Welcome to the January 2012 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2012
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20, ASV
I woke up this morning to the sounds of the school next door. The lady on the loud speaker welcomed the students back after the long holiday. The bells rang. The cars puttered in line as parents patiently waited their chance to drop children off at the door. I could hear the screech of the school busses and the conversations of children. As I looked out my window at the school next door, I could see life getting back to normal after such a long holiday.
Things seemed to be normal on the early morning news programs, too. The usual anchors and reporters were back in their stations, after being mixed up for the past few weeks as they all took days off to spend with family. Except for a major accident, the traffic reports were still good today. It is seems that some people were still taking the day off. It is a federal holiday and with college related New Year activities held over to today, I’m sure many people are still staying home from work. Despite that, the world outside is getting back to normal.
It does not feel that way in my house, however. Bruce is home, which is unusual for a Monday. The kids are still home from school. The house is still decorated for Christmas; we keep our decorations up until Epiphany. The cats have not gotten used to all the strange activity. They can’t get comfortable because they are afraid that they will miss something. I have more dishes; the laundry room is busier than usual. I can’t seem to find the time to do those things that had become part of my usual schedule. I am enjoying the family at home, but no matter how normal things appear outside, we are not back to normal inside. We are still feeling that holiday spirit that makes everything seem different and special.
I have no doubt that we’ll start feeling normal within a few days. Bruce will go back to work, and though the kids will not go back to school for another two weeks, we will have to start getting things ready for their return. We’ll take the decorations down later this week. We’ll eat or give away our last cookies. We’ll go back to eating simple meals and doing daily tasks. We’ll get back to normal.
And yet, I have to wonder if we really should get back to normal. After all, we shouldn’t stop living in the presence of God just because the tree is recycled and the nativity is put back in its box. We shouldn’t stop celebrating the life of Christ just because the Christmas lights are put away for the year. We shouldn’t stop being gracious and generous because the holiday season is over. The spirit that makes Christmas special is a Spirit that is with us always. It is that Spirit that also makes us different. We are not normal, we have been chosen out of the world into God’s kingdom. We have been given the gift of life forevermore, a blessing that changes the way we experience the world in which we live. We are indeed in the world, but we are no longer of the world. As such, nothing will ever be normal again.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be my disciples.” John 15:5-8, ASV
One of the reasons many people do not use a real cut Christmas tree is because they do not like the shedding needles. It was funny, then, when I heard someone ask, “Why is my artificial tree shedding needles?” I have noticed the same thing with an artificial tree that I use; the fake needles are everywhere. I suppose, like all created things, there is a limited life span. The artificial trees are bent and squashed into the box each year, only to be unbent and fluffed the next. It is not surprising, then, that the fake needles would eventually loosen and fall off.
My real tree is also shedding, but that is expected. We’ve had it up in the house for several weeks now, and though it was a very fresh tree when we purchased it and we’ve kept it well watered, we knew it would not last forever. When you cut any living thing from its roots, it will die. Now, human beings do not have literal roots; we do not have physical roots that keep us alive. We will die and we need things of the earth to live, but we do not need to be connected physically to the earth to live.
Though they aren’t physical, we do have roots. Our heritage, our family, our homes give us roots. We do not necessarily need those things to live, but I think we lose something of ourselves when we are cut off from it. This is especially true when it comes to things of faith. I was reading an article today about a woman who became an atheist after being raised in a Christian home. The article was about how she felt like something was missing. She lived in a place where faith was not the center of life; she could live there and never even think about God. She’s found that it is easy to be an atheist. And yet, after living this life for several years, she’s noticed that something is missing. She has noticed that she still says a silent prayer at the sound of sirens to something she doesn’t believe exists. Music makes her remember fondly kneeling in a pew. She’s still not willing to go back to the Church, but she feels a loss she can’t explain and nothing she’s tried can fill that hole.
Perhaps one day she’ll realize that she’s losing touch with something deep and real: faith. Those brief moments and her questions mean that she’s still connected, if only by a strand, to God. He hasn’t given up on her. He doesn’t give up on any of us. Today’s scripture, however, reminds us that we can’t live without Him. If the woman in the article continues to reject and ignore that faith, she will eventually lose it completely. Like the branch that falls away from the vine, it will wither away and die. Jesus reminds us to abide in Him. This is an active verb. To remain in Christ means actively living the faith we have been given. Even if it seems like God is absent, we are the hand and voice of God in that place. We need to pray. We need to be a part of a community of faith. We need to serve the world in a way that will glorify Him. We need to speak His Word into the world. And we do all this in Jesus’ name. That’s how we abide in Christ. And that’s how we live.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 8, 2012, Baptism of Jesus: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:4, ASV
Christmas is over and the new year has begun. This is often a time of new beginnings, of housecleaning, budgeting and changing old habits into new ones. Many will see a raise in their paycheck, albeit they will probably be small, and are faced with after-Christmas debts. Bed and bath stores will be holding white sales for those who wish to begin the new year with fresh, clean linens. It is a good time to clean and reorganize as we take down our Christmas decorations. The news is filled with articles about how to make good changes to our lives especially with diet and exercise. Stores are filled with office supplies for those who are organizing their financial lives and getting ready to prepare taxes. It can be a chaotic time.
Where is the chaos in your life? I have a box where I put all my important papers through the year. This is my filing system. At the end of the year, I go through the box and pick out the things I need and I get rid of the things I no longer need. This filing system works for me, although I have to admit that it is a bit difficult when I have to search through the pile to find an old bill or bank statement. It might be easier if I just filed everything along the way. I’ve tried, but in the end everything ends up in the box and I organize it in January.
My garage will become chaotic in a couple days when I finally take down all my Christmas decorations. I usually just carry everything to the garage, set it on a table and then organize it into the proper containers. As I am putting things away, I weed out the items we no longer want to use, the broken items and the light sets that do not work. I usually have a few new items to squeeze in those boxes. For a moment my garage is chaotic, but with a little work we get it all together and get back to normal again.
Our chaos is usually pretty minor and short-lived. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a hoarder like we see on those television shows. Hoarding is seen from a positive perspective on shows with ‘pickers,’ people who buy old things to resell as collectables and antiques. The big difference between them is collectors generally live in clean and healthy space while hoarders let their homes not only get full of things but also unsafe. The people who help the hoarders often find pests, germs and rot under the piles of stuff.
However, when pickers go into the space where collectors keep their things, I wonder how it could possibly get so overwhelming and chaotic. How do you buy so many things that you just dump it in a barn? Why buy so many things that you do not even know what you have? Why keep so many things that it is dangerous to even enter the space? The collectors and hoarders often leave behind an overwhelming legacy that children and grandchildren have to clean up.
Whether our chaos is small like a box of records are large like buildings full of rusty junk, our chaos is nothing compared to what God faced in the beginning. We often think of the world before creation as being nothing, and yet the formless void which the scriptures talk about was not empty but filled with dark, deep waters. The wind, or Spirit, of God blew over the face of those waters. This was chaos, a world without light or order. The box filled with papers is not empty, but it has no order. My garage will not be empty, but it will not have order. The world was not empty, but it was overwhelmed by darkness, out of control and hopeless.
The image of that chaos is frightening as a churning, dark and stormy sea might be, because there is no order and no light. But God had a vision for the formless void that was earth. The text from Genesis says, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” It took only a word and everything changed. The chaotic formless void now had light. Even with nothing else, there is a peace in knowing that something, or someone, has dominion over the chaos.
Once God spoke light into the world, He separated the light from the darkness. He called the light Day and the darkness Night. “And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” We have to realize that this Day and Night were not the day and night we experience with the rising of the sun and the setting of the moon. God had not yet created the heavenly bodies that control light and dark, day and night. The sun, moon and stars were not created until the fourth day. Yet, even in the beginning, while the earth was still formless, there was light. It only took a word from God and everything was different. Though perhaps still chaotic, at least now there is hope. A voice spoke and there was light.
What does it mean that there was light and there was darkness? What does it mean that there was Day and Night? This story makes us consider the darkness, particularly in our confused and difficult world. Why is there darkness? Even more difficult is the question, “Why is there evil?” This is a question everyone ponders, some wrangle with it so long that they are left with nothing but doubt. They can't believe in a God that would create darkness. Yet, the story does not say that God created darkness. “God divided the light from the darkness.” The darkness is a lack of light.
Evil exists; we know this to be true. Besides our experience with evil, the Bible tells us that evil is in the world. We have suffered from the sins of others and we have suffered the consequences of our own sin. We die because of sin, even though that was not God’s intent. So, we are left once again with that question. “Why?” Why is there sin? Why is there evil? And the worst question of all is, “Why would God create evil?”
As with darkness, the reality is that evil is not part of God’s creation, but rather exists because some of God’s creation rejected the light. Evil exists outside the Light; it is the lack of God. Some of God’s creation rejected God, and thus we are left with evil. It did not take very long for the evil to draw others away from the light. Even in the Garden of Eden, Paradise, Adam and Eve were swayed to turn from God and to leave the Light. Since that moment, sin has been a part of our world. We can’t fix it. We can’t defeat it. We can’t even overcome sin by our own power because it has overpowered us.
With a word, God made the chaos orderly, the darkness light. With just a Word, He changed a formless void into the beginning of His vision for the world. Though it seems like darkness and evil still rule and that the world is still chaotic and void, today’s scriptures remind us in a very real, tangible way that God did not stop speaking. God had a plan to bring order to this world that was filled with sin. The voice of God ripped through the fabric of creation and God incarnate was born.
