Welcome to the February 2011 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, February 2011
"I will make mention of the lovingkindnesses of Jehovah, and the praises of Jehovah, according to all that Jehovah hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. For he said, Surely, they are my people, children that will not deal falsely: so he was their Saviour. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old." Isaiah 63:7-9, ASV
Pongo says, "C'm on, Lucky boy. We can't give up now." But Lucky answers, I'm tired and I'm hungry and my tail's froze… and my nose is froze and my ears are froze. And my toes are froze."
Victoria and I are both thinking about the quote from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" today because a cold front has blown through Texas. The high temperature for today was 66 degrees and probably came at midnight. Since then, the temperature has dropped to freezing and is expected to go down further. By tonight our toes, ears, nose and perhaps even our tails will be froze. This is the kind of day that would make me happy to just stay home, bundled in a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa. Unfortunately, Victoria has a busy day at college and I imagine she has to brave the cold as she runs between classes all day.
Lucky was ready to give up, but Pongo picked him up and started to carry him. Soon after, a voice called Pongo's name in the snowstorm. Another dog ran up to Pongo and said, "We'd just about lost hope. We have shelter for you... at the dairy barn across the road." The cold and tired puppies, along with Pongo and Perdita, found their way into the barn where they were able to rest and find some food to eat. The puppies enjoyed warm milk straight from the cows. Help arrived just as they thought there was no hope.
For Lucky, the help came as his father picked him up and carried him through the deep, wet snow. Then help came for the whole group. Salvation was first for one, then for all. I imagine that Pongo was feeling bad that he couldn't carry every one of the puppies. They were all suffering. They were all cold and tired. They were all ready to give up. But Lucky was the smallest; he was the puppy that nearly died when they were born. He was called Lucky because he was saved right from the start. He needed a little extra care along the way, too. But there is hope for everyone.
We might think, sometimes, that God favors some of His children above others. They seem to go through life being carried through every storm. They seem to be lifted up when all of us are suffering. They seem to receive salvation before the rest of us. Perhaps it is because God knows, as Pongo knew, that they can't handle the difficulty was well as us. They aren't as strong. They aren't as capable. They lose hope more easily. They give up first. God is unwilling to allow someone to perish who is weak in faith and so he helps them through the tough times with a little extra push. But we need not fear, because God carries us all along. He provides salvation for each of us. He gives us that place to rest and the warm milk to drink so that we'll be sustained and refreshed for when we have to go back out into the snow.
And so, let us praise God at all times, in the bitter cold of winter and the cozy warmth of the barn, because He is our strength and Savior. He cries when we cry, He shivers when we shiver. He joins us in the storm and leads us to safety.
“For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Ye are severed from Christ, ye would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace. For we through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love. Ye were running well; who hindered you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion came not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence to you-ward in the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? then hath the stumbling-block of the cross been done away. I would that they that unsettle you would even go beyond circumcision. For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Galatians 5:1-15, ASV
I received an e-book reader for Christmas. The story behind the gift is interesting, but became a problem for me. Bruce was thinking about buying one for me, but the choices are overwhelming. What features do you need? Which company provides the best customer service? Which site has the most books available for purchase? I was having difficulty even deciding which e-reader I wanted to receive. I can’t imagine how hard it was for Bruce to choose one for me!
However, a friend of his provided an opportunity that he couldn’t reject. She bought two e-book readers, one for herself and one for her husband. Meanwhile, her husband bought one for her. Instead of sending one back to the company, she offered it to Bruce, who paid a good price for the unit. He gave it to me for Christmas and I was delighted. I bought several books immediately, read one in just a day. I found a bunch of Martin Luther books in the free section, and I bought a couple of bibles.
After a month of using the reader, I began to notice some problems. The wireless was not working correctly and the battery died in a matter of hours rather than weeks. I tried to reset the unit to factory specifications, hoping that it would fix the problems. What it did is lose my books and make it impossible to retrieve them. So, I called the company. During the conversation with the tech I learned that my e-reader had been reported stolen. Since I knew the name of the purchaser, he suggested that I talk to her. If she fixed the situation, then they could restore my account. I did. It took a number of phone calls, but we worked things out.
When I mentioned to the final tech the issue with the battery problem, I wondered aloud if it had to do with the blacklisting of the unit. “Do you have a way of controlling the battery that it is losing energy so fast?” She suggested that it might be a short in one of the wires and she offered to send me a new reader. I would just need to return the old reader to the company, postage paid, when my new one arrived. The delivery company made a mistake, dropped off the reader at another house, and it was two days late in arriving. I should have had the new one in less than a day, but had the old one for three or four days instead. In that time, I had no problem with the battery. It seems that they do have control over even the battery of those units.
I learned a lesson: when we are connected, we are often connected in ways we do not expect or would rather not be connected. I’m glad to have the easy access to new books and other reading material through my e-reader. But do I want someone in an office far away to be able to control even the battery? That means they have access to everything. They can see what I do and what I view even when I’m not connected. I’m sure they don’t intend to do anything bad, but we are learning quickly that someone, somewhere is constantly trying to get into people’s accounts to do bad things. If the company is connected, couldn’t someone else be, too?
Paul writes, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Paul was referring to the yeast that is removed for the festival of unleavened bread. The festival meant removing every bit of yeast not only from the kitchen, but from the whole house. Even the bread that was already baked had to be removed, every crumb taken and burned. What harm could a few crumbs cause? If we look at it in a practical way, probably none, but the law of the yeast helps us to see the reality of those little things that ruin life for us. We think that it is unconnected or that it would do little harm, but we might just find that it is that very smallest things that can destroy our life.
That little white lie could break a relationship. That foolish game of truth or dare could be harmful to a player. A little speed on the highway can end in an accident. One too many drinks can kill. A silly joke can hurt a person’s feelings. A bad habit can become dangerous. One little sin can become a lifetime of sinfulness. We are free, by the grace of God. But in our freedom we are reminded that we are part of something bigger, and even just a little wrong can grow into something evil.
“I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5, ASV
I watched a video today of a 10 year-old boy who was playing with a hand-held video game device while walking near train tracks in a train station. He was so lost in the virtual world on the screen that he lost touch with the real world around him. He fell off the platform onto the train tracks. Luckily for the boy, an off duty policeman was nearby. He jumped off the platform, picked up the boy and put him on the platform. Disaster was avoided because of his quick reaction to the situation.
But where were the other people on the platform as the boy was so obviously distracted? Why wasn’t someone willing to stop the boy? A couple stood only three feet away as he neared the edge. Dozens of people walked by the boy; couldn’t just one of them have gotten his attention? Diverted his path? Cared enough to tell him to put the game away while he was walking near the dangerous edge? The boy was lucky because someone did care: the off duty policeman was willing to risk his life to save him.
The boy was apparently on his way home from school, so it is possible that his parents were not nearby. As a mother, I know the fears of letting my children go off on their own. Each phase of life for my kids has meant letting go and trusting the children to do what is right. Have they always been successful? No, unfortunately they have made mistakes. Thankfully, those mistakes have not been life threatening. Zack just got his driver’s license and now I have to find the courage to let him go and drive without me there. I’m sure to worry, but I imagine that the mother of that boy worried about him each time he took that train to and from school. She may have prayed that someone along his path might keep their eyes on him.
So, perhaps the lesson for us in this story is that we should be aware of those around us who might not be aware of the world around them. Is there something we can do to help them stay on the right path? Is there something we can say that will get their attention? It might be difficult for someone to help my son if he’s making a foolish mistake in the car, and I suppose the adults that were nearby might not have realized what was going to happen. But we are often in the right place at the right time to help someone keep on the right path. Shouldn’t we step in if there is a chance we can help them avoid disaster? Wouldn’t it be better to help someone along the way rather than have to save them in the end?
“But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak; knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God. Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:13-18, ASV
I had computer issues last week. We had a wave of extremely cold weather which taxed the energy system and forced the state to request rolling brown outs from the local companies. Our electricity went off at 6:30, just as Bruce was getting ready for work. Thankfully that brown out was just fifteen minutes. According to the news, most people were told to expect just one brown out during the day. I was on the computer, preparing to write A WORD FOR TODAY when the second rolling brown out hit. Unfortunately, even though I had taken the necessary precautions to protect my computer for when the electricity came back on, the damage was already done. The hard disk was probably on the verge of going out on me, but the sudden change finished the damage.
