Welcome to the June 2018 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2018
June 1, 2018
“He entered into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for a period of three months, reasoning and persuading about the things concerning God’s Kingdom. But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all those who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” Acts 19:8-10, WEB
I love to visit yard sales. As they say, “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.” Some of my greatest purchases were found at yard sales. I have a twelve-place setting of milk glass luncheon plates and cups that I found at two separate sales in two different states. I have found some great toys and clothes for the kids. You never know what sort of treasure might be found at the house next door.
I don’t like having a sale nearly as much as I like visiting others. You work hard to gather together a mess of stuff that might be treasures for other people, put it on display with prices you think they might be willing to pay. The funny thing is that when it is your own sale and stuff, it isn’t so much junk, but just things you no longer need or have room to keep. Its hard to watch treasures sold for a dime or a quarter.
After you work hard to set up your sale, you sit and wait. All day long people wander in. There’s always a guy on your doorstep before you are even ready asking to buy at ridiculously low prices. Some people buy. Some people don’t. Some people even whisper that there is nothing but junk on the tables or grumble about prices. After a few hours, you realize that even though you have made a few dollars, it really wasn’t worth the time or energy. For a long time, I packed all the leftovers in a box to save for the next sale. After a few sales, when the same items were packed in the box over and over again, I realized that it was pointless to keep it. So, now we give it away so that it will help someone else.
There comes a time in most things when you simply have to learn to move on. This is particularly true when it comes to sharing our faith. It is good, right and true to tell the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ with all those who pass us on our journey. It is pointless, however, to try to force our faith on anyone else. We simply speak the forgiveness and salvation that is found in Christ, then we let God do the work. Sometimes we find someone interested, someone who is willing to continue the conversation, asking questions, seeking more. At other times, they reject what we say and refuse to believe. Paul experienced this often in his missionary journeys and he knew when to move on.
We know there is still value in the things we want to sell and we don’t like rejection, so we keep trying to sell the things in the hope that we might get something out of it. There is even greater hope in our witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We know the deep and wonderful value of God’s love and all those who refuse to believe make us sad. Paul knew that it was pointless to keep sharing the Gospel with those who outright reject the Gospel. He moved on to share the Gospel with others.
Paul did not give up on those who rejected him. He kept them in prayer, trusting that God is able to accomplish His work in their lives and hoping that one day they would hear and believe. In the meantime, God used Paul elsewhere and many heard the word of the Lord. As we share the Gospel today, let us remember that we can never force faith on anyone. Speak God’s Word then move on and pray. It’s the best we can do.
“In that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who then is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Jesus called a little child to himself, and set him in the middle of them, and said, ‘Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’” Matthew 18:1-4, WEB
Aristotle is credited with saying, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” It is easy to think when you are young that you have enough knowledge to take over the world. Usually, however, those young people really have a lot to learn. I saw a show with a young lady who was certain she knew better than her parents how to live her life. She was a drug addict, although she claimed she could stop any time she wanted. “I know what my body can handle better than anyone,” she said. She didn’t believe the doctors who showed her the damage she was doing to her body with those drugs. She didn’t care that the drugs might kill her. “I’ve done it twenty times and seen it done many more and everyone is fine.” She thought her experience was enough to give her the knowledge she needs to make good decisions.
Parents have long dealt with the brilliance of teenagers. They think they know everything and believe their parents are clueless. They scoff at the advice of their mom and dad and make decisions that ultimately turn disastrous. It is often years later that those same children realize how much they didn’t know. I remember calling my mom when my daughter was just a few years old. “I’m sorry, Mom,” I would say. She would answer, “What did your daughter do now?” she would ask. The more my children grew, the more I realized how little I knew as a teenager. Even now, I have so much advice for these young adults, but though they are good kids, they still have to learn the lesson that they really don’t know anything.
The people who attend my Sunday school class often joke about how I know it all. I laugh along with them, not because I think it is true but because I know it isn’t. The more I read and learn and grow in my faith, the more I know I don’t really know. It used to be so easy to define the Trinity because I used the typical analogies. Now I struggle with those same analogies because they are so inadequate to describe the incredible mystery that is the Trinity. The more I know about God, the more I know I don’t really know Him.
That’s where faith comes in. Unfortunately, some people study the scriptures to the point that they stop believing. They leave their intellect get in the way of faith. They discover the reality that God can’t be explained with human words and instead of accepting the truth that God is more than our human brains can ever really understand, they reject religion as being nothing more than a story or fairytale.
It is good to study the scriptures, to learn more, to gain in knowledge. It is good to listen to teachers, to read commentaries and to struggle over the texts in the Bible so that their meaning is made plain to us. However, we must always remember as we are on that quest for knowledge that we’ll never know it all. We should embrace the reality that the more we know, the more we know we don’t know. We must embrace the truth that some things have to be taken with faith. Jesus did not encourage His disciples to become like little children who do not know anything, but to be humble and curious and trusting as a child. We will never fully know God; He wouldn’t be much of a God if we could. It is when we recognize our own weakness that we can truly trust in God.
“Therefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as you also do. But we beg you, brothers, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to respect and honor them in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. We exhort you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, encourage the faint-hearted, support the weak, be patient toward all. See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but always follow after that which is good, for one another, and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t despise prophesies. Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil. ” 1 Thessalonians 5:11-22, WEB
I helped with the devotions at a craft retreat I attended a few years ago. The focus was on creativity and how we are made in the image of our creative God. Now, a group of women at a craft retreat definitely know they are creative, but this is a concept that is hard for those who do not pursue any arts. They don’t realize that creativity is not just found in the obvious like arts and crafts, but that everything we do has an element of creativity.
The final devotion at the retreat a few years ago was to teach the ladies how to make an origami butterfly. I am very good at making these folded paper delights, but I quickly learned that it was much harder to teach the craft. I worked hard to plan the lesson, carefully planning every step of the process. I chose to use a very large piece of paper so that it would be readily visible to all the ladies. Unfortunately, we were a large group and we were not sitting at tables. It was hard for me to check everyone’s progress. Many of the ladies folded as they saw it, but it was backwards because I was standing in front of them. I thought I carefully considered each aspect of the task but in the end the devotion did not work as hoped. I knew what to do because I had done it so often, but the other ladies were confused and were not able to accomplish the same task.
As we grow in our faith in Jesus Christ, the Fruit of the Spirit and His works, which are manifest in our lives, become natural. We love because God first loved us, and that love we share happens without a thought. Our joy is made complete in Christ Jesus, so we are naturally joyful. As we are sanctified for God and by His work in us, the Fruit becomes such a part of our lives that we do not to work to make them happen. We do not always understand why others can’t do (or won’t) do or see things the way we do, forgetting that we are in a different place in our spiritual journey.
In his first letter to Thessalonica, Paul gave specific instructions for living a life in Christ Jesus. These actions had become a natural part of his existence, and his faith showed clearly by his life. He understood that each Christian is at a different point of faith. He deemed it necessary to establish every step of the process for us to follow.