The Word He spoke on Christmas Day was His Son, Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel lesson, we meet that Son as He enters fully into the lives of His people through the ministry of John the Baptist. John is the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling God’s people to repentance, making the way for the Lord. The people flock to John no matter who they are: young and old, rich and poor. Those who believed John’s message were baptized in the river Jordan, but even as he did this baptism he told them that another would come. The one to come would be greater than John, so great that John would not even be worthy to be His slave.
Then Jesus came to the River Jordan and was baptized by John. At that moment, God spoke again; with His voice He divided light and dark. He spoke hope into the world. Mark writes, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: And a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.” When He named His Son the Beloved, He ensured that light and peace would enter the world that had become overcome by darkness.
The voice of God is powerful, when He speaks things happen. In today’s Psalm, God’s voice breaks the great cedars and shakes the desert. The voice of God is also majestic, an oasis in times of suffering and pain. He comforts us with hope and peace. We like to be in control of things, but the voice of God can do things that we could never do. God is the One whose voice can bring order out of chaos. When He speaks, the Light and Darkness are separated; the Day and Night are set apart. The psalmist calls us to attribute to God glory and strength, to worship the One whose voice can bring peace to His people.
And yet, sometimes it is hard to hear His voice, after all we are only human and the noise of this world can be confusing to our ears. I wonder how many people actually heard God’s voice the day Jesus was baptized. How many heard God say that Jesus was the Beloved, the one for whom they had been waiting? How many knew that God had broken through the darkness and given them Light? Some believed John and were baptized. Some believed Jesus and went on to follow Him. But many did not believe. Many ignored the reality that was before them in the desert and continued to live in the chaos and darkness of the world.
It takes time to get past the chaos. I dread the work that is ahead of me because I know it will be hard work. I know that I’m going to have to make decisions about which papers to keep and which Christmas decorations to give away. I know that it will take time and that for awhile it will seem hopeless. And yet, I can look forward to the day when the Christmas boxes will be put away and the tax forms will be in the mail.
The same is true of our life of faith in this world. We hear God’s voice, but we don’t always hear everything He has said. In the story from Acts, Paul found some disciples who believed in Jesus. They had been baptized, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. They knew about the coming of Jesus from John the Baptist, but they didn’t have everything to truly be a follower of Christ. John’s ministry reached far and wide; whether they had traveled to the Jordan to hear John, or if John’s disciples traveled to Corinth does not matter. The voice of God was heard in the far reaches of the known world. But the full message of the Gospel took some time to reach those places; the people only heard part of the story. There were men like the disciple named Apollos who were preaching accurately about Jesus Christ, but they did not know about the Holy Spirit.
Apollos was not doing wrong, but he did not complete the job. Paul laid his hands on the men and they received the Holy Spirit. The work of God’s Voice was complete for them. It is interesting that in this story the men heard about Jesus and were baptized, but it was not until Paul touched them that they believed completely. The work was not complete until that moment. And yet, this is not the only model for faith we are given in the scriptures. Sometimes people receive the Holy Spirit and are then baptized. God works according to His ways. So, we are reminded that we don’t all come to this place of peace in the same manner. It takes more work for some than for others.
The voice of God continues to be heard today and when He speaks, things still happen. The Holy Spirit still hovers over that which is formless and void and brings life, light and peace. We hear God’s voice and believe through the beloved Son who came into the world to be just like you and me. Though He is different, though He is the incarnate Word of God, He came to be one of us, to live as we live, and to die as we die, so that we might become like Him. His voice gives us light and peace. His voice gives us life.
In the beginning there was a formless void and darkness covering the deep. Sometimes we feel like that chaos still rules our world. We all have aspects of our life that need light and order. God is working on us, daily speaking His grace into our life. Like my pile of papers and the Christmas decorations, we need to be organized, changed, and picked through. Some things need to be thrown out while other things added. As God continues to speak in our lives and the world, the darkness will still exist. Through the Word who is Jesus Christ, we will be set apart in the light and will live in this chaotic world with peace and hope.
We might never hear the audible voice of God speaking to us, and perhaps we have never experienced a spectacular or miraculous vision of His presence, but when God speaks to us, we are given more than just intellectual knowledge. That’s what was happening with Apollos and the men from Corinth had. They knew the story and told it adequately. They knew Jesus, but they did not have the Holy Spirit. When we hear God’s voice, when we are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit and we become children of the Most High.
Though we are not Jesus the Beloved, we are beloved children of God. The Light shines in, with and through our lives when God speaks our name. On this day as we remember the baptism of Jesus, we are called to remember our own baptisms. And yet, we should not simply recall the experience of getting wet in church one day. When Martin Luther said the simple statement, “Remember your baptism,” he was telling us to daily remember God’s voice and the Word that came to us at the font. At our baptism, God said, “You are my beloved child.” He named you His own and sealed our life with His Holy Spirit. He spoke and your world was changed forever.
“Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever; for wisdom and might are his. And he changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings, and setteth up kings; he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that have understanding; he revealeth the deep and secret things; he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast now made known unto me what we desired of thee; for thou hast made known unto us the king's matter.” Daniel 2:19-23, ASV
The story of Daniel is one of those “right place, right time’ stories. It might not seem like it was a very good life for the young men. They were in exile. They were forced to be part of a kingdom that had taken them captive. Though they were treated very well, they were uncomfortable with the lifestyle that was being offered. They didn’t want to eat the rich food. They wanted to worship their God. They wanted to keep the simple life they knew in Jerusalem. They were probably uncomfortable that they were chosen out of their brethren to live this life, while family and friends were captives.
Daniel refused the lifestyle, requesting that his teachers allow them to live and eat as their faith demanded. He assured them that they would not become sick. At the end of the test, Daniel and his friends were indeed healthier than the others. They were given the freedom to live as they wished as they were trained in the ways of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. They learned much and served well. Even so, they faced the same dangers that those who served a powerful king faced, including death.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. He called his best and most powerful magicians and astrologers to interpret the dream. He did not tell them the dream because he knew if they had the power to tell him what it meant, they would have the power to know the dream. None could answer his question. He ordered their death, but Daniel asked the executioner to wait. Daniel and his friends prayed and sought God’s help with the problem. After a night, Daniel woke with the answer to the mystery. He went to Nebuchadnezzar and sought mercy on those wise men. He told the king that no wise man could ever do what he had asked, but the God of Israel could.
When Daniel received the answer to the mystery, he knew without a doubt that the God he worshipped was indeed sovereign. He is the God who rulesover the world, making and destroying kings, giving wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who seek Him. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that God was in control of his life and his kingdom. This was not good news for the king, but Daniel was thankful that he could take the message and save the lives of his friends. God put Daniel in that time and place, because He knew Daniel had the heart to seek the right help: from Him.
The circumstances in which we live do not always seem right. We don’t often feel like we are in the right place at the right time. We often find it difficult to live in those circumstances as we know we ought. But with God’s help, we can live at any time or place with the heart to do what is right, to seek His help and to speak truth even when it is not what others want to hear. God is in control; as we live in these circumstances that seem so wrong, so hard, so out of control, let us remember that the Sovereign God will make everything right. Praise Him who raises and lowers even the kings of the earth, because He can and will use you to bring life to the world.
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Jehovah will arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: they all gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be carried in the arms. Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall thrill and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come unto thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praises of Jehovah.” Isaiah 60:1-6, ASV
Zachary goes to a university that is over four hundred miles from home. The trip takes us about seven hours in our car with a few brief stops to rest. It was difficult, but we did the round-trip journey when we picked him up for Christmas break, nearly nine hundred miles. The entire trip took us sixteen hours. The trip, one way, on an airplane, takes approximately three hours. Can you imagine how long it would take if we did not have the conveniences of modern transportation?
We do not know exactly where the wise men lived when they saw the star, but many experts suggest that they were from Iran, about eight hundred miles from Jerusalem. We also do not know how many wise men traveled to see Jesus, but it is likely that the three gifts given were brought by a caravan of people, not only numerous wise men, but also family, servants and soldiers. It was a long and difficult road; the wise men were emissaries visiting a foreign country to welcome a new-born king. They would not have come as three guys on camels for such an important visit.
At best, this caravan probably traveled ten to twenty miles a day. They didn’t have good roads or high speed automobiles. Even if they had horses and chariots, the burden-filled camels would not have been able to keep up with them. If the wise men traveled as only three guys on camels, they might have been able to travel seventy miles a day. They could not have made it in a day, no matter how they traveled. At the very least, it would have taken two weeks, but could have taken as much as three months or more.
I know what I’m chasing when I make that more than four hundred mile drive to Zack’s college. I know I’m going to see my son, to visit with him or bring him home. Even when I take him to school, I know that I’m doing what’s best for his future. The trip is long and hard, but it leads to something wonderful.
Imagine what it would have been like making such a long trip in the days of those wise men? They saw a star, and recognized it as a sign of something wonderful. They were familiar with prophetic promises of Israel and thought that the star might point to the fulfillment of those promises. But they really didn’t know what they would find at the end of their journey. They could not reserve hotel rooms or ensure that there would be resources along the way. There was no way to call ahead to let anyone know they were coming. They traveled with the hope that they were right, that at the end of their journey they would find the king for whom they were searching.
The details of the story do not really matter. What matters on this Day of Epiphany is that the wise men followed the signs to search for the promise even though the journey took them into the great unknown. They believed in something and went in search of it. It was a long journey, one filled with dangers and uncertainty. Are we willing to be like those wise men, following the signs into the great unknown? Do we believe enough to go on the long journey that takes us toward the promises of God? Are we wise enough to go toward the light to find and worship the King?
