Welcome to the June 2013 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2013
June 3, 2013
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Genesis 1:26-27, ASV
I usually paint with acrylics, but I like to add other media to the canvas, usually some sort of recycled or reused items. I search yard sales and thrift shops for items that others have they no longer need. This includes bits of fabric, lace or ribbon, wall decorations, sea shells, silk flowers, buttons, crosses or jewelry. If it is light enough for the canvas and easily transformed to match the painting, then I use it.
I have not quite gotten to the point of transforming garbage, but there are some artists out there that do. They use old soda cans, broken glass or ceramics, or items that are useless in their intended form but can be torn apart and used in new and creative ways. The art is not always beautiful, but it makes a statement, and that is the purpose of art for some artists. There is an organization in town that collects recycling or reusable items to give to art teachers around the city. They are holding a donation drive today, with the hopes of getting a wide variety of items that will help the teachers give their students opportunities to be creative.
Why put so much effort into art education? Many have suggested that our energy and funding should go into the academics. I suppose that’s why organizations like the one in town has been created. Teachers still teach art, but they do not get enough funding necessary for supplies. And most families can’t afford to purchase the items necessary for even the most limited projects. Art is expensive. The same is true of the other arts like music and dance. Anyone with a child who has a talent or a desire to pursue any of these disciplines knows how much money it takes to keep it going. The artist must buy paint or canvases, the dancer must buy costumes, the musician must buy instruments and sheet music.
In the end, many people wonder if it is worthwhile. After all, it is very difficult for an artist, musician or dancer to be self supporting. Those in the performing arts face incredible competition to get the few jobs available. It is hard for an artist to make their mark in the world, especially in a poor economy. People just don’t have the money for art. It is easier and cheaper for the consumer buy a print that is framed and ready to hang at the big box store rather than take the time and money to buy something handmade by a local artist.
A couple I know spends the summer attending craft fairs with handcrafted items they make. The items include lovely little birdhouses and bird feeders. My friend posted a picture of one of those birdhouses this weekend and received a response from a friend. He said something like, “I can buy one of those at the local box store for five bucks. Is that how much you are charging?” He was convinced that there was no difference between the mass produced ones in the box store and the one my friend is offering. He sees no purpose in creating something that can be bought for cheap.
My friend must charge more than five bucks for his product. He has to pay for his materials, the rent of his space at the craft fair, and the travel. It might seem like a waste of time. In a world where many people can’t even afford a decent meal or new clothes, the arts does seem like a waste of time. That’s why the education money is being taken away from the arts and put into academics. Instead of visiting the art or music teachers, the children are kept in the classroom to learn how to take tests that prove nothing. They no longer learn how to create something new so that they can spend more time memorizing facts and developing test taking skills.
Don’t get me wrong: learning history, math and English is important. However, I would like to suggest that taking the kids out of the arts has not done anything to make the academics better. If you look at the studies, you’ll find that things are not better today than they were twenty years ago. By taking the arts out of school, we’ve stopped teaching the children how to use their whole brains. Our brains are incredible organs. They control everything our bodies do. Education and learning helps build our brains, but if we focus on just one portion of our brain we do not become everything we are meant to be. We need to help develop the creative parts of our brains as much as the retentive parts. When we do, we build balanced people who are able to do even more than if we focus on just one part. The child who gets creative in some way will do better in other areas of life. The arts may seem unimportant and wasteful, but they are the foundation of a person who is truly living as God created them to live.
After all, God created us to be created beings. We often read the scripture for today and think that God created us to look like Him. We’ve made, through art, God’s image to be the same as our image. We’ve made Him to be an old, wise man sitting on a throne surrounded by lovely fluffy clouds in heaven. However, God created us to be creative beings. The most important way we follow our purpose is to marry and have children, thus continuing to bring to life people to worship Him. However, He has also given us the ability to create new things. He has given us the ability to think for ourselves, to use the resources of the earth to make things that are beautiful. But even more, art, music and dance makes us whole people, living in this world as God intended, both accomplishing things that are practical and necessary as well as inspiring others with talents that make the world a better place.
“Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:12-17, ASV
I love to get Sno-caps when I go to a movie, although they are very hard to find at our local theaters. These dark chocolate candies are miniature nonpareils, shaped like a flat kiss and covered with sugar pellets.
Did you know the word nonpareil has another meaning? It is the Word for Today at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. I was surprised by this because I never heard the used in any context besides the candy. The word means, “having no equal,” which makes total sense. Sno-caps have no equal in my book! I love the bigger nonpareils, too. The two examples of this use of the word come from newspaper articles. “The show was… held in the original Madison Square Garden, and it was a society event nonpareil.” — From an article by Marshall Schuon in the New York Times, April 3, 1994 and “Few of them differ much from New York’s typical Italian-American restaurants, but those that stand out are among the best anywhere, including fifth-generation Mario’s, which since 1919 has been crafting nonpareil pizzas along with true Neapolitan food… — From a post by John Mariani on Esquire.com’s Eat Like a Man blog, May 1, 2013
The word can even be used as a noun to describe an outstanding human being. People who stand out in our society or history might be called the nonpareil of their time or place. There is something about their character or their actions that make them stand out from the crowd in a good way. They are our heroes, the ones who accomplish great things, who make an impact on the world in which they live.
We might not think we could ever be like those outstanding individuals, but God is able to make possible the impossible. Despite our sinful, perishable nature, we are saved, called and gifted to be nonpareils in the world. How do we do that? We live the life God intended us to live. Paul writes to the people of Colossae about the characteristics of a Christian. This is what a nonpareil looks like. If we are to stand out in the world to be available to those who need God’s mercy, then we should manifest compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness, holiness, peace and love. And we will manifest all those virtues as we dwell in the heart of God and obey His Word.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 9, 2013, Third Sunday After Pentecost: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
“O Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.” Psalm 30:3, ASV
It might seem strange now that we’ve received life from Christ and have come to understand it a little better, to focus on death. Yet, the Old Testament and Gospel lessons both report stories of sons who died before their time.
The lesson about Elijah and the widow from Zarephath is heartbreaking. The woman was ready to die. She was ready to finish the food she had and then wait with her son for the inevitable. Elijah came and spoke God’s word into her life and brought her life. The LORD made the flour and oil last and the woman and her son had life. Was she confident in this gift? Did she look forward to a future for her son? It doesn’t matter, because in today’s lesson the woman’s son became extremely ill. Her future, whatever it may be would be worthless if her son died. As a widow she had no means of support except for her son’s potential. She might as well die, too.
We talk about her obedience to Elijah’s words as a manifestation of faith, but was it? Did she make that cake for Elijah with the certainty that his strange God would feed her, too? Or was she following some cultural expectation. He was a man who seemed to have some sense of authority. Did she believe his words or did she simply obey the figure of power who commanded her? She may have begun to have confidence in his words as time went on. After all, the flour and oil did not disappear.
But then things went wrong. Her son, her lifeblood, her future became sick. She believed that her troubles were given to her by the gods, or in this case by Elijah’s God, as a punishment for her sin. If he had not come, God would not have even seen her and would have let her go into the grave where she belongs. Life without her son would be hell; death would have saved her from an unpleasant future.
The idea of Sheol is not the hellfire and brimstone image that we have of hell. Sheol is a place of the dead, but according to the Jewish Encyclopedia online, it is more like the gathering place of those who died. Like the family cemetery, where all the ancestors are buried together, Sheol is where she would go to be with those she loved. She would be with her mother and father, husband and if they’d died together, with her son. The idea of Sheol evolved from more primitive times, and gives the believer hope that the body and soul will not be separated. By keeping her alive and taking her son, the gods, or this God of Elijah, doomed her to a life of poverty and loneliness.
But Elijah’s God, our God, is not a vengeful punisher of widows. The woman needed to see God’s power in a very real and personal way. She may have been obedient to the words that Elijah spoke, but she did not believe. Not yet. When her son became so ill that he stopped breathing, she became angry, and Elijah went to work. He took the boy to the upper room and privately prayed over his body.
Isn’t it interesting that even Elijah can’t believe that God would do such a thing? “O Jehovah my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” We wonder the same thing. How could God be so cruel as to take this woman’s son after she was so hospitable to Elijah? But perhaps the rest of the story explains why this happened as it did. God shouldn’t have to prove Himself to any of us, but don’t we all beg God to answer the big question, “Why?” We don’t understand why good people suffer, or why bad things happen to those who are faithful.
God does not cause good people to suffer or make bad things happen just to prove Himself. Neither does He punish people with illness or pain because of their sin. In this story we see, however, God using one of His prophets to show the woman the truth of His word. After Elijah returns her son to her, the woman exclaims, “Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth.” God was able to use this situation to show both Elijah and the woman His faithfulness. They saw, together, that God’s word is true and the woman began to believe in Him. Elijah was made bold and ready for the trials he was about to face.
We see something else in this story. The woman and her son were saved by God’s grace, but we are reminded that even those of us saved will die. God’s promise of life is not that we’ll live in immortal bodies. God restored the woman’s son because He knew that she’d never survive without Him. But both the woman and her son would still one day die. Even now there is no promise that the son will outlive his mother. The woman now has something else to cling to, a hope in God when there seems to be no hope. Even if her son should perish, the woman can now live in the promise that God will provide for her even if she has no one else. She knows God’s word is true and she can live fully in faith and peace no matter what happens.
The story in the Gospel lesson is another one about a dead son and grieving widow. She, too, was left without anyone to care for her. She had no future. She was not alone because the whole city was with her in her grief. But how long would they stay near? Would they be there for her in her need? Would they provide for her if she grew hungry? Would they give her a place to lay her head if she lost everything? We don’t know her circumstances, but we do know that Jesus saw a woman in pain and a family broken by death. He had mercy on her, went to the funeral bier and commanded the son to rise. He was given back to his mother. Like the story in the Old Testament lesson, this is not a story of resurrection. The son did not live forever. He was raised for a purpose, to take care of his mother and to ensure her well-being.
The people who witnessed this miracle were amazed and proclaimed that Jesus was a new prophet raised up by God. Once again we see this story pointing to God’s word. A prophet speaks God’s word to the people, and they saw by this miracle of life that Jesus spoke God’s word. When people came to hear Him, they knew they were hearing the voice of God. They may not have understood Jesus’ identity, but they knew that He had been sent.