I’ve had the hard disk replaced and a friend is working on restoring my files for me. I’ve done some back up, but I am admittedly not as good about it as I should be. I have files that I don’t need and I’m missing a few files that I hope can be saved. Each time this happens, of course, I promise myself to be better about backing up files. And each time I go through the stress of hoping some computer expert can help me.
I did have access to another computer during that time, but I had little time as I dealt with taking the computer to be fixed, purchasing new parts and preparing for the severe weather that was expected in the following days. Unfortunately, this meant that my writing did not get finished on Wednesday, and my MIDWEEK OASIS readers did not receive that weekly message. I thought about writing every day since, thinking that late is better than never, but it didn’t get done. I can give a million excuses, but no really good reason.
In a way, I did not want to deal with the texts. As it happens, we are dealing with an unusual circumstance with this year’s lectionary. Ash Wednesday is nearly as late as it can be, March 9th (March 10th is the latest possible date.) This means that we are studying the texts for Sundays of Epiphany (5-8) that we normally don’t see. Now, some of those texts are used on other days of the Church year. The Old Testament lesson for this past Sunday, Isaiah 58:1-12, is the text for Ash Wednesday each year. The Psalm, 112, is used during the season of Pentecost in Year C. The Epistle, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, and the Gospel lesson, Matthew 5:13-30, are never used. We may talk about the stories or the ideas at other times, but those particular texts are not used during the three year Revised Common Lectionary. So, now is the time to look at them, to benefit from the message God has for us in those passages.
Sadly, I was relieved that I did not have the time to write about these texts. The resources dealing with them are limited because they are so rarely used. I suppose I have become spoiled by the great work others have done before me, and when I’m rushed I use sermon prep notes. When looking for help this week, I found that my favorite resources were empty. Those pastors and theologians had not dealt with these scriptures either!
It is easy to set aside the things that are hard to accomplish. I had a dozen good reasons to skip writing last week, but is there ever a good reason to remain silent? I’m certain there was a message in those texts I should have passed to others, but I did not speak. Is there ever a good reason to ignore God’s Word? I’m currently reading a book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a man who refused to remain silent, a man who shared God’s word even it was inconvenient and dangerous to share. I failed last week, but the lesson we can all learn is that God’s grace transforms us daily so that as we grow in faith we will have the strength to overcome the obstacles that keep us from speaking the Word God has given us to speak.
“For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Galatians 5:13-14, ASV
Today is Boy Scout Day, the day we celebrate the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. On February 8, 1910, William Dickson Boyce filed incorporation papers for the organization. He built the Boy Scouts of America on the example of British Lord Robert Baden-Powell, who began scouting in England in the nineteenth century. Today millions of boys benefit from the scouting program, learning life skills and character traits that will take them into their future.
The Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared” and the slogan is “Do a good turn daily.” This combination of actions means a boy scout will always be ready to help a neighbor. The image that comes to my mind when thinking about boy scouts helping is a uniformed boy helping an elderly woman safely cross the street. But the Boy Scouts learn so much more and accomplish incredible service for their neighborhoods.
The Scout law is “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Can you imagine a boy that upholds all those characteristics? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world was filled with people who were trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent? It might seem like too much to ask: a boy of such character who is prepared to help their neighbors, yet millions of boys are willing to be involved in the organization. Perhaps it is because they Boy Scouts strive for those characteristics, challenging one another to be the best that they can, and yet also being forgiving and merciful when there is failure.
I think we could change make this law the Christian law. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the Christians were trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all at least tried? How much better would the world be if we, too, were constantly prepared to help our neighbors, willing to do whatever is necessary for the sake of others? We may not learn the same lessons as the Boy Scouts learn to earn their badges, but we can certainly follow our own interests and share our own gifts and talents for the sake of the world. This might be a special day for the Boy Scouts, the 101st anniversary of their founding, but it is a day for us to consider our own actions. Though we may not be Boy Scouts, can we join them in living well and rightly as we strive to serve our neighbors?
Scriptures for Sunday, February 13, 2011, Six Epiphany: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 or Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
“…therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days…” Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a, ASV
Ok, so we don’t much like dealing with the scriptures for this Sunday. As I was doing my research, I found a discussion board with postings from pastors that did not know what they were going to do with the texts. “No wonder there aren't a lot of postings here. This is such a difficult text to preach on. This is not the good-news Jesus we're used to.” “I'm not sure where I am going with all this either.” “It seems to me this is a very scary passage to preach.” Moses offers us difficult choices and Jesus tells us that even our thoughts are destructive. How do we, who prefer to emphasize God’s grace, find grace in such hard texts?
In Deuteronomy 30:20 Moses says, “…for he is thy life.” The NIV translates it, “The Lord is your life.” There’s the grace and the foundation on which everything we read today is built. The writers have used a lot of words describing the Law, but if we think about them, we’ll see that each one is built on the reality of God’s love for His people. He is our life. Now, what do we do with that?
The choice is simple: life or death, prosperity or destruction. Certainly we have no trouble making that choice! And yet, we don’t always know which way is the way to life or the way to death. It isn’t so clear cut as we are wandering through our own wildernesses.
This particular passage comes at the end of the Israelites’ wilderness wandering. They have been going in circles for forty years and have finally reached the Promised Land. They are standing on the other side of the river, preparing to receive the promise that was made to their forefathers. Moses was giving them their final message before they crossed. They made the choice once, when offered the opportunity to be saved from Egypt. The choice was easy then: stay in slavery or go to the Promised Land? They overwhelmingly chose to go forward into God’s promises. Yet, that first generation did not stay faithful. They turned from God along the way. That’s why they wandered for forty years. They made their choice to not trust God and they suffered the consequences.
But now a new generation stood on the banks of the Jordan River, ready to cross over. The new part of their journey would take incredible trust. Joshua would have to lead the people in a parade around Jericho instead of into a battle. They would have to destroy everything according to God’s command. They would have to fight with ridiculously small armies. They would have to follow directions that made no sense at all. Sometimes they obeyed, and when they did, they succeeded. But sometimes they made another choice. They went another way. They did their own thing, and in doing so chose destruction.
The Lord is your life. If we live according to this word of grace, we will trust that He will do what is good and right and true. After all, God knows far more than we know. He can do far more than we can ever do. Can you imagine what it must have been like to stand facing an army of thousands with only three hundred men? Or to see the Angel of the Lord prepared to take battle? These are images we may never experience, but we are reminded that God is standing with us, too. Sometimes, however, we choose to turn the wrong way.
I think it is interesting that Moses lays before them the offer that if they love God, walk in His ways and keep His commandments, decrees and ordinances, then they will prosper. Why bother with three different words describing God’s Law? The words have unique perspectives.
A command is an order, a direction, a mandate. It is as if God is saying, “Go forward.” A decree is a decision or edict. It is as if God is saying, “We will go forward.” An ordinance is a rule established and enforced by an authority. It is as if God is saying, “You must go forward.” What happens if we don’t go forward? With a command, we end up going in the wrong direction. With a decree we turn away from God. With an ordinance, we suffer the consequences of our disobedience. We will not prosper if we disobey any of God’s commands, decrees or ordinances, not because God intends on hurting us but because we have not trusted in Him. He knows what is good, right and true. He will not command anyone to do what is wicked.
When they followed His direction, decisions and rules, they succeeded. When they did not, they knew only failure. God held them in the midst of it, but they suffered destruction and death along the way. He restored them each time, reminded them of the promise and re-instructed them on His commands, decrees and ordinances.
Then Jesus came along. Last week Jesus reminded the people that He did not come to destroy the Law. Last week we heard, “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.” He came to fulfill everything God promised in and through the Law. He came to help us reach that final destination. The Israelites may have crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, but a greater promise lay ahead: the restoration of God’s people to Him for eternity. How do we get there? How do we keep going forward? We love and trust God because He is our life.
Jesus’ word for us today is hard. It is easy to say that we haven’t killed anyone, but quite frankly I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get angry once in a while. A story is told about D. L. Moody, the evangelist, who was almost always an example of Christian love and charity. He was known to have a temper, but he kept it in check. Once, however, he was disturbed by a heckler and he lost it. In his anger he shoved the man down a short flight of stairs. The man was not harmed, but the tone of the evening was damaged because so many had witnessed his outburst. Anger can destroy lives as badly as murder.
