Welcome to the August 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, August 2018
Scriptures for Sunday, August 5, 2018, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35
“Yahweh is near to all those who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18, WEB
It was raining somewhere other than Texas a few weeks ago and I commented on a friend’s post about it, “Send some to Texas!” He lived in Texas a few years ago and responded that he wouldn’t because Texans just grumble about the rain. We tend to get a lot of rain in a short time after months or years of no rain, so he’s probably right that we complain. Yet, we need it so desperately during these times of drought that we ask for it knowing that all that water will quickly get old. Who among us hasn’t complained about the weather in one way or another? We hate the cold, but we beg for it in the middle of summer. We hate the heat, but we beg for it in the middle of winter.
We aren’t content. We grumble about the rain because it doesn’t take very much before the dry creek beds overflow. Roads are closed. Cars are swept away. Rain brings mold and mosquitoes. We need it, but it would be ideal if we could just get an inch or so every week rather than ten inches in a few days every few years. The rain is always a blessing, but we stop seeing it as a blessing when it becomes a problem.
The Hebrews were oppressed by the Egyptians, held captive as slaves. Slavery was never a pleasant life. Slaves died at the hands of their masters. They suffered horrific accidents. Who knows how many slaves died under the rolling stones that built the cities of the ancient world? The mortar of too many buildings was mixed with the blood of people unable to stand against greater powers. It appears, however, that those Hebrew slaves at least had food, shelter and the certainty of tomorrow.
Moses took them away from the burden of slavery, but they went into a wilderness that was frightening and uncertain. There was nowhere to get food or water. There were no buildings to shelter the people. They didn’t know where they were going or what would be at the end of the journey. They didn’t even know how long it would take to get there. They were tired and hungry. They were losing hope. As a matter of fact, they had more hope that they’d be saved when they were living as slaves under the whips of the Egyptians than they did as they wandered free in the wilderness. They trusted God to save them, but didn’t trust that He would provide for them on the journey. They didn’t know how they would survive. They grumbled to Moses, begging to return to the life of certainty with suffering in Egypt rather than continuing a journey of uncertainty.
God did provide. He sent manna from heaven in the morning and quails in the evening. The people were required to follow very specific instructions. They were given the opportunity to learn how to trust in God’s provision. Those who did not trust God’s Word, who tried to hoard the manna, found only disappointment. Imagine what it must have been like for these people. They had to rely on an unseen God and accept an unidentifiable thing as food to fill their grumbling bellies. Even still, was worth returning to a country where the oppressor waited to make life even more difficult for them?
Have you ever stood in a moment like this: when God has given you an opportunity that seems scary but might just be the way of freedom? We look at the answers to our prayers and wonder what God was thinking. We try to control our circumstances and grumble about things even if they are blessings. Getting our way will not always take us to a better place, no matter what we think. God guides us through the journeys that seem frightening and He’s faithful to His promises. What lies at the end of the journey is a land of blessing even if the way is difficult. We need only trust that God will be with us through it all.
We might think that it took a long time for the Hebrews to start grumbling. It took them about twenty five days to get to the Red Sea. Pharaoh started them until about a week before then. It was immediately after they crossed the sea and were safe that they began to grumble. Moses healed the bitter water a few days later. Four days after that, the people complained about having no meat. The quail fell that night and the manna was on the ground in the morning. They arrived at Mt. Sinai two weeks later, just forty eight days after the Passover. The people turned to golden calf before the 100th day.
It seems to me that it should have taken much longer for them to turn from the God who saved them from slavery, but in today’s passage we see that they had already forgotten the bitterness of their oppression. “We wish that we had died by Yahweh’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots, when we ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us out into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” It took thirty-three days for them to desire their old lives because at least their stomachs were full.
God heard their cries and sent everything they needed to survive in the wilderness. The quail came, and they were fed. The manna came, and though they didn’t understand it at first, they were fed and satisfied. Sadly, they got sick of quail and manna and they complained again. But in this story we see that God provides what we need even if we do not trust that He will. He hears our complaining and He answers with His grace. Would that we could be so gracious.
The trouble is that we often look to the wrong source to supply our needs. The people looked to Moses and Aaron. They were fallible human beings with no special powers. They could not buy bread in the desert. They couldn’t even grow the grain, harvest the wheat and make the bread for so many. They could not provide for God’s people. But Moses and Aaron weren’t called to provide for them. They were chosen to lead the people to the Promised Land, with God as guide and provider. The wandering was a time for God to prove Himself to the whole assembly. By the time they got to the Promised Land, they would have to trust God even more. And in their history they would need to trust Him over and over again. If only they had trusted Him to give them meat and bread, they might have trusted Him to protect them from the more deadly dangers they would face.
But we don’t think about those other things when our bellies are grumbling. We don’t think about our soul when we are hungry. We fight for the tangible things, but ignore the things that really matter. That’s what Jesus saw in the crowds on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. After feeding the crowd of five thousand or more Jesus saw that those were following Him because He was doing miraculous things still did not understand. They recognized that He was the Messiah, but they wanted an earthly king. They wanted someone who would lead them out of occupation into a golden age of prosperity as a sovereign nation. They did not know that they had a deeper need, the need for forgiveness and the hope of eternal life.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ teachings seemed to contradict that which was given to the people by Moses. Jesus told the crowd not to work for food that perishes but to work for food that endures. They asked, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” They were expecting Jesus to repeat the Law which was given to them by Moses. They expected to hear a list of rules to obey and things to do. They wanted to receive God’s blessings based on their own actions. That’s the way it has always been. Moses gave them the Law. Moses gave them the manna. If Jesus contradicted Moses, then He’d have to prove Himself.
Jesus told them that the work of God is to believe in the one He has sent. This was a new teaching. It was different than what they had received from Moses. So, it wasn’t enough that He’d just fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, they needed more. Jesus needed to do something even greater than Moses in the wilderness. Jesus needed to provide them with something better than the bread from heaven.
This is where they were wrong: the bread from heaven did not come from Moses. It came from God. They’d lost sight of the real provider of all things good, which is the very reason why Jesus came. He answered their demand for proof with this statement: “Most certainly, I tell you, it wasn’t Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” They were so focused on the world as they knew it that they lost sight of the true reality of God.
Jesus is the bread of life, but He knows how difficult it is for us to believe. He has drawn us together into one body, binding us together with His Spirit, feeding us the bread of life. Together we live with the same hope, faith and baptism all under and for the glory of the One God our Father.
Have you ever noticed how many different types of bread there are to purchase? Hard bread, soft bread, dark bread and white bread. There are tortillas from Mexico and sourdough from San Francisco. France gives us croissants and baguettes. Southern kitchens produce biscuits. You can find bread made with cinnamon and raisins, bananas and nuts. Some loaves are small; others are large. When we think of the most basic food necessities, bread is always on the list. Prisoners are given bread and water. Many restaurants include a basket of their signature bread with every meal.
Just as there are so many different types of bread, so too there are many different kinds of tasks to do in the body of Christ, to feed the Word of God to those who hear. Paul writes, “He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers.” These servants of Christ are gifted with all they need to do that which they are called to do, and that is to build up the body of Christ, bringing all those who believe together in love. The church has much work to accomplish and we are called to trust that God will provide the people to do that work. We are also called to trust that God will provide each of us with the gifts and resources we need to share His grace with the world.
Paul begs that we live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. What is that life? He goes on to say that we should live, “with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love; 3 being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
We don’t do this very well. We find it much easier to grumble when we feel our needs are not being met - asking for food and drink when we really need Christ. In our churches, the bonds of peace are broken too easily over disagreements about the things that really do not matter. We are like children, whining for our own way about whether the carpet should be cardinal or brick colored, never seeking God’s will about our ministry to one another. Does it matter to God the color of our carpet? Or is that the bread that perishes?
Paul tells us to grow up, to not fall for every idea that comes our way, but to love one another as God makes us into one body by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that everything in the church works as it has been designed by God and is built together in love. This will bring glory to God and He will continue to feed us with the life giving food that comes from faith in Christ.
Today’s passage from John juxtaposes the manna in the desert to the Bread from heaven which is Jesus. These things come from God. They are gifts from the One who cares for our every need, even the grumbling of our tummies. But as with the Hebrews in the desert and the people by the Sea of Galilee, we are reminded that there is something much more important to understand here: these lessons are about trusting that God will provide us what we truly need.
Jesus didn’t come to feed the hungry or heal the sick. He did those things to prove that He is who He is. He did it to prove Himself to us, just as God proved Himself in the desert. All He wants in return is that we believe and trust that He will do what is good and right and true. He will provide what we need. And while we do need food for our bellies, the true bread is Jesus. In Him is life; in Him is eternal life.
We will continue to study the Bread of Life over the next few weeks, and the lessons will get incredibly difficult for us to understand and accept. It will be so shocking to Jesus’ audience that many will stop following Him. Jesus began this lesson with the feeding of the five thousand because He knows that we need to have our flesh satisfied before we can truly learn about our spirits. We can’t stay there, however. We have to take the next step to truly believe in Jesus. He did not come to be an earthly king; He came to save the world.
That salvation is enough. We might not think so when we are two miles into a thousand mile journey or when we are standing in front of a refrigerator with nothing that we want to eat. But if we begin with thankfulness for God’s salvation and praise for God’s graciousness, then we will find that He generously helps us deal with the rest. We can join with the psalmist in singing the hymn of praise to the LORD who is the Great King of a kingdom that reaches far beyond this world. He has done great things; He saved His people and fed them as much quail and manna that they needed to be satisfied. He taught them to trust in Him, and while they failed over and over and over again, He continued to love them with His faithfulness to His promises.
We will fail. We will grumble about the blessings when they do not seem to be what we want them to be.We focus too much on our stomachs and too little on our spirits. We forget the great things that God has done and turn again to the gods who promise to fill our bellies and satisfy our physical desires. We turn from God by demanding that He serve as our earthly King and ignore the greater Kingdom that He rules from heaven. We turn from Him when He demands more from us than we are willing to give or that we can understand. We forget to praise Him for our daily bread because we can'’t find anything that will satisfy our desires on the shelves of our pantries.
The Israelites learned how to trust in God by eating manna in the wilderness. The crowd learned that Jesus wasn’t who they thought He was by chasing after the wrong sort of bread in their wilderness. Paul learned to live in his vocation even when it took him into places that he didn’t want to go. We learn through these lessons that our work is simply to believe. As we believe in God, we are given opportunities to share God’s grace with others. The love of God calls us to share the bread of heaven with all those who are hungry. We tell the world about the good things God has done, just like the psalmist, so that others will come to believe in Him and receive eternal life.
“Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6, WEB
I have a problem. Apparently I’m a suitcase hoarder. We are preparing to travel. Each of us is going in a different direction or according to a different schedule. We needed to do an inventory to see if we had the right sizes for each person’s trip. That night we saw a report on the news that the local shelters were looking for luggage. The children don’t have many possessions, but the few they have are carried from place to place in garbage bags. The shelters want to give the children a sense of pride in the midst of their difficulty, so they called for the city to show their compassion and donate any old luggage. I decided to answer the call, so I went into the closet where I keep my luggage and started pulling everything out that could be used. As it turned out, I have a lot of duffle bags and back packs. I also found a set of luggage I didn’t realize we still had.
We’ve bought new suitcases over the years, but for some reason we have never gotten rid of the old ones. They weren’t in perfect shape. A couple of them were a little large to be used for children, but they might be helpful for a family. One was missing a wheel. The trolley handle was bent on one and stuck on another. One set was so old that it didn’t have wheels at all! A few of the pieces were still in very good shape, but even the imperfect ones were still quite usable. I filled my car with more than a dozen bags and delivered them to the shelter.
I joked about being a suitcase hoarder, but it made me think about God’s timing. Those bags have been buried in my closet for years, sometimes annoying because they were in the way when I needed to get other things. I should have gotten rid of the older ones a long time ago, but I’m glad I didn’t. They would have been donated to another charity, but I was so glad I could do this small thing for the displaced children in our city. Those bags were just waiting for the perfect moment; it was more than a coincidence that the report was made on the news on the very day I was doing my suitcase inventory.