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” 1 John 2:15-17, ASV
There is a television show on one of the do it yourself networks called “Moving Up.” The show looks at three families as they move into each other’s homes, each family moving up or into a new phase of life. Often it will show an elderly couple selling their lifelong home to a growing family while they sell their home to a young couple just beginning a family. The style of each family is much different, and the show follows those families as they renovate their new homes. The show begins with each family giving the host a tour of their home, pointing out the things they love about their house. They also tour the homes with the new owners to hear about the changes they will make.
At the end of the show, the old owners go into the new homes and offer a critique of the changes. Their favorite things are always gone and the home is significantly changed. Their memories are gone. Now, I know when I’m selling my home that the new family will not like the same things. I know they’ll change the garden, paint the walls and put furniture in a different place. I know that when I leave my current house, the ‘den’ will probably be a dining room and that the kids bedrooms might not even be used for children. These changes don’t matter to me because I don’t have to live in that house anymore. I’ll make my own changes to my new house, to make it mine.
I was watching this show the other day and I wondered what benefits are offered to the people who appear on the show. It seems that they are given certain products and advice, as well as discounted prices on materials. They receive financial compensation for appearing on the show, which would certainly help with the cost of renovation. It seems like it would be a good idea to get on the show. After all, with all that financial help, you can do so much more with a new house. The requirements are simple: buy a new house and want to do extensive renovation. The only other they ask of the applicants is that they be “opinionated.”
Well, as I’ve noted, I would not qualify. I get so frustrated when I watch the show how ungracious the visitors are when they tour the homes. They talk rudely about the other owners and are disrespectful about their taste and choices. They get angry when their hard work is painted over and argue with the videotape of people touring about how ugly the home was before they did their work. It is almost comical how they have different understandings of design words like classy, sophisticated, bright, and cozy. One person thinks blue is cozy while another is uncomfortable with blue. One thinks that they are changing from a tacky style to French country, while the previous owners thought they had French country.
The new owners and previous owners are mean with their opinions. Sometimes it seems like the old owners want to be gracious, but creative editing makes them sound like they disapprove of every change. Even when they are in a room they like, the producers manage to get some negative comment out of them. While I wouldn’t care what someone thought of my choices, I don’t think I want to be on a show that expects me to be so ungracious and to comment on someone else’s opinionated hate of my new home. Even though the benefits might be great, it seems to me that willing being in a position where I seem to be rude and cruel is not worthwhile.
Just like the producers of that television show, the world often wants to give us gifts but demand in response actions that go against our character as people of God. They want us to be successful, but expect that we’ll step on people’s feet on our way up the ladder. They want us to be rich, but compel us to do things we do not want to do to get there. They want us to be popular, but require us to act a certain way or be a certain way. It is so easy to let the world dictate our life and actions, but is it worth being what the world wants to get the life they offer? Is that life really the blessed life? Are those benefits really the things that will make our life better?
“And into whatsoever city or village ye shall enter, search out who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go forth. And as ye enter into the house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:11-16, ASV
I love to watch my kitties as they play. Sometimes the play seems a little rough, but then they are felines and have that innate sense of predator. In the wild, felines play rough as practice for the hunting they have to do to survive. Though my kitties will never have to hunt for their meals, they still have the natural knowledge that forms their activities. They stalk, pounce and chase one another just as they would stalk, pounce and chase their prey.
The other day Tigger was sitting on the coffee table and Delilah was in a playful mood. She was sitting on the floor, just below Tigger. She could see Tigger’s tale move and she wanted to pounce. But she was patient. If she pounced too early, Tigger would have been ready to respond. So, she watched and waited. Eventually Tigger laid down, close enough to the edge of the table that Delilah could still see him. He was relaxed, and didn’t seem to even realize that she was right there. I couldn’t believe how still she sat, patiently concentrating, waiting for the right moment.
All of a sudden, she pounced. She tapped Tigger on the shoulder with both paws, and then went right back to the floor. In one swift movement, she went from sitting to attacking to laying on the floor. She looked relaxed and comfortable on the floor, as if she didn’t even know Tigger was on the table above her. He was so confused when he looked because it didn’t seem possible that she attacked him. He laid back down and she walked away, probably quite proud of winning that round. Poor Delilah gets picked on a lot by the boys. As the only girl, Tigger and Samson seem to take great joy in ganging up on her. So it is good when she gets the opportunity to get back at them. I was really surprised at how sneaky she was.
Now, I would never suggest that we be sneaky or attack those who pick on us, but it I think there is something we can learn from the way Delilah patiently waited for the right opportunity to get Tigger’s attention. If she had jumped immediately, when Tigger was still sitting on the coffee table, he would have jumped to the ground and attacked her back. She would have been chased under the couch, again.
In today’s scripture, Jesus says, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” He is not suggesting that we become serpents. We are not created or gifted to use our gifts in wicked ways. But, we should learn the ways of the serpents so that we know how to wait them out and hit them with God’s word in a way that will stop them, confuse them and make them think. Delilah was harmless when she tapped Tigger on the shoulder, but in the end she won that battle. We can beat the devil at his own games if we simply wait patiently for the right opportunity and then hit him with love and grace.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 15, 2012, Second Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
“Then Samuel said, Speak; for thy servant heareth.” 1 Samuel 3:10b, ASV
Bluetooth drives me crazy. Ok, it isn’t actually Bluetooth that drives me crazy, but the people who use any sort of hands off wireless phone when they are walking around stores. I find myself in the company of such people as I’m walking down the aisles of the grocery store as they are chattering away with someone on their phone. Of course, we all become distracting when we talk on the phone in the store, but at least those who put a phone up to their ear are obviously not talking to me. I have been in an aisle, searching the shelves for a specific item and heard the person next to me say something like, “I’m looking for…” I didn’t see a cell phone and I answer, “It is…” The person looked at me like I was rude and I suddenly realized that they were talking into a Bluetooth.
When the conversation has nothing to do with the situation, it doesn’t take long to realize that they are talking on a cell phone, but too often in the grocery store the conversation is the type that you might think is with you. Sometimes the person, who is actually in their own little world, looks directly at my face, speaks words and is then shocked when I respond. How am I supposed to know that a person who is looking me in the eye isn’t talking to me, especially when the words seem to fit the social situation?
Private conversations are held in public on cell phones as people walk down the street. I was in a store a few days ago and someone a few aisles from me got a call on her cell phone. She answered and spoke so loud that I could hear her entire conversation. She eventually ended up in the same aisle, and was still talking, almost yelling, about something that was of no concern to anyone else in the store. I certainly didn’t mean to eavesdrop, and I’m sure no one else did, but how can you ignore someone who doesn’t seem to care about privacy?
The way we communicate has changed so much in the last hundred years, and the bulk of that change has occurred in the last few decades. I’m as guilty as the next person. I’d rather deal with things in email or on Facebook than call someone on the phone. The only time I really send anyone a personal note is at Christmastime, and even them most of my list gets a printed newsletter. When I am in conversation with someone who is actually in my presence, I get distracted by other things. There seems to be a television in the corner of every room, even in restaurants, shopping centers and office buildings.
With all this noise in the world, it is hard to hear what is really being said. I don’t know how many times someone has thought I said something, but it was really someone on television or on a cell phone. It is hard to remember information because it is given in tandem with so much information. Instead of hearing our neighbors, we read what they have to say, and we don’t always read it carefully, or we misunderstand because we do not recognize their tone of voice. We live in a very confusing world sometimes.
Samuel’s world was probably very quiet. Oh, there was the noise of animals, of nature, of neighbors, but nothing like we have today. It would have been especially quiet in the Temple. Samuel’s job was to serve Eli, so his senses would have been heightened to hear and respond to Eli’s voice. He didn’t even know he could hear the voice of God. Do we know we can hear it? Do we know that He might talk to us? If He does, will we be able to recognize it over the noise of the world?
When God called Samuel, he went to Eli. Eli lived in a time when God was very quiet. The scriptures tell us that the word of the LORD was rare in those days. People were not having visions. Despite being high priest, Eli didn’t have the connection to God that we might expect. The priests were not necessarily called, but were appointed through inheritance, as we see with Eli’s sons. But Samuel was a gift from Hannah, given in response to God’s gift of answered prayer. Samuel was different. And Samuel was chosen for something great.
One night, Samuel heard the voice of God calling, but he didn’t know it was God. He lived in a time when God’s voice was rare; it is not surprising that he thought the voice speaking to him in then night was Eli. It even took Eli three times to realize what was happening. A boy simply would not know. So, imagine what it was like to be Samuel. He heard the voice a fourth time and responded to God. The message he received was not good news. Eli was like a father to Samuel. How would he tell Eli that God said that Eli’s house would be punished forever? It was the first of many bad messages Samuel had to take to the people who sought the word of the Lord.
I don’t know if there are any parallels between Samuel’s day and ours today, but I wonder if anyone expects to hear the voice of God calling in the night. If someone says, “God told me…” they are seen as crazy. The idea that God still calls people with His voice to do His work and will is ridiculed by even Christians. Those who have heard the voice of God are afraid to say so because the ones who have heard God and told others are rejected and mocked. Unfortunately, many will not even realize it was God’s voice they heard because they hear so many competing voices. Besides, who wants to be called to be a prophet?
Last week the scriptures spoke about how powerful and majestic is the voice of God. When God speaks, things happen. At His baptism, Jesus heard that wonderful voice as the Holy Spirit came upon. It was a very personal, intimate moment as God the Father blessed His Son. “Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.” There would be more such moments to come, not only for Jesus but also for those who heard God’s voice. The scriptures for this week take us into that relationship, where God speaks personally to those He has chosen to serve.
