Welcome to the April 2018 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 2018
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, WEB
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ spent a short time on earth and changed the world. In the days since, the world has wondered about this man. Christians and non-Christians alike have debated the meaning of his parables and they have questioned the events which surrounded His life, death and resurrection. The story of Jesus Christ has been told all over the world, and people continue to worship Him.
Do you believe? Last week we shared in Jesus’ Passion and in the pain, grief and doubt of His disciples. We watched as the crowd turned from jubilant to defiant. We watched as the disciples hid because of their regret and fear. We watched and identified with the mourning. Were we crying over Jesus or over our own participation in Jesus death?
This would be a horrible story if it were not for the ending. We also watched as Jesus was raised. Jesus told Mary just weeks before, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) When we share in the death of our Lord through baptism, we also share in His resurrection and His glory.
God is glorified when the world sees His grace in our lives. We have been blessed with this incredible gift so that we will be a blessing. Yet, the feelings of the disciples two thousand years ago are as real to us today as they were for them. Some of you do not quite know what you believe. Perhaps you go to church, but you do not know why. Or perhaps you do not fellowship with Christians because you have many doubts about God. You are in despair because the resurrection is not real to you. Others understand the resurrection, but do not know how to live their faith out in the world. You are in a state of gloom, trying to learn how to live your resurrected life to God’s glory. There are yet others who are just discouraged.
The Story of Jesus Christ is one that we continue to share today. Do you believe? It is time to leave the despair, gloom and discouragement behind, for the Lord God Almighty has given to you the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus. You are His ambassador, called to a life of active faith in this world. As you share what God has done for you, others will be called away from the despair, gloom and discouragement so that they will live their faith in this world.
“So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you have affection for me?’ Peter was grieved because he asked him the third time, Do you have affection for me?’ He said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.’ Now he said this, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. When he had said this, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ John 21:15-19. WEB
One of the disciples I relate to most closely is Simon Peter. He was a paradox. Several times throughout the Gospel stories, Jesus had very intimate encounters with Peter. One time, Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” At that moment, the Truth of Jesus was revealed to Peter by the power of God, and Peter said, “You are the Christ.” Moments later, Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about death.
In another episode, Jesus was washing the feet of the disciples. When he reached Peter, Peter said, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” When Jesus told him it must be this way, Peter said, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and head also.” Later that evening, Jesus told the disciples that one of his beloved would betray Him and another would deny Him. Peter boldly told Jesus that even if he had to die, he would never disown him. At the trial of Jesus, when the people recognized Peter as one of the disciples, Peter denied knowing him. This happened three times, just as Jesus said. When the rooster crowed, Peter realized what he had done and wept bitterly.
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared before the disciples several times. One encounter happened after a night of unsuccessful fishing. As the disciples came in to shore, they saw a man waiting for them. He told them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat. From there, they caught so many fish they had difficulty hauling it. John realized it was the Lord, and the disciples went to shore to be with Jesus.
Peter had denied Jesus three times. Jesus gave him three opportunities to confess his love. For each denial, Peter made a confession of faith. Each time Jesus forgave Peter by commissioning him to a great task. Peter’s denial had the potential of destroying his confidence to do God’s Will in spreading the Gospel, but Jesus’ forgiveness gave him the courage to go out and do what he was called to do.
How often do we deny Jesus in our daily lives? We all have moments when our thoughts, words and deeds are not according to God’s command and will in our lives. We deny Jesus each time we do not feed the hungry or clothe the sick. We deny Jesus each time we speak against our neighbor. Jesus loves us, however, comes to feed us with His Word, gives us a chance to confess our love for Him and sends us out to live and work to His praise and Glory. This is forgiveness. Forgiveness calls us to follow Him wherever He may lead.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 8, 2018, Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 148; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
“And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled.” 1 John 1:4, WEB
We know about the twelve days of Christmas, but few even realize that Easter continues for eight days. It is called the Octave of Easter and ends this Sunday. Though the holy day is over and our lives are getting back to normal, it would do us well to remember that the disciples were still confused and uncertain about what was happening for them. Jesus had appeared before them, but were they ready to truly believe? Were they ready to go forth into the world telling others about Jesus? We do not hear a true confession of faith until the eighth day when Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” The eggs may be found, the chocolate eaten and the lilies fading, but Easter continues.
According to the scriptures, Jesus made twelve appearances after the Resurrection. He appeared to Mary (Mark 16:9; John 20:10-18), the women returning from the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; Mark 16:12-13), Peter in Jerusalem. (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5), His disciples except Thomas in the Upper Room (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23), Thomas and the disciples in the Upper Room (John 20:24-29), seven of His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-24), five hundred believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6), James (1 Corinthians 15:7), eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:18-20), along the road to Bethany, on the Mount of Olives before He ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:50-53), and Paul on the road to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8). We also know that in the forty days between the Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus spent time with the disciples, augmenting the knowledge He had given them before His death. It is worthwhile reading these texts to see that the witness of these disciples and followers is true. They were witnesses, not only of the great work Jesus did before His death, but of the reality that Jesus didn’t stay dead. He is alive, and those hundreds of people saw it for themselves.
Jesus appeared to these witnesses and showed them the reality of His crucifixion and resurrection. He was not an apparition. He was real and everything they experienced in the days, weeks and years was real. The cross and Jesus’ death were very real as was seen in His wounds. The resurrection was very real, as was seen in His flesh standing before them. They saw Him, heard Him, and touched Him. Jesus even ate some fish. He was not a spirit.
Jesus was alive. But it didn’t make sense to them right away. They were afraid because what they saw could not be real. Jesus answered their fear and gave them the proof they needed to know that what they were seeing was true. He was alive! Unfortunately, Thomas was not with them when Jesus first appeared. He was separated from the body of Christ that day. He missed the appearance; he missed the giving of the Spirit. He missed the words of peace given by Jesus so that the disciples would let go of their fear and grief. He was apart from the body and he could not believe until he had an encounter with the living Christ. Thomas could not believe until he received the same proof as the other disciples.
We give Thomas the critical name “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe without seeing Jesus for himself. We forget, however, that the other disciples had the same reaction on that first Resurrection Day. Despite the times Jesus told His disciples that He had to die so that He could be raised again, and despite the fact that Mary (in John’s version of the story) told them what she had seen and heard at the tomb, the disciples were frightened when Jesus appeared. They doubted, just like Thomas. It took the proof of Jesus standing before them for them to believe. Even then they thought they were seeing a ghost. He showed them His hands and His side. Only after seeing the wounds were the disciples glad to see the Lord. They got their proof, and yet we call Thomas the doubting one.
“Doubting Thomas” was not willing to believe until he had physical proof, but we can also call him “Confessing Thomas” because as soon as he saw Jesus he cried, “My Lord and my God.” At that moment he believed the testimony that Jesus was alive, but he also believed that Jesus was who and what He said He was. Jesus was not only their friend and teacher. He was not simply a man who lived and died like all other men. He was Lord and God. Man and God. Human and Divine. This is an important confession of faith and the foundation of all we believe as Christians.
When Jesus saw Thomas during the appearance a week later He said, “Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.” But Jesus gave him what he needed and what He had given the others a week earlier: He showed Thomas His hands and side. Jesus understands our doubts and He reaches out to us so that we might see the truth. Thomas did see the truth and said so. In the end Thomas made the most complete affirmation of faith. He called Jesus “my Lord and my God.” In those five words, Thomas defined fully the dual nature of Jesus, both man and God. It is on this point that the community of Christians of which John was a leader found division.
Some Christians did not believe that Jesus was actually human. They thought that He appeared as a man, but was not really flesh and blood. This meant that Jesus never really died and that He was never really raised. It also means that the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ was spiritual, not physical. John addressed the issue of Jesus’ humanity in today’s epistle. He wrote, “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us.”
If Jesus was merely spirit, or just an apparition, then perhaps He may have been heard, even seen. But John says that He was touched and felt with human hands. He was not only God, He was also man. Certainly God as God could have brought about salvation in whatever form or way that He thought appropriate. He chose to do so through the flesh and blood of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross was very real. Jesus’ death was very real. The resurrection was very real. It was experienced by the disciples with their entire beings.
We are at a disadvantage; we can’t hear or see or touch our Lord Jesus as they did. But we tend to be like Thomas, don’t we? We want to have the proof for ourselves.
We don’t have a physical Jesus who can come into our homes or walk with us on our path. It is no wonder, then, if there are those in our world today who doubt. Jesus says, “Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.”
Those first disciples were given the opportunity to touch Him, to feel His wounds, to share in the reality of the resurrection. We are not blessed in that way, but Jesus tells us that we are blessed even more than those who saw and believed. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” We walk in faith, continuing the work Jesus began on that first Resurrection Day. We have the greatest advantage: we have the Holy Spirit.
He gives us the faith to believe based on their witness and His Word rather than on proof. Though we cannot experience the flesh of Jesus as they did, we can believe their words. The Resurrection was real, physical and according to the scriptures. To reduce it to something less diminishes the witness of Peter and the others. It also diminishes Jesus because He fulfilled everything that was promised by God through the Old Testament prophets. It all may seem ridiculous and impossible, but the story of Jesus’ ministry, Good Friday, Easter, and Eternity is as God intended. Jesus lived, died and rose again by God’s hand and for God’s plan so that we will live in joy forever.
It is very important to John that we understand his reason for writing. John was there. He saw the risen Lord, he heard His voice. He listened as Jesus reminded them of everything that He taught throughout the three years. John was there when Jesus appeared out of nowhere and breathed on the disciples. He was there to experience the joy of knowing that Jesus fulfilled all His promises. The joy he felt on that first day was a joy that needed to be shared. We don’t believe in Jesus for a personal, private faith, we believe in Jesus with an active, public faith so that the light of God will shine to the world. John wrote so that others would believe and would join in the fellowship of the faithful. We are sent into the world to continue this work. This is the life that God has promised us. This is the life that begins today.
Have you ever wondered why the four Gospels do not line up perfectly? I have a wonderful resource that shows the Gospel parallels, but no matter how many texts agree, there are many things that each of the evangelists thought was important enough to add to the story that the others did not. John’s Gospel is the most different, but he writes from distinct point of view. While it seems to be entirely different, you still find enough the same to see that they are really telling the same story. Matthew and Mark are the closest, but even they have unique passages.
You have to remember that the four Evangelists were each unique people. Matthew was a tax collector, a Hebrew and his purpose was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah for which they were waiting. Mark was not one of the twelve, but it is likely that his Gospel is from Peter’s point of view. Luke was a doctor and a Gentile; he tells us that he is putting forth an accurate record of Jesus’ life and ministry. John was the youngest of the Apostles and writes so that we will see that Jesus is the Son of God. Despite these different points of view, experts insist that there is just the right amount of agreement between the four Gospels to prove that they tell one true and real story.
John tells us, “Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” There was no way for one man to record the whole life and ministry of Jesus. There was no way for all the disciples to write down everything Jesus did. By their words, however, we know that we’ve been given just a glimmer of His life. We encounter Him through their words and we believe because His Word fills us with faith. They have given us enough to know Jesus and to believe that He died and lives for us.
Sunday, April 8th is the eighth day; it is the first day of the rest of our lives. By faith we dwell in the eighth day always. While the earth still turns and the sun still rises, we no longer live in darkness. We live in the light because the Light is Christ. He lives so that we might have life. He shines through us to overcome the darkness. We no longer need to fear sin and death because Jesus overcame them both for our sake. We dwell in eternity in the here and now even while we wait for eternity in the future.
