Welcome to the February 2013 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 2013
“For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden. This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:1-5, ASV
I met my husband at a wedding. He was stationed in England at the time, and I was living in New Jersey. He visited his home in Pennsylvania to celebrate his brother’s nuptials, and I was a bridesmaid for my best friend. We enjoyed the time we spent together during the wedding weekend, and then we went to our distant homes. A few months later, we both sought the address of the other from our friends, and we began to write. For the next half year or so, our only communication was snail mail. This was so long ago that we didn’t have access to the Internet. There was no Facebook. We made the occasional telephone call, but they were rare because the cost of an overseas call to both of us was overwhelming with our limited income.
We learned so much about one another in those letters. We fell in love through those letters. We were separated by three thousand miles, but we didn’t feel so far apart because there was a connection between us. About eight months after we met, Bruce visited his home again on his way to a new duty station in California. We managed to get together a few times during his month leave and then a few months later we were married. We will celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary this fall.
In our modern age of technology, we never feel very far from others. No matter where we live, we can be instantly connected to our friends in other parts of the world. I never expected that the words I write each day would be read regularly by people on every continent in the world, and that they will be read within seconds of being posted. This form of communication is more anonymous, less intimate in many ways, and yet it is amazing that we can touch one another at the very moment of our need. We can pray immediately, we can write words of encouragement, we can correct errors immediately. When things are really out of control, we can even be face to face in hours instead of days.
Paul didn’t have the Internet. He couldn’t call the people on the telephone or send them an email. He didn’t have airplanes or cars to travel quickly to the places where he planted churches. He could send messages via a messenger or go there himself, although both took time. Distance might be insignificant in our age, but in the time of the early church it made it difficult for a leader to lead. The congregation in Colossians, which continued to grow after Paul left, was filled with people who did not even know him. How could they trust his teaching, especially with others who were present?
But Paul assured the people in Colossae that he was not far. They were connected by something greater than space. They were connected by the Holy Spirit and God’s love. He was not with them in flesh, but he was with them in Spirit. He prayed for the people, and anxiously awaited word to hear how they were doing. He was concerned for their well-being and he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to help them stay on the right path. He knew that they faced great challenges from people who claimed to have the answers, but who were following a false gospel.
We are separated by distance, some less than others, but I want you to know that I struggle for you, too. I have not met many of you, but we are bound together by something that distance cannot overcome: God. We are bound together by His love and by His Spirit. Beware of fine sounding arguments. There is no special knowledge that can save us. Always keep the promises of God in your sight, and rely only on Christ, for He is the foundation of our Salvation. Nothing can keep us from receiving what He has promised.
“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. If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:19-27, ASV
There was once a department manager who was unwilling to provide everything her employees needed to be successful. In particular, they needed to hire temporary help because their usual work load was overwhelming especially when the mundane office tasks were piling up. They knew it would be helpful at times if someone would come and do the filing, categorizing and file cleaning. It can take hours to ensure that the filing cabinet is organized and easy to reference, but no one had the kind of time necessary since they were doing the harder, job related tasks.
The manager refused to bring in extra help, insisting that the employees just needed to do a better job at organizing their day. They needed to be more efficient, perhaps even take a course to help them manage their time. She would occasionally offer advice about how they could do it better, but most of the time she simply told them to find a better way. This attitude did not gain her any respect or credibility within her department.
One day she was temporarily assigned to fill in for an upper management person who was going to be gone for some time. She was required to do a few extra tasks, and found herself overwhelmed by the job. She hired a temporary worker to do exactly what her usual staff requested from her over and over again. Instead of finding a better way or becoming more efficient, she did what she refused to do for others. Of course, if she had been confronted, she would have claimed that there was a difference between their circumstances, and yet is there? Her staff certainly didn’t think so, because they talked among themselves about how hypocritical it was for their boss to think that she deserved the help while they didn’t.
As I read the story of this manager I thought about how many times we treat another person poorly because we think we know better than they do, but then expect others to treat us with grace when we are faced with the same circumstances? How many times do we see the faults of another, but never see them in ourselves? We call each other names without realizing that what we see is a mirror image of our own failing. We are often exactly what we claim others to be.
The manager called her staff lazy and unorganized, but when she was faced with similar circumstances she acted lazy and unorganized. She had the power and authority to deal with it in a way that made her work more successful, but refused the same for her staff. It was her responsibility to ensure their success, but she was only concerned about her own. Her focus on herself actually made her own negative qualities even more apparent in her employees.
The next time you have something negative to say about something, or when you are about to do something that might harm another in some way, look in the mirror. Perhaps the very characteristic or action you claim about your neighbor is something that you need to see in yourself. Is your neighbor angry? Perhaps you have a pent up anger that needs to find peace. Do you see your neighbor as whiney? Perhaps your own words reveal that about yourself. The foolish man is the one who see everyone else as fools.
So, beware. Think before you speak. Consider the possibilities before you reject another’s needs. The manager would have done well to ask if she would be able to do what they are doing with the resources they had. When you want to call your neighbor a name, look in the mirror. What do you see? Are you that very thing?
“Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands. Serve Jehovah with gladness: Come before his presence with singing. Know ye that Jehovah, he is God: It is he that hath made us, and we are his; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Give thanks unto him, and bless his name. For Jehovah is good; his lovingkindness endureth for ever, And his faithfulness unto all generations.” Psalm 100, ASV
There is a cartoon called “Coffee with Jesus” from RadioFreeBabylon which shows Jesus having coffee with a variety of characters that have questions for Him. He then offers some very down to earth and yet very heavenly advice. The cartoon is not always comfortable. The artists often challenge our understanding of faith, life, relationships. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they make me think. Sometimes they even make me angry. And yet, there’s something very real about the conversations Jesus has with the characters in the comic strip.
Today’s episode showed Carl asking Jesus about His favorite Christian singer. Jesus answers that He enjoys listening to a woman from a small village in Thailand who sings with her whole heart all day long. Carl says, “Oh. So no one anyone’s ever heard of.” Jesus answers, “She won’t be touring the church circuit anytime soon, Carl, but she’s famous where I come from.”
If you watch any of those shows that interview ‘the man on the street,’ the people interviewed are sadly more informed about famous people than they are about real life. We are more likely to remember the names of the top five American Idols than we are of our neighbors. We are more interested in the exploits of today’s divas than we are of the accomplishments of the teachers at our neighborhood school. We are more concerned by the news involving a sports hero’s injury than the family whose home burned down in our city because of a lightning strike. Celebrity is very visible and is central to our knowledge and interest, and we miss what’s really important in the world.
Carl never heard of the woman in Thailand who sings with her whole heart, and we will never get to hear her praise songs, but Jesus knows and the angels rejoice when she sings. Our own successes and failures will never be reported on the news, but Jesus knows and He celebrates our accomplishments and cries over our pain. He’d rather hear us sing “Jesus loves me” than attend a concert with every RIAA diamond certified artist. The list is filled with extraordinary musicians, but Jesus loves to hear you sing and He is in the front row every time you raise your voice in praise to God.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 10, 2013, Transfiguration Sunday: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 99; Hebrews 3:1-6; Luke 9:28-36
“Thou answeredst them, O Jehovah our God: Thou wast a God that forgavest them, Though thou tookest vengeance of their doings.” Psalm 99:8, ASV
I think, perhaps, the hardest part of being a parent is learning how to balance the necessity for discipline of our children and our love for them. We want to let go and forgive them everything, but we know that if we do they will never grow into mature and responsible people. As hard as it is to punish our children, we are charged with helping them learn how to do what is good and right and true. It isn’t any easier for God, but sometimes punishment is a part of how God deals with His people.
The psalmist writes, “Though thou tookest vengeance of their doings.” The story from the Old Testament lesson is one of those moments. Moses was the chosen one of God. He led God’s people out of Egypt and through the wilderness for forty years. He stood in the presence of God. He received the Law and gave it to the people. He sought God’s help for the people over and over again. Every time they complained about the lack of food or water, every time they grumbled, Moses asked God to help in their stead. He was an incredible man of God, faithful and obedient. And yet, he was just a man and he failed.