The same is true of lust. Perhaps this is truer in our day and age when it is so easy to become involved in non-physical adulterous relationships. How many marriages are failing today because of online romances and virtual intercourse? Unfaithfulness is not just a physical action, but it is a turning of the heart. When one is unfaithful to a spouse by lusting after another, one has turned in the wrong direction.
This is not easy. There are perfectly valid reasons to get angry. Perhaps the attacker had said something that could ruin his reputation? What if the detractor said something libelous? We don’t know what made him lose control, but it may have been something we would quickly justify in our own lives. But Mr. Moody knew he was wrong. When the meeting began, he apologized. “Friends, before beginning tonight I want to confess that I yielded just now to my temper, out in the hall, and have done wrong. Just as I was coming in here tonight, I lost my temper with a man, and I want to confess my wrong before you all, and if that man is present here whom I thrust away in anger, I want to ask his forgiveness and God’s. Let us pray.”
We will fail. We certainly should try, but we will fail. We’ll get angry. We will lust over someone. We will not live up to the expectations of our Lord. I suppose that’s why we have such a hard time with these texts. He sounds so very unforgiving in this passage. He tells us we won’t get out of prison until we’ve paid our debt and that we should rid ourselves of our eyes if they cause us to look at someone with lust. This is not good news, and it doesn’t seem as though Jesus is giving us a way out.
We don’t live very long in this world before we are hurt by sin. Every day we fail to live up to the expectations of our Creator and the people in our lives. Our failure, our sin, touches the lives of others. They are harmed in body, mind and spirit by our thoughts, words and deeds that go against God’s good and perfect will. It is the same for us – we are hurt by the sins of others. The wages of sin is death, but during our lives sin brings small defeats that destroy relationships.
The most important relationship that is affected by our sin is our relationship with God. Sin separates us from our Father in heaven, but thankfully God has breached the gap by sending His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. Now, God sees our sin through Jesus-colored glasses, forgiving us each time we fail. It is only in forgiveness that we can be reconciled to God, because without Him it is impossible for us to live according to His Word. The same is true of our relationships with people. We can only be reconciled through forgiveness. We need to forgive one another and ourselves of the sins that block the pipelines between people. God gives us the strength and courage to seek reconciliation between those who have been harmed by sin. If you are hurt, forgive. If you have hurt, ask forgiveness.
We come to these texts knowing that Jesus has completed the work and that His forgiveness is ours. The text for today comes out of a larger body of words, it is an isolated scripture that is read in light of the rest. In this passage Jesus challenges us to be what God intends us to be because He knows the consequences of our failure. Anger can get us into deeper trouble. Adultery can destroy lives. Breaking our promises can lead us down a path of darkness and death. And so we come to the knowledge of our failure with the promise of forgiveness.
Jesus makes it much harder because it is not just about keeping our temper under control. He desires more: reconciliation. He knows our hearts and our temptations. It is so easy for us to respond to our anger showing hostility. After all, we learn in preschool that words can’t hurt us. And yet, Jesus tells the listening crowd that calling someone a fool will send us to hell. The problem is not the words; the problem is the broken relationship. Murder is final. Lawsuits and verbal abuse can also create permanent separation. We are called to something better, to a life lived in peace. We can only do that when we are reconciled with our brother, despite the foolish things we all do when we fall into temptation. This is why Jesus came: to bring reconciliation and peace.
We tend to see things as we choose to see them. The passage from Sirach says, “He has placed before you fire and water.” Here, again, is a choice. Which do we want? Fire or water? Well, to be honest with you, with the cold weather around here right now, a little fire might feel good. But we can’t live without water. The next verse says, “Before each person are life and death.” Are there parallels? Fire is life and water is death? We can certainly see it that way. We can also see fire as death and water as life. Some of our choices are not so clear.
That’s why Moses tells God’s people to Love God, walk in His ways and keep His commands, decrees and laws. When we follow God’s direction, decisions and rules, we will keep on the right path. It might be difficult to read these texts because they are so law-focused, but sometimes we need to hear God’s voice so we know the direction that He wants us to go. The trouble is that we do not always hear God as God intends. We can see that clearly in the battles we wage against our brothers and sisters in Christ. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is following God’s commands, decrees and ordinances?
We do see the world differently. Our decisions are often affected by the circumstances of our life. Just as fire is good and water is good, and both can be bad, so too the way we see God’s Word can depend on our point of view. A woman will see things different than a man. A child will see things differently than an adult. A person from the south will see things differently than a northerner. But in Christ, the Lord is our life, despite our differences.
Paul writes, “For we are God's fellow-workers: ye are God's husbandry, God's building.” We have different purposes in the Kingdom of God. We have different gifts and different opportunities. The trouble that was happening in Corinth is that the people were following individuals. One group believed the Gospel from Apollos’ point of view. Another followed Paul’s witness. Yet, each was a part of God’s work in the world. They weren’t looking to God, but to man.
That is, perhaps, our greatest problem. We look to ourselves, to our opinions, to our points of view for guidance, when God has something completely different in mind. We get so caught up in what we want that we miss what God has for us. The Israelites followed God out of Egypt, but it didn’t take them very long to realize that the path was going to be hard, and they stopped looking to God. They wanted to turn around and go back to Egypt. How often do we start following God but when the going gets rough we decide to turn around. We think, “This way is better.” Or, “God could not have made this decision.” Or “I can’t go forward.” And then we end up going in the wrong direction. And when we end up going in the wrong direction, we find ourselves suffering the consequences of our actions.
In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “If you love God, walk in His ways and keep His commandments, decrees and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous.” The outcome is not dependent on our obedience because God wants us to earn His grace. The outcome is dependent on our obedience because disobedience takes us on the wrong path. If we love God and follow Him, we’ll be blessed by all that God intends for us. If we do not love God, we will be destroyed. If our hearts turn us away from Him, we’ll experience the loss of His presence, death and destruction.
In Sirach we read, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.” So, in the midst of this Law, let us see the grace in God’s presence among us. He is our life. Let us choose life and keep our hearts turned to Him.
“Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing.” James 1:19-25, ASV
I’m working on a new painting. The subject is an old, rickety wooden fence post and wagon wheel in the middle of a field of wildflowers. The picture will have an impressionistic flavor, with bright colors and texture. I’m even including some stiffened silk flowers to give the painting dimension. I’ve finished the background coloring and added the fence post and wagon wheel. I used modeling paste to give the wood depth and texture, then painted it with multiple hues for depth.
I now need to paint some bushy grass at the foot of the fence post and wagon wheel to give them the impression of sitting in the field instead of on top. I’m having a little problem with this next layer, however. The grass should be long and straight, but if I simply paint it over the wood, the texture from that layer will be obvious. I need to find a way to paint the grass so that it appears to be separate from and in front of the fence post and wagon wheel. I could use modeling paste, but it is much harder to get a flat, flexible feeling from that medium. I will probably use a structure gel, but I’m thinking about adding some sort of base like cardboard or stiffened fabric to set it apart.
I’ll figure something out, but I might have had an easier time if I had planned ahead a little. If I had drawn the bushy grass and painted the modeling paste around it, I would have a smooth working surface left behind for the grass. I’d still need to use some sort of medium to give me the height I’ll need, but I would not have to overcome the height and texture that is now there.
We are forgiven and in Christ we are given the grace to live freely in hope and faith. We make mistakes, doing what we should not do and not doing what we should. Even Paul, the greatest of the Apostles, admitted that he could not be everything he hoped to be, but he knew that he was forgiven and moved beyond his failures. Unfortunately, everything we do leaves a mark. Though we have the freedom to live because we know we are forgiven, we should consider the consequences of our actions and be careful to live in a way that will glorify God. We can overcome our failures, and God helps us. But let us always remember that our actions affect the world in ways we may not expect. We might have the freedom to do what we please, but it is not always beneficial to do so.
“Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song: Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth. Sing unto Jehovah, bless his name; Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols; But Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Oh worship Jehovah in holy array: Tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth: The world also is established that it cannot be moved: He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; Let the field exult, and all that is therein; Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy Before Jehovah; for he cometh, For he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with his truth.” Psalm 96, ASV
I’m not only interested in painting, I love to see other people’s art work. I suppose that is why I enjoy going to my Thursday morning art class so much. A group of ladies gather and paint together. We don’t have a teacher, but we help each other. One woman has an incredible talent for making the right colors. She can reproduce the old masters perfectly. Many of the women use pictures of other art as the basis for their own paintings, and she can usually help them when they get stuck. We have a variety of talents and techniques. A few of our artists use oil paint. Others use watercolors. I like to use acrylic.