It isn’t easy to follow his commands. Rejoice always? You have got to be kidding. Pray without ceasing? I have a hard time finding five minutes in my day to focus on prayer. Give thanks for everything? I’m thankful for sure, but do I really need to be thankful for the splinter in my finger or the roll of toilet paper in my bathroom? Those hurtful and trivial things don’t seem so important.
The point is to become the kind of Christian whose life of faith happens without thought, like the origami butterfly in my hands. I ended up making butterflies for some of the ladies, but I also was able to spend some time helping others learn. We can encourage faith in our brothers and sisters in Christ, helping one another grow into the kind of Christians God has created and redeemed us to be. The more we practice these steps together, the more naturally the Fruit of God’s Holy Spirit will manifest in our lives. We will soon realize that we are rejoicing, praying and encouraging without thought as it becomes a natural part of our daily lives.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 17, 2018, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 1; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17); Mark 4:26-34
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, WEB
I took a trip to Denver, Colorado a few years ago. One of the adventures I took was to drive to the top of Mount Evans. The road leading to the peak is the highest paved road in America. This road is a steep and windy road that takes the visitor up more than four thousand feet (it begins around ten thousand feet and ends at around fourteen thousand feet) through the different landscapes that grow on the mountain. It passes lovely mountain lakes and meadows with wildflowers, through evergreen covered hillsides and past the tree line to the tundra.
The views are spectacular; except for cars of the visitors and an occasional park building it is completely void of human impact. The road is only open about three months out of the year as the area is completely uninhabitable for most of it. I recall thinking, as I looked down at the mountain valleys with green pastures and cool clean mountain lakes, what an idyllic setting it would be for a farm or ranch. Then I realized that there were no roads leading to those valleys. Besides, as I drove to the top of the mountain in mid-July, I saw that there were still places covered in snow. The amount of snowfall in those lovely valleys could cover a house.
What I found most amazing was the stark contrast between the wooded areas at the lower elevations and the sudden change at the tree line. It seems impossible to think that the environment could be so different in such a short space. Why could the trees grow in one place and not another? There are, perhaps, several reasons, not the least of which is the temperature. It was 95 in Denver the day I drove to the top of Mount Evans, and it was less than 50 at the top of the mountain, just thirty miles away. The weather is unpredictable, too. It can snow throughout the year. Scientists suggest that the lack of trees is not simply the cold, but because it is cold too many days of the year. There is not enough warmth for a tree to build up the cell structure necessary to grow to great heights. That’s why there are scrubs and tundra grasses at the top of the mountain, but not trees. They simply do not have the time to grow and establish roots before the weather kills off the tender shoots.
We don’t think of Israel being a mountainous place, but there are mountains in the vicinity. Mount Hermon, a cluster of mountain peaks, is part of a larger range that is situated between Syria, Lebanon and extends into Israel. A peak in the Israeli controlled area of the Golan Heights is 7,336 feet high. It snows on this mountain and is the site of a ski resort. As with other mountains, trees do not grow at the top of Mount Hermon.
Today’s Old Testament passage is a promise to do the impossible. Israel had turned away from God. The kings had lost their way. The people were no longer worshipping only the God of their forefathers. They were not doing justice or living as God intended them to live. The only way to get their attention was to use the nations of the world. God gave Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians the power to defeat Israel in Jerusalem and take the king captive. The king made a vow with Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonians did not destroy Jerusalem. But the king thought he could be unfaithful to the covenant he made with Nebuchadnezzar, so he sought the help of Egypt. Egypt did not help Israel. As a matter of fact, Egypt helped with the destruction of what little was left. God allowed this to happen because the king was not faithful to the vow he made in God’s name.
So, the parable found in Ezekiel 17 tells the story of this time in the life of Israel. Our passage takes this story in a new and unexpected way. God will take a shoot and make it grow where it can never grow. Can anyone really take a cutting from the highest branches of a cedar tree and put in the rocky soil at the intemperate top of a mountain and expect it to grow? According to tree experts, cedar trees can be propagated, but it is not an easy process. It is much easier to grow new trees from seeds. If you or I would try to plant a cedar tree on the top of Mount Hermon, we would fail; we certainly could not make it bear fruit.
Yet God will do this thing. The people in Ezekiel’s day needed to hear that there is a promise for new life. They were like that twig that had been cut off the top of the tree, although it seems as if it wasn’t God doing the cutting. They were in exile. They had been taken from their home and were living in the midst of strangers, pagans. They had lost it all; they had even lost their connection to God. They felt abandoned. While it might seem like Nebuchadnezzar was the one doing the plucking and planting, it was God. He took that remnant and placed it in a place that seemed impossible for growth. And yet, He made it grow. God spoke and did it. God used Nebuchadnezzar to bring His people back into His heart. He can bring life to that which should be dead. He does this so that the world will know that He is God. God turns the world upside down so that we can see His power and His mercy and His grace.
Parables are not always understood by those who hear it. Even the disciples, who knew Jesus intimately, did not understand what He was saying. He had to explain it to them later, in private. What’s the point of telling stories that do not help someone come to faith? I think parables are meant to make people think, to make us reach beyond our comfort zone, to seek answers to questions that are brought to light by the story. What is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, like? What does it mean that the kingdom of God grows by itself? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is small but grows large and provides protection for creatures of the earth? What is the kingdom of God? It is in thinking about these questions that we draw near to God.
Parables are not meant to give us answers, but to guide us in asking questions. Faith is not something that is tangible. It isn’t something we can describe in so many words. It isn’t something that is the same for you and for me. It isn’t even the same for each of us throughout our lives. Paul writes, “...for we walk by faith, not by sight...” I will never fully understand the kingdom of God until I dwell in my eternal home. Until that day, Jesus will continue to tell me stories that make me think about what it means to me today. If the kingdom of God is like a man who spreads seeds, am I a seed? Am I the man? There have been times in my life when I have been both. I’ve been the one sharing the stories of Jesus with others. I am also a seed that continues to sprout and grow. The point here is that the kingdom of God does the part that we can’t. We can’t make others become Christian. We can’t even make ourselves into a Christian. God does the work. Who among us would ever be a Christian without God’s help? God can do the impossible.
It is interesting that in the Gospel lesson we don’t really hear that it is God doing the work. The kingdom of God is like a man casting seed. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, planted in the ground. We see in the first parable that the man who cast the seed does not know how it happens to grow. He sleeps and rises, but the seed grows without his help. The mustard seed is small but grows to be something big enough for birds to dwell. This happens without the help of any man.
Seeds can be cultivated by nature. Seeds are spread by the wind. They drop into the ground. Plants in the wild die, but new plants grow in their place. In these stories, though, the seeds are planted. What is amazing about this is that we know that God is at work in the growing of those plants, and yet He calls us into partnership. He calls us to plant seeds. He asks us to help Him with the work He is doing in this world. He can do it alone, just as He saved Israel from Babylon, just as He took that tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions, He can make His Kingdom grow without our help. But He wants our help. He wants us to be a part of it. He makes us colleagues.