We see the reason in Deuteronomy 32:51 “…because ye trespassed against me in the midst of the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah of Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.” He was faithful and obedient, but not perfectly. In the desert, the people complained about the lack of water. This wasn’t the first time. Earlier in the desert wandering, the people grumbled about their thirst and God told Moses to go in front of the people to the rock at Horeb (Sinai.) There Moses was to take his staff, strike the rock and water would come out. (Exodus 17)
In Numbers 20, the people were complaining again, this time in the Desert of Zin. God specifically commanded Moses to speak to the rock, Moses was angry. Instead of approaching the rock trusting in God’s word, he approached with a determination to prove to the people that they will get what they do not deserve. Instead of speaking forth the water, he struck the rock twice.
I was always bothered by the fact that he was supposed to strike the rock the first time, but not the second. How could God find fault with something He had commanded Moses to do on another occasion? What was the difference? At Horeb, the people are newly freed from Egypt. They didn’t know God; they hadn’t yet spent forty years relying on Him. They did not even have the Tablets of the Law. The second rock was at the end of their journey. After forty years, the people of Israel had seen the incredible power and mercy of God. They were fed out of nothing. Water poured from a rock. Even their shoes did not wear out. And at this moment, they were close to entering into the land God promised to their forefathers.
It is absolutely necessary for us to trust God’s word above all else. God is gracious, and He is merciful, but faith is by hearing, not by sight. And so, at this important juncture in the story of Israel, God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. Moses, following his base instincts and his anger, struck the rock, instead.
God told Moses, “Because ye believed not in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Imagine the scene. Moses stood by the rock and hit it twice with his staff. What would you believe? Would you believe that it is the word that made the water flow? Or would you believe that Moses caused it to come? Who would you thank for that water? God commanded Moses to speak the word, and in doing so he would have shown God to be holy and powerful. Instead, Moses showed himself to be holy and powerful. This is why Moses could not enter into the Promised Land.
As it is, the Jewish people already held Moses in very high regard. Even to the days of Jesus, Moses was seen as more than just the man who led them out of Egypt. He was the deliverer. He was the lawgiver. They knew God was behind it, but they gave the credit to Moses. If God had allowed him to go on, they might have made him like a god, but Moses was just a man. He was a man chosen and gifted by God to do great and wonderful things, but he was just a man.
And so for his faithlessness, Moses was buried on the other side of the Jordan. He was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. However, God is gracious and merciful: He gave Moses the chance to see it. Moses died with the reality of God’s faithfulness in his sight. God did what God promised Abraham He would do. His people were home after four hundred years, after slavery, after forty years of wandering.
Even death for Moses was merciful. Can you imagine going through life with the burden of being the one on whom everyone relies, especially when they have an extraordinary expectation? How could a man like Moses be like a god? It didn’t matter how humble he was, or how much he repeatedly told the people that they should trust in God: they preferred the tangible presence of Moses. How do you trust something, or someone, that you can’t see? Moses was there. They could go to him, talk to him, and see him work. Trusting God requires faith in the unseen, unheard, and unproven.
The Jews looked to Moses as their salvation and hope, for he had delivered them from Egypt and given them the Law. Yet in looking to Moses they missed the One who was greater; they missed the One who had created Moses and was worthy of the worship they gave to a servant. Despite his faithlessness, there was something extraordinary about Moses. Though he died and was buried, his tomb has never been found. As someone once said, “God buried him and then buried his grave.” This has led to an understanding that Moses did not die, but was taken to heaven, although we know this is not true because the scriptures tell us Moses did die.
Yet, in today’s Gospel lesson, we see Moses again. Despite his faithlessness at that one moment in time, God still honors the work Moses did in obedience to God’s call. Moses may have failed, but he was also faithful. Isn’t that true of all of us? We all respond faithfully to the call of God, but we often fail. Sometimes we even do things that seem to put us ahead of God. Like Moses in the desert, we strike the rock as if we are the ones who are bringing forth the water. Yet, though Moses was dead, he lived.
Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain to pray. These three were the center of His ministry, always nearby. Despite their importance to Jesus and to the rest of us today, they are as human as Moses and us. What were they doing while Jesus prayed? They were sleeping. How often do we find ourselves so exhausted by the journey of life that we end up sleeping through the best parts?
They woke up just in time to see Elijah and Moses were talking to Jesus. What a strange and wonderful vision this must have been for them. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets and it was believed would come again to announce the Messiah. Moses had experienced the presence of God so completely that he was transformed by it, and in those encounters he was given the Law by which God’s people were expected to live. They began the work of God, but Jesus finished it. They delivered and redeemed God’s people for a season, but Jesus did it forever. Jesus was the one who revealed God’s mercy and grace, the true deliverer of the people. Jesus glorifies God and gives us a hope that will last beyond this day into eternal life.
Perhaps the faces of Moses and Elijah offer a glimpse of the eternal life we receive through Jesus Christ. Imagine the scene that Peter, James and John witnessed. Jesus was glowing with a light that is beyond human description. His clothes were changed, as well as His countenance. He was with the two great men of Israel—Moses and Elijah—and they were talking to Jesus as if they were neighbors chatting over the back fence. It is no wonder that Peter was excited by the scene, and that he wanted to memorialize it in some way.
Peter, James and John saw the reality of Jesus on that mountain. They saw Him in His glory; they heard God’s voice declare Jesus as the beloved One. But they followed Him to His destiny—glory—only to find out that the brilliance and magnificence of that moment was fleeting. Peter did not want it to end. He did not know what to do with the experience, except perhaps to grasp onto it as a symbol of the hope they had that Jesus was to be the One sent to save them from their earthly troubles. Peter offered to build a permanent structure, tabernacles for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. He didn’t know what he was saying.
Peter was interrupted by a voice from heaven. A cloud came down and covered them and they were afraid. “This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him.” The voice does not command the disciples to bow down and worship Jesus, to follow Him or even obey Him. God commanded the disciples to hear Him. They were to listen to Jesus. God’s word matters and it is Jesus who speaks God’s word with faithfulness. We are to believe and do whatever He says.
How does God speak to us? The psalmist reminds us that God spoke to the Israelites through the pillar of cloud and through His priests. He spoke to them through His Law. “They kept his testimonies, And the statute that he gave them.” In later times, God spoke through His prophets. Moses and Elijah represent the people God chose to speak His words to the people. And then God sent His Son. Now, we hear God’s words through the stories of Jesus, through the scriptures, through the people who are still called to preach and teach today. God speaks through our priests, pastors, preachers, missionaries, prophets and teachers. He speaks through other Christians. He speaks through us. Unfortunately, we often become confused about what is real and what is our own response to the circumstances in which we live. Moses hit the rock because he was frustrated by the continued faithlessness of the people, and in doing so showed his own faithlessness. Peter offered to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah because he didn’t want the moment to end, and in doing so ignored the true ministry to which he was called.
We look to our pastors and leaders to help us to understand God’s Word, but we often confuse our trust in them with faith in God, and then follow teachings that lead us in the wrong direction. We are not called to follow men, but to follow Jesus. We are faithless like Moses and Peter when we trust our pastors, institutions, doctrines and programs more than we trust God.
There are many in our world today that have found themselves struggling because they know there is good reason to leave a church, but they can’t because something is holding them there. They have roots. They have family. They built the church with their sweat and their material possessions. It is understandable. We are afraid to let go because those things have been our foundation and our hope. But there comes a moment when we have to realize that we have placed our trust in something less than God.
It is easy to become confused by the voices we hear. Which one is God? Who is telling me the truth? Do I understand what the scriptures mean or am I putting my own spin on God’s Word? The one thing we know for sure is that God’s mercy is found only in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews says, “For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things is God.” God does not negate the ministry of those who are sent to be like Moses or Elijah, but He reminds us that there is one greater. Jesus is our hope and our salvation and more worthy of our praise and thanksgiving, for He has built the house.
If we rely on the words and ministries of those who are sent, we are trusting in man above God. Or if we put ourselves and our ministries above God’s Word, we are trusting in man above God. But God is gracious. Even when we are faithless, He is faithful. We may suffer the consequences of misfocused trust, but God will let us see the Promised Land. And though Moses did not enter with the people when they finally crossed the Jordan, He was not forgotten by God. He was still honored for his obedience and faith by standing in the glory of the true Savior. We, too, will fail but one day we will also stand in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when we do, it will be for eternity because by His grace we have been made a part of His house forever.