This life does not come to us by physical proofs, but from the faith that God is faithful to His promises. As we dwell in this reality, we are called to continue sharing our faith with others in word and in deed. We are called together to be the body of Christ in the here and now as we wait until the day when we will all be joined in eternal praise and thanksgiving to the God who is victorious over even our sin.
What does that look like? Christians have been trying to figure that out for two thousand years. We all have our idea of the perfect church, but we haven’t found it because the Church is filled with imperfect people. We are saints, but we are still sinners and will continue to sin while we are still in the flesh. We will make mistakes. We will fail our neighbors. We will hurt those we love. We are fallen people. Even so, we are saved by Christ who died. Doing so appeased God and fulfilled the requirements necessary for reconciliation not only for us but for the whole world. Sometimes it is hardest to remember that when we are hurt by a brother or sister in Christ. It is sometimes easier to believe that Christ died for our non-believing neighbor than for the sins of our Christian brethren. They should know better, right? We also forget that we continue to need Jesus just as much today as the day we first believed. As John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We all have sins that need confessing; we all need Jesus. However, we can live in the joy of the eighth day for the rest of our lives. We are Easter people, and every day is a day of joy. The psalmist knows that even the most terrifying things of the earth and the most mundane aspects of life here, we have reason to praise God and given Him thanks. “He has lifted up the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near to him. Praise Yah!”
Easter this year was on April Fool’s Day, but the eighth day of the Octave is often called Holy Humor Sunday. The Greeks saw the humor of the resurrection; they saw that Jesus played a practical joke on the devil. The devil thought he won, but Christ rose from the dead. The Octave of Easter were the “days of joy and laughter.” They held parties and played practical jokes on one another. The Octave culminated in “Holy Humor Sunday” the second Sunday of Easter.
The devil didn’t see the joke coming. It was outrageous and preposterous. It was unexpected. Celebrating Holy Humor Sunday gives us a way to laugh at ourselves, as perhaps Peter and Thomas and all the disciples must have laughed after they realized everything that was happening was real. Holy Humor Sunday gives us the opportunity to look at this beloved story in a new way, with new eyes, without taking ourselves so seriously. We’ve heard it all before, but can we still hear it with fresh ears? Can we tell jokes about ourselves, about our fear and our doubts and laugh in the joy of God’s forgiveness? Can we trust that God is merciful and that we can experience His grace in laughter and merriment? We can be glad and rejoice because what God has done is really a great joke that has brought salvation to the world.
“When he finished praying in a certain place, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”’”Luke 11:1-4, WEB
In 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a movie with a most unusual adversary - a classroom filled with five year olds. The movie “Kindergarten Cop” was about a big city cop named John Kimball who was looking for the ex-wife of a hardened criminal. There was evidence that she had taken a large amount of money and the cops wanted to question her. She and her son were tracked to a small town, so Kimball and his partner went to find them. The partner, a tiny, sweet looking woman, was supposed to substitute for the Kindergarten teacher, but she became quite ill before she could begin. They had no choice, tough man Kimball had to go in.
The first day did not go well; those little kids had him running in circles and the audience laughing hysterically. He was desperate to finish the job and get out of there. He sat them in a circle and asked them questions, hoping the answers would quickly reveal the boy for whom he was searching. He got frustrated with every question. When asked if they had been born in that town, none raised their hands so he yelled, “Come on, raise your hands” so they all did. Then he asked who was born somewhere else, they all raised their hands. It was not going to be easy to get information out of the kids because he was trying to deal with five year olds as he might deal with a group of adults. He learned during the movie to deal with the kids on their level, simply and with gentle strength. By the end of the movie the concerned principal told Kimball that he was welcome to stay to teach because though she was at first quite skeptical, she could see he was an awesome teacher.
It is pointless to teach kindergarteners about the science of microbiology or nuclear fission. It is a waste of time to try to give them trigonometry homework or tell them to write thousand word essays on the origin of a species. As a matter of fact, it is pretty pointless to try to teach these things to most adults. The same is true of many other aspects of education, the Latin language for example. What purpose would it hold in the average person’s life to know such things? It is best to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, the things a person will use from day to day.
In the late 1600’s the educators thought it was useless to teach anything to the average folk. School was for those of higher rank, to teach Latin and other intellectual pursuits. But one man thought the poor should know how to read. John-Baptist de la Salle became a priest at an early age and was well on his way to greater things, but he gave up his family’s wealth and his position to teach. He thought it ridiculous to teach the common folk how to read and write Latin, so he created a school and trained teachers to teach them in their own tongue. His enemies thought he was misguided but when they tried to fire him, the other teachers threatened to leave the school. He opened a school for delinquent boys and affected the lives of many in a very positive way.
Jesus taught people right where they were. He used stories and ideas that came from their life experiences and He kept His teaching simple and clear. Those who stopped following did not do so because he was teaching beyond their ability to understand, but because they refused to believe what He was saying. He did not discuss the finer points of doctrine, but rather laid God’s Word before them to hear and believe. When asked to teach them, He did not speak fanciful words or prayers, just the simple truth in its beauty and grace.
As we teach others about Jesus, we should remember the experiences of John Kimball in that Kindergarten classroom and John-Baptist de la Salle who taught in a way that changed lives. We can follow Jesus’ example. It does little good to teach the average Christian the finer points of the biblical languages or the difference between the different eschatological theologies of the church. We need to know Jesus’ love, His sacrifice for our sin and the incredible mercy of God. We need to know about His life, death and resurrection. We need to know how to be good disciples. We don’t need to know any complicated prayers. We simply need what Christ has given us, a prayer which praises God and thanks Him, asks Him to be with us and provide all we need, confesses our sin and begs for forgiveness and seeks God’s help to walk as His. Christ met the people right where they were, living in the world. May we always do the same.
“Remember your leaders, men who spoke to you the word of God, and considering the results of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:7-8, WEB
Anyone who has gone through the process of calling a new pastor to their congregation knows it can be a difficult experience. It takes time, and most church members aren’t patient enough to seek the right person, or they have unreasonable expectations. They are looking for the perfect person, but they forget that there is no such thing. In the end, the greatest problem, it seems, are the expectations of both the pastor and the congregation.
I’ve seen a post both in email and other places on the internet, author unknown, which shows how ridiculous our expectations can be. It is a humorous confidential report on a search committee’s impressions of several pastoral candidates being considered for a position. Among the names on the list were the greatest witnesses to God’s love in the Old and New Testament; nearly all were turned down for one reason or another. Noah couldn’t convert anyone and had unrealistic goals in building. David was a strong leader but had an affair. Jonah told some strange story about getting swallowed by a fish that later spit him out. Paul was short on tact, harsh and longwinded. “He has a questionable attitude toward women, if you know what I mean.”
This email is very humorous as it looks at the people that God chose and used throughout His-story, recorded in the bible. Each one has questionable aspects about their personality and past that would make us question their ability to lead and preach. Yet, God found value in their weaknesses to work for His good and perfect purpose. This email even lists Jesus as a possibility. “Has had popular times, but once his church grew to 5000 he managed to offend them all, and then this church dwindled down to twelve people. Seldom stays in one place very long. And, of course, he's single.” Amazing how we humans can see even negative aspects of the life of our Lord.
The funniest part of the email is that Judas gets a good report. “Judas: His references are solid. A steady plodder. Conservative. Good connections. Knows how to handle money. We’re inviting him to preach this Sunday. Possibilities here.”
What we think is important is often far off center from God’s. God is calling people to share the Gospel, to live in a way that glorifies Jesus Christ in this world. Noah was obedient, even when the task seemed ridiculous and impossible. David sought God’s will. Though Jonah at first ran from the Lord, he was gifted by God to turn a whole nation to repentance. Paul laid a solid foundation of doctrine for the Church today, his testimony about the power of God through Jesus Christ and his letters to the church keep us focused on our Savior and His purpose for our lives.
God hasn’t changed the way He does business. He still chooses people who are imperfect and don’t fit our expectations. We can easily look at each of our ministers, pastors or priests and find fault in the way they live and work. However, God has blessed each of them with gifts with which they share the Gospel of Christ. As we consider those who have been chosen to guide and encourage our Christian walk, let us always remember that Christ died for their failures, just like ours, and let us always look to see God’s gifts rather than our expectations. We should always remember them in prayer and give thanks to God for sending them our way.
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways,’ says Yahweh. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky, and doesn’t return there, but waters the earth, and makes it grow and bud, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish that which I please, and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do. For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace. The mountains and the hills will break out before you into singing; and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn the cypress tree will come up; and instead of the brier the myrtle tree will come up: and it will make a name for Yahweh, for an everlasting sign that will not be cut off.’” Isaiah 55:8-13, WEB
I went to a friend’s house this past weekend. We visited some historic churches and museums, ate and fellowshipped together. I helped with her barnyard menagerie (well, I took pictures of her cows and goats and sheep.) We had a lovely visit as she showed me around her little corner of the world. The weather wasn’t the greatest, but we also had a chance to see fields of wildflowers.
I expected to see some, but I didn’t expect the fields to be so full of bluebonnets at this time of year or in that place. Those who follow these things really didn’t know what to expect this year. My friend lives in the region that got fifty four inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey and no one knew whether that weather would bode well for the wildflowers or cause them trouble. The wildflowers are very particular; they need certain amounts of water at certain times, and certain temperature ranges at the right moments. If everything falls into place, the flowers have a tremendous bloom. If not, we hope for better the next year. The wildflower seeds can stay dormant in the ground for years until conditions are perfect. Apparently, the conditions were perfect for that region this year.
The same is not true elsewhere. It is hard to believe, for those who are not from Texas, how different it can be from one county to the next. My trip a few weeks ago was very disappointing, and I’ve heard similar reports from others who have gone looking for flowers. Despite the rain we’ve had, many areas are on the verge of a drought and the temperatures have been irregular. There are a few hearty plants that have bloomed, but it seems most of the seeds are waiting for a better time. Perhaps next year will be perfect for a different region.
The most unusual thing about my trip is the variety of wildflowers I was able to see. Usually we see bluebonnets, then Indian paintbrush, then firewheels. There is some overlap, but I found a field that had all three in abundance. The roadsides were full of color, everyone you can imagine. There was red, yellow, white, blue, pink, orange and purple. It was like all the flowers wanted to be at the same party!
I sometimes wonder what the point is when I go out on these adventures. I’ve seen a million bluebonnets (one year they were all in one valley and another in a lake bed.) I’ve taken photos of most of the different types of wildflowers in Texas. What is the purpose of having thousands of photos on my computer? I use them for my art, of course, and I share them with my friends, but how many different photos can you take of a bluebonnet? Isn’t there a better way to use my time and my resources?
Perhaps it would be better if I cleaned the dust off my furniture or did a better job with cleaning my floor. I suppose my family would benefit if I got a job that paid me money. Yet, I think perhaps my flower photos help us all remember to take time to smell the roses. To enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. To stop chasing after “stuff” and spend time appreciating everything that God has done. We may not fully understand why wildflowers bloom as they do, but we can look at them and praise God for their beauty. It may seem like a waste of time, but it is truly important to stop and smell the roses. It is good for the soul and for the spirit. It is good for our state of mind. Doctors and scientists will even tell you that those who appreciate the beauty of this world are healthier and happier.
I know it is not practical for everyone to take a day or two to drive through the country side looking for fields of flowers, but I hope that I can share just a glimpse of God’s handiwork so that others will praise God for the magnificent work of His hands. There is no doubt that everyone should take time to get out into the fields, to smell the flowers, to hear the buzz of the bees, to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. But I hope that everyone can find joy and peace in the knowledge that God has a purpose even for the flowers that will wither and die quickly. Perhaps their purpose is simply to get us to stop for a moment, whether it is out in the country, or while we are surfing on the computer, to worship our Creator and praise Him for all He has done for us.
“Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:18-21, WEB
Have you ever noticed that the more you have, the more you seem to need? Have you ever said, “I’ll start saving after my next pay raise,” but then find yourself spending that raise long before you can ever start saving? Have you ever thought that you would be more generous if only you had more money? Yet, we find very quickly that more money just means that we have more things we think we need to buy. We get the bigger house or the new car, we shop for steak rather than ground beef. We go to the fashion store for our clothes rather than the discount store. More money comes with bigger expectations, and in the end we find that we still don’t have enough to save or give.
That’s why God calls us to tithe first. If we remember to give to God what is God’s then we do not fill our lives with expectations bigger than we can afford. Just because we can spend our money on a bigger house or a new car doesn’t mean that we should. Just because we can buy more expensive clothes or eat steak doesn’t mean that it is a lifestyle we should pursue. While we work hard for our money and perhaps deserve to use every penny to make our lives better and happier, we must remember that everything we have comes from God’s hand. He blesses us with what we have so we can share it with the world. We begin with the tithe, but we also opportunities every day to be generous with our resources.
The interesting thing is that you’ll find satisfaction in your life if you use your resources well, no matter how much you have. Joy, peace, hope and contentment is found in the life that is generous. Instead of giving from the bottom, or from the leftovers, generosity from the top produces abundance. We discover that we are incredibly blessed whether we have a little or a lot because we see everything through gratitude. Do we need the bigger house or the new car to be happy? Sometimes we discover that those things actually bring us more trouble than they are worth. However, the generous life brings joy to the receiver as well as the giver. Most of all, it brings joy to our Father who sees our thankfulness in our generosity.
We don’t have to wait until we have more to begin doing what is good with our resources. God has blessed us each to be a blessing to others. God is always faithful to provide everything we need daily. As we live in thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness, we will discover that we have more than we ever imagined, not to better our lives but to share with others. It is there we will find that we have greater treasure than anything we can buy. We may not have as much as we think we need, but with full hearts we will glorify God in every moment of generosity. What more do we need?
Scriptures for Sunday, April 15, 2018, Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 3:11-21; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
“See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1a, WEB
There’s a funny sign that women like to post in their homes that says, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” This is true because when Momma is frazzled by the work she has to do, she takes it out on the others in the house. If there are too many dishes in the sink, the kids hear long lectures about wasting valuable resources when they use a clean cup every time they take a drink of water. Toys on the living room floor bring out the wrath of Momma. You don’t even want to see Momma when there are dirty footprints her newly mopped kitchen floor. On the other hand, the household is happy after Momma has had a quiet and relaxing bubble bath without children interrupting. The sign reminds us that happiness comes when Momma is kept happy.
I once saw this saying: “I don’t suffer from stress. I’m a carrier.” We could name a million ways stress is affecting people in our world today; it is a wonder that anyone can say, “I don’t suffer from stress.” The saying is funny because the writer claims to be a carrier, but is this really a joke? Too many people are responding to stress in unhealthy and dangerous ways. Yet, we can face our stress with an optimistic point of view. Will we continue to suffer or will we look forward to the better times that are surely around the corner? The answer to that question is what drives our response. If we believe that tomorrow will be a good day, we’ll do positive things. If we expect to continue suffering, then nothing we do, good or bad, will make any difference.
David was always facing some enemy. We see in the Psalms his songs of lament and worry. But we also see that he faced those times of difficulty with faith. He believed his God was trustworthy so he had nothing to fear. In today’s psalm he cried out asking God to answer him, to have mercy and to hear his prayer. Yet, even in that cry he spoke to God with confidence in His saving hand. He faced his difficulty with faith, knowing that God is trustworthy.
We probably shouldn’t be a carrier of stress, since so many people are already dealing with problems that seem beyond their ability to handle, but we need not suffer from it either. We can, in our faith, have the same attitude as David: that we need not be concerned that our neighbors have plenty of grain and wine. Hope in the Lord gives us something that they can never have: a greater joy that gives us the peace to sleep well at night, despite the difficulties we face.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke wrote, “While they still didn’t believe for joy...” This is such an odd statement. How can they be happy about something they can’t believe is happening? Yet, haven’t we all experienced that at some point in our lives? Have you ever been so joyously in love and yet at the same time wonder how that glorious creature could possibly love you too? Have you ever received an award or a gift that seems way beyond what you deserve, and even while accepting the award and gift with joy can’t believe that you are actually the recipient? Have you ever gotten a test back, thinking that you must have failed only to find that you did very well? Your examples might be different, but I’m sure each of us can remember a time when we’ve received something with joy but also disbelief.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear another version of the same story we heard from John’s Gospel last week. In this story, the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus had just returned from that extraordinary experience. They had met a man as they walked toward their home, away from the confusion in Jerusalem. He explained the scriptures as they had never heard before; they did not realize the man was their Master and friend. There was something different about Him; His words were somehow new. The man spoke in a way that made the begin to understand the things Jesus had said before He died. Then, when He broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they saw Him clearly. Only then did they know it was Jesus. They ran back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to the place where the disciples were hiding. They told them what they had seen.
Imagine the scene: two disciples ran in breathless with the Good News. The disciples had heard the same news from Mary and the women, but no one really believed them. They’d seen the empty tomb. They heard Good News again, but it is still unbelievable. How do you think they responded this time? “You saw Jesus? But He’s dead!” “Was it a ghost?” It was ridiculous and impossible. They were probably arguing about what those disciples had experienced. “What do you mean that He said that He was the one that Moses and the prophets were talking about?” Religious debate can be heated under the best circumstances. Imagine how hard it must have been for those two disciples to explain the unexplainable to those who had not yet experienced it.
In the middle of this discussion, Jesus appeared. Now, I can imagine those two disciples saying, “See, we told you so!” And yet, they were probably as startled and frightened as the rest of the group. After all, they had seen Jesus and knew that it was Him, but then He just disappeared from their sight. They didn’t know where He went. I wonder if those two disciples were trying to get the other disciples to run back to Emmaus with them. “Come with us and see!” But there He was, in the midst of the disciples having entered through a locked door, appearing as quickly as He’d disappeared after breaking bread at their table.
It is no surprise, then, that the disciples were both joyous and disbelieving. After all, this was beyond their understanding. They’d never met a physical being that was man and yet not man. Despite the times and ways Jesus told them that He would be raised, they didn’t expect this turn of events. They were probably in the upper room trying to figure out what they would do next. Who would be their new leader? Or, the more likely possibility, they were probably deciding to drop it all and return to their lives. Joy and disbelief is the natural response to this circumstance. “Yes, He’s back! But how?”
The circumstances the disciples experienced on that first Easter were extraordinary. Emotions must have been running high. They were grieving because the Master whom they had followed for three years died just a few days before. They were angry because the people who should have stood up for justice and Jesus were among those who caused His death. They were afraid because they did not know whether those same leaders might go after them. They were probably tired for lack of sleep and hungry for lack of appetite. Then, when the women and the disciples from Emmaus came into their presence with the strange news that Jesus had been raised, they were probably confused, doubtful, curious and perhaps even anxious for it to be true.
When Jesus did appear in the Upper Room with the disciples, it is no surprise that they misunderstood what they were seeing. They knew about spirits, ghosts and other superstitious possibilities; resurrection wasn’t really something they might expect. According to N. T. Wright, in his book “Surprised by Hope,” there were very few people in Jesus’ day that believed that a body could be made alive again. Those who did believe in resurrection believed that it would happen only at the end of time. No human was ever expected to be raised in the middle of history. So, these disciples were expected to believe something that was completely outside their understanding. The fact that Jesus’ body was different didn’t help matters. He could walk through walls and appear out of nowhere. What was this being that was standing in their midst?
In John’s story, Jesus simply tells them to touch His wounds. By feeling His body they knew that it was real flesh. Luke makes it even clearer that Jesus was not a spirit but had a human body; Jesus asked the disciples for something to eat. Though they touched His body, there was still room for doubt. People who have had paranormal experiences tell stories about solid looking apparitions and the feeling of a physical presence. People talk about feeling the touch of a hand or even physical force. But ghosts do not need to eat.
Though we see something unique in Jesus, Luke is very careful to show us that the Jesus the disciples met after the resurrection was very real and very human. There were already some who were trying to diminish the events of Easter to nothing more than a spiritual rebirth. Others were claiming that the body had been stolen. Luke, by noting the meal Jesus ate, firmly establishes that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead. We still do not understand exactly the type of body He had, but despite those odd differences, it was still like ours. Since Jesus is the first born of the dead, we see that our resurrected bodies will also be very real and very human. From this, N. T. Wright suggests that we should rethink our understanding of Heaven. It won’t be a place, he says, where disembodied spirits hang out on fluffy clouds; we never become angels. Our eternal life will be spent in a new earth with a new flesh that is very real and very human that does not perish but has everlasting life. This is the true hope of our faith that we received on that first Easter.
I suppose even today we can meet this Good News with the same emotions as the disciples, “While they still didn’t believe for joy...” It really is ridiculous and impossible. We still struggle with wanting proof. Why isn’t God showing us His power today? Why don’t we see God’s miraculous works happening among our congregations?
We often talk about the miracle of magnificent sunset or a baby’s giggle. We see miracles in nature all the time with the blooming fields of wildflowers in springtime and the way the land is restored after a disaster. It doesn’t take very long for a forest to begin sprouting after a fire or a valley to recover after a flood. Even drought stricken regions of the world have turned green with new growth when it begins to rain.
There are those who scoff at the idea that those are miracles. They can easily be explained. There is always a sunset, and those brilliant days come because of the right conditions. A baby’s giggle isn’t extraordinary; babies laugh and cry all the time. The wildflowers will bloom year after year; they will be magnificent when the conditions are perfect. Fire is good for the forest, and that’s why it recovers so quickly. Floods leave behind nutrients that get washed out of the earth and even droughts can provide positive effects. Where is the miracle?
We see miracles through the eyes of faith, simply knowing that God’s hand is in the midst of everything in our world. We see Him as He touches our lives in subtle but very real ways. We see Him painting that sunset and that field of wildflowers. We see Him make good things happen out of the bad. They might not be miraculous miracles, but to us they are miracles. We are happy to settle for the little miracles because we believe that God can and does make incredible things happen every day.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a supernatural occurrence that defies scientific explanation, but I still believe miraculous miracles happen.
We read the stories of Jesus and we are amazed. He healed the sick, cast out demons, made wine out of water and fed thousands on multiple occasions. He walked on water and stopped the storm. He made the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. He cured leprosy and raised the dead. The disciples did the same thing. We don’t seem to see that kind of miracle anymore. Oh, we occasionally hear of something that is beyond our everyday experiences, but even then we can usually explain it away. Medical miracles that surprise the doctors can often be explained.
When we do hear about an actual miracle, like stories of people being raised from the dead in Africa, we wonder if it could be true but think like Thomas: we will believe when we see it for ourselves. We don’t doubt that God can make these things happen, but we want proof. We believe in Him, but there’s no reason for us to believe in miracles because our faith is based on what Christ has done rather than on what He might do. We know that the stories in the scriptures, both of Jesus and His disciples, helped to establish their authority to speak the Gospel to the world. We don’t need these miracles to establish our credibility. We have the power of the Holy Spirit and as we speak, the Word does the work. Those who believe do so because the Spirit gives them faith. While it would be nice if we had the backing of miraculous works to put credibility to our words, we don’t need them anymore. The true miracle has nothing to do with supernatural occurrences. The true miracle is faith.