Philip heard God’s voice. Philip had an advantage over Samuel because he heard a very real voice, that of Jesus. Jesus called Philip into a relationship. The encounter was no less miraculous because Philip dropped everything to follow Jesus. He went to his friend Nathanael and told him that he’d met the Messiah. That message was not nearly as difficult to share as the one Samuel had to give Eli, but even still Nathanael questioned the details. He couldn’t believe that God would do things the way Philip said. “What good can come out of Nazareth?”
Though God was speaking through Philip, Nathanael didn’t believe the voice because it was outside his expectation. That’s the parallel between us and this story. We can’t believe when someone says, “God told me…” especially when we hear several people say that God told them conflicting ideas. It is hard to believe when several politicians say that God called them to run for office. It is even hard to believe when someone says that God called them to ministry when their ideas are different than ours.
Philip had no doubt that what he was saying was true. When Nathanael questioned the invitation to meet Jesus, he answered, “Come and see.” He didn’t try to prove his words or his worth. He didn’t try to prove that he heard God’s voice. He simply invited Nathanael to see for himself the man who could be the One they were waiting to see. We need not fight the doubt or worry about the ridicule when we say we’ve heard the voice of God, whether it is a voice like Samuel heard or a real voice through whom God is speaking. We can just say, “Come and see.” With these words we invite people into our fellowship with Christ, into His Word, into His heart. We can’t change people but we can invite them into His presence. God is able to prove Himself in His own way.
When Nathanael met Jesus, Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Jesus knew Nathanael, intimately and personally, as He knows all His children. The Psalm speaks of God’s handiwork, how He knitted us together in the womb. David sings of God’s knowledge, how He knows our inner being and the lives He has ordained for us to live. He knows our calling, even before we are born. He knows our thoughts and our ways. In the lessons for today, we learn that God doesn’t let our doubt get in the way of the intention of His calling. He keeps calling so that we will hear. We might not always understand why or how God comes to us, but He does until we get it.
When Nathanael wondered how Jesus knew him, the proof was not very exciting. “I saw you under the tree.” Why would that be the word that convinced Nathanael to believe in Jesus? It doesn’t make much sense. And yet, when does it make sense to say we believe in something so extraordinary? The proofs that people give that God called them often sound coincidental or seem like the perception of crazy mind. “That funny feeling in your belly was nothing more than gas.” Jesus assured Nathanael that this was the beginning of something extraordinary. His faith may be based on so little, but it would grow as God continued to speak. Nathanael would see the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, but even when it seemed like there was no physical body to the voice, the voice would still speak.
The people of Corinth understood the spiritual relationship God had with His people. They knew about grace and forgiveness and knew they would live eternally with God. Yet, they rejected that God’s relationship with them was flesh as well as spirit. They thought it was ok to abuse and misuse their flesh because it no longer mattered. For them, God’s voice was not heard the way Samuel heard it, and even the voices of fellow Christians did not matter. Faith was spiritual only, nothing of the world mattered.
They did not see sexual immorality as a problem because they were spiritual beings. God did not communicate with or through their bodies. But Paul reminded them that their bodies were the dwelling place of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit. I wonder if we have the same problem today. Do we think that God does not still talk to people because faith is worth nothing but some future spiritual life we’ll have after death? We can’t remove our bodies, but we can reject any idea that God is interested in the same sort of personal and intimate relationship Jesus had with those disciples.
God lives in us, works with us, and shares His love through us. Though the blood of Christ forgives our past, present and future sins, we dishonor God by abusing that which He so lovingly made and called into His service. God knows our spirits and our flesh and He has called us into a relationship that meets all our needs both physical and spiritual. Therefore we are called to honor God with our whole bodies. We are invited to hear God’s voice as He speaks to us in a very real way.
This might mean that we have to remove ourselves from the noise of the world sometimes. We have to find a place where it is quiet. We have to turn off our cell phones. We have to get away from the television. We have to listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ who invite us into a deeper relationship with God. They might not have the same ideas we have, but we can learn from them. We can see God through their eyes and wonder at His amazing grace. The life God is calling us to live might not be what we want; it might even be frightening. None of us want to live the life of a prophet. None of us want to give up our wishes and dreams.
Samuel and Nathanael reacted with a humble obedience to the life they were called to live. They knew that their life was no longer their own, but rather that they belonged to God. They lived in the hope of God's promises, but they did not do so recklessly. They lived as if every moment was meant to glorify God and His word was reflected in their life. In Christ we have a freedom that we do not have under the Law, but that does not mean living that way is beneficial. Eli and his sons did what they wanted despite dwelling in the house of God, but they lost their place in His kingdom because they dishonored God. Samuel was given to God as a thankoffering from Hannah and he lived accordingly. Nathanael did not need to lead a life of contemplative prayer, but it was the life God called him to live and in doing so He brought glory to God.
God still speaks and He calls us into a relationship. It is difficult in this world because even Christians have a hard time understanding that God can speak and invite us into His will. We want to be accepted, to be respected, to be happy. We want to fit in. On this second Sunday of Epiphany, we are reminded that God has invited us into a new life, a life following Him. It doesn’t matter if others think we are crazy because we believe God has spoken to us. What matters is that we live the life that glorifies Him. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we are meant to do. He knows what purpose our life holds. And He has promised that we will see extraordinary things happen. When we hear His voice, and we will, we need only say, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.”
“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and Jesus also was bidden, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. Now there were six waterpots of stone set there after the Jews' manner of purifying, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the ruler of the feast. And they bare it. And when the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants that had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast calleth the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man setteth on first the good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is worse: thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” John 2:1-11, ASV
I read an article today comparing two different companies that offer the same type of item. In this case, the item was coffee, but I have seen very similar articles written about soda, fast food French fries and e-readers. The author generally comes into the article with an opinion, and then chooses the qualities and characteristics that make their favorite the best choice. In this article, the main issue was price, but the author ignored many possibilities that are better, especially in price.
Some of the comments on the website suggested that the article was nothing more than free advertising for the company that ‘won.’ I think that all the companies mentioned in that type of article get free advertising. There are some people who will purposely visit the loser, to reject the trend. Some readers also go into the article with their own biases, and no matter what the writer thinks, they will reject the conclusion based on their own opinions. If there were such a thing as “one size fits all” then there wouldn’t be so many choices in our world. In the end, we can’t base our choices on the opinions of others, especially when those opinions come skewed by someone else’s bias. Is one coffee better than another? Perhaps. But be careful to note which characteristics make that one better, because if you look at other qualities, you might find the answer is exactly the opposite. You have to decide what matters most.
One of the things I liked from the comments after the article is that several people recommended trying a local bakery instead of the national chains. In this way, the coffee drinker supports local business; they probably find the coffee excellent and less expensive. The local bakery does not have fancy coffees, but it is fresh, hot and your patronage helps a small business owner. You might even find that the experience is more personal and pleasant. Rather than standing in a long line of other people chasing the trends, you might get a smile and a word of thanks from the owner.
What made Mary decide to go to Jesus with the problem in today’s passage? Jesus didn’t have wine; He didn’t have access to wine. He was a guest, and even if it was the wedding of family or a friend, it would not have been His responsibility to provide more wine. When the extra wine showed up, the steward was surprised at how good it was. He didn’t know why they saved the good stuff until after the guests were already drunk. Jesus provided more than they could possibly need, and He provided wine that was excellent.
I don’t think Jesus is going around making good coffee for His followers today, but as we make the choices that face us each day, we should ask ourselves what matters. What qualities or characteristics make the best of anything we buy? What impact does our choice have on the world in which we live? As Christians, the most important question to ask is how God will be glorified by our choices? Will we allow the opinions of others make our choices for us, or will we seek to find the blessing in what Christ can do in the world?
“Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his Spirit. Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am Jehovah thy God, who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea: thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the grains thereof: his name would not be cut off nor destroyed from before me.” Isaiah 48:16-19, ASV
A woman who was intoxicated ended up driving the wrong way on a highway in Washington State. She was traveling at speeds nearly one hundred miles an hour, north on the southbound lanes. Amazingly no one was hurt; the woman barely missed colliding with several other cars along the eighteen mile drive. They stopped her using a spike strip to puncture the tires, and the story ended on a happy note since everyone came out unscathed. They are calling it miraculous. One driver said that he survived because other drivers flashed their bright lights at him. Though he didn’t know why they were flashing, he recognized it as a sign that something was wrong and moved over, out of the way. As soon as he did that, the car raced by.
Similar stories have not ended so well in Texas. I was somewhat surprised to see the story on the national news ticker this morning, as if it was such big news, because it has happened too many times in the past few years in our city. A policeman died last March in a similar incident. As I looked up that story to verify the information, I discovered a story about a wrong way driver who died last night on the south side of town after humping a medium and flipping his car onto another road. One recent news story for our area is about an alert system that many hope will help with this situation by alerting the police to a wrong way driver as soon as they enter the highway.
I suppose the story from Washington State made the ticker because it was so miraculous. She traveled eighteen miles at a hundred miles an hour through a city; even at 2 a.m. it is amazing that she didn’t hit anything, or anyone, along the way. The fact that she didn’t lose control is incredible. She was also drunk and she was driving the wrong way on the highway. The story hasn’t ended so well in Texas. I have to wonder, however, which story would make a more powerful impact: the miraculous story from Washington, or the tragic story from Texas? I would hate for my city to gain a reputation for this problem, but I’d rather warn people of the dangers of drinking, speeding and carelessness than show them that they could get lucky.
There are those who would like to ignore the Old Testament because it is so filled with stories that indicate a character of God that seems out of place. We like the image of a loving God, the image of a forgiving God. We find it hard to accept the image of a God that would allow His people to be taken into captivity, exiled for decades by their enemies, Jerusalem left in ruins. The Old Testament is filled with bloody stories of death and destruction that simply don’t make sense from our New Testament perspective. And yet we are reminded by these stories that we can turn our backs on God. He teaches us the way we should go, but we often go the wrong way down His highway. Only with Jesus can the story end miraculously like the story in Washington. The Old Testament reminds us that we need Jesus because we can’t go our own way; we need Him to get us safely home.