I like to call these things God-incidences. God-incidences are moments that the world might call luck or coincidence, but people of faith see God’s hand in the midst of them. The proverb reminds us to trust in God with our whole hearts and to acknowledge Him in all we do. Perhaps I’m just making excuses for my hoarding, but God can be glorified in our lives even when they aren’t perfect. God can accomplish amazing things with the most unexpected people and circumstances. Throughout the scriptures, he used unbelievers to teach His people about faith. He can use our laziness or even our clutter to change the lives of people we will never meet. We just have to watch and believe, acknowledging that He is in the midst of it all. If we look for God’s hand in the ordinary experiences of our lives, we will discover that He is guiding us to walk in His ways.
“There is a way which seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12,WEB
There is a lot of road construction going on around our city these days. I imagine the same is true for most of my readers. It is summer, construction season. Weather generally cooperates, the daylight lasts longer and despite tourists, the roads are free of school traffic. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t construction traffic jams, though. They try to do a lot of the work at night around here so that the road closures are over by rush hour. However, they don’t always make their goal and the commute often takes longer than expected.
I don’t usually have anywhere to be at any specific time, but that doesn’t make the traffic any less frustrating. Yesterday was an interesting day. I drove to take a friend to lunch who has been homebound for a few months due to surgery. I take a back way, avoiding the major highways and the hassle of traffic. I didn’t know that the back road was being resurfaced. It was down to one lane and they were taking groups of vehicles through one direction at a time. It wasn’t a long wait, but I decided that I would not return that direction when I went home. I could take a different road and still avoid the highways. It was a little longer in distance, but would allow me to avoid the lane closure.
Unfortunately, road construction is not the only thing that can cause a traffic problem. There was a major accident at the end of my detour. They made me take a right where I wanted to take a left and then do a U-turn to go toward home. We have to make driving choices every day, but we don’t always choose the right path. It would probably have been a shorter drive to face the one lane road, but I had no way of knowing there would be a problem the other way.
My detour certainly did not end in death, but we never know what we will find when we go a different direction. The path that begins wide might lead to steep terrain or flooded plains. The big door may lead to crowded halls or the wrong part of the building. When it comes to hiking in the woods or arriving at a place, it is good to get instructions from those who know better so that we will go the right way. We tend to go through the bigger door or take the wider path because it seems like it must be easier, but that is not always true. I have had too many experiences of getting lost because I did not take the path recommended to me. You would think I would learn by now.
The Proverb tells us that there is a way that seems right to man; it is the well-worn path. It is the direction many people go: the bigger door, the wider path, the road that isn’t under construction. Of course, this isn’t really about avoiding lane closures or traffic accidents; it is about our spiritual life. We are warned that the path we take in life and faith is the way of destruction if it is not the way of God. Unfortunately, trendy Christianity is a constant problem in this world. Someone grabs onto an idea that is new and sounds good, so thousands, even millions, follow. These teachings sound good, but they twist the Word of God in a way that makes it a false Gospel, dangerous to those who seek the love and mercy of God. It leads to death because there is no life found in the words.
In Matthew 7, Jesus warns the disciples to enter the narrow gate because the easy path will not lead you to where you want to go. Jesus was concerned for those who were taking the wrong path, the path that does not lead to life. He is the way, He is the gate. We should not follow the way we think we should go, but rather follow the way Jesus has paved for us. The wide path and the bigger door may have dangers lying just out of sight, but the way God has planned is safe because God is with us. He knows what is best, He knows what lies ahead, He knows how to guide us through each difficulty. We make choices every day, not only about which direction to drive, but also about how we live our faith in this world. We tend to choose our own way, thinking that it surely must be right. We listen to those whom seem to be speaking well, but the way of man leads to death. May we always listen to God as He guides us on the right path, because it is His way that will lead us to life.
“The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel: to know wisdom and instruction; to discern the words of understanding; to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young man: that the wise man may hear, and increase in learning; that the man of understanding may attain to sound counsel: to understand a proverb, and parables, the words and riddles of the wise. The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:1-7, WEB
The Transfiguration is celebrated at different times during the year, although the Revised Common Lectionary devotes the last Sunday of Epiphany to remembering the event. It makes sense because the Transfiguration is a story of Light and from that mountain top experience Jesus returns to the valley to begin His final journey to the cross. Ash Wednesday comes after Transfiguration Sunday and on that day we begin the season of Lent during which we recall Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness as we consider our need for a Savior before Jesus finally arrives at the cross on Good Friday.
The universal date for the Feast of the Transfiguration is on August 6th. There is no certain explanation for the choosing of this date, but it seems appropriate in the middle of the season of Pentecost to be reminded that Jesus has been glorified, to worship Him and to listen to Him as God has commanded.
Peter, James and John received a glimpse of heaven that day on the top of a mountain. They witnessed a miraculous event as Jesus was transfigured into a divinely shining being, the Light shined with glorious light. He was standing among the great men of their faith. Moses was the father of the Law and Elijah was the father of the prophets. They stood for everything on which their faith was built. Peter wanted to capture the moment, to build a temple on the spot to honor Jesus and hold on to the glory. While Peter was speaking, a cloud came over the scene and a voice commanded the disciples to listen to Jesus. Peter’s sense of assurance was overpowered by a sense of fear. All three fell on their faces when they heard the voice.
Peter reacted to the transfiguration as we all might have done. Peter was trying to seat Jesus as king over an earthly kingdom. God interrupted, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” God commanded them to listen to Jesus, the Word incarnate. He is the Word made real and sent to dwell among God’s people. Jesus is the place where heaven and earth meet.
Later in his second letter, Peter writes, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter was there with Jesus as He ministered to the world, on the mountaintop when Jesus was transfigured, at the cross when Jesus died, and then he saw the risen Lord. He heard Jesus speak. He listened to Him. He learned firsthand that Jesus was who He said He was. He is the Light. He is the Truth. He is the Word incarnate. He is Wisdom. On this day when we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, we are reminded to listen to Jesus, to hear what He has to say and to believe His words. It is there we will gain wisdom and understanding; it is there we will discover what it truly means to be righteous in God’s eyes.
“Righteousness guards the way of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.” Proverbs 13:16, WEB
I was watching a show about young women who were doing foolish things. The focus was on a website where they post pictures of themselves when they are inebriated to the point of not even knowing what they were doing. The pictures show them in various stages of undress, hunched over the toilet, in compromising positions. Some showed women who had no awareness that in their drunken state someone took indelible ink and wrote all over their bodies. Many of these photos were disturbing, disappointing, and disgusting.
Another guest was a man who was fired from a teaching job for a similar reason. He was substituting while he worked toward a music career. His music was not suitable for the middle school or high school students he was teaching and he was fired because his online videos showed him to be a very poor role model. He removed the content and they rehired him, but he started putting similar videos and even recommended them to his students. He was fired again. He didn’t think it was fair.
The woman who started the website told the host that it was a matter of equality. “Men can go out and do this. Shouldn’t women be allowed to do it to?” The host tried to bring some common sense to the conversation. “These photos can ruin your life. Employers are searching the internet for evidence of your character. They’ll never choose you for a position if they see these moments of incredible irresponsibility.” They had a man who runs a job search organization who verified this truth. The woman insisted this was not fair; she thought women should be allowed to go out and have a good time without it affecting their lives. She missed the point: though it is foolish to become so drunk that you don’t know someone is writing on your body, the problem is not necessarily having fun. These women have left an indelible mark on the internet with their foolishness, pictures that will never disappear. Even if they never drink again, their irresponsibility will be hard to overcome.
A third guest was a seventeen year old girl. She was one of the “women” posting pictures on the website. She insisted that it didn’t matter. She was an excellent student, got great grades. She didn’t think that it should make a difference to colleges or employers what she was doing in her free time. “I’m proud that I get drunk almost every weekend.” The pictures were fun and funny. It didn’t occur to her that those people searching for her background saw that she was not only being irresponsible, but that her drinking was illegal activity. She was only seventeen. She refused to believe that anyone would reject her because of a few pictures.
The guests on the show do not understand why they would be rejected. They don’t understand why someone who is wise to live a good and righteous life should be chosen over them. The reality of sin is that it will eventually be our downfall if we do not repent. We are all foolish; we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Yet the guests on the show were being more than foolish; they were following a path that would lead to their downfall. Those photos or videos will never disappear. Colleges and employers will not choose the ones who are proud of these wicked antics when there are other people who are vastly more capable of doing the job because they are living a life of integrity.
The people of the world certainly have the freedom to do what they want, but they can’t expect that others will respect them for their choices. As Christians, however, we are reminded that we are called to lives of integrity. We are righteous by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ; through Him we have overcome the world. We do not have to fear what will happen to the wicked because God has promised to keep us on the right path. So let’s live according to that promise, always standing firmly in His grace, doing what is right and good and true.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 12, 2018, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; John 6:35-51
“Oh magnify Yahweh with me. Let us exalt his name together.” Psalm 34:8, WEB
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Whether this is true or not, we have a tendency of imitating the world around us. People are often seen wearing clothes that imitate their favorite singers, actors or sports stars. They imitate their role models, buying the vehicles, homes and material goods they see the rich and famous collecting. Advertisers rely on our tendency toward imitation to sell their products. This is why they get famous people to do commercials. If you like the star, you’ll buy the products they use.
Unfortunately, social media has made imitation a game for many young people. They see a new “challenge” and they take it up. The latest appears to be the hot water challenge, where youth pour boiling water over their bodies. You don’t have to think hard to imagine the impact that game will have on their lives. Previous challenges were equally dangerous. It isn’t a new phenomenon, really. Kids have long been imitating the stunts they see in movies. These stunts don’t end well for those who are not trained daredevils. Even worse, modern day technology makes some stunts using computers rather than people. They are completely impossible for real people, but the clips make it look fun. If my favorite actor can do that, why can’t I?
The cost of imitating people can be expensive. Even if you are able to find manufacturers that produce decent knock-offs, the clothing can still cost more than too much money. Chasing after an image that is beyond your means can change your attitude and cause you to do things that go against your better judgment. A person who wants the hot new sports car will work long hours at a job they hate while overlooking their vocation as a spouse and parent, friend and neighbor. Some will do anything necessary to get what they want, even if it is illegal. They will lie, cheat and steal, perhaps even murder. If they don’t get their way, they become bitter and angry; turning their wrath on whomever is in their path. We don't even realize we are being imitators sometimes, but we are. We just have to recognize who it is we are imitating.
The Church keeps a list of people whose lives might be more worthy of imitating. There are feast days for saints and commemorations for others who have lived godly lives. On any given day of the year, you can read about the lives of men and women who sacrificed their lives in one way or another for the sake of God and God’s people. These Christians come from every time and place, and we learn from their stories attributes and virtues that are worthy to embrace.
Take, for instance, Florence Nightingale. Florence’s life is commemorated on August 13th; she is remembered for her work reforming health care and hospitals in England. She was born in Florence, Italy in 1820 to an English couple who traveled extensively. Though she was expected to marry well, she had a different goal in mind. She was just seventeen years old, in the gardens at her home in Hampshire when she heard the voice of God calling her to do His work. She didn’t understand it immediately, but she became interested in the issues of her day. She began to spend time with the sick. She was well educated, but her family refused to allow her to pursue nursing because it was considered beneath her station in the world. She became a nurse anyway. She was placed in good positions, including the job of overseeing the first female nurses in military hospitals in Turkey.
She had a positive impact on the military hospitals. After the Crimean War, she continued to work toward creating better health care standards in the British Army. The British people were grateful to her for all her work and established a fund that would enable her to continue. With that money, she built a training school for nurses, which raised the level of professionalism in that career field. Florence believed that poor health had something to do with cleanliness and she advocated the modern practice of regularly washing hands.
Most of us don’t even realize that we are imitating someone when we wash our hands after we have gone to the bathroom. We remember our mothers and fathers constantly reminding us to do so when we were young and now it is a habit. We don’t think about the fact that Florence Nightingale promoted this habit of good hygiene as she followed her calling from God.