“I thank God, I speak with tongues more than you all: howbeit in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brethren, be not children in mind: yet in malice be ye babes, but in mind be men. In the law it is written, By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers will I speak unto this people; and not even thus will they hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving: but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to them that believe.
A sandwich chain came out with a commercial that shows a number of athletes and celebrities trying to say the theme word, which is a play our current month, February. Now, the word ‘feb-roo-ary’ is difficult to say because of the “r,” so the most common pronunciation is ‘feb-yoo-ary.’ Some will argue that it is improper to say it that way, even to the point of looking at those speakers as uneducated, but according to the dictionary it is an acceptable option. As a matter of fact, it is listed first.
According to “The Free Dictionary” online, “Usage Note: Although the variant pronunciation ‘feb-you-ary’ is often censured because it doesn't reflect the spelling of the word, it is quite common in educated speech and is generally considered acceptable. The loss of the first r in this pronunciation can be accounted for by the phonological process known as dissimilation, by which similar sounds in a word tend to become less similar. In the case of February, the loss of the first r is also owing to the influence of January, which has only one r.” The first “r” in February disappears because there is another “r.”
The sub shop is playing on the confusion and on the idea that those who speak the word on way are more scholarly than those who speak it the other way. In the commercial, the athletes and celebrities even seem uneducated because they can’t pronounce the word properly. I really didn’t understand the commercial until I really paid attention and realized that they were being asked to say “Februany.” Taking a difficult word and changing it makes it even harder to say, especially when trying to do so on cue in front of a camera.
But does it matter? Should we play tongue aerobics just to include the letter that is acceptably removed in common speech? Sometimes we put too much emphasis on the things that really don’t make a difference. We lift up something that doesn’t help others. We focus on the insignificant while ignoring the real work that needs to be done.
Paul understands the importance of the wonderful spiritual gift of tongues. As a matter of fact, he boasts that he speaks in tongues more than others. It is not absent from his experience, but the people in Corinth are giving it much too much importance. Paul is thankful for the gift, but he encourages the people to grow up and speak words that really matter: words of grace and hope and love that people will understand and believe. Paul lifts prophecy over tongues because prophecy edifies the whole body of Christ, including those who are just hearing the Gospel for the first time.
“After these things the word of Jehovah came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, O Lord Jehovah, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, This man shall not be thine heir; But he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:1-6, ASV
Abram (before his name was changed to Abraham) was given a great promise. When we talk about Abraham’s faith, we often focus on the promise of offspring that will outnumber the stars. This is certainly a great promise, especially incredible since Abraham was extremely old and childless. His wife Sarai (Sarah) was old, too, and apparently barren. But Abram believed God and it was credited as righteousness.
Abraham is remembered for his faith, and yet we know that he failed to live according to that faith. Shortly after God spoke to Abram in this vision, in the next scene, Sarai approached Abram with a suggestion. “Honey, I’m barren and the only way that we can make this happen is for you to impregnate my maidservant. Then we can have a child.” Now, in those days the servant was property, and so nothing belonged to the servant, not even her own children. The baby would be born with Sarai nearby, and would be given to her first, to establish Sarai’s maternity. Legally, that child would belong to her as much as to Hagar. And the child would be Abram’s biological child.
But that isn’t what God intended. He promised that the seed would be born of Abram and Sarai. Now, as you read the story, it is easy to blame Sarai. After all, it was her idea. And yet, the promise was not actually given to her. She did not experience the presence of God. She did not hear His voice. Abram did. And though he experienced God, heard God and believed God, he trusted Sarai in this. He agreed, despite the promise from God. How different the world might be today if Abram had only said, “No Sarai, God promised and I believe. We should wait for His time and way.”
How many of us are just like Abram? How many times do we know and believe that God has promised to bless us, but we are impatient. We think that we have to make God’s promises happen in our way and time. We take matters into our own hands; we mess up God’s plan. But here’s the grace: God still keeps His promises even when we impatiently take matters into our own hands. Despite their attempt with the maidservant, God blessed Sarah with a child.
While we focus on the promise of offspring when talking about Abraham, there is another promise in this text. God said, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” The promise of offspring was wonderful for Abraham and Sarah who were not blessed with children in this world. But even better is the promise that God is with us. He is the blessing. Abram believed.
Abram may have taken the promise of offspring into his own hands, but he believed that God was with him. He was righteous not because he did everything perfectly but because he had faith that God would not abandon him. We will fail, too. We’ll take matters into our own hands. But the promise to Abraham is true for us. “Do not be afraid. I am your King and you will be blessed.”
“At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30, ASV
There’s a commercial for one of those energy shot products. It shows a man accomplishing an unbelievable number of things in just five hours. He begins with a round of golf, then read a book while teaching himself to play the guitar. He wrote a novel while he taught himself Spanish. Then he ran ten miles while knitting a sweater. Then he wrote the sequil, “En Espaniol.” He jumped out of an airplane. Finally, he became a ping pong master while recording his debut album. How did he do all these things in just five hours? Apparently the energy shot is magic. Most rounds of golf take the best part of five hours, and I know I couldn’t accomplish any of those other tasks in that time. The commercial ends with the guy saying, “Wait until you see the next five.”
The commercial begins with the question, “What do you do with five hours.” We are supposed to be impressed by how much he accomplishes, but are we really? Can he really do any of those things well in that time, let alone all of them? Is our goal in life to get as much done as possible in as little time as possible? And should we do it all under the influence of ‘magic juice?’
Where is the time for rest? But even more so, where is the time to enjoy the life and gifts we’ve been given? As I read today’s passage, I decided to include more than the verses about resting in Christ, because the first verses tell us something important, too. It tells us to enjoy life like children. Do they try to accomplish a lifetime worth of tasks in just five hours? Sadly some do in today’s world, but I’m thinking about what it was like when I was a kid. We knew how to rest, especially during summer vacation. We knew how to play and to sit under a tree and do nothing but listen to the wind blow. We knew how to chase lightning bugs and watch them blink in a jar. We knew how to float in the pool for hours.
Kids can run wild with play and then suddenly fall on the ground in giggles. Children can fall asleep the minute the car starts. They know when to do something and when to stop, when we allow them to be kids. Unfortunately, we often push our kids to do more and more stuff, signing them up for every camp and afterschool activity, so that they are constantly busy. By the time they are teenagers and young adults, they live with an understanding that they have to do everything in just five hours. They know they can’t accomplish it all in the normal time, so they push themselves beyond reality. They use products like that energy shot so that they can.
But they’ve lost that ability to stop and rest. We’ve lost that ability. We are constantly on the go, and we have lost touch with the child in us that knows how to enjoy life whether we are busy or still. We are so busy trying to accomplish things that we miss the opportunities to experience everything God has accomplished. We miss the simple and hidden things of God because we aren't taking the time to look.
We don’t need to take an energy shot to keep going because God wants us to slow down and spend time with Him.
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” Luke 14:28-30, ASV
I was riding with a friend on a road I haven’t traveled much and I noticed the frame of what must have been a rather large building for a business in a field by the road. The frame was made of large steel girders, and they were configured in a design that must have been specially designed for the business. It wasn’t a simple square box; it had arches and angles that would have made a fine looking building. The problem is that the building was never finished, and it was obvious that it had been untouched for a long time. The cement foundation was cracked and overrun by weeds and grasses and the steel girders were red with rust. Someone started a building but never finished it.
The scripture passage for today comes to us in the midst of other stories that talk about the cost of being a disciple. In this story, Jesus asks which of us would begin to build a building without thinking about what it will cost us. When I look at a building like the one along the road, I think it is such a waste. The builders obviously put a lot of time and effort into what they had laid on the foundation, after all the design and production of those girders was probably very expensive. I doubt that builder expected to finish the building and begin his business. Something happened he hadn’t expected.
We can’t possibly know what went wrong. When we think about this passage, we often think of cost in terms of money, but the cost of building can refer to so many other things. It is physically demanding and exhausting to build something. It is possible that the project wore at the relationships of the builder. The hired hands may have caused problems. And he might have run out of money.
The cost of following Jesus has similar problems. We never know what will get in the way of our life of faith. The cost could be financial, but it can also affect our relationships and our health. We might face the enemy, Satan, who will do anything to make our faith fail. We have to be prepared for everything so that we do not begin to build something that will never be complete. This does not mean we shouldn’t boldly trust God, but Jesus is warning us to consider everything before we start. Are we meant to build the big beautiful mansion? Or should we begin with something smaller? Perhaps instead of a megachurch, we are being called to be faithful in a house church. Instead of a city-wide ministry, God is calling us to take care of our neighbor. Instead of a university, we might think about starting with an after school tutorial program.