Paul invites us to live pleasing to God always. Paul faced difficult times. As a matter of fact, there were many who would have preferred for his ministry to fail. He was attacked, not only about his faith but also personally. People in Corinth were trying to undermine his ministry and the seeds he had planted. But Paul did not give up. It would have been much easier, and better, to be in heaven. He would have preferred experiencing the promised life in the eternal presence of God. He wanted to be with Jesus. But he knew that there was still work to do. He was a partner with God in the kingdom that He had established here and now. The kingdom of God might be something we will experience in the future, but it is also right now.
Paul writes, “Therefore we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are courageous, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing to him.” Even though he wanted to be home with the Lord, he stayed to continue the work Jesus called him to do: planting and nurturing the seeds of the kingdom.
I enjoyed my trip up Mount Evans and I still recall the beauty through my photos and memories. The grass was truly greener in those valleys than they are at my house right now. Our drought stricken lawns are struggling to stay alive, let alone green. Yet, I wouldn’t want to live there. Life isn’t always better where the grass is greener.
The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in Yahweh’s law.” We tend to shy away from words of law, preferring to focus on God’s grace. After all, it is in grace that we have the freedom to truly be what God has created and redeemed us to be. Yet, we learn from the psalmist that the righteous will live the fruitful life in God’s kingdom. Paul reminds us, “For we must all be revealed before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are revealed to God; and I hope that we are revealed also in your consciences.”
If you ask a gang member why he or she joined, you will probably hear similar stories. They had unsatisfying home lives, harsh parents, too many rules and not enough love and attention. They turned to the gangs because they saw love and freedom in the ranks, they thought it was a law-free environment where they could express themselves and live a fuller, richer life. They often find exactly what they are looking for in the gangs. However, they are kidding themselves if they think it is a law-free environment. The rules for belonging in a gang do not fit into the mold of what is acceptable in society, but there are requirements to be part of the group. They experience the blessedness of obedience, the rewards of conforming to the expectations of the gang, when they do what is required.
Sadly, those requirements are often harsh and dangerous. They never realized that they could find true blessedness in the shadow of their families rather than seeking it in such a dangerous lifestyle. They were afraid of their homes, but they find a new kind of fear in the gang. They think that the grass is greener in the “love” of the gang, but they quickly learn that it is mixed with blood. Then they are trapped in a prison (sometimes literally) from which there is no escape. They thought they had gained freedom, but are they really free? What blessings can really come out of the fear and obedience that demands rejection of home, family and true authority?
I suppose that those outside the Christian faith might ask the same question. Why would Christians want to give up their freedom to abide in a law that is so demanding when they can live freely according to their own wants and needs? Which grass is really greener?
There are very real issues in the neighborhoods where gangs roam. Some parents are not able to cope with the responsibilities. Others are consumed with their own rebellion and anger which leads them to wrong decisions and actions. The authorities do not always offer justice. The struggles have gone on so long in those communities that they don’t see a better way. Even so, life is never better when we chase after our desires; that pursuit leads us to less freedom.
God has given us a set of laws. The Levitical laws seem useless and inappropriate in our modern lives. Perhaps they are. However, God’s law was given for a purpose: to help and guide His people into a long and blessed life. If we look at only the top Ten Commandments, each of those will keep us walking on the greener grass even if it appears better on the other side of the fence. Take, for instance, the command to not covet our neighbor’s spouse. We may think it is harmless to wish for their attention or desire their touch. However, the more we covet, the more we ignore that which God has given us. As we covet our neighbor’s spouse, we grow apart from our own family and our life begins to fall apart. We think freedom means chasing after whatever we want, but true freedom is found in the fear of the Lord.
The grass may seem greener on the side of the fence with no law where there is a freedom from authority other than ourselves. That kind of freedom is not blessed. The grace of God gives us the freedom to live under His care, in His good and perfect Word. There we will find the blessings of obedience and the rewards of our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Just as staying home when the gang seems to be so appealing, life in God’s sovereignty, delighting in His Law as we live in His grace is truly where we will find the greener pastures.
God sees the world much differently that we do. He sees it through love, through mercy and through grace. God can see goodness in the midst of darkness, He can see potential where there seems to be none. He can take a tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions. He sees differently because He sees beyond the surface and into the heart of man. He sees beyond the moment. He sees His creation without the cloak of sin and death. In Christ we are given a vision of what God sees in us and in others. We are called to see the world through eyes of faith, to see it with love, mercy and grace and to act accordingly. We are invited to live as if we are the tabernacle of God, a dwelling place for Christ in this world so that His love, mercy and grace might be seen by others.
As Christians, the world sees us as foolish. Faith to the non-believer is nothing more than a crutch that keeps us from our human potential. The world thinks we are trapped in a prison because we are afraid of the freedom we could have pursuing our own desires. However, seeing the world through faith is a gift, an incredible blessing because we can see a bit of eternity through the eyes of God in the midst of this world that is covered in sin and darkness.
God is doing amazing things. He brings life and in the blink of an eye He can make nothing something spectacular. God has promised to do the impossible. He did it in and through Jesus. He is still making all things new. He has called us to dwell in the shadow of His grace and to produce fruit in keeping with His forgiveness. He is taking the seeds that we have planted and He is bringing them to life. He is also making the seeds in our hearts grow. We are a new creation in Christ, called to live in the freedom of His Kingdom, partners with Him in the salvation of the world.
“‘No more will there be an infant who only lives a few days, nor an old man who has not filled his days; for the child will die one hundred years old, and the sinner being one hundred years old will be accursed. They will build houses, and inhabit them. They will plant vineyards, and eat their fruit They will not build, and another inhabit. They will not plant, and another eat: for the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, and my chosen will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor give birth for calamity; for they are the offspring[a] of Yahweh’s blessed, and their descendants with them. It will happen that, before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Dust will be the serpent’s food. They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says Yahweh.” Isaiah 65:20-25, WEB
I love to visit the zoo. We have a wonderful zoo in San Antonio with a great variety of animals. There are those who do not like zoos because they see them as cruel to the animals imprisoned. The zoo here has undergone years of battles in court with groups determined to shut them down. They don’t realize the amazing work that is being done in breeding and research. The current director is doing a fantastic job, especially with those programs and renovating the habitats for the animals. He’s made some hard decisions that will benefit the animals and it shows in the impact they are having not only locally, but internationally.
The first modern zoo was that of the Royal Zoological Society, located in Regent’s Park London. It was established in 1826. The 19th century was a time of scientific discovery. The British Empire stretched to the four corners of the earth, and the nobility were very interested in the natural sciences. Explorers were sent all over the world to gather new species of plant and animal life to study here in England. The specimens were often brought back stuffed, so that the intellectuals of the day could study them. The country homes which were quite popular through the Regency and Victorian eras are filled with examples of every sort of bird and insect life, as well as animals of every shape and form.