How does this relate to the calling of the Church and each of us as individuals? We certainly have not experienced the power of life emanating from our own hands. Are we to be like Elijah and Jesus, to raise the dead to life? I think all of us have probably wished at some time to have had that kind of power. There are those who believe that we do have it if only we believe. I’ve heard stories of people being raised from the dead in other places around the world. I do know that doctors have brought people through death, and though medical science may not believe that it is a miracle when someone who has been brain dead for minutes comes back to life, we do know that God has given them the gift to heal. So perhaps stories like these come true in hospitals every day.
But Elijah and Jesus were not doctors. They did not use medical practices to raise the widows’ sons. They sought God’s grace and mercy on the widows and raised the sons to a purpose. If these stories are meant to show us what we are called to do, then are we neglecting our calling by not asking God to call our own dead out of the grave?
A few years ago a little girl in our church died. She was the sweetest thing, very cute and even at the tender age of three was a passionate member of our worship community. She loudly proclaimed praise to God and her faith in Him with whatever words she knew. She was an inspiration to us all, and provided a giggle or two in church. One night, must too early in her life, she died. We were all shocked and grief-stricken. How? Why? We might never have those answers. I have to admit that I thought about these stories in those days as we grieved her young life and wondered if God would raise her, too. I prayed, and I know many of our congregation prayed, for a miracle. We touched her and cried out to God; He did not answer these prayers. Was He being unfaithful? What He forgetting His promise of life?
We know the answer to that question: no, He was not unfaithful. Just because that beautiful child was not brought back to life in this world does not mean she was left alone in Sheol. She had God’s spirit. She had His mark. She had His life. And she had the promise of eternity. And though we grieved the loss her laughter and her passion for Jesus, we were not afraid because we knew that she would be waiting for us in that day when we, too, would enter into God’s eternal kingdom.
See, we are called to raise people from the dead, but not in the way we see in our stories today. Perhaps someday we will see something so miraculous, but we don’t have to wait until then to do what God is calling us to do. God’s word brings life to those who are dead, not in flesh but in Spirit. Those who live in sin live in death, and God’s lovingkindness brings them out of death into new life. We are sent into the world to touch the funeral biers of the walking dead, the people who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. When we touch them with God’s word and ask God to do His work in their lives, calling them to faith, we will see the dead rise to everlasting life. Their flesh will still die, but their souls will be with God forever.
Everybody suffers at some time or another. We all experience broken relationships, disappointments, discouragement, doubt, dis-ease and earthly troubles. I have often said during those times, “I am so thankful that I have God in my life or else I do not know how I would get through it.” On the same note, I have wondered how people without faith manage in hard times. What do they have to give them hope? Like the woman of Zarepheth, they live day to day hoping that it will last long enough to see them through. But when disaster comes, their faith is so shallow that they turn away from the promise.
Most of the time when we deal with difficult things we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We can find our hope in the promise that the illness will end or that they will eventually be a solution to the problem. We can rest in the reality that our problems are nothing compared to that of others, whether we have faith or not. Those non-believers do not see faith as a way out of our trouble; they see it as a placebo and foolishness. When a Christian does find themselves in the midst of suffering, the non-believer asks, “What God?”
Faith is not a way out of trouble. Faith is a way through it. We don’t believe in God because we think He’ll keep us from harm. We believe in God because we know He has promised something greater in the end. Whether our current circumstances lead to a new beginning in this life of the new beginning of eternal life, we trust in God because we know that He will be true to His promise. We might want to raise those we love from the dead and keep them from the grave, but true life is that which is found in God’s Kingdom.
How were the lives of the widows changed by the resurrection of their sons? We don’t know, because their stories end with praise to God. I’m sure their sons died again someday, although probably long after the mothers were gone. The famine in Zarephath eventually ended and life returned to normal for that town. Did it ever return to normal for the woman who came to faith when God raised her son? Life eventually returned to normal in Nain, as people went about their lives again, but did it ever return to normal for the widow whose son was restored to her? They were changed by God’s grace; they experienced the transforming hand of God and were never the same again.
Paul was also changed by God’s grace. He was met on the road to Damascus by a blinding light, during which Jesus Himself called Paul into ministry for the Church. He didn’t learn the new faith from teachers or figure it out for himself. He received the Gospel in a miraculous way, and the son (Paul) who was dead (persecuting the Church) was brought to true life in Christ. He was restored to God and sent into the world to share God’s grace with others. Paul was raised to new life for a purpose.
The psalmist writes, “O Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.” The psalmist has recognized that God has lifted him out of the grave into new life. This psalm was written for the dedication of the Temple of David. The writer recognized the reality of David’s life: he was spared from trouble, but God brought him through it. We are no different than Elijah and those widows. We wonder where God is when we are experiencing a difficult time. We ask, “Why?” because we do not understand how God could allow good people to experience hardship. And yet, we know that God is the only one who can bring us through our troubles.
Elijah asked, “O Jehovah my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” and the psalmist asked, “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?” We ask similar questions in our day. But God hears our prayers and answers with Jesus Christ who has raised us from death into new life in Him. And we have been raised for a purpose: to call others out of death into life. We’ve been changed by God’s grace. Are we ready to live in the purpose to which God has called us out of death and into life? Are we ready to speak new life into the lives of those who are still walking dead in this world?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever.” Hebrews 13:8, ASV
On May 16, 1933, the U.S. Patent office awarded patent number 1,909,537 to Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. for his invention that would provide a new form of entertainment that Americans would enjoy for at least the next eighty years. Though the number has reduced significantly, Drive-in theaters still exist and are visited regularly, especially during the summer months.
Richard worked for his father’s auto parts company when he came up with an idea. The legend has it that his mother did not like to attend movies because the seats were too uncomfortable for her large body, so Richard tried to find a way to make the movie going experience pleasant for her. He experimented in his driveway with the equipment necessary to show a movie that could be viewed from the comfort of a person’s own car. He tried different ramps so that the cars would all have a perfect view of the screen which was nailed to a tree in the yard. He worked out the sound issues, and eventually found the perfect combination. He had his idea patented.
On June 6, 1933, eighty years ago today, he opened the first drive-in theater in Pennsauken, New Jersey. His theater only lasted three years, but the idea spread around the nation and at its peak as many as 4,000 drive-ins existed around the country. Shankweiler's Auto Park in Orefield, Pennsylvania opened on April 15, 1934 and is the oldest continuously used drive-in still standing. That happens to be a drive-in I visited when I was a kid.
Unfortunately, Shankweiler’s is one of only about 368 theaters left. Despite the advantages of watching a movie from one’s car, the financial outlay for upkeep and fees is just too much for most owners. Many of the theaters were torn down so that land could be used in more feasible ways. There are those who are experimenting with new ways to create the experience while keeping the costs low. “Guerilla” drive-ins are a do-it-yourself movement that moves around a city which projects movies onto the sides of buildings or other flat surfaces. The location of the movie is advertised on electronic media and the movies tend to be alternative or independent productions. The technology is changing even at the historic theaters, with conversions to digital.
It was fun going to the drive-in. Most of the theaters where I grew up charged per car, so we would pack as many people as we could to get our money’s worth. There was always a double feature. We would load a cooler with our own soda and snacks and take lawn chairs. On cooler nights we would wrap ourselves in blankets and it was not unusual for an ice battle to break out on a warm night. The most memorable visit to a drive-in for me was the dance double feature of “Flashdance” and “Footloose.” Yes, we danced on the lawn around the car.
I am glad that drive-ins have tried to make a comeback. Perhaps the new technology will overcome some of the old problems. It is interesting, too, that the experience that began as one man overcoming a problem in his driveway has evolved into something new, adapting to new situations and solving new problems.
Christianity, too, began with just one man: Jesus Christ. It was passed onto a motley crew of followers who went out in faith to share the message. Over the generations that message has been passed from fathers to sons, pastors to parishioners, teachers to children, neighbors to friends. The way we make it happen has changed. Many churches are using new technology and social media to get the message across. But even as the original intent of Richard M. Hollingshead to make the movie experience more comfortable and fun has never changed, the Gospel message has never changed.
“Then come to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then will they fast. And no man putteth a piece of undressed cloth upon an old garment; for that which should fill it up taketh from the garment, and a worse rent is made. Neither do men put new wine into old wine-skins: else the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins perish: but they put new wine into fresh wine-skins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17, ASV
We all have it: that cabinet or drawer filled with containers and lids that we use for storing leftovers. Many of those containers were bought with the sole purpose of storing things. Shelves in the grocery and kitchen stores are filled with storage solutions. Many of those containers are meant to be reusable and long lasting. There are other containers that are designed to be disposable. I have a combination of both, although even the disposable ones get reused at least a few times. I like to have them on hand in case I want to send some leftovers home with company, but I really do use them multiple times before they crack or become too stained for health and safety.
In the past I’ve also kept the containers from food that I’ve purchased. My drawer or cabinet has been filled with old butter or sour cream containers. Why not reuse them while they still can hold food? After all, we are trying to keep as much as we can out of the landfills, and it is certainly cheaper to reuse those containers than to buy new ones.
However, I recently read an article about the dangers of reusing food containers. Unfortunately, some of those containers are actually harmful to your health. Some of them can leach toxic contaminants when reused repeatedly. Others are difficult to get perfectly clean, leaving behind some bacteria. While the containers are safe when used for the product for which it was originally meant, the very characteristics that make them good for that product can become negative attributes. The chemicals that are included in the processing that make the containers right for the original product become dangerous later.
I didn’t know this the last time I cleaned out my container drawer, but I had collected too many containers. I could not possibly use as many as I had, so I gave away a bunch of those pre-used containers. Of course, we don’t need to throw these things away. There are many uses for the bottles, cans and tubs. They can be used for non-food storage or craft projects. They can be used for display or decoration. Even old egg cartons can have a new purpose. It is just not good to reuse these items for new food.