“I will cry unto God with my voice, Even unto God with my voice; and he will give ear unto me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: My hand was stretched out in the night, and slacked not; My soul refused to be comforted. I remember God, and am disquieted: I complain, and my spirit is overwhelmed. Selah Thou holdest mine eyes watching: I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, The years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart; And my spirit maketh diligent search. Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will he be favorable no more? Is his lovingkindness clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah And I said, This is my infirmity; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will make mention of the deeds of Jehovah; For I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also upon all thy work, And muse on thy doings.” Psalm 77:1-12, ASV
Patrick Swayze met Lisa Niemi when they were just teenagers and they married in 1975, before either of them had any success in the entertainment business. Patrick Swayze, of course, became famous as an actor and Lisa was an accomplished dancer, actress and director. They were married an incredible thirty-four years, and would have lasted longer if Patrick hadn’t died of pancreatic cancer in September 2009. They survived hurdles that many couples just can’t overcome, not the least of which is the fame that comes with careers in Hollywood. Despite a brief separation and the overwhelming demands of a terminal illness, the Swayzes’ last words to one another on Patrick’s deathbed were, “I love you.”
Lisa has written a book about what it means to be a caregiver. The book, “Worth Fighting For” tells the story of those last years, a blessing because Patrick lived much longer than expected. They took advantage of every minute, and appreciated each moment together. The story is, as might be expected, heartbreaking. But it is also inspirational and as Lisa says, “Life affirming.”
Lisa’s friends were concerned about the book. She said in an interview, “When I first went into it, I had a friend ask, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? Because it could be really tough. But the way I saw it, I wasn’t creating more pain; I was just talking about what I already had.” She said it was a painful experience, leaving her in tears regularly. Sometimes she had to stop writing for days or even weeks until she could face the story again. But she discovered that writing it helped her face the pain and realize that the story is not nearly as tragic as she thought it was.
She said, “When I started, I thought, ‘This may not be a good idea. We all know how it’s going to end.’ But once I stepped back from it a bit, I was surprised by how many victories we experienced. We were always getting good news. Things that were supposed to be dire turned out to be just fine. And when there are life-and-death stakes, it blows the bad up really big, but it also blows the good up. It was a pretty inspiring journey.”
Have you faced tragedy in your life? How did you deal with it? How do you deal with your successes or even your most mundane moments? It is unlikely that any of us will write a book about our experiences, even less that we’ll write a book that will inspire many. Our words will probably not even make it into print. I’m blessed with the ability to write and share my thoughts with others, but I know that these devotions have helped me in a very personal way; most days I think of these devotions as entries in a diary. Writing has forced me to deal with the good and bad in my life and in doing so I often have found good in the bad. You don’t have to be a good writer. You don’t even have to share the story with others. But speaking, or writing, the words can help you see the reality of God’s grace in every aspect of life: good and bad. Find the joy and the victories as Lisa found. It might be hard, but you will find laughter through the tears.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 22, 2012, Third Sunday after Epiphany: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
“Trust in him at all times, ye people; Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62:8, ASV
When we listen to the story of Jonah, we often focus on how Jonah rejects the call of God, refuses to go to Nineveh and gets mad when God does what God does: gives the people a second chance. In the text today, as we hear it, the focus is turned on God. Jonah did God’s will, the people heard God’s Word, and the people believed God. Then, the most incredible thing happened: God changed His mind.
We live in a society in which changing one’s mind is seen as a form of weakness. If you change your mind, you must not know what you want or believe. If you change your mind, you must be easily swayed, blown by every wind, willing to jump over the fence for any reason. If you change your mind, then you must have discovered that you are wrong about something; if you are wrong about one thing, might you be wrong about everything? We don’t like to be wrong. We don’t like to consider that our point of view is skewed. We don’t like to show any signs of weakness, so if we hold on to our original thoughts even if we realize that we should relent, repent or change.
As parents, we often think that it would be a bad idea to change our minds about something we’ve done or said to our children. If we do, we think that the child will become confused or will think that they can manipulate us. We have to stand by our decisions, hold fast to all our rules. We can’t change because we know that our kids will not respect us if we are indecisive or are found to be wrong about something.
I hate how much time my son plays video games. I try to be patient with it because it is likely the skills he’s learned playing those video games will play a part in his future as a mechanical engineer. I laugh when I watch the show “The Big Bang Theory” because those guys are successful scientists and engineers, and their lives revolve around the very things Zack enjoys. I try to be patient because he is doing well in college and he seems to get things done, but I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way to spend his time and his money. While he was home for Christmas, Zack decided to exchange his old video game for a newer model. He was able to get it at a discounted price because he traded in some older games and had a coupon, but I was unhappy that he wasted his money.
Zack was very helpful around the house during Christmas vacation. Not only did he do the things that I asked him to do, he did some things without even being asked. He went above and beyond my expectations during his month home, and I was proud of him. Though not perfect, he is becoming a very responsible adult. I decided that I would buy him a game for his new system. Does this mean I am a flip flopper? Does this mean I’m weak?
When my children were small, they would often ask me for things in the grocery store. What child doesn’t try to get Mommy to buy that candy bar or new toy? Like most mothers, I didn’t give in to their every wish. Sometimes I said “No.” There was always a good reason to say “No.” If I thought it was too close to dinnertime, I didn’t buy that candy bar. If I thought the toy was inappropriate in some way, I didn’t buy that toy. I didn’t say “No” every time. I didn’t say “Yes” every time. I judged the circumstances and made a decision. But sometimes, after further reflection, I changed my mind. I decided to give in and let them get what they want.
The same can be said about some of the punishments they received over the years. In the heat of the moment I often said something I regretted later. I had to consider, then, if the punishment I meted out was proper. The danger, here, of course, is that by changing my mind, the kids might think that they could get away with the same actions that brought on the punishment in the first place. But I had to be fair. There had to be room for grace. I had to relent, repent, and change.
Have my kids turned out poorly because I changed my mind? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I think they recognize the humility in admitting that I am occasionally wrong, and they respect my decisions more because I could change if the circumstances allowed for it. I don’t know what happened to the Ninevites after this story, but in our text today we see that God has given them a second chance. They heard His word, they believed and they turned to Him. Certainly God was willing to change His mind from the beginning, after all He sent Jonah to the Ninevites in the first place. He wanted them to hear. He wanted them to believe. He wanted them to change. They did, and so like a good Father, He changed with them.
Changing course in the middle of a journey is hard, but it is exciting, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set a particular route for a trip, but for some reason find myself turning another way. If I find myself in the middle of a traffic jam, I may decide to go to a different store. If I leave at an unusual hour, I might go a different direction. When it comes to my life, I am certainly going a different way than I ever expected. When I was in college, I expected to be a teacher. I didn’t expect to ever leave Pennsylvania. I never planned to be a writer. I’m not sure what I would have answered if you had asked me twenty-five years ago where I would be today, but I’m sure the answer would not have looked like my life.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be those first disciples. In the story according to Mark, the disciples seem to have no connection to Jesus or John the Baptist when Jesus called. Yet we know that they were familiar with the ministry of John from the other Gospels. When Jesus came by their boat, they probably recognized Him. That doesn’t make this story any less miraculous. When Jesus called, they immediately left everything they knew, everything they owned, everything they loved to follow Him. Simon and Andrew were in the middle of their work. Yet they left it without hesitation.
Did they know what they were getting themselves into? Did they know that Jesus would be taking them on a long and dangerous journey? Did they know they’d have to speak God’s Word into the lives of people who would not listen or believe? Did they know they would face demons and persecution? I find it hard to believe that they knew what they were getting themselves into when they left their nets by the sea. And yet, like the Ninevites, they heard the Word and believed. They turned to God.
The scriptures for this week teach us that faith means changing our point of view. It means seeing the world from a whole new perspective. Jesus turned our world upside down, calling us to live within this great and wonderful world while being different. Faith means that we are called to take God into our neighborhoods, to share a word of hope that comes from the reality of God’s grace. It means trusting in God, leaving our burdens at His feet and letting Him bring about the change that will truly make a difference. It means looking at those parts of our life that matter to us, like our marriages, from a new point of view, remember that God is not only a part of our individual lives, but that He’s in the midst of our relationships, making them new as well. Faith means being called to do a whole new thing in the world.
Faith means focusing our lives on God and what God wants. God wanted the Ninevites to be spared. God wanted the disciples to follow Jesus. Despite the fears and doubts, Jonah and the disciples went forth in faith to do what God called them to do. It could not have been easy to change the direction of their lives. For Jonah, even entering Nineveh was frightening because the Ninevites were his enemy. The disciples knew how to fish, how did Jesus ever expect that they would know how to teach people about God? Who would listen to them? Who would listen to Jonah and the disciples? Who will listen to us?
Does it matter? The call to faithful living is not about doing what others expect us to do, or even about doing what we expect to do, but it is about seeing the world from God’s point of view. It is about turning our attitudes around, trusting God and letting Him guide us into a new life. Paul knew what it was like to have to change course. He met Jesus on the road to Emmaus; he was traveling there to destroy those who believed in Jesus. After a brief, unexplainable encounter, Paul became a new man. Instead of destroying the Church, he embraced it. Instead of hurting Christians, he spoke God’s Word into the lives of many, many more people so that they, too, would believe.