Florence Nightingale had a positive impact on many aspects of the health care system. It was because of her faith that she was able to do these things. She recognized from the beginning that she received her gifts from God for a purpose, one she carried out despite the displeasure of her family. We honor Florence Nightingale for her work, and as we look at the scriptures for this week we can see a call to action. Despite his fear and sense of failure, Elijah ate and went to the mountain of God, being obedient to God’s command even though he wanted to die. David’s song is reminiscent of a time when he managed to escape the hands of his enemy by his shrewd actions. Paul talks of the life we are called to live, the life in which we imitate God.
The life of a prophet is not easy; Elijah’s life was no exception. He had to do hard things. He had to face evil and destroy it. He had to go against the rulers of the day, to speak God’s truth to a time when the people were following false gods and accepting false religion. The people of Israel, including King Ahab, were worshipping Baal. They tried to cover all their bases, so they worshipped both God and Baal. Elijah called together the prophets and the people. He asked them how long they would divide their loyalties. See, we can't worship both God and the false gods. We have to choose.
Elijah suggested that they hold a competition. There were four hundred and fifty prophets for the false gods and Elijah was the only one for the One true God. Surely so many prophets could make a miracle happen, right? The prophets of Baal made their sacrifice first, but when they called on their gods there was no response. Elijah prepared his bull, placed it on the altar, and surrounded the altar with wood, as expected. He then covered the wood with so much water that it would be impossible to burn. He called on God who sent a fire from heaven that not only roasted the bull, but burned everything from the wood to the rocks and soil and every drop of water. When the prophets of Baal sacrificed a bull and called on their gods, there was no response. It was obvious to the people which God was real.
It wasn’t so obvious to Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. Well, it probably was, but it didn’t matter to her. She was willing to follow false gods because it suited her. Those prophets served her needs and desires, while Elijah did not. To her, the one speaking the truth was wrong because he wasn’t willing to cater to her. She became extremely angry with Elijah because after the competition, Elijah ordered the people to kill the false prophets. This caused Jezebel to threaten Elijah. He ran away in fear.
Elijah was running from persecution. “Oh, woe is me,” was his attitude. Despite the positive response from the people, Elijah knew their hearts were fickle. They might believe that the LORD is God, but how long would it last, particularly if Jezebel succeeded? Despite the failure of the prophets of Baal, it would not be long before the people were turning away from God again. Elijah thought he failed. He thought he was no better than all the other prophets of God. He just wanted to die. He had just proven that God is the One true God, but Jezebel had threatened to kill him. He felt like a failure, like nothing he had done as a prophet was worth anything. Elijah whined, “O Yahweh, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” He would much rather have God take him home than face continued failure. And he certainly did not want his enemy to succeed. How much better for him to perish alone in the wilderness than to be killed by an evil woman!
God refused Elijah’s request and pushed him to go further. His work was not done and though he thought he was a failure, God did not. God the work He has calling us to do and He can use even the most impossible circumstances to make it happen. Just when we think there is no hope, God grants us His grace and points us in the direction we are to go. He did not allow Elijah to go on without giving him the strength to continue. He fed Elijah, not once but twice, with enough food to sustain him through his journey. This was not the end of anything, it was just the beginning. God did not send Elijah immediately back into the battle. He gave Elijah the strength to go forward, a chance to reflect and then a life changing experience to encourage him in his purpose. After this experience, Elijah was no less in danger, but he was fortified for the task. Then Elijah heard the words we all dread. “Go back. There’s still work to be done.”
It is likely that today’s Psalm was David’s response to the story found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. David was being pursued by Saul, so he ran to the king of Gath. When the king realized that this was David, the one who was ten times greater than Saul, he became concerned about his own safety and that of his nation. He knew that David was extremely popular among the Israelites. David saw that he was in a dangerous situation so he pretended to be insane. The king of Gath was annoyed that his servants would bring him a madman and he sent David away.
David was a cunning man who from a bad situation, but David sees the experience much differently. In the verses of today’s psalm, David took no credit for the escape. He praised God for His saving answer to his prayers. David sang about what God did for him and what He will do for those who fear Him. When we call out to the Lord God, He will answer. He will deliver us from our fears and save us from our troubles. David’s encounter with the king of Gaul kept him out of Saul’s hands and then his quick thinking kept him out of danger in another enemy’s house.
David invites us to praise God with him. “Oh magnify Yahweh with me. Let us exalt his name together.” David then gives reason why the Lord should be praised: He hears the prayers of His people and He answers them. In this psalm David calls us to a life of praise and worship of God in all our circumstances. “They looked to him, and were radiant. Their faces shall never be covered with shame.” When we worship the Lord together we stand in His presence and His glory shines on us. We have no reason to be ashamed, particularly in the presence of our enemies, because God is with us. He hears our cries and answers.
The final verse in this passage uses language of food to call the people into this life of praise. “Oh taste and see that Yahweh is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” This brings us into the language that we are hearing in our Gospel texts for the next few weeks: Jesus is the bread of life. While we are not being called into a cannibalistic relationship with God, Jesus tells us He is the bread of life and that we are to eat the true bread from heaven.
Our faith does not stand on pretty and popular things. It stands on the truth of God which is hard for us to accept. The idea of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ is, quite frankly, not very pleasant to consider. The world does not want to experience God as He has revealed Himself; they would rather experience a god of their choosing. That’s why we so easily turn to the false gods and believe the false prophets. God did not give Elijah what he wanted; He fed Elijah and then sent Him on a journey. He sent Elijah to a place where He revealed Himself more fully and through that encounter Elijah had the strength to continue. He does the same for us in the Eucharist and gives us the strength to continue to do His work in the world. It is to this meal that we should run when we are feeling frightened and frustrated, when we think we have failed, when we simply want to die. It is through the body and blood of Christ that God helps us to be faithful to our calling. This is too hard for the world to accept. God assures us of His faithfulness, that He will do what He has promised He will do, and we can know this each time we eat of the bread and drink from the cup that is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this strength we can live as God wants us to live.
That’s what Paul is talking about in today’s Epistle lesson. The world gives us every reason to imitate people, but Paul gives us a better way. “Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.” We might want to imitate the popular star or the sports hero, but following after the ways of an imperfect human being is likely to lead us down a path which would be better to avoid. Human beings are imperfect and even the best fall under the pressure of being a role model. Eventually we see that imperfection are disappointed.
Jesus was not accepted by everyone who heard Him speak. The people in today’s Gospel lesson were very familiar with Jesus; they knew Mary and Joseph. They knew Jesus when He was just a baby. They knew all the embarrassing stories that parents love to tell about their children. They knew about the day Jesus first walked and talked. They knew about the day Jesus got lost. They had seen Him grow up. They knew Him just as we know our neighbor’s children.
While we have high hopes for our kids, it is hard to imagine them really growing up to be famous, rich or powerful. I think my children are brilliant, but will they ever become household names? What about the people you knew in school? Did the class clown become a famous comedian? What about the shy girl in the corner? What has become of her? Is there anyone from your past who has exceeded your expectations? I might say things just like those in the crowd around Jesus. “Isn’t that so and so’s son? I thought he was following his father’s career path.”
Jesus was making claims well above His station in life, anybody’s station in life. He was really going over the top with His claims in this text. “I have come down from heaven” is not what we would expect to hear from the youngster we bounced on our knee when He was just a baby. They knew from whence Jesus came; He was born of Mary and Joseph the normal way. Beings that come down from heaven aren’t born, they just show up. In the Old Testament appearances of angels or “sons of God,” the beings were never babies. They just appeared. So, who is this Jesus claiming to have “come down from heaven?”
It was radical that Jesus was referring to Himself as the bread of life and telling the crowd that they would have to eat this bread to have life. They might have believed Him if Jesus had just appeared out of nowhere, but this Jesus was the boy next door, the son of Joseph and Mary. They could not accept the words He was speaking because they knew Him too well. They could not believe He was the bread of life because they knew from whence He had come. How can a mere man born of human parents be the source of true life?
Jesus says, “No man can come to me...” It is easier to hear Paul tells us that we should speak rightly and let go of our grumbling against one another than to hear Jesus say that we can’t come to God. We like to believe that our good works will bring God to us. We think that if we are good enough we deserve heaven. The crowds around Jesus at this time were righteous folk. They knew the law and they were obedient. They were more than willing to receive the blessings Jesus had to offer but they began to question the words He spoke. The words Jesus was speaking were blasphemy. He said He came down from heaven. He was either mad or He was claiming to be God.
God does not disappoint. He does not always live up to our expectations, but as we follow His example we realize that our expectations from a worldly perspective do not line up to the truth that is God. So, God calls us to live differently. Paul gives us a number of suggestions. Don’t lie, but speak the truth. Be angry, but beware that the anger does not cause you to sin. Don’t steal, but work honestly. Don’t speak evil, but speak love.
Paul writes, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” God is grieved when we do not live according to the life He has called us to live. Rather than imitating the world, living in bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice we are called to live in kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness. We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. This is the imitation that will make God happy. Yet, this is not a passage about works. It is a passage about our response to the work of Christ. “Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance.”
Paul encourages us to share the bread of heaven by living as God would have us live: free from falsehood and anger, gaining good things in a right way and speaking encouraging words. We are to rid ourselves of negative feelings that grow into unhealthy action. Paul shows the difference, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.” In this way God perpetuates the bread of heaven, as He reveals Himself through our lives so that others might know Him and be saved.
Obedience to these commands will not gain us access to the kingdom; the Jews tried it that way and they never saw God. This passage is about living the life that God has called us to live. We are to be imitators of God and to walk in love. This is eternal life in this world, living in the presence of God daily. We are called to become more than just a copy; God gives us a piece of His kingdom. Our relationship with God is not some disconnected affiliation; we are joined together by the living bread of heaven.
We are as close to heaven as we will ever be in this life as we receive the Lord’s Supper. As we kneel together, we are also kneeling with all Christians throughout time and space. It is there we are in the presence of God, receiving His gift of life as one body. It is there we set aside our bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, railing and malice, receiving the forgiveness of Christ that we might be strengthened to give forgiveness to others.
By faith we are made part of a Kingdom that is not limited to this world, but it is a kingdom that demands our faithfulness. Will we put God first, sacrificing the old ways for the new? Will we trust that even when the things of God seem so complicated, that God is forever faithful? And will we reject the ways the world tries to make our faith more palatable? Will you partake of the Living Bread from Heaven and join me in the meal that feeds so much more than our bellies? Taste and see. Though it seems so strange, Jesus has invited us to receive His flesh and blood so that we will be a part of His body; it is there we truly find refuge. Join me at the Table; taste and see that the LORD is good. Together we will magnify our God and exalt His name!
“The beginning of strife is like breaching a dam, therefore stop contention before quarreling breaks out.” Proverbs 17:14, WEB
Webster’s Dictionary defines a proverb as “a short, pithy, and much-used saying that expresses a well-known truth or fact.” This is much different than the oft used cliché, which is “a trite expression or idea.” It becomes trite because it is overused and abused, especially by those who do not truly understand its significance or meaning. Too many people live their lives on the wisdom found on bumper stickers and ignore the true wisdom that comes from God. There might be value found in sound bite theology, but there is much more to understanding the love, mercy and peace of God than can be found in a few words we read as we are driving through our lives.
We can find much wisdom in the pages of the Holy Scriptures, where we see the Word of God developed through His relationship with Israel, the revelation of His mercy in the birth of Jesus Christ and the work of the Son on the cross, which brings us forgiveness and eternal life. The Old Testament and New Testament work together to help us to see our need for a Savior. The lives of the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets point toward the coming Messiah so that we can see our inability to keep the law. Then we look to the New Testament to see the fulfillment of all God’s promises in Jesus. The book of Proverbs seems almost like a collection of bumper stickers. These small bites of wisdom give us food for thought and guide our path.
In the fourth chapter of his epistle, James wondered why we bicker so much. He answered that the quarrels come from the lusts of our flesh. We don’t have what we want, we murder and covet but can’t get what we desire, which leads us to make war. It is so easy for us to bicker about things and once it starts, it only gets worse. We want to be number one, to win the games or wars. We all have different experiences, different cultural and gender related expectations. We see things through clouded glasses and our idea of life is skewed. When we face others with diverse views, we can’t help but try to defend our thoughts and dreams against those that disagree.