In many cases, the animals were brought back live, and placed in cages so that they could be studied. Leeds Castle in Kent has a lovely aviary, which was created out of the owner’s desire to study tropical birds. The zoological parks became a place of wonder and amazement, where every day folk could see animals from all over the world. Children learn so much by seeing the animals from distant lands up close.
Unfortunately, in the early days, the designers of the zoos were unconcerned about the welfare of the animals. The cages were small and uncomfortable. This has been true until the last few decades of the twentieth century, when conservationists began to realize the importance of protecting the animals from harm. Zoos are once again zoological parks, where the animals are studied in the hope of understanding how to protect them in the wild.
In the beginning, the whole world lived in harmony. Man was created to rule over the rest of creation. When sin entered the world through the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve, the original harmony of creation was upset. Through the ages, sin increased until the days of Noah, when God saw that man could not live as He intended. He commanded Noah to build the ark and organize the first zoo – a floating zoo – to guard and protect the created from harm. The rains came; the earth was destroyed except for those who were on board the ark. After the flood, God established a new order. The harmony had been broken; the flesh of animals became acceptable as sustenance for man and beast alike. Humankind still had dominion over the animals, there was no longer peace on the earth between man and beast.
However, the day will come when the world will be restored to its former glory.
The day is coming when the whole world will live in peace again. Zoos will not need cages because the lion will lay with the lamb, and man will once again rule creation as it was intended. Jesus Christ died on the cross to restore the harmony of creation on earth and in heaven. That harmony can begin today, with us, as we live according to the will and purpose of God our Father, in the name of Jesus our Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:6-10, WEB
If you really read the Bible, you will discover that the topic of money is extremely important. As a matter of fact, ten percent of the verses in the Gospels are about money. Sixteen of Jesus’ thirty-eight parables talk about how to handle money and possession. There are four times as many verses on many than faith. It is an important topic, and the focus is often on our treatment of the poor and needy. We have been blessed to be a blessing, and our blessedness is most obvious in the way we use our resources. God calls us to share everything with others so that He will be glorified.
Treatment of the poor and needy is not the only reason why money is so heavily discussed in the Bible. Our lives revolve around money. We need money to pay for our shelter whether it is a mortgage or rent. We need money to pay for food. Even farmers who tend cattle and grow grain and vegetables need to purchase some staples for living. In American society, we need to pay for electricity and other utilities so that our water will be delivered to our faucets and our waste sent far away. We don’t go a day without spending money in some way. Though things may have changed over the millennia, things are not much different than they were then. Money has always been necessary for life.
We are unfortunately quite wasteful with our financial resources. We buy many things we really do not need and throw away the excess. I once visited the Heifer International Ranch, and I became very uncomfortable with what a poor steward I am of the wonderful things God has given to me. My family is not rich, but we have so much more than we need. We enjoy collecting pretty things. We enjoy going places and doing things together. Unfortunately we spend too many hours a week working to pay off our credit card bills. Or to pay for the ‘nice-essities’ of life. Or to maintain the lifestyle we’ve built.
While I am sure there are people who are striving to get rich, most of us just laugh at that thought. We are wearing ourselves out just to get by. “Rich? I’ll be lucky if I can pay my bills this month.” We strive to make life better for our kids, to give them the things we never had. We want to be comfortable and happy. So, while we think that we aren’t striving to be rich, I have to wonder if we could be content living in a small hut with little or no possessions. I don’t think it is necessary for us to give up the blessed lives we’ve been given to move to a third world country, but the scriptures offer good council for those of us who live in today’s world. Are we working too hard to keep up a lifestyle far exceeding the blessing of God?
God has not necessarily asked us to give up the wonderful gifts He has given, or the life with which we have been blessed. He simply asks that we be content, satisfied with what we have. Working for a living is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the Bible is very clear that sluggards and lazy people will not find God’s blessings. But we should not seek to be rich or work to live in excess.
Paul writes, “The love of money is a root of all evil.” He did not say money is evil. He is asking us to have restraint, to be satisfied with enough. We find it much easier to be generous when we are satisfied with enough. It is when we desire more than enough that we fall into error, easily deceived and led astray. In today’s world, it is necessary to pay the rent, have a car and purchase our food from the grocery store, but God also wants us to share what we have with others. May God help us do so as good stewards of the resources He has given so that we might live so content and happy that we can bless those in need with our blessings.
“As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, even as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving. Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. For in him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power; in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. You were dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh. He made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us; and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross; having stripped the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Colossians 2:6-15, WEB
Our Sunday school class has a tendency of going off on tangents. We don’t pick through the Bible willy nilly, but we don’t follow a published Bible study so it is easy for us to end up talking about something completely different than the plan. That happened to us yesterday. We are just beginning a new study on Psalm 119, and the conversation veered onto the topic of Bible translations and study notes. The members of the group use a variety of different versions, which has the advantage of seeing the text in new and different ways. The study notes differ, too, and through them we see the text from different points of view.
This led to the inevitable question which I get often: “Which Bible should I buy?” I recently walked into a discount Christian gifts store and spent a few minutes in the Bible department. If you have done the same in any Christian bookstore, you will know how overwhelming it can be. This store had sections for at least six different versions, plus a section for miscellaneous versions. Other stores carry even more. It is a daunting exercise. How do you choose? Do you want a study Bible? Do you want a Bible that is more literal in translation or one that is a paraphrase? Why are you buying the Bible; do you want it just to read or do you want to do in depth study? Do you want it in modern language or do you prefer the more classical translations?
Each section had a variety of printings of the versions. There were Bibles designed for women and for men. There were Bibles that focused on archeology or theology. There were books with large print and others that were designed to fit into a purse or suitcase for easy carry. Some were in leather, others in hard cover or paper back. There are Bibles with wide margins for notes or graphics for coloring. Once you decide on a version, then you have to pick through all these choices. I’m not sure I am the best person to answer the question “Which Bible should I buy?” because if you look at my bookshelf you’ll see that I have one of each. Well, that is an exaggeration, but I certainly have purchased many Bibles in my life and I use many different ones in my study.
I have my favorites, of course. I have certain Bibles I use for specific purposes. I am reading through the Bible this year using the New Living Translation, which is fascinating because it is like reading the scriptures for the first time. I use the World English Bible for this writing because it is public domain. I do most of my study with the English Standard Version, though I tend to check word choice in other versions, including Greek for New Testament studies. I love the language of the New Jerusalem Bible. I sometimes reference The Message, for the uniqueness of its paraphrases choices. (You will only find this in The Message: “If you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli.” Romans 14)
I have several different study Bibles even though they are the same translation. The notes in each of these Bibles come from a different perspective. They generally agree about the basic understanding of the texts, but there is often a unique point they want to make. One Bible was put out by a Lutheran publisher and so has quotes from Martin Luther and other confessional documents. Another one comes from a broader evangelical Protestant perspective. Both have valuable information and have helped me with my studies.