The disciples of John approached Jesus with a very important question: “Why aren’t your disciples living the faithful life that we know is commanded in the scriptures?” They knew that faithfulness required certain practices, not only because they were commanded by God but because they help a believer live the life they are called to live. Fasting is helpful for spiritual well-being. The other practices of Jewish faith had real, positive purpose besides obedience to God. We know that the cleanliness laws dealt with real health issues. The dietary laws had a physical as well as spiritual purpose. The laws and practices were good. So, why did Jesus’ disciples feast and laugh and enjoy themselves? Jesus told them that there is a time and a place for everything. There certainly would be a time when the disciples would mourn. There is also a time to celebrate.
We might think that because the old is no longer good for use with the new, that we should just throw the old away. But that’s not what Jesus is saying in this passage. I think “The Message” translation of the last verse of today’s passage is interesting. “He went on, ‘No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.” The old work clothes need not be thrown out if they can’t be repaired with silk, they have a purpose. Cracked bottles may not hold new wine, but the glass can be recycled or can be used in other ways. The old and the new is good, we just have to learn how to balance them and use them in a way that is both helpful and safe.
“And he said, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 9:9, ASV
My husband gets up before I do in the morning. He has to get ready and out the door long before I want to see the light of day. I usually roll out of bed within minutes of his leaving the house, but I’m surely not ready when he gets up. I’m usually in a daze when he kisses me good-bye, barely aware of his presence.
He usually turns on the television in the morning, to check weather and traffic before he leaves for work. It helps him decide what to wear, when to leave and even which route he’ll take to the office. I usually hear the TV but turn over and go back to sleep. This morning was strange, though. I was well aware of the television. I heard the weatherman giving his report and I recognized his voice and the topic of his speaking. However, I could not comprehend a word he said. I tried. I tried to hear the words, to understand the weather report, but no matter how hard I listened, I could not hear.
I heard with my ears, but not with my mind. I knew that I was listening to the weatherman and that he was giving me the weather report, but I had no idea what he was saying. I had a good excuse this morning: I was half asleep. I was hearing in what might be described as a dreamscape. It wasn’t real even though it was real. I couldn’t help but wonder how often I do the same thing even though I’m wide awake. I hear that someone is talking to me, but I do not hear what they are saying. I might hear, but I’m not really listening.
In the verse for today, Jesus says, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus is not simply talking about using the flesh organs to hear the words spoken, but to hear what He is saying. Unfortunately, many of us have ears and we hear but we do not really comprehend. It is like we hear the word of God as in a dream. We hear the words, we recognize the voice, but we quickly forget what He has said. We go to church and hear the Word preached and receive the sacraments only to forget it all the minute we walk out of the door of the building. Jesus wants us to hear in a way that makes a difference in our life. He wants us to be transformed by His Word. He wants us to be prepared to go out in the world and face the temptations and opportunities that are waiting for us. If we only hear the words as in a dream, we’ll never be ready to tell the devil to go away or to tell the world about God’s mercy.
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, ASV
I often talk about our imperfection, about how we will fail as we go about our work in the world. I talk about how temptation has gotten the best of the best of us and that we will never be perfect like our Lord Jesus. I think it is important for us to remember that our flesh is still perishable, even with Christ as our Lord and Savior. We need to remain humble before God in the reality that we will never attain a state equal to God.
The problem we have with this point of view is that we easily use our imperfection to justify our failure. We accept our inability to accomplish the tasks set before us and ignore them. We say we can’t make a difference because we are fallible so we don’t even try. We think that our imperfections make any work for the kingdom impossible, so we step back and wait for God to make it easy. “Give me something I know I can do, Lord, then I will go out in faith.” When we think like this, we have faith in ourselves, not in God.
I saw a movie today that I thought had a very powerful message. It reminded me that we have not just been saved, but we’ve been invited into God’s presence, adopted as children, sent into the world AND equipped with everything we need to accomplish God’s work. We tend to think that it’s ok to be a failure because we know we aren’t perfect and that God will accomplish the work even without us. But in accepting failure we forget that it is not us that are fighting the war, but God in and with us. We should not go with an expectation of failure, but of victory! We are lambs sent out to be slaughtered, but God in us makes us lions. We are facing the wolves, and when we try to do it with our own strength and purpose, we will always fail. But when we remember that God is in us and with us, then we can go out looking for the victory that God has promised.
Remember daily that you are only flesh and blood, but even more so remember daily that you are filled with the God of the universe. The tasks set before you might be scary. They might be dangerous. The world will hate you. The world will even think that it has overcome you. But the world can never overcome the God who is with you. He has already won the victory. Now go out and fight for His Kingdom, take the Gospel message to those who are still imprisoned in the darkness and hand them the invitation to enter into God’s presence. In His time and way, He will always win. We just need to go forth in the faith that God is the Victor and that He has chosen us to be part of His army.
Here is the link if you would like to watch this powerful video. Eric Ludy - The Gospel
Scriptures for Sunday, June 16, 2013, Fourth Sunday After Pentecost: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-14; Psalm 32:1-7; Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-14; Luke 7:36-8:3
“And he said unto the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” Luke 7:50, ASV
In an episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” the character Marshall began a new job in Barney’s office. Marshall wanted to be an environmental lawyer, but his financial situation made that impossible, so he took the job that would support his life with Lily. It was a horrible choice, especially since the company that Barney works for is definitely not environmentally friendly. But even worse, the people who worked in the office were course and crude and it was difficult for Marshall to fit in.
The show begins with a monologue about a book Marshall once read called, “Life Among the Gorillas,” by anthropologist Dr. Aurelia Birnholz-Vazquez. She wrote the book after spending time living among the gorillas. She tells the read how she learned to become like the gorillas so that she would fit in, so Marshall decided to do the same. He went to Barney for advice, practiced a crude story and learned to act like a gorilla, at least the type of animals in the office. The behavior eventually became problematic when it affected his relationship with Lily. She didn’t like the man he was becoming. In one scene, after he’s gotten the trust of his co-workers, Marshall looks at himself in the mirror. What he sees shocks him: he looks like a gorilla.
The scene was humorous, but there are several spiritual lessons to be learned. First of all, it is so easy to become what you pretend to be, easily losing sight of the real as you take on the characteristics of those around you. I don’t know the story of Dr. Aurelia Birnholz-Vazquez, but I image she never really became a gorilla. It was important for her to become like the gorillas in some ways so she could learn from them, but she was still a human being when it was over. When we are trying to fit in with a peer group, however, the differences are not as stark, so we fall into the bad habits without even realizing it.
The other lesson is that sometimes we have to look in the mirror so that we can see ourselves as we really are. In other words, it is easy for us to look at our coworkers and see that they are gorillas, but we don’t see it in ourselves. That’s what happened to Marshall; it took Lily’s love to bring him back. She had to show him that he’d become the very thing he’d despised when he started the job. Though he’d seen himself in the mirror earlier in the show, he thought he could separate what he was doing at the office and how he lived at home. Lily became his mirror when he exhibited the bad behavior at home.
You’ve heard it said that if you point a finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at you. We are quick to make judgments about the actions and behaviors of others, but all too often we are doing exactly the same thing. We might think that we are justified, or that we are doing it differently, but in reality was are all acting like gorillas. We just have to see it. We just have to look in the mirror when we are casting judgment on another and realize that we too are imperfect sinners in need of a Savior.
That’s what we see going on in both our Old Testament and Gospel lesson. In the passage from 2 Samuel, David is faced with the reality of his own sinfulness. In the lesson from Luke, Simon is the one who is invited to look into the mirror. Unfortunately, one of the two never really see themselves as a sinner.
We had an interesting conversation in Sunday School on Sunday about Simon. I’ve always read this passage with a dislike for the Pharisee. He seems to have an ulterior motive. Why did he invite Jesus? How did the woman get into his home? Why didn’t he do anything to stop what he considered wrongful behavior? I think he was trying to catch Jesus in a fallible moment, certainly made clear when he says, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.”
Jesus didn’t need to perceive anything. It was obvious that she was a sinner. She let down her hair, an act of wantonness. She approached a stranger and touched him. She did not act like an honorable woman. His disdain of her is obvious. We don’t know by the text, but I’ve always wondered if Simon knew this woman in ways that he should not have known her. In a story found in John 8, Jesus comes upon a crowd about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus bends down with a stick in hand and writes something on the ground. Some of them walk away. He writes even more and more walk away until He’s left along with the woman. The scene has often been interpreted as one in which Jesus accused the leaders of using women like her. Did Simon have his own dalliances with sinful women?
We don’t know for sure, but it certainly puts a clear connection between the sinners in Jesus’ story. He talks about one debtor owing much and another owing little. “Which of them therefore will love him most?” Simon answers, “The one who is forgiven much.” Jesus points to the woman who honoring Him in a most beautiful way and says, “Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
Did Simon see himself in the story? Did he recognize his own sinfulness? Jesus does not directly judge Simon for any specific action, and it even seems as though Jesus is agreeing that Simon is not as great a sinner as the woman. After all, in cases of adultery, if that’s the situation here, the woman would be to blame even to a greater degree. I don’t think Simon gets it. I don’t think he sees himself in the mirror. We see no act of humility or confession. Though there are other stories about men named Simon, this seems to be this Pharisee’s only appearance in the biblical record. If his purpose for the dinner was to entrap Jesus, it didn’t work. Instead, the woman experienced the incredible grace of God, was forgiven and is held up as a paragon of faith. He is remembered as the one who did not honor Jesus in even the most customary ways.
The story is much different in the Old Testament lesson about David. We know the story: David saw Bathsheba and wanted her. Her husband Uriah was on the battlefield, fighting for David’s kingdom. Bathsheba had little choice in this matter: she was called by the king and she willingly went to him. Unfortunately, the dalliance ended with a pregnancy. David tried to manipulate Uriah to have intercourse with his wife so it would appear the child was his. When that did not work, David had Uriah placed in the front lines. He was killed. Bathsheba went to the palace and became one of David’s many wives.
In our story today, Nathan the prophet approaches David with a story about a rich man who stole the only sheep of a poor man. David was infuriated. “That man deserves to die!” That’s when Nathan held up the mirror. “You are that man.” Unlike Simon, however, David sees the reality of this judgment. He confesses his sin and accepts God’s punishment. “I have sinned against Jehovah.” David recognizes his own sinfulness, not against Uriah and Bathsheba, but against God Himself.
Nathan says, “Jehovah also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” Isn’t it interesting that God forgave David even before David confessed his sinfulness? It is not our confession that brings mercy but God’s love. Jesus had the same love for Simon as He had for the woman; Simon was not willing to receive it.