Gathering as we do is good because we keep one another accountable. It is so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life, setting aside our time with a paintbrush. After all, it doesn’t seem very important against the scheme of things. Yet, there is value to our work. The paintings are beautiful and share our vision of the world. Most of our painters are active Christians, and the paintings are often statements of faith. At the least, the paintings are often gifts for family and friends, a way to share a bit of beauty with others. We encourage one another and keep each other accountable. We care for one another and in doing so witness to the grace of God.
Do we always like each other’s paintings? I have to admit that I don’t like all of them, and I’m certain that many of the ladies do not like mine. I tend to be more abstract and most of the other ladies tend to interpret their subjects more literally. At the last gathering I attended one woman said, “I just can’t think like you.” And I responded, “And I can’t think like you.” But that’s ok. Both types of paintings are beautiful and are needed in a world where people see and think differently. The paintings that touch one person might not tough another, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, throughout history there have been times when people thought it would be best to destroy art because it was deemed offensive or even heretical. During the 17th century Reformation in England, rioters often destroyed all the intricately carved statues in the cathedrals and churches, claiming that they were idols and against God’s law. Stained glass windows were broken and paintings were destroyed. The same thing happened in the ninth century.
February 11th is the feast day for Saint Pascal, who was pope in the early ninth century. Fanatics in the Eastern churches destroyed pictures of Jesus, Mary and the Saints because they were idolatrous images. They even murdered those who tried to save the art that was used to decorate Christian churches and that were used to encourage faith and worship. Pascal loved religious art and tried to end the violence, but did not succeed. What he did do is promote artistic expression in other regions in his leadership, rebuilding churches and filling them with beautiful art.
We might not like all the art that is produced, and some of it might even be offensive. We might not be concerned with idolatry today, but we have our own understanding of the world and some of today’s art does not fit that picture. Some art is not even beautiful, and seems to have no value or purpose. Yet, we should be careful about what we choose to destroy, for God can use the beautiful and the not so beautiful to share His message of grace and mercy with the world. So, let us encourage artists of all kinds, for in that art God might just have the very word we need to hear today.
“My beloved is white and ruddy, The chiefest among ten thousand. His head is as the most fine gold; His locks are bushy, and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside the water-brooks, Washed with milk, and fitly set. His cheeks are as a bed of spices, As banks of sweet herbs: His lips are as lilies, dropping liquid myrrh. His hands are as rings of gold set with beryl: His body is as ivory work overlaid with sapphires. His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: His aspect is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars. His mouth is most sweet; Yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” Song of Solomon 5:10-16, ASV
How are you spending Valentine’s Day? Will you have a special dinner with your loved one? Have you sent cards to anyone? Have you seen the price of roses in the flower shop today? The stores are still filled with plenty of heart shaped boxes of chocolate that will delight even those who are on a diet (at least for a day.) Half of my email this morning was advertisements from online stores with ideas for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. Facebook status posts are related to the holiday as everyone is posting their well-wishes for their friends. Valentine’s Day is a day for doing something nice for someone else, for showing those we love how much they mean to us. So, how will you spend the day?
I walked down the seasonal aisle in the grocery store yesterday. I wanted to buy some candy for Zack to take to his afterschool activity. It is amazing how many different ways chocolate can be presented as gifts. The shelves were filled with a lot of red and pink, chocolate with nuts, creams and crunchies. Some of the chocolate boxes come with an extra gift like a stuffed animal or fake flower. One chocolate company has created a gift that is chocolate in the shape of a rose. Of course, the Valentine’s Day ideas were found in other parts of the store. The bakery department had tables full of chocolate covered strawberries and heart shaped sugar cookies. There were even lovely little cakes and cupcakes that had icing roses on top.
When I was in the seasonal aisle, I looked at the boxes of Valentine’s Day cards. I wondered to myself if I should buy some so Zack could give them to friends. I knew it was silly; after all, he’s a senior in High School, eighteen years old. If he wanted to give a valentine, he’d buy a special card for a special girl, not a box of cards for all his friends like he did in Elementary school. I guess I’m missing a simpler time.
I think it was particularly hard this year because we spent the weekend at the college Zack is planning to attend. He made the commitment this weekend, we paid necessary fees, it is as good as done: Zack is leaving home. As I looked at those boxes of cute cards, I remembered when we would spend time preparing them for the classroom party. We would work together signing the cards, putting them into envelopes, sealing them and writing each classmate’s name on the front. We carefully chose which cards to give to best friends and which card would be best for the teacher. We haven’t done that for a long time, and I was missing those childhood activities. But Zack is all grown up, now, and so is Victoria. Just as they have set aside the silly activities of childhood, I have to let them go to be the adults they have become.
It seems I’m spending this Valentine’s Day thinking about days long past. Yet, I also know that there are so many new and exciting things to come. I might not have youngsters that need boxes of valentines for school, but I do have two mature young adults whom I love just as much. They might celebrate the day in a much different way, but they are still my valentines. And now, as they become independent and go out on their own, my true valentine Bruce and I can begin a whole new phase of our life together. Now we will return to the days of romance, to the days when we were two hearts facing the future together. We can focus once again on one another.
The book Song of Solomon can be shocking to read, a romance novel in the midst of the story of God. Yet, our relationship with God is very much like that book; He romances the Church as the groom romances his bride. It is worth remembering that love is manifest in many different ways, including the love between a husband and wife. Valentine’s Day may not seem like a time to think about God, and yet even in the midst of the pink chocolate boxes and expensive roses, we are reminded that God considers us His beloved. He wants the kind of relationship we have with our spouses, a relationship where we focus on each other and face tomorrow together.
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now it is in the world already. Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they as of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:1-6, ASV
I’ve been reading a book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer which tells the story of his life from his childhood through all the stages of his life. Eric Metaxas in “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” lays the foundation for Bonhoeffer’s decisions during the Nazi reign in Germany. He was an intelligent, passionate man, a Christian who stood firmly in his faith and in the Word of God, who saw beyond the surface and was spurred to action for the sake of others. He knew that something was wrong and he worked tirelessly from the moment of Hitler’s rise to power. He eventually had to make the commitment to ‘sin boldly’ because he knew that doing what was right on paper was wrong in Spirit. His choices took him from being a theologian and pastor to being a prophet and a spy and then eventually to being a martyr.
The whole story is shocking. As we look back on the World Wars and the Holocaust, it is impossible for us to understand how it could have happened. How could people have been so blind? How could they allow someone with such evil intentions get away with such horrors? Shouldn’t someone have spoken up? Shouldn’t someone have done something? Though I can’t fully understand, as I read this story I can see more clearly how it might have happened. Hitler was brilliant at being, saying and doing what he knew people wanted. He said he was a Christian, yet his actions and policies proved he was not a Christian. He said he cared for the German people, but he cared only for his power.
In those years, Hitler accomplished things that the people wanted finished. He restored Germany’s honor. Though he did so by destroying other countries, killing innocent people and humiliating world leaders, the German people saw only that they were getting back everything they had lost during the First World War. He used the state church and transformed it into a more secular organization that was willing to support Hitler’s plan, and the people missed what was happening because he was able to convince them that their way was right. He was determined to destroy the confessing Christians like Bonhoeffer by arresting them for ridiculous reasons and convincing the average people that the state church was right while the confessing church was wrong.
We are well aware of the murder that was committed in the name of German nationalism, but I have to admit that I was not as knowledgeable as I thought. Most of my education in the evil that was Hitler’s plan came from visits to Jewish memorials and through the limited lessons in school over the years. I knew about the millions of Jews who were killed and those who were killed because they resisted Hitler’s plan.
I suppose I knew that others were also killed, like the sick and the weak; it makes sense when juxtaposed to Hitler’s point of view. However, I never realized how malevolent that part of Hitler’s plan really was. Anyone who was sick, disabled and less than perfect was in danger of being killed. He emptied entire hospitals and took the patients to camps where they were killed. At first the murders were unnoticed because the perpetrators were sneaky. Administrators at hospitals were given surveys about each patient, asking details such as type of sickness, length of sickness and possibility of recovery. Later they received lists of patients that were to be moved, with the explanation that those beds were necessary for war injuries. The administrators had no idea where their patients were going and they had no reason to believe that they’d receive anything less than the best care. They didn’t know those patients were headed to gas chambers. Families were not informed until the ashes of their loved ones were delivered with the startling news that their loved one had died. The reason for death was given as pneumonia or some other disease, and the ashes made it impossible to autopsy the bodies.
