our way when things are not going well for us. Have you ever gotten angry with a driver on the highway? Or the clerk at the grocery store? Or the postal worker at lunch hour? Or your child’s teacher? Or your supervisor? Or a government worker? I’m sure each of us can think of someone with whom we have been angry recently. We blame them for our troubles, whether or not they are really at fault for our frustrations and inconvenience. We do not consider our own role, or the roles of others, in the problem. Perhaps we were driving just a little too fast, making it difficult for that driver to move into the lane to exit. Did the management of that store schedule too few cashiers that day? We know the post office will be crowded at lunchtime: why did we choose to go then? You get the idea: the person we blame might not be at fault.
Now, don’t get me wrong: sometimes people are at fault. Sometimes that teacher does not know what he’s doing. Sometimes that supervisor really does not do her job properly. Sometimes that government worker is really incompetent. But it would do us well to remember that no one is perfect (not even us), sometimes we are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time and something good can come out of our difficulties.
Today’s passage is a little hard for us to grasp, because we have a hard time accepting that God would allow someone to suffer blindness for His glory. We say this because we see it as an imperfection, something that makes someone less than good. In Jesus’ day, they even thought imperfections were punishment for past sins. We do suffer because of our sin. Some accidents are due to our unsafe driving. Some broken relationships are due to our self-centered points of view. Some illness is a direct result of our actions.
But we can look at our suffering from Jesus’ point of view: that God can make good things happen out of any situation, even our frustration and inconvenience. God can be glorified even when we are being blamed for the troubles others face. So, let us remember that God has His hands in places we might never expect, and let us stop and consider how God might bring light to the darkness and order to the chaos that troubles us.
“I will bless Jehovah at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in Jehovah: The meek shall hear thereof, and be glad. Oh magnify Jehovah with me, And let us exalt his name together. I sought Jehovah, and he answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were radiant; And their faces shall never be confounded. This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of Jehovah encampeth round about them that fear him, And delivereth them. Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him. Oh fear Jehovah, ye his saints; For there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; But they that seek Jehovah shall not want any good thing.” Psalm 34:1-10, ASV
We went in search of wildflowers again yesterday. I have been following some of the sightings websites and decided to take Bruce on a grand adventure. The place I wanted to see, based on the reports, was a hundred and twenty miles away. With small country roads and traffic, I knew this would be a long trip. We left after church and spent all day driving through the Texas Hill Country, hoping to find the promised fields of color gracing the earth. We knew that we are near the end of the season for Texas Bluebonnets, but the flowers were said to still be spectacular in most recent report that was posted only a couple days ago.
We saw beautiful fields of color all along the road, mixtures of reds, whites, yellows, purples and blues. Occasionally we would see a large field covered with one particular color, but we didn’t bother to stop on the highway because we didn’t want to waste the time we might need for our destination. The drive seemed to take forever, mile after mile. As I saw the beautiful fields close to home, I wondered whether it would even be worthwhile to drive so far. I wondered even more in the middle of our trip when the landscape suddenly changed and there were absolutely no wildflowers on the barren ground through which we were driving.
A short while later, however, the landscape changed again and we saw more wildflowers. We found the roads and followed the path, still wondering if it would be worthwhile. The roads got smaller and smaller and it seemed like there was nowhere left to drive. But I saw a sign that said we were going the right way and we turned the corner into a most extraordinary place. Another car was stopped by the side of the road, with several people taking pictures of a hillside covered in bluebonnets. We also stopped and spent a few minutes gazing at this amazing site. At this point we realized it was probably going to be worth the drive.
We drove about eight miles down this narrowing country road which even crossed over a river. In the end, the road was little more than a dirt driveway, barely wide enough for the cars that had joined us on this adventure. Each curve of the road opened up a new brilliant view. It seemed like every square inch of land was covered in blue. The bluebonnets weaved in between the trees like rivers flowing down the hills. We drove through the river, which was only a couple inches at that point, and stopped to wander around a bit. There was a water fall and cactus growing everywhere. We found a few with blooms, growing right out of the stones. A few other wildflowers were peppered in between the bluebonnets. Other visitors were enjoying the scene. The next section of roadway, still growing smaller was even more spectacular, with huge fields of bluebonnets that made it seem like we were surrounded by oceans.