We don’t have to give up our dreams and our calling because we don’t think we have the money, energy or resources to accomplish them. We just need to consider what it will cost before we begin and pursue a plan that we can accomplish. The dream may need to wait until we firmly establish something smaller.
Sunday, February 17, 2013, First Sunday in Lent: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-13; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led in the Spirit in the wilderness…” Luke 4:1, ASV
Let me begin by saying that I am neither adamantly for nor against fasting during Lent. In other words, I don’t believe that it is something that we are required to do and I believe there is some value to the practice, so I leave it to your conscience. Those of you who have been reading my devotions for a long time know that I normally encourage you to do something during Lent that makes a difference in your life, but that I also suggest that it might be something new and faith-filled rather than something to be given up.
Many will begin some sort of devotional reading. Others will set aside time for prayer. I saw one post today that calls for everyone to do “A Picture a Day,” and they give a list of words to inspire each person’s photographs. The purpose is to be more attentive to the world around us. I have committed to giving up Facebook games, an activity that takes way too much of my time on a daily basis, but I know I should fill that time with something that will draw me closer to God. To be honest, even though it is Ash Wednesday, I have not yet decided what I will do.
I was struck by today’s text as I was preparing to write. Luke says, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…” He didn’t decide to go out into the wilderness; He was led by the Holy Spirit. He didn’t fast by choice; He fasted because it was God’s will for Him. How do we relate that to our own experience?
God’s will is for us to be healthy, so many of the fasts we choose are a good idea. Those who give up soda, chocolate, coffee often find themselves feeling better and a few pounds lighter by the end of Lent. Unfortunately, many of us look forward to Easter Day when we can splurge once again on those things we’ve given up. What did the practice do to change our lives? How were we transformed by the experience?
We tend to choose to give up those things that we know are bad habits, and that’s not such a bad idea. But Jesus didn’t fast in the wilderness because eating was a bad habit; He fasted because God led Him to the wilderness to discover His power and authority. He became weak to reveal His true strength. He wasn’t starving on the first day, but He was hungry by the fortieth.
In the Gospel lesson, Luke tells us that Jesus spent forty days being tempted by the devil. And then we see the final confrontation when the devil hits Him hard. We don’t know what sort of temptation happened along the way, but in the end the devil attacked His stomach, mind and heart. Jesus answered each temptation with God’s Word. That’s where He found His power, authority and strength.
So, as we are led into our own wilderness by the Holy Spirit, what is He calling you to give up? Led by the Spirit, our fasting will not be a burden but a blessing that leads us to the revelation of God’s power, authority and strength in our own lives. The devil will attack our stomachs, minds and hearts, but with God’s Word we can overcome and we’ll be stronger for it in the end.
It is very easy for us to get caught in the burden of fasting and lose touch with the reasons we do. It is easy to get stuck in the law of the Lenten fast and miss out on the grace that brings change and renewal. Even worse is forgetting the intention to lead us to a deeper relationship with God by demanding that we do this by our own choice and power. Right fasting will commit our stomachs, minds and hearts to God’s Will and His Word.
I think modern Christians prefer to have more control. We like choice. We like to do things that make sense, and have multiple purposes. A forty day cleanse is good for our physical health and it can have spiritual advantages, too. But even Jesus wasn’t given a choice in His wilderness experience. He was led by the Holy Spirit. He obeyed. Perhaps God is calling us through today’s texts to listen to Him and follow in His footsteps in a radical way. Giving up chocolate and coffee and even video games has become almost cliché. What new thing is God leading you into? What new place will you go if you follow Him? How will you be transformed by the experience?
We might prefer to be guided by our own stomachs, minds and hearts, but last week we heard the command of God on the mountain to the disciples, “Listen to Him.” We follow this week with the lesson of Jesus in the wilderness speaking God’s Word to overcome the temptations of the devil. Perhaps this Lent should be a time of listening to Jesus, and using God’s Word to overcome the temptations we face. We might think they are chocolate, coffee and video games, but perhaps there are greater temptations that we face which we do not even realize. The worst of them might just be our insistence that we are in control.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, Moses tells the people what God would have them say when they present their first fruits at the temple. Each person says the same thing year after year? We ask the question, where is the heart? Where is the individuality? We want to say the words that burn inside us, not a prescribe verse or prayer. Some even reject the use of creeds and the Lord’s Prayer for that reason. They want to pour out their hearts to God in their own words and follow their own guidance about their life and work in this world.
There is certainly a place for individual prayer and God gives us the freedom to make choices. However, in this scripture we learn something more important; we are reminded that everything we have comes from God. We say the prescribed words because we are bound together by God’s gracious acts, in the past, present and future. We might wonder how the Exodus has affected our lives, but even acts that seemingly have little or nothing to do with our lives are part of the story of God and they are part of our relationship with Him.
The words spoken in the Old Testament lesson are meaningful to all of us. All believers—whether the first to enter into the Promised Land or the generations that follow up until today—are identified by what God has done. He gave them a creed to remember their past as they thank Him for the present and move into the future, so that His story will be written on their hearts and in their minds forever. In the creed they remember that they have the land and the fruit of the land because God set them free by His grace and power. They knew that they did not have anything except that which God had given to them. We follow with the same understanding.
We weren’t slaves in Egypt, but we are slaves to sin. We weren’t led on an exodus out of Egypt, but God has saved us from death. We cried out, “and Jehovah heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression; and Jehovah brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders; and he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Our story is definitely different than that of the Israelites, but not really. Their words are still relevant to us.
And their temptations are ours, too. They, too, were threatened by temptation of stomach, mind and heart. They complained about a lack of food. They turned to other gods. They tested God in their wilderness. Don’t we do that, too? Despite all God has done for us, the devil can come and tempt our stomachs, our minds and our hearts. The more we turn to God’s words, however, the easier it is for us to overcome the temptation.
As Paul writes, “The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith…” The word is near to us; God is near to us. Do we have the strength and courage to face our temptations as Jesus did? Do we know God’s Word well enough to turn the devil away when He tries to tempt us away from God’s will for our lives? I’m sure we could all work on that, and perhaps that’s a way we can journey through Lent. But for now, we have words that we can speak to turn away the devil: “God heard our cry and He saved us.”
It doesn’t matter who we are or what we try to accomplish during this Lenten season. Whether we fast from those habits that we know are bad, or we take up some devotional practice, we can seek that greater relationship with God because He has saved us. There is no distinction between believers; Jesus is Lord over all who believe with their hearts and confess with their mouths.
There might be good reason for us to fast, whether it is food or other things. But we are reminded that the temptations we face go beyond our stomachs (or our flesh.) We are tempted to turn away from God with our minds and our hearts. We are tempted by the possibility to have it all if only we worship the world. We are tempted to turn from God by demanding proof of God’s promises. Jesus could have easily turned the stones into bread, but that was not the bread that gives life. Jesus could have ruled the world, but He knew that it was not intelligence or reason or knowledge that would fulfill God’s plan. Jesus knew that God would protect Him until the right time, but even faced with the promises from God’s Word, Jesus refused to test God.
As we enter into our own wilderness, what temptations will we face? Perhaps it is enough to give up chocolate or coffee or video games for a season, but only deals with the temptations of the flesh. How are you tempted in mind and heart? How is the devil trying to get you to worship the world? How is the devil trying to get you to test God? Is God’s Word in your mouth and in your heart so that you can overcome those temptations?
The Psalm for this week tells us that God will protect those who love Him from the sting of the snake and the teeth of the lion. Some Christians even prove their faith by wrestling with poisonous snakes or taking other chances. Some Christians prove their faith by giving something up for Lent. Jesus did not prove Himself to be the Son of God by turning stones into bread or by testing God’s faithfulness with foolish actions like jumping off the roof of the Temple. Jesus proved He was the Son of God by dwelling in the presence of God and relying on His faithfulness.