The proverb says that a dam is not easily breached. It takes a great deal of pressure and pounding before it breaks. The same is true of our discussions about our differences. It is not disagreement that makes a quarrel; it is the pounding and pressure to get what we want. We quarrel because we can’t let go, we can’t speak what we know and move on. We have to win, we have to defend ourselves, and we have to be number one. When we cannot get what we want, we do far worse, the dam is breached and we harm those who are caught in our path. It is better to just let it go, to stop the quarrel before it starts, even if we have to appear to be the loser. Truth always wins, and sometimes we discover that our clouded glasses were the cause of our own skewed idea of the truth. It doesn’t help to quarrel, for it brings forth the worst in our own lives and leaves us far from the will of God.
“Gray hair is a crown of glory. It is attained by a life of righteousness.” Proverbs 16:31, WEB
Vanity got the best of me the day I discovered my first gray hair. Well, perhaps not, since I never tried to do anything about it. I’m blonde, so it wasn’t really noticeable in the beginning. My blonde has darkened over the years, so it shows a little more, and the number on my head has definitely grown. I notice it most in certain lights, but I’ve come to accept it as inevitable. Today’s proverb certainly helps. I discovered it shortly after discovering the first gray on my head, and I decided quickly that I’d embrace the gray and the righteousness it points toward.
The Bible links righteousness with wisdom. The wise one is the one who seeks God, who fears God, who trusts God. God calls those who seek, fear and trust Him as righteous. Jesus Himself is called God’s wisdom and we wear His righteousness when we believe in Him. The more I think about my gray hair, the more I remember that it is a sign of God’s promises fulfilled. Gray hair usually comes with age, and faith grows stronger as we get older. Faith and salvation is certainly not limited to those who are older, of course. And neither is wisdom. A young person can be wise. Paul encourages Timothy to not let anyone despise him for his youth, that he is gifted in ministry and that he should continue to share God’s Word with the people in his congregation. Old people are not always so wise. Yet sometimes the young forget that we have earned our gray hair.
I took a leadership class through the Alpha Course and I heard a story by Nicky Gumbel who has been leading the course since 1990. His father was a nominal Christian and it wasn’t until college that he became a believer. He attended classes when the course was in its earliest stages. He had an epiphany one week and excitedly went to class to share it with his group leader and the others in his group. The leader listened and considered what Nicky had to say. Wisely, the man did not belittle Nicky for what turned out to be a rather foolish epiphany. Instead he said, “Well. I don’t think anyone has thought about it like that.” Nicky was thrilled. He thought of something that this wise older man had never thought about faith. It wasn’t until he was on his way home that he realized something: if no one in two thousand years of Christian history thought of it that way, maybe it wasn’t true.
A few decades have passed since that encounter and Nicky now has a head of gray hair. He has studied the scriptures and has grown closer to the Lord. My own head shows far more gray hair and I, too, have grown closer to the Lord. I think back on my early years, the arguments I fought with my certainty and I know that I have grown tremendously in those years. Now I know how much I do not really know and it makes me seek, fear and trust God even more. That’s what makes us wise and righteous; true knowledge is found in the reality that the more we know the more we know how much we really need Jesus. It is good for us to study and to think about the scriptures, but our knowledge will never make us right with God. We are made right through faith in Jesus. Sometimes it takes many years, and many gray hairs, to get us to the point that we are truly humbled and willing to seek, fear and trust in God.
“He that walketh uprightly walketh surely; But he that perverteth his ways shall be known.” Proverbs 10:9 (ASV)
We all have experienced the door greeter at the store who demands our receipt as we leave to make sure we’ve paid for all those things that are not bagged in our carts. I bought a suitcase the other day and the greeter had to lift and shake the item to make sure there was nothing inside. It is sometimes annoying, but I understand.
My years in retail taught me some things about human nature, things I didn’t like knowing. One of most important jobs, both at the register and as a manager, was to do all we could to halt shoplifters from taking merchandise from our store. But it isn’t just up to those who have direct access to the customers or who have the specific job of protecting the store. The employees around the store must watch because there are items around the store that shoplifters use to steal what they want. My retail training was eye opening. I thought we just needed to be concerned with the people who stick something under their shirt and then go out the door, but most shoplifters do not try to get something for nothing; they try to get something for less.
Take, for instance, braziers. I purchased a bra from Walmart one day and the cashier could not get the UPC code to work. I had to explain to her that she needed to take the item out of the box and scan the code located on the item itself. It is possible to take a more expensive bra and slip it into a box of a cheaper item. At Woolworth’s, we had that problem with yarn, shoes and jewelry. Shoplifters also try to stuff things inside of other things. We had to open every box and take the paper out of every purse to ensure that nothing was hidden beneath. At Toys R Us we had several regulars who never had the proper receipt. There were times when it was quite obvious when the person was trying to pull one over on us. After awhile, it became difficult to look at them without wondering what game they were playing today.
I disliked dealing with people when I knew they were not being honest with me. I could not understand how someone could live a life such as theirs, having to tip toe through every exchange, and keeping up appearances. They use the same excuses, the same stories and the same indignant responses when questioned. Eventually, even as they walked in the door, the store employees went on guard; managers were called immediately we made sure that they did not have the opportunity to steal. Their dishonesty became evident and we did all we could to stop their schemes.
Chasing after shoplifters was definitely not my favorite part of the job when I worked in retail. After all, I want to believe that people are honest and trustworthy. Yet, it was important for the sake of the store, employees and our customers to keep shoplifting to a minimum. The cost of everything rises when we have to make up for that which has been taken or destroyed. This is why it is necessary to discern between right and wrong. The comfort in this as found in the Proverb is that the ways of the schemer are found out and their folly will come to an end. Until then, it is up to us to do our job well with grace and mercy, guarding the resources of our neighbors while helping those who would steal to find a better path.
“What the wicked fear, will overtake them, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.” Proverbs 10:24, WEB
I took a course in lifesaving when I was in college. The class offered far more than just the skills for saving people from the water. We learned water safety, first aid and swimming endurance. It was not just about how to keep others from dying, but how to protect ourselves in dangerous situations. We sometimes practiced in swimsuits but there were also times when we were fully dressed so that we could learn how to react to the affects of the water in any situation. Having been a swimmer for most of my life, from the time my big brother threw me in the pool when I was just a wee little babe, I found that many of the lessons were common sense. But many of the students do not have such extensive experience with the water.
The hardest thing to teach is that it is best to relax when we face danger in the water. If someone falls off a boat in a lake or an ocean, the tendency is to tense up and try hard to keep one’s head well above the water by moving their hands and feet. Though this may seem to work for a moment, even the most athletic people will tire quickly, particularly if they are fully clothed. Muscles cramp and it becomes nearly impossible to stay afloat. Once a person goes under, they do not have the strength to get to the surface again. It is better to keep the head down in the water with nose and mouth above the surface, lightly treading water, keeping the muscles moving to keep them from tightening up without using too much energy at once. When the body is tense it will sink, when relaxed it will float. For those who do not learn this lesson, the very thing they fear the most will overcome them and they will drown.
The life of wickedness is spent looking over our shoulders wondering when the shoe will drop. Liars worry about the truth being found, thieves worry about being caught, and murderers worry that they will fall to the sword. Without Christ we live our lives trying to run away from the consequences of our own sin, but we end up drowning under its weight. In Christ, we are made righteous; we are reconciled to God through the blood of His Son. In that relationship God hears our prayers and answers.
The most wonderful aspect of our relationship with God through Christ Jesus is that in His righteousness we begin to know the Will of God for our lives and we desire that which He wants for us. Then our prayers are in accord with the things He desires for us, the things He knows are best for us. It is like relaxing in the water, rather than working hard to avoid drowning, it is better to let the water do all the work. We run from everything when we live in sin, fearing that the consequences will catch up with us some day. But God keeps us afloat when we live in Christ; it is through His promises that He will grant all that we ask in His will.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 19, 2019, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:12-22; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69
“The people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake Yahweh, to serve other gods.’” Joshua 24:16, WEB
Choose today who you will serve.
I think this is a much more difficult command than we realize. Joshua spoke to the people as they were beginning their new life in the Promised Land. It had been a rough trip out of Egypt. They managed to get to Sinai in just a few months, but their unfaithfulness at the foot of the mountain sent them into forty years of wandering. A whole generation died before God allowed the nation to settle in their new home.
They were unfaithful because they gave up waiting on Moses as he was on the mountain with God their Savior, the God of their forefathers. They built a golden calf and worshipped it as they had learned in Egypt. In today’s passage, Joshua reaches even farther back, back to the gods that Abraham’s ancestors worshipped. These are the gods of Abraham’s childhood and youth, before he met the Lord God Almighty. Who are these gods? Terah’s family would have worshipped the moon god called Nanna or Sin. They also worshipped Ishtar, the goddess of love, fertility, war and sex. They are represented in the symbols of the ancient lands with the crescent moon and star.
The long history of living near the worship of these other gods meant that they could easily turn away from the Lord God, their Savior. The worship of the gods of Egypt, those of Ur, and the gods in their new home, was much more exciting than the worship of God. It was also easier to understand from a human perspective. How much better is it to have the name of a god with a specific character or purpose, a god who has an image we can see or touch? How does a woman pray to God about something so personal as fertility when there is a goddess who understands the problems of a woman? Isn’t it better to focus on a god who can bring rain rather than disturb one who claims to do everything?
The people of Israel did follow Moses to the Promised Land, but they weren’t completely convinced. They grumbled and complained. I probably would have done the same if I had been wandering in a desert for weeks. They turned away from God while Moses was gone. Many of them even carried their household gods with them on this journey.
That’s why Joshua said, “Put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, in Egypt; and serve Yahweh.” It was time to let go of the moon god and sun goddess. It was time to stop turning to a golden calf. It was time to put their trust completely in the Lord because they would continue to face people who worshipped gods that were easier to trust. The Promised Land was theirs, but they still had neighbors who worshipped Baal; the threat of false promises was very real.
While we do have neighbors today who worship other gods, I think it is more difficult for us to realize the real dangers we face. I don’t think anyone who reads this writing is tempted to worship Nanna or Ishtar. I doubt that you are chasing after the Roman or Greek gods. There may be many Christians who have an imperfect or incomplete understanding of God, but I am pretty sure that most have a love for Jesus Christ. Those of us who are Christian, however, do have our temptations. We have things in this world that are like gods to us, things that demand more from us than we should give. We have things that we set above the Lord our God, and by doing so we make them our gods.
So Joshua says to the people as they begin to settle in the Promised Land, “Choose today whom you will serve.” He demands a commitment from them; he calls them to the life that will constantly reject other gods while living in trust, serving the Living God. He answers, “As for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.”
The people willingly answered with bold and confident acceptance. “Far be it from us that we should forsake Yahweh, to serve other gods.” They went on to make a confessional statement about the good things God has done. These are words that the people remember for generations, even until today. The people in Jesus’ day certainly believed they were true. Yet, Israel did not always remain true to the God who was so faithful to them. They easily turned to the gods of their neighbors, conforming to the world in which they lived and forgetting the God who was their Savior and Lord.
At first it might seem as though Jesus is putting before the people a false demand, after all the people of Israel have strict rules about what to eat and drink. They would never consider cannibalism as a possibility. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Jesus has been leading us to this culmination of His claim to be the Bread of Life. We eat bread, and He calls us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. It is really no wonder that many rejected Him. His words seem to fall under the rites and rituals of the god worship we are supposed to reject!
Jesus spoke words that went way beyond what the people could understand. They liked the miracles. They liked what they saw. The liked the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah, the One who would save them from the oppression of the Romans. They liked that He filled their bellies and healed their sick. They liked that He had a large following, because with so many behind Him He would surely “win.” They didn’t always understand what Jesus had to say; the parables were confusing and the attack on their faith was strange. They weren’t interested in anything spiritual, or even religious. They needed someone with practical answers to their problems. His words in today’s passage are too shocking for the crowds. Those who followed Jesus were simple people. They needed practical lessons on how to live in faith, but Jesus was teaching them about life beyond today. They did not understand.