In the end, we knew we made the right choice in visiting that tiny little corner of the world. It might have seemed to be too far out of our way, but Bruce and I had a wonderful day. It was worth the trip, ever corner and hill revealed a new surprise for us to see and enjoy. Isn’t that the way it is with God? Sometimes, along our journey, we wonder if it is really worth the trip. It is so much easier to just stay close to home, to enjoy the things that are within our reach. This is true of the things of God, too. It is much easier to stick with what we know rather than seek a deeper and fuller relationship with our Father. But those who go on the journey will find themselves blessed at the end of it.
“Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end.” Hebrews 3:12-14, ASV
I just finished a book that I have been reading forever. At least it seems like it has taken that long. The story rambled on and on for over eight hundred pages, and at times I wondered if I would even be able to finish it. In the meantime, I have had several other books that I’ve had to read for workshops and I’ve been following a year long Bible reading plan. It was impossible to read more than a few pages some days, making it difficult to really grab onto the action.
Books that long tend to ramble during the first few hundred pages as the author creates the scene, establishes the characters, and forms the conflicts. Since this book was the continuation of a series of books, the author also reminded the readers of past information needed to understand the action and relationships in the story. The descriptions are lengthy early in the book, painting pictures that help place the reader in the middle of the action. By identifying with the characters, the reader shares the hopes and fears. If the writer does this well, we develop a relationship with those characters and we become part of the story.
So, those first few hundred rambling pages can be difficult to read because the story does not move very quickly. I recall reading a book once that had a hundred pages describing the creation of an island. I could have summarized those pages with one sentence: The volcano blew, the lava formed land, the land eroded into dirt, birds from other places pooped and the seeds they passed grew, bringing life to the island. Of course, the author gave far more detail, explained the science, showed how the process took millions of years, but I’m still not sure he needed a hundred pages in a novel for such an in-depth description.
Now, as tedious as the beginning of a book can be, the end tends to be the exact opposite. It is almost as if the writer, realizing that he or she has spent hundreds of pages setting up the story, has to find a way of fitting the story itself into those last few hundred pages. Chapters are shorter, descriptions are less wordy and time seems to fly. I find myself unable to put down the book, reading a hundred pages instead of just a few. Reading the last hundred pages becomes an obsession as I want to know how the writer will solve the conflicts and restore the lives turned upside down by the events in the story.
You can almost hear the desperation in the voice of the writer as he or she tries to solve the problems in the few pages that are left. There is a note of passion in the telling of the story and anxiety over whether it will all come together in the end. Or, perhaps, I hear my own desperation for resolution of the story, especially when it seems impossible for it to be finished. In the case of my latest book, I discovered that it was not the end of the story. I will have to wait a few years until the author releases the next part of the series.
I once knew a woman who found out she was dying. She was a Christian who liked to share her faith with others and who liked to debate the meaning of the scriptures. As time passed and she drew nearer to the inevitable, she became more and more passionate about faith and desperate to convince others of her point of view. She was convinced that she was right and everyone else was wrong, and she did everything she could to turn everyone her way. It was as though she felt she had failed God if she didn’t finish this work. In the process, however, she lost every sense of grace and mercy, verbally beating and insulting anyone who refused to agree.
In a way, I understood what she was going through. She knew her time was short and she had a heart for those who were lost. She wanted everyone to know the Lord and to experience God in the way she experienced Him. She didn’t know any other way and she didn’t have time to see anything differently. She was afraid that if she let go, she might discover she was wrong and knew that there was no time left for change. Many of us tried to help her see Christ through a different lens and to see others through His eyes, but she was blinded by her desperation.
Isn’t it funny how we wait until the end to do all those things we know we should have done all along? Why do we wait until our deathbeds to share our faith with those we love? Why do we wait until we’ve recognized our mortality to be witnesses to Christ in the world? Why does our passion burn strong when we are running out of time, but stays lukewarm when we have the opportunities that are given to us all along? We might not have a tomorrow. There might not be a next page or another book. Why do we wait to restore broken relationships and solve our conflicts until the final moments? Why do we wait to share the Gospel of Christ until we are too desperate to do it with mercy and grace?