We don’t much like the ending of this story. Why does God allow the innocent child created in the lustful embrace of two human beings to die? It doesn’t seem fair. In this story we are reminded that though God does forgive us our sins, we have to suffer the consequences of our actions. The death of the child was actually an act of mercy. He would remain a constant reminder of David’s sin. We know that God never stopped blessing David, and even blessed David and Bathsheba’s marriage, because their son Solomon took over the throne. It was Solomon who would lead Israel to greatness, who would build the temple and who would make the world honor their God.
I think it is important to note that it is in this story that we see why David was not allowed to build the Temple. Nathan says, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.” Later, when David wanted to build the Temple, God told him, “No. There is too much blood on your hands.” We know that David was a fierce fighter; he killed thousands of men in battle. He also had to fight constantly for his throne, fighting against even his own children. But it all went back to the innocent blood he drew when he sent Uriah the Hittite into the hands of the Ammonites.
It would be nice and easy if we took on the role of Lily, Jesus or Nathan, by pointing others to look in the mirror. There’s even a place for it, as we take the Gospel of forgiveness to the world. Who will accept mercy that is not necessary? Who will seek forgiveness that is not warranted? Yet, we cannot forget to look into the mirror once in awhile ourselves. We, too, have sinned against God. We, too, have done what’s wrong. We need His mercy and His grace as much as our neighbors. When we are pointing our finger at them, three are pointing back at us. Are we going to respond like David, or Simon?
Simon was a Pharisee who knew the Law of God. He knew what it took to be faithful according to his religious traditions. He was among the righteous of Israel. Or he thought he was. There were those in the early church that had faith in Christ, but also continued to live in that understanding that obedience to the Law was rewarded. In today’s second lesson, Paul addressed the people who thought they were saved, blessed by God, because they were Jews and adherents to the Law. Paul told them that even they are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul writes, “…yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
It is faith that saves and in faith our lives are no longer our own. We are Christ’s and He lives within us and everything we do, we do in faith. Even when we fail—David most certainly sinned again and it is likely the woman did, too—God’s grace holds firm and forgiveness remains. We can’t earn God’s love or keep it ours by our works. God’s grace is ours through faith, not works. He says to us, “I have put away your sin; you shall not die.”
Forgiveness comes first, even before we know we are sinners. David was forgiven even before he confessed his sinfulness. The same is true of the woman in the Gospel story. Whether or not she was planted by Simon to test Jesus, the woman approached Jesus humbly and in tears. Jesus asked, “When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?” He then described how the woman loves Jesus more than the Pharisee. She was responding to the forgiveness that she had not yet received; she had faith that Jesus would be merciful. She was responding to grace of God that comes to us even as we are sinners.
Jesus said to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” She turned to the God of grace and experienced the mercy that He offers so freely. Simon, on the other hand, invited the God of grace into his home but did not recognize Him and did nothing to welcome Him. He missed the most incredible gift, even as it came to him so freely. David experienced the humbling truth of Nathan’s story: he was a sinner in need of God’s grace, and he learned that the forgiveness was there even before he recognized his need.
David’s life was probably much different because of his indiscretion with Bathsheba and Uriah. However, God remained true thought it all. Ultimately that promise was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ who now sits on the throne as King forever. It would take generations for that promise to be fulfilled, and God’s people would fall away from Him repeatedly in those years, but God remained true despite David’s failure and despite the failure of all who followed. In today’s story we see David’s humility and his faith. He believed God’s word and embraced His forgiveness.
David lived in that forgiveness, trusting in the promises of God. The psalm for today is from David; it is a song of thankfulness for God’s mercy. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” David recognized what it took to live in peace: acknowledge sin and receive the forgiveness that God has given so freely even before we recognized our need.
David’s life was changed because of his sin, perhaps not always for the better, but his faith in God never wavered. It does not seem as though Simon’s life was changed by the encounter with Jesus. The woman’s life was most certainly changed. She probably joined the group of women who followed and supported Jesus. Luke tells us about these women: Mary that was called Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many others. These are women who were healed and forgiven, who responded to God’s grace with “their substance.”
Look in the mirror. What do you see? Do you see the gorilla that you’ve become living in this jungle world? Remember: God has already forgiven you. Whatever your sin, whatever your failure, whatever your indiscretion, it is finished. And now, how do you respond? Do you invite Jesus into your life but ignore the reality of your need for His forgiveness? Do you confess your sin against God? Do you humbly approach the Savior and give Him your whole self? There is nothing we can do to earn the grace of God, but that grace is meant to be life-changing. Look in that mirror again; forget the gorilla you once were and see the Christ who now dwells in you. Have you been changed by God’s grace? Will you now go in peace to serve the Lord?
“But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. And if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for even sinners love those that love them. And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much. But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36, ASV
I had two workmen scheduled for yesterday, a plumber and the cable guy. The appointments were set for different time periods, but unfortunately the plumber was extremely late, so they arrived at exactly the same time. I was already frustrated because things were not working and the plumber was late, so it wasn’t going to be good for either workman. It was difficult to deal with two at once. The plumber happily got started on flushing the water heater while I walked the cable guy around to explain my multiple problems.
I have to admit that I’ve been somewhat frustrated by my cable recently. I have a box that sits near me in my office, so I can watch TV in my office and studio. A few months ago I had a problem with my box. It was pixelating and freezing, so I went to the office and traded it in. The next box made a horrible noise. The hard-drive ran constantly; I could even hear it when the TV was on. I called about the problem and they sent a cable guy to make sure that the issue was not something in the wiring. That guy traded the box, but the third box made as much noise as the second. Since I had the guy coming about another issue, I scheduled them to also deal with the box. I also had an issue with my phone.
The minute the guy walked in my house, he had an attitude that made it clear he thought I was an idiot and that none of my problems were really problems. He seemed very inconvenienced by the call, and his attitude made me angry. I was not very eager to hear anything he had to say. The first problem was easy to solve, and I appreciated his information. He turned out to be right about the phone issue, too. He got pretty cocky at this point and really didn’t want to deal with the cable box that was making noise.
I was ready to get rid of the company altogether. I’m very sensitive to noise, and the noise coming out of the box was giving me a headache on a daily basis. It needed to be fixed. He, like the previous guy, kept saying, “They all make noise. It’s a computer, the hard drive runs. The fan runs. It updates. The chance of you getting three bad boxes in a row is impossible. It’s dusty. Etc.” The problem with their excuses is that I never had this problem with boxes in the previous eight years I’ve been with the company. And my other box doesn’t make the noise. He finally agreed to change the box.
On this issue, I was right. The new box is perfect. I don’t hear it at all. What I’ve learned over the past few months is that the local company does not control their inventory. All their boxes are sent from the corporate office where old boxes are refurbished and reused. They have no control. The excuse, “the chance of getting three bad boxes in a row is impossible” is really not true because they aren’t doing a very good job at making the boxes right. They are replacing bad boxes with bad boxes and upsetting their customers.
I am really not one to get angry, but I was for awhile yesterday. I didn’t treat the workman with grace. I argued and complained and threatened to leave the company. I was snotty and, well… a word I would rather not use in this writing. He probably deals with a lot of unhappy customers and he remained absolutely calm through my tirade. I think he should have admitted that he was wrong about the box but he didn’t. Despite this, I knew I was wrong for my attitude and I apologized and thanked him for teaching me a few things.
We all have bad days, but there was no excuse for my actions. Even if he was condescending and unapologetic, it was important to me to restore the rapport even if we never have to deal with one another again. He might not care, but I did. It is up to us to honor God with our words and actions even when (especially when) the world seems to hate us. It doesn’t matter if the world hates us; we are called to love even our enemies, and to be the manifestation of God’s grace on the earth.
“My soul cleaveth unto the dust: Quicken thou me according to thy word. I declared my ways, and thou answeredst me: Teach me thy statutes. Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: So shall I meditate on thy wondrous works. My soul melteth for heaviness: Strengthen thou me according unto thy word. Remove from me the way of falsehood; And grant me thy law graciously. I have chosen the way of faithfulness: Thine ordinances have I set before me. I cleave unto thy testimonies: O Jehovah, put me not to shame. I will run the way of thy commandments, When thou shalt enlarge my heart.” Psalm 119:25-32, ASV
Facebook is the perfect example of how we get bombarded by conflicting information and advice. I have one friend who blogs about healthy eating and exercise habits, another which reposts a dozen new sinfully delicious dessert recipes a day and a third who posts about vegan choices and warnings about the poison found in many foods. These posts are often found right next to each other, interspersed with posts of pictures of rich food from restaurants or friends who have eaten somewhere special. While we might want take the advice of those healthy posters, but it is hard to ignore the delightfully delicious foods we see in the pictures.
We have similar difficulties with posts on politics and religion. Most of the time the posters do not know each other but they are friends of mine, so I see their opposing views of the issues of the day. One will say one thing, and almost as if they are posting a response another will post something that argues. Of course, one friend doesn’t necessarily know the other has posted that point of view, only I see the opposing views on my wall. The conversations under posts can be interesting, too, as people really do argue with one another about these issues. Even this devotional has received posts with opposing points of view.
It is not a bad thing to hear different sides of every story. There is no one who is absolutely correct about everything, and the only way to come to a personal understanding of the issues is to see everyone’s point of view. We can certainly hide the posts of those with whom we disagree or we can unfriend them, but how will we know what is right if we don’t see what is wrong? It is our job to pick through all this information, and then based on that knowledge to make good decisions for our life.
Facebook puts this process onto a 19” monitor and a hard drive, but it is no different than the life we have to live in this world. We are constantly bombarded by conflicting information and advice. We are tempted by things in this world that are not good for us and we are given good, healthy options, not just in food but in every aspect of life. Do we chase after the delicious and self-satisfying opportunities, or do we make choices that are good for our life and the lives of those around us? Do we fall for the temptations that would have us gratify our immediate desires but which might hurt us or those around us eventually? It is not easy to live in this world, but God calls us to live in a way that glorifies Him. Unfortunately, the world is going to make it seem like each choice is the right one, but not everything is according to God’s will.