This week we get the full picture of what Jesus is trying to teach them about the Bread of Life. His words are shocking, disgusting and against the Law. This man they had followed, to whom they looked for healing and provision, was giving Himself as food to eat. They aren’t cannibals. They couldn’t drink human blood. It must have been frightening for them to hear these words. The man they looked to as their Messiah was turning the world upside down.
He answered their questions with an oath, “Most certainly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don’t have life in yourselves.” To the Jews who heard these words, the eating of human flesh and drinking of human blood was not life-giving. As a matter of fact, it was cause for death! This was too much for them to bear and many stopped following Him. They were afraid, but not of the God who offers eternal life; they were afraid of the consequences of the things they did not understand.
We think of fear in the negative context, and yet we are told constantly that we should fear the Lord. What does this mean, especially for those of us who have grown up in a world that rejects the wrathful, frightening God of the Old Testament? God is love, we are told, and while that is true we must also remember that God is jealous and demanding. He can, and has, done great things for His people, but He has also given His people over to their sinfulness. When the Israelites turned from Him to worship other gods, He allowed their enemies to destroy their homes and take them into exile. Yet, through all that, He never abandoned them. He forgave them. He saved them. He restored them.
We aren’t much different than those Israelites. We still turn from God and chase after our own gods. While ours do not have names like Nanna or Ishtar, I think it is interesting that the other name for the moon god is Sin. Isn’t that ultimately what keeps us from worshipping fully the God who is our Creator and Redeemer? Isn’t that why Jesus came in the first place?
See, Jesus was not simply telling the people that they should have a feast on His body, which is an image that I suspect was going through their heads. “Does He mean that instead of lamb at Passover, we should roast up a little Jesus?” In the text, Jesus connects this idea of the Bread of Life with the Word of God. “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life.”
We are reminded of the words of Jesus when He was in His own wilderness experience: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” The people were still thinking with their bellies, and not with their hearts and spirits. They wanted gods who would meet their every want and satisfy their every need. They wanted to be saved how they wanted to be saved, but Jesus came to save them from more than hunger, disease and Roman oppression.
Human beings needed to be saved from ourselves from the very beginning. We need to be saved by our natural inclination to follow what feels good, to satisfy our flesh, to search after that which makes our lives as we want them to be. We easily turn from the God who saves us to follow the gods that serve us. No one would choose the life of a disciple, with its demands of sacrifice and suffering! No one would choose to follow a Lord who calls us to see our own failures more than that of our neighbors. We’d much rather have gods of our own making than the God who made us.
The Psalmist and Paul both tell us ways to live out our fear of the Lord. We are to speak rightly and turn from evil. We are to take advantage of the time we have to do what is good. We are to avoid drunkenness. We are called to turn away from our evil lives, our false gods, so that we can trust in the God who fills us with His very Spirit. He calls us to worship Him in community with others who believe, encouraging one another in faith and service to the Lord. He calls us to live thankful lives, praising God for all He has done and experiencing the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Heaven. When Jesus says, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood,” He is telling us to dwell continually in Him and His Word so that we will not be led astray.
There are many ways we can feast on the goodness of God. Besides fearing the Lord and living rightly, we can hear His Word and join together in worship. We can serve one another in love, give food and drink to those who hunger and thirst. We can be advocates for those who suffer injustice. We can pray for those who are in pain. But today’s lesson leaves little doubt what Jesus is saying. He calls us to join one another on the cusp of heaven, to eat the Holy Supper He has established as a covenant with His people.
When we gather together as simple people at the Table, we share in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus. We remember Jesus and receive forgiveness for our sins. He comes to us, not only in word and spirit, but in a tangible way that we can touch, see, hear, smell and taste, filling us with His presence. In prayer we ask, “Send now your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may receive our Lord with a living faith as he comes to us in his holy supper.” These aren’t words of people who do not know the Lord, but of the faithful who long to have more and more of His presence in their lives.
When we take the body and blood of Christ, when we satisfy ourselves with His Word, we have no need to turn to the other gods because we see He can truly meet our needs and fill our lives with goodness.
When the people left, Jesus asked the twelve, “You don’t also want to go away, do you?” In one of his brief and inspired moments, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter confessed faith in the One who gives life as no other.
Choose today who you will serve. I suspect that we all would answer as the Israelites, “Far be it from us that we should forsake Yahweh, to serve other gods.” or as Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” It is easy to say the words, but it is much more difficult to live the life. The key for us is to continuously nourish ourselves with the Word of God - Jesus - in every way we can: prayer, worship, study and the sacraments. “Eat and drink,” He says, so that we will remain constantly a part of His own body, so close that we would never want to turn away. By His body and blood, He will help us to live out the truly faithful answer, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
“The refining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold, but Yahweh tests the hearts.” Proverbs 17:3, WEB
Art was always one of my favorite classes in school. I did all sorts of different projects over the years: painting, batik, cut paper, soft sculpture, clay, pointillism and other pen and ink, pencil, charcoal and pastel drawing and jewelry design. Some of the projects were fairly easy and others were more difficult. I never took the easy way out. I remember a pen and ink project that took me most of the school year because I used only stipple (small dots) and the picture was on a full sheet of poster board. I quickly finished the project which was a large butterfly, but when I was ready to turn it in, my teacher said, “I think you should do the background also.” He was right. Filling in the background made the picture more beautiful. I would have been happy stopping with the butterfly, but I was glad he pushed me further.
In another class I made a silver pendant that was shaped like a butterfly. I cut the shape with a tiny jewelry saw and then soldered a crown for a stone in the center. Then I began the hard task of buffing the silver until it was polished and beautiful. It took a long time, many layers of polish. Just when I thought it was done, my teacher encouraged me to continue. Over and over again I went back to the machine, each time the piece was a little better. When I finally reached the moment when I could see myself in the silver, I knew it was worth the extra work and I was glad the teacher pushed me to go the extra mile on the project.
It would have been much easier if I had just finished the projects when I thought they were done, but they never would have been as beautiful as they were with the additional time and work. The pen and ink picture still hangs in my living room, and I thank God for the extra push from my teacher. The necklace was one of my favorite pieces of jewelry for a long time, though I doubt it would have been if I had not polished it until it really shined. I didn’t know what was right for the pieces, but my art teachers did, and they encouraged me to take the projects to their limits.
The early days of the church were a time of discovery and discernment. Many people tried to define the different doctrines that would stay with the Church into the future. The early Christians needed to learn what it meant to be disciples of God, to establish the patterns and practices of the fellowship of believers. Some Christians felt that it was necessary for new believers to first become Jewish and then Christian, but others understood that God did not require that of believers. God does not see people as people see people. He sees our hearts and knows the potential for each of our lives. He purifies each of us according to His word and will, making us masterpieces for His glory. God’s love reaches beyond our expectations; no matter who we are He provides all we need to live in the faith He has given through the grace of Jesus Christ. He saves us and gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not because we have done anything as required by men, but because He loves each of us as His own.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue; those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21, WEB
There is a story about Genghis Khan who was an awesome warrior and ruler of the Mongol Empire in the early years of the thirteenth century. He was on a hunt with a large party of friends and servants. He had a pet hawk that would hunt with him. The hawk was trained to fly above and seek rabbits or deer in the forest and swiftly attacking the animals from above. After a long day of fun with his companions, the king had not caught as much game as he expected. The party began to return home on an easy path, but the king decided to take another route. He let his hawk go to fly home as he was trained to do, and he set on a longer road. After some time the king became thirsty. He knew the paths in the forest very well, and was certain there was a spring nearby. It had been a dry, hot summer and the streams had long disappeared.
Finally the king found the spring, but even it was nothing more than a trickle. He took his cup and waited patiently as the cup filled drop by drop. Just as he decided to lift the cup to his lips, his hawk appeared out of nowhere and knocked it out of his hands. The king was angry, but picked the cup and began to fill it again. When it was half full, he began to take a drink and his hawk did it again. A third time the king tried to fill it, but this time he was prepared for the hawk’s attack. In his anger, he took out his sword and threatened the bird. He tried once again and when there was enough water in the cup, he lifted it to his mouth. The hawk came to attack but this time the king attacked first, killing his beloved pet. The cup fell out of his hand and fell into a crevice where he could not reach. He decided to climb to the source of the spring. When he reached the top of bank from which the water came, he found the pool and the dead, poisonous snake that had polluted the water. His beloved pet hawk was trying to save his life, but the king reacted to his anger in word and deed, which ended in tragedy.
The king reacted to the lifesaving actions of his beloved pet hawk with angry words and then violence. He let his anger and harsh words get the best of him, and he ended up with nothing - no water, no cup and no hawk. Anger is not the only thing that is revealed in words that can lead to an even greater response. The human heart tends toward greed, jealousy, lust, bitterness, strife and doubt and we show our tendencies by what we speak. In the case of the king, his anger was spoken, acted upon and he lost his friend.
Yet, it is not just the negative that can manifest in our mouths and actions. When we speak in love, mercy and peace, the same comes back to us. If only the king had called to his hawk, not in anger but in love, he might have realized that the hawk was protecting him from the danger in the water. Thomas Jefferson said that when we are angry we should count to ten before acting upon that anger. It all starts in the mouth. When we take that moment to think about our words, we are more likely to respond in a positive manner. Our words spoken in the heat of the moment will bring exactly what it deserves, the consequences of our anger, greed, jealousy, lust, bitterness, strife and doubt. It might mean death to ourselves or someone we love. The king learned the lesson in a very hard way. We have learned through scripture how words can bring good things, particularly when we praise the Lord our God. In that we find much blessing.
“Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues with injustice.” Proverbs 16:8, WEB
Awards are a great way of encouraging children and adults to do their best, to accomplish great things. We can watch many of these awards given out on television shows through the years. The winners are presented with trophies for being the best actors, writers, singers or artists. The Oscars, Grammies, Emmys and Tony awards are presented each year to the best of the best. Country music offers its own statues and even the Christian music industry offers recognition to the artists who have impacted the world with their music. Business will give our employee of the month plaques and schools give awards to children for sports, academics and other accomplishments. Some of the best things to check out at State fairs are the competitions in animal husbandry, baking, crafting. Blue ribbons are given for the best quilts. These awards recognize the gifts of the winners and encourage the others to work harder for the next contest.
Winners are chosen in many different ways. There are people’s choice awards and those that are selected by professional peers. Some are based on merit and others are strictly popularity contests. Generally there is a slate of nominees from which the qualified voters can choose. We don’t always agree with the winners. I have to admit that I became somewhat disillusioned with some of the awards when I discovered that they are more like an election than a representation of the best talent in the industry. The nominees campaign, offering parties and even gifts to the voters. Now when I see the announcement of the winners, I am sure if they deserve the award or if they bought it.
Perhaps this talk of awards seems rather worldly, but the Proverbs often deal with the very basic experiences of our lives and how we respond. They are about character and integrity. Do we live in right relationships with God, each other, the whole creation and ourselves? Do we try to succeed no matter what or do we accept our lot in life with joy and peace? Who suffers or benefits from all we do? This is what we learn from the scriptures. The biblical stories show us lives of character and integrity, especially in the life of Jesus. He was all that is good, right and true, the One who is righteous and just. Jesus didn’t have much during his life on this earth. He didn’t even have a place to lay His head, but He always did what was right.
Jesus did not seek wealth or reward; He didn’t even want the people to tell others when He healed their dis-ease. Jesus simply sought to bring justice into this world; He worked toward justice for the sick, poor and persecuted. He didn’t buy people’s love or even fight when people put him down, He helped them through their troubles and lived rightly at all times. This fulfilled what was promised through the prophets, that God would send the Messiah to restore the world. There were many who were seeking a different kind of messiah, but Jesus refused to do things the way the world expected. He did things God’s way, to bring about exactly what God intended. He worked toward salvation for all those who call on the name of the Lord. He didn’t get any awards for his actions nor did he win any popularity contests. As a matter of fact, He was persecuted and killed. That is where we put our hope, not in any special recognition of our works or in the remembrance of our abilities, but in that which the Lord Jesus did on the cross on Calvary. In Him we see justice and know justice will be victorious.
“Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth existed.” Proverbs 8:22-23, WEB
It is all well and good that the proverbs teach us some common sense lessons for living in this world. After all, though we are spiritual creatures made new through our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, we also have to get through the day-to-day experiences with others and God’s great and wonderful creation. The wisdom that shines from the words in the book is invaluable to our lives, relationships and even our faith. But that is not all we see in this book. All the Old Testament scripture establishes a foundation for the grace of God given through Christ Jesus our Lord. Even the proverbs point to the coming of Jesus as Savior.
John was like the Jews of his day; they were all quite familiar with the words of the prophets and the promises of God for a Messiah. He drew from those words and ideas when he wrote His Gospel about Jesus Christ. John knew that God’s presence was in the world from the beginning, manifest as wisdom. We saw it in the life of Solomon, who is credited with the writing of many of the proverbs. Of all the things that he could have asked from God, he asked only for wisdom. God was pleased with such a request and gave more than Solomon could have desired – wealth, power and fame. Though today’s passage from Proverbs does not directly refer to Jesus Christ, it does lay the foundation for our understanding of the fullness of God dwelling in the flesh of man. John knew this as he wrote the opening words of the Gospel.
It is indeed well and good that we know the wisdom found in Proverbs, and live by it daily. If only more people would follow the common sense lessons of integrity, compassion, gratitude and humility, then the world would be a much more pleasant place to live. Our relationships with God, each other, the creation and even ourselves would be stronger and better for it. But even the wisdom of Solomon would do us no good if we did not have the saving grace of God as found in Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of his Gospel, John tells us that the Word was made flesh, and when He came He changed the world. We don’t always understand the things of God. Even the most spiritual people still live in the flesh and have the daily trials and temptations to overcome. We live in a world that still knows the affects of sin and death, and we see the things of God as though through darkened glass. What we can know without a doubt, and live in faith and hope, is that Jesus is with us now as He has always been, a bit of wisdom in the midst of foolishness and a light shining in the darkness. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament witnesses agree: God is with us as He has been from the beginning. We can rest assured that through grace God will build upon that great and wonderful beginning: first wisdom as the Word and then that Word made flesh for our sake. Our lives might be made better by the wisdom we hear in the words of Solomon, but we can only have true life in Christ Jesus.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 26, 2018, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 29:11-19; Psalm 14; Ephesians 5:22-33; Mark 7:1-13
“For you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men - the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things.” Mark 7:8, WEB
I read a lot of books about the days leading up to World War II including a book that was written by a woman who was a child in those years. She came from an average German non-religious Protestant family. Her descriptions of her life in the beginning sounded pretty normal, with birthdays and family, school and every day activities. As time passed and she grew older, the world around her began to change in ways she did not like. Her family did not support Hitler, although as all Germans they had to make concessions to the world that was developing around them. As she grew and matured, she became less and less comfortable with what was happening, not only because the changes were an inconvenience but because they simply were not right.
The girl had heard stories from the First World War, and the thought of a second frightened her. She wasn’t interested in being involved with the organizations that rose around Hitler’s regime, but it became increasingly difficult to avoid it. She had teachers who were devout, who taught the propaganda. She was surrounded by it in the newspapers, on the radio and on the newsreels at the movie theater. She experienced the growing apprehension that came with ration cards and rules that didn’t make any sense. While her thoughts and fears did not come from a strong and active faith, something within her knew that it just wasn’t right.
We often hear Christianity, and quite frankly Lutheranism, blamed for what happened during the early part of the twentieth century in and around Germany. While it is true that Luther had problems with the Jews later in life, the use of his works by the Hitler regime was purely convenience, not conviction. No one who can murder millions of people - not just Jews, but the disabled, the sick, the old, the blacks, the homosexuals, the gypsies, the communists, etc. - is Christian. Hitler may have claimed to be a Christian, but he did not live the Christian life. He was, like many, many other Christians around the world even today, one who claimed faith by tongue but not by actions.
We often wonder how it could have happened. How did all those Germans allow the horror of the Hitler regime happen? I think this is why I’m so interested in the perspective of this woman’s book. We know the stories of Bonheoffer and others involved in the conspiracy to stop Hitler. We know about Schindler and his list. We know about the Jews who escaped and those who survived; we know the stories of those who died from the testimonies of those who did not. But we rarely see how life unfolded for the average German.
We wonder why they didn’t do something, but would we? Are we any more willing to fight the culture that is determined to make us conform? Are we willing to stand up for what we believe, like men such as Bonheoffer? I doubt it. I consider myself faithful and faith-filled, and yet I know I am about as powerful as those average Germans who did not believe they could do anything to change what was happening.
They didn’t even try in the beginning because each change was presented in a way that made it seem like a good thing for Germany and her people. There was no harm to enlisting the children into organizations; as a matter of fact, it helped build them into better citizens! It was probably a good thing to limit the ability to bear children for those with deformities, for the sake of the child as well as the nation. The communists were bad, very bad, so they probably deserved to die. “We need the resources found in those territories and thank goodness someone is willing to stand up for Germany against the world that wants to keep us down!” It became uncomfortable when they were directly affected, like when there were food shortages, but they were willing to sacrifice for their homeland, and besides, isn’t this exactly why we need to take back the land that was stolen from us in the previous war?
As much as we find it hard to believe, most Germans probably did not even really know what was happening right under their noses. They believed what they heard. They probably ignored the feelings in their guts for as long as they could, but then it was too late when they could ignore it any longer. It was a matter of life and death. Do I fight and die or do I hide in my own little corner of the world and find a way to survive, hoping for a better day?
I don’t think we can make an exact comparison between then and now, especially since everyone and every side tries to paint their enemy as the villain. Hitler had an incredibly broad range of ideologies that cross the boundaries that divide us today, making it impossible to truly label him as “one of them” or “one of us.” I read about some of his programs and ideas and think, “That’s what ‘they’ are trying to do,” but then read others and think, “My guy could have said that.” We have to be careful about how we deal with our own interpretation of what happened then and what is happening now.
We need to begin with ourselves. Isaiah tells us that the Lord God says, "Because this people draws near with their mouth and with their lips to honor me, but they have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which has been taught; therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the understanding of their prudent men will be hidden.” Do we say, “Lord, Lord” with our mouths but live our lives conformed to the world around us? Even worse is when we try to make our lives of faith conform to the way we think is best, seeking to benefit ourselves rather than live according to God’s Word.
That’s what was happening with the Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson. They questioned Jesus about the way the disciples did not wash their hands according to the traditions of the elders. Now, we all know that hand washing is a good thing. We have learned in recent centuries that it helps avoid the spread of disease. Lots of germs get on our hands, and while they might not have fully understood the reason for the hand washing, it was a good rule. However, they made it a standard of faithful living, a rule which one must follow to be a good believer.
Jesus answered their question with the quote from Isaiah, telling the Pharisees that they are more interested in the laws of men rather than the Law of God. Then he pointed out their hypocrisy. He said, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban , that is to say, given to God”;’ then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down. You do many things like this.”
Now, on the surface the idea of Corban is good because it appears that they are committing their resources to God. However, the idea of Corban is to be much more loosely understood. See, they were committing the resources to God as a promise, but they continued to hold onto the money for their own use while they were living. They used the man-made law of promise as an excuse to not share their wealth with their parents in need while acting as if they were being faithful to God’s Law. Their legalistic attention to the laws they prescribed had nothing to do with faith in their God. It was a way of grasping onto the power while rejecting and ignoring God's grace.
God doesn’t need our promises. He blesses us to be a blessing. If we have a few extra dollars, God would want us to use it to help someone in need, most particularly those who bore and raised us. Corban, a promise of money, does nothing to glorify God, but obeying the Law of honoring our mothers and fathers will also honor the God who is our Creator and Redeemer Father.
Today’s epistle lesson is somewhat uncomfortable for us in this modern age. We don’t use language like Paul used in his letter to the people at Ephesus. Most women would scoff at the suggestions made here: “Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands,” and “Let the wife see that she fear her husband.” These verses make it appear as though we are expected to be like doormats, held by the power of someone deemed greater. That’s not what Paul intends at all, as we can see in the context of the passage. Marriage is a complimentary relationship; both partners provide something to make the two become one. A woman is free based on God’s grace to be what God created her to be, to live in the relationship with her husband who is called to be like Christ to her.
Who has the harder task? Is it the wife who submits to the husband, or the husband who must be Christ-like and love his wife more than his own life?
Of course, there have been people who have claimed faith in Christ who have used passages like this to force compliance to a misplaced understanding of the relationship between husband and wife. It is no wonder that we cringe when we hear these words. Women are abused on a daily basis, some with the justification that the man has a right according to the biblical standard. We know this is a misunderstanding and that they are ignoring the command to the husband to treat his wife with a sacrificial love, to nourish and treasure her as if her body was his own. He is to be Christ-like and the man who abuses a woman, especially his wife, is not being like Christ. He must be willing to give even his life for her sake.
Just as honoring one’s mother and father honors God, so does the marriage covenant stand as a witness to the relationship between Christ and His Church. The Father loves the Son, Jesus Christ. The Son loves the Church. In response to the love, the Son submits to the Father and the Church submits to the Son. The love provides, the submission accepts. In loving and submission, the two become one body, in both marriage and in Christ.
I wish I could say without a doubt that I would stand firmly like Bonheoffer and not conform to the world as it changes around me. I can’t. As a matter of fact, I’m certain that I have conformed in some ways. I am certain that I more likely stand in the ranks of those who will find it is too late to make a difference because I am a failing, sinful human being. I fear the wrong things, I seek my own benefit. I follow man-made laws because they sound much better than the ones that God has given to us. I can’t count on myself, but I can count on the God who has promised to forgive me.
The words from Isaiah sound hopeless, but there is hope. God can overcome our faithlessness. God can and does provide for us, even in our failure. God has set us free by the blood of Christ, and while we are imperfect in our living in that freedom, He will also save us from ourselves. We are called to respond to God’s saving grace with fear and trembling. In the end we will know true joy in the relationship He has made between Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church, between Jesus and you and I. We will fully know and experience that joy as we dwell in the Word of God rather than follow the traditions of men.
“Then will they call on me, but I will not answer. They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me; because they hated knowledge, and didn’t choose the fear of Yahweh. They wanted none of my counsel. They despised all my reproof. Therefore they will eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own schemes.” Proverbs 1:28-31, WEB
Did you ever take any chances when you were a kid, teenager or even a young adult? Perhaps you climbed a very tall tree or swam in an old mine hole. You may have written a note to a boy or girl you like, even though you did not know if they liked you back. You took chances the first time you road a bike without training wheels or tried out for a sports team. Most of the time, the chances were harmless. It was no big deal if you failed, but it was great if you succeeded. Kids these days are taking ridiculous risks with the challenges that are posted on social media. The latest, the hot water challenge, is causing third degree burns on the kids who try.
Even as adults we sometimes take chances. Some of those things are downright stupid. Driving through the Rocky Mountains several years ago, I absolutely had to touch the snow that I saw clinging to the side of a mountain. The snowfield was about twenty feet from the road. I slipped a bit, but grabbed a tree or two and was able to make it down. I grabbed a snowball and then climbed back up. On another occasion, I wanted a better picture of the coastline of England, around Land’s End. I climbed down the cliff to the perfect ledge and got the perfect picture. In both instances, I could have slipped, fallen and gotten seriously hurt. There have been other times I have wanted to take a chance, to climb on dangerous rocks or go beyond the safety zone, but the danger signs and my family convinced me otherwise. Some people are not so smart.
Whenever a movie or television show comes out with dangerous stunts, the producers make a very big deal about the warnings to the viewers. “Do not try this at home” is a statement we’ve heard a million times. Yet, every time we hear it, we also hear accompanying stories of people who have ignored the warnings. There have been too many young people who have died or been injured in attempts to recreate something they have seen. It is sad when that happens, but unfortunately we do suffer the consequences of our stupidity.
