Welcome to the February 2018 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, February 2018
“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, little children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God remains in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” 1 John 2:12-14, WEB
I sat down to write some thank you notes last night, but realized I didn’t have any cards to use. I have piles of sympathy cards and birthday cards on hand, just in case, but I rarely use them. It is just as easy to whip out a quick note on email or post a Happy Birthday greeting on Facebook. I still send Christmas cards, but have noticed that even those have diminished over the years. I certainly don’t get any personal letters in the mail anymore.
Studies show that e-mail is destroying the art of letter writing today. I’m sure text message is making it even worse. In days past, people spent much time corresponding with family and friends with pen and paper, particularly when families lived far from one another. In this age, e-mail and texting is instantaneous; distance is much less a hurdle to cross. People pop off a couple sentence note that tells only the most important information, leaving out the small talk and greetings that are typical of old-fashioned letters. Most people do not even bother with spelling, grammar or punctuation when they write these notes.
Letter writing in ancient times was difficult. Few people could write or read, so any such correspondence necessitated a skilled person to accomplish the task. They could not go to the Staples down the street and buy a ream of paper, letters were written on clay tablets or parchment, but these were difficult and expensive. Papyrus was the most typical material used in biblical times. Letters were usually used only for official business like royal edicts, military orders or for managing internal affairs.
The New Testament includes twenty-one letters sent from apostles to churches or members of churches. The purpose for these letters varies, but all were written to guide the early church into the right path following the Lord Jesus. They share the Gospel. A few letters address heresies that were beginning to creep into the teaching of certain leaders. Other letters rebuke and correct the members when they are not acting according to God’s Word. Some letters were written to settle disputes among members of the church, to give advice about how to overcome the human frailty that often gets in the way of our living our life of faith as God intends. All the letters offer encouragement to the believers through the promise of God in Christ Jesus.
These letters were written for us as much as they were written for the early church. We still argue and fight over simple things. We still act sinfully, in anger and bitterness. We still get proud of our flesh and need to be reminded that it is only by God’s power that we can do anything to glorify Him. We still fail, fear and doubt. So, we need to be reminded daily of God’s promise and of the incredible saving work of our Lord Jesus on the cross. And though the letters of Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude often sound harsh, they are filled with words of hope and faith to encourage the readers into a higher way of living.
I might be using email and Facebook, but I write to you to support you in your faith. You are heirs to the Kingdom of God, saved by the blood of Jesus and transformed into His image to love and serve Him with your whole being. Be encouraged and know that though things are not perfect in our lives, churches, homes, neighborhoods or nations you have overcome the evil one by faith in Jesus. You know God and He lives in you. He has forgiven you and granted you another day to live as He has called you to live, in faithful obedience and trusting His Word.
“The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping on the mountains, skipping on the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young deer. Behold, he stands behind our wall! He looks in at the windows. He glances through the lattice. My beloved spoke, and said to me, ‘Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. For, behold, the winter is past. The rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The time of the singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens her green figs. The vines are in blossom. They give out their fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.” Song of Solomon 2:8-13, WEB
I look forward to spring in Texas, as that is when the wildflowers are most prominent. I read a report this morning about the expectations of the coming season. Certain weather is necessary for the wildflowers to bloom, but there are too many anomalies to make an accurate forecast. Some have been good, but others not so good. As with every wildflower season, there will be spots that are fantastic while others will be slight. The reporter would not give a specific forecast until he had the opportunity to see the coverage around the state. A family that welcomes guests to visit their poppy covered yard has already said they will not be open this season because they won’t have many poppies.
I have a friend who has been expectantly waiting for Groundhog Day. “I can’t wait to see whether we will have six more weeks of winter or if spring will come in 42 days.” His joke reminds us that spring will come on March 20th, no matter what a groundhog in Pennsylvania has to say. Our local weathermen played on the Punxsutawney tradition by having a stuffed groundhog predict our weather. Phil saw his shadow, but AJ (Alamo Joe) did not, so I guess we are the lucky ones with an early spring. Texas always sees spring long before the people of western Pennsylvania, our first wildflowers will appear in the next few weeks, but the reality is that spring begins on March 20th for us, too.
For over 100 years, people have assembled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2. They come to witness the annual emergence of the groundhog named Phil. Phil has predicted the end of winter since 1887. The tradition of Groundhog’s Day is associated with the European celebration of Candlemas. Candlemas is a special Christian service celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple and the recognition by Simeon and Anna of the divine manifestation in the babe Jesus Christ. There are songs and poems connected to Candlemas which talk of weather traditions. Including this n old British proverb, “If Candlemas be fair and bright come, winter, have another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, go, winter, and come not again.” These traditions were carried over by the early immigrants, and have continued to this day. That’s why we look to a groundhog in Pennsylvania for our weather reports. Of course, Phil’s record is less than admirable, because no matter what the tradition says, spring will come in due season.
The scripture for today talks of the end of winter, and the signs of spring. This is the story of a lover coming for his beloved so that together they might enjoy the freshness of spring. God is our lover. He is calling for His bride, the Church, to awaken to this new life. This day as we remember the divine presence in the Temple, we also look forward to the Eternal Spring for which we long. The day of our Lord will come in God’s time, just as the springtime comes in due season.
“It is a good thing to give thanks to Yahweh, to sing praises to your name, Most High; to proclaim your loving kindness in the morning, and your faithfulness every night, with the ten-stringed lute, with the harp, and with the melody of the lyre. For you, Yahweh, have made me glad through your work. I will triumph in the works of your hands. How great are your works, Yahweh! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man doesn’t know, neither does a fool understand this: though the wicked spring up as the grass, and all the evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever. But you, Yahweh, are on high forever more.” Psalm 92:1-8, WEB
We took a trip a long road trip to our hometown when our son was just a few months old. Zack learned to pull himself while we were on that trip; he went from a crawler to a walker in a matter of days. The change made our trip home much more difficult. He happily sat in his car seat on our way east, but he fought getting strapped in once he learned the freedom of standing and walking on his own.
Babies are precious and when they are tiny we do everything we can to protect them. It is easy to keep them in a small place like a car seat, crib or playpen; in those days we do not have to worry about them wandering away. We need to give them more space as they grow older. One of the difficulties of being a parent is watching the children grow into independence. We want them to mature but we have to allow them out of our zone of comfort. We want to be able to see them every moment, to protect them from the dangers of the world. The day eventually arrives when the move out on their own. We still worry, but we can’t do anything to keep them safe as we did when they were babies. It is impossible for a parent to protect a child from all harms, though we try to do our best.
I once saw the perfect example of this. At the end of a week of Vacation Bible School, a teenage girl was asked to stand in a small blow up pool. She was well protected with a raincoat and an umbrella. Under the pool was a large sheet of plastic. Every precaution was taken to protect the church and the people. Then someone stood on a chair and held a bowl of cool aid over the umbrella. Even though she poured very slowly and carefully, drops of cool aid fell on the people who were standing nearby. Even though she was well protected, the cool aid got in between the toes on the teenager’s bare feet. The demonstration showed how God protects us from harm. The raincoat and umbrella, the pool and plastic offered some protection, but we also learned that sin continues to touch our lives.
My son’s freedom led to many moments of worry as he tested his independence. If I couldn’t keep him from getting a scraped knee when he was just outside my reach, how would I ever keep him safe when he move out on his own? Even now I worry that my grown children will be hurt when they are far from me. I can’t protect them anymore.
I wonder if that’s how God feels sometimes about us. He does protect us. He covers us with His grace, but sin still affects our lives. We will be hurt. We will suffer. We will experience difficult times. But unlike our mothers, God is always with us. He suffers with us and has promised that one day we will no longer cry. We are called to praise God in every moment, good and bad, knowing that even when sin touches our lives, He will deliver us from evil.
“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea. When they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed; also of the prominent Greek women, and not a few men. 13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Beroea also, they came there likewise, agitating the multitudes. Then the brothers immediately sent out Paul to go as far as to the sea, and Silas and Timothy still stayed there. But those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens. Receiving a commandment to Silas and Timothy that they should come to him very quickly, they departed.” Acts 17:10-15, WEB
I make prayer beads. I once attended a workshop with a woman who explained the history of prayer beads and then taught us about the Anglican rosary. I did some research and found other prayer bead ideas. The purpose of all types of prayer beads is to help the faithful focus their prayer lives, to give some discipline in time and direction in the words that are used in praise, thanksgiving, petition and supplication to God. I was so impressed with the workshop and with the idea of the prayer beads, that I decided that I wanted to make some to share with others. I invested quite a bit of money purchasing the materials needed and I’ve managed to give and sell quite a few over the years.
There are those, however, who are quick to reject the idea. They insist that it is a shallow form of prayer, or too institutionalized. Yet, the use of prayer beads or similar items goes much farther back into history. Men of God who went into the wilderness to fast and pray often used stones to count their prayers. Jewish prayer shawls have fringe that are fingered during prayer. Buddists, Muslims as well as many Christians have found value in the use of different aids to help establish a powerful prayer life.
We tend to hear about things like this and quickly react either for or against and set our minds on our opinion without really considering the possibilities. Usually our decision is based on a gut reaction and we never look beyond that for a deeper understanding. One friend explained that she would never use such a thing because had seen people callously handling the beads without even paying attention to the prayers. They were looking around and by their body language she thought they obviously thinking of other things. While it might be true that some people misuse and abuse prayer beads, it is also true that they can be quite helpful. So, we must carefully study the issue through the scriptures and prayer to know if it is good for us to do.
We should do this with every issue that we face, including our salvation. It is very easy to listen to a preacher and believe what he says, or read a book that is life changing and consider it true. Yet, millions of people have been affected by self-help books that fade the minute something new comes on the market. Today’s weight loss miracle will be forgotten when tomorrow’s is discovered. So, we are called as Christians to search the scriptures to see what God has to say.
Paul was sent to Beroea because the Jews of Thessalonica rejected the Gospel. They had a gut reaction based on their own faith perspective. They refused to even check out the scriptures to see if the message Paul was sharing was one worth considering. They were so against the good news of Jesus Christ that they threatened Paul. There were other examples of people refusing to believe, but also of people who had a shallow belief that quickly fell apart. Many of the people who followed Jesus fell away when He began to teach the deeper things. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) had a shallow faith that wanted to benefit without responsibility. They did not search the deeper things of God for the understanding and living faith that truly changes the heart.
The Beroeans were much different. They heard the Gospel but they went further. They searched the scriptures to see that what Paul said was true, and God’s word cut deep into their hearts. Many people in Beroea were converted to Christianity and God made a real difference in their lives. We are called as people of God to be like the Beroeans. When I first learned about the prayer beads, I spent time searching historical and biblical sources to understand the use. We should never accept something someone has said at face value, whether we think it is good or bad, but we should instead search God’s word to know what He has to say about it. Whether it is about something as unimportant as prayer beads, or as important as our salvation, God provides the foundation of our faith and the answers to our questions.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 11, 2018, Transfiguration: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 4:1-6; Mark 9:2-9
“Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, and not as Moses, who put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel wouldn’t look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away.” 2 Corinthians 3:12-13, WEB
Transfiguration Sunday means that Lent is right around the corner; next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday already. Where does the time go?