We don’t have to get on Facebook, but we do have to live in this world. There is no way to avoid the choices that we are offered on a daily basis. But as we live according to God’s word and follow His ways, we will discover the path that will glorify Him, which is the same path that will lead us into a life of peace and joy. Let us choose today the way of faithfulness.
“Like as a father pitieth his children, So Jehovah pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; And the place thereof shall know it no more. But the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, And his righteousness unto children's children; To such as keep his covenant, And to those that remember his precepts to do them.” Psalm 103:13-18 (ASV)
I am not a starving artist. I haven’t really made any money from my art when you take into consideration the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on supplies. I also give away many of my paintings for charity auctions. I’m getting ready for a craft fair in September, and I want to have a large selection, so this past weekend I spent too much time and money on paints, canvases and parts. Thankfully I have a husband who supports me financially and family and friends that encourage me. I’ve even had a few people who appreciate my art enough to buy it. Despite the money spent, I’m able to relax and work on pieces without worrying about food or having a roof over my head.
The same is not true of all artists. Take, for instance, Vincent Van Gogh. I love his work, the creative use of color and texture and the impressionistic images that look like something but not quite. We all have heard that Van Gogh is the perfect example of the starving artist with everything that went along with it: mental illness, loneliness and unrequited love. He cut off his ear and committed suicide. His art was not appreciated while he was alive.
Some of that might be true, but there is so much more to Vincent Van Gogh’s story. He lived from March 30, 1853 to July 29, 1890. He was born the son of a Protestant minister in the Netherlands, one of six children. He said about his childhood, “My youth was gloomy cold and barren.” He went to a boarding school and received some training in the arts, but Van Gogh was unimpressed with institutional education. He became an art dealer at his uncle’s firm when he was just sixteen, but quickly learned to dislike the way the art was treated as a commodity and let his disdain show to his customers.
Van Gogh went through a period of religious fanaticism. He spent some time as a teacher in England and then as an assistant to a Methodist minister, “wanting to preach the gospel everywhere.” He tried to go to school for theology, but failed the exam and then tried missionary school but failed. He did preach, but took his Christianity to such an extreme, living and sharing the hardships of the poor, that he was unable to serve his parish well and the church authorities claimed that he “undermined the dignity of the priesthood.” Though it turned out poorly, his religious work gave him insight into the everyday world which would eventually affect his art. There are those who believe that his mental illness made his art brilliant, but he was a far better artist during his times of lucidity.
His art was very dark and colorless in the beginning, perhaps mirroring the dark and colorless depths of his soul. As he grew as an artist, he became friends with other artists. Those friends encouraged him to use more color. He liked the Impressionist use of light and color, though he did not like how the impressionists separated themselves. Van Gogh was always engaged the world around him and painted scenes that were full of life. He liked to use complimentary colors, like blue and orange together, because the contrasts between these colors bring out the intensity of both. Perhaps that’s why I like Van Gogh: blue and orange is my favorite combination.
I started reading about Vincent Van Gogh a few years ago when I discovered that Don McLean’s song “Starry Starry Night” was actually called “Vincent.” It was about Van Gogh. In the refrain McLean sings, “Now I understand what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free, they would not listen, they did not know how, perhaps they’ll listen now.” I’ve heard it said that Jesus must have been out of his mind to live as He lived and to die as He died. Jesus certainly did not live the same kind of life as Vincent Van Gogh, but in some ways their story is the same. They were unappreciated and unloved, but had a beautiful gift to give. For Van Gogh, it was his art. Jesus gave us eternal life.
The stories we hear about Van Gogh are true, to a point. He did cut off his ear, but it was an accident not unrequited love. In 1890, Van Gogh's difficult life and harsh living caught up to him. He walked into a field and shot himself in the chest with a pistol. The shot did not kill him, so he walked back to his room and died in bed two days later. His last words were “La tristesse durera toujours,” which means, “The sadness will last forever.”
Van Gogh may have had some faith, but his life was not lived faithfully; we may never really know or understand what he was chasing, but it is heartbreaking to think that a man of such talent would never really experience the joy of God’s Kingdom. I am not expecting to become rich from my art, and I doubt that my paintings will ever sell for millions of dollars. Maybe someday I’ll be hanging in a museum, but for now I just hope that I’m able to use my gifts to glorify God. I am thankful that I do not have to be a starving artist while I discover the work God has planned for me to do.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof: neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace.” Romans 6:1-14, ASV
“When we have nothing left but God, we realize that God is enough.” This inspirational message was found embedded on a beautiful picture of a lone person sitting on the very edge of a mountainous outcrop dangling perilously over a lake with majestic mountain cliffs in the background. Despite the world at his feet, the figure is alone and has nothing. It is not surprising that the artist might think of God; it would be hard to be in that position and not wonder at the magnificence of the Creator. The best part of the picture, however, is the second line which said, “But we still shouldn’t sit on cliffs. That’s just dumb.”
I have to admit that I am one of those photographers willing to go the extra mile to get the great shot, and I suspect that I would be tempted to creep to the edge of that outcrop, not to get my picture taken, but to take a picture of the lake and mountains. The unencumbered view from that spot must have been spectacular. I’ll also admit that as I’ve gotten old, I’m less able to do those crazy things. The person in the picture is probably a mountain or rock climber. I’m not sure I would even be able to get up that mountain, let alone crawl to the edge. But I can imagine myself doing it.
I can imagine myself on that outcrop, but I also recognize the danger. I don’t risk my life for a photograph, especially since I have people in my life who need me. I once climbed down a cliff to take a picture of some rocks out in the ocean, but it really wasn’t as dangerous as it sounds. The cliff had a pathway to a ledge which other adventurous people had used. On another occasion, I leaned on a chain link fence that was on the edge of a cliff to get my camera down under it for the shot. I didn’t even try pushing the fence until I checked the fence posts. It might sound dangerous, but I knew there was no way I was going to fall.
We shouldn’t take chances with our lives. We live in trust and faith that God is with us through everything we do, but it is dumb to test His faithfulness. God is truly enough for us in this world, but that doesn’t mean that He is going to save us from our foolishness. The picture shows a pretty extreme example of taking chances with life, but what do we do daily that tests God? Do we drive too fast? Do we make our neighbors angry? Do we risk the future of our children to fulfill some selfish objective? Do we sin just because we know that God will forgive?
God is truly all we need, and His mercy is great. However, let’s not hang out on the cliff of sin just because we know that He has paid the price. We might think we are safe as we creep to that edge, but the danger is very real. We will suffer the consequences of doing something dumb. Rely on God, but don’t test Him. He will forgive when we fail to live up to His expectations; that’s the foundation of our life. The life lived in trust does not take chances even if we know God will always be faithful.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 23, 2013, Fifth Sunday After Pentecost: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 3; Galatians 3:23-4:7; Luke 8:26-39
“And they went out to see what had come to pass; and they came to Jesus, and found the man, from whom the demons were gone out, sitting, clothed and in his right mind, at the feet of Jesus: and they were afraid.” Luke 8:35, ASV
They saw the man in his right mind and they were afraid. Wouldn’t you be relieved? Wouldn’t you be happy? Wouldn’t you rejoice that one from among you had been healed?
We like to think so, but I wonder if we would respond exactly as the people from the city. After all, they’d been dealing with the demoniac for some time. They knew his ways. They knew when to avoid him. Though they had not been able to control the man, at least they knew what to expect of him. They did not know this new man. He was healed and in his right mind at that moment, but would it last? What would happen when Jesus left? Would he continue to live a normal life or would the demons come back with a vengeance?
I always looked at this story from the point of view that the people were afraid because Jesus killed their herd of pigs. While they might have been upset about the loss, the verse from Luke tells us that they were afraid because they saw the man in his right mind. They seem to be more afraid of him after he was made whole than they were when he was violent and crazy.
They were afraid of Jesus, too. After all, He’d done something none of them could do, and He did it in a most extraordinary way. We tend to look at stories like this and assume that the people understood what was making the man crazy. But did they know that he was possessed by demons? In our modern world, we do not look at mental illness from a spiritual perspective. Many have written off the supernatural aspects of this story, claiming that the man’s problems were entirely biological, despite what the scriptures say. We know so much more about the body, about the inner workings of the human flesh and organs. We know things can go seriously wrong and that they can cause a man to do incredible things. And so we ignore the possibility that someone’s problems might just be spiritual or supernatural.
Perhaps they did, too. Jesus was in Gentile country, so perhaps they had a less superstitious understanding of health issues. Perhaps the casting out of the demons was too extraordinary for them. They tried to control the man with human means, by chaining and guarding him, without considering the real problem needed a different kind of help. The herdsmen saw what happened and told the townspeople what had happened, and at that point the people asked Jesus to leave. Did they prefer to think of the man as sick and reject Jesus because they were afraid of someone who would dabble in the supernatural?
What would happen to the man now that he was healed? He saw the reaction of the townspeople. They were afraid of him, and they were afraid of the One who made him whole. Would they accept him into their society? Would they reject him? How would he get along if he could not find a job or a home or the love of friends and family? He knew his best choice would be to follow Jesus.
Now, we know that Jesus had more than just the twelve followers, although we do not know how many stayed with Jesus all the time. In last week’s text, women are named who supported His ministry. In another story, He sent out seventy to go heal and teach. There were probably more than a hundred in the Upper Room before Pentecost. So, why would Jesus send this one man away, this one man who might be going to face rejection? He certainly may have been useful to the ministry.
This story takes place on the other side of the lake, in the country of the Gerasenes. It was obvious that the people of that region were not yet ready to hear about the Kingdom of God. They were too afraid. But the man who had been healed had something they did not yet have: faith. He had experienced the love and mercy of God in a very real way. He had a story to tell, and a passion to tell it. Who better to prepare the soil than one who has seen God face to face?
During Sunday School on Sunday when we discussed this passage, one member of our group asked, “Why does Luke tell us this story now? What does he want us to know from it?” I looked back into the eighth chapter of Luke and saw how it is placed in context. In the beginning of that chapter, Jesus tells the crowds, and then explains to the disciples, the story of the farmer who scattered seed. Some fell on the path, others on the rocks and yet others in the thorns. Some seed fell on good soil. The parable means that the seed that falls on good soil will bear much fruit.