I wonder how often we take chances with God? Do we ever test Him, make deals with Him, try to get out of Him exactly what we want, rather than what He has planned for our lives? Do we swim in dangerous waters, climb down the jagged rocks of a cliff or try to do the things we’ve seen others do, not only in the flesh but also with our spiritual lives? I think we do when we willfully disobey what we know is right and true. Like when we lie, cheat or steal even though we know that it is wrong to do those things. Or when we hurt someone purposely. Or when we try to take our own revenge for the things that have been done against us. Unfortunately, when we take chances, we suffer the consequences. Sometimes we get lucky, but sometimes we slip and fall. The movie producers warn the viewing public that some things they do are not real, that there should be no attempts to duplicate it. Some ignore the warnings. The Proverb for today tells us that we will reap what we sow. Let us always do that which is pleasing to God, do good to all people and reap the eternal life He has promised through Jesus Christ our Lord.
“Plans are established by advice; by wise guidance you wage war!” Proverbs 20:18, WEB
We were incredibly blessed to live in England for four years. Most people only manage to visit for a few weeks at a time. There is no way to see all the wonderful things to see there in such a short time. To even try is exhausting. Though they can be very constricting, it is sometimes best to take advantage of organized tours that plan an itinerary for the visitors. The tour operators have experience and information about the country, the places to visit and best accommodations.
During our time there, I received a note from an acquaintance that was planning a trip to England. She wanted some advice about places to see and things to do. She gave me a long list of desires – she wanted to spend time in London, Scotland and near Oxford. She had some specific sites that she wanted to visit, ideas about the type of places she wanted to stay. On top of it, she wanted to do it on a limited budget. She was hoping for a few days in the middle to do some genealogical research. I gave her a few suggestions, places to call and things she should do, but I did so with a warning. She was planning too much. While it is possible to do all those things in two weeks, she did not have the knowledge of English roads, gas prices and other considerations to make the best choices for her trip. I gave her my honest opinion that I thought she was trying to do too much, that she would not enjoy any of the places because she would be too concerned about getting to the next place or too tired from the long drives and rushed visits. After she read through my notes, she agreed she was expecting too much and cut back on her wishes. When she returned, she was so thankful because she knew her original plan would have been overwhelming and perhaps even disastrous. A little planning went a long way to make her trip enjoyable.
We are not likely to wage a war, but we certainly would do well to seek advice about certain aspects of our lives. It often helps to have the guidance of someone who can help us to make the right decisions about all our choices, including our relationships. The battles we fight day to day are when our children go astray, our bosses overwhelm us with work, our neighbors do something to annoy us. How do get through them? Do we jump into the fray or do we take a moment to consider the costs?
It is certainly best to enjoy a foreign country by living there one day at a time. However, this is impractical for most people. For those who want to visit, a few weeks is usually all they have and it is usually a once in a lifetime experience. It would be wonderful if they could do everything, to see all the country houses, all the ancient castles or feast in the many different pubs. It would be wonderful to enjoy the countryside of Scotland, the mountains of Wales, the ancient monoliths of Cornwall and the nightlife of London, but it is impossible to do that much in just a few weeks. Tours usually give only the highlights; they visit only the most popular sights, so you miss out on some of the less traveled paths. Yet, it is often better to take the advice and planning of those who are experienced, who can get you to see the most for your money, rather than try to do it alone. We lived there. We could waste a day lost in the country doing nothing and return another day to visit what we wanted to see.
As for our relationships with one another, and with God, how much better is it to have the help of others to get us through the rough times, to guide us through the doubts and fears, to lead us into a better way? Jesus calls us to do incredible things; He calls us to give up the world, to face persecution and strife, to walk in ways that go completely against our nature. But His blessings are great for those who walk according to God’s council. We should take time to make the right decisions and prepare ourselves to follow the right path. Sometimes it takes the help of a friend, co-worker, parent or pastor. We should not jump headfirst into anything, but do so with faith, through prayer and wisdom from God. Then we won’t become lost in a foreign country, or face the wrong battles, for God will bless those who seek to do what is right and true in His name.
“Don’t weary yourself to be rich. In your wisdom, show restraint.” Proverbs 23:4, WEB
Many of the proverbs deal with money. It makes sense since our lives revolve around money. We need money to pay for our shelter whether it is a mortgage or rent. We need money to pay for food. Even farmers who tend cattle and grow grain and vegetables need to purchase some staples for living. In American society, we need to pay for electricity and other utilities so that our water will be delivered to our faucets and our waste sent far away. We don’t go a day without spending money in some way. Though things may have changed over the millennia since this proverb was written, things are not much different than they were then. Money is still necessary for life.
Through time and space, money has always been a important matter to understand and use properly. We are certainly quite wasteful with our financial resources, buying things we really do not need and throwing away our excesses. When I visited the Heifer International Ranch several years ago, I was uncomfortable with what a poor steward I am of the wonderful things God has given to me. My family is not rich, but we have so much more than we need. We enjoy collecting pretty things. We enjoy going places and doing things together. Unfortunately we spend too many hours a week working to pay off our credit card bills, or to pay for the “nice-essities” of life, or to maintain the lifestyle we’ve built.
While I am sure there are people who are striving to get rich, most of us just laugh at the proverb. We are wearing ourselves out to get by. “Rich? I’ll be lucky if I can pay my bills this month.” We strive to make life better for our kids, to give them the things we never had. We want to be comfortable and happy. So, while we scoff at the proverb, thinking to ourselves that we aren’t striving to be rich, I have to wonder if we could be content living in a small hut with little or no possessions. Now, I don’t think it is necessary for us to give up the blessed lives we’ve been given to move to a third world country, but this proverb offers good council for those of us who live in today’s world. Are we working too hard to keep up a lifestyle far exceeding the blessing of God?
God has not necessarily asked us to give up the wonderful gifts He has given, or the life with which we have been blessed. He simply asks that we be content, satisfied with what we have. Working for a living is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the proverbs are very clear that sluggards and lazy people will not find God’s blessings. But we should not seek to be rich or work to live in excess.
“The love of money is a root of all evil.” This proverb comes from Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul did not say money is evil. He was drawing from the proverb for today, asking us to have restraint, to be satisfied with enough. It is when we desire more than enough that we fall into error, easily deceived and led astray. It is necessary to pay the rent, have a car and purchase our food from the grocery store. May God help us be good stewards of the resources He has given so that we might live content and happy in this world.
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but Yahweh weighs the hearts.” Proverbs 21:2, WEB
One of my favorite Bible stories comes from 1 Samuel: the anointing of David. Saul was living up to God’s expectations of an earthly king. He was overtaxing the people, taking the sons to be soldiers and the daughters to be perfumers. When the Israelites asked for a king, God warned them that this would happen. Worst of all, however, Saul turned from God and disobeyed His command. God was grieved that He chose Saul to be king. He sent Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint a new king.
When Samuel arrived, he did as God commanded. He took a heifer for sacrifice, invited Jesse and his sons and listened for God’s word on which son would be king. When he saw the first son, Eliab, he was certain this was the chosen one. God spoke to Samuel, “Don’t look on his face, or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for I don’t see as man sees. For man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.” One by on the sons of Jesse came before Samuel and God rejected them all. After the seventh son, Samuel asked Jesse, “Are all your children here?” Jesse told him that David was in the field tending the sheep. “Send and get him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.”
David was not the type you would expect to be king. He was not strong like a hunter or warrior. He was the youngest son, a handsome shepherd boy. Yet, God knew David’s heart. He knew that David would be faithful and trustworthy with the gifts and responsibilities of the office. So, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him before his brothers and father and the Spirit of God came upon him in power. It was many years before David took over the throne. During that time he served Saul, grew in faith and knowledge and eventually ran from king’s pursuit. When Saul discovered that David was the one whom God had chosen, he sought to kill David. Through it all, David only sought the LORD and though he had several opportunities to kill Saul, he did not disobey God’s command.
The wonder of this story is how God chooses people not according to outer appearances. It has nothing to do with our physical features, our good works or even the abilities we seem to have. God sees the heart and He chooses those who will serve Him and obey His commands. God’s ways are not always the easiest path. As a matter of fact, sometimes He asks us to do some very hard things. He has not promised that our lives will be free from pain or that we’ll be richly blessed with wealth, fame or even good health. What He has promised is that we’ll be blessed from within; we’ll have a deep and abiding relationship with the Most High and receive countless blessings in the Kingdom of God.
Saul’s heart was proven hard by the way he served God as king. He did not turn to the LORD, but rather ran after his own lusts and greed. He used the power God gave him for all the wrong purposes and it was taken from him. David, though he was never perfect, always sought God in all things. His heart was right with God and in his failures he looked to God for forgiveness and mercy. God brings all things out in the open, both our vices and our virtues. For those whose hearts are turned toward the Lord, the vices are transformed and the virtues are magnified so that the kingdom of God will be glorified in this world. For those whose hearts are hard, only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can make them soft. Let us pray for those who need to hear that message of forgiveness and mercy and ask God to use us as His servants, sharing Christ with the world so that they too might see Him and walk in the light. God is faithful. He brings to light the darkness and He makes things new with His love.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 2, 2018, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 119:129-136; Ephesians 6:10-20; Mark 7:14-23
“Only be careful, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes saw, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Deuteronomy 4:9, WEB
I spent my vacation visiting with family and friends from my past. I spent a few days celebrating the wedding of my best friend’s daughter. We have known each other for fifty years, so we had plenty of reminiscing we could do, remembering all our antics, both good and naughty. I spent time catching up with family. I visited a woman who has mentored me in the faith for more than forty years. I stayed with a friend I haven’t seen since we both went to college. I had dinner with the pastor who married Bruce and I thirty years ago. It was good to see them all.
It is sometimes hard to be so far from home. Bruce was along for part of the trip and he spent as much time with his mom and dad. They are struggling with health issues and old age has made it difficult for them to take care of the daily necessary tasks for living and comfort. There are family members who check on them daily and we’ve hired caregivers to help a few days a week, but that doesn’t reduce Bruce’s concern that he is not there for them. Sometimes we wonder if we should move “home,” but we know that our lives are in Texas. We have changed over the years; we enjoy remembering, but we can’t live in the past.
There is a lot of law talk in today’s passages. Deuteronomy is, of course, a book of laws. In it we see how God was calling the Israelites to live in their new land. They were going to face tough times; the world would constantly try to turn them from Him. The rituals and practices were given as a way to stay focused on the life He meant for them to live in the Promised Land, to help them avoid falling into the traps of pagan worship. They were also given to make Israel stand out from the rest of the nations. They were set apart for a purpose, to be God’s people and through which God would send His salvation.
Non-believers like to trot out the old rules to prove that Christians are hypocrites and foolish. After all, some of the rules from the Old Testament seem ridiculous to those of us today and we often do not continue to live according to them. Take pork, for instance. We eat pork; most of do, anyway. Bacon makes everything better, doesn't it? We wear mixed blends of fabric. We cross breed animals. People get tattoos (and for some in ministry, it is even considered “cool.”) I don’t know many people who refuse to work on the Sabbath. These are just a few examples of ways we no longer live by the laws according to the scriptures. Those non-believers point out the hypocrisy of ignoring these rules but demanding obedience to others.
Today we understand that there are certain rules given to us in the scriptures that were culturally important that do not necessarily apply to us today, but we also know that God gave those rules to help us live well. We don’t reject pork, mixed fabrics, mules or tattoos, but we do respect the rules because we know God had our best interests in mind when He gave them. Pork can be dangerous because pigs are garbage collectors and eat foods that with disease that can ultimately harm our bodies. Modern refrigeration and production make those food stuffs not only delicious, but also safe to eat. We still must be careful because those meats improperly stored and cooked can make us sick, but we have the knowledge to do it well today. Mixing linen and wool is not recommended because the fabrics are so different that the garment would not last. Heavy wool can rip the much more delicate linen. While we have developed good production methods for mixing blends that last, we also know that pure cotton has a much better quality than that which is mixed.
The problem with the argument that we are hypocrites because we eat bacon and wear cotton/polyester blends is that there is a misunderstanding about the Law and the laws. It is, in a sense, like talking about apples and oranges: both are good for you, but they serve different purposes. The laws were given to protect God’s people; the Law was given so that God’s people would look to Him.