We have been in the season of Epiphany, the season of Light, for the past few weeks. Our texts have focused on the revelation of God in the life of Jesus Christ. We have been following Mark's telling of the story of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry. We saw Him call His first disciples, drive out an evil spirit, heal many people (including Simon’s mother-in-law), pray alone and move on to other towns to do the work He was sent to do: preach the Kingdom of God. We end this season with the brightest light of all, the transfiguration of Jesus. On this day we see Jesus literally glowing from within the radiant light of God’s glory in the presence of the ones whom God sent to point His people toward the Messiah: Moses and Elijah.
There were many parallels between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus. Both Moses and Jesus had extraordinary infancy stories, with intrigues and danger. Both faced the possibility of death commanded by a king; both survived by being hidden. Elijah was a foreshadowing of Jesus; he did many of the same things and experienced many of the same sufferings. Jesus, Moses and Elijah all provided food for the hungry, water for the thirsty and hope for all God’s people. They all spoke the promises of God to His people: Moses through the Law, Elijah through prophecy and Jesus through His life. That’s why it is so appropriate that Jesus met with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop in this culmination of the Season of Epiphany.
The glow the disciples saw was not something outside or behind Jesus; He was the Light, and the light that they saw was Jesus. He was transformed, transfigured, into something different, something beyond human experience. Even His clothes were transformed into something otherworldly more white than the whitest white. Artists often represent holiness with a yellow, white or gold aura around Jesus, but this was probably more like He became a light bulb, shining brightly on that mountain top. It is no wonder that the disciples were afraid.
We see a similar experience in the Old Testament lesson. Moses had been on the mountain for forty days and forty nights to receive the tablets of the Law. This was the second set of tablets; the first tablets were destroyed when Moses delivered them and discovered the people turned to the false gods while he was gone. Moses was transformed during this visit with God; Moses was radiant from speaking with God. He had seen God’s glory (Exodus 33:12-23) and was changed, although he did not realize it at first. The people saw how he reflected God’s glory and they were afraid, but he called them to come to him and listen. He gave them the commands the LORD had given him on Sinai.
When he was finished talking, Moses put a veil over his face. There are some who suggest that even looking at the reflected light of God’s glory is too dangerous for ordinary people to look upon. Although the reason for the veil is uncertain, St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians that he put it on to hide the fact that the radiance passed away. We don’t hear that in the passage from Exodus, but we do know that he stayed unveiled when he spoke to the people after hearing from God. Though they were afraid of him, the light reminded them that Moses was God’s own chosen representative. It is likely, then, that Paul has it right. The glory fades. Would the people of Israel have continued to listen to Moses if they did see the radiance of God’s grace? Perhaps Moses wore the veil because of his own fears.
Some lectionaries use the story of Elijah as the Old Testament lesson for this week. 2 Kings 2:1-12 tells the story of the assumption of Elijah. Elijah and Elisha were traveling through the prophetic communities of Israel so that Elijah could say good-bye. All along the way, Elijah told Elisha to stop following him. Elisha refused to leave his master, “As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” All along the way the prophets told Elisha that he was about to lose his master. Nothing stopped Elisha; he was determined to follow Elijah every step of the way. Elijah was prepared to take this journey alone, but Elisha would not leave him.
This must have been a frightening time for Elisha. Was he ready to take on the responsibilities of being God’s prophet? Being a prophet was not a pleasant job, especially if the word God speaks is unpopular. Elisha knew that he would experience persecution and threats, but he also knew that it was where he belonged. He did not allow any fear to keep him from doing what he was called to do. At the end of the journey, Elijah and Elisha found themselves at the Jordan River. While this is the story of the passing of Elijah’s authority to Elisha, Elijah’s story is the one that matters today. Elijah was taken up into heaven suddenly in a fiery chariot, the sign of God’s blessing on Elisha’s ministry, and it is for this reason many believe that Elijah will return. The Old Testament lesson takes us on a journey where Moses was never allowed to tread. Due to his own failings, Moses never entered into the Promised Land. Instead, the Hebrews were led across the Jordan River by Joshua as Moses watched from a hilltop. Then he died and God buried him in Moab. Joshua took the Hebrews through the Jordan, through Jericho, through Bethel to Gilgal where they were circumcised. All those who had left Egypt that had been properly circumcised had died in the desert. There, at Gilgal, Joshua restored the people to the covenant between God and His people by circumcising all the men. Elijah followed that same route, returning to the very place that the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. There are some who believe that Jesus was baptized in the same area of the Jordan.
These parallels are more than mere coincidences; they show us that God’s hand was guiding each chosen one into the fulfillment of all His plans. And so we see, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the glorification of Jesus. He was lifted up, placed in between the two greatest men of Israel and established as the One who brings it all together. It is in Christ that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled. It is through Jesus that God has finally made all things right again. The transfiguration was not the end of Jesus’ ministry; it was really just the beginning. From that moment, Jesus set His feet toward Jerusalem and the cross.
Paul reminds us that the old covenant was temporary and inadequate was passing away, but some wanted to hide its vanishing with a veil. The Old Covenant could never stand because no matter how hard we try we can never be good enough to deserve God’s grace. The Old Covenant was replaced with a new one, one that is revealed to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Moses and Elijah were never meant to be the ones whom Israel looked to for eternal life. They both pointed toward the One God would send to restore God’s people to Him forever. That’s why the radiance of Moses faded.
Moses reflected God’s glory, but even the holiest human is imperfect. We fail. We cannot sustain the glory because we are stained by sin. Moses did not want the people to know the light faded, so he hid his face. Jesus, on the other hand, does not reflect the light; He is the Light. The glory did not fade for Jesus; when the moment was over, Jesus let it go so that He could continue to work in the valley. He had to go back, to get His hands dirty, to face the humiliation of the Passion, and to die. He refused to stay in that moment of glory because the real glory would come later. It would come on the cross.
As quickly as the glory came upon Jesus, it left and Jesus told them not to tell anyone. The disciples did not want to leave, but the mountaintop experience was not the moment they had been preparing for. It was just a preview of what was to come. Peter wanted to build shelters to make this a lasting moment, but Jesus set His feet toward Jerusalem, toward death and the grave. Peter, James and John did not quite understand what was to come, but they followed Him, always blessed with the brief shining moment when they saw Jesus as God intended Him to be, crowned in glory. They saw the hope of what was to come.
Jesus hurried them back into the valley because it is in the valleys where life is truly lived. They could not stay on the top of the mountain; they had to get back to work. There were still people who needed healing. There were still demons to be cast out. There were still so many who needed to hear God’s word and learn about God’s kingdom so that they might be saved for eternity. It would not happen if they lingered on the mountain top.
Peter, James and John witnessed God briefly breaking through to our world in a powerful tangible way. The Law (seen in Moses) and the Prophets (seen in Elijah) were brought together in Jesus Christ. They saw Jesus in a form that is beyond anything earthly. They heard the audible voice of God speak to them personally. This is something we can read and imagine, but we can’t really know what it was like for those three men. We are awed by this experience, but they were afraid. How would we have responded to this incredible moment?
The message God spoke to the disciples was simple but very powerful, “Listen to Him.” There is an article in Reader’s Digest about how do not listen as we should. We live in a world filled noise and we have gotten very good about tuning it out. Yet, even while we are ignoring the noise, we often miss hearing things that give us pleasure or information. Listening opens a beautiful world we might miss if we close our ears. I saw a cartoon with a sheep listening to music with headphones while a TV, computer and radio blared noise as he read a magazine. He thought, “I wonder why I don’t hear the Shepherd anymore?” We live in a world that has so many voices screaming at us with opinions that are built on biases; it is hard to know to whom we should listen. Which one is right? Who is telling the truth? What is the truth? It is easier to ignore it all.
God tells us what to do, “Listen to Jesus.” I’m not sure it is that easy, because there are so many voices trying to tell us what Jesus meant, and they rarely agree. But we can listen. We can pray. We can spend time in the scriptures where we can learn to listen for His voice. We can do our best to live as God calls us to live, serving Him with our hearts and our hands and our voices, knowing that God is faithful and that He is more powerful than our failure.
Human beings don’t change. None of us want to be the prophet. We don’t want to be the one to do the hard work with God. Peter, James and John were afraid when they were confronted by the reality of God’s magnificence. They, like the Israelites and us modern day Christians, wanted control. In their fear they tried to make God fit into their comfort zone. Peter responded by suggesting a building project. Do we respond to God in the same way?
Paul writes, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish.” Those who are ruled by sin and death refuse to see God’s hand in the world. They prefer to veil God’s glory. They prefer to believe what sounds good rather than hear what God really has to say. Jesus came to speak God’s words in a new way, to cause God’s people to see Him as He is, not in the twisted ways of the world. Jesus came to bring a New Covenant in the Gospel that is better than the reflected glory of Moses that passed away.
Not everyone hears. Paul knew this. He was opposed by people who accused him of manipulation and lies. They ministered out of self interest, commending themselves so that they might gain positions of status and influence. They refused to admit, or even see, that they were the ones playing games. They cared nothing for the Gospel or Christ, but only for themselves. To them, there was no glory on the cross. They could not see because they were blinded by the god of this world. They were also blinded by their own fears and their own desires. They were happy to let the truth be veiled so they didn’t have to see their way was passing away.
Paul writes, “Seeing it is God who said, ‘Light will shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ was a moment of glory, more magnificent than the glory that shone from Moses’ face or the whirlwind that took Elijah to heaven. It might have seemed like that was the culmination of Jesus’ work. But it was merely the beginning of what was to come. Jesus was about to speak a strange and wonderful word into their lives, a frightening reality that included death.
The reality of God is frightening. The psalmist writes, “Our God comes, and does not keep silent. A fire devours before him. It is very stormy around him.” Moses experienced the bush that burned without burning. Elijah was taken to heaven in a flaming chariot. This is how God revealed His presence to the Law and the Prophets. God revealed the reality of Jesus to Peter, James and John on the top of the mountain. In the presence of Moses and Elijah, Jesus was transfigured into one filled with glory, and God spoke the words we are called to hear today. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
The Word often falls onto deaf ears, but that does not mean God is less powerful or Jesus any less authoritative. The god of this world continues to blind those who would prefer to keep the truth and glory veiled. A veil has been drawn over their eyes. But we need not fear the presence of God or the consequences of telling His story. He has called us into this relationship, invited us to experience His glory and then follow Him into the valley to do His work. It is frightening, but as we join Jesus on the journey to the cross, we need not live in fear. God goes with us, and He has assured us that He has the power to fulfill His promises. He can make it happen, and He does. We might not think we are ready to take on the responsibility, but God blesses those who have faith. Moses trusted God. Elijah trusted God. Peter, James and John trusted God. Jesus trusted God. Now we are called to trust God, too, to follow Him wherever He leads and to listen to Him above all the other voices. We need not wear a veil because we hope in the Gospel of the God whose promises are everlasting.