Though the entire story of Hitler and the Nazi reign is frightening and sad, I think the murder of innocent children and adults with disabilities was the most heartbreaking. They were deemed unworthy of life and were easily and quickly removed from society. I’ve watched those with disabilities at Morgan’s Wonderland, and I can say without a doubt that each and every one of them is of value. They are loved by God and worthy of our love. Could we end up in the same place as those Germans in Hitler’s time? Could we become the kind of people who allow the sick and disabled to be destroyed for someone else’s sake? Yes, we could, if we do not listen to the Spirit and Word of God. We are no different than the German people in the early twentieth century. We, too, can be deceived. The spirit of the anti-Christ is powerful, but the Spirit of God is greater. Let us trust in God and be obedient, even if obedience takes us down a path that leads us to ‘sin boldly’ for the sake of others.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 20, 2011, Seven Epiphany: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-30; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
“Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48, ASV
I took Zachary to Texas Tech last weekend for a college visit. Lubbock is about seven hours away, and the drive takes us through miles of seeming nothingness. The reality is that it is not nothingness. The vast acres of farmland may have been empty in mid-February, but I am sure that they’ll be green and full of life in just a few weeks. We could tell that some of the fields were dedicated to cotton. The trunks of the bushes were still sticking out of the ground and some cotton bolls were left on the stems. We also saw areas in the fields where cotton had fallen and was not picked up. It looked almost like snow, and we might have thought it was snow after the weather last week, but the temperatures were much too warm. Besides, snow would not appear on the tips of branches the way the cotton balls looked.
I was amazed with the amount of cotton left in the fields. I suppose the places that were not harvested were hard to get to, and the cotton on the ground may have gotten too dirty to be used. I was thinking it would be fun to stop the car and go pick some of the cotton, just to see what it feels like fresh from the bush, but I decided against it. After all, you never know how a farmer will respond to trespassers on their fields.
I was thinking, though, as I passed by those fields, about the ancient practice of leaving some of the fruit behind for the widow and the alien. Imagine my surprise when I read this week’s scriptures and found it in the passage from Leviticus. I wondered what might happen if I did go and try to pick that cotton. Would the farmer be upset, or did he still live according to that ancient law? Is that cotton left behind on purpose? Given to God for the sake of others? Quite frankly, I doubt it. And I doubt that it was ever intended to be used by a person like myself. I couldn’t possibly use that cotton to make myself clothing or even sell for food.
I can’t imagine ever going into a field of sweet corn to pick a few ears for myself or picking grapes off a grapevine. I know that the farmer’s livelihood depends on consumers purchasing their food. I also know that I can afford to buy those items for myself. But what if I were a widow or orphan or foreigner? Would modern farmers allow me to pick from their crops? Do modern farmers keep this law today? Should modern farmer continue to keep this law? That is one of many questions that could be asked when dealing with some of the issues we face today.
But for today, we are going to look at this passage as a whole. Leviticus is filled with rules for living, but I like this particular chapter because the various laws listed seem so down to earth. We might not understand some of the dietary or hygiene rules. We certainly don’t understand some of the sacrificial and ritualistic rules. But we do know what it is like to lie, steal and cheat our neighbor. We do know that we are called to do what is right for our family and our friends. These laws are very practical, and they help us to know how to live in this world.
As we consider the laws in the Old Testament lesson, let us remember, however, the words of Christ in our Gospel lesson. “Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We are reminded that Christ calls us to be more than the Law. He calls us to be like Him, Christ-like. As Paul says, you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God, so live like it. We aren’t just flesh and blood, we are spiritual beings, God’s temple.
But, we live in the world. And while we live in the world, God expects us to live generously and graciously toward others. We might prefer to ignore the Old Testament lesson, knowing that Christ came to grant us forgiveness from our failure to live up to that Law, but we learned that He did not come to do away with it. The words in Leviticus are as much a part of our life in Christ as it was for the Israelites who received them from Moses. We are still meant to be holy as God is holy, to live holy lives for the sake of others. In Christ we have been given a new identity and Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel to grow up.
At least that’s how this passage has been translated in “The Message.” “In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:48) It seems like those rules found in Leviticus are a good place to start.
Despite these rules being very down to earth and practical, we are constantly reminded about the authority of the One giving the Law. “I am the Lord your God.” That’s why we do these things, or avoiding doing those things that are wrong. We do it because God is our Lord. We do it because He wants us to be holy like Him. We do it because He has told us that this is the way we should live. It may be that the day once was when these rules were the foundation for reward or punishment, but in Christ we live differently. We are God’s Temple, and we are called to be holy like He is. We don’t live within these rules because we expect reward or punishment, but because it is what God wants us to do. We don’t leave the crops at the edges of the field because we think that God will give us a greater harvest later, but because we know that it might make a difference for someone who does not have enough to eat.
So, what are the rules in this passage. God starts at the beginning: be holy because God is holy. That verse lays down the authority in our life. The next continues the hierarchy: honor your mother and father. And we are reminded to keep God’s Sabbath. Don’t revere idols or make graven images of ourselves. We are then reminded, again, that He is the Lord our God. That phrase is repeated over and over again in this passage. For all the earthbound rules we are expected to follow, our reason is because He is our God. We should not lie, cheat or steal because He is our God. We should not make promises we won’t keep or swear falsely because He is our God.
Most of the laws are quite familiar. We know what it means to lie, cheat and steal, although I’m sure we could get into lengthy debates about how far we can go with those actions before they are really wrong. Some believe that certain lies are good. Biblical characters, like Jacob, were blessed by their cheating. And is it stealing if we find that twenty dollar bill on the floor and do not ask to see if it belongs to someone? Yet, we live in a society that has been founded upon laws that establish the parameters of these actions and we are generally capable of living accordingly.
But what about this law that says, “The wages of a hired servant shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.” How does that translate into our business practices? After all, how many of us actually get paid on a daily basis? In some cases, we get checks only once or twice a month. Are our employers being disobedient to God’s Law? We have to remember that for those laborers, that daily pay meant food for their family on that day. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not the laborer would get paid, but waiting until morning quite possibly could mean the difference between eating and starving.
In modern terms, I have seen many examples of people disobeying this law on those daytime court television shows. Take, for example, the landlord that refuses to return the security deposit when a tenant has done everything they should do? Or the father who refuses to give child support because he doesn’t like the ex-wife’s new boyfriend? Or the mechanic that won’t make it right when they’ve done a poor repair job? In these cases, the money might make a difference for the people from whom it has been withheld. The point of the law is to make sure that everyone gets what is rightly due so that they can live without worry and harm.
“Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind…” This law can be understood to protect others besides the deaf and the blind. If you curse a deaf person, they cannot hear your words. If you put a stumbling block in front of a blind person, they cannot see the stumbling block. The deaf and the blind cannot respond to the danger that has been placed before them. Who else might be destroyed by our actions if they are not aware of them?
The law talks about justice. What is justice? This is yet another topic that has been part of our debates in recent days. Many have insisted that our focus in ministry should be on the poor, but is there ever a time when justice might just fall in favor of the rich? The law says, “Don't pervert justice. Don't show favoritism to either the poor or the great. Judge on the basis of what is right.” (Leviticus 19:15, The Message) God does indeed love the poor and promises that they will experience God’s riches. But God also demands justice; He demands that we treat each other rightly. Justice is not about equality, but about what is right.
Through it all, we are reminded that the Lord is our God. He is the one who ensures justice. He brings to light all that is wrong and calls us to repent, to turn around, to do what is right. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.” God reveals all the secrets and gets everything out in the open. Don’t hate in your heart, deal with it. As Paul says, “Grow up.” We are children of God but we aren’t children. The Law in today’s passage is about living as adults in the kingdom of God. It is about being mature and respectful, honoring God with our actions. It is about doing what is right. When we do what is right, justice will be the result.
For many, justice demands reward and punishment. And they will do whatever is necessary to ensure the victimized are rewarded and the wicked are punished. But too many have created victims where there is none, and twisted the actions into something that is evil when it is not. So, as we consider the texts for this week, we are reminded that the Lord is our God and He will ensure that everything will be made right. So, it is not our duty to seek vengeance or hold grudges. We are called to love. The Lord is our God.