My answer to the members in my class about which Bible was probably a cop-out: my answer was to give no answer. I told them that the best thing to do is to go to those Bible departments and look through different versions. I suggested that they pick a favorite passage and read it in different versions. But I also offered a warning: Bible translations and study notes will always have the bias of the people involved in the project. Those notes are not canon; they aren’t the words of God. They help, for sure, but we must beware of relying so much on the notes that we do not hear God’s voice in the text.
Whatever your choice, Paul reminds us in today’s passage to keep Jesus Christ as the center of our spiritual and religious life. It is too easy to get caught up in the philosophies of men or to lose sight of Jesus as we follow their words. The Bible is given to us by God to draw us ever nearer to Him, to guide is in the right way and to build our lives on a solid foundation. We have, indeed, been buried with Christ Jesus in His death and by His grace we can triumph over those who would lead us astray.
“If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. But now faith, hope, and love remain - these three. The greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, WEB
There is a chain of gas station rest stops in Texas called Buc-ee’s that are like a haven for any weary traveler. You know when one is coming as they advertise on billboards for miles in advance. The advertising is creative, with a cute beaver who guarantees cheap ice, a sweet treat called beaver nuggets and fabulous rest rooms. The ads are true: the restrooms are fabulous. They are clean with dozens of stalls. I’ve never had to wait in line or worry about whether or not I will be able to find plenty of toilet paper.
Anyone who has taken a road trip will understand the frustration of finding a clean, pleasant rest room on the road. Unfortunately, we can’t always find a Buc-ee’s, especially when we travel outside of Texas. Of course there are other places that can claim to have fabulous restrooms, but we are not always able to wait for such a place. All too often, our stops require us to use the toilets in busy, dirty gas stations and other questionable places. The greatest problem that is faced when using such facilities, besides the filth, is the lack of toilet paper.
We have all been there, of course. There was an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine was in a women’s restroom when she discovered the toilet paper holder was empty. She begged for help from a woman in the next stall. “I can’t spare a square” the woman answered. The conversation went on for a long time as Elaine begged and the other woman rejected her request. It is funny on a sitcom, but not so funny when you are in a filthy restroom on the road far from home. It was a particularly difficult thing on one road trip when it seemed that there was no toilet paper anywhere I went.
I decided that I should ensure that I am prepared on future trips. You can buy handy little pocket packs of toilet paper to carry in your purse. I bought several of these and had them handy whenever I went to the rest room on my next trip. Well, I had them with me almost every time. The one time I did not carry my purse, the only time it was not within my reach, was the one time that there was no toilet paper in the stall I picked. Luckily a woman in the restroom was not like the woman in the episode of Seinfeld. She shared from another stall, but I thought it was funny that the one time I was not prepared was the one time I needed to be.
The scriptures tell us that we are to be constantly aware, always prepared, continually in prayer. I don’t know about you, but I find this at times very difficult to do. My heart, my mind, and my body get caught up in the everyday issues I face. I work hard to be ready, but it never fails - the one time I am not prepared is the one time I am caught off guard. I am a sinner, unable to live perfectly as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I spend a great deal of time in prayer, in Bible Study and in worship in the hopes that I will be ready when an opportunity arises to witness for the Lord or serve one of His children. I often fail, however, not ready with that word of comfort or prepared to give my resources or my time to those in need. I get angry when I should be sympathetic, I get tired when I should be energized.
The scriptures are often hard for us to take. We read text like this one from Paul and wonder how we could ever possibly live up to the expectations. How can we “always love.” Love is to be a part of all we do, but the reality is that only the Lord loves without fail. We are sinners, sinners in need of a Savior. He is faithful. So, when we are not prepared, Jesus will be like the person in the next stall, offering us the toilet paper we need to clean up our messes. He abides in us through faith by His grace. His love flows into our hearts and then on to the world. His mercy cleanses our lives, gives us faith and hope. In Him, though we fail, love continues.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 10, 2018, Third Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
“Therefore we don’t faint, but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, WEB
I saw an interview with several women who were cruel, and perhaps even abusive, mothers. Though they were not physical, they yelled all the time at their children, saying things that no mother should ever say to their babies such as “I hate you,” or “I wish you had never been born.” One mother threatened to drop her daughter off with the homeless men on the street corner. Neither understood why they acted the way they did. “She drives me crazy, I don’t know how to deal with her.” The women both had men in their lives, not the biological fathers, but step dads to the children. The interviewer asked what they were doing about it. The men didn’t know what to do, though they knew they needed to do something. “Our daughter looks at her mother with fear in her eyes. A daughter should never be afraid of her mother.”
A child should never be afraid of a parent. Parents need to provide discipline, but there is a line that should never be crossed. Sadly, too many children deal with abuse; the abuse can be verbal, physical or sexual. All abuse, whether word or deed is emotionally abusive. It changes a child. It makes a child fear; fear leads to rebellion and hatred which leads to dangerous actions. Children who are abused are more likely to abuse others. Children who are abused have a greater risk to end up in gangs or in prison. Children who are abused never find healthy relationships. A parent is gifted and made responsible for that young life; it is in the home where all children should feel most safe, secure and love.
God loved Adam and Eve. He walked with them and He talked with them. As the song says, He told them that they were His own. One day, however, a fallen angel in the form of a serpent caused Eve and Adam to doubt the Word of God. “Did God really say...?” the serpent asked. Eve thought about it, and the words of the serpent sounded good. She didn’t hear the twist in the message. God hadn’t really said what the serpent repeated, but his words sounded better than the twisted truth. God did not keep the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve because He wanted to keep anything from them. He forbade it because He knew it would cause them to think that they were not worthy to be in the presence of their Father. That’s exactly what happened; when they ate the fruit, they became afraid of God.
Many of the abused children are removed from those homes and placed in foster care. While there are many struggles in the system, the reality is that the child can’t live in a home where he or she is afraid of those in whom they must trust. The same was true of Adam and Eve. God did not kick them out of the Garden of Eden as a punishment for disobedience. He sent them away so that they would not continue to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life and live forever in the presence of a Father they feared. The world outside the garden was harsh. They worked hard, they knew pain, they died. Yet even while God’s people had to struggle outside paradise, God had a plan.
God said to the serpent, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” This is the first promise of the Gospel. The offspring that ends the reign of the serpent will be Jesus Christ. Death that entered the world when Adam and Eve trusted the twisted word will be defeated. What the first Adam did, Jesus the New Adam will undo and God’s people will be restored to a right relationship with Him. We will no longer have to fear walking in paradise with our Father.
We aren’t there yet. Though Jesus has defeated death, the world in which we live is still fallen. We still struggle. We still have to work hard. We still know pain. We still die. Yet, in Christ we have eternal life. We are in a period of now but not yet. We are still sinners even while we are already saints.
I once heard a story about a man who had been recently paroled from prison. He quickly returned to his old ways, breaking in to a house to rob the owners of just enough to get a case of beer or a bottle of cheap booze. As he searched the home, he found a bottle of Crown Royal and decided to take a few sips. The owners later came in to find this man passed out drunk on a chair. He was arrested and returned to prison. When he found the Crown Royal, he no longer needed any cash. He was living in darkness and fell further and further from the Light. Left to continue his life in this manner would lead him to worse behavior, perhaps even violence.