“As he was going out into the way, one ran to him, knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except one - God. You know the commandments: “Do not murder,” “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not steal,” “Do not give false testimony,” “Do not defraud,” “Honor your father and mother.”’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth.’ Jesus looking at him loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross.’ But his face fell at that saying, and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions. Jesus looked around, and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into God’s Kingdom!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answered again, ‘Children, how hard is it for those who trust in riches to enter into God’s Kingdom! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom.’ They were exceedingly astonished, saying to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus, looking at them, said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.’” Mark 10:17-27, WEB
One of those DIY shows about tiny houses was on the television as I sat in the customer lounge of my dealer’s service center. The builders created homes for families from scratch, building onto a movable trailer. The homes were only about two hundred square feet. These families have their reasons: one sold everything they owned so they could take their children on an educational tour of the United States. I’ve heard others say that they move into tiny houses to simplify their lives.
I can’t imagine living in something that small. The master bedroom loft of one had a ceiling so low that I could not sit up in bed. In another, the loft area set aside for the children’s home school classroom was not tall enough for even the kids to stand up straight. I commented to the lady sitting next to me that I couldn’t even fit my craft supplies in a house that small. I love my family, but I can’t imagine ever living in such small quarters with them. Where do you go if you need some alone time?
Now, I understand the need to simplify one’s life. I have a lot of things that mean something to me: my mother’s dishes, photos of family and my art work that has not yet found a permanent home. I have books, books, and more books. Even with buying most of my books digitally, I couldn’t fit my library into one of those tiny homes.
I have several friends who are moving into new homes. They have discovered that they have a lot of stuff. I’ve moved often enough to know exactly how they feel. I commented on my own experiences. We have lived in eight different houses since we were married nearly thirty years ago. We have been good about ridding ourselves of unnecessary things with each move, like out grown clothes and toys, but there’s always too much stuff. We purged excessively the last time we moved, despite knowing we were moving into a larger house. We had yard sales and sold items in other ways. We donated truck loads of stuff to charities and threw away or recycled piles of garbage. I was proud of how much we purged, and yet we still have too much stuff.
Several years ago we were moving from Washington State to England. We could not take everything with us, and it didn’t make sense to do so anyway, so we put thousands of pounds worth of stuff in storage for our four year tour. Our next move was to Little Rock, Arkansas. I was overwhelmed the day they delivered our storage. This was thousands of pounds of stuff that we had lived without for four years. I kept a box handy and as I unwrapped items, I put them directly into a giveaway box. It would have been easier to purge before we put all that stuff into storage. But we thought we’d need it when we moved back to the United States, so we kept it.
Yes, I could simplify my life. I could live without most of my books and my mother’s dishes. I could give away my art work. But is that what Jesus means in today’s passage? Should I sell everything and live in a tiny house? We are quick to read this story as a rejection of earthly wealth. Is this what God is demanding from us, too? Jesus was not belittling the man for his wealth; Jesus loved him. His encouragement was given with grace and mercy because the man was missing something. He had all the right credentials: he had obeyed all the laws and was even a leader in the community. He was prosperous, certainly a sign of God’s blessing. He was earnest in his search, but he was looking in the wrong place.
He was missing the key element; he was more concerned with himself. Jesus showed him that he desired his wealth more than eternal life; poverty is not what he was missing. “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into God’s Kingdom!” The disciples wondered who could be saved. Jesus answered that it is possible for God to do anything, even welcome a rich man into heaven. That’s the key, however. The man was missing God; his focus was on himself. His faith was in the wrong things: his ability to earn the eternal life that God gives as a free gift.
Getting rid of my stuff will never earn me a greater place in heaven. The lesson for us is to look at our stuff and make sure that we are not putting our faith in these things. Our wealth, our spiritual and religious credentials, simplifying our lives will never earn us our salvation, even if we sell it all and move into a tiny house. Who then can be saved? With God all things are possible.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light. The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” John 1:1-4, WEB
I gather with a group of people on Sunday mornings for a time to talk about God. We call it “God Talk.” We read the scriptures and I put together Bible Studies, but we aren’t very good at sticking to them. It took us months to get through one page! It is all good, though, because we end up talking about God as He relates to our lives. All it takes is one question and we are off on a new and interesting discussion of our thoughts on that question. We end up telling our own stories, witnessing to one another about our relationship with God.
We’ve all had experiences like this. I remember evenings at retreats when we gathered to get to know one another with storytelling. I think what is most amazing about those moments is how quickly find ways to get into the conversation. When one person has a story about a bus trip, others have stories about bus trips. The best conversations are when we respect one another, giving each person the chance to share. Someone always seems ready with a new topic when the old one lost steam. These storytelling moments lead us to remember “good times” even if the experiences were not always good at the time. Often we find that we can laugh about those not so good times and remember them fondly despite the difficulties. Our stories draw us together. They help us see how we are different and how we are the same. When this storytelling happens in a faith setting, we see how to faithfully deal with similar experiences in our own lives.
It is easy to share stories in such a comfortable place. But storytelling is a practice that crosses so many boundaries. After all, even when we are different, we are all human and despite our differences, we share so much that is the same. We aren’t very comfortable sharing our faith stories or our understanding of the Bible, but we can tell others about our lives, and in doing so we might just reveal something about the God who has created and redeemed us. The more we tell our stories, the more they’ll see God’s grace in our lives. The more we share ourselves, the more the world will realize that there is something or someone in the midst of it all.
As Christians, the greatest story we can tell is that of Jesus Christ our Lord. John the Baptist was the first of many witnesses, telling His story and pointing the way to God’s salvation. People spend hours debating the details of Jesus’ life, work, death and resurrection. I love the conversations we have in our class, especially those when our ideas about God are challenged. I love when others ask difficult questions because together we hear what God has to say through the scriptures and our own experiences. We often struggle with telling the stories of God because we do not fully understand them, but we can establish relationships with others through our own stories of God’s grace in our lives. And then, in the midst of the conversation, we will see God’s face in our neighbors as they see God’s grace in you.
“The unclean spirit, when he has gone out of the man, passes through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none, he says, ‘I will turn back to my house from which I came out.’ When he returns, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes, and takes seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter in and dwell there. The last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” Luke 11:24-26, WEB
Ash Wednesday is just a few days away and Christians are planning their Lenten disciplines. Some are planning to give something up for the season. Others are choosing devotionals to read. Some have decided to follow a photo challenge of some sort or have chosen some other practice. In previous years I’ve done some sort of artistic project that included writing devotions about that work. I’ve given up foods and I’ve taken up prayer. Churches are planning midweek soup suppers with worship services. I’ve seen suggestions about purging closets or putting aside the cost of that coffee or chocolate to donate to a charity. Whatever choices are made, these disciplines are meant to draw us closer to God and to prepare us for the incredible gift of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection as we will experience during Holy Week.
I thought about these Lenten disciplines when I heard today’s passage recently. How often do we give up something during Lent and then go right back to our bad habits the day after Easter? We struggle with our fasting but we don’t really let change us in any way. Like the parable, we cast out the demon and clean up the space, but if we don’t fill it with something that will keep our eyes on Jesus, we’ll end up in the same place later, or perhaps an even worse place.
Lent is a great way of breaking a bad habit. I don’t drink much soda anymore because I gave it up one year. That Lenten discipline led to something better for me. Yet, I’ve had other fastings that led nowhere. I’ve given up video games but ended up playing more when Lent was over. I’ve given up food that I have gorged on later. I’m sure we have all had similar experiences. The spiritual practices of Lent are meant to draw us closer to our God, to build our faith and help us to trust in Him fully and completely. The fastings remove from our lives the things that we know are not good for our health, physical and spiritual. Yet, unless we replace them with something greater, they will come back with a vengeance and fill us with something worse for us.
So, as you plan your Lenten disciplines, think about what God is calling you to change in your life. Should you give up that daily coffee or chocolate bar? What will it accomplish if you do? Will it make you healthier? Perhaps you need to replace that coffee or chocolate with something as satisfying so that when Lent is over you are ready to continue the better lifestyle. What will happen if you give up the video games? How will you fill that time? Perhaps you should think about putting that time into reading the Bible or serving at a soup kitchen. If you don’t need to spend the money on those bad habits through Lent, do you really need to spend it the rest of the year? Perhaps that money could help fund a program at your church.
Don’t just give something up this Lent; fill your life with something that will draw you deeper into God’s heart. Then your fasting will truly make a difference in your life not only for the next forty days, but also into the future.
“Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, WEB
I’ve once heard the question, “Is Valentine’s Day for Christians?” After all, it started as a feast day for the saint called Valentine, but the church has stopped celebrating that festival and the day is now focused solely on romance. It is the biggest day of the year for florists, who are selling roses by the dozens. Chocolates and stuffed animals are other favorites. Lovers spend time together, restaurants will be packed full of men and women holding hands and enjoying each other. Everyone wants to give just the right gift. Children give greetings to all their classmates at Valentine’s Day parties at schools, but even in Elementary school they are concerned with choosing the perfect one for their favorite friends. One commercial encourages the viewers to “Win Valentine’s Day” by buying their product. It is a day about making the right impression, certainly not a Christian concern.
Valentine’s Day is all about love and celebrating relationships. Since romance is the focus, the standing joke is that if a man gets the gift wrong, he’ll end up in the doghouse. Every sitcom has done a bit involving this humorous aspect of Valentine’s Day. The boyfriend buys something he thinks the girlfriend will like; the girlfriend reads more into the gift than she should. They have an argument and by the end of the show the boyfriend manages to find the perfect gift, they kiss and make up. There is so much more to love than this.
The Bible speaks repeatedly about the kind of love we are to give one another, a sacrificial love that is not concerned with the stuff but rather loves despite the stuff. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, WEB) Jesus loved His disciples and the people who followed Him during His life. He even loved those who would try to destroy Him. He fed them, gave them God’s Word and led them in the ways of righteousness. He showed the greatest love when He laid down His life for us, even though we were enemies who sinned against God. Though we will never be called upon to die on a cross for the sake of the world, we are called to lay down our lives for others. Loving someone sacrificially means putting them first, not caring for our own concerns but doing whatever we can to meet their needs. Jesus loved us so that we will love others. It is His love in, with and through our lives that we can celebrate to make Valentine’s Day a day for Christians.
On this Valentine’s Day, enjoy those you love, even give them flowers, candy or stuffed animals. But take a moment to remember the greatest love of them all and share it with someone. Share the Gospel message, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, WEB) Sacrificial love is the giving of one’s whole self, first to God and then to one another. Christ did this for you and now lives in, with and through you as His love flows into the lives of others.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 18, 2018, First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 25:1-10; James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15
“To you, Yahweh, do I lift up my soul.” Psalm 25:1, WEB
A friend of mine who is a pastor was asked, “What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?” She answered, “I get to remind everyone of their inevitable deaths.” The reference, of course, is to the fact that Valentine’s Day landed on the same day as Ash Wednesday this year, so we are celebrating life with loved ones while we are remembering that we are ashes. That is probably more poignant than we might think. After all, despite the love and romance, it would do us well to remember in the midst of those relationships that life is short. Do we love them with a sacrificial love, remembering that we do not know what tomorrow holds?
Today’s Old Testament lesson is shocking to us. God made incredible promises to Abraham, and they all rested on the boy Isaac. How odd it must have been to hear God’s command to sacrifice that boy. What would we do if we heard the same request? We would question our sanity, or wonder if some other voice was trying to destroy what God had given to us. We would probably argue with God about the ridiculous nature of the request. We would cling on to the child to protect him from such danger. But Abraham believed and obeyed the word of God.