And so during this Lenten season, let us remember that we do not choose to go into the wilderness, we are led there by the Holy Spirit. And though it is a place of temptation, we need not fear because we are not alone. We, like Jesus, are filled with His Spirit, and He will help us through. So, while it might do us well to fast, let’s approach this time with God’s Word in our mouth and in our heart so that we can overcome all the devil’s temptations that attack our stomachs, minds and hearts. We have nothing to fear, for God has already heard our cry and saved us. We already dwell in the secret place of God; we abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
We have the words to remember our past as we thank Him for the present and move into the future, so that His story will be written on our hearts and in our minds forever. We have the words by which we have life and by which we live: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
And though on this Ash Wednesday we bury the alleluias for the season of Lent, I have to say it one last time until Easter: “Alleluia!”
“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and declare unto my people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways: as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God, they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near unto God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find your own pleasure, and exact all your labors. Behold, ye fast for strife and contention, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye fast not this day so as to make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to Jehovah? Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of Jehovah shall by thy rearward. Then shalt thou call, and Jehovah will answer; thou shalt cry, and he will say, Here I am.” Isaiah 58:1-9a, ASV
My daughter noted several weeks ago that Lent arrived at a rather inopportune time. After all, February 13th is the day before February 14th, and all those Valentines who gave up chocolate would have to wait for more than six weeks to eat their gifts. The temptation of having a box full of chocolates would be overwhelming!
We have to ask, though, is there ever a good time for Lent to start? What are those who give up coffee to do when they are faced with an early morning meeting and need that shot of caffeine? How about the smoker who finds themselves in a very stressful situation, and the only way they know to relax is to have a cigarette? What is a mother to do when she needs five minutes of uninterrupted quiet time, but she’s committed to a television-free Lent? What will family members who keep touch via Facebook do during a crisis if someone in their circle has given it up for the season?
I know that there are other ways of dealing with these circumstances, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the person who is doing the fasting. How many of us have said, “Why did I decide to do that this year?” when we are faced with a tough moment. Sometimes we have to prayerfully consider whether or not we should break our fast for the sake of another. I have often practiced a discipline of fasting until noon, but have had to consider breaking that fast for one day because a friend wanted to meet me for breakfast. How do you say no to a friend in need?
The key is to recognize that fasting does not benefit anyone other than us. God does not require a fast and our neighbor does not profit from it. Our fasting is good for our spirit and for our flesh. It is a tool that can help us grow in faith and in knowledge of our God. We are humbled before God and cleansed for His service. It reveals a commitment on our part for focusing on God rather than on self, but it doesn’t change the way God feels about us. He understands and forgives us for much greater sins than breaking a fast. And He blesses us when we recognize the moments when it will make a difference for another if we do break it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we stuff our faces with chocolate today if someone we love has given us a big heart filled with bonbons, especially if we chose to give up chocolate for the season. But we do need to consider how our fasting can affect our neighbors. Sometimes the greater blessing can be found, and given, by breaking the fast. God calls us to be aware of the needs of our neighbor, even when we are in the midst of a spiritual discipline like fasting. If we ignore them for the sake of our piety, then we have missed what God truly desires.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; And uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:1-12, ASV
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the sea and the land, the plants and the animals and on the sixth day, He created mankind in His own image. When He was finished, “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” He created us, and we are good. Not just good, but very good. This is a message we embrace. We spend a great deal of time convincing ourselves that we are good, and special, and wonderful. God said it and God does not go back on His word, so it must be true. We are very good.
Juxtapose that message to the words we heard on Ash Wednesday, “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” We had ashes placed on our foreheads as a reminder of our imperfection and immortality. We confessed our sins and heard the words that remind us that God forgives us all our sins. If we are very good, why do we need forgiveness? Most of us as adults recognize the reality of this need. We make mistakes everyday. We fail to live up to the expectations of our neighbors. We sin against them in thought, word and deed by what we do and what we don’t do. We know this.
So, we go forward and receive the ashes willingly, seeking God’s forgiveness for those sins. We hear the words and know they are true for us. But we are taken aback by the ritual when it is given to an infant. What could that beautiful child have done to need to hear the words of forgiveness? How did an infant that is entirely reliant on others sin against anyone?
The psalmist prays, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” An infant is completely reliant on others for their every need, but they still suffer the sin that burdens us all. It is the sin of Adam and Eve, the sin that puts us above our God. There is no one more selfish than an infant. They can’t help it; it is that part of human nature that we all inherit from the moment we are conceived.
While we adults have plenty of reasons to repent and to seek God’s mercy, we see the reality of our sinfulness in the life of that infant. The sin that leads to death has nothing to do with what we do against our neighbor. The psalmist says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” This is the lesson we learn through Lent: that we are sinners to the very core of our being, and the only way we will be saved is by God’s grace.
“Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:25-34, ASV
I was trying to get too many things accomplished this morning because my husband and I were planning to go out for the day and visit the local Spanish missions. I felt very distracted this morning, something that happens occasionally. It is hard to write when I am distracted. I don’t know why, but I decided to get my mind off writing by doing something else for a bit, so I opened our tax file and I finished that work. I had only one more figure to add, and then I could e-file and be done with it. Though there was no rush, I thought today was as good a day as any to take care of it. I knew it wouldn’t take very long, and I thought by getting that concern out of my head.
I finished and looked over my numbers several times. Everything looked good, although I have to admit that one number seemed strange. The worksheet that came to that number seemed right, so I let it go. I opened the file, glanced only briefly and I didn’t look beyond the top few forms that would be sent to the IRS. I hit “send,” sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. Then, when the program asked if I wanted to save and print the file, I said yes. As it was printing, I discovered an error, one that changed the final number, not to my benefit. If should have waited until tomorrow, when I had more time.
Then I became very concerned about the error. I thought that I might be able to recall the file or at least get it amended immediately so that there would be no confusion. As I studied the problem, I realized that it would take more than a couple quick clicks. To correct the error, I had to print the forms and mail them the old fashioned way. Again, I could have waited, but I was worried. So, I took the time to do what I needed to do.
By the time it was over, it was time for us to leave, and I had a bit of a headache. I was so worried about worldly problems that I ignored the work I should have been doing in God’s kingdom.
C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.” He was probably not referring to the worries and cares of the world when he said it. Instead, his focus was probably on pursuing worldly pleasures. But I’m more likely to worry than party, so I think I will take his words to heart, and stop focusing on those things that keep me from doing the work of God’s kingdom. I know I’ll have to accomplish those things, but if I first seek the words that God have for me today, then I’ll find that I won’t worry so much about the cares of the world.
“Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, ASV
I was catching up on the news online this morning, mostly just watching the headlines go by, when I saw a subject that interested me. I clicked the link and instead of coming upon an article about the subject, I found a quiz with six questions. At the bottom was a link where you were meant to put your email address to immediately get your results. I have to assume that if I did that, I would find the article with the information. I would also find my email added to another mailing list that would send me daily spam. I wasn’t interested.
Now, I’m sure that the email would have been innocent enough, and perhaps even helpful. After all, I was interested in the subject matter. But that isn’t always true. Take, for instance, the spam that so many of us have been experiencing lately. It arrives innocently enough, and appears legitimately. The graphics appear to be real and the message important. It supposedly comes from a national delivery service and claims that they have a package waiting to be delivered. These emails often have files attached, files that carry a virus that will harm your computer. I receive these emails almost every day.
I know they are fake; I also know that there are those who think it is real. I have to admit that one of them got my attention because it came at a time when I had sent a package to my son at college, and I wondered if there really was an issue with delivery. I looked more closely at the email and saw that the links were not to the real website. The emails are filled with grammatical errors, and the logo is wrong. They make it sound good and true, but with careful study, we see that it isn’t real.
Satan tries to look real, and speaks words that seem right. He can quote the scriptures better than the most knowledgeable theologians, and he can twist them better than the most deceitful lawyer. We must be careful before we jump into something that is not real. We think we are too smart or faith-filled to be duped, but Satan is able to touch your life and your world in a way that makes you think it might be right. Satan will be revealed, but until that day you must beware. Is it true? Does it line up with the scriptures? How does it stand against generations of faith? Where is Jesus in it? Do not be led astray. Stand firm in Christ, and worship only the God who is your Creator, Redeemer and King.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 24, 2013, First Sunday in Lent: Jeremiah 26:8-15; Psalm 4; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
“I am in your hand: do with me as is good and right in your eyes.” Jeremiah 26:16b, ASV
Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet” and it is no wonder when you think about the life he lived. At the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, in his call story, God says, “And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee, saith Jehovah, to deliver thee.” And fight him, they did, but they never prevailed. He was attacked by his own brothers, beaten by a false prophet, imprisoned by a king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern, opposed by another false prophet. He was in prison when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, and he was freed. He eventually escaped to Egypt.