Jesus tells us not to be concerned about the ways we can be harmed, offended or humiliated. We are to be like God. We should not seek vengeance even though the law says we can demand a tooth for a tooth. We should not fight back when someone slaps us in the face, but instead turn the other cheek, even if it means being slapped again. We should not fight to keep our things if someone chooses to take us to court, but give them more than they ask. God will make it right. If they demand false justice, God will achieve true justice. We are to live generously and graciously toward others, even if they are not willing to live generously and graciously toward us. We are to love our enemies.
This is, indeed, the hard part. How can we possibly love our enemies? How can we allow injustice to rule when we are able to take matters into our own hands? The psalmist gives us a glimpse into how we can do this, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, And quicken me in thy ways.” “The Message” translates this, “Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets.” NIV says, “Turn my eyes from worthless things.” We are earthbound people, living in a world with difficulties and decisions. But we are also spiritual people, the temple of God. We are called from the ways of the material world into a life following God’s ways, living as He intends us to live, doing what is right. Now is the time to “Grow up” and live in the identity He has created for you in and through Christ.
What is wisdom? Paul says, “Don't fool yourself. Don't think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God's fool—that's the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19a, The Message) It might seem smart to demand today’s version of justice, but is it right just because we say it is? Be God’s fool. Live in His ways. Love your enemy. Seek God’s counsel and live according to His Word. You belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. He has made you a promise, that you will see His Kingdom in its glory. It might not be today or tomorrow, but it will happen. Until that day, live generously and graciously toward others and in His righteousness you’ll find true life. Obey His laws, not because you expect reward or punishment. Obey His laws because He is the Lord your God and He has called you to be like Him.
“As he said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him what this parable might be. And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to the rest in parables; that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Luke 8:8b-10, ASV
Pregnant mothers get a lot of advice. It seems that the big belly gives perfect strangers the opening they need to provide information for every aspect of the pregnant woman’s life at that moment and then forever. They provide advice on what to eat, how to deal with labor, which products are best and even which school the child should attend when they go to college. These advisors are quick with thoughts on raising kids in our day and the failures of every parent. They have tips for being a good disciplinarian and how to be both a mother and a working woman. My advice is usually, “Listen to everybody, then do what works for you.” A stranger on the street can’t possibly know the best college for your unborn child. They can’t even know what’s right for you at that moment.
I remember when I started receiving those bits of advice, I usually listened more carefully to the people I knew and loved. My mother, my friends, my doctors all gave me advice and I listened. Did I follow everything? Not necessarily, because some things just don’t work for all people. But I listened and I tried their suggestions. Did I heed the advice of those strangers on the street? Not very often. How did I know they knew what they were talking about? The worst suggestions always came from those who did not even have children. They had no credibility and their words were useless to me. Though I listened, I never really did hear what they had to say.
Jesus did not have credibility with many of the people who met Him during His ministry. They could not believe that He knew what He was talking about. After all, who was Jesus? Was He a priest? If not, how could He know about God? Was He trained in the ways of the faith? Not anymore than the guy next door. Why would he listen to Jesus if Jesus had no more right to preach than he? The teachers and leaders certainly did not believe Him. Why should they? They were the ones who had the knowledge and experience to speak about God. Because they did not believe that Jesus was a credible witness, they would not, and could not, believe in Him.
You’d think that Jesus would do everything He could to convince them. He should have been bolder, like those advisors on the street, who map out a list of credentials like how they babysat their cousin’s baby when they were twelve. Surely that gives them the right to tell me which vitamins to take, right? But Jesus didn’t bother trying to convince the unbelievers of who He was. He didn’t even try to speak in language they would understand. He spoke about the Kingdom of God in parables, stories that could only truly be understood by those who had faith in Jesus. Through faith, the stories made sense. Without faith, they were just stories.
Sometimes we continue to hear those stories with a little doubt and misunderstanding. Why would farm stories make any sense to us at all? Why should we even bother listening? Shouldn’t Jesus have spoken in language that would be understandable to every time and every place? Perhaps it would have made it easier for us to understand today, but would it make everyone believe? No, because Jesus still does not have credibility for some. We may not fully understand what Jesus means in His parables, but we believe that the message of grace is meant for us as it was meant for those first readers. And so, those stories have more life and are life-giving for us because the Spirit helps us to understand.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself: and he gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is a son of man.” John 5:24-27, ASV
Eternal life: what an incredible promise! We may have different images of what it will be like, but we all look forward to the day when we will live in the presence of God for ever. For some the image is of a place in the sky with everyone bouncing from cloud to cloud. Others see it as a place with many mansions, or a great mansion with many rooms. Some see it as the great city of New Jerusalem, that city that needs no sun because the glory of God is its light. I imagine heaven is like a beautiful green field next to a crystal clear rolling stream with a big shade tree where I can spend eternity with my friend Jesus, enjoying each other’s company. We would have no cares and He would teach me about all those things that have confused me in my study of the scriptures.
Whatever heaven will be, we know that it will be perfect. We won’t need to worry or cry. We will know such love as we have never been able to experience under the shadow of sin and death. We’ll see the most incredible things, like lions and lambs lying together and enemies shaking hands. Joy will be rampant and worship will be our constant attitude. Heaven will be exactly as it is meant to be: heaven.
Paul often begins his letters to the churches with a salutation that says something like, “Grace and peace to you.” Grace and peace: we will certainly experience that when we get to heaven. But can we know grace and peace in the here and now? Yes, definitely. Grace and peace is found in the knowledge that we have eternal life. Though it is a promise to be fulfilled in the future when we finally arrive at that place called “heaven,” we have eternal life now. Jesus doesn’t tell us that we’ll get eternal life later; He says that we have eternal life because we have heard His word and believe Him. The promise is as much for the here and now as it is for the future.
And so, Paul greets us with the words, “Grace and peace to you.” He is encouraging all his readers not to wait until the then to enjoy the gifts of God. Grace is God’s way of helping us to dwell in the here and now. We live in a world full of sin. We are sinners. We fail and those around us fail. But with God’s grace, we know we are forgiven and that we can forgive. We know that God will make all things right for those who love Him. We won’t need grace in heaven, because heaven is the fulfillment of all God’s promises.
If we dwell in that grace that God has given us for today, then we will naturally experience His peace. Will the world around us be peaceful? No, it won’t. We’ll experience pain and suffering. We hear about wars and difficulties. We’ll see our loved ones die and we will experience death. But we can live in peace, because the peace of God is a matter of trust and faith. Peace is knowing that God dwells with us, that heaven is here and now, that grace will get us through everything.
So I say to you today, “Grace and peace to you.” You might spend a moment thinking about what it will be like when you finally arrive at that great and wonderful place called heaven. But then go forth into this world in faith to live in the peace that God guarantees by His grace.
“Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you. Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye may love one another. If the world hateth you, ye know that it hath hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” John 15:9-19, ASV
I just finished the book “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy” by Eric Metaxas. The book tells of the life and ministry of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor who was involved in the resistance against Adolph Hitler. In more than five hundred pages, I got to know this incredible man, to see his courage and faith, to experience the life of a man who was willing to follow God even into death.
Now, when I read books, I tend to start off slowly, but as I near the end I become obsessed and determined to finish. The last hundred pages are usually page turners, keeping me up until all hours of the night. I can’t imagine ever allowing a book with only twenty pages left to be unfinished, even if I had to stay awake well past my bedtime. Yet, I put this book down at that point last night. I was a little tired, for sure, but there was another reason: I didn’t want to finish the book.
I knew that in those twenty pages Dietrich Bonhoeffer would die. I’d come to respect and love the man about whom I was reading. Though he was not perfect, and certain aspects of his life were uncomfortable to me, I liked him and I think he could have made an incredible difference in Germany and the Church in the years beyond the World Wars. I didn’t want him to die even though I knew it was inevitable, and I decided to remain ignorant for one more night. I put down the book and left it for today. I have to admit that I cried when I did read it.
For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, death was not a moment for tears but joy. His last words before going to the trial that would seal his fate were “This is the end. For me the beginning of life.” He had no fear in this life because he knew that God was waiting for him. He lived boldly and securely in the knowledge of God’s grace, in the hope for what was to come. He often commented to others when he was in his mid-twenties that to reach the age of 36 or 37 was quite enough for a Christian. He made it to 39. If we willingly and faithfully speak the truth, especially in a time like those days in Germany, persecution is a very real possibility. Once Bonhoeffer saw the truth of their circumstances, he could not continue in ignorance. He had to act, even if his actions led to death. He boldly stepped forth in faith, certain that God was with him through it all.