The writer of Deuteronomy uses two words to describe the Law. It might seem redundant to use two words, but John Wesley wrote, “The statutes - The laws which concern the worship and service of God. The judgments - The laws concerning your duties to men. So these two comprehend both tables, and the whole law of God.” Wesley saw this repetition as defining the aspects of the rules we are to follow: rules that demonstrate love of God and love of man. We can find a similar division in the Ten Commandments: those laws that concern our relationship with God and those that concern our relationship with one another. These laws were a gift given by God to His people. They were meant to help us to live in community with God and with our neighbor.
Our obedience shows the world that those who follow the Law are wise and discerning. Of course, some of the rules found in the Old Testament scriptures seem irrelevant, and perhaps they are in our day and age. However, they were wise for the people in those days. The question we have to ask, however, is what do we, or have we, added to the statutes and ordinances that God has given? How have we made those valuable commands a burden on God’s people?
We think about law the way we do Santa Claus, as if God is bribing us to be good. If we do something, then we’ll get something. We think of the blessing as an earned reward. That’s why we are so uncomfortable when we talk about obedience. We don’t always do what we should, and so we know we don’t deserve to get the reward. We fail daily to live up to the expectations of the Law and expect to receive the punishment. But God is not Santa Claus, and He’s not bribing us to be good. The Law is set meant to make our lives better. If we do this, we’ll experience the world as it is meant to be. If we don’t, we will live in a world that is skewed and broken. God is not demanding obedience, but He’s showing us the right way to live. If we are obedient to the food laws and the hygiene laws, we will find that we are healthier and will live longer.
The story of Daniel is a perfect example of this. Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon as youth to be trained in the way of the court. Nebuchadnezzar wanted there to be men of Judah in positions of authority who could be liaisons between the people. The caretaker of the trainees insisted that Daniel and his friends eat the food offered in the palace, but Daniel wanted to be obedient to God. He asked to be tested. “If our diet does not keep us well after ten days, we will eat whatever you give us.” They avoided the rich food of the palace, food that was likely used in religious ceremonies, and at the end of ten days they were healthier for having kept God’s laws.
As Christians we know and understand that the Law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus teaching the people that they had become so caught up in following the rules that they lost the intent of God’s Word. Following the past few weeks of texts on the Bread of Life, our Gospel lesson today focuses on food. Jesus told the crowds that it isn’t what goes into the mouth that makes a man unclean, but what comes out of the mouth. Faithfulness is not dependent on the menu, but on the thoughts, ideas and practices of our hearts. When we are questioned about our bacon cheeseburgers, we can point to Jesus’ own words. Some manuscripts even include an explanation of what Jesus meant: “This he said, making all meats clean.” We should still be careful about the foods we eat, but we need not worry that what goes into our mouths will harm our relationship with God.
Does it matter if we eat bacon or wear cotton/polyester blends? Not really; we need not live in the past. What matters to our life in Christ is that we live according to the Word of God in a way that glorifies Him and shines His light to others. His spoken Word has the power to change lives, to change the world, to save us. We who have heard His Word and believed should grieve, like the psalmist, that too many do not know His teaching. We called to go out into the world to speak God’s Word into their lives so that they too might hear and believe.
We aren’t saved by being obedient to the rules that are found in the book of Deuteronomy or elsewhere in the scriptures. We are better when we are obedient because God's laws help us to be the best we can be. However, they will never save us. Only His Word, only His Son the Living Word, can save us. The Law will never save us because none of us are able to keep it perfectly. We will fail often, we will sin. Those who have ears, let them hear.
The Law is a gift of God to His people. It was never meant to be a burden; God gave the Law for a purpose. God is glorified by the obedience because the world will see how great things can be if we live rightly. The Babylonians saw that Daniel and his friends were healthier than those who ate the food of the palace. Israel would be seen as a great nation not as a reward, but because they would manifest God’s plan. “Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there, that has a god so near to them, as Yahweh our God is whenever we call on him? What great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you today?”
They knew they would be blessed by the keeping of God’s Law and set apart from the rest of the nations. They would be different because they would live as man was meant to live, in relationship with God their Creator and Redeemer. But they fell short. They forgot to tell their children and their children’s children about the Lord and all he had done. They forgot His Law and turned to other gods. They sought the help of other nations instead of trusting in the Lord. Rather than understanding that the Law was a gift, they lived as if they were being rewarded for their good behavior. They interpreted the Law and turned it into hundreds of rules. They made God’s gift into a burden, expecting the people to keep the rules according to their understanding. Their righteousness was self imposed, not a manifestation of God’s grace. And they condemned those who did not live up to their expectations.
Once we are saved, God calls us to live the best life we can live. If that means avoiding food that can harm us, then we should avoid those foods. If it means being good stewards of our resources by buying the best quality clothing, then we should do that. If it means avoiding situations that might cause us to sin, then we had best avoid those situations. As children of God, we are meant to be a light in the darkness and the voices that invite people to hear God’s Word of salvation.
It is hard. The Israelites entered into the Promised Land with hope, but they were surrounded by others who lived differently. The rules were given to help them keep their eyes on God. We aren’t much different today. The world surrounds us and offers us happiness in all the wrong places, Satan provides us with opportunities that seem too good to resist. Why not live the life that satisfies our every desire? Why not seek pleasure and laughter and gratification of our flesh? Why should we be like Daniel and reject the good palace food being offered? We can justify so many things but in the end they do not glorify God and we risk our relationship with Him when we chase after the wrong things. Even self-righteousness will turn us away from our God.
There are those who think life as a Christian is all peaches and cream, no one with faith could ever be led astray. Unfortunately, that is not true. As a matter of fact, the more deeply committed we are to serving the Lord Jesus, the more likely we will face the attempts by Satan to turn us away. We might fight battles in our flesh but we are fighting an even harder battle in spirit. The closer we get to God, the deeper our faith becomes, the more devious Satan will be. He will even try to convince us that following good rules will be our salvation. We have to be prepared.
Jesus is always concerned about our hearts. What do we believe? How do we respond to the world around us? What words do we use and how do we act? This is what threatens our relationship with God. Jesus said, “For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, sexual sins, murders, thefts, covetings, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
Paul gives us help. He lays down a program that will help protect us from Satan and the world, things that will help us keep our hearts and minds on Christ Jesus. The armor of God will provide us with everything we need to stand against that which aims to turn us against Him. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, Word, prayer and perseverance are the gifts God gives us to be the guardians of our relationship with Him. As we dwell in those gifts we will find the joy that truly blesses us not only in this life but in the life God has promised through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And then God's blessings will flow out of our lives into the world, taking the salvation He has promised to all those who hear and granting that they, too, might live the life God intends for them to live.
It might seem redundant to use two works here, but John Wesley writes, “The statutes - The laws which concern the worship and service of God. The judgments - The laws concerning your duties to men. So these two comprehend both tables, and the whole law of God.” Wesley saw this repetition as defining the aspects of the rules we are to follow: rules that demonstrate love of God and love of man. We can find a similar division in the Ten Commandments: those laws that concern our relationship with God and those that concern our relationship with one another. These laws were a gift given by God to His people. They were meant to help us to live in community with God and with our neighbor.
It is good to look back at our past. Israel was commanded to teach their children and their children’s children about God’s Word and all He did for His people. It is good for us to look at the rules as defined in the scriptures, to make sure we are living the best life we can live. Unfortunately, the world will continue to cast fiery darts our way, constantly trying to get us to turn from our God. Satan will even use God’s Word to try to convince us of a better way. He’ll give us ways to justify our actions. He will make self-righteousness seem to be godly, but if we aren’t careful he will twist God’s word in a way that makes us turn from God.
We who have been saved have a new home in God’s Kingdom. We have been changed and are called to live differently from the world. It will be hard; we will be tempted to return to our old ways. We may forget what God has done and chase after the life that fulfills our desires. The life of obedience is not meant to be a struggle, but to give us the freedom to be who God has created, redeemed and called us to be. And as such, we are a light in the darkness. We are witnesses to God’s grace. And through us, God will make His Word known to the world so that they, too, might be saved.
“Honor Yahweh with your substance, with the first fruits of all your increase: so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10, WEB
On an episode of Friends, Monica and Phoebe got into a situation about money. Monica had lost her job and was moping around the apartment when an opportunity arose for her to cater a party. Unfortunately, she did not even have the money she needed to buy start up supplies. She couldn’t take the party until Phoebe volunteered to help. Phoebe loaned her five hundred dollars she had saved, and they became partners in this new enterprise.
When Monica came home from the event, she was lugging brand new pots and other kitchen accessories. Phoebe asked how everything went and Monica excitedly told her that it went great, that they paid well and she has more parties booked. Then Phoebe wanted her five hundred dollars back. “I spent it,” Monica said. Phoebe was upset because she wasn’t being paid back immediately. Monica explained that she had to spend the profit to start up the business and do the upcoming parties. There would eventually be extra money to pay back the loan. That’s how it works when starting a business. You can’t get rich right away; it takes capital to make profit. The first dollars that come in always have to go back into the business, to buy supplies and equipment, pay salaries and establish a marketing scheme.
It may seem strange to compare our lives of faith with starting a business, but it is exactly the same. God blesses us with so many good and wonderful things and He expects us to give it back, but not as a repayment of a loan. He wants us to invest what He has given us so that the Kingdom of God will grow and glorify Him all the more. After all, God does not need our money, time or even our abilities. He has all He needs and more. But He blesses us to be a blessing, blesses us so that we will go out and use our blessings to share the Gospel of Christ with the world.
The more we put into a business, the better that business will succeed. It takes capital to make a good start, and most businesses fail because the proprietors are unwilling to put into it the financial backing it needs. They try to spend their profits immediately on things they want rather than on the things that is needed for growth or advertising. When they fail they shake their heads in wonderment. “Why didn’t it work?” It was because they were looking for a quick buck, unwilling to put back into it the business as is necessary for success.
In the Old Testament, the people were required to give a tithe to God. That tithe of their first ten percent of income helped keep the Temple functioning and gave an income for the care of the priests. Now in Christ we live under grace rather than the Law, but that does not mean we should not stop giving the first fruits of our labor to God. Only now it is not a requirement; it is a response to the great and wonderful gifts God has given us. With the indwelling presence of God, how can we do anything but give all we have to glorify God? Yes, we’ll still have bills to pay and food to buy, but when we give the best of our blessings to God, we’ll find that there is plenty to eat and our bills will not seem so extreme.
“Who can find a worthy woman? For her price is far above rubies.” Proverbs 31:10, WEB
The Proverbs 31 woman is a picture of the ultimate woman, perfect in every way. With a hint of sarcasm, I like to call her the “Martha Stewart of King David’s Court.” She portrays the unreachable ideal. A friend of mine once commented that she could be a Proverbs 31 woman if only she had servants, too. In the wake of Martha Stewart’s troubles in the past, it is interesting to go back and look at her life, realizing that she is not perfect in every way; she is not at all the ideal we have imagined her to be. As we relate the real life of Martha Stewart to that of the Proverbs 31 woman, I think it helps us to see both in a more realistic light.
Successful women in this day and age are made out to be miracle workers or goddesses, how can any of us live up to such standards? Yet, that is not what is expected of a Proverbs 31 woman. Her lifestyle might seem out of reach, but it really isn’t. She is well balanced, filled with grace, knows her priorities and sets out to complete what she begins. She is trustworthy, astute, generous, competent, wise and spiritually confident. She believes in the truth. The woman of whom this proverb speaks is one who has a grand home and estate to care for, children and servants to guide and protect. Though our lives may seem to be much smaller, we still have responsibilities. We have homes to manage, jobs to do, people who need our love and care. Though we have less, do we take care of our lives with the same qualities as the Proverbs 31 woman, setting our priorities and finishing our work?
The Proverbs 31 woman is not one who is perfect or rich or blessed with every gift. She is the believer who lives out a balanced life, a life in Christ, where she uses her gifts and talents to glorify God and take care of all her responsibilities. We are not perfect; the fellowship of believers in this world does not even come close to being the ideal. Yet, with His love and His gifts we individually and corporately come closer and closer to being like the Proverbs 31 woman, holy and filled with grace. Our response to His love is a life of active service, respectfully submitting to his will in joy and peace. This is not true just for the women of this world, but for all Christians who are His Church, respectfully submitting their lives - imperfect as they may seem - to our Lord Jesus Christ, living as a “Proverbs 31 women” in this world.