Abraham believed that God would be faithful to His promises. Abraham knew that God would do something; he told Isaac, “God will provide.” This isn’t to say that Abraham expected a ram to show up out of nowhere; he knew that Isaac was a gift of God, and as such belonged to Him. Abraham willingly gave the most important thing in his life to the LORD because that boy was God’s.
We all have people or things that are very dear to us, so important that we run the risk of letting them get in the way of our relationship with God. I wonder how many people will not find their way to church today because they think a romantic meal with their lover is far more important. Are any of us willing to sacrifice even that relationship for God’s sake? We are asked, just like Abraham, to sacrifice those things on the altars of our hearts so that there is nothing more important to us than God. That’s what Lent is all about. It is about discovering those things that mean more to us than our relationship to God. It is about repentance, about sacrifice, about trusting that God will keep His promises.
Like Abraham, we can trust that God will provide the sacrifice, but we need to be obedient to the call. We need to be willing to give up those things we love more than Him so that we can be more greatly blessed. See, we think the blessing is in the relationship with our significant other, but we are even more blessed when God is in the midst of that relationship. Marriage, family, and friendships are better when God blesses it. Would God ask us to sacrifice our beloved child as a burnt offering? I don’t believe so. But He does want us to consider how we are putting our loved ones ahead of Him.
He put us ahead of His own Son.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is a foreshadowing of that which would happen at the end of our Lenten journey. On Good Friday, God took His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, and put Him on the altar of sacrifice. But on that day He did not send a ram instead. Jesus died as the final sacrifice, the only one that is lasting. God is not asking us today to lay our loved ones on the altar of sacrifice; but He is encouraging us to search our hearts for that which stands in the way of our relationship with Him. Is fondue at a romantic restaurant more important than an hour of worship and the reminder of our own mortality?
We will choose different types of Lenten practices, but are we really choosing the things that matter? I sat down to play my games on my tablet this morning and an hour later I realized I should have spent that hour reading scriptures. It might be a struggle to give up chocolate, but will that type of fast change me in any way? None of us really think our love of chocolate or coffee stands in the way of our relationship with God, so the fasting is a test of our will power rather than our repentance. We don’t lay on the altar the things that matter and trust God to bless us, we give him the things we can live without and hope He won’t notice the idols we are hiding behind our backs.
See, here’s the thing: God can see the hidden things of our hearts. He knows what we are withholding and that we are trying to fool Him into thinking we are being faithful. He knows that we will gorge ourselves with chocolate on Easter Sunday or go back to playing those video games we gave up for seven weeks.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden with God. They walked together and talked. They had a personal, intimate relationship with one another and with their Creator. They were naked and it did not matter. When the serpent deceived them and they ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, things changed dramatically. The Bible tells us that their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked so they covered themselves with fig leaves and hid in the garden. They were afraid to be seen by God.
They were indeed physically naked since God had not given them clothing to wear and their response showed that they were ashamed of their physical nakedness. Yet, that was just a symptom of the greater problem that they faced. When their eyes were opened, they could see that their disobedient actions were disrespectful to their Creator and that they were not worthy to be in His presence. Their shame was not only about their naked bodies, but also about their fear to be in the presence of God. What would He do in response to their disobedience? He had warned them that eating the tree would mean death and they did not believe His words. No wonder they were afraid and hid from His presence.
It is easy to say that we will give up something for forty days as long as we know that we can go back to the way things were before Lent, but how has that honored God? Where is the repentance? Where is the trust? Easter Sunday is forty-five days away, but are we truly ready to meet our risen and glorious Lord? Isn’t Lent meant to prepare us for that day, to make us ready to meet our Lord? What good is it to give up something that we plan to take back? We must, like Abraham, be willing to give it up for good and trust that God will be true to His promises. Isaac was the child of promise, but Abraham knew that God would be faithful no matter what happened to Isaac. He willingly laid everything, including the promise of God, on that altar.
Are we willing to be so faithful? Lent is a time for us to face our sinful, selfish hearts, repent of our sin, ask forgiveness and trust that God will be faithful to His promises. Are we really willing to give up the things that truly matter? To repent of that which keeps us from being the people God has created, chosen and redeemed us to be? When we give up the things that are dearest to our hearts and make God first in our lives, we live in the promises that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel lesson gives us a picture of Jesus going through the process of self discovery, an example for us to follow during this Lenten season. First Jesus learned His identity. During His baptism, God said, “You are my son.” He was immediately sent into the wilderness to reflect upon this identity. For forty days He was tempted. Though Mark does not give us the details, we know from the other gospel writers that Jesus was faced with the possibilities of where to take His ministry. Satan offered Him a different path, but Jesus knew who He was and what He had to do. Finally, Jesus left the wilderness and went into action. He recognized His identity, reflected on His purpose and put it to work.
Mark writes, “Immediately the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals; and the angels were serving him.” It is interesting that the word used here describing how Jesus ended up in the wilderness is the same word that is used when Jesus drives out the demons. This is not something Jesus chooses to do. He is forced into the wilderness. This was a time of testing for Jesus, a time of isolation from all human contact.
Was it a test of faith? Was it a test of obedience? It seems impossible that Jesus might have failed. Yet, the test does more than prove one’s faith or obedience. Testing brings strength, courage, knowledge and the promise of hope for something better beyond the suffering. In this case, the wilderness also provides Satan his greatest challenge.
This reminds me of a joke. Satan was wandering around, bored out of his gills. The LORD said to Satan, “Go, do your job! Tempt people and make them sin.” Satan answered, “But that’s why I’m so bored. They sin without me and there’s nothing left for me to do!” We don’t need to be tempted from the outside. Our human flesh is quite capable of failing without having things of this earth or Satan throw temptations our way. Yet, we are faced by those outside temptations on a daily basis.
Satan’s temptations for Jesus were not the everyday type of things we face. He might tempt us with a chance to have a romantic dinner or chocolate, but the temptations for Jesus were more difficult. Satan reached into Jesus’ heart and tempted Him to take His ministry in a different direction. He offered Jesus the chance to feed the world, to be known by the whole world and to rule the world. These were noble goals to seek, but to do them would have meant rejecting the reason He was sent into the world. Jesus answered with the Word. “Man does not live by bread alone.” “Do not tempt the Lord your God.” “Worship only God.”
Jesus wasn’t given a choice; He was isolated and tempted as a necessary part of His journey. Satan was given free rein to over Jesus, and according to the other versions of this story, Satan did try to get Jesus to turn from God. Jesus, like us, had free will and could have said yes to any of the temptations, but He stood firm. When Satan tempted Him, He remained true to God.
We are tempted daily, and Lent is a time for us to recognize this reality. Lent is a time for us to journey through our own wilderness. What does that look like for you? We think we have to choose today something to fast for the next forty days, but along with those disciplines we should take this time to discover and reflect upon our identity. We tend to jump into action without really knowing who we are or what we are meant to do. How much easier it would be if we followed this process, like Jesus, listening for God’s voice and taking time to face the temptations that keep us from being all that we can be. Then we can go out and do the work we have been called to do.
We are tempted daily, and Lenten fasting can be of great value as we come to recognize the things that tempt us. By standing up to the temptations, as Jesus stood against the devil, we learn to rely on the strength that God gives us through the power of the Holy Spirit. The things we fast might be unimportant, we might fail and we might splurge on them in a few weeks, but the lessons learned from leaning on God can help us overcome the bigger temptations of this world. James writes, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him.” As we stand against the temptations that come our way, we are transformed into people ready to receive the Risen Lord.
We won’t be perfect. It doesn’t matter how many Lents we journey through; we’ll never be perfect in this world. We will continue to fall for the temptations that are thrust our way by the world and the devil. It doesn’t matter how many things we lay on the altar of sacrifice before our God, we will continue to fail. We will probably fail at keeping our Lent disciplines, no matter how simple and easy they might seem. The big ones will be even more difficult to accomplish. The goal, as in all our journeys of faith, is not to be perfect, but to draw ever closer to the God who is with us with through it all. He’s waiting at the end, not to judge us for our failures but to embrace us for trying.
This is the first week of Lent, a season modeled after Jesus’ wilderness experience. Mark writes, “The time is fulfilled, and God’s Kingdom is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News.” The Lenten journey we begin today and continue for the next few weeks is a time for us to repent and to believe in God’s promises.
We must approach this period, use any and all practices with grace. We can even let our fasts and devotions become more important than our Lord. Let us remember that we can fail because our success will never earn us a place in heaven. Our eternal salvation rests only on the work of Jesus Christ, the only one able to stand against the temptations of this world. As much as we want to join with Jesus in every way of that journey, we need to remember that we do not have to do it alone. The One who went before us will join us on this journey. Whatever we choose to lay on the altar of sacrifice, we can trust that God will always be faithful to His promises. He will give us the strength to try to be the people God has created, chosen and redeemed us to be.
It is hard for us to believe that the God we love would ever test a person so harshly. Why would He demand such a harsh sacrifice? Why should the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness for forty days? Why do any of us experience a time of wilderness? Why do we suffer? Sometimes it is just a consequence of living in an imperfect world. Satan’s job is to tempt us and lead us into sin and he often does this in very subtle ways. He makes it appear as though we are choosing good while we are choosing that which turns us from God. Treating those we love with a special Valentine’s Day is good, but not at the expense of our relationship with God.
Sometimes we are driven by God’s Spirit to be tested. God does not test us to make us fail or suffer punishment. We don’t face times of temptation just so God can see if we will be faithful or obedient. Testing is like tempering. It makes us stronger, gives us courage, and causes us to look to the One who is our salvation and our refuge. When there is testing there is always hope. Hope is seeing beyond the moment into the promises.
Abraham was righteous in the eyes of God; he walked with God and was obedient even to the point of willingly given up his beloved son. As children of Abraham we share in his faith, but even more so we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ we have the promise of salvation, of forgiveness, of wholeness and eternal life. It is a life that is lived in faith and obedience to God in response to that which Christ has done on the cross. We are reminded, however, that this life is temporary. We will die. Dwelling in that reality will keep our eyes on the One who has made the greatest promise. With our focus on God and our willingness to obedient to Him, everything else in our life will be incredibly blessed. Are we willing to sacrifice the most beloved things and people of our life to trust that God will fulfill His promises with even greater blessings?
“After all that generation were gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them, who didn’t know Yahweh, nor the work which he had done for Israel. The children of Israel did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, and served the Baals. They abandoned Yahweh, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; and they provoked Yahweh to anger. They abandoned Yahweh, and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. Yahweh’s anger burned against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.” Judges 1:10-14, WEB
After Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God’s people ended up in Egypt, invited by Joseph to live in a land of plenty. Eventually the Hebrews were no longer honored by the Egyptians as they had been in the days of Joseph. They were slaves, and the slavery with each successive generation became harsher. After four hundred years, the Hebrews called out to the God of their forefathers and He heard their cries. He sent Moses to deliver them and take them to the land promised to them through their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
It took many years, testing in the wilderness, and battles against the enemies of God, but they eventually entered into the Promised Land. After Moses died, Joshua led the people as they settled into their new homes. Each tribe was given a portion of the land to work and live. It was hard work. Each tribe had to fight for their place in those lands. God was with them and He gave them victory after victory. Yet, in the end, some of the Hebrews ended up living side by side with foreigners. They intermarried and they began to worship the foreign Gods. They forgot everything that God had done for them and sought blessings in all the wrong places.