Scriptures for Sunday, May 2, 2010, Five Easter: Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35
“Let them praise the name of Jehovah; For he commanded, and they were created.” Psalm 148:5, ASV
We don’t know. We simply do not know what God has in mind for our neighbor. We may think we can judge the book by its cover, judging by a person’s outward appearance what they think and feel and expect. Even more so, we can not tell by what we see today how God will impact their lives. And since we have been called to be God’s witnesses in the world, we might just be surprised to which neighbor God wants us to take the Gospel.
God cares about all His creation: every bug, fish, bird, animal and even every human being. Human beings might be the only creature that creates buildings in which to worship God, but we are just a small part of the creation that does so. The sun, the moon and the stars all praise God. The heavens and the raindrops glorify God; the earth and all that lives on land and in sea sing His praises. The elements, the mountains, the hills and all the trees praise God. Wild and domesticated animals, clean and unclean and birds of the sky all join in the worship. No man is greater than all this, whether ruler or servant, young or old, male or female. All creation was made by God and all creation sings His praise. We may not be able to see it in the way the birds fly or cats sleep, but they are thankful to God and worship Him.
The same is true of our neighbor. This is not to say that every human being has benefitted from the saving grace of Jesus Christ, or even that all our neighbors believe in the God of our faith. However, we are reminded by our scriptures for today that we cannot judge our neighbors’ faith by what we expect. That neighbor whom you think can not possibly know God might just be the very person to whom you are being sent to share the Gospel message. The atheist that is unwavering in their lack of faith could be the next one upon whom God’s Spirit will fall.
There had been good reason for God’s people to be separate. They were small in number and uncertain about this new God that called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob into a relationship. They had to learn to rely on God for everything, especially during the exodus as they were led by Moses out of slavery and into the Promised Land. They had to gather wealth so that they could become a nation. We see in the scriptures how easily God’s people fall away when they become integrated with other nations. They lose touch with God, they bow to other gods, they rely on stronger nations and they desire what others have. They were just like we are today. We get caught up in the world, too. Perhaps it would be better if we stayed separated.
That is certainly what we see in some religious communities. They shut out the rest of the world, refusing to even pray with the neighbor just in case that neighbor believes in a different god. In the days of the disciples, the rules were very strict for those Jews living in a Roman city and Greek culture. They were not allowed to eat with outsiders. There may have been good reason. The pagans did not follow the same cleanliness laws or food restrictions. But they were not even allowed to welcome those pagan neighbors at their own tables. Eating with an outsider meant approving of them and their way of life. It didn’t help that there was a long history of conflict between the Jews and the world. It was very easy to decide to stay apart, and to keep their God to themselves.
Besides, would God really approve of those others and bless them as He had blessed the Jews? They were His people; no one else could boast such a thing. God blessed them. If they wanted to rely on voiceless gods, let them. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob belonged to them. What they missed, throughout the history of their relationship with God, is that they were called and gathered to be a blessing to the world. Yes, they were God’s chosen people because the Savior of the world would come out of them. But His work, the work of Christ, would not be limited to one people, but would be given to all.
The psalmist says, “And he hath lifted up the horn of his people, The praise of all his saints; Even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye Jehovah.” I suppose it is easy to assume from passages like this that the salvation of God is meant only for a few. And yet the rest of the psalm tells us that even the sea monsters praise God. Perhaps a pagan can too?
And so Peter had this amazing experience. God gave him a vision that he understood to mean that all food is good, and then he was taken to Cornelius’ house. There he saw that even the non-Jews can believe and that God can bless them, too. The believers in Jerusalem were shocked when they received word that Peter had entered a Gentile’s house and even ate with them. When he went back, he was criticized for it. So, he told them the story, sharing God’s vision and his experience. When they heard the story, they realized, like Peter, that God can give even the Gentiles faith.
And so, God can give ‘even’ that neighbor faith to believe in Him. His salvation is not limited to the people who attend our church or even those who call themselves a Christian, today. He can grant His life and spirit to those who even now reject the idea of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that all are Christian, for there will always be hearts hardened against the saving mercy of God given to us through the blood of Christ. However, it is possible for all to be saved. God loves all His creation, and we are called to love all God’s creation, also. And it is with this attitude that we are sent out into the world to share Christ with our neighbors. That neighbor we do not understand might just be our newest brother or sister in Christ.