Jesus once said, “You will do greater things that these.” The disciples were amazed at His miraculous works, but Jesus assured them that they would do more. They did do miraculous works as we see in the story before today’s reading from the book of Acts. Peter saw a crippled man who was left at the gate to beg. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about his “work”; he didn’t even look at those who were passing him by when he asked for money. When Peter said, “Look at us,” he looked because he thought they were going to give him some coin. Peter gave him something better. “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” Peter helped him up and he was so excited to be healed that he danced around the Temple praising God. The people were amazed.
The miracle made the people pay attention. Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t that why we want the miracle? We want people to pay attention to us. However, it is very easy to get caught up in the fame and amazement of the crowds while losing touch with our true ministry. After all, Jesus didn’t heal to make the crowd follow Him; He healed so that they would listen. As a matter of fact, how many times did Jesus tell those He healed to be quiet about it?
The healing definitely got the attention of the people in the Temple. They came running, surrounding Peter, John and the man. Peter asked, “You men of Israel, why do you marvel at this man? Why do you fasten your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him walk?” It wasn’t about Peter or John, or even about the man. It was all about the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the God of their fathers. It was all about glorifying Jesus. See, Peter didn’t heal with fancy words but with the name of Jesus Christ. Peter went on to tell the people what really mattered: “Believe in Jesus.”
Miraculous healing, raising the dead, overcoming nature and the physical world is nothing compared to the real miracle: faith. Sharing the Gospel is the greater work that we are called to do, because in speaking God’s Word of forgiveness and hope we give the people what they truly need: life. Amazing, isn’t it: the one thing that was denied Jesus is the very thing He won for us on the cross. Peter used this opportunity to tell the people that even though they missed the truth of Jesus when He was alive, God was doing exactly what He intended so that they could see the truth. Jesus died at the hands of all those who rejected Him, but He has promised forgiveness for all who turn back to the God who loved them so much that He sent His Son to make all who believe heirs to the eternal kingdom.
We live in between the now and the future. We are saved and yet we are not fully saved. We live in the already but not yet. We are children of God, and yet what that means for us in the future has not yet been revealed. We are transformed by the grace of God, but we’ll be transformed in that day when we are in His presence again. What He is has already changed us. We are forgiven. We have the Holy Spirit. We are living new in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though we are not quite there and we do not see Him clearly, He is still with us and in us. We live in a hope that is without disappointment, knowing that what is now will be even more so some day. And in that hope we live as Jesus lived, doing as He did. We share in His righteousness and are righteous as He was righteous.
Peter said to the people in the Temple, “Now, brothers, I know that you did this in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But the things which God announced by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send Christ Jesus, who was ordained for you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his holy prophets.”
The people who approached Peter and John in the Temple wanted to how it could be that the man walked again. It is as if they asked the same question we find in the Psalm. “Many say, ‘Who will show us any good?’” We can’t answer by our own power, it is only by the power of God that we can bring healing and forgiveness to the world. So, we cry out to God, “Yahweh, let the light of your face shine on us.” Jesus came to show us good.
Isn’t it amazing that the promise is even for those who sent Jesus to the cross? They did not know what they were doing, and Jesus offered that forgiveness even as He died before them when He said to His Father, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The disciples have been sent to call the people to repentance so that they might benefit from that forgiveness. The disciples were witnesses to all that happened with Jesus, but each person is invited to experience a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus even now because He lives. In that relationship we can sing like the Psalmist, “You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and their new wine are increased. In peace I will both lay myself down and sleep, for you, Yahweh alone, make me live in safety.”
We still live in wonder and joy at this thing that is ridiculous and impossible. God loves us, despite our unworthiness. He sent Jesus to die for us. He raised Jesus from the dead so that we would have life. He gives us the Holy Spirit so that we will share His grace with the world. He continues to love us even though we don’t do a very good job at being disciples. We are saved and we are being saved. We are transformed and are being transformed. It is a work in progress. Two thousand years after the resurrection, we are still getting to know Him, one step at a time. The day will come when everything will be made perfect. He will come again and we will truly know what it means to be like Him. We are called to Him through the witness of those who have come before us and we come to Him in repentance. He cleanses us of our sin and gives us the Holy Spirit that we might walk in the truth. He does the most miraculous miracle in our hearts by giving us faith. He makes us one of His beloved children.
It is no wonder we receive this Good News with joy and unbelief. It is all so ridiculous and impossible. We are reminded in John’s letter that it isn’t by our action and ability that we are made right with God. He writes, “My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” We are righteous not by what we do, but by being in a right relationship with God. This comes through faith in the One who shines His face on us. In that light, we walk according to His ways as we are made more and more like Him each step of our journey of life.
“John, to the seven assemblies that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from God, who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us, and washed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a Kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, including those who pierced him. All the tribes of the earth will mourn over him. Even so, Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” Revelation 1:4-8, WEB
The weather has been very strange this year. I joked on my Facebook page about how I sometimes become nostalgic about my home town in Pennsylvania, but then I see photos of snow and I’m good. I was never a fan of snow, but I’ve experienced a few years that have made me really dislike it. I think many of my friends are feeling that way this year. Every few days I see posts, “You have got to be kidding me,” and I know it is snowing again despite spring having started weeks ago. In a few places, spring came just long enough for the early flowers to bloom, but they were covered in snow until that snow melted again. It is hard to even know what to wear in the morning because the temperature can change dramatically in just a few hours.
The weathermen are warning that even here in Texas we could see bitter cold temperatures this weekend. There was ice in North Texas just the other day. Here in South Texas, however, the fields are filled with wildflowers. I went on a trip last weekend, and enjoyed seeing color everywhere. It was difficult, though, because overnight a cold front came through with thunderstorms, leaving behind cold, windy weather. We didn’t do much wildflower hunting on Saturday because it was just uncomfortable outside.
It is almost too hard to see the joy of Easter through the mist of winter, and that seems to be what we have had to do this year. We have had to look beyond the cold and damp to rejoice in the great thing He has done. Unfortunately, very few people have the eyes that see the light in the midst of trouble. They can’t see the sun shining behind the clouds. Yet, there are times when God grants us a vision of what heaven will look like. Sometimes it appears in a dream, but often He simply uses the beauty of His created world to give us a foretaste of the world to come. I’ve seen heaven in the laugh of a baby; from the top of a mountain overlooking a hidden valley; in a meadow filled with flowers; in a rainbow after a storm. I can’t see these things and ignore the majesty of my Creator.
When we were living in England I saw the most incredible sight in the sky as I was standing at the kitchen sink washing the dishes. In an otherwise cloudless sky, there was a large, dark mushroom shaped cloud. The waning sun was behind this cloud and the rays shown from behind, creating a halo around the cloud. It was as if God was behind a curtain, and His light was trying to break through to the world. As I continued with my work, the bottom “stem” of the cloud began to split, like the curtains on a great stage. The sun’s rays broke through, and the stage behind was breathtakingly beautiful. This foretaste made me long for the day when I will stand in His presence and worship Him at His throne.
Years later in Texas, I saw a much different image of heaven. It was another cold, damp Easter season. As clouds covered the earth and rain fell from the sky, I saw a hummingbird, one of the first of the season. He took a moment at our feeders, but the wind was bitter and the rain was cold that he took refuge under the bush that is near my window. He sat there for a long time, and though he seemed to be shivering, he was also safe and dry. I could almost see God’s hands surrounding him, protecting him from the cold.
We love spring time and the beauty of Easter, but we have to remember that God is there in the midst of the clouds and rain. He reveals Himself in His creation in so many ways; by His grace we see His majesty in those brief moments so that we will have a vision in our hearts and our minds of the heavenly realms. He gives us a glimmer to draw us ever closer to Him and to keep us on His path. We just have to take the time to see Him, to witness the beauty of His creation and His constant presence in His world. That glimmer is not necessarily going to be something as grand as the sun bursting forth from beneath a cloud. It might just be someone in need, someone who needs to know God’s loving presence in their life. How will He reveal Himself to you today? Perhaps it will be the kind words of a friend or the awesome power of lightning in a thunderstorm. Perhaps it will be someone who needs to get out of the cold. Go about with your work today, but be ever mindful of His presence. Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of heaven.
“But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised?’ and, ‘With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish one, that which you yourself sow is not made alive unless it dies. That which you sow, you don’t sow the body that will be, but a bare grain, maybe of wheat, or of some other kind. But God gives it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial differs from that of the terrestrial. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown perishable; it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However that which is spiritual isn’t first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, made of dust. The second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the one made of dust, such are those who are also made of dust; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. As we have borne the image of those made of dust, let’s also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s Kingdom; neither does the perishable inherit imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 15:35-50, WEB
Many people go wildflower hunting just to see the beautiful colors in the fields and along the roadsides. They might stop once or twice to get a few pictures, but they are more interested in seeing the beauty than recording it. Others will focus on the larger picture, photographing the full fields and not really seeing the details. I like to get up close and personal, to take photos of the individual flowers in bloom.
You would be amazed at how hard it is to do so! There are very few days when the wind is not blowing in Texas, and wildflowers dance in the breeze. How do you focus on a constantly moving target? I usually program my camera to take continuous shots and take a dozen, hoping at least one of them will be in focus. Also, I tend to prefer symmetry, and wildflowers simply do not grow in rows. I might take a dozen pictures of a single flower and reject most of them because I didn’t get a good composition. Other photos might be rejected because there is a dead flower or too many grasses in the frame.
I went on one wildflower trip that was late in the season and many of the wildflowers were already going to seed. I didn’t realize it when I took a photo, but I caught a bluebonnet just before it was ready to drop its seeds. The beautiful blue flowers look like peapods at the end of their bloom. As I looked through my photos that day I couldn’t figure out what I had photographed. A few photos later, I noticed some bluebonnets that were only halfway to seed and realized I was seeing the end of its life cycle. The pods dry and the seeds fall to the ground to wait for their time to bloom.
We tend to focus on the beautiful flowers, but have you ever really thought about the seed? Look at a seed, any kind of seed, and imagine how it will look after it has been planted, sprouted and bloomed. The seed changes dramatically, doesn’t it? It is hard to believe that those tiny things can become something so different. Think about a maple seed; it is so tiny to start but it can grow into a tree so large that animals will dwell in its branches.
God does this. He takes one thing and when it dies, it is transformed into new life. The same is true of our flesh. I wrote the other day that N. T. Wright wrote we should rethink our understanding of heaven. We won’t be floating on clouds like weightless spirits. We will have a body like Jesus had a body after His resurrection. We just don’t really understand what that body will be like. It will be different. It will be new. And we have to die to get it. We are just a seed and one day God will grow us into something extraordinary; we will dwell in that body for eternity.
It is natural for us to wonder what it will be like when we die. Throughout history artists and writers have tried to imagine and describe in words or pictures, but it is impossible for human means to fully portray the things of God. The glory of God cannot be put on paper or in words. Someone once explained that heaven would be like taking the best of everything in this world and magnifying it a thousand times. Let us remember that though we still dwell in these bodies of dust, seeds yet to be planted, we already have the eternal life our Lord has promised through faith. Paul encourages us to live as if we are already in heaven, living in faith and glorifying God as we dwell in that eternal life today.
“But you, beloved, remember the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you that ‘In the last time there will be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are they who cause divisions, and are sensual, not having the Spirit. But you, beloved, keep building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. On some have compassion, making a distinction, and some save, snatching them out of the fire with fear, hating even the clothing stained by the flesh.” Jude 1:17-23, WEB
I teach Sunday school at my church. It is a very short class because most of the people who attend are very active in church. They trickle in a little late because they are organizing something or they have to leave early because they sing in the choir or are serving as ushers. I don’t mind. During our time, we always manage to talk about God, and that’s the purpose of our meeting. We don’t worry about following a published study; we simply find a topic and talk about it. We open the Bible and see what it says. We wonder at the grace of God. Sometimes we go on long tangents, but they always lead us to a place where Jesus is the center. Those who come to my class know that they will leave with something to ponder during the week. They know I’m willing to answer questions, and if I don’t have the answers (often!) that I will do everything I can to find an answer.