Despite the threats and the horrific acts against Jeremiah, the biblical record does not tell us when, where or how he died. Jewish tradition holds that he was stoned to death in Egypt. Other traditions suggest that he died naturally in Babylon. Yet other sources insist that Jeremiah spent time in Ireland, though this is not likely. Whatever happened to Jeremiah in history, in the biblical record we see that God’s promise held true: though they fought him, they never prevailed.
It is hard to juxtapose the life of Jeremiah to the Gospel lesson for today where Jesus says, “…for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah was a prophet, one who remained obedient despite his frustration, self-doubt and depression, constantly speaking the word of God to the people. It was not good news. He lived and preached during the decline of the Judean kingdom. His message screamed repentance, but the people didn’t want to hear what he had to say especially since the others were preaching peace. In today’s scripture, the officials told the people he deserved to die. Jeremiah was unmoved by their threat. He said, “I am in your hand: do with me as is good and right in your eyes.”
They didn’t kill him. In verse 16, which we do not hear in our lectionary, the officials say, “This man is not worthy of death; for he hath spoken to us in the name of Jehovah our God.” His words hit their mark and they changed their mind. They saw the truth of his warning; if they killed him, they would have innocent blood on their hands. They believed that Jeremiah was speaking God’s word and so they did not turn him over to the people to be stoned. God remained faithful to His promise; they fought Jeremiah but they did not prevail. Ultimately it didn’t change the course of events. They still fell under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, but those who accepted it survived according to God’s word.
I imagine Jeremiah may have spoken words like those in today’s psalm. Under the surface of his frustration, self-doubt and depression, he had an unwavering faith. He trusted in God’s promise that his enemies would never prevail. He had a peace that is beyond understanding. Just like the psalmist, Jeremiah calls the people to a life of faithfulness so that they might, too, live in peace. He spoke God’s word because He wanted the best for his people, just as God always wants the best for His people.
Jeremiah’s story shows us that God is faithful. He probably said, “Oh, that we might see better times!” but he also knew that God put gladness in his heart. He could lie down in peace and sleep easy because God is his help and refuge. We don’t know what happened at the end of his life. Jeremiah certainly died but we do not know when, where or how. I suspect that he died naturally in Babylon. If Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt then the world would have reason to question God’s faithfulness. God keeps His promises, even outside the witness of the scriptures, so we can trust God to be faithful to us.
The officials believed the word Jeremiah spoke and saved his life, but ultimately it was God who turned their hearts. His word and promise saved Jeremiah, just as His word and promise saves us.
Who were the Pharisees that visited Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson? Were they men truly concerned about Jesus’ life? Were they threatening Jesus? Were they anxious about Jesus’ ministry and just wanted Him to leave before something happened that would upset the people? Perhaps Jesus’ teaching didn’t bother them, but they just wanted Him to go somewhere else to do it. By sending Jesus away from Jerusalem, they would not have to deal with the questions and accusations. Jesus could quietly disappear into the wilderness to teach and preach to the animals. Outside Jerusalem, He would not rock so many boats. But Jesus could not be deterred. His purpose was not just to preach the kingdom of God: He came to die so that we might live.
Though it was what must happen, it was not what He wanted. It pained Him to see that they did not understand. He cried out to them to that He was the shelter where they could live in peace. Living under the Law did ensure God’s faithfulness. God is faithful without our works. He is faithful to His promises and calls us to believe and trust in Him.
Jesus mourns the unbelief of Jerusalem. Jesus wanted the best of God’s Kingdom for them: He wanted them to experience the hope, the peace, and the joy. He wanted to gather them under His wings, to give them fully and freely the gift He had to give. Perhaps He even wanted all this without having to face the cross. How wonderful would it been if Jerusalem repented like Ninevah! Yet, Jesus knew that He had to obey God’s will. He knew that He was destined for the cross. Salvation would happen according to God’s time, in God’s way. Jesus would not be moved from the path on which He was set, for it is the path of true life for all those who believe. They wanted Him to leave, but He wouldn’t. He couldn’t, because, like Jeremiah, He was doing what God sent Him to do.
Jesus might have even said the same words as Jeremiah to those Pharisees. “Do with me as seems good and right to you.” He knew that He would die at the hands of those who threatened Him, but He also knew that it would come at the right time. He answered them, “I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Jesus dwelt in God’s presence and willingly submitted Himself to the plan of God; He knew that they could do nothing to stop Him until God allowed it to happen.
Unlike Jeremiah, we know exactly when, where and how Jesus died. The promise for Jesus was not that He would prevail against the world. The promise for us was that He would prevail against death and the grave. He died and was raised so that we might live. We join in His death and in His resurrection. We join in His glory. His life, death and resurrection has made an impact on our lives forever, and this is the purpose for which He came.
This does not mean that His teachings were unimportant or to be ignored. As we look around us, we can see the impact of ideas and people on the world around them. In the right circumstances, one person can change the course of an entire nation. One designer can establish the clothing that millions of people will wear. One reporter can introduce an idea that will become a standard of policy and practice for many. One politician can set the agenda for the entire government. Good or bad, right or wrong, we can easily be led down a path of achievement or destruction by someone whom we look to as a role model.
It is not that we are blind or ignorant followers; it is simply that the human flesh looks for someone to emulate. Even the most powerful, intelligent people look to someone in the past to help them become the person they hope to be. Based on that ideal, we will grasp on to ideas, policies or practices that seem right, and we use them to change the world. Sometimes, unfortunately, we grasp on to ideas that are not good, right and true. With all good intention, we sometimes follow examples that are not centered in Christ.
Jesus, of course, is our ultimate role model, although it is impossible for us to live or die as He did. We can look to the people who God called in the past, to see how they lived and to live trusting that God will be faithful. Paul encourages us to emulate those who hold firm to the Gospel of grace. There were those in the community of Philippi that were enemies of the cross. Though they did not mean to destroy Christians or Christianity, they sought after the things of this world. They chose to live a life of fulfillment and self-indulgence. Some chose to live out their faith by continuing to satisfy their earthly lusts, trusting in God’s forgiveness. Others chose to satisfy the Law, knowing that obedience would bring blessing. Both were concerned with the flesh; they trusted in themselves rather than God.
We are not created or saved to live in either extreme; they do not reflect the life which Christ lived as an example for us. Paul reminds us not to get stuck in a pattern of self-indulgence or self-righteousness. We can follow the example of people who have come before us that were, and are, transformed daily into the image of Christ. According to Jesus, the world will not prevail against us. Like Jeremiah we can be at peace as we go forth in faith doing what God has called us to do, even when we are faced with threats and our own imperfection because we know that God will be faithful. We do not know when, where or how we will die, but we can know that it will be according to God’s good purpose for us.
Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.” This is the promise for which we wait, toward which we walk, and with which we live in peace. The world might threaten us, and our sense of failure may deter us, but God will always be faithful.
“O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth, Who hast set thy glory upon the heavens! Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength, Because of thine adversaries, That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, Yea, and the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, Whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth!” Psalm 8, ASV
Let us imagine the universe in a scale we can grasp in our hands. Suppose the sun were the size of a basketball, how big would the planets be and how far away? What about the rest of the universe? If the sun were the size of a basketball, Mercury would be the size of a grain of sand and it would be 46 feet away. The earth would be the size of small pebble and 106 feet away. Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, would be the size of a ping pong ball and 552 feet away. Pluto would be the size of a very small grain of sand and it would be eight tenths of a mile away. The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, would be the same size as our sun. If I were to make this model, I would have to put that basketball in Italy.