Most of us aren’t robbing our neighbors but we all sin. We struggle in a broken world and often find ourselves failing to live up to the expectations of our God. We do not always treat people with love or respect. We get angry with our children and our spouses, gossip about others, take things that are not ours. We fall to the temptations this world has to offer. We sin against God and our neighbor in our thoughts, words and deeds by what we do and what we fail to do. Despite our failure, God still wants a relationship with us. Like the psalmist, we can cry out to Him and He will hear us. He doesn’t keep a record of our sin, but forgives and forgets. “If you, Yah, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” We can’t stand, but we can have peace.
The paroled man thought he could find peace in all the wrong places. He thought stealing would help him get a new start on life. Then he thought drinking would help him through. However, he got caught in his sin and instead of beginning anew he was sent back to prison, bound by the consequences of his sin. The correctional facility released him on parole with the expectation that he would stop leading a life of crime; he was returned to the world and given a new chance on life. When he failed, his past failures were recalled and he was punished more severely for his crime.
Our life in Christ is different. We don’t have to walk in darkness because we have the light of our Lord Jesus Christ and His forgiveness. We know by faith that even when we fail, we can turn to Him for forgiveness and help through our troubled times. When we fail and turn to God for forgiveness, He not only grants that forgiveness for the sake of our Lord Jesus, but He also forgets our sin. We don’t have a record or else we would become buried in the prison of our sinful nature. As we live in this hope, we find ourselves walking in the light of Christ, covered by the unfailing love of God and reconciled to Him by His own blood. When we wait for the Lord and watch for Him, we are less likely to fall into the temptations of this world. We will still sin, but we can trust in the Lord and rest in His forgiveness because He never fails.
He never fails because He is faithful and knows what needs to be done. Even in the beginning, He already prepared to send a Redeemer to make things right, even knowing we would never be able to hold up our end of the bargain.
We can all identify people in our lives that only seem to come to us when they are in need. The telephone rings and the voice on the other end says, “Hi!” and you sink into your chair thinking, “What does she want now?” Perhaps at times we are like that ourselves, only calling certain people when there is something they can do for us. We need someone to fill a slot on a committee so we call the one person who we know will say yes. Yet we never think to call them to just say hello. These one way street relationships are difficult because we eventually realize that they don’t really care for us; they only see us as someone who can fulfill their needs. Meanwhile, we continue in love and friendship, never having it returned. How often does our relationship with God look the same way? We go to Him constantly when we are in need but we rarely call on Him when we are living blessed lives. When we get sick, tired, hungry or cold we get on our knees and cry out to Him for help. When we are hurt and angry we cry for vengeance. When we are sad and afraid we ask Him to give us comfort and peace. Yet, when we are healthy and full, happy and safe, we rarely even think about Him. We don’t often think about witnessing about the blessings of God when we are living that blessed life.
God made the promise of the Gospel knowing that we would continue to fail Him. He grants us many blessings, knowing that we’ll forget to be thankful and to live in the life He has called us to live. He continues to forgive even though we continue to disobey. Yet, He desires so much more from us. He hopes that our love and thankfulness will be so great that we cannot stay silent. He hopes that we will live in His light and walk according to His ways. God hopes? Yes, because hope is not about wishes and dreams; hope is expectation. God our Father hopes, expects, that we will live as we are called to live, because Christ is in us and we are in Christ. It is because we believe that we can and will speak. As we grow in faith, that faith will overflow so others will come to know the truth and believe.
It isn’t easy, especially when Jesus doesn’t act according to our expectations. Even His mother had trouble. Mary and Jesus’ brothers were concerned because Jesus was not taking care of Himself. He had been transformed by His wilderness experience and was doing the work of His Father. He had a ministry to do; there were people who needed to hear His words and feel His touch. Mary and His brothers came to take Him home, to give Him time to rest. He refused because He knew He was doing His Father’s work.
We struggle with this story because we don’t understand why Mary would be so against Jesus’ ministry, after all, she knew from the beginning that He was born for something incredible. She even pondered it all in her heart. She was His mother and saw that He was so consumed with His work that she thought He must be overwhelmed. He was dragging the disciples with Him. Mary was concerned about His well-being and perhaps she only wanted to take Him away for a moment so that He could find renewal and refreshment. The scribes saw a whole different problem. They thought Jesus was possessed by the devil. He refuted their claims by reminding them that Satan would not work against himself.
Jesus’ family and the scribes, though for very different reasons, wanted Jesus to stop doing what He was called to do. Jesus answered the accusations of the scribes by telling them not to give credit to Satan for the work that He is doing by the power of the Holy Spirit. And though His answer to His mother and brothers might seem harsh, we are reminded that Jesus is calling us to trust in Him. He knows what He is doing, just as God knew in the beginning what Adam and Eve needed.
We will have opposition to the work we will do in the world, even from those closest to us. Some, perhaps, will even suggest that we are doing the work of the devil, especially when we preach a word they do not want to hear. It is hard being a disciple, not only hard work, but also difficult because we will be tempted to conform to the world though Christ calls us to a life that conforms to Him. Jesus’ family thought he was out of His mind and the teachers of the law thought He received His power from Beelzebub, the prince of demons? If they could think these things about Jesus, how much more will they think it about us?
We are, like our neighbors, sinners in need of a Savior. There are sins that need to be brought to light, as much for the sake of the sinner as for those who will be harmed by the consequences of those sins. There is a right and wrong. There are truth and lies. These are things that matter. Words might sound good, but if they are twisted, then they will lead us away from trusting God.
I was reading a book when I realized a connection I’d never seen previously. When God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden to live life away from the Tree that would provide them with everlasting life, He told them that the ground would be cursed and that it would yield thorns and thistles. In the end, when Jesus was crucified, those thorns were used to adorn His head as a crown. Even as we live in this decaying world caused by the curse of Adam and Eve, we also live in the promise of the Gospel. God’s story leads us to knowledge of His promise through Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection won for us forgiveness of sin, the restoration of our relationship with God and eternal life in His Kingdom.
“Servants, be obedient to those who according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ; not in the way of service only when eyes are on you, as men pleasers; but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatever good thing each one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is bound or free.” Ephesians 6:5-8
San Antonio, Texas is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its founding on May 5, 1718 this year. The city has presented many different events. The art museums have had special exhibits. The usual festivities and parades have been enhanced. Everyone wants to show their love for this wonderful city and we are benefiting from all the excitement.
While the city was founded officially on that date, the name San Antonio was actually given twenty seven years earlier. The region was inhabited by indigenous people, most especially the Payaya Indians. There were early explorers like Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1536 as well as other expeditions of the Spanish who recognized the strategic importance of the area. One such expedition left the Convent of Queretaro in 1675 to seek a place to settle beyond the Rio Grande. On June 13, 1691, a group of explorers and missionaries came upon a river with a Native American settlement. Since it was the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua, they named the area San Antonio. Settlement of the city would not happen for many years when the first mission, San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) and Presidio San Antonio de Bexar were established in early May 1718.