Today’s epistle lesson is written in the context of marriage. Paul believed that it was best for Christians to stay single because there are far fewer distractions than those who have chosen the married life. However, Paul does not believe that everyone can or should choose to remain single. Instead of reading this text as a call to celibacy, we should read it as a call to change our mind, to turn our attention to God. In the text, Paul is adamant about keeping one’s self from distraction. The time had grown short and Christians needed to keep their eyes on Jesus. In this passage it meant even living as though one did not have a spouse. It meant turning away from family and friends, ignoring the things we love most. It meant giving up all their stuff. It meant giving up all dealings with the world.
Is the time short now? We can’t possibly know the day or the hour, and it is hard to imagine that the time is still short after two thousand years. And yet we are closer to that moment than we have ever been. The time is now, as it was then, for us to keep our eyes on Jesus. We, too, are called to give up everything for the sake of Jesus and His Gospel. We are called to ignore the things we love most. We are called to give up our stuff so that we can follow Jesus wherever He leads us.
Mark uses the word “immediately” often, and we hear it twice in today’s passage. This word is used as a connective, linking one activity to the next as we might use the words “next,” “then,” or “so.” The word also gives us a sense of urgency. The time was now, not later. Jesus did not give them the time to say good-bye or have closure. The call was urgent, the following immediate.
The texts remind us that God should be first in our lives. When He calls, He expects us to hear. His calling is urgent and our obedience should be immediate. Can God accomplish the work without us? Of course He can. Can we accomplish anything without Him? No, absolutely not. When God calls us to join Him it is because He has chosen us to the task. He does not need us, but He wants us to follow. We may want to make excuses, try to follow later, but we should not be encumbered by the cares of the world. God is our salvation, our rock and our refuge. Though we might want to focus on other things, He should be first in everything.
The psalmist understood the need to keep God as the first in his life. “Trust in him at all times, ye people; Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” The things of this world do not offer us anything but vain hope. “Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: In the balances they will go up; They are together lighter than vanity.” Through it all, we can trust that when God calls, there is power in His Word. “God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God.” God alone is our salvation; He calls us to see the world through His eyes. He calls us to change direction, to respond to His Word and follow Him wherever He might lead.
“And they come to Jericho: and as he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the way side. And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and said, Call ye him. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good cheer: rise, he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered him, and said, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? And the blind man said unto him, Rabboni, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And straightway he received his sight, and followed him in the way.” Mark 10:46-52, ASV
I like to read before bed. When I finish, I usually turn off the light and then go into the bathroom one last time. Unfortunately, I usually find that I’m temporarily blinded and I can’t see anything until my eyes adjust to the darkness. The worst part is that I can never be sure where the cats are at that hour. There is usually one lying at the side of my bed on in the path to the bathroom, so I have to walk carefully so I do not trip.
Now, I know that my night experiences are nothing like being blind; it is so short-lived and avoidable. I could wait until my eyes have adjusted, or go to the bathroom while the light is still on. Yet, in that brief moment I get a sense of the confusion you can feel when you don’t have use of all your senses. Where am I going? What is in my way? Am I safe?
Bartimaeus must have heard of Jesus and knew that Jesus might be able to help him. Despite this knowledge, it must have taken a great deal of courage to cry out to Him. After all, Jesus was surrounded by a great crowd, which was likely very loud with murmuring. How could Bartimaeus know that Jesus would even hear him? Would Jesus be able to get to him? Would he be able to get to Jesus? These are questions that he could not answer, because he could not see what was happening before him. He could only hear the confusion of a mob.
He was also courageous when he jumped up and ran to Jesus. What made him brave enough to go forward without fear of tripping over something that might block his way? What made him able to find Jesus in that crowd? What gave him the courage to approach this One who could change his life? I suppose that’s the biggest question for us. Do we have the courage to go to Jesus and ask for mercy, not knowing for certain what Jesus will do for us? Do we have what Bartimaeus had; do we have the faith that gave him the courage to go forth despite not being able to see?
We might not be blind, but we all have moments when it seems like Jesus is in the midst of a great crowd, hard to see and even harder to reach. Are we willing to cry out to Him, even if we aren’t certain He’ll hear? Are we willing to jump up without having clear vision and go to Him? Are we willing to ask Him for the mercy we need, trusting that He will give us what we need? Are we willing to risk everything to seek His grace?
“These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful. Ye heard how I said to you, I go away, and I come unto you. If ye loved me, ye would have rejoiced, because I go unto the Father: for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe. I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in me; but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.” John 14:25-31, ASV
ABC’s television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is in a town near San Antonio this week, building a home for a local Wounded Warrior. I haven’t been involved in the project, but I have enjoyed watching the reports from local television stations and on Facebook. Morgan’s Wonderland is involved in the project, and has provided many of the volunteers that we’ll see on the show. They’ve hosted several events, including a pep rally before the project began, and a day of filming people at Morgan’s Wonderland.
What I find most fascinating about this process is how different the reality is from that which is created for the television program. I would hate to reveal any secrets, but what you see is not always what you think it is.
This is, after all, a television show, scripted and edited. Some moments are real, like the door knock moment. The place was not revealed until the very last moment to maintain the element of surprise, but other moments are planned to ensure a good program. Last night, for instance, volunteers were asked to attend a parade on the Riverwalk. The parade was meant to represent a part of the annual Christmas celebration in San Antonio. Since the show will be played next December, they wanted to give it a feeling of Christmas. The volunteers were warned that it wouldn’t be like the normal parade, that they would stop and repeat moments to get the best shot. In some of the photos I have noticed that they have used garland, and some workers have been wearing Christmas hats. It seems strange to have Christmas in the middle of January, but the television producers are thinking ahead. They’ll need a touch of Christmas if it is going to be a Christmas special, but they can’t wait until Christmas to shoot.
We live in the world, but we are called to live as if the world in which we hope has already come. We are called to live as if it is Christmas all the time. We don’t have to hold Christmas parades or put garland on our helmets, but we are to look forward to the day when Christ will finish the work that He began. We are to live in the peace that He has left with us, even if the world around us does not understand it. It might seem like Jesus is gone, and the world certainly thinks He is, but we know something different. We know He is here, now and will be here then. We know that He has given us His Spirit to help us live.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth.” Ephesians 1:3-10, ASV
We took the cats to get their shots on Saturday. Anyone who has had pets knows: a trip to see the veterinarian is not a pleasant experience. Everything about it is frightening and stressful. Our cats do not like to get into the carrier, probably because they know that the carrier takes them to the vet. They fight, and they hide if they are able to escape. They know the places we can’t reach. They are smaller and faster, and can make us look ridiculous if they get away.
That’s why we have to be very shrewd in the way we handle the situation. Since we decided to get their shots from one of those low cost vaccination opportunities, we planned on taking care of all three in one day. We couldn’t take them all at one time; we only have one carrier. So, we decided to do Samson and Delilah first. We thought it would be easier to deal with Tigger on his own later. Bruce got the carrier ready and we each chose a cat. We picked them up at the same moment, cooing and loving them the whole time.
I had Delilah in my arms. She doesn’t like to be held, so she was apprehensive from the beginning. We took them to the carrier, and with a brief struggle, Bruce managed to get Samson to go in. Delilah was more difficult. She responded to the perceived threat by trying to get away. I was holding her well. I had her by the scruff of the neck with her legs resting on my arm. I tipped her down into the gate, which we had facing up, to let her drop into the carrier with Samson. She tried to push back with her back legs, to avoid ending up in the carrier. In the process, her claw ripped a two inch cut into my hand.
It hurt, and still stings a little, but I’ll survive. I know that she did not mean to hurt me. I know that she loves me. I know that my hand was an innocent victim of her fear and desperation. She responded in the only way she knew, and it just happened to affect me. It is easy to say this about a cat; we know that cats do not do these things maliciously. It was easy to forgive her, especially when she loved me within minutes of returning home from the vet.
Can we say the same about people who hurt us? Can we ever see that their response that cuts our hearts might be because they are afraid or desperate? Are we able to recognize those times when another person’s harmful actions are not malicious, to see that they are acting in the only way they know how to deal with a situation? Knowing that the harm was not malicious does not make the hurt any less; it will still sting and will leave a mark. But, forgiveness is seeing beyond the hurt, recognizing the heart and having mercy. Can we forgive those hurt us as easily as we forgive a cat? That’s grace. That’s what Jesus did for each of us. If we can do it for a cat, shouldn’t we also be able to do it for the people we love and who love us?
“The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness; and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. A fool also multiplieth words: yet man knoweth not what shall be; and that which shall be after him, who can tell him? The labor of fools wearieth every one of them; for he knoweth not how to go to the city.” Ecclesiastes 10:12-15, ASV
You can find lists for everything from the best hamburger joint in town to the worst roads in America. Someone somewhere decides that they have enough knowledge about something, so they come up with a list for the best, the worst or the most purple of that something. Ok, so perhaps ‘the most purple’ might not be a characteristic typically used in lists, but I have wondered at the things that interest people. Do we really need to know the towns with the most tattoo parlors or the stores that sell the most unique cut crystal pigs?
One of the local radio talk show hosts says, “If there’s a list, it is wrong.” How many times have you read a list and wondered to yourself something like, “That’s my favorite movie. How could it be on the worst list?” Even if you can’t think of a reason why the answers are wrong, you still wonder about it. As a matter of fact, I read an article today that critiqued a list of the rudest places, questioning the choices and offering explanations why the researchers may have come to their conclusions.
Some of the cities on the rudest cities list are expected. Some towns have become known for their rudeness, like Los Angeles and New York City. Yet, I know many people who would disagree with both those choices. They have had a different experience either living or visiting the cities and can’t believe that they would be on the list. I personally have had a horrible experience in a town many people would put on the friendliest cities list. My impression was much different.