A common theme reveals itself while reading the history books of the Bible (Joshua through Esther.) It is found the first time in today’s text. “The children of Israel did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, and served the Baals. They abandoned Yahweh, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; and they provoked Yahweh to anger.” They did this seven times in the book of Judges alone. God gave them judges to help them turn back to Him. Over and over they looked to Him for salvation, but then turned from Him again after each judge died. The pattern continued when God gave them kings to lead them. The blessings of God ended every few generations when the king “did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight.”
God left the people to their enemies, but never forgot His promises. Each time we hear “they did evil in His sight,” it was followed by a time of trial and then an answer to their cries. “When the children of Israel cried to Yahweh, Yahweh raised up a savior to the children of Israel.” Despite their failure to live up to the expectations of their God, He was never far and was always willing to give them a second (and third and fourth and more) chance.
We have entered Lent and while this is less than fifty days to Easter, we will fail. We may not bow down to the Baals or seek foreigners; we’ll get caught up in the realities of our world, losing sight of the God who has done great things for us. We might even do “evil in Yahweh’s sight” because we are human and we sin. Even when we are trying to be good, we fail. We will miss a day of devotions or eat a piece of chocolate cake when visiting a friend. We will forget it is Friday and eat a hamburger. We’ll get angry and frustrated. We’ll doubt and seek help from all the wrong places. We will not live up to the expectations of our God.
Yet, He is now as He has ever been, the God of second chances. So, when you fail, remember that He has not left your side. Cry out to Him. Seek His help. Ask Him for the forgiveness He has promised and embrace His grace. Then try again. Commit again. Begin a new fast. Catch up on your reading. Pray. He will bless your repentance and help you as you move forward in His grace. He will do this knowing that you will fail again. Over and over again, God will be with us as we do what is right and when we do what is evil. We will suffer consequences for turning from God, but those will help us to remember Him. He will forgive us, forget our sins and put us on the right path again. He will rejoice with us over our victories and He will bless us when we are obedient to His calling.
So remember that you are human and you will fail. Remember that you are as capable as God’s people to turn from God, but He is ready to embrace you as you humble yourself before Him, grieve your sinfulness and turn back to Him. He will forgive and perhaps you’ll be stronger and more faithful from the experience.
“Ascribe to Yahweh, you sons of the mighty, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength. Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due to his name. Worship Yahweh in holy array. Yahweh’s voice is on the waters. The God of glory thunders, even Yahweh on many waters. Yahweh’s voice is powerful. Yahweh’s voice is full of majesty. Yahweh’s voice breaks the cedars. Yes, Yahweh breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young, wild ox. Yahweh’s voice strikes with flashes of lightning. Yahweh’s voice shakes the wilderness. Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. Yahweh’s voice makes the deer calve, and strips the forests bare. In his temple everything says, ‘Glory!’ Yahweh sat enthroned at the Flood. Yes, Yahweh sits as King forever. Yahweh will give strength to his people. Yahweh will bless his people with peace.” Psalm 29, WEB
When people discover that we have lived overseas, they ask many questions about the people, the culture and the best places to visit. Many ask advice about planning a trip and are disappointed when they learn that their plans are over ambitious. Their expectations are unreasonable; they simply can’t see everything they want in a couple of weeks. We lived there four years and still did not see everything we should have seen.
I’ve had several people ask me specific questions about living in a foreign country, thinking they may like living there someday. They often have a skewed perspective based on television shows they’ve seen and are shocked when I answer their questions. They forget about the everyday things, such as the price of gas and the differences in food production. They don’t think about how they will get a job or the difficulties that they might face with taxes, health care and cultural differences. It is certainly possible to live in a foreign country as many people have done so. However, it takes commitment, education and preparation. The most important thing is to be open to all the information, both positive and negative. Weigh all the facts before making a decision. It is not possible to understand life in a foreign country based on a half hour sitcom or a travel show. Neither can foreigners understand living in America by watching “The Big Bang Theory,” “NCIS,” or “The Bachelor.”
Too often we want to fit the world into a mold that is limited by our understanding. Those who have thought about moving overseas have a romanticized view of that kind of life and are unwilling to listen to anything that might change that desire. In many cases, they so believe in their ideal that it becomes a source of arrogance: “It won’t be that way for me,” they think. We do the same with our understanding of God. But God will never fit into our boxes.
Oswald Chambers once said, “It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specially designed mold, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.” There are many who take their romanticized view of living in a foreign country and make it a dream, claiming that their life would be better in that wonderful place. They refuse to listen to other opinions or ideas. When they do manage to make the move, they discover it’s not paradise and then are often stuck in an impossible situation.
God is far more than we can even imagine. By His Word, the world exists. By His Word, we have life. His Word gives us all we need to glorify Him as we live and serve in this world. Yet, with our words we still try to make Him fit into a box that suits our needs and desires. The Psalmist knows that God is bigger than human reason and understanding and praises God by singing of the awesome power of His Word. We should do the same, never using God’s Word to put down others, but rather as a way to lift them out of their tiny box into a greater understanding of His Love.
“Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures that war in your members? You lust, and don’t have. You murder and covet, and can’t obtain. You fight and make war. You don’t have, because you don’t ask. You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Be subject therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:1-10, WEB
There was a period of time when I experienced the most incredible prayer life. It was when we lived in England, and I had the opportunity to spend hours in prayer every week. It was my ministry in that time and place, and it was truly a blessing to my life. I grew and matured spiritually. I had experiences that I cannot fully explain. I saw the answers to prayers, but I also had an understanding as to why when things didn’t quite turn out the way I expected. It was, in many ways, a mountain top experience. I moved back to the US and I never found that depth of prayer life again.
I still pray. I am still growing and maturing spiritually. I still have experiences I can’t fully explain. I still see answers to prayer whether they are what I expect or what God intends. My prayer life is no longer a mountain top experience, however. I don’t feel the elation I felt after hours on my knees. I don’t feel the same joy or satisfaction as I did during that time. I’ve often wished I could get it back again.
As we read through today’s scripture, we think that it really doesn’t speak to us. We don’t murder. We aren’t adulterous. Yet, do you realize that we can lust after things that appear to be good? My prayer life in those days was good. It was my ministry. God has had a different purpose for me in this time and place. It isn’t that I should stop praying, but I shouldn’t desire that particular type of ministry based on my feelings. Chasing after the mountain top experience is not honoring God or being obedient to His calling in my life. It is selfish to lament not finding something that is not God’s intent for my life in this time and place, even if it is a good thing.
We rebel against God by seeking the satisfaction of our desires and by searching for fulfillment of our feelings. This might last only a brief moment of time, or it might go on for years. We search for God, but refuse to believe what we see. We test God to see what we can get out of the relationship. We are curious and confused. We are aggressive and afraid. We are greedy, demanding and indifferent. We would much rather ignore and reject Him. Yet, somehow, God’s grace breaks through the hardness of our hearts and we finally submit to Him. In our humility, we are blessed by the grace of God and we discover new and wonderful ways that God is reaching out to us. We discover new and wonderful ways that He is calling us to serve Him. I may not be having a mountain top experience, but I pray that God will continue draw near to me as I humble myself before Him in this time and place.
“May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble. May the name of the God of Jacob set you up on high, send you help from the sanctuary, grant you support from Zion, remember all your offerings, and accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah. May He grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your counsel. We will triumph in your salvation. In the name of our God, we will set up our banners. May Yahweh grant all your requests. Now I know that Yahweh saves his anointed. He will answer him from his holy heaven, with the saving strength of his right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust the name of Yahweh our God. They are bowed down and fallen, but we rise up, and stand upright. Save, Yahweh! Let the King answer us when we call!” Psalm 20, WEB
I’m reading through the Bible in a year using a daily reading program that focuses on a different portion of the Bible each day of the week. By the end of a year I will have read the whole book. I read a lesson from the Epistles on Sunday, the Pentateuch on Monday, the history books on Tuesday, the Psalms on Wednesday, the poetry books on Thursday, the Prophets on Friday and the Gospels on Saturday. It is an excellent reading plan because it means that I don't have to face lengthy readings from the more difficult sections of scripture. We all know how hard it is to get through Leviticus! By reading a small portion today, I know that tomorrow will be a better day.
Some of the Bible is really hard to read; sometimes the stories of the Old Testament judges, kings and prophets just do not make sense to us. There was so much bloodshed and so many irrational expectations. How can we understand a God who would ask Abraham to sacrifice his beloved child? How can we accept the word of a God who would require the destruction of even the animals and property by His invading army? How can we believe the stories when they seem completely unbelievable?
Take the story of Gideon, for instance. He’s got an army of thousands available to defeat the enemy on his doorstep. Yet, God tells him that he has too many for the task at hand. Gideon tells the people that whoever wants to leave can leave, and many leave the battlefield and go home. Even with a big loss of men, God tells Gideon that 10,000 is too many. “I’ll tell you which men to take.” And in the end, God allowed only three hundred men to go into battle. Now, imagine you are one of those three hundred men. Do you really follow Gideon?
We know that poor Moses was stuck with a nation of people who were not thrilled to be wandering around in the desert for forty years. They complained about everything: no water, no meat, no bread, too much meat, weird food that’s kind of like bread. They wanted to go back into slavery in Egypt because at least that was home. They wanted it to be done. They wanted someone else to lead them because Moses was not doing things the way they thought it should be done. Yet, in the end they followed Moses because God was with him and God proved Moses to be true.
Is God with our leaders? I suppose there are times when we think that is not true, yet God has a purpose for all of them. We might not agree with the way they are accomplishing their work. We may not like their agenda. We might think that their expectations are ridiculous. I’m not sure I would follow some people into battle or move to a new place if the circumstances were like those found in the scriptures. Yet, we are called to pray for our leaders, to hold them up before God and seek prosperity under their leadership. We might not understand why God has chosen them for this time and place, but we can trust that God knows what He’s doing in all things.
And so, we pray that our leaders will remain true to God and that God will bless them. For when the leaders are blessed, whether they are leaders in a local organization or a global enterprise, whether they are kings or prime ministers or presidents, whether they rule over ten or ten million, then the group will be blessed. Whether we like them or not, the community is centered on them for a season, and it is up to us to pray for them so that they will remain true to the promises of God.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 25, 2018, Second Sunday in Lent: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 5:1-11; Mark 8:27-38
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Romans 5:11, WEB
God made a covenant with Abram which was renewed in today’s Old Testament lesson. In Genesis 12, God called Abram and sent him to a new place, promising that he would be great and a blessing to the whole world. He also promised Abram that his offspring would inherit the Promised Land. There was no reciprocal promise, God asked nothing in return. This promise was renewed in chapter 15 when God met with Abram and cut the covenant. There the Lord presented Abram a royal grant - an unconditional promise to fulfill the grant of land.