“And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16, ASV
I received an email this morning that had a list of science questions asked of school children. They gave humorous and interesting answers. The answers are often funny because the children use long words that almost sound right but are completely wrong. Take for example the answer to the question, “Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink.” To which one child answered, “Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.”
Some questions not only were funny because of the use of big words, but also because of the insight given. The question was, “What happens to your body as you age? The answer, “When you get old, so do your bowels and they become intercontinental.” Imagine what experiences the youngster must have to recognize that the bowels can create problems for adults as they get older? Does that child live with a grandmother? Has he or she overhead mom and dad referring to the problem in hushed conversations? I’m sure that’s not something the children were taught in class, at least not in that language. That’s a lesson they pick up in life, on the streets, in the grocery store, at church or on television. We think they aren’t paying attention, but they catch on to so many things and then provide their knowledge as answers to questions.
I loved this question and answer, “What causes the tides in the oceans?” The answer, “The tides are a fight between the Earth and the Moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature hates a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight.” The imagination necessary to create such an answer is amazing. I’m sure that the science lesson did talk about the relationship between the sun, moon and earth, but this child gave it an extra twist, probably based on some other lesson they learned. Perhaps the idea of water flowing toward the moon is the explanation given for rivers flowing in a certain direction. But to take that idea and transform it into an explanation for tides in the ocean is brilliant, even if it is wrong.
I honor the children’s creativity, and their confidence, and when we are children, those answers are humorous and interesting. However, if an adult, or an expert in the field of study gave us similar answers, we would think them foolish or without credibility.
I’m sure we’ve all seen similar emails dealing with matters of faith. The children have insightful answers to the questions we all ask about God, love, hope, suffering and peace. Yet, their answers are usually conglomerations of all the stories they’ve learned in Sunday school. It is never surprising when they confuse characters or stories, putting Noah in the boat with Jesus on the sea to Rome. It is even funny when they make those mistakes. It isn’t quite as funny when adults do so. Some foolishness might be obvious, but sometimes the matters of faith are more subtle, harder to discern. We can easily confuse hope with dreams, suffering with punishment, blessing with approval.
So, as we grow in faith we are called to a life that will bring us to a maturity that sets aside the foolishness of child hood. The irony is that God has told us that it is the child that will inherit the kingdom of God and yet we should not live like children. What this means is that we are meant to believe and trust in God with the innocence of children while continually seeking to better understand the things of God. We aren’t necessarily called to be experts in the field, but we are meant to live and speak with truth, not foolishness.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 27, 2011, Eight Epiphany: Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34
“O Israel, hope in Jehovah from this time forth and for evermore.” Psalm 131:3, ASV
I worked in retail before I was married, first as a clerk and then as management. For awhile the company I worked for was upgrading and renovating. They updated the merchandise, redesigned the displays and replaced the old furniture in many of their stories. A team of people were assigned to the store and they completed the work in a matter of weeks, then they moved on to another store. I was involved in some of the renovating, and it was a part of my job that I really enjoyed.
I was single, with no life beyond my job, so I didn’t mind working the extra hours necessary to continue in my position while also helping at the renovations. For a period of about three weeks I worked the equivalent of two full time jobs. I was easily putting 75-80 hours a week, not including my commuting time which was more than an hour each direction. I didn’t take a day off in those three weeks, and I guess the strain was beginning to show because the manager of my regular store told me one day, “Go home, take a day off. I don’t want you working either place tomorrow.” I went home and rested, and was able to get back on the job with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
I enjoyed doing the work, especially the renovations, and I have long wished I could have become a full time member of that crew. But, I was committed to a job and I had to give my time and energy there. After that three week period, I only went to the other store occasionally, and when that store was finished, I didn’t follow the team to the next one. I had to give my time and energy to the place where I belonged.
It felt good to be needed. I appreciated the encouragement I received from the renovation team and from my manager. I appreciated the money I got for working two full time jobs. But I learned that I could not be my best at two jobs. I had to focus on one so that I would be healthy and focused. I was torn because I liked the work I was doing, but I knew that I was not doing anything as well as I should have been. I couldn’t serve two masters.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks in rather extreme terms by saying that you have to either hate one and love the other. I didn’t feel that way. I had reason to like both jobs. I was a little tired, sure, but I was happy during that period. When we read this story, I think we have a difficult time accepting that we can’t love two seemingly opposite and opposing things. I know many people who love their jobs and also love God. I know plenty of people who are committed to their faith but also committed to the work they do. What could Jesus possibly mean by this passage?
He continues on by saying that we should not worry about our lives. Perhaps that’s the key to understanding what He means by these two masters. What is our focus? Do we continue to work because we love our job? Or are we working for something else? As I said, I appreciated the huge paycheck I received those three weeks. Perhaps I did enjoy my job, but I have to admit that knowing I was going to receive overtime for those hours got me out of bed and onto the road for that hour long commute on my day off.
We serve that master that meets our needs, but we do not always understand which master is the right one. We work those long hours, take those extra shifts, fill our schedules so that we will be successful in our work. We may love it. We may be doing the work that God has gifted us to do and we may really enjoy it. We may even praise God for the opportunities. But when that job because the focus of our life, when the work we do becomes what we trust to keep us safe and fed and warm and clothed, then we have lost touch with the reality of faith. Even if we acknowledge our God in worship and prayer, we are not loving Him when we depend on ourselves and our work for our daily bread.
This is where it gets hard. We know that God isn’t walking door to door with baskets full of fish and bread to give to all the Christians in the world. We eat with the money we earn at the jobs we do. Yet, it is easy to fall into the false assumption that God helps those that help themselves. When we believe this, we rely upon ourselves and our own strength, loving what we have and do rather than what God has already given and done for us.
Jesus is extreme in this passage, but the point is well made: when we love our work, we forget about God. When we trust the things we do and our own abilities, we do not trust that God will provide. When we put in two full time jobs to make a few extra dollars, we do not look to God for our daily bread. We put the wrong provider first.
Jesus says, “Do not worry.” I’m a worrier. I admit it. I have to honestly say that the next year is going to be stressful as I try to find a way to send two children to college. I have been wondering if I need to find a job, at least something part time, for those extra few dollars we may need to pay all our bills. It just may be something I will do, but Jesus reminds me not to worry about it. This is a time for trusting God, for letting go of my own worries, fears and reliance of the wrong master.
The lessons seem to lend to a message about humility. The Psalmist sings, “Jehovah, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, Or in things too wonderful for me.” We may prayerfully seek God’s will in our lives, but when we choose to take matters into our own hands, we are actually putting ourselves above God. We are reminded to keep our hearts humble, to bow our heads and to listen to God’s Word in our life. He has already taken care of all our problems, we just have to learn how to follow.
In Isaiah, the Lord says that on the day of salvation He helped us. How often do we look at our lot in life and wonder where God is in the midst of it. When we suffer financial difficulty or health problems or broken relationships we wonder why God has abandoned us. I’m sure that’s how the people in Isaiah’s day must have felt. Where is God? What is He doing? Why hasn’t He saved us? Our worries and fears get in the way of trusting that God has done and is doing what needs to be done. We turn to our own strengths and expectations rather than believing in God’s faithfulness.
But God reminds His people, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, these may forget, yet will not I forget thee.” Unfortunately, we do not always stay in a position to be helped. We love the wrong master. We turn from God’s grace. We fail to trust in God’s faithfulness. We are called to be humble, but we tend to be proud.
Paul writes, “Here, moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” How can we be faithful: by doing what we think is good, right and true? Or should we be humble before God, relying on His faithfulness? We don’t have to be perfect, talented or successful. Our wealth, health and energy is given so that it might be used for God’s glory. We will suffer. We will fail. We will miss opportunities. We will not fully understand the expectation of God. But we can go forth in faith, anyway. Paul knew that he wasn’t perfect. He knew that he might fail to be everything God intended for him to be. But he relied on God’s faithfulness, His love and mercy and grace. He didn’t even judge himself, knowing that the only true judge is God Himself.