After most of the crowd left yesterday, I said to those remaining, “So, do you have any questions?” One woman, delightfully, always has a question. She knows she needs to know more about the Bible, especially since her children are getting to an age when they are asking questions. She is proud of them, but always concerned. “I just don’t know how to answer,” she told me. We talked about her question and she left feeling like she could at least give an answer.
Another friend approached me on Sunday and said that she knows she needs to attend a Sunday school class, but her history makes it difficult to trust Bible teachers. She worries about being led by a false teacher. Several friends have encouraged her to come to our class and she wanted me to know her concerns. We talked about it for a few minutes; I encouraged her to try but also gave her some other possibilities. I would love for her to join us, but the important thing is for her to get into the habit of gathering for study and prayer with other Christians. We need more than an hour worship on Sunday morning to keep us growing and maturing in faith.
These struggles - not having all the answers or concern that they’ll be led astray - are important to consider. There is a very real possibility that those who are uncertain about the scriptures might be led astray. I had another friend who was very interested in the source for a movie about Jesus a few years ago. She read the book and excitedly told me, “That’s as good as the Gospels!” She was ready to believe that the book was an authoritative source about God. I showed her another resource that seemed authoritative that said exactly the opposite of her book. “Never believe anything above the scriptures,” I told her. It is easy to be led astray.
We all need encouragement. We need to know that someone cares, that someone is listening. Christians need one another to keep us all on the right path. My friend’s fear of false teachers is a very real concern for us today. Look at the religion section of any bookstore and you’ll see several feet of books identifying them as Christian that are less than honest. They claim to be authoritative sources for Christian understanding of God, but will lead struggling believers astray. Television is filled with preachers speaking warm fuzzies to listening ears that are turning people from the truth of God.
In today’s passage, Jude gave his readers a reminder that it is God who will keep them from following the foolish ways of the flesh. We need to be deeply in study of God’s Word to hear what He has to say. We need to be regularly in conversation about the scriptures so that we will recognize His truth above the lies of the false teachers. We need to encourage one another, to keep each other on the right path. It may be difficult; we may think we do not have enough knowledge or that we might be led astray, but we can trust that God will help us hear and discern what is good and right and true. It takes commitment in His Word, but He will walk along side us as we learn and grow in faith, to help us on our journey.
“Now to him who is able to keep them from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory in great joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25, WEB
God is able.
Today’s text follows the passage from yesterday, in which Jude reminded us that God leads us on the right path. He is able to keep us from stumbling and He can present us as faultless. This seems amazing and impossible. I can not, by my own power, be faultless. I fail every day. I make so many mistakes. I challenge you to find even one of my writings that does not have a typographical, spelling or grammatical error! I fail to live up to the expectations of my friends and family. I burn supper and leave dirty dishes in the sink too long. I hate to scrub the floor and my furniture is covered in dust. I hit the gas a little too hard sometimes and I admit that I don’t always use the turn signal properly. I get angry; I doubt. I’m sometimes rude and I don’t always consider the needs or feelings of my neighbors. I am far from faultless.
But God is able. And because He is able, He deserves our praise.
Why is God worthy of praise? Because He is able to bring the obedience of faith through the words offered by those He has called to share the Gospel. He is able to give strength to His people to face extraordinary odds, to do the impossible, to tell stories that are ridiculous and yet true. The purpose of the Gospel is not only the salvation of those lost in the darkness, but to bring the obedience of faith to those who hear the message. God is able to make His hand move in the lives of those who were never expected to hear or understand the Gospel message. God gives us the strength to continue taking that message into the world. This is the obedience of faith, living an active life of praising God by sharing His Gospel, and His heart, with those we least expect will hear.
Today’s passage is a doxology. The word “doxology” means “a glory saying”; it is a hymn of praise. We are familiar with many different doxologies, including the end of the Lord’s Prayer, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.” Though these words are not found in the most accepted manuscripts of the text in which Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, we use it to complete the thought and return our focus to the One who hears our prayers and answers. Another common doxology is one we often sing as a meal prayer, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” One final doxology that we use often, especially in the liturgy, is called the Gloria Patri, “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.”
These glory sayings or hymns of praise can be very simple or more complicated like today’s passage from Paul. We see the simple in the first and last words, “Now to him, the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.” There are many doxologies in the scriptures, both the Old and the New Testament.
The book of Jude was likely written by the brother of Jesus or one of the apostles to a Christian community that had godless men in their fellowship. Jude wrote to remind them of the destruction that came to those in the past who did not believe. He warned about those who followed the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despised authority. As we saw yesterday, Jude warned the Christians about false teachers.
None of us are faultless; even those of a pure heart are reminded of our own sin. Jude doesn’t leave it go at that, however. He calls the Christians to persevere reminding us of the Gospel and encouraging us to build our faith to keep from following the foolish ways of the godless. He then ends the letter with a doxology, a reminder that is God able to keep them from following the foolish ways of the flesh. If Jude had written only of the godlessness, we would be left feeling unworthy to do the Lord’s work, however he reminds us of the true focus of faith.
When we share the Law, we must follow with the Gospel. When we show people their sin, we must remind them of the source of their forgiveness and strength to overcome. When we preach, we should follow with a doxology of praise, so that we can go out with hearts that are living in worship of the fullness of God. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 22, 2018, Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 4:1-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
“Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Yahweh’s house forever.” Psalm 23:6,WEB
“Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” These simple words caused Peter and John a great deal of trouble. We heard them in the story last week. Peter said them to a beggar who was sitting at the gate of the Temple, hoping for charity from those going in and out to worship God. Peter couldn’t give him what he wanted, but he could provide something even better: new life. Peter told the amazed crowds that it was not by his power or ability that the beggar was healed; it was by the power of the One they had crucified and who was raised from the dead. Peter then called for the people in the Temple to repent and turn to God to receive the forgiveness God has offered through Jesus Christ.
Peter and John were arrested. Why? The answer is found in the question asked by the Sanhedrin at the trial: “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” Peter answered, “If we are examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Jesus is the source of their power.
The problem, though, is that they did more than simply heal the cripple. They offered forgiveness of sins, the same blasphemous crime that Jesus committed. Peter was, in his preaching, usurping the authority that the Temple leaders thought belonged to them. The Sanhedrin, especially the high priests, rejected the very premise that gave Jesus the authority to transform the world: His resurrection. That authority was the capstone of everything the disciples were building in Jerusalem: Jesus is the only way to salvation. This proclamation took the power away from the Jewish leaders. This was really the crime for which they had been arrested. The disciples’ teaching threatened their authority with the Jewish people. It was the same reason they destroyed Jesus. It is the same reason the world threatens the faithful today.
It is no wonder that the early disciples might be afraid. They had every reason to be. And yet, with the power of the Holy Spirit, they were willing to do and say what Jesus sent them to do and say. They were willing to take a chance, to speak the truth, to tell Jesus’ story. They were willing to stand up to the world even though it was likely that their bold confidence would make them martyrs. It did for ten of the eleven.
From the beginning of this thing called Christianity we’ve heard what Peter says so clearly in today’s lesson. Jesus said it, too. “I am the way.” Salvation comes only through the blood of Jesus Christ. This does not mean that somehow Christians are better than others. It also does not mean that the Christians you know today are the only ones who will spend eternity with the Father. But there is no doubt, from Jesus’ own words and the witness of those first Christians: those who reject Jesus will not be saved. It is up to us to be bold witnesses to that Good News, to tell the story so that they will hear and believe. We can’t be wishy washy. We can love, honor and respect all our neighbors no matter what they believe. But we are called to tell the story of Jesus to them all so that they will be saved.
This attitude is seen as arrogance, haughtiness, superiority, conceit, or pride by those who do not believe. “You just think you are better than others,” they say. So we concede and encourage our neighbors to follow their own hearts. I agree that there are some wonderful aspects of other religions. Yes, there is grace and mercy, kindness and peace. Yes, there are people in every faith tradition who do good and wonderful things. It is even possible that God is working through those faith traditions in His own way. We are not meant to be arrogant, haughty, superior, conceited, or proud, but called and gifted to be loving, joyful, peaceful, longsuffering, kind, good, faithful, meek, and self-controlled. We are called to a humble life of sharing the story of Jesus Christ with bold confidence so that everyone will be saved.
Peter and John knew that some day they would face inquiry from the Temple leaders. Jesus told them that they would be hated as he had been hated. They knew they would suffer the same persecution; perhaps even drink the cup that Christ drank. Yet, Peter faced the arrest and false trial with confidence. It wasn’t his word or power that gave him hope; it was the knowledge that Jesus Christ was his Shepherd. Perhaps the comforting words of Psalm 23 were on his lips that night he spent in prison. He was walking through a valley and did not know what would happen the next day. But he trusted in the One who did know, and who had prepared that table of goodness on which Peter could feast even in the presence of his enemies. He was content. He knew God’s lovingkindness surrounded him, despite the circumstances he had to face.
Psalm Twenty-Three is one of the most beloved passages of scripture, perhaps even one of the best known. Even if you can’t quote it word for word, I suspect that you are familiar enough with it to give a decent rendering. We love this passage because we find comfort in it, especially in those tough times. It is, of course, used often at the beside of the sick and dying and is very popular at funerals. In it we can experience God’s presence and His care through the good times and bad. So, how do we look at something that is so familiar with new eyes?
Peter was zealous to continue the work Christ began. We don’t really know how much time passed between the first Easter Day and the day that Peter and John were arrested. It was at least seven weeks, because this story happened after Pentecost. The early Christian community, not yet identified by that name, was beginning to grow. As a matter of fact, those who believed after the healing of the crippled man numbered over five thousand men, not to mention the women and children. This was a quickly growing community of faith. The leaders of the Jews were concerned. The disciples might have had reason to be afraid, but that didn’t stop Peter and John from speaking with bold confidence. Their confidence didn’t rest in their ability, but in God’s promises.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. John writes about a shepherd as he might be in the field with a flock of sheep. It doesn’t matter about the dangers he might face, he will not abandon his flock. Unlike the hired hands, he will stay with them despite the angry wolves. Jesus embraces every hurt and frightened animal. He provides all we need so that we might have life and have it abundantly. In this story, Jesus told the disciples that whatever happens to Him (and they would soon learn about His horrible end on the cross), He will not be destroyed. He promised to lay down His life for His sheep. Whatever happens, Jesus told them, He has the power. So, even today we listen to His voice and follow Him because He knows us and we know Him. It is in His care we will find peace and love.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Indeed, Jesus laid down His life for us. He stood between the world and His sheep and suffered the pain and humiliation of the cross for our sake. This was not the end, it was the beginning of something even greater. In this passage Jesus is very clear. His death did not come at the hands of men. He laid down His life for the sake of His people. He laid it down and He had the power to take it up again. Death and life in Christ Jesus was in His control. He is the Shepherd, and the Shepherd loves His sheep so much that He stands in the gap between death and life for us.
One of my favorite books is “A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller. He says, “So when the simple – though sublime – statement is made by a man or woman that ‘The Lord is my Shepherd,’ it immediately implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and his maker.” In his book, Keller looks deeply at the beloved Psalm and explains it from practical standpoint as one who was a shepherd.