I found this explanation that I thought I’d share. “Let’s imagine the entire Cosmos, the (local) Universe, as a sphere. Let’s imagine its width, its diameter, fitting within a football stadium, some 150 yards wide. At that scale, our Galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy, would be a slice of a salami, but a small slice of a skinny salami. The salami would be 1/50th of an inch around and the slice would be 1/500th of an inch thick. It would be invisible unless you could smell it. The whole galaxy, a nearly invisible piece of matter inside a football stadium. Let’s now imagine the Milky Way Galaxy as a slice of salami fitting inside the football stadium. Our sun, an average sized star, would be 1/1,000,000th of an inch in diameter, invisible no matter how close you got to it! Now imagine the Solar System inside that overworked stadium. Yup, everything is still invisible, except that the sun shines! So, in a football stadium Universe, galaxies are way smaller than fireflies. In a football stadium galaxy, stars are tinier than dust specks. We can only see stars and galactic collections of stars because they emit light, not because they are big enough to be visible.”
Where are you in either example? If the earth is no bigger than a pebble, how big are you? If the entire galaxy is smaller than a firefly, how big are you? This is a question we ask ourselves in the midst of our Lenten journey, and yet there is a better question to ask. If we can’t fit scale models of the universe in the world we know, how big is God? The known (local) universe is just one among a number that we do not know and may never be able to count. If our universe were just the size of a pebble, we could probably not fit all the universes inside that football stadium. Our God is bigger.
And though we are so insignificant in the vast expanse of God’s creation, He knows our name. In all the universe of universes, God chose to come to us. He chose to make us His own. He chose to save us. He chose to give His Son’s life for our sake. He created us. He redeemed us. He continues to transform us daily so that we will be everything He has created and redeemed us to be. He is bigger than everything He created and yet He cares for each of us as His own. The reality of the creation is amazing; but the reality of the Creator is even more so. “How excellent is thy name in all the earth!”
“Ye know that when ye were Gentiles ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might led. Wherefore I make known unto you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:2-3, ASV
I attend a bible study with a pastor who is very good at taking an opposing point of view for the sake of challenging us to think through our answers. Just as we think we know what he’s thinking, he asks a question that creates doubt. There’s a good reason to do this: too often students (even adult) try to find the answer that they think the teacher is seeking with his questions. In other words, they aren’t answering as they think, but as they think another is thinking. I think we do this because we are seeking their approval, either for our own edification or to get through the class successfully.
This pastor doesn’t let us get away with that attitude. He wants us to think and to come up with the answers ourselves. There are some questions that have only one answer, but there are others that do depend on our point of view and our circumstances in life. And even those questions that have only one answer need to be considered from multiple points of view so that we can be firmly grounded in the answer. Then, when someone asks us that question, we can answer with confidence and peace.
In the end we learn the answer the pastor intends, but along the way we wonder if he’s crazy or even if he’s heretical because sometimes he takes an opposing point of view that seems like he’s being an advocate for the devil. At first we were hesitant, because if a pastor says it, surely it is true. But we have all become bolder about fighting for our answer, for quoting the scriptures as proof. We are better at giving an answer that is firmly rooted in Christ. He acted as devil’s advocate so that we would become greater advocates for Jesus.
There are those who waver not for the sake of building up others but because they want to give the answer that the questioner wants to hear. They don’t stand on Christ, but are led by public opinion or by what sounds “good.” I’m not sure how anything that calls Jesus cursed could be good, but there are certainly those who will curse Jesus if it will benefit them in some way, especially if their life is in danger.
But we have the Holy Spirit who helps us to speak words that honor Jesus. By His power we can speak the creed, “Jesus is Lord.” These words are the first creed of the early Christians. The word creed comes from the Latin word “credo” which means “I believe.” We believe by the power of the Holy Spirit, and with His help we are able to confess our faith. We are no longer those who will deny Christ; we are those who are led by God to do and be what He has created and redeemed us to be.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in whom I trust. For he will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, And from the deadly pestilence. He will cover thee with his pinions, And under his wings shalt thou take refuge: His truth is a shield and a buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, Nor for the arrow that flieth by day; For the pestilence that walketh in darkness, Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, And ten thousand at thy right hand; But it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, And see the reward of the wicked. For thou, O Jehovah, art my refuge! Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, Neither shall any plague come nigh thy tent. For he will give his angels charge over thee, To keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: The young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, And show him my salvation.” Psalm 91, ASV
As I sit here this morning, my kitty Delilah is nearby, happily sleeping on a pillow that I purchased just for the cats. I even purposely put the pillow in a position that makes her extremely happy, with some of it leaning against the wall. She is stretched out in the fold of the pillow, without a care in the world. She knows she’s safe and she can sleep in peace. The boys are sleeping elsewhere in the house, in their favorite spots, knowing that they can sleep without fear.
Ring the doorbell, though, and they all jump to attention. Sometimes they run and hide in our closet. Sometimes they are curious about the visitor. They do not like workmen, but will stay near if the visitor is a neighbor. I suppose the workmen tend to be loud in their work, and do things that seem frightening. And yet, even with workmen in the house, the kitties all have a place where they can go to hide, and in those places they feel safe. They might not sleep so peacefully as they are this morning, but they do manage to sleep because they feel safe even though things are out of their control.
I don’t know if cats can feel the same trust as humans, but I hope they will always feel safe as long as we are in the house with them. No matter what happens, they can trust that we’ll protect them from the chaos. When the doorbell rings and we invite the ringer into the house, I hope they’ll always know that we’ve done so because we know who they are and that they aren’t people who will harm them. I hope that when they feel like they must hide in the closet because things are confusing and frightening, they will still know that they can rest in peace.
There are those who hear this text and think that we should prove our trust in God by tampering with lions and adders. I don’t think that we should be testing God’s faithfulness by risking our lives. It is ok with me that the kitties hide when the workmen are here, because by staying in the closet they are out of the way and I know they are safe. God doesn’t call us to take risks in life, He simply promises to be there with us when we can’t avoid the trouble. God will deliver us from our troubles in day and in night. He will answer us when we call, and He will be our refuge where we can hide.
“My son, attend to my words; Incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; Keep them in the midst of thy heart. For they are life unto those that find them, And health to all their flesh. Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a wayward mouth, And perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, And let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Make level the path of thy feet, And let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: Remove thy foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:20-27, ASV
I read a story today about a couple who recently won an extremely large lottery award. They became multi-millionaires overnight. Now, this might seem like good news, but for many people a lottery payout is the beginning of more trouble than it is worth. It is said that seventy percent of lottery winners lose everything within just a few years. They go overboard. They spend money without realizing how quickly it will disappear. They are overwhelmed by the people and organizations that demand a share of the prize. There are even stories of death that surround those winners, including the possibility that they were murdered over the money.
The story I read today, however, was a good story. This couple did not rush out and spend their money on expensive houses or cars. They didn’t waste it on huge parties or trips around the world. There were some changes in their lifestyle; the man quit his job. But they didn’t move. They bought a new vehicle, but didn’t choose the expensive sports car but instead chose an affordable and practical truck. The man still gets his morning cup of coffee with friends at the local convenience store.
Instead of wasting their winnings on frivolous stuff, the couple has been sharing the money with their hometown. They are giving financial support for projects that will benefit all the people including a fire station, ball field and sewage treatment plant. They’ve established a scholarship at their alma mater. A relative was quoted as saying, “I'm real proud of them. They have stayed grounded. That’s their nature.” I don’t play the lottery very often, but I hope that if I am ever lucky enough to win, I’ll treat it as a good steward like this couple. They are wise and they continued to live according to their principles even when their whole world changed.
The Proverbs help us to live well, to be wise and to do what is right. In today’s passage, a father is speaking to his son, sharing the wisdom that had been passed onto him by his own father. He was encouraging his son to listen, learn and live according to the wisdom that has been passed through the generations. That wisdom is not just head knowledge or kindness; it is something that rules over every aspect and action in life. The father calls the child to use every sense, every part of their body to learn the lessons that will make a good life. The ear hears, the eyes see, the heart is the center of life. When we beware of the words we hear, the sights we see and the feelings of our hearts, we avoid evil.
We might think that throwing an outrageous party or buying a big new house with some winnings is harmless, but in reality those seemingly insignificant actions lead us down a dangerous path. When we look at or listen to things that seem inconsequential, they become a part of our life, and it isn’t so difficult to continue looking at or listening to those things that will lead us in the wrong direction. Our father calls us to listen to Him, to see what He has done, and to continue walking on the path He leads us to follow.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 3, 2013, Third Sunday in Lent: Ezekiel 33:7-20; Psalm 85; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
“As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:7-20, ASV
The passage from Ezekiel is confusing and frightening. It seems to say that you will live or die based on the most current actions of your flesh. If the wicked repent and then die, they will live, but if the righteous commit iniquity and die, their righteous deeds will be forgotten and they will truly die. This is confusing because we know that it is not by our works that we live or die, and it is frightening because we know that we are sinners and that we fail on a daily basis. What chance do we have to die at that exact moment when we are being righteous?