And so, let us pray with the psalmist, “Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Be humble and do not worry. This is a hard request to make, but if we worry, we keep our eyes and our hearts focused on the wrong savior. We worry because we think we can find a way out of our problems. We become haughty and concerned only with our point of view, unable and unwilling to see that God might just have something better waiting for us. His answer is not necessarily that big paycheck or that job we enjoy, but it is a way that shines His light in the world.
He has already taken care of it. His time of favor has already come. He has already saved us. Sing for joy all you people. God has not forsaken you. He cannot forget you. You are engraved on the palm of His hand. Wounds, perhaps? Nail holes are the sign to remind us that God has already dealt with our failure. His day of salvation came on the cross of Christ and because of Christ we are always remembered.
Which master should we serve? Our own worries, ideas, understand, hopes, dreams, work? Or should we serve the One who has given us everything we need to live. Jesus says, “But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Be humble. Let God be your Master. Take upon yourself the work He has called for you to do: as a steward of His mysteries. Be trustworthy. Be confident in God’s grace. Be thankful. Be loved. For God has not, and will not, abandon you. You are His and He is faithful. “O Israel, hope in Jehovah from this time forth and for evermore.”
“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language; Their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course. His going forth is from the end of the heavens, And his circuit unto the ends of it; And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: In keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, And I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.” Psalm 19, ASV
We were awoken early this morning with the playful noises of the kitties. Some of the noises were not terribly pleasant as it seemed that the rough housing was getting mean. The growling, hissing and crying noises are never pleasant to hear, especially so early in the morning. A quick “Stop it” from Bruce and the cats settled down a little.
The end of the rough housing was the beginning of another game that Samson likes to play. For some reason he likes to crawl under our bed, roll over, grab the planks with his front paws and them kick furiously with his back. He doesn’t have claws on the front, but definitely has them on the back, so I can just hear the wood being ripped apart every time he does this. Now, I doubt he’s going to destroy the plank; it would take a great deal of scratching to get all the way through a board that size, but I know he’s doing damage. Thankfully, he’s doing it to the plank underneath the bed that no one can see. The rest of the bed is in excellent condition. He could be like other cats that destroy living room couches with their scratching and clawing. I have no idea what we will find when we finally move that bed. We may discover that he hasn’t done much damage at all. We may find that the plank or planks need to be replaced. The reality of his impact will be revealed some day.
We aren’t like Sammy. I don’t know anyone who will crawl under a bed and kick the planks until they are destroyed. But we are like him in the way our actions often have consequences that are hidden for a long time. What have we destroyed, but isn’t seen because it has been hidden away? What sins have we committed that have done irreparable damage to others in this world? Like those planks that will continue to hold up the bed, how many people are being held up by tatters, able to survive, but not as strong or able as they could be because we have left a mark on their lives?
The psalmist cries out to God, “Clear thou me from hidden faults.” We know the expectations of God, just as the psalmist. We know that His law is perfect, and that it will restore our soul. We know that wisdom comes from hearing what God has to say. God’s Word is where we find guidance for our journeys and reminders of our imperfection. We can join with the psalmist, seeking God’s light in our life to reveal our sin so that healing can happen in the world. By God’s grace we will be made clean, and hearts will be healed. So, let us pray with the psalmist and seek God’s mercy, asking that God will listen to our prayers and answer according to His good and perfect will.
“Be not deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” James 1:16-18, ASV
I happened to hear a story today about Charlie Sheen and shenanigans that are affecting the production of his hit television show. He’s had issues with substance abuse and stories have been rampant about his antics. He recently said some things on the radio that upset his boss, and the show has been canceled for the season. There are no guarantees that the show will ever return. Though he’s always been a problematic member of the cast, they’ve been able to work around his antics until recently. Now his actions verge on the bizarre, and he’s created too many problems to be worth the cost.
The show has had a good run, but I have to admit that I haven’t enjoyed the past few seasons as I do. I don’t know if it has anything to do with foolish actors, or if the storyline has simply run its course. The characters are not as funny, although they still manage good moments. I guess after seven seasons any show can fall into a rut. It is difficult to transition cute cutes into adolescence and adulthood. A character can only be pathetic for a certain amount of time before you stop being sorry for him. There are only so many drunken womanizer jokes that can be told before you stop laughing and begin loathing. In some ways, the bizarre Charlie Sheen has been translated onto the television screen. We might hate the character because we do not like the actor, but the character has lost his likability.
When I heard the story on the news this morning, I turned to my computer to do a web search. The report didn’t have very much information and I wanted to see more. The search brought up a few links to news sources, which told the story of his radio interview and the consequences of his foolishness. Other links led me to the official sites for the actor and the show. One line, as is inevitable, led me to the entry in Wikipedia.
Now, I use Wikipedia sometimes, but with caution. I usually click into other sites to verify what I’ve read there. They include links to official websites and other sources, so it is easy to use Wikipedia to find corroboration. Students are not allowed to use it as a source because it can be unreliable and I’m sure it is discouraged in other research fields. The reason for that is because Wikipedia is too easily edited by people on the Internet.
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that uses its users to write the articles. The articles are often simply copied and pasted from official source pages, but other writers are able to edit what is there, adding information from other sources or changing what is on the page. Unfortunately, some editors purposely put false information on websites, creating rumors and misunderstandings. Some have even added dates of death to the articles about people who have not yet died. The article about Charlie Sheen on Wikiipedia has already been changed to include today’s story about his radio interview and the cancelation of the television show.
I have one of those super expensive encyclopedia sets that we purchased more than twenty years ago. If we were to compare those volumes with ones that are printed more recently, I am sure we would find some changes. I’m even a little cautious when using those books for information, because some things do change. In twenty or so years, I’m sure that some of the people listed have died. I’m sure some of the countries have changed. The world has changed in many ways, so it is likely that the articles in that encyclopedia have had to change. But those changes will never be offhanded or under researched. They will be carefully written and based on the best information available. Sometimes the Wikipedia changes are based on first-hand, incomplete information.
Thankfully God does not change the way television shows and online encyclopedias. He remains the same today, tomorrow and always. We can count on His promises and His faithfulness. He has saved us and given us everything we need to do the work He has called us to do: to be His witnesses of the Gospel of life in the world.
“Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that ye no longer should live the rest of your time in flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles, and to have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot, speaking evil of of: who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the living and the dead. For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer: above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves; for love covereth a multitude of sins: using hospitality one to another without murmuring: according as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God; is any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:1-11, ASV
I saw a commercial the other day for one of those closet organizing systems. The first picture you see is of a messy closet with the voiceover asking, “Does your closet look like this?” I have to admit that I thought to myself, “I wish my closet looked that neat.” My closet isn’t too bad, but there are probably more than few things I could remove like clothes I don’t wear anymore or shoes that do not fit. However, I can walk into the closet and find everything I need, so it isn’t a desperate problem.
My problem with the commercial is that after you see the messy closet, they show you this well put together closet with their organizing system. It is beautiful. Everything is neat and in its place. Perfect, but absolutely unbelievable. The picture of the old closet is up very briefly; so briefly that it is impossible to tell whether or not the items in the new closet were even in the old one. But I have a hard time believing that anyone owns the kind of wardrobe they’ve placed in the new one.
One rack held three perfectly ironed white long sleeve shirts. Another rack had three perfectly pressed brown pairs of pants. A shelf holds a pile of neatly folded t-shirts, four or five of the same color. Every shelf, rack, drawer had clothes that were identical. The total amount of clothes visible could not possibly last even a week in anyone’s life, and the person did not have a very interesting sense of style. My closet could never look that neat because I have shirts of every shape and color as well as long pants and short. I also have dresses and gowns, shoes for fancy occasions and sneakers. I have hats and accessories, drawers for socks, undergarments and scarves. I know that I could design a unit that would match my needs, but I don’t think it could ever be like the after picture in the advertisement.
Now, when God looks at our life, what do you think He sees? A closet full of neatly folded matching clothes or a mish mash of stuff, some of which is good and some which is no longer fits or is in style. Some of the junk we keep is useless and even unworthy of who we have become in Christ. Some of the junk is old and dirty. Some of the junk has never even been taken out of the bag. But I don’t think God intends for us to all look like that closet in the after picture, with a few matching outfits and everything in its place. He knows we are unique, and He treats us as unique individuals with different issues and problems and needs. We just need to trust that He will hear and answer our prayers according to His good and perfect will. His answer may not be what we expect, or what we want. It might not match what we see in other people’s lives. But God is faithful.