Phillip Keller learned what it was like to be a shepherd. He grew up in East Africa where his neighbors were simple herders who lived much like those in Jesus’ day. As a young man he earned a living as a shepherd. These experiences gave him a much deeper understanding of the imagery used in the Bible that describes God as a shepherd. In his book, he explains the different aspects of caring for the sheep through the cold of winter and the heat of summer. He tells about how to care for the fields so that the sheep do harm themselves or get lost because they have gone looking for greener pastures. He shares the struggles of moving the sheep to the hills for the summer months, the lack of water, the bugs that bother the sheep until they rub themselves to death. He describes the use of the rod and staff, showing how they keep the sheep safe and comfortable.
Phillip Keller was able to look at these words of David and embrace them because he too had lived the life of a shepherd. Though we have not experienced that type of life, we can know that Jesus will be true to His Word and that He will keep us through the cold of winter and the heat of summer. He will care for the fields so that we will not harm ourselves or get lost because we have gone looking for greener pastures. He will be with us as He guides our paths into places where we will find everything we need to sustain our lives. He will protect us from the things that seek to bring us harm. He will keep us safe with His rod and staff. In Him we will find comfort, peace, joy and life. Jesus is our shepherd, we shall not want for anything. He will be with us as we suffer the consequences of boldly proclaiming His Good News to the world.
The life of a sheep is not really that terrible, particularly under the care of the Good Shepherd. It would be nice to have someone who will find me a bed of lush meadows in which to sleep or a quiet pool of water from which to drink. How pleasant it would be to have someone who will give me a chance to catch my breath and send me the way I should go. How comforting it is to have someone to walk by our sides as we go through the dark valleys of our life. As sheep we would have the security of the shepherd’s crook. He would feed us and revive us with anointing oils. Our cup would be overflowing with blessings. (Translation loosely based on “The Message” by Eugene Peterson.)
Though we are sheep, God calls us to be more than sheep. He cares for us so that we will care for others. It is a working partnership between God and His people. “The Lord is my Shepherd” is a statement that implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and his Maker. It means that like Peter, we are called to love others even unto death. Loving others means giving them what they need most, not what they want. It means speaking the name of Jesus into their life, so that they will experience the healing, the peace and the joy of the Shepherd.
We are called to be shepherds for those who are still lost in the darkness of sin and death. It is a tough road. We will face dangers. We’ll face persecution from those who deny Jesus and His message. We’ll face the contempt of those who refuse to see that they are sinners in need of a Savior. We will be rejected by those who do not want our help. We’ll fail and the world will laugh in our faces. But even as we walk in those valleys of confusion and doubt, our God will be with us. He will lead us through and along the way His transforming grace will flow out into the world. He will do the work we cannot do.
Dan Nelson writes, “How nice it would be just to be sheep. Then Jesus could take care of us and we would not have to do anything.” We aren’t sheep. As Dan says, “That is not the plan.” Jesus is our shepherd, but that doesn’t mean that He will do everything for us. Instead, we are called to be shepherds right alongside our Lord and Master, helping others to live and learn and love.
Those moments when we do offer a word of hope for our neighbors may seem very insignificant. After all, Peter and John did little more than say, “Get up in the name of Jesus” and a man was healed. If it hadn’t been for the crowds in the Temple at the time, we might not have even heard that story. They saw a man they knew had been begging by the Temple gate. What did they think when he began jumping for joy? Perhaps they thought that he had been faking. How can a man unable to walk one minute dance the next? The man wasn’t even a very good beggar. He didn’t care. Peter and John had to say, “Look at us” before the man even realized they were there. He was in despair and felt that nothing he did would make a difference. So, once in awhile, as pilgrims passed by, he called out to them for money. He knew that most would ignore his pleas, but he cried out anyway because it was the only thing he could do.
I suppose that’s how we get to the point of thinking that we’d rather be sheep. It was not a very good life the beggar was leading, but it was much easier to be dropped on the doorstep of the Temple for the day than to deal with the realities of his life. Bad circumstances make us think that we aren’t capable of making the right decisions, so we want someone else to do it for us. If we were sheep, we’d never have to worry. If we are hungry we can blame someone else. When we are sheep, we just look to others to provide all we need. But we aren’t sheep. As a matter of fact, God calls us to be shepherds.
Peter, like the rest of us, would probably have preferred just going to the temple that day to share in the fellowship, worship and sacrifice being offered there. He was on his way to be a sheep - to be fed - as many of us do each Sunday. On his way, however, he met a sheep in greater need. Offering Christ to that man forced Peter to sacrifice his time, his freedom and even possibly his life. It might not be so convenient for us to offer Christ to our neighbor. It might cause friction and even threaten our relationships with our neighbors. It might be a sacrifice of our time. We may even have to give up something that means a great deal to us.
We don’t want to do it. We don’t want to take the risk. We don’t want to step out of our comfort zone. We want to be sheep: fed, watered and led. Yet, the love of God calls us to be more. The Good Shepherd first loved us so that we will love. In this we will truly know God, know that we abide in Him and know that Jesus Christ is indeed the name above all others names. For through His name we will see the power of God healing the sick and making whole those who are broken. And there we shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
“He departed there, and went into their synagogue. And behold there was a man with a withered hand. They asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?’ that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘What man is there among you, who has one sheep, and if this one falls into a pit on the Sabbath day, won’t he grab on to it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.’ Then he told the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out; and it was restored whole, just like the other.” Matthew 12:9-13, WEB
I was sharing my wildflower photos with someone a few weeks ago. Some of the wildflowers are easily recognizable, especially to Texans. We know bluebonnets and paintbrush. We are very familiar with firewheels and poppies. There are a few that are less known, though they are easily found in many of the fields during the spring. When I showed a picture of Texas verbain, the person asked, “Is that a weed?” Though he, too, was a photographer, it was not a flower with which he was familiar. I jokingly answered, “Aren’t they all?”
Someone once said, “A weed is just a flower growing in the wrong place.” It is funny to think of these beautiful flowers in this way, but I can imagine that some folk would not want them growing in their beautifully manicured lawns. It is ok when they are growing in a meadow somewhere, but the plant is removed or destroyed at the first sign of a broad leaf even before the flower can bloom. Even the greenbelts in our city are considered eyesores to some because they seem to be it overrun with weeds. I have noticed some places that used to be colorful with wildflowers that have been mown long before the flowers have bloomed. It won’t be long before the landscapers cut down the dying flowers that were allowed to bloom.
All too often we look at people in the same way. There are those in this world who for one reason or another seem to have no value in our society. In Jesus’ generation, women and children were regarded as weeds. They had no voice and were disposable if that was the will of the man. In other generations the weeds were those with health or mental problems, the elderly, people of a certain race or the homeless. Though most of us do not appear to hold such uncompassionate biases against groups of people, I think we’ve all had a moment when we have looked at one individual and thought, “What good is he?” They aren’t worth our time, they aren’t worth our trouble. It may be a simple as refusing to offer a word of forgiveness because they aren’t penitent about what they have done wrong. Yet, by not sharing that word, by not offering to bring healing and grace into someone’s life, we deem them unworthy of God’s love and call them a weed. Thank God Jesus never felt that way.
While this passage definitely touches on one of the major problems in the time of Jesus: they were more concerned for ritual and rules than people. It also shows how much regard Jesus had for the people who needed His love and mercy. That man had been ill for some time and had not even asked for help. Jesus could have very easily waited until the next day to heal the man, but He saw no reason to let him suffer even another moment. For the Jews, the man’s illness was most likely considered a right punishment from God. They probably thought he’d done something wrong to deserve the disability. They saw him as a weed, unworthy of anything but negative attention.
Yet, Jesus saw that man as a beloved child of God who needed God’s healing touch. We may not be able to display the same incredible power as Jesus did, restoring people’s bodies that were wracked with disease. However, we have an even greater power: the power of God to bring healing and peace to the lives of those lost in this world. By the grace of God we have the Gospel message of forgiveness to proclaim which brings light into the darkness and life to those who are dead. We might prefer to ignore some folk, thinking them nothing but weeds. Yet, God sees them as a beautiful flower, one that is worthy of our love and compassion. He saw the same in us.
“Therefore we ought to pay greater attention to the things that were heard, lest perhaps we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense; how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation - which at the first having been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard; God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders, by various works of power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will?” Hebrews 2:1-4, WEB
Every culture has their own collection of myths, legends and fables. Though they have different characters the stories are often similar. We can find aspects of those stories throughout the scriptures and we are reminded how much we are alike even though we are very different. The stories use details that that the people in that culture know and understand. For example, the Native American Indians have their own version of a Cinderella story, one that is not only a story of patience but also of honesty.
The story tells of a great warrior who lived on the Atlantic Ocean whose greatest gift was his ability to become invisible. His name was Strong Wind and all the maidens sought after him, but he refused to marry any who were dishonest. Along with his sister, Strong Wind tested each maiden that came to marry him. The sister took the maidens to the shore when Strong Wind was due to come home in the evening. As he approached, his sister asked the maiden if she saw him. They all said yes, but when asked to describe something about his appearance, they could only guess. They were always wrong and he knew they were lying.
At this time there lived a chief with three daughters. Their mother had died long ago and the two older sisters were jealous of the youngest. They treated her cruelly, burning her face and putting her into rags for clothes. They told their father she did it to herself. She did not complain, but patiently did her work with a gentle heart. The two older sisters sought Strong Wind but were found to be lying. The chief’s youngest daughter determined to find Strong Wind for herself. She tried to fix her ragged clothes and her face and then set off for the shore. She was ridiculed by her sisters and the others along the way, but Strong Wind’s sister had mercy and took her to seek her brother. When it was time for Strong Wind to come home, his sister asked, “Do you see him?” The girl said, “No.” Once again the sister asked if the girl could see her brother and this time she said, “Yes.” When Strong Wind’s sister asked her to describe him, she said, “His sled is drawn by a rainbow and his bow is the Milky Way.” Since she had been honest with the first answer, he made himself visible to her. They took the girl home, healed her wounds and cleaned her face and body. She was clothed in fine clothes and many rich ornaments. The fate of the two sisters was not so great. Since they had lied and had treated their sister with such cruelty, Strong Wind turned them into Aspen trees. Whenever he came to them, their leaves trembled and they knew of his anger.
We are just like the maidens who could not see Strong Wind. We can’t see God, but we try to think we can get there on our own. We do good works, we say the right things, and we go to the right places. We claim our self-righteousness is enough to be the one who can see God. For the Jews, righteousness by obedience to the Law of Moses was the way to see God. Those who did not keep His commandments were not worthy of His grace. Unfortunately, there are none who are worthy, because we are unable to keep His law.
For this reason, Jesus came to bridge the divide between God and His people. Through Christ we can see God, be healed, cleansed and robed with the finest garment He has to give: His righteousness. We need to recognize our inability to see Him and honestly say that we have eyes that are blinded to the truth. With that confession, repentance, our eyes are open and we can see Him as He is. If we continue in our old ways, claiming a righteousness that is not in Christ but through the Law, we will never know the salvation Christ gives through His Gospel. The young sister humbled herself before Strong Wind and he gave her the world. God is gracious and when we do the same before God, we discover His promise of eternal life is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and we are guaranteed a place in His kingdom forever.
“God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27, WEB
I read somewhere that someone is trying to require music in all schools. This is exactly the opposite of recent trend of removing the non-academic courses from schools. I personally would disagree with making music mandatory, but I would certainly suggest that every child of every age should be exposed to the arts. I’m not musically inclined. I know there’s value in music, but there’s also value in all sorts of creative expression. My kids took a course of study in High School that required classes in the fine arts, but they were able to choose what kind of art they wanted to pursue. Their education was enhanced by the addition of the arts in their lives.