The problem, however, is that we don’t even do a very good job at loving each other. The people in Cornelius’ house were believers, but the people in Jerusalem did not accept them at first. Even when they accepted what happened, conflict continued to exist between the Christians. Conflict continued as the early Christians tried to understand what God was doing in the world. It continued through the years as each new generation tried to understand what He was doing in their lives. It still exists today as Christians disagree about so many things. It is hard to love someone when we are in conflict with them.
But Jesus says, “Love one another.” Jesus talks about love in many contexts: loving neighbor, loving enemies, loving God. In this particular passage, He is specifically talking about loving one another: Christians loving Christians. He says, “Love one another because that is how the world will know that you belong to me.” Well, if that’s the sign, it is no wonder that the world doesn’t recognize us. We don’t do a very good job at loving one another. If they don’t recognize us by our love for one another, how can we ever expect them to believe in the grace we’ve been sent to share?
Despite our failures, and we’ll continue to fail just as God’s people have done since the beginning of time, God gives us hope in the future. Our failures can not make God unfaithful. He will continue to work in the world, to call people to His heart and change them forever. He will continue to love people and offer His salvation to them.
In the second lesson for today, John shares a vision of heaven and earth as God intended it to be. The new heaven and earth are as God are like the Garden of Eden, where God dwells among the people, where they can drink of the water of life and live forever in His presence. God promises something new, a world in which there is no death and no tears. This new world, and new covenant, is made visible in the love of Christians for one another. While we look forward to the day when we will never again need to cry and when death will no longer take those we love, we need not wait to love one another. The future which God has promised can exist today, if only we would worship the glorified God in the one way we are truly able: by loving one another. He is making all things new, but all things are already new for Christ has finished the work.
“If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving; And pay thy vows unto the Most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Psalm 50:12-15, ASV
I’m sure any minute now, my family will be asking me if there is anything I want for Mother’s Day. It is the same question that is asked the week before Christmas and birthdays. I ask it of my family. We want to make sure that if we buy a gift for these special days that it will be a gift they want and appreciate. While there are times we all come up with that fantastic choice without asking, most of the time we want some direction when we go shopping. It is frustrating to get that answer, “I don’t want anything” or “Surprise me.” We might be the ones surprised when the receiver is disappointed because there is no gift or if we choose the worst possible gift.
I’m guilty of the uninformative answers. I can always think of things to buy, but I usually just make sure I buy them when I need them. I could name a few books I would like to read, but I have a dozen books on my bookshelf waiting for me already. I could use some clothing, but I’m looking for very specific items and it is unlikely that my family would find what I need. I really don’t need chocolates, although I’m always happy to enjoy that treat. I have several collections that can be extended, but that would just give me something else to gather dust in the house. I don’t need anything and I’m really just happy to be remembered and appreciated.
Throughout the history of mankind, human beings have tried to find ways to pay homage to whatever gods they worship. They’ve built temples out of stone and offered gold and precious gems to those gods in the hopes that they will be satisfied and will bless the people. They have created complicated rituals and offered sacrifices, hoping to make the gods happy with their generosity. Even the Jews had a list of appropriate gifts to take to the priests, some for forgiveness, some for thanksgiving, some to provide for the care and upkeep of Temple. In all these communities of faith, the sacrifices and offerings become a duty and requirement. And, unfortunately, throughout the history of mankind, those who have received the sacrifices and offerings have taken advantage of the desire of the people to do what is right for their god.
It is not a bad thing to make sacrifices for the sake of our faith. When we tithe to our church or give alms to the poor, we show our commitment to our God. When we avoid the temptations of life and give up the habits and lifestyles that oppose God’s Word, we show Him that we are willing to be obedient. When we build churches, we provide a place to continue the work Christ began in the world. But as we do all these things, we need to remember that God does not need our gifts. He is God, and everything is His already.