Jesus goes on to talk about telling our story: let your light shine. He tells the disciples that His brothers and sisters are those who do the work He has called them to do. He calmed the storm and their fear. And then Jesus healed the demon possessed man and a few others. The demon possessed man is sent back into his home country, the land of the Gentiles, to tell his story, share how God calmed his storm and removed his fears. That man will “prepare the soil” in that country; the soil here is the hearts of those who do not know God. Jesus will return to the region sometime in the future, and by then His name will be known by many. Then they will come, and the Word of God will bear much fruit.
Luke tells us that the man “went his way, publishing throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done for him.” He didn’t just tell one or two folk about Jesus. He went about publishing all the great things Jesus had done for Him. Jesus told him to do this, to share the good news with the people in his home. Jesus cared for the Gentiles as much as He cared for the sheep of His own flock. He wanted them to know, so He sent a messenger ahead to announce the grace of God. This word spread, and when it came time for Jesus—and the disciples after Him—to visit the Gentiles, the soil was read and the seeds of faith had already been planted.
We might think that the Jews were better able to receive the Christ who was sent by their God, but they aren’t much different. In the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah we see how they failed to see the mercy and faithfulness of God. This passage is the beginning of the end of the book. After sixty-four chapters of warnings, calls to repentance, and promises for salvation, God speaks to the people. They are a people who have found something they think is better than God, things they think will save them better than God. Whether it is neighbor, ally, friend or self, they think they do not need God. They want to go their own way, make their own path, and be independent without the helper that is waiting, much like the Gentiles in the Gerasenes.
God does not speak well of His people. They do not call on His name. They are rebellious. They walk in a way that is not good. They follow their own devices. They provoke God, make improper sacrifices and offerings. They follow rituals, eat food and do things that are abominable to God. These things are cultic, practices done by the religions that were popular in the day of Isaiah: they were worshipping false gods. God says, “They say, ‘Stand by thyself; come not near me, for I am holier than thou.’” God’s people had declared themselves holier than Him!
God offered help to His people, but they refused. They took control of their own lives and learned about the consequences of their independence. Yet, there is always promise in the Word of God. He would not be silent. Despite their sin, He was still there for them. He was still ready to be their God and to lead them in the ways of righteousness and truth. Despite their hatred, He offered them a promise: someday they would see Him again and they would turn to Him. Someday they would be saved and they would inherit all that He had to give them. That promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The people on that lakeshore were not ready to be saved. They still wanted to control their own world. They wanted to chase after their own gods. Yet, God reached out to them, offered them the same promise. He sent a messenger to prepare their hearts. He wouldn’t be silent for them, too. The seed of Jacob was sent for the whole world. Faith is not a gift that is limited by borders: everyone is invited to trust in God.
It took the early Christians a long time to accept this. So much of the New Testament witness has to do with correcting the errors of dealing with the Gentile Christians. Some wanted them to convert to Judaism before becoming Christian. They wanted to the Gentiles to follow the Law of Moses as they had for so long. They were insisting that only those under the Law could truly be saved. And yet Jesus went out of His way to introduce the Kingdom of God to those outside His Law.
Paul writes, “But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” There was a before and an after. The Old Covenant was given to point us toward the New. The Law was given to guide God’s people until the day when Christ would establish the New Covenant. In Christ we no longer live under the Law. We live under grace. Before Christ we were prisoners to the Law, but Jesus sets us free to live in faith. This freedom is given to all who believe, even those who were not born under the Law.
Paul writes, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.” It didn’t matter who they were or where they came from. It didn’t matter if they had a pedigree or a genealogy that went back to Father Abraham. Those that believe are adopted as sons, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are not slaves to sin or death or the Law no matter who we are because we have been redeemed by God’s Son, Jesus Christ. By faith we are sons of Abraham and heirs to God’s promises.
You would think that the healing of the man possessed of demons would have caused those witnesses to believe in Jesus. But they did not see it through the eyes of faith. They saw it through their fear. A man, one of their own, was healed of the most horrific ailment, but they did not care. When they heard what Jesus had done, they asked Him to leave. God spoke to the Jews, “I have revealed myself to a people that did not call my name,” but these words are as true for the Gentiles in the Gerasenes. The Gentiles weren’t looking for God, but Jesus showed Himself to them. The man was the only one to believe and though he wanted to follow Jesus, Jesus sent him home to prepare the soil.
We are called to be disciples of Christ through faith, to go out and share our witness with the world. Our stories might be met with fear and doubt, but that’s not our concern. We are sent to prepare the soil, to make the way for God’s Kingdom to enter into their lives. Jesus saves us from our own demons and
sends us out into the cities to tell everyone about His mercy and all he has done for us. We are called to sing His praises so that the whole world will see. They may reject God at first, but He will come to reveal Himself again and again. As we tell our story they will see Him revealed and be ready to receive His grace when He does.
“These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.” 1 John 5:13-15, ASV
Kate Hankey loved Jesus and her greatest desire was to take Him into the world. She grew up in London, in a Christian home where the family often gathered with friends for Bible Study. Kate eventually started her own studies, taking her knowledge of the scriptures to the girls of her neighborhood and the women who worked in the factories of London. She wanted the poor and downhearted to see the grace of God.
Kate was about thirty years old when she became seriously ill. Her doctor insisted that she must stop her Bible studies for a time, and she spent nearly a year in bed. Though she was not able to share the Gospel with her students, she did not stop telling the story of Jesus. She spent the year writing poetry, including a long poem in two parts, “The Story Wanted” and “The Story Told.” This poem eventually became two beloved hymns, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” and “I Love to Tell the Story.”
It doesn’t matter how well we know the story or how firm we stand in God’s grace, we all have moments of doubt and fear. We all have moments when we need to hear the Gospel story to remind us that we have eternal life. John may have written his letter to a people who were knew in faith, but the words are written for us, too. Despite two thousand years of Christianity, we still need to be assured that God’s promises are true.
My favorite verse of “I Love to Tell the Story” is the third one. “I love to tell the story, for those who know it best; Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest; And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song; ‘Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.” We do hunger and thirst to hear the words of grace as much (perhaps even more) than those who have never heard them at all. John assures us that the message we have heard, the message we have told, is real and true. God’s promises are real and true. God is faithful.
And so this day, let us tell the story, shout the story, sing the story, paint the story, write the story, live the story, share the story with everyone we meet. The story is true; we are assured of eternal life in Christ. Like John, we are sent into the world to remind each other that God is listening and He is willing to answer our prayers according to His good and perfect will. He hears those who pray in faith and He is gracious for all who believe.
“But as for me, I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God: I trust in the lovingkindness of God for ever and ever. I will give thee thanks for ever, because thou hast done it; And I will hope in thy name, for it is good, in the presence of thy saints.” Psalm 52:8-9, ASV
My son is home for the summer. He goes to college too far from home, so we do not get to see him very often. Last summer he worked at a summer camp, and we didn’t see him much. This is the first time in nearly two years that he’s ‘lived’ at home. I am glad to have him around, especially since it won’t be very long before he’ll be moving out on his own, beginning the rest of his life. I am thankful.
He managed to get a pretty good job for the summer. He’s working as a golf coach in town, helping children and youth with their game. It’s a part time job, although he’ll have more hours during the weeks that they have camp. Considering the fact that many kids haven’t found any jobs, let alone jobs they enjoy, Zack’s pretty lucky. He’ll have a few dollars to enjoy himself this summer and to take back to school in the fall. I am thankful.
Unfortunately, Zack does not have his own car. Thankfully, we have a car he can use. Of course, it means that I either have to drive him to work, or I’m left home without a vehicle. It isn’t so bad during the non-camp weeks because he only needs it two weekdays. This week has been a little difficult, however; he’s worked almost every day. I’ve had to plan a little more carefully and take care of my errands on days and at times that are out of the ordinary for me. It is a little bit harder to be thankful when our lives are turned upside down by our blessings.
I know that it sounds like I’m complaining, and perhaps I am. I am truly thankful that Zack is home, that he has a job and that we have a car he can use to get back and forth. I am thankful for all our blessings. I wonder, however, if I would even notice how blessed I truly am if I hadn’t been inconvenienced by it all.
Think about your life: when do you notice your blessings? Do you pay attention to them every day, or do you notice them when something has gone wrong? Do you thank God for your health every day, or do you only think about it when you wake with aches and pains? Do you thank God for your job every day, or do you only think about it when someone you know and love has lost theirs? Do you thank God for your car? For the food on your table? For the clothes on your back? Or do you only think about these things when you are missing them for some reason? Do we thank God in our comfort, or only think about it when we are uncomfortable?
It is good to be thankful for our blessings in good times and in bad. May we always remember that the inconveniences of life may make life a little harder, but that they also remind us that our God and our lives are blessed.
“I will bless Jehovah at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in Jehovah: The meek shall hear thereof, and be glad. Oh magnify Jehovah with me, And let us exalt his name together. I sought Jehovah, and he answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were radiant; And their faces shall never be confounded. This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of Jehovah encampeth round about them that fear him, And delivereth them. Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him.” Psalm 34:1-8, ASV
Over the weekend, millions of people took time to stop and look at the moon, which was called a supermoon because it was closer than it usually is. As a matter of fact, the reporters said that the moon was closer than it has been in a very long time. At its peak, the supermoon appeared 14% larger than normal, and because it was so large and close it was brighter than usual. Many people took photographs of this incredible moon, getting much more detailed views with relatively unsophisticated gadgets.
How often do we notice the moon? Do we go out onto our patios to watch the moon on a normal evening? We will take the time to look if we know that something special is happening, like an eclipse, conjunction or supermoon, but do we see it on the other nights? For most of us, the moon is something that is there, and we go about our night, or day, without paying attention.
I think that’s true of so many things. During our daily drive to work or the grocery store we pass a million wonderful things to see, but all too often we pass without seeing. We don’t use our sense of sight to enjoy the beauty of God’s world; we only use our sight as is necessary. Of course, this is a good thing when we are driving a car, but do we take the time to notice how beautiful our rose bush looks, to see the birds that have nested in our trees, to see how much our children have grown and matured? There is so much we can see with our eyes that we ignore or simply don’t notice because they are so ordinary. Only at extraordinary moments do we really see.