The trend to remove the arts from public schools comes from those who think that academic courses are more important. Also, unfortunately money is a catalyst. The school districts are trying to cut back funding and the first place they look is in the arts. A child must learn to read and to add 2 + 2, but what good is drawing? Or singing? Or acting? What purpose do the arts serve the world?
Experts will tell you that there are health reasons for pursuing the arts. They also claim that it helps with brain development. The arts are important for communication and imagination. Inventors don’t come up with the things we need without growing up in creative environments. The arts make us think. They confront our biases. They make us stop and consider the value of people, places and things we might not understand. They force us out of our tiny boxes and take us to places we do not expect. Sometimes the arts even lead to incredible accomplishments that seem completely unrelated to the work.
Take, for instance, Alexander Fleming. You might be familiar with his name as the discoverer of Penicillin. The historians will tell you that he discovered it by accident, that something in one of his discarded dishes grew a fungus that he didn’t recognize. After studying it, he realized that he’d grown something that could kill bacteria. It took a cooperative work with other scientists, but Penicillin was eventually developed for use in healing. We all can agree that it was one of the greatest scientific discoveries in human history, the saving a many lives.
The real story, however, is that Fleming was an artist as well as a scientist. He was a member of the Chelsea Arts Club and was working in the medium of microbes. He made living art. He pursued new and unknown organisms in his research, constantly searching for new colors he would use in his artwork. The pieces are temporary because the organisms continue to grow and eventually the lines are blurred. His work was not masterful, but it is fascinating. Modern microbial art has become more elaborate. Some artists use photographic negatives; they put organisms on prepared film, let them grow and then develop the negative and print the picture. There are many other techniques. Some of the “paintings” are incredible. In the process, these artist scientists are also making other discoveries about the invisible world that can make a difference to human beings.
Today’s verse from Genesis makes us ask the question, “What does it mean to be created in the image of God?” There are many different ways we can understand this scripture. Some suggest is has to do with image, but how can each of us look like God? We actually, in our art, make God look like us. Others talk about reason. We are thinking beings, able to make decisions whether they are good or bad. I prefer to think of God’s image in terms of creativity. We were created by our Creator to join in the work of creation.
I can understand that there are important things that students must learn in school. Our children do need reading, writing and arithmetic. Too many schools are dealing with financial issues and struggle with teaching the students the skills necessary for living in this world. We cannot forget, however, that there is value to the arts. God the Creator created creative beings. There are a million different ways we can be creative in this world, but let us start with giving our children the opportunity to learn how to express themselves creatively. Who knows? They might just be the next Alexander Fleming, making a groundbreaking discovery that will change the world.
If you are interested in seeing some microbial art, check out this website. Microbial Art
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” Exodus 20:17, WEB
There is a commercial on television for one of the cable companies. The commercial shows a salesman at the door of a customer trying to “sell” their service. The terms are horrible, and with every “offer” they get worse. The salesman promises lack of access, high prices, unexpected fees and other reasons not to get that company. The commercial, of course, is for another company and insists that listeners should not go for the horrible promises of that other one, but to choose them.
I have to admit that I am a customer of the advertiser, but I’m not sure that they are much better at providing good, affordable service. We all complain about our cable service. Oh, we might have some good things to say. I am still with the company despite my complaints because I have not found anything that is better. I tend to be loyal, changing only if and when I am certain that the move will make a long lasting and positive difference.
Unfortunately, these companies, all of them, work to get their rival’s customers and they don’t work very hard to keep their own. The deals available to new customers are fantastic, but they all come with the promise that the prices will rise dramatically after a year or so. My own bill has gotten so high that I’ve seriously considered not having cable at all. They will tell you, “Call back when your deal ends and we’ll find you another deal,” but whenever I call after my latest price hike, they tell me there are no deals to be had. It is cheaper to jump from company to company, always getting the best deal for a year or two, then going back to the other for their latest. The companies would rather steal customers than find new ones.
The whole point of the free market is to build the biggest customer base possible, and it makes sense that companies will do everything they can to pull customers from their competitors. Unfortunately, the same can be said about the Church. Conversations between Christians all too often include reasons why one should change churches. “My church is better than yours” is the mantra, though perhaps not quite so blatant. Of course I believe my church is the best, that’s why I choose to be a part of it, but is it really evangelism if I’m stealing sheep from another church?
I attend church in a town that has a large, vibrant Christian church. The same is probably true of most of my readers. Talk of church growth always leads to a conversation about that church. What are they doing? Can we do what they are doing? Can we do something to draw some of those members to our pews? Instead of talking about ways to take the Gospel to those who are lost in the darkness of this world, we focus on how to build our numbers. We seek the church hoppers rather than the unsaved. Church is not so much about sharing the Kingdom of God, but about being the best, biggest, most vibrant community of faith, a consumer mentality.
I must confess that I’ve done some church hopping in the past. I understand that there are reasons why people might want to move from one church to another. There may even be reasons to convince other Christians that their Christian community is unhealthy. However, our task as the Church is not to steal sheep; we are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was reminded recently that the attitude of those who want draw Christians from one church to another is disobedient to the Tenth Commandment. We think of that commandment in terms of personal covetousness, but we don’t live as an island.
We are part of a community, both in terms of business and faith. Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism, “We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.” Commercials on television are meant to build the customer base, to make the company succeed, but are they selling their business or are they simply enticing or forcing those people to abandon one company for another? In terms of communities of faith, are we in our evangelism programs taking the message of Christ to the world? Or are we sinning against God, His Church, and our fellow Christians by coveting their members and doing everything we can to steal their sheep into our own fold?
Scriptures for Sunday, April 29, 2018, Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 150; 1 John 4:1-11 [12-21]; John 15:1-8
“If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7, WEB
Someone suggested that I read the book “Sarem” by Edward Rutherford when we were getting ready to move to England. It is a story about the building of the cathedral in Salisbury. It is fiction, but the history is basically true as I learned through the people we met and places we visited during our time in country. I loved imagining the people who helped to build the beautiful cathedrals and strong fortresses that we saw on our adventures. I found myself thinking about their struggles and joys, their faith and their hope.
We visited Salisbury Cathedral several times during our four year tour. Unfortunately, the cathedral was being renovated and there was always scaffolding somewhere inside and outside. I was disappointed because I could never get the perfect picture, but I realized that the building was more than seven hundred years old and it would take continuous maintenance for it to last another seven hundred.
There are those who say that we spend entirely too much time and money on the buildings where we worship God. After all, God does not live within those walls; we can worship Him everywhere. This is true, but God does not discourage us from making our worship space beautiful. Have you ever read the descriptions of the Tabernacle and the Temples? God gifted and called the artisans who created those spaces. The curtains were finely woven fabrics. The poles were covered with fine medals. The amount of gold used was extraordinary. Even the candlesticks were intricately designed. The materials were collected from around the world. The design had a purpose, the symbolism meant something.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said “I am the true vine.” He was standing in the shadow of the Temple which was decorated with a large gold decoration of a grapevine. The symbolism is obvious, as the scriptures often describe Israel in terms of vineyards and grapes. The golden vine was so large that some of the grapes were as large as a human head. It was created from donations from God’s people. The gold was even engraved with donors’ names, much like we put names on bricks for sidewalks or park benches. It was beautiful, but it also had a purpose: the grapevine represented the relationship between God and His people, but the people were often too focused on the symbol that they lost touch with the relationship.
Jesus reminded the people that He is the true vine; He is the One through whom faith and fruit comes. “Look to me, abide in me, and bear fruit.” Unfortunately, we often spend so much time looking outward, away from God, focusing on our fruit that we lose touch with Jesus. We can’t bear fruit without Jesus; we can’t bear fruit without faith. It is not wrong to spend time and resources on the buildings where we worship, but it is possible to make those things our gods. It is possible to put so much attention in the symbols that we ignore the true.
It is even possible to give so much attention to our ministry that we forget the one who has called us to it.
The story of Philip shows us how to respond to God’s call, no matter what it means to our ministry. He was a successful evangelist; he was one of the deacons chosen in Acts 6. We hear more in Acts 8, “Therefore those who were scattered abroad went around preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. The multitudes listened with one accord to the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many of those who had them. They came out, crying with a loud voice. Many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. There was great joy in that city.”
Philip wasn’t one of the twelve, but that didn’t stop him from doing the work of the kingdom. He was gifted and sent; it appears that he was succeeding. The people were experiencing the joy of the Lord, watching Philip do incredible things. He was healing and casting out demons and they believed what Philip had to say because of the work he was doing.
This is terrific. I’m sure most pastors and evangelists out there would give their lives for a congregation willing to listen to everything they have to say. They would be very happy to have such a success in ministry. But at the height of his ministry, an angel whispered in Philip’s ear: “Go now.” “Now?” we would ask. “But I’m just beginning here. There is too much work left to do. There are too many people left to save!” We might even reject the voice, claiming that it is the devil trying to confuse us and make us lose our place in God’s work.
That’s not the way Philip responded to this call; Philip “arose and went.” He was so confident in the word of God that he willingly left a successful ministry to go into the unknown. It was not only an uncertain command, but it was dangerous. The road from Jerusalem to Gaza was infested with killers and thieves. It was not a place where one would wander alone. The Ethiopian eunuch was certainly not alone. He was probably accompanied by a large entourage, including soldiers, servants and guests. He was representing the queen of Ethiopia, so he had the resources of a kingdom at his disposal.
As Philip was walking down this road, he heard the voice again, “Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.” Again, we think, “Are you kidding me? Those soldiers don’t look like they would welcome my presence so near to the official.” I surely would not run toward the group but Philip did. He noticed that the eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. This was not a chance encounter: God ordained this moment so that Philip could share the Gospel with another corner of the world. While we might have had doubts that the voice was really from God, but it was obvious that Philip had work to do. That Ethiopian community needed to hear the Gospel message, too.
Philip asked, “Do you know what it means?” The Ethiopian admitted that it didn’t make sense, so Philip joined him in the chariot and told him the story of Jesus. The eunuch was so transformed that he asked to be baptized. They stopped the caravan by a puddle at the side of the road and Philip welcomed him into the kingdom of God. Philip immediately disappeared as the Holy Spirit whisked him off to another mission and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing.
From this story we learn several things. First of all, we learn that we might be called out of a successful mission into the unknown to do something that seems dangerous and ridiculous. We also learn that what seems like an insignificant moment or ministry (to one person) might have an incredibly large impact on the world (as is now seen in the faithful Christian community in Ethiopia.) Finally, we learn that we should be ready for anything. Could you explain Isaiah 53 to a stranger in a chariot if God called you into that mission? God is with us when He takes us into the world to preach the Gospel, but we should actively study the scriptures so that we will be confidently ready with an answer whenever we are called to give one. Philip was connected to the true vine. He knew when he heard the whisper that it was God calling him to the work. Are we so certain?
I don’t have a green thumb. As a matter of fact, I can barely keep a plant alive. Anything I buy usually looks pretty for a few days or weeks, but it doesn’t take very long before they are dead in the dirt. So, I’m no expert. I know that there are people who do wonderful things with plants, not only professionals but also people who create magnificent gardens. They know what to do to make the plants grow up healthy and strong. Some plants need a lot of water, some need special plant food. Some need a lot of light; others need a nice cool shady spot. Special care needs to be taken on plants that are vulnerable to pests. A good gardener knows just what to do to deal with all those problems. The best I can do is to enjoy their gardens and shake my head in awe over the incredible things they can do with plants.