Abram never saw the fulfillment of God’s plan, but God remained faithful despite Abram’s unfaithfulness. All along the journey Abram took matters into his own hands, never quite trusting that God was in control. Ultimately, Abram and Sarai even tried to provide their own heir, turning to Hagar to be a surrogate, but Hagar’s son Ishmael would never be the son of the promise. God repeated the promise of offspring, showing Abram that he would be father to children more numerous than the stars in the sky and that they would inherit the Promised Land. Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abram was ninety-nine years old in today’s passage. He still had no children and Sarai was barren and very old. Despite their unfaithfulness, God appeared to Abram and confirmed his promise.
Now this promise is more than a royal land grant; it is that Abram would be the father of many nations. This was a suzerain-vassal covenant which is a conditional pledge between a great king and a subject king. As long as the vassal remains faithful and loyal, the suzerain would be there as guardian and protector. The sign of this covenant is circumcision. As long as Abram’s descendents continued to consecrate themselves before the Lord, they would receive His blessings. God said, “I am God Almighty. Walk before me, and be blameless. I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”
It is obvious in today’s text that something changed with Abram and Sarai, something was new. God gave them new names. The scriptures tell us that the new names represent their new place in God’s plan. Abram became Abraham; the childless one became the one who would be the father of many nations. Sarai became Sarah; the childless one became the one who will give rise to nations.
There is more to this name change than meets our eyes, however, and it has to do with the additional letter. The letter “h” in Hebrew is “hey” and means “to reveal” or “behold.” It also represents the divine breath and revelation. In other words, God has breathed new life into Abraham and Sarah; their lives will be different because God is irrevocably intertwined in them. By adding the “h” to Abram’s name, the Lord God Almighty added His breath, His life, His Spirit into the life of Abram. Abram was now fully a part of God’s kingdom; the vassal was to become the father of many nations. In this passage we see God offering a promise to the father and mother of many nations, and we see Him taking hold of them and giving them everything they need to become what He has planned.
Isaac was the child of the promise; his life meant that Sarai would become the mother of many nations. Just as Abram was changed to Abraham, her name was changed to Sarah. The name changes mark a significant point in their lives. It was then that they were fully immersed into God’s covenant and the promise that was theirs was now very real to them and to the world. The grant of land would not be fulfilled for generations to come, but the child of the promise would soon be theirs.
It seems impossible that a ninety-nine year old childless man might become the father of many nations. The promise is equally impossible for Sarah who was well beyond the age of child bearing. Yet, Abraham believed God and trusted that He would be faithful. Do we live with such trust? We should. Although our names have not been changed, God has breathed His “hey” into our lives, too. We have been changed as He has revealed Himself to us through Jesus, by grace, in our baptisms.
God opened Abraham and Sarah’s hearts, revealed His purpose for their lives; He promised them greatness and took hold of them so that He could give them everything they needed to become what He planned. He does the same for us. We might not have a name change like Abram and Sarai, but we are God’s and He has a plan for our lives.
God had a plan for Jesus, and it wasn’t what Peter expected. Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah because the Holy Spirit had revealed it to Him, but Peter’s expectations were much different. We, like Peter, might rebuke God for doing things His way, thinking that we know better. The text today asks us if know who Jesus is. Do we have an answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Do we know that He is the Messiah and do we know what that means? We have the advantage of hindsight; we know the rest of the story, but that does not always guarantee that we understand how God is working in our lives. We are called to lives of trust and confidence in God’s plan, knowing that only He can make things work out right.
Faith doesn’t always lead to what we call blessing. A story is told that at some time when a certain country was persecuting Christians, a small gathering of faithful were in a church at worship. Suddenly the door slammed open and soldiers entered the sanctuary, with weapons pointed at the congregation. The leader of the soldiers yelled out to those who were gathered, “If you deny your faith and walk out of here right now, you will be safe.” A number of people rose and went for the door, but a few people stayed seated. They were unwilling to deny Jesus Christ. When the last of the deniers left the building, the soldiers closed and locked the door and then all sat in a pew. The leader said, “I’m sorry to frighten you, but in this day we had to be certain that we worshipped with true believers. We know those of you who risked your life for your faith will not betray us.”
I don’t recall the time or place, but I don’t think it matters. There are stories from throughout time and space of people willingly laying their lives on the line for their faith, and far more stories of people willing to deny Christ to live. I remember reading about a specific incident like this, but I no longer remember the details. We can hear a story like this and ask the question, “Would you have stayed or would you have gone?” I’m not sure we can really answer that question. We simply do not know how we will respond. Most of us, at least those of us who live in the United States, do not need to fear such intense persecution.
Admittedly, it is more frightening today than it was decades ago, but we do not really know what it is like to be afraid to believe in Jesus. We can go to church without fear of intrusion. We can live out our faith in daily life, displaying Christian symbols on our homes or wearing a cross around our neck. We can read the bible without censorship and we can speak comforting words of hope in God’s promises to the sad and lonely in this world. We don’t really understand what it means to face a firing squad for our faith. There are places, however, where faith is tested daily and people are dying for Jesus.
Instead of wondering if we would have stayed or left, perhaps we should ask how far we are willing to follow Jesus. We hear today’s Gospel lesson and wonder about what Jesus meant when He said “Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” What is our cross? For some, the cross is the suffering they experience, like when they are sick or dealing with the harsh realities of our world. Others say their cross is dealing with things they don’t like for the sake of others. Yet other will say that the good works they do is the cross they carry.
Jesus goes on to say, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the sake of the Good News will save it.” Is death a requirement for faithfulness? We are reminded in the scriptures that Christ died once for all. So, what does this mean for us today? We may struggle with the question of whether or not we would stand firm when facing the wrong end of the gun, but are we willing to refuse to take our kids to soccer practice on a Sunday morning so we can attend worship? Will we tell our bosses we can’t do something because it goes against our faith? Will we stand up for the things that we believe matter in this world? Will we call a spade a spade even when the rest of the world says it is a shovel?
We may never have to make the choice of whether or not to stay in the pew when threatened by a gunman’s bullet, but there many opportunities to deny oneself for the sake of Christ and His gospel. Will we gain the whole world by keeping our faith private, but lose true life in doing so? Are we so ashamed of Christ that we will bury Him beneath our daily worldly activities because it is easier to do so than to stand with Him? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves, rather than wondering what cross we have to carry. For losing one’s life does not necessarily mean dying in the flesh, it means putting Jesus Christ before everything else in our life. It is there we find true life.
More than a decade ago, a girl named Kristi Yamaoka earned her fifteen minutes of fame in a terrible accident at a basketball game. Kristi was a cheerleader for Southern Illinois University and the team was building a pyramid during a time out near the end of an extremely important game. Kristi fell off the pyramid and fell on her head. They stopped the game while medical staff dealt with her injury. They were very concerned that Kristi would be permanently injured, so every care was taken to keep her still. Video of the fall hit the airwaves from national news reports to YouTube. The game was a close one, and the crowds were noisy with spirit. The minute Kristi fell, however, the gym went silent.
Kristy is remembered, however, for how she dealt with her injury. She did not want to leave the game. The medical team insisted that Kristi be taken to the hospital, but even as she was being taken on a stretcher, Kristi continued to cheer her team. Her coach cautioned her to stop, but the medical team said she would be fine, so Kristi showed her spirit by performing the fight song routine right on the stretcher. Though she was injured, her concern was only for the other cheerleaders and the basketball team. “My biggest concern was that I didn’t want my squad to be distracted, so that they could continue cheering on the team, and I didn't want my team to be distracted from winning the game,” she said.
Kristi recovered completely. She’d suffered a chipped neck vertebra, concussion, and bruised lung and was released from the hospital just two days later. She had no problem securing her place on the team for the next school year. The accident brought changes to the rules of cheerleading. The American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators banned tossing or launching of cheerleaders and pyramids were limited to two levels without mats. The ban became permanent in July 2006, despite the negative reaction from cheerleaders and coaches.
Have you ever known a Christian who is so filled with Christ that he or she can continue praising God even in the midst of tragedy and pain? Kristi’s coach said, “She’s 100 percent school spirit.” Though the focus of her excitement was different, Kristi reminds us of a passionate Christian; faith-filled Christians can praise God from a wheelchair and speak about hope at a funeral.
From the stretcher on her way out of the game Kristi said, “I am a cheerleader.” She had to cheer. It was who she is and what she does. How many people can say “I am a Christian,” and live their life so fully immersed in who they are in Christ that they can’t help but live in praise and worship to God? Do we walk around living in the Spirit of God? There are a few, but very few, people about whom it might be said, “He (or she) is 100 percent spirit,” because we get caught up in the troubles and pains of this world. It doesn’t take much for us to lose sight of God. His greatest gift is life, the true life that comes from the forgiveness that our Lord Jesus Christ won for us on His cross. We are called to live fully in that gift so that the world might see the grace of God and believe.
Jesus said, “For what will a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever will be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him, when he comes in his Father’s glory, with the holy angels.” Is He asking for us to give a cup of water to the thirsty in exchange for the life He has given us? No. He has given us life and has promised blessing to those who a cup of water in His name.
Our cross is not some suffering we have to face alone in this world. It is not some work we have to do. We take up Christ’s cross with Him. It is His cross we are called to share with others. This is incredibly hard, especially since we know most people do not want to hear the message that comes through the cross. People don’t want to hear that they are sinners in need of a Savior and that the only way to inherit the kingdom of God is through faith in Jesus. The message of the cross is foolishness. We are often ashamed to speak the words to our neighbors.
This is the cross we are called to carry; we are to be witnesses for Jesus in this world. It isn’t easy in a world that rejects Christianity. However, if we are ashamed of our faith, if we do not take Christ’s cross into the world, He will also be ashamed of us. It is a heavy burden for us to bear, but we are reminded that we do not carry this cross alone. God walks with us as we faithfully follow Him. He is with us, holding us up, loving us and giving us everything we need to speak those words of grace into people’s lives. We might suffer, but we won’t suffer alone and in the end we will join Him in His glory in the Day to come.
In Romans, Paul gives us a list of ways in which we can love, encourages us to live in the love of God. Without a doubt, none of us could do it without God’s abiding love. We could not care for others, consider others first, serve the Lord if He had not first loved us. The world knows that God is supposed to stand for love, that He is love. It is hard for the world to see God’s love when Christians often appear so unloving.
Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with sin and though we have been changed by God’s love, we still fail, we want to be in control, to be like God and do God’s work in our own way. Sometimes we are impatient, thinking that God is taking too long. We see the sin and pain in the world and wish He would do something to make problems end. At other times, we question whether God is taking care of the matter in the right way. Our motives are not always self-centered, but we are led by our own biases and experiences. Unfortunately, our way is always imperfect because we can’t see the world as God sees it.
Like Abram and Sarai, we think that we need to be in control. We want to avoid suffering and pain, and yet sometimes it is in the very suffering that God does His best work as we learn to trust in Him. Look at what happened on the cross: Jesus Christ died, but in His death we find true life. Paul reminds us that we grow through our suffering, which produces perseverance, which produces character and that character produces the hope that is already within us through faith in Jesus Christ. The character that comes from deep within holds on to a hope that is real and trustworthy because it comes from faith in Christ, a hope that was given through the blood of Jesus on the cross through which we are saved.