We can say the same thing with our other senses. Do we really pay attention to the smells and sounds around us? Do we experience the different textures of our world with our hands? Do we enjoy the flavors of all our food, even that box of macaroni and cheese we cooked for our children’s lunch? Today is Celebrate the Senses day according to a website that lists all the “Bizarre, Crazy, Silly, Unknown Holidays & Observances.”
God has given us our senses so that we can be aware of His big and wonderful world in so many different ways. We can hear laughter, see rainbows, smell fresh baked bread, taste chocolate and feel furry kittens. We have, and use, these senses every day, but do we really embrace what we are hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling? Do we thank God with every experience of our senses? We could, and should, celebrate our senses every day, but like the moon we usually ignore the wonderful opportunities we have because they seem so ordinary.
We only notice these things when there is something unusual about it. That beautiful rose bush outside our front door is extraordinary, but because we see and smell it every day we do not even notice. We savor the steak that we buy at the steakhouse, but barely even taste the meatloaf on our own table. We listen to the symphony at the theater, but we do not even hear our children when they tell us a story about their day. We bask in the warmth of a fine fur coat but do not even pay attention when we are folding our old t-shirts. We are thankful at those moments when we are experiencing something extraordinary, but do not even notice the everyday blessings.
So, on this Celebrate the Senses day, pay attention to everything you hear, see, feel, taste and smell. Thank God for the everyday experiences He has made possible through our ears, eyes, fingers, mouths and noses. Thank God for the ordinary sounds, sights, textures, foods and smells. Thank God for making it possible to experience His big, beautiful world in such an intimate and commonplace way. Taste and see (and feel and smell and hear) that the Lord is Good!
“Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin: and ye have forgotten the exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons, My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, Nor faint when thou art reproved of him; For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. It is for chastening that ye endure; God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastening, whereof all have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed good to them; but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness. Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down, and the palsied knees; and make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame be not turned out of the way, but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:1-13, ASV
Vines can be beautiful. We’ve all see those spectacular pictures of ancient castles or stone houses covered in ivy. There’s something romantic and mysterious about what lies under and behind those leaves that spread so easily. But those same beautiful vines are actually very destructive. The tendrils dig into the mortar between the rocks or bricks and eats away at it until the walls are not stable. Years of mismanagement often leads to fallen walls. Ivy can also destroy plants and trees.
It is important to keep ivy at bay. You can allow the ivy to be a part of your landscape, but you should train it to go where you want it to go. You can provide climbing trellises so that the ivy does not need to grasp onto the walls or trees, but remember that it will keep growing beyond that if you don’t constantly keep it trimmed.
Now, we’ve been in our new house for just over a year. Slowly, but surely, we have been clearing out the landscaping, making it neat and tidy. We’ve even planted a few new plants around the yard, including some rose bushes. It takes time, but we are getting there. We don’t really have an issue with ivy on the house, but we do have different types of ivies in the gardens.
We have a pathway to a side door that I like to use. It is near my studio, so I go out there to spray varnish my paintings or do other tasks that require good air ventilation. It was getting difficult to do those things because the plants on were growing over the sidewalk. We haven’t gotten to this area in earnest, yet, and there’s no way I could do it all today, but I decides to start by trimming the branches. I have to admit that I went a little crazy and left behind a large pile of branches, but I can now really see what works needs to be done and which plants really need to be removed to make the garden pretty again.
The biggest job is to get rid of the ivy that is taking over. I managed to pull out several long vines, but I wasn’t able to deal with them down to the roots, which means that they will just start growing again. This type of ivy does not make it easy. First of all, the tendrils are incredibly strong. I could not believe how hard it was to pull the ivy off the tree branches. Most of the ivy I managed to remove today was connected to branches I trimmed from other plants. I found myself chopping the ivy just so I could get the branches out of the mess.
I tried to find the ends of the vine to cut them down to the roots, but that led me to the discovery of the other problem with this ivy. The bottom two or three feet of this particular type of ivy is covered in very sharp thorns. There is no way to grab hold of the vine near the ground. I managed to scratch myself several times and poke my fingers more times than I can count. I got as much out as I could, but in some places I’m sure I just cut the vine from its roots to wither away. We will get more out as we continue to clear out that area, and perhaps the dead vines will be easier to deal with later.
Sin is a lot like ivy. It might look good on the outside, but underneath it destroys. Like ivy, sin worms its way into our lives and grabs on with tendrils that will not let go. It is destructive and even deadly. It is easier to remove the sins that are apparent because digging in to the roots of our sin is very painful. We might make an impact by cutting the vine, but the roots will just keep sending out vines. We have to deal with it to the very roots. We may suffer a bit in the process of reforming our lives, but in the end we will find that everything will be better without it: our relationships with God and our neighbors, our health, our happiness, our peace.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 30, 2013, Sixth Sunday After Pentecost: 1 Kings 19:9b-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
“For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1, ASV
It is easy to become exhausted when you feel the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It is also easy to run away when you think that what you are doing is not worth your time or energy. We think that we are the only ones who care. We think that we are the only ones willing to do anything. We think we are all alone. And that’s when we burn out. That is when we give up. That’s what happened to Elijah.
I began the devotion for this text three years ago with that same first paragraph. This story of Elijah is one that we all have identified with at some point in our lives. Of course, many would say that Elijah was just having a pity party, that his attitude was selfish and self-centered. The same might be true of our own moments of melancholy and hopelessness. Elijah repeatedly whines to God, “I have been very jealous for Jehovah, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword: and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” We just want to say, “Suck it up, Elijah, this is what God called you to do.” We want to say that, unless we are the ones who have been passionate for God and we see the world around us falling apart.
We wonder what we are doing wrong. We get frustrated because we know we can’t do it alone. We begin to wonder if we are hearing God’s voice correctly. “Is this really what God intends in His word and my calling? We see no way of making things better. We might as well just hide in a cave and let the world come to an end without us. It is easy to give up and give in. Why should we fight if it seems as though God isn’t fighting with us? If God were fighting, wouldn’t He be winning?
What we don’t know is what God has planned for the future. Sometimes the world has to come crashing down around us so that He can lift it up again. Sometimes we need to hit the bottom of the barrel before He can make pickles. We have that pity party because we just don’t want the worst to happen to us. Being drowned in vinegar doesn’t sound all that satisfying. We understand Elijah’s point of view; at least we have some perspective from our own life. We might not be upset because enemies are trying to kill us, but our own little corner of the world can fall apart in so many ways: relationships, work, health.. We do not understand how God can abandon us when we are so passionate about doing His work.
Quite frankly, when we are in the midst of one of our pity parties, we’d like to see God come in power and do something very dramatic. We’d like to see Him come in wind or earthquake or fire. As a matter of fact, there are those who claim that God has spoken through the wind of a hurricane or the ruin of an earthquake or the black ash of a fire. It happens all too often after a natural disaster as people try to come to terms to what has happened. “It is a sign from God” someone will say, suggesting that God is punishing those who are suffering.
Perhaps that’s what Elijah was hoping for in today’s Old Testament story. But he learned that God is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. God speaks to us in a still small voice. He speaks to us in a whisper. Elijah immediately knew that it was God, and he wrapped his face in his cloak so as not to look upon God and went out to the voice.
God asks, “What are you doing here?” Elijah was obviously not where God intended him to be. God commands and commissions us to do His work, but He never controls us like we are puppets on a string. We have free will. We have the ability to say “No.” We can walk away. But when we do, God will come looking for us. “What are you doing here,” He’ll ask because He knows there’s a better place for us to be. When we want to hide in the cave and let the world fall apart without us, God will find us and send us back out to continue to do His work. The party isn’t over until God’s Will is done, and God knows the best way to accomplish it. That’s why He called you to do whatever it is that He has ordained for your life.
But it’s hard to hear that calling if we are too busy trying to call down wind and earthquakes and fire on our enemies. The trouble with this attitude is that we are trying to do it ourselves. We think we are all alone, forgetting that God is with us. And, Elijah learns, that there are many more like him who have not fallen away from God. We aren’t alone. We have God. And God knows those whom are also called to help us do His work in the world.
I like this story, but not all of it. I like the reminder that God speaks in a whisper. But the story goes on to tell about Elijah’s next task. He was sent to anoint two new kings and to share his power and authority with a new prophet, and they would deal with God’s unfaithful people. Hazael would kill some, Jehu would kill those who escaped and Elisha would finish off the remaining people who did not fall under Hazael and Jehu. It is hard to juxtapose such a horrific plan with the loving God we know from the New Testament. The purpose of this task is to destroy the house of Ahab, and while we might see this as a horrific act of war, God’s intent was to remove the people who were keeping His people from Him. It was Ahab and Jezebel who were leading God’s people down a dangerous and deadly road. Elijah was not the only one who was threatened; the whole nation would die. Sending forth three men with the military might and authority to destroy a whole people might seem extreme, but their sin had become too great.
Today we know God from the Messianic point of view, after Christ, and these Old Testament stories do not always make sense. And yet they are necessary to our complete understanding of God. It was necessary for God to turn His people back to Him. Just as He turned Elijah away from his pity party and set him again on the right path, God had to set His people on the right path. This story does not just show us God’s wrath, it reminds us of God’s grace in the midst of it. There would be seven thousand saved. Now, that number might not be a literal number, but instead is symbolic of the greatest number of those who were still bowing before the Lord. Seven is a number of divinity, and a thousand was often used to refer to ‘a really big number.’
Have you ever read about the horrific wars played out in Medieval Europe? When you read about these battles, it often sounds as if thousands, perhaps even millions are being killed. The fields were covered in blood! Bodies were everywhere! We imagine these battles from our perspective. We see hundreds of thousands on one field when the reality is much different. The Battle of Hastings, one of the most famous of the battles in England, took place in 1066 between William the Conqueror of Normandy and Harold Godwinson who was the leader of the Anglo-Saxons in England. Each army had fewer than ten thousand soldiers. Though record keeping was not very thorough, it is thought that about six thousand men died on that battlefield. We imagine that this great battle was between hundreds of thousands of soldiers and that a hundred thousand people died, but the reality is much smaller. We created a bomb that killed 200,000 people in a matter of minutes. It is no wonder we see any war as disgraceful.