There is a process in gardening called grafting that is absolutely fascinating. The gardener connects one type of branch with another type of root, making the whole plant healthier and stronger. In one type of grafting, the gardener takes the roots of a plant that does well in certain soil conditions and splices to it a plant that generally does not do well in that environment. For example, a gardener might take the roots of a drought resistant plant and add the stem of one that needs more moisture. The roots of the plant will become strong and healthy despite the lack of water, while the branches will grow to be beautiful. Other grafting can be done to combine varieties of fruit on one tree. Grafting can provide pollinizers within one tree, such as grafting a male and a female holly bush together. It can used to repair damage, create a dwarf plant or to make it easier to propagate.
The people in Jesus’ day were not agricultural experts, but they were familiar with the language of gardening. Grafting has been around for millennia; the Chinese did it thousands of years ago. The Romans used the technique and it was commonplace for the Greeks. They would have heard the words in John’s gospel and would have understood the idea of grafting. We are grafted into Jesus, He is the root. We are the branches. With Him as the root, we are stronger and more resistant to the dangers of this world. We grow beautiful because of what Jesus gives to us. We are joined together into one plant. Even though we are different and we produce different fruit, the fruit is good because it comes from the good vine. Bonded together in this way, we also encourage one another to healthy growth. As part of the new plant we find healing and strength.
I came up with that information about grafting by googling the term on the Internet. It is amazing what you can learn with just a few key strokes and the click of a button. The Internet has also made this a very small world. We can keep in touch with people regularly, through email or through networking sites like Facebook. We are able to see what’s happening all over the world instantaneously.
Unfortunately, the amount of information on the Internet also means that we have to be careful what we believe. I spend a lot of time in Bible study. I’m constantly researching for my art, writing and teaching. I don’t just read the Bible, although it is my first source. I also look into commentaries and other writings for ideas and information. I spend too much time surfing the Internet, searching for definitions, histories and photos so that I can understand what is happening in the text. I have to discern whether every article is true and of value before I use the information in my work. It is necessary to remain in Christ so that I don’t follow a false path or teacher.
We have an advantage over Philip because we have two thousand years of the history of the church behind us. We have the writings of the Apostles, the Gospel stories and the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John. We have the writings of the early Church fathers who knew the Apostles or were only a generation or two away from them. Their writing has been tested for millennia, and their understanding has developed into the basic beliefs of the church today. The most important points were written into the historic creeds and the faithful have built on that foundation of the Christian Church.
We have to be careful when we are relying on other people’s thoughts and interpretations. John reminds us that we should not believe every spirit. There are many false prophets and have been from the beginning of time. The fact that we have “lost Gospels,” which were writings from the early days of the Church that tell us a different story, testifies to that fact. People still read and believe those writings because they hear words that tickle their ears and satisfy their desires. There were competing understandings of Jesus even in those early days, but those writings were rejected by the Church for many reasons. There are still many false teachers selling a Gospel that does not fit the Biblical witness of faith.
We have to be careful about listening to the wrong spirits, but we also have to be wary of our own understanding. We can be easily swayed by our own life experiences. We are selfish and self-centered. We are sinners. We interpret God’s Word to benefit our own desires. We often twist the scriptures to justify our biases and points of view. We can be swayed by every thought, inward and outward, and if we are not abiding in God, those thoughts can come from the spirit of the antichrist.
Jesus is the true vine and we have no need to fear living and working in this world because God will be with us through the good and the bad when we abide in Him. Even when we experience difficult times, we can be at peace knowing that in the end God will use it all for His glory. He calls and sends us out into the world, sometimes He sends us outside our comfort zone into unknown experiences. He will not throw us on the heap to wither and be burned when we keep our focus on Him. He will produce the kind of fruit that makes a difference in the world. Who knows, we might just be the one to explain the scriptures to a stranger on the road, sending them off with joy in their heart.
The word translated “remain” in the verse from John’s Gospel is the Greek word “meinete” and it can also mean “to stay,” “to be permanent,” or “to abide.” “To abide” means “to remain stable or in a fixed state.” Do we abide in Christ, or are we just living? Perhaps the difference between living and abiding is insignificant, but I wonder how our life of Christ would change if we made a conscience effort to abide in Him rather than just live. In this world change is not only acceptable, it is inevitable. I’ve known too many people who got married with the understanding that if it doesn’t work out they can just get a divorce. People don’t stay in a single job for forty years anymore; they get jobs on their way to the next job which will lead to the next job. Thirty years ago the cars were made so well that we could keep it, and drive it for decades. There are those who say that even the scriptures have changed over time, that God has changed. We live, but do we abide in anything anymore?
Even our church lives can be transient and changing. Few of us belong to the church where we were baptized. We often leave because we’ve moved too far away, but we also leave because we have been hurt or we don’t agree with policies or practices. Many people jump from one type of church to another, hoping to find the perfect one. Few people are committed to a particular set of doctrinal teachings, choosing a church for programs rather than theology. Some even mix religious ideas, picking and choosing what they like about different religions, creating an eclectic faith that isn’t recognizable in any religious institution. Are we abiding in Christ if we are blown by every wind of belief?
It isn’t easy being a Christian. It isn’t easy abiding in God. The demands He makes on our lives can be difficult. We might, like Philip, be called from a successful ministry into the unknown. We might have to walk a dangerous path. We might have to do crazy things. The key is to remain in the vine.
Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” He calls us to abide in Him. This doesn’t mean checking in once in awhile with a quick prayer or a rushed worship service. It means living in Him, being with Him all the time, taking Him with us when we go out into the world. It means committing our lives to constantly learning and growing in faith and knowledge of His grace. It means knowing that we will be safe in God’s care no matter where we are or what we face. And when we do this, when we dwell in Him always, we will bear good fruit because He will shine in and through us into the world. Let us always remember that our home is with God wherever we might be, and we dwell in Him through faith and love.
“He who corrects a mocker invites insult. He who reproves a wicked man invites abuse. Don’t reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you. Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Instruct a wise man, and he will be still wiser. Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. The knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be multiplied. The years of your life will be increased. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself. If you mock, you alone will bear it.” Proverbs 9:7-12, WEB
Overseas assignments are great opportunities, but they can be difficult, too. Despite the many similarities, life in a foreign country has differences, even a western nation like England. We had to learn about currency exchange. We had to expect a higher cost of living and we often settled for products because we could not find the brand that we really wanted. There are costs you don’t expect, like the per minute phone charges even for local calls that we had to pay when we lived there. There was even a tax we had to pay because we owned and used a television in our home. The English may speak English, but we quickly learned that it is a whole different language than the English we know. We had to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road.
The transition can be difficult for many, especially the younger families. We were three thousand miles from our families, from the way of life to which we had become accustomed. It was financially impossible to call home every time we became homesick. The tasks at an overseas base are often more demanding; Bruce traveled on temporary duty often, leaving me home alone with the children. It is a struggle, but the military knows and understands so they do everything they can to help.
Along with orientations and other programs, we were given a sponsoring family. They wrote to us before we arrived and gave us a few tips for our move. They met us when we landed on station and gave us some tips about living in the country. They became our friends so that we wouldn’t feel quite so homesick. We received several very good pieces of advice. The first is that the best way to see the country is to get lost. I took that advice to heart because I was often lost! But I really did see some wonderful things as I found my way again.
Another piece of advice helped me deal with driving an American car in a foreign country. We shipped our car, a left hand drive, which meant driving was weird. Instead of being in the center of the road, the driver was near the curb. We had to completely reorient our brains to stay in the proper lane. Then, whenever we visited home, we had to go back to the normal way. It isn’t as easy as you might think. My sponsor gave me this little ditty to remember, “In England, the curb is my friend. In America, the line is my friend.” I remember saying it to myself often both in England and in America.
The advice from our friends doesn’t seem particularly wise, but they certainly helped me during my time in England. Wisdom doesn’t have to be some grand proverb or some important insight. It can be simple advice for living life well in whatever circumstances we are living. The thing for us to remember is that we should listen to those who offer us advice because they might just be offering us a bit of wisdom that will make our life better. Not all advice is good, of course, but it doesn’t hurt us to listen. The wise person will hear and will apply that which lines up with the Word of God. We begin all wisdom with Him. The advice about orienting myself to the curb or the line actually guarded my life when I was behind the wheel of my car. Let us listen to the wisdom shared by our friends in Christ because we might just find it to be lifesaving.
“All the congregation of the children of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. They came, everyone whose heart stirred him up, and everyone whom his spirit made willing, and brought Yahweh’s offering, for the work of the Tent of Meeting, and for all of its service, and for the holy garments. They came, both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought brooches, earrings, signet rings, and armlets, all jewels of gold; even every man who offered an offering of gold to Yahweh. Everyone, with whom was found blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen, goats’ hair, rams’ skins dyed red, and sea cow hides, brought them. Everyone who offered an offering of silver and brass brought Yahweh’s offering; and everyone, with whom was found acacia wood for any work of the service, brought it. All the women who were wise-hearted spun with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, the blue, the purple, the scarlet, and the fine linen. All the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats’ hair. The rulers brought the onyx stones, and the stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastplate; and the spice, and the oil for the light, for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense. The children of Israel brought a freewill offering to Yahweh; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which Yahweh had commanded to be made by Moses.” Exodus 35:20-29, WEB
I spent the weekend at my favorite camp attending a craft retreat. The camp provides opportunities to learn new crafts and plenty of space for the crafters to do their own work. We had women who were working on quilts, jewelry and scrapbooking. One woman was making adult bibs for a nursing home. Another was working on a memory book of her mother-in-law who died a year ago. The classes offered included crochet, mystery braiding, Viking weaving, tie dye and photo transfer. We also had the freedom to do nothing at all. The weather was perfect, the camp is a special place, and the food is terrific. It is a great time to just get away from the stress of the world and to de-stress by doing the things we love.
We also had opportunities to worship together and hear God’s word for our lives. The above scripture was part of a text we heard together at the first devotional time. The reader asked us to listen for words in the text that stood out to us. For me, that word was “willing” which was repeated several times throughout Exodus 35. God did not compel His people to provide everything needed for the building of the Tabernacle, He called those with a willing heart to give the materials and do the work. It was truly a free will offering and the Tabernacle was created with the gifts of the people who were moved by God’s Spirit to make it happen.
Sadly, we often think it is necessary to require work and gifts of the Church to make it happen. We manipulate and cajole; we pile on guilt and expectations. We do all this and end up with people who are giving, not with willing hearts but with bitterness and resentment. This leads to anger and even chases people away. We don’t use language like “Are you willing?” but rather “We need you so you should!” God filled the hearts of those whom He called and there was plenty of materials and talent to create the Tabernacle. Are we willing to trust that God will truly provide? Or do we use human tactics to coerce to give according to our expectations?
Of course, it is also up to us to respond to the calling of God. Has He placed on your heart a call to give or do something for the sake of His Kingdom? Perhaps you don’t have gold or jewels to donate or aren’t a crafter or a craftsman able to provide the skills for building a place of worship, but He might be calling you to something completely different. He has given you gifts; those gifts might be in the arts, but they could be in the spiritual or secular realm. Are you really good with numbers? Someone needs to organize the materials. Leadership? Someone needs to organize the craftsmen. Are you gifted with prayer or discernment? Those are also needed. The key is not to feel guilted into the work, but to hear God’s voice and to respond with willing hearts.
God will always make sure there is enough even if we fail to respond, but He is so pleased when respond with trust and confidence because He wants us to be blessed by the work. He puts the desire to give and to do into our hearts because He knows we will benefit in ways we cannot imagine. It might be a struggle to give away things we love; it might include hard, back-breaking work. Yet, in the end we will know the joy of a job well done and see God glorified in what we do.