I was surprised by a few of the cities on the list, but none so much as Orlando. How could Orlando be rude? After all, it is the home to Disney World, the happiest place on earth! The author of the article suggested that it wasn’t actually the city of Orlando that is rude, but that the experience of rudeness tends to come from tourists that are frustrated by long lines and the other hazards of being at an immensely popular place. I certainly had that experience when I was there. It was never local residents (we never left the resort, so our experience with locals was mostly cast members, and they have to be nice.)
We tried to be patient at every moment of our vacation, choosing to be happy rather than upset by the occasional wait. We met too many people, however, who were angry about the smallest inconveniences. One woman was yelling and cursing because the buses were running a little late. Others pushed through crowds. Most were unconcerned about the experience of their neighbors, doing whatever was necessary to make it good for them. They didn’t care if that meant cutting in line or grabbing the last t-shirt out of your hand.
I suspect that if we followed the golden rule when we went to those places that are deemed rude, we would find people who are not so. We would find our experience is much more pleasant. Those who voted to put New York City or Orlando on the worst list might just be the very people who make it that way. They might be the ones who are pushing and screaming their way into bad encounters.
Which cities would you put on the rude list? As you think back to your experience, what was it that made it bad? Was it certain people? Was there are particular moment? Were the rude ones actually people from the city, or was the rudeness a hazard of having too many visitors? Even if we do choose to be happy we will still find people who are rude. Sometimes they are rude because we have helped make things bad for them. Sometimes they will just never be happy. But we can face even disrespect with graciousness and maybe, just maybe, we’ll find those cities are not so bad.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 29, 2012, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany; Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
“I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” Deuteronomy 18:18, ASV
We had dinner with some friends the other night and one noticed my e-reader on the side table. They began to ask some questions, with the disclaimer that they were firmly committed to reading from real books. They gave the usual reasons, reasons I quoted a year or so ago when I was not yet using my e-reader. I agree with their arguments. I love to feel the pages of the book. I love to walk around book stores. I have a thousand books on my bookshelves I need to read. I didn’t think I would like to have an e-reader, but more than a year later I love mine.
I gave them a few of the benefits. While it is good to feel the weight of the book on my lap and to turn the pages, I have found it is so much easier to hold a lengthy book on the e-reader. I have control over the font size. I can get a book in seconds, no matter where I am. I read faster, possibly because I do not get lost on pages filled with small type and big words. It is much easier to find my place if I get distracted while reading. The e-reader is easy to carry anywhere, available to read anytime. They continued to have excuses, which I quickly put to rest. I don’t know if I convinced them that they should have e-readers, but they left thinking that it might be worthwhile to check into the possibility.
I was watching one of those cooking shows and one of the chefs began using new fangled cooking techniques. Modern kitchens have equipment like immersion circulators, anti-griddles and centrifuges to ‘cook’ the food in new ways. They use carbon dioxide and liquid nitrogen to change the substance of the food. These chefs juxtapose cooking with science, and make cuisine an intellectual experience as well as a culinary one. One of the judges on the show was initially disturbed by the molecular chemistry used to prepare his food, and he admitted so to the chef. But in the end, he was won over because the food was extremely good. He saw the value in this new way of doing things by someone who knew how to do it well.
I don’t know whether I’m the best person to convince someone of something new, especially since I tend to be rather old fashioned. I don’t much like change. I see value in the way things work, and have worked for a long time. And yet, I’m willing to listen and learn and try new things. I won’t change for the sake of change, but if someone proves to me that it is worthwhile, I’ll try. Sometimes I’m convinced; sometimes I’m not convinced. When I am convinced, I’m willing to share the reasons why and to tell others how worthwhile this new thing can be. I’m probably not the best person to convince someone of the virtues of molecular gastronomy, but my experience gives me some authority to share some knowledge about e-readers, at least enough for someone to say, “I’ll think about it.”
Jesus stopped the people in their tracks. They went to the synagogue that day expecting to hear the same old stuff. It was not unusual for visiting teachers to give a message at worship. They would be invited to read text and explain it to the congregation. I can just imagine the surprise of those people: Jesus knew what He was talking about. I’m sure we’ve all heard, at some point in our lives, both types of preaching: the kind that makes a difference and the kind that leaves us cold. We’ve heard good preachers and bad preachers. The difference is not only between good speaking and bad speaking. The good preacher speaks according to God’s will, and not according to their own idea of God’s will. I’ve known good speakers who made horrible preachers because it was not God’s Word coming from their lips.
Sadly, too many of us are like the Israelites in the days of Moses. They were afraid to hear God’s voice and to see the fire of God’s presence, so they turned over the hearing and seeing to another. They told Moses to get God’s Word from Him and deliver it to them. They didn’t seek to know God themselves; they only wished to know what Moses would tell them. There is nothing wrong with learning from others, from listening to what they can teach us about God and His Creation. However, when we let go of all responsibility for knowing God personally, we run the risk of depending on people who do not really know God or speak for Him.
He has promised to give us prophets who will speak His word into our lives. Moses was the first among many. But Moses was followed by prophets, priests and kings who lost sight of God. They spoke words for other gods or claimed to speak for God when they did not know Him. The people followed these false prophets, over and over again. They believed in the false gods and the false ideas about God because they were too afraid to listen or see Him for themselves.
The people in Jesus’ day were not much different. They, too, believed what the leaders of the temple and in their synagogues told them. Were they afraid of God’s voice or fire? I don’t know. Perhaps by that generation they were too lazy to seek God on their own. Perhaps they were too confused to understand God’s Word without the teachers. Perhaps they had been convinced by good speakers who did not have the authority to speak for God, manipulated into believing in an idea of God that is not true.
So, when Jesus came and preached, what they heard was different. They called it “new,” but in reality Jesus was preaching the reality of God. There was something in the teaching, not the speaking, that struck the people as true. He wasn’t just a good spokesperson; He knew what He was talking about. He knew God, and when He spoke, He spoke with one who has authority. The difference between Him and the scribes must have been shocking; after all, they had been listening to the scribes for so long that they didn’t recognize the falsehood. When they heard Jesus, they knew that He had something the scribes didn’t have; they knew He had the truth.
Human beings don’t change. We are as likely to believe the false prophets as the people in Moses’ day and the people in Jesus’ day. The Corinthians fell into the same trap, facing confusion over their own issues. In the letter to Corinth, Paul talks about food sacrificed to idols. This might not be a problem for us, but we face similar temptations.
There is only one God. We know this is true and Paul makes it clear in this week’s epistle lesson that the other gods in this world are nothing. But Paul also reminds us that there are things—idols—that are like gods in the eyes of many people. They are nothing, not real, but they do hold the place of God in the lives of those who believe in them. All those things, or people, or ideas, in which we put our trust and faith, are gods to us, even though they cannot be compared to God. They are impersonators, given the power and authority of a god even though they are nothing and have no power or authority.
Paul writes, “We know that we all have knowledge.” Lots of people know about God. They have read the scriptures and have prayed. Many people go to church and hear God’s word read and preached. They sing the hymns and do the work of the Church. They serve in the community and live a moral and faithful life. Yet, too many people do not really know God. They give the responsibility of understanding and experiencing God to others, and seek only to hear what they have to say on the subject. They are afraid to hear or see. Unfortunately, many leaders are more like the scribes than Moses. They speak what they want to speak rather than what God has spoken to them. They get their authority from their own ideas and desires, rather than from God. They are false prophets who teach about a false god.
There is only one God, but that does not mean that all our gods are God. The gods we create, the things we honor and worship beside or above God, are merely idols. We like to believe that we have just found a new way to describe God, or that we have given Him a new name, but the reality is that they are no more than idols. We must be careful that the image of God that we believe and follow is truly that image that is given to us in the scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ. If we follow anything or anyone else, we will find that we are chasing after false gods.
Paul was concerned for the people who were still eating the food of idols as if it was the food of idols. We might know that it is just meat—that it isn’t something that honors a god—but if someone sees you eating that meat, they might believe in the god because of your actions. The same can be said about our ideas and our other actions of faith. We might understand that what we are doing is not for some strange or foreign god, but if people see us doing something outside the reality of Jesus Christ, then they may think that god is equal to or the same as our God.
Two thousand plus years after Paul wrote this letter to Corinth, we have to recognize that we face similar problems. There are still people who claim to be prophets for God, teaching ideas that do not come from His mouth. Some even claim to be that prophet promised in Deuteronomy. Moses was the first of God’s prophets, but the promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The promise continues with those who speak Christ into the world. Instead of sending prophet after prophet, each with a new authority to speak for God, those in Christ are given His authority to share the Good News with others.
Jesus had authority not only to speak God’s word, but also to command devils and to bring healing to mankind. This first sign in the book of Mark is given to us to verify His authority. Whatever the teaching that day, Jesus was the rightful voice to say it in God’s name. He was a prophet, the prophet, for which they were waiting, who could speak for God. We continue in His authority, speaking God’s Word into the world and bringing healing and redemption into the lives of those who are broken and burdened.
The psalm for today speaks about the work of God. It is often difficult to see God’s work as it relates to His people. Yes, we have the stories of the Exodus, but we were not there to cross the Red Sea with Moses and the rest of Israel. We can read about the miracles of Jesus and believe in His healing power, but we have not experienced His physical touch. The psalmist knew God’s mighty works among His people, but those works were little more than a memory, handed down by generation after generation. Yet, as we praise God for those ancient acts, we reveal His presence to the world today. In our praise and thanksgiving for God’s goodness, the world sees His power, faithfulness and grace.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is a hard saying. We have so much to fear, God should be the least of them, right? We fear terrorism. We fear disease. We fear losing everything we own. We fear those things that can bring us harm. We don’t want to fear God; He has been so good to us. His faithfulness and mercy is beyond comparison. Yet, He is fearsome. This is not to mean that we should be afraid of Him. Instead, we are to be in awe of Him. He is gracious and merciful. He is holy and awesome. He is worthy of our thanks and praise.