What we have to remember is that God was restoring His people to Himself, and to do so meant cleansing the nation of those who had rejected Him. This was not an act of vengeance on His part. It was an act of grace. Which is worse: death or living forever apart from God?
The scriptures give us plenty of examples of ways that seem harsh to make things right. A washerwoman pounds the clothes with rocks until they are clean. A goldsmith heats the metal to extreme temperatures to burn away the impurities. The vinedresser prunes the grape vines. This story doesn’t sit well with our sensibilities, but in it we see that God makes things right in the end. Seven thousand were saved from the sword. Seven thousand were still faithful. Elijah was not alone.
I think it is interesting that even though God spoke to Elijah, he didn’t stop his pity party. He went out along the road as God instructed, but look at how he met Elisha. “So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed over unto him, and cast his mantle upon him.” He didn’t stop. He didn’t tell Elisha to follow him. He just threw his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders and kept moving.
Elisha ran to him and told him that he would follow, but first he had to tie up some loose ends at home. Elijah answered, “Go back again; for what have I done to thee?” Even after he heard God’s voice and agreed by doing what God said, Elijah did not think that anyone really cared enough to do God’s work. “Yeah, whatever” Elijah said. Haven’t we all had the same attitude when we were in such a pity party?
But Elisha did follow. Unlike the stories we see in the New Testament, Elisha’s call story allows him to go home, to sacrifice his cattle and say good-bye to his family. He was allowed to break his past so that he could start anew. He was called from one life to another and was given the time to finish the business of his family.
God does not force us to our tasks, He calls us. Does He let go easily? No. We see that in Elijah’s story. He will ask why we are not where we should be. He will search us out to the very ends of the earth and remind us that He will be with us in His work. But He doesn’t force us to do anything. Paul writes, “For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another.” Elijah wanted to hide away in his cave and let the world fall apart without Him. But God had a plan and Elijah was part of that plan. He could stay in the cave and save himself. He could ignore this command to anoint the kings and prophet who would destroy so many. And perhaps he could justify ignoring it because it seemed like the loving thing to do.
But the reality is that allowing people to live in their sin does not show love. It is the selfish and self-centered choice. Love means helping God’s living according to His word, which is good and right and true. Paul writes, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” We are called to help our neighbors live so that they will inherit eternal life.
Imagine how Jesus’ followers must have felt at this point in His story. He was doing good work among them. For them, it was more than enough. After all, they were eating well, being healed, hearing good stories. They knew that a trip to Jerusalem was dangerous for Jesus. They certainly heard the threats against Jesus’ life and ministry. Why go to where they want to kill you? Jesus, unlike Elijah, knew that His purpose lie in the city. He would not turn left or right, but would head straight into the hands of his enemies. The plan was right. His death was vital. He couldn’t stay hidden among friends when God was sending Him to be slaughtered.
Isn’t it funny that the disciples wanted to bring hellfire down on the village that would not accept Jesus? There it is again, our desire to take matters into our own hands. But while there might have been good reason for Hazael and Jehu and Elisha to use the sword, at this point the wrath of God was destined to one body: Christ’s.
On that road Jesus met a man who wanted to follow Him. He said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” The life following Christ is hard. The man may have been under the impression that Jesus was going to be king. Following Jesus would never lead to a palace. It will always lead to a cross.
In another story, Jesus called a man to follow but the man said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” This may seem like a plausible reason to postpone following Jesus, but it is likely that the man’s father was not yet dead. In other words, the man was telling Jesus, “I’ll be glad to join you when my life circumstances change.” Unfortunately, we often put off following Jesus until a better time. Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” How often do we push aside the work of God’s kingdom to do the tasks of this world that do not change lives or glorify God?
A third man tells Jesus, “I’ll follow you Lord, but first…” In this case, the man just wants to say good-bye to his family. Isn’t that just what Elisha did? Yet, Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Elisha went back, but he didn’t stay there. He broke all ties, getting rid of his cattle, saying farewell to the people in his town. He didn’t just say good-bye; he left his past forever. Are we willing to give up everything for the sake of the Gospel? Are we willing to give up our pity parties and go where God is leading us, no matter what we will face on that path?
The works of the flesh as listed by Paul are part of the old life that we must leave behind. At times these are quite easy to recognize and yet sometimes we do not even realize we are sinning against God with our works. It is easy to see idolatry when the god we are worshipping is a stone figurine. It is not so easy when our idols are our philosophical points of view. We are just like those men on the road to Jerusalem with an easy excuse like “now is not the time,” or “let me take care of something first.”
The life God expects from us looks so much different. Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.” The works of the flesh destroy. The works of the Spirit shine God’s light. That light is not always unicorns and fairy wands. It isn’t glitter and roses. It is hard work, and we might be called to do some things that we simply do not want to do. We might be called to face an enemy. But God’s light will shine when we do what is good and right and true to help them find their way toward God’s Kingdom.
Paul reminds us to stand firm in the Gospel so that we will not be burdened by our sinful flesh. That includes the self-centered and selfish pity parties we like to have when we feel like God is sending us into a mean and hurtful world. We seek the freedom to pursue our desires and yet it is our desires that keep us in bondage. James and John had the power to call down fire on the Samaritan village, and yet their desire to do so was keeping them in bondage to their anger and hatred.
Life in Christ does not give us the freedom to do what we want, but the new life we have in Him frees us from our desire to follow our flesh. In Christ we are freed from this world to serve others in love and mercy. The cost of discipleship is great. It means letting go of the past and putting God first. It means living in freedom from our flesh for the sake of others, loving as God loves us. David wrote in today’s psalm, “Their sorrows shall be multiplied that give gifts for another god.” While our gods might not require our blood, they do tempt us to set God aside while we pursue the desires of our flesh. David continued, “I have set Jehovah always before me: Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” We may face Jezebels and inhospitable Samaritans in this world, and we might be sent to do some hard work. But with God at our side we can be faithful.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6, ASV
The television show “Seinfeld” was very popular because it used the ridiculous and mundane to make the people laugh. One episode of the show focused almost entirely on George’s fear of a doll his girlfriend had in the bedroom. The doll looked almost exactly like George’s mom. He could not stand the piercing eyes looking at him all the time, and tried to get rid of it. He thought it was talking to him. His adventures with this doll brought many good laughs for the audience.
I have to laugh as I recall the episode because I once found a doll that looked just like my own mother. We were at the mall and stopped into the card shop to buy some cards. I took a few moments to look at the different types of gifts. Hanging from the ceiling were a bunch of adorable angel dolls, not the cutesy kind. These dolls had wrinkled faces and outlandish costumes, caricatures of the blue haired and red hat women. The faces were very realistic. With shock I realized one of them looked just like my mom. It was so cute I almost purchased on the spot, but it was too expensive. On our way home, I could not decide if having such a thing in the house would be freaky or cool. My husband was extremely glad I didn’t buy it. I definitely miss my mom who has been gone for too many years, but I’m not sure a cutesy little doll would have eased my grief.
I think about her often and am thankful for how much she did for me. As my children grew and demanded my attention, I remembered all the hours she spent making clothes and costumes, driving me to practices and meetings, being involved in the things that interested me. I don’t remember her teaching me how to cook or sew or many of the other things she did for us, but I remember watching her do those things. Her recipes live on at my dining table. I can manage to hem a pair of pants if it is needed. She passed on her love of crafts which keeps me busy. There are many times I realize how much I learned from my mom even though she didn’t teach me directly, because she taught me by her example. I hope my children will be able to say the same when they are parents.
George could not stand the thoughts of having a doll that looked like his mother staring over him day after day. I saw that doll many years ago and sometimes I regret not purchasing it. I think it would be much easier to enjoy it now than it would have been at that time. It is too late, but I don’t really need a doll to help me remember my mom. I remember her when I make macaroni and cheese or sew a button on a shirt. It is such a blessing when I remember mom in those daily tasks and mundane ways knowing that I learned a great deal from her over the years that have helped me accomplish the things I have done for my own children. It is a joy to see them now that they are grown, using the life skills they picked up from my own daily work. I don’t have to worry about them because I know that they are on the right path. Even when I am no longer around, they will know what to do.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us: hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” 1 John 4:7-21, ASV
I saw a slide show that had pictures and fun facts about “38 Real Size Comparisons That Will Make Your Head Explode.” It showed the difference between Earth’s largest mountains and canyons and some that are found on the planet Mars. There was a picture of Andre the Giant holding a can of beer, his hand dwarfing the can. There were pictures of the smallest and largest cats and comparisons between many different natural and man-made items. One of the pictures showed a map of England and France with the English Channel between. The words said, “The popular Game of Thrones series is how long? If written as a single sentence in a 12 point font it would cross the English Channel. That’s about thirty miles. And George RR Martin hasn’t even finished the last two books.
The facts were interesting, but there was one that really touched me. It said, “The Milky Way is 100,000 light years across.” The Milky Way is, of course, the Galaxy where Earth is located. We can see the stars in our galaxy with our naked eye to about 2000 light years. To understand how far we can see, a light year equals about 5,878,499,810,000 miles. That’s nearly six trillion miles for each light year. The facts go on to say that if the Milky Way were the size of a quarter, the visible stars would fit into the “O” in “In God We Trust.” On this scale, the picture went on to say, the visible universe would be a ball about 25 miles across. “Imagine how hard it would be to find a single quarter on the island of Manhattan and you’ll see how tiny a part of the universe we are.”
Now, let’s put this into personal context. We humans are not the ball. We are not the quarter. We are not even the letter “O” in “In God We Trust.” I’m not sure we could even identify ourselves as the size of the atoms that make up the metal in the quarter, or even the parts of those atoms. Compared to the universe, we are so tiny that we would be invisible to even the highest powered microscopes that human beings have invented. And the entirety of God’s creation goes well beyond the visible universe, so far that we cannot even imagine how big it is. We are not even a grain of sand or a speck of dust. Even as a whole, the human race throughout time and place would not be visible in the example.
If we couldn’t find a single quarter on the island of Manhattan, imagine how hard it would be to find one single human being in God’s entire creation. And yet, despite the odds, God found you. He called you. He touched you. He changed you. He adopted you. He loves you. You are nothing and yet the God who created the heavens and earth has given everything to make you His. Wow. If the God of the heavens and earth can love us who are so insignificant, should we not love our neighbor who is such a large part of our world?