God does not fail. He knows the right time and the right way to accomplish His plan. He knew exactly how to overcome the sin of this world. He sent Jesus exactly when we needed Him to come, to do exactly what needed to be done. We do not understand why. We can’t quite grasp the need for the cross or for Christ’s blood to cleanse us from our sins. It isn’t up to us to decide whether or not God did things the right way. We are called to trust in Him, to believe in Jesus and to follow Jesus wherever He might lead us. Things might not be as we hope they will be, but they will be exactly as God intends. So, let us take up our cross, His cross, and follow Him, speaking the Gospel into a world that so desperately needs God’s salvation. It won’t be easy, we may even suffer, but in the end we will see God’s promise of reconciliation be fulfilled and we will share in His glory forever.
“For we don’t have here an enduring city, but we seek that which is to come. Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name. But don’t forget to be doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they watch on behalf of your souls, as those who will give account, that they may do this with joy, and not with groaning, for that would be unprofitable for you. Pray for us, for we are persuaded that we have a good conscience, desiring to live honorably in all things. I strongly urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you sooner. Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, our Lord Jesus, make you complete in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:14-21, WEB
The best quote I’ve heard from Billy Graham this week is this: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” There have certainly been plenty of articles written about the great accomplishments of this man of God by people who are more knowledgeable than I, so I won’t go into his life in this writing. But it is impossible to let him pass without thinking about his death.
Billy Graham has been honored and remembered by people from the full spectrum of Christianity and even by those who are not Christian. He was a good man, he loved the Lord and he firmly believed what he was preaching to the masses that went to hear him. Though many will not agree totally with his point of view, he was respected as a man of faith committed to doing the Lord’s work in this world.
It is obvious from his quote that he was not afraid of death. He knew, without a doubt, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was true and that his life would not end with death. He was just passing through on his way to something greater: eternity with his Father and best friend. He is home, as many have said. Yet, we see from his long life that he didn’t sit around waiting for his day to go home. Billy Graham did everything he could to share God’s grace with the world. He didn’t chase agendas or promote ideologies. He counseled world leaders, not in political matters, but in faith. He wanted everyone to love Jesus as much as he loved Jesus; his purpose was to introduce his friend to the world.
We remember this great man of God on this day because through his life we see the truth of the Gospel: we cannot earn righteousness or do enough to be rewarded with salvation. It is only in Jesus that we are made perfect and gifted to be witnesses to the mercy of God, glorifying Him in all we do. Billy Graham knew that there was a better place waiting for those who have faith, and he looked forward to the day he would go home. He invites us to join him in faith so that we, too, will one day be with our Father and best friend, dwelling eternally in the presence of God.
“Likewise, you younger ones, be subject to the elder. Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you. Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings. But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:5-11, WEB
There are so many things for us to worry about these days. In western society, we face the struggles of drugs and violence, worrying about our children every time they walk out the door. We worry about disease, pollution, and poverty. We are anxious about the decisions we make and how they will affect our lives and the world around us. In our personal lives, we are concerned about our health, finances, family and friends. We experience suffering of all sorts, emotional and physical. What has you worried today? A sick friend? A busy schedule? A lost relationship? The wrong job?
We each have anxieties that are part of our day to day living. These worries are not healthy for us, and cause greater strain on our physical and emotional health. Even more, the worries place great strain on our spiritual health. We need to face the fact that each of us has issues that we focus upon daily that waste our time and energy. When we recognize the stumbling blocks that can take over our lives, then we can do something about it.
God recognizes that there are issues in our lives that need to be handled. We do need to eat, rest in shelter, and take care of the sick. There are problems in our society that brings death and pain to our lives. He does not expect us to go around laughing gaily at every moment in the midst of pain and suffering. However, it is important that we do not let these issues make us anxious to the point of giving a foothold to the enemy.
We hear cries of “We need to DO SOMETHING!” everyday, but we can’t agree on what we need to do. We can’t agree because we disagree about the root of the problem. We are divided about so many things, always insisting that our way is the only way. We even argue that our way is God’s way. The part we forget is that we are so busy trying to DO SOMETHING our way that we don’t even look to God for His help. Yes, it seems frivolous to say “We should pray” and so we rush out and we march and make demands and argue with our neighbors because at least then we appear to be doing something, but those works will never make a difference.
We must begin with prayer. The root of our problem is not earthly objects or even human failure. The root of our problem is evil and the devil. We’ll never beat him with marches or demands. We will never overcome evil by “doing something.” We need God. It may seem impossible, but more will be accomplished if every march were turned into a prayer meeting so that we will turn our hearts and our actions back to God. What did Jesus do when He faced the struggles of His life and ministry? He prayed. He looked to His Father for comfort and encouragement and strength. The battle we are facing is not against one another, no matter how much we disagree. This is a spiritual battle that can only be fought with God’s power.
Now is the time for every one of us to stand firm in our faith and tell the devil to take a hike. Now is the time for each one of us to stop and pray. We can’t base our actions simply on our emotions. Fear, anger, hatred and grief will never bring us to a place of peace. That’s the devil using our humanness to turn us from the only One who can truly change the world. The consequence of prayer will be a peace that passes all human understanding because through prayer we are trusting God to do what needs to be done. Let us pray with Peter who says, “But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” As we do so, God will reveal the things we can do to send the devil running and to make a difference in the world.
“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were loosened. The jailer, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Don’t harm yourself, for we are all here!’ He called for lights, sprang in, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, brought them out, and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house. He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was immediately baptized, he and all his household. He brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his household, having believed in God.” Acts 16:25-34, WEB
I was once talking to a non-believer who wanted to know why he should believe in Jesus. He told me stories of his experiences with Christians, stories of hypocrites who did not act as if they were changed. “They are just like everyone else.” He told of a time when he was driving on a highway. There was a speeding car, weaving in and out of the traffic, which nearly caused several accidents. He told me he was shocked to see an “I love Jesus” bumper sticker on the car. “Is that Christian love, to be in such a rush that the driver risked the lives of others?” He didn’t want anything to do with it.
It is hard to overcome such an attitude, particularly with statements like “We aren’t perfect, we are forgiven.” To a non-believe, that’s a cop-out. We are supposed to be known by our love, our testimony, and our faith, but our lives show the same traits as everyone else; sometimes we are hurried, frazzled, uncaring, angry, bitter, and foolish. They won’t even want to hear the Gospel; they won’t listen when we tell them that we are saved by the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. It is when they see Christ in us that they ask about our faith. Though we know we are forgiven of our hypocrisy, we should strive to be the best witnesses we can be so that those who do not know Jesus will want to know Him.
Paul was that type of Christian. The book of Acts gives an accounting of Paul’s journeys as a missionary. Whatever he did pointed at Christ and caused those around him to want to know more. When he healed, he did not allow the witnesses to believe he was anything other than a man. He gave all the credit to God. When he was being beaten, he rejoiced in the love of God. When he was persecuted, he stood firm in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. He did not live a life of hypocrisy, and many came to believe because they saw a man willing to actively live in the faith he was given, no matter the circumstances. He had been transformed, and that new Paul made an awesome witness to the love and mercy of God. They were willing to listen, because he responded to the Gospel with his whole life.
Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned, but spent their time praising God. When a violent earthquake set all the prisoners free, they could have easily taken off into the night and freedom. Paul and Silas could have even claimed it to be an act of God setting them free from the bondage of injustice. Yet, they stayed. They saved the life of the one who imprisoned them. The witness they gave at that moment was far greater than the power of God that set them free. They showed the jailer they were concerned for his life. He was amazed by that simple testimony they gave by not running away, and he wanted to hear more so that he would receive what they had. They shared the Gospel and he was saved along with his entire household. He cared for them, cleaned their wounds and fed them.
It is difficult to answer when non-Christians ask me questions like the young man who was disturbed by the actions of a Christian driver during rush hour. There is no excuse for that type of behavior no matter who is behind the wheel of the car. Yet, it is my prayer that whenever I am faced with the hard questions that my life will be a witness to the love and mercy of Christ, so that those who do not know Him will be willing to ask about my faith. Then I can give a testimony they will hear and come to believe in the one who saves us from our sin.
“But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer also the other; and from him who takes away your cloak, don’t withhold your coat also. Give to everyone who asks you, and don’t ask him who takes away your goods to give them back again. As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive back as much. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful.” Luke 6:27-36, WEB
A great and ferocious lion who ruled over all the animals of the forest lay down after a long day of unfruitful hunting. Though he was still hungry, he fell asleep. A short time later he was disturbed from his sleep by a tiny mouse that scampered across the massive form, thinking it was a rock. The lion waited patiently and at the right moment, he caught the mouse. Just as he was about to pop the mouse into his mouth, the tiny creature begged for mercy. “Please forgive me! I did not mean to disturb you. If you let me go, I promise that I will return the favor one day.” The lion laughed at the silliness of such a small creature ever being of use to him, but agreed. The mouse ran away to safety. Some time later some hunters captured the lion and tied him to a tree. The tiny mouse appeared before the lion and began gnawing through the rope. Eventually, the mouse managed to loosen the rope enough for the lion to escape. The lion showed mercy and it was returned to him.
Jesus tells us that those who are merciful will be shown mercy. Mercy is about being compassionate, forgiving and kind. In the story of the lion and the mouse, the lion set the mouse free even though he was hungry. If the lion had eaten the mouse, the mouse would not have been alive to chew the ropes from the lion. We deal with much greater evils in our world today. Mercy is more difficult to understand and to express especially when our enemies have the power to destroy our lives. There are no easy answers for how to deal with the struggles we face when people try to hurt us, but our Lord Jesus has shown us repeatedly in the scriptures that the mercy we give will be returned to us.
For today, be merciful. Your heavenly Father gives you the strength, courage and wisdom to love your enemies and to bless those who curse you. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid the highest price possible to give us the mercy that only He can give: forgiveness for our lives of sin and payment for our debt to God. Begin, as you are able with those closest to you. Perhaps it is a neighbor, friend or family member who has harmed you in some way. Do not seek revenge, but rather seek reconciliation by doing good for them. The love of God will manifest in the mercy you share, revealing you as a son or daughter of God. Mercy begets mercy, and God has called us to share His grace with others, especially those who can do us the most harm. In the end, we will experience great blessings because we will see God has been glorified in our lives. The mercy we share might just be the very thing needed for them to hear the Gospel and believe. Then that enemy will join God’s kingdom and become a brother or sister in Christ. There is no greater blessing!
Scriptures for Sunday, March 4, 2018, Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 2:13-22 (23-25)
“For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are: that no flesh should boast before God.” 1 Corinthians 26-29, WEB
I once attended a very large Christian gathering that was impossible to recognize as Christian. There were banners with the organization’s acronym, but unless you knew what the letters meant, you would never have guessed it was Christian. The logos and decorations were very secular, with not a single cross to be found except in the marketplace. The speakers were non- or nominal Christians who did not even name Jesus except in heretical ways. The entrance into the worship space was crowded with vendors selling all sorts of spiritual and religious artifacts and books or giving away brochures on all the things the visitors could do to change the world. I was an attendee and a Christian and I had a hard time finding Jesus in the midst of it all. I can’t imagine what an on-looker must have thought.