We may not be authorities in much, or be great speakers, but we are given the authority of Christ to be God’s voice in the world. We must beware that the words we speak are true and from God’s own mouth. Our authority comes from God, and God has given us a way to know what is true and right. We must approach God with fear and trembling, knowing without a doubt that false prophets who teach false gods will come to an end. But we need not fear God’s voice or His fire; by seeking Him we will see clearly. We will know Jesus, His life and the work He has called us to do. We can’t rely on the words of others; we must know God for ourselves. We must spend time in prayer, in studying the scriptures. We must join with other Christians in worship, praise and seek God in the company of His faithful. We must abide in Jesus, to dwell in His authority and experience His power in our lives.
“Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall exalt you.” James 4:7-10 (ASV)
Are you bothered by the charge from James to mourn rather than laugh, to have a heavy heart rather than one filled with joy? It seems so upside down. I often write about living in the joy of the Lord, why would I want to be afflicted, mourn and weep? It does not make sense to us who are called to live as children of the Kingdom of God. And yet, I’m sure we all know someone who takes this instruction to heart, thinking that as Christians we should not be happy. They go about life harsh and demanding, with a severe look about them and the idea that life as a Christian is not happy. This text is not a call to a life of grumpiness; it is a call to the humble life of one who knows the reality of sin and recognizes their own failure. It is a call to confess to God and let Him transform your life.
We live in a world that plays the blame game. We spend a lot of time pointing fingers when we hear about something that has gone wrong. We never look to our own fault; we find someone to be the scapegoat. There are times, certainly, when blame can be placed on the selfish or self-centered actions of another person. There are times when someone else is at fault. However, most of the problems we face cannot be explained away so simply. Most problems come from the failure of many.
There are those who do not like the book of James, probably because of verses like these. James writes to the Christian about living a consistent and vital faith, doing good works that are based on a strong relationship with Jesus Christ. It is so easy for us to get caught up in the joy of what Christ has done for us that we forget why He had to live, die and rise again. We have been forgiven so we forget that we needed to be forgiven. We have been blessed and we forget that we are called to be a blessing. The book of James, taken apart from the whole of scriptures, is hard to take because it is focused on what the Christian is meant to do. But he offers a good reminder in the context of all the scriptures: that we are sinners who fail daily to live the life Jesus has called us to live.
While we might be bothered by the language in this text, let us read it with the faith we have in Jesus. We have been exalted and we will be exalted, but while we live in this world we will continue to fail. We need this reminder that we are sinners. We need to remember that we have much to mourn and that we have reason to weep. We are reminded that the devil is very real and that we have to strongly resist the temptations of the world. We are reminded to seek God, to confess, to do what we need to do to make our lives right. We are reminded to be humble, and in doing so we’ll see God’s grace.
“And they were bringing unto him little children, that he should touch them: and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me; forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein.” Mark 10:13-16, ASV
My son posted on his Facebook page that they watched School House Rock in his government class today. I had to laugh: Victoria has used Play-Doh in class and Zack is watching cartoons. What has the thousands of dollars of college tuition gotten them that I didn’t give them when they were four years old? Oh, I know that they are learning so much more. Victoria has had lessons in theology and theatre, Zack is learning Math and Science far beyond anything I will ever understand. But it is funny that even in such high level learning, sometimes the best ways of teaching are the ways we taught them when they were small children.
We can study the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, looking more deeply into the meaning intended by those founding fathers. We can read the letters they wrote, the text from debates, and put it all into the context of the time so that we better understand its purpose and importance. It is good to do these things. However, it is good to know the words, to have them written on our hearts. Those words are the foundation of what we believe, of who we are and what our founding fathers intended to do with this great nation. The words speak for themselves, and there is no better way to learn than with music.
Does a four year old understand what it means to ‘ensure domestic tranquility’? Probably not, but as they get older and those worlds remain on their hearts, they learn that those words mean that we the people commit to working together to keep conditions at home at peace, home being within the borders of our nation, our states and the walls of our homes. It means that together we ensure that we can live our lives in a settled and secure environment. Now, as an adult, I can sing these words and understand them, but I don’t know whether I would know them so well if I didn’t have School House Rock to teach me the words.
As adults we study the scriptures to help us to understand what God intends for our lives and our faith. It is good to spend time reading the bible, looking more deeply into the meaning. It is good to pay attention to the language, the context, and the interpretations of those who have come before us, so that we might understand the complex concepts of theology. And yet, is there anymore more important than those lessons we learned in song at Sunday school so long ago? Is there anything more important than knowing “Jesus Loves Me?”
We can approach our faith from an intellectual point of view, studying to understand the words and concepts that we find in the scriptures. But the lessons we learned as four year olds are the foundation of everything we know about God. Jesus loves us, this we know because the Bible tells us so. The Bible also tells us so many other things about God, but without the love of Jesus, none of it matters. This is why we are to receive the kingdom of God as a child. Understanding will never get us into heaven, only faith will.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say, in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,-- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:3-14, ASV
What would you think if you looked up in the sky and saw people flying? Would you be frightened? Would you be excited? Would you want to join them? Would you call the police? Apparently that happened recently in New York City. As it happened, it was an advertising gimmick for an upcoming movie called “Chronicle” in which some of the characters can fly. The studio hired a company that made three custom remote controlled aircraft that looked like human beings. It is obvious that they are mechanical when you are close, but from a distance they really look like people.
I read an article about this campaign and the writer wondered whether the people who saw the flying people would even connect them to the new movie. Would the advertisement actually work if the people did not even know there was a movie about flying people? I suppose that is the risk of doing something outside the box. I know throughout the years there have been many television or print advertisements that didn’t make any sense and had no real impact because the advertisers got too creative. People might have loved the ad, but if it didn’t make people buy the product, then it did not serve its purpose.
I’m sure the advertisers talk about the campaigns and consider the possibility that people just won’t get it. But they go forward with the risk because they think that they can make it work. I’m sure the people flying the mechanical humans are hoping that the events will make the news. They are hoping people will pay attention and seek to understand. They hope that news crews will be out videotaping their remote control play, and that the reporters will put two and two together. Someone did, because I read an article. Now that company and the movie has found a place in the news stories of the day.
When people see you, do they know why you are here? Do they know why you do what you do? Do they see your purpose in your life? That’s a hard question to answer because many of us do not even know what why we are here. We spend our lives seeking our purpose. I have been asking the question daily as I go through the transition from being a stay-at-home-mom to whatever I’m meant to become. For me, the question is usually worded, “What am I supposed to do now?”
But the reality is that our purpose is not about what we are meant to do in this world. We are like an advertising campaign pointing to one thing: God. We are His glory, meant to shine in the world in a way that the world will know Him and His grace. Do people see that? Do they know we are here to worship God in every aspect of our lives? Do they see His grace in our actions? Do they see God glorified in what we do? Or are we mechanical people just flying around a city, witnessed by confused people wondering what we are up to?
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” Matthew 25:34-36, ASV
I spend too much time on the computer, and especially on Facebook. I don’t let it get in the way of real life, but I have to admit that I’ve wasted many an hour exploding jewels and decorating my garden. In days gone by, I spent too much time in chat rooms, or following email discussions. I’ve played too many online games and surfed through too many worthless websites. Yes, I admit it: I spend too much time on the computer. And yet I’m still shocked when I hear the stories about people who spend too much time on the computer, because some people really do spend an excessive amount of time on the computer.
Have you ever watched one of those videos that you know took hours to produce? And then realized the guy has a whole catalogue of those videos? When I see something like that, I always mumble to myself, “This guy has too much time on his hands.” What about the Facebook friend who posts a new status every twenty minutes, ‘likes’ every page or begs for help with a dozen different games? Do you ever wonder how they have the time to do so much?
I read an article about a woman, or a group of people, that fit into this category. Apparently this woman has submitted a Facebook post for consideration for a world record. Someone opened a conversation on the Facebook page for a group of fans of one of the online games. The group has about a hundred members. Her comment has recently become the most commented on comment on Facebook, with over a million replies. For one comment to garner so much attention, the members of the group must each have posted an average of nine thousand replies. The members of the group purposely sought this accomplishment, agreeing together to reply on the post until they had over a million replies.
One woman was mostly to credit for the fulfillment of this quest, having posted a large number of the replies. She didn’t make any life changing comments; she typed the word “go” over and over again, easily getting into a rhythm posting dozens of times in a minute. Other posters wrote sentences by posting just one word at a time. Other posts were nonsense or single characters. They did anything to get to the million comment mark. I don’t know how long it took, but the post that was started in October is still growing today.
As one who spends too much time on the computer, I can’t say they are wasting their time. We just differ in the way we waste our time. However, what I found particular troubling about this story was the comment from the woman interviewed in the video posted with the article. She said that she hopes this will help her leave her mark on the world. “I'm no spring chicken anymore and I really haven’t done anything phenomenal.” Has she really left her mark on the world? Has she really done something phenomenal? This quest has certainly earned her and her friends a moment of notoriety, but has it really done anything to have an impact on the lives of others?
This woman’s time would have been better spent posting thoughtful, inspirational messages rather than the word ‘go’ over and over again. Her time would have been better spent giving a glass of water to someone who is thirsty. How have you made your mark on the world? We do not have to do something phenomenal to have an impact. We are called to meet the everyday needs of our neighbors. A simple word, a listening ear, a timely hug: these are the greatest gifts we can give.