Saint Anthony is a little known saint whose work took him to missionize in Italy. He was a powerful preacher, and his ambition was to convert Moslems to Christianity. When he arrived in Morocco to begin his work, he became quite sick and was forced to return home. His ship was blown off course and landed on Sicily where he lived as a hermit for some time. One day, he preached a sermon for a group of Franciscan monks who were so impressed by his ability that he was quickly sent into mission work in Tuscany. He was eventually assigned to a hermitage because of ill health and lived in a cave, spending time in prayer and study.
An occasion occurred in 1222 when the Franciscans were holding an ordination to which Dominican friars were invited. The Franciscans thought that one of the Dominican friars would give the homily because they were famous for their preaching. They were unprepared assuming the Franciscans would give the pulpit to one of their men. The head of the hermitage called on Saint Anthony who was probably the most qualified. “Speak whatever the Holy Spirit puts in your mouth,” the leader said. Though he objected, Saint Anthony gave the homily, impressing everyone with his voice, his knowledge and his eloquence.
He moved several more times, even helping Saint Francis of Assisi establish his order. Saint Francis was not moved by theological studies, thinking that such depth of learning kept the faithful from living a committed life of poverty. Saint Anthony impressed him, however, and became a teacher for the friars in the care of St. Francis. He did other work for the church and was given the title of Evangelical Doctor by Pope Pius the XII in 1946. He died on June 13 in the year 1231, at the age of 36.
Saint Anthony set out on his life of faith with an expectation of accomplishing something specific, but his health did not allow for it to happen. He thought he knew what God intended, but discovered a much different ministry as he lived his faith. Isn’t that the way it is for all of us, though? We often set out on a task thinking we are doing God’s work, only to be sent in another direction. How do we react to this change? We do not always enjoy the task we’ve been called to do, however when done in faith and obedience, we find peace and joy in our work. When our path leads in a different direction, the best we can do is to trust in God, to pray for clarity and to commit to His will rather than our own. Are you in a place you’d rather not be? Do you feel like a slave to your job or your home life? Do not grumble about the task, but do it in faith and obedience to God’s Will, and you’ll find joy and peace.
“Sing to God! Sing praises to his name! Extol him who rides on the clouds: to Yah, his name! Rejoice before him! A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God sets the lonely in families. He brings out the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious dwell in a sun-scorched land.” Psalm 68, WEB
One of the hardest parts of being a military family was being so far from home. Bruce had been in the military for a dozen years when we got married, so he was used to the distance. Our first home together was three thousand miles from my mom and dad. This was before the Internet, email and free long distance. I could not just call my mom every time I needed some advice or was lonely. It was even worse when we were in England. Though we did have the Internet at that point, it was very expensive to be in contact with home. Even worse, the kids did not have the opportunity to get to know their grandparents.
The military life can be very lonely. It doesn’t help that it seems like new orders come just as the family gets used to being in one place. They say it is a small world, but it doesn’t seem so small when everyone you love is on the other end of the earth. Unfortunately, this caused problems for many families. Divorce was more likely during overseas assignments. The loneliness is unbearable, especially if the military member is regularly sent away on temporary duty. The sacrifices are often too much to bear.
I read Psalm 68 as part of my scripture reading this week. I was taken by the verse, “God sets the lonely in families.” It made me think about all those times when we moved to a new place. The kids had to get used to a new school. We had to find a new church. We had to meet and get to know our new neighbors. It was all part of the process. The process continued constantly as changes occurred in the lives of those who became our schoolmates, brothers and sisters in Christ and neighbors. We weren’t always the one to move. We said too many good-byes, shed too many tears and made too many promises to “keep in touch.” All too often we lost touch with those friends, but new ones came into our lives. “God sets the lonely in families.”
Are you lonely? We live in a more transient world. You don’t have to be in the military to end up thousands of miles from family. Trust in God. Know that first and foremost God is your family. He is Father to the fatherless and defender of those left alone. He provides people in your life to be your family. He is able to free you from that imprisons you and make the world around you a lovely and fruitful place. It might seem like you are all alone, but you aren’t. Your mother and father may be far away, but there are others who can be there for you. Elderly neighbors can be like grandparents for your children. Neighbors can fill our hearts and diminish our loneliness. This is especially true in our Christian fellowship. That is where God most clearly sets us in families. How can you be lonely in the midst of your brothers and sisters in Christ?
“Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members don’t have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, if prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or service, let us give ourselves to service; or he who teaches, to his teaching; or he who exhorts, to his exhorting: he who gives, let him do it with liberality; he who rules, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:1-8, WEB
Clem Sohn was an American air show dare-devil who was an expert at a sort of game that the dare-devils played. These men would jump out of an airplane and wait until the very last moment to pull the rip cord on their parachute. The dare-devil who waited the longest “won” the contest. Unfortunately, too many received death as their prize. Clem was not satisfied with the thrill of the freefall or to glide through the air; he wanted to fly like the birds. He also wanted to do more than the other dare-devils, to be the star of those air shows. Clem performed his tricks as a young man in the 1930’s.
Clem was certainly not the first in history to try to find a way to fly. Leonardo DaVinci sketched plans for a glider, but winged men tried to fly in China, England, Greece, Spain and Turkey, too. The Wright Brothers succeeded in sustained air flight early in the twentieth century and began the age of aviation which saw incredible changes in technology. Like those who searched before, Clem studied nature to figure out a way to create wings so he could fly. Unlike many of those early inventors, Clem didn’t look to the birds for his ideas. He studied flying mammals instead. Flying squirrels and bats have anatomy much more similar to humans; they have wrists and elbows. So, Clem looked to them for the design of his wings.
Clem used airplane fabric and metal tubing, fastening them between his arms and the side of his jumpsuit. He sewed a tail fin between his legs. The wings were designed so that they would not open out too far and rip his arms from their sockets. The result was a bizarre looking suit that weighed just eight pounds. Believe it or not, the wings worked. Clem made his test flight a very public event. Hundreds of people were on-hand to see him jump out of his plane and fly. The crowds weren’t sure what was happening and feared for his life, but at the right moment, Clem opened his wings and he flew. He was able to control his flight; he somersaulted, banked left and right, leveled off, dove, and pulled up again. He pulled the cord on his parachute at just the right moment and landed safely on the ground.
He came to be known as Batman. The other dare-devils tried to copy his design and the batmen became the sights to see at those air shows. As a matter of fact, his suit is still the model for modern day wingsuits. Unfortunately, many of the dare-devils in those days lost their lives performing their tricks, including Clem. On April 25, 1937 at the age of 26 years old, Clem’s parachute did not open and then his back up parachute got tangled in his wings. He plummeted to his death.