The Temple had a very specific design, beginning with Moses’ Tabernacle in the wilderness. It was designed by God, with each piece having a purpose. It was filled with symbolism; the bread, the candles, the curtains and even the hooks that held the curtains onto the polls. The materials chosen were specific: bronze for the outside, gold for the innermost parts. Goat hair and linen had their places. Certain woods were gathered to be carved and used for support and decoration. The tabernacle represented God’s house; it was a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, in whom God dwelled wholly and completely.
The Temples, first Solomon’s and then Herod’s, followed the same pattern, although other practical parts were added when the Tabernacle was given roots and made permanent. There were storerooms and meeting places. There were rooms for the priests and others to live. There was probably even a janitor’s closet somewhere in the site. The important things were still there. The Holy of Holies still contained the Ark and the Holy Place was the inner sanctum of sacrifice, prayer and worship. Certain places were open for only certain people; the priests could enter the Holy Place, the Jews the inner courts, but the outer courts welcomed the gentiles to pray and learn about the Hebrew God and the Jewish faith. Many even choose to become Jewish.
The outer court was also used as a marketplace. According to our Gospel lesson, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover which was a time of pilgrimage and sacrifice; He was disturbed that the priests had so little respect for God’s grace to the nations. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus quotes Isaiah who wrote, “...for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The outer courtyard, the only place the gentiles were allowed to enter, was filled with people, merchants, and moneychangers. The marketplace made it impossible to pray and learn and choose the God of Israel. The place of prayer for the gentiles and sanctuary for those who could not enter into God’s presence in the inner courts had become a den of thieves. The gentiles had no place to experience the presence of God and to hear His word. On-lookers could not see or understand what it truly meant to be one of God’s people. Jesus was standing up for the people of the nations whom God loved, too.
The leaders in the Temple, who benefitted greatly from the marketplace, asked Jesus who gave Him the authority to do such a thing. When asked what sign He would give to prove His authority, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Temple is merely a foreshadowing; Jesus is the real. This is the first time Jesus talked about His death and resurrection, but they saw His words as a boastful claim that He could rebuild a temple of stone in three days. How is that possible? It took forty-six years to build! He was not referring to a copy of God’s dwelling place built in stone; He was referring to Himself. It was not until much later that the disciples realized what He meant that day; after the resurrection the disciples remembered and believed.
Jesus is the Temple. God seems to take the most incredible situations and make them work for His glory. Grace is found in the Law, as God promises to bless us for generations for the obedience of our forefathers, but the greatest moment of grace came when Christ died on the cross. He died and was raised so that we can present living sacrifices to God: our hearts, our hope and our lives. But that’s just foolishness. Why would a God of love demand such a high price for our failures?
Paul saw the doubt of men. We suffer from the same doubts today. Why did Jesus have to die? Why did God require a blood sacrifice? What possible benefit could the world get from the cross? How could one life make up for all our failures? It is easier to think that we can do it on our own, being obedient to the letter of the Law or to think we can ignore the Law completely and see God in the trees and the sun and the mountains. It is easier to see God in our good works as we meet the needs of our neighbors. It isn’t so easy to see that we need a Savior and that Jesus is the One. This is why Christian gatherings focus more on changing the world rather than on repentance and redemption.
The Psalmist shows us the only way we can live righteously for God: “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.” Only with God’s help, God’s hand in our lives, will we ever be kept blameless.
I recently read a quote from C.S. Lewis’ “The Weight of Glory.” Lewis writes, “I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me, I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.’ But excusing says, ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.’ If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what seemed at first to be the sins turned out to really nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven. If you had a perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your action needs forgiveness, then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some ‘extenuating circumstances’. We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.”
The psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The expanse shows his handiwork. Day after day they pour out speech, and night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” God can be seen in the beauty of a rose garden anywhere around the world. He can be experienced on the top of any mountain. His handwork is seen in the sunset as it follows the path of the earth’s rotation. Every star screams “glory” and every wave mutters “power.” Everything that God created points back to Him. But we need more than the creation to have a relationship with our Father in heaven. Christianity is a faith based on grace and we cringe when there is a focus on law, but we need both to be whole. The Law shows us our need for God’s grace.
God’s Law is described five ways in today’s Psalm. These words sound so similar: law, testimony, precepts, commandment and ordinances. However in the Hebrew the words are all very different. The law is the Torah, the teaching of God. The testimony is the witness to God’s wisdom and works. The precepts reference God’s authority. The commandment refers to the entirety of God’s Word. The ordinances speak of God’s justice, the verdict over sin. We hear those law words knowing that God’s Word is meant for us, too. They bring us a sense of uneasiness based on our experiences and culture, but they also offer comfort and calm. God’s Word is perfect, sure, right, pure and true; His message gets into our hearts because He puts it there. By His Spirit, we hear His grace. His Law restores the soul, makes wise the simple, makes our heart rejoice, enlightens our eyes, and we will endure forever. We can trust in His Word because He is righteous.
Many Christians would rather skip over the Old Testament, the laws and God’s wrath. They want to worship God in creation and avoid the hypocrisy of the institutions. They think by doing so they are more like Jesus, overthrowing the unfaithfulness found within. Those who think it is enough to worship God on the mountaintop miss the beauty of dwelling in God’s Word. Those who reject the Church, reject the body of Christ, the true Temple.
That’s why Martin Luther did not ignore the Old Testament and he thought it was so important to include a teaching on the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. Catechisms existed long before Martin Luther penned the version we know today. They were designed to instruct new believers before their baptism. By Luther’s time, the catechisms included the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments.
While visiting a congregation, Luther discovered that the ordinary Christians in the villages knew nothing of the Christian faith. The pastors were unskilled and incapable of teaching these things to their people. Luther was shocked and determined to write a simple booklet explaining the beliefs of Christians in a way that the average layperson could understand. The pastors and preachers were encouraged to use it word for word so that the people, especially those who could not read, could learn it through repetition: writing the words on the hearts of the believers and avoiding the confusion that comes when the words are changed over and over again. To Luther, it was not enough for the believer to recite the prayer, creed and commandments; he felt that all Christians should understand what they mean. So, he wrote one sentence explanations answering a simple question, “Was ist das?”
Luther changed the order of the catechism, beginning the booklet with the Ten Commandments, then the Creed, and finally the Lord’s Prayer. This guided the reader through a journey of Law to Gospel, so that they could see their need for grace, confess belief in the only source of grace and then learn how to pray.
The commandments as we hear them in today’s Old Testament passage are not simply a list of things we should and should not do. It is a covenant between God and His people. It is important to establish a relationship, to build up trust in one another. In the case of the Hebrews, God did not sit down with them before taking them out of Egypt. He didn’t say, “If you do this, that and the other thing, then I will save you from this slavery that has you bound.” No, God saved them first, taking them out of bondage and into freedom. It was then, and only then, that He made the covenant with them. They knew He was a deliverer, that He could save His people. They knew they could trust Him. Then God taught them how to live in this new community together.
Notice that the Ten Commandments do not begin with “do not” rules. They begin with relationship building rules. It is about putting the One who saved them out of Egypt first in their lives, and then those whom God has appointed as our elders. The last few commands are the “do not” rules, but they are meant to be relationship keeping rules. The things we do against other people are the things that cause the brokenness of our world. When we murder, commit adultery, steal, lie and covet our neighbor’s things we build walls between one another. These rules are not given to make our life harder. They are given to keep us right with our neighbors and therefore right with God. In the end, if we keep the first commandment by keeping God first, we will not disobey the others because we will want to please the One who is our Savior and Deliverer.
We are reminded during our Lenten journey that He did not just deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt, He delivered us from death. He did that while we were still sinners, which seems so foolish, but it is the reality of God’s grace. He loved us so much that He died for us. Yet we are also reminded during this period that we are still sinners. We still need His grace. We still need to look to the cross and ask Him for forgiveness. We need to do this daily, constantly reminding ourselves that though we are saved, we still fail to live up to the expectations of our God.
The Law was a gift, a sign that shows us God’s care and concern for our health and safety. The Temple was a gift, a sign that reminds us of God’s presence among His people. Even more so, however, our Lord Jesus Christ is a gift, because He is the Word in flesh and His body is the true Temple. In Him we truly see God’s care and concern for us and His presence among His people.
Paul tells us that the Jews were looking for miraculous signs and the Greeks were looking for wisdom. We ask ourselves, what are miraculous signs and what is wisdom? The cross does not fit into our worldly understanding of miracles and wisdom. For the Jews, the cross means the person hanging from “the tree” is cursed. It was a sign from God that the person is not blessed or righteous. For the Greeks, the cross was not a wise way to create a group of followers. It is, indeed, foolishness to the world.
But, we learn that Jesus turned the world upside down. What we see as foolishness is actually the wisdom of God, for it is in the life of that one perfect Man that we find true peace and forgiveness. It is in His death that we find life. In God’s kingdom the weak, meek and humble are the ones who have power based on God’s grace, not on their own abilities or strength. In God’s kingdom, the wise are those who look to the cross for salvation, not to the things of this world.
You would think that we would do better about keeping God’s Law by now, after the cross. We know about God’s grace, we recognize the purpose of God’s gifts of the Law, the Temple and we know why Jesus came to live and die. Yet, even now we forget and we muck things up with our own rules and interpretations. We make excuses for our sin and we ignore the reality of our failure to live up to God’s expectations. We build ministries that pronounce the Gospel as something to be obeyed rather than a gift from God. The nations come to see the God who came to dwell among us and they see nothing more than a marketplace.
They come because they are seeking something; we draw them in with our exciting programs and we make them feel very welcome. They might come back, but if they never really meet Jesus and experience His life-changing grace, they will eventually go looking somewhere else. The hard part is that to really meet Jesus, to know His grace, it is necessary to tell the whole story. It is not enough to talk about God’s love: we have to see His wrath as it was revealed both in our Gospel lesson but even more so on the cross. We learn during Lent to experience the anger of the Law as we look forward to the hope of the resurrection. Lent is about repentance. Without repentance, the grief of Good Friday is foolishness and there is no real joy at Easter.
Are we speaking this foolishness about Jesus to the world, telling them that the only answer to evil and sin is found in Him? Do we call people to recognize their sin and point them to Jesus the Savior? Or are we like the wise ones in Paul’s day seeking signs and earthly wisdom rather than the cross of Christ? Have we allowed our sanctuaries to become marketplaces that sell programs and agendas rather than proclaim the cross of Christ? Have we allowed our own marketplaces to make it impossible for those outside our faith communities who seek God to pray and learn about Him? Have we taken advantage of those who are afraid or desperate by giving them a false hope and phony promise? Do we think that all will be well if only we would change the world?
Are we willing to join with the psalmist in praising God with the silent voices of creation while also living in the gift of God’s Law? The Law He gave is not meant to be a burden, but is perfect, sure, right, pure and true. As we live in that Law, our souls will be restored, we’ll be made wise, our hearts will rejoice, our eyes will be enlightened and we will endure forever. Most of all, as we live in the Law as it came to us in and through Jesus we’ll be made righteous, blessed for generations and into eternity.