Every mother will appreciate whatever her kids managed to find to give her for mother day. But when a mother says, “I don’t need anything,” it is true. She doesn’t need a new book or another dust catcher. She doesn’t need a box of chocolates or a vase full of roses. She may enjoy receiving those things, but what a mother really wants is to know that she is appreciated. She wants to know, not only on Mother’s Day, but everyday, that she is loved.
God delights in our gifts when they are given with a pure and faithful heart. He doesn’t stop us from building those buildings or making those offerings. He just wants to know He’s loved. He listens to our prayers, our demands and answers us. He’s looking for thanks, not our stuff. He doesn’t live in our Temples or spend our money. He wants only praise and to see that we are willing to uphold the commitments we have made to Him in faith.
“And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered together. And there sat in the window a certain young man named Eutychus, borne down with deep sleep; and as Paul discoursed yet longer, being borne down by his sleep he fell down from the third story, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Make ye no ado; for his life is in him. And when he was gone up, and had broken the bread, and eaten, and had talked with them a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the lad alive, and were not a little comforted.” Acts 20:7-12, ASV
I like to tell stories. Of course, those of you who have been reading “A WORD FOR TODAY” for awhile probably already know that I like to tell stories. You’ve listened to my stories day after day. Sometimes my stories are from my past, and sometimes they are about the things I experience now. I tell stories about television shows, movies or commercials and other people’s experiences, too. I find ways of using stories from books I have read or newspaper headlines. While not all the devotions are written as stories, they all tell a story in some way. At least I hope they tell all tell a story: the story of God’s grace in the world.
Certain topics find their way into my stories on a regular basis, like my cats, my family and travel. Sometimes I worry that I’ve told the same stories over and over again. After all, I have been writing for more than ten years, and while I do have new experiences my life isn’t all that exciting. The stories I tell about my pets or my travels can teach us many different things, and so sometimes I need to repeat the stories so we can glean every lesson from the experience. Sometimes I just like telling the story again.
There are some stories that I like to tell. After having told them a number of times, I have developed the story beyond words. The stories have rhythm and I know when to change my tone of voice or use my body to emphasize a point. These tiny details make the stories more interesting; they help keep the listener’s attention and create an emotional response. That’s what stories are meant to do: some make us laugh and others make us cry. They help us to share our lives and build relationships. Though we have told the stories over and over again, they become a shared experience that bonds us together.
My children, however, don’t always appreciate my reruns. It doesn’t take much to spark a memory: a word, a sight, a noise, a smell. The kids often have experiences similar to things that happened to me when I was their age, and their storytelling leads us back to my memories. They get frustrated by this because they have probably already heard the story. They aren’t usually very patient about it. “You told me this one already, Mom,” they say with a sigh. This response makes me stop talking pretty quickly; after all, I don’t want to bore my kids.
I sometimes worry that the readers of my devotions get tired of hearing my stories over and over again. I hope that even if my life isn’t very exciting, the lessons of God’s grace that I find in my experiences are enough to keep your attention. I don’t think I’ve sent anyone falling off a wall with my storytelling. I don’t think I could talk all day and then all night. Paul certainly had something to say that day, didn’t he? He probably filled the time with stories, stories of his own adventures with the Gospel and stories of Jesus. He knew the scriptures, so I’m sure he also told those stories to the people listening.
Did the young man get bored? Perhaps: young people are not very patient with us old folk and our stories. It isn’t that they aren’t interested. After all, Eutychus was there, listening to Paul. But I can see him sitting in the window, on the edge of the crowd. He was probably like the kids we have in our communities of faith, anxious to learn, but wondering how the stories of those adults have anything to do with them. Our kids would probably have their mp3 players in their ears, only half listening to the sermons.
I’m not sure what lesson we are meant to get out of the story of Paul’s fatal sermonizing. Yet, as we read this story, we see that it only took a personal touch from Paul for Eutychus to come back to life. Perhaps the stories were boring to the young man, but a relationship was built between the two that day. And though our kids might get bored with our old people story-telling, they want to be in a relationship with us. They want more than stories; they want that personal touch. So, even as you share your own stories, don’t let their impatience destroy what might develop between you. Give them the stories, but also the personal touch. Show them how God’s grace is relevant to them today.