Verse 13 offers a bit of help with this problem. Ezekiel writes, “…if he trust to his righteousness…” then he will die if he commits sin. It isn’t the sin that will kill him, but the reliance on a righteousness that is fallible. When we trust in the good deeds that we have done to save us, we’ll find that they are never enough to cover the bad deeds that we continue to do. Our works will never make us righteous. Repentance is not simply making things right after we have done wrong; there is no hope in that sort of faith. We can never know if we will truly be in the right state at the moment we die. Repentance is turning to God and trusting in Him. Faith is trusting that we are in a state of God’s grace so that no matter when we die, we’ll be saved by His righteousness.
It is so easy to get caught up in the belief that we can save ourselves. And if we believe that, then we just as easily see the disasters of others as a punishment from God, or at the very least the possibility that they have gotten what they deserve. That’s what is happening in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus responded to a question from the crowd about a group of people who died at the hand of Pilate by asking if they deserved to be killed in that way. Then He asked if a group of people who died when a tower fell if they deserved to die in that way.
He answered, “Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Jesus did not suggest that they died because of their sin, but then He warned the crowd that they would die if they didn’t repent!
They did not die because of their sin; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their story is important for us to hear, we could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, too. We could fall prey to a power wielding ruler who knows no bounds. We could be standing under a tower about to collapse. We could be in a car accident. We could get sick. We could lose everything because the world around us is falling apart. We don’t know what tomorrow might hold.
Jesus calls us to repentance, not to save us from the possibility that our world will collapse, but so that we will not die. You will still die, but at least you’ll have the life He has promised. He is calling the people to turn now, to not wait until it is too late. Tomorrow might be too late. God is patient and longsuffering. God is willing to give second and third and fourth chances. But as we hear in today’s Gospel lesson, we do not know when it will be too late.
When Jesus talks about life and death, He isn’t referring to the physical life and death; He is referring to eternal life and death. The Gospel text is not a lesson about our own righteousness, but about trusting in God for true life. We don’t become perfect overnight. As a matter of fact, there’s only one who was able to live a perfect life in this world: Jesus. We aren’t Jesus, but we are covered by His righteousness when we repent and trust in Him.
The hope we have is not that we’ll be righteous at the moment that we will die, but that God will be faithful. And thankfully, we worship a God of second chances. Take, for instance, the parable in the second half of today’s Gospel lesson: the story of a fig tree. This tree is not bearing fruit and the landowner is ready to let it go. We might think that he is unmerciful because the tree is only three years old; however it was probably more like six years. He would not have even looked for fruit until after the third year. That is when it should have started to bear fruit. At six years the fig tree has been a waste of time, land and resources. This unfruitful tree is stealing the nutrients from the trees that can product. The gardener begged the landowner for one more year with a promise to work with the tree to try to get it to produce.
Perhaps the perfect sermon title for this text is “Death, Tragedy and all that Crap.” It might sound offensive, but it is an honest assessment of how we deal with the troubles in our life. We look at suffering as “crap” without realizing that it might just be the manure that will help us grow in faith and maturity. God does not make us suffer, but He uses the circumstances of our life to help us to bear fruit in this world. We don’t understand. We ask, “Why me?” But we are called to repentance from our self-focus and trust in God who has promised to get us through. We don’t like to travel through the valley of death, because it seems like there is no hope, but there is always hope in Christ.
The Jews in Jesus’ day sought righteousness according to their own terms. They tried to be their own gods. They tried to control the world around them. They tried to be good, righteous and worthy of whatever it is they wanted. Paul tells us that the ancestors of the Jews did the same thing. Though God delivered them from Egypt and gave them a taste of salvation and the waters of baptism through the cloud and the waters of the Red Sea, they forgot God. They became idolaters, eating, drinking and indulging in the pagan traditions of Egypt. They tested God and suffered the consequences of turning away from Him. They did not trust God so turned to find comfort, hope and peace through other means.
Paul reminds us that we are no different. We think we are better, more faithful than those who wandered the desert and those who lived in Jesus’ day, but we aren’t. Paul shares the stories of our forefathers as a warning that we naturally tend to go in the wrong direction. We would rather rely on our own strength and abilities, so we turn away from God.
The story of the fig tree shows us that God is willing to work with us, to help us to be fruitful. But we are warned to be careful: the day will come when it is too late. So while we can’t do it on our own, we are called to do something. We are called to repent, to turn around and trust God. Paul comforts us with the knowledge that we are no different. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.”
We will be tempted. We will fail. We’ll get angry with God and blame Him for our troubles. We’ll doubt and fear and go down the wrong path. We deserve to perish. But the vinedresser says, “Give me another year. I’ll feed it and it will produce good fruit.” He gives us another chance. Yet, He also calls us to repentance, lest we will perish. We have another chance, but for how long? We could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or fall prey to a ruler or be standing under a falling tower. We could be in a car accident or get sick or lose everything because the world around us is falling apart. We don’t know what tomorrow might hold.
The psalmist writes, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springeth out of the earth; and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.” Truth leads us to a right relationship with God. The fullness of all the good things in heaven and earth—mercy, truth, righteousness and peace—come together in Jesus Christ. It is not up to us to be or create or earn these things, we are called to believe in Jesus and it will be ours.
God does not want us to perish. He wants us to live in His grace in this world and in His glory in eternity. He’s done everything necessary to make it happen. Lent is a time of repentance. It is a time for letting go of control, turning around toward God, and trusting in Him. Our righteousness will never save us, but His will. His righteousness has saved us. He did it so that we would have life, and so that we would bear fruit in a world that desperately needs to repent and trust in Him.
“And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” Exodus 3:13-15, ASV
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the name of a town on the island of Anglesey in Wales. This is the longest town name in Great Britain with 58 letters. The name means: [St.] Mary’s Church (Llanfair) [in] the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) [and] the church of [St.] Tysilio (llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo goch.) Don’t ask me to pronounce it; I couldn’t if I tried.
The name tells us something about the town. It is named after two churches, and tells us that those churches are located in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and a red cave. The name is made up of landmarks to help strangers find it. It is likely that neighbors would recognize those features. I can just see someone telling a traveler, “Oh, yes, the white hazel hollow by the rapid whirlpool is ten minutes in that direction, over that hill and on the other side of the leaning boulder.” Directions were given by recognized landmarks; I just hope I never have to type it into a GPS.
Names mean something, and we see how this is true throughout the scriptures. God often changed the names of His chosen to fit some new calling or a change in their life. Jacob became Israel, which means “God wrestler.” Jacob contended with God and his name was changed to do define his new place in God’s plan. Abram became Abraham and Sara became Sarah because God added His Spirit (Ha) to their life and their names. Saul (responder) became Paul (humble) because Saul was humbled by Jesus on the road to Damascus and called to a totally different life in God’s kingdom. These names each have a purpose and the changes mean something in the story of the people to whom they were given.
Even God has a name, and His name defines who He is and what He does. In today’s passage, Moses asked God, “What is your name?” God answered, “I AM THAT I AM.” Of course, there are many names for God, each defining some aspect of His character and nature. He is Creator, Father, Redeemer and King. He is Jesus, Savior, Lamb and Lord of Lords. He is Comforter, Advocate, Counselor and Spirit. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty, and the Good Shepherd. He is the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Bread, the Word, the Hope of Israel. He is Teacher, Rabbi, Rock, Righteousness, Refiner, and Refuge. I could go on with hundreds of words that are used as a name for our God.
This is why He is “I AM THAT I AM” because He is all these things. He might not be all things to all people, but He is sometimes all those things to some and only some of those things to others. As we tell others about God, we might have to use a name which will help them identify Him. Do they need a refuge? He is our Refuge. Do they need a teacher? He is the Master Teacher. Do they need a Father? He is our Father. Do they need a Friend? He is our friend. Do they need hope? He is hope. He is what He is for each us, named according to our needs. He is everything anyone needs, and we can call Him by those names for the sake of those who need Him. What’s in a name? His name is LORD; He is that He is, and He is exactly what the world needs.