I suppose there are many lessons we can learn from Clem’s life, but the thing that struck me is that after centuries of inventors looking at birds for their wings, Clem found the answer by looking at creatures that were similar in some ways to human beings. Those flying squirrels and bats had the proper foundation for human wings. By creating bat wings instead of bird wings, Clem was able to make the dream come true that inventors pursued for centuries made the dream.
As Christians, we need to ensure that we are looking at the right source to guide our lives in this world. We need the right foundation. Too many people, including Christians, conform to the world. This leads us on the wrong path; we end up on the road to destruction rather than the highway to heaven. God has called us to be like Him, to be perfect as He is perfect. We’ll never reach that goal in this life, but by constantly seeking Him and laying our lives on the right foundation, we’ll keep moving toward eternity. Yes, the ways of the world are very appealing. They seem to be right. They look like they will make us fly. It is only when we seek the ways of God that we’ll truly be blessed and He will be glorified as we take flight.
“At the end of ten days their faces appeared fairer, and they were fatter in flesh, than all the youths who ate of the king’s dainties. So the steward took away their dainties, and the wine that they should drink, and gave them pulse. Now as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the days which the king had appointed for bringing them in, the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them; and among them all was found no one like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. In every matter of wisdom and understanding, concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters who were in all his realm.” Daniel 1:15-20, WEB
Daniel was among the exiles that were taken to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar took a few of the young men from the nobility of Israel and train them in the ways of the Babylonians. When Daniel and his friends arrived in the palace, they were given good food and wine as well as an education in the literature and language of the people with whom they were living. Daniel refused to eat the food because it was offered to idols and it was not killed as per the Law of Moses. Instead of rebelling against the house of the king, Daniel made a deal with the official who was in charge of the young men. The official was concerned that the Hebrew diet would be unhealthy, but Daniel told him to give them only vegetables for just ten days as a test. After ten days, Daniel and his friends were healthier than the students who were eating the rich royal food. So, Daniel was allowed to eat according to his conscience.
Daniel and his friends stood on their principles and they succeeded even in the Babylonian world. They could have rebelled against everything they saw. Pagan literature is filled with references to things that probably would offend the Jews, yet Daniel learned these ways while holding on to the knowledge of Israel. The royal food was rich and delicious, yet Daniel ate only what was right in the eyes of God. He grew in wisdom and strength and the king often sought his knowledge in matters of the kingdom. In the end, it was not the learning or the fine food that gave Daniel or any of the wise men their gifts, but it is the Lord God Almighty who reveals things and gives all that is needed to live.
We end up in situations where people want us to conform to the way they do things. This can happen at work, in our neighborhoods and at school. Even in church there are expectations that we will do things one way even when we feel that some other way might work better. We need to remember Daniel. He did not want to be in Babylon, and he did not want to live as the Babylonians. Yet, God blessed him in that situation and he gained the respect of the king because he lived by his principles and obviously had the blessing of a powerful God. Daniel’s ways were different, but he did not rebel or become inconsiderate. He found a compromise that would both honor God and help him to succeed in that strange place. Who knows? Perhaps our neighbors will see that there is goodness to our ways and conform to the will of God.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 24, 2018, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
“Our help is in Yahweh’s name, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 124:8, WEB
Bruce and I listen to a radio station in the car on our way to church on Sunday that plays repeats of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio program from the 1980’s. We are generally familiar with most of the music and the groups from that time period. For me it was when I was in high school and college and when I was a disc jockey. Bruce was in the military. We play a game to see who can be the first to guess the year of that particular Top 40 list. We can usually get pretty close. There are only ten to choose from but it is still hard sometimes, especially when we don’t remember the songs. Bruce can often identify songs by where he was stationed at the time; I remember songs that I used at work or that were part of school events. We ask ourselves, “Where was I when that was popular?” and it usually works.
Every generation has a “Where were you” question. Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Where were you when JFK was shot? Where were you when the astronauts walked on the moon? Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Where were you on 9/11? People can generally remember where they were when these history changing moments happened, or at least where they were when they heard about it.
For those of us in the military, and other transient communities, knowing where we were helps us to remember when something happened. Where were we when Zack broke his finger? Where were we when we bought that piece of furniture? We can ask the question about more personal events, too. Where were you when you met your spouse? Where were you when you proposed? Where were you married? Where were you when you decided what you wanted to be when you grew up? Where were you when you became a Christian? Knowing where we were helps us to remember when it was.
The question is also used in the courtroom. A lawyer will ask the defendant, “Where were you on the night this crime happened?” The question is meant to establish an alibi for the accused. Other questions might help place the defendant at other crucial moments, like when a gun was purchased. The lawyer is trying to prove that the defendant could not be guilty because he or she was not there. The questions might be asked by the prosecutor, too, as he or she tries to put the defendant in the right place at the right time, thus proving them guilty.
God asks this question of Job in today’s passage. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” In this case, the question is meant to establish that Job has no right to question the will and purpose of God. Job was not even a glimmer in his mother’s eye when God spoke the creation into existence. God was before the beginning and will be after the end. Human beings are simply unable to know or understand everything about the God we worship. He wouldn’t be worthy of worship if we could.
It is especially hard when God allows terrible things to happen in our lives. We want to be angry. We want to go to court with God, to question Him, to insist on answers to our questions. But God reminds us that we weren’t there when He established the foundation of the earth and we’ll never fully understand Him. What seems to be bad from our point of view may lead to something beyond our imagination. We know that God is faithful. We can rest in God’s promises even when it seems like things are falling apart. Where were we when God laid the foundations of the earth? We did not yet exist in the flesh, but we were loved. Of this we can be sure.
Poor Job. Job was a righteous man who had fallen prey to the adversary. He lost everything; he lost his wealth, his health and his family. The book describes his lament and shows us how even the most righteous can find themselves in the midst of a storm of doubt and uncertainty while undergoing suffering. Job comes to the point of blaming God for his troubles, a response to the questions raised by his losses. “Where was God? How could the Almighty allow this to happen to me? Why?”
I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t uttered those words at some point in their life. We all wonder where God is when we are facing some desert, darkness, sickness or storm. When a tornado destroys and entire town or a gunman shoots a dozen victims at a school, we ask why God didn’t do something to stop it. When cancer destroys someone we love or we face unemployment because the company can’t survive the economic conditions of the day, we wonder how God could allow it to happen. Why would we be any different than Job? If he could doubt, we can, too.
We forget that God has the power to control the world around us because He laid the foundations long before we were born. Instead of trusting in Him, we try to control the world with our own strength, and we fail. When we suffer the consequences of our faithlessness, we blame God. We worry. We are afraid. We are desperate. It is when we are desperate that we finally remember God; it is then that we cry out to Him. Thankfully, He hears us and answers. He hasn’t abandoned us. He hasn’t been sleeping. He is there, always ready to save us.
Today’s Gospel lesson is the perfect example of how we might not trust even when God is present in our midst. After all, Jesus was right there and yet the disciples were afraid. They couldn’t believe that Jesus would sleep through the storm. I have a hard time understanding it, too. I do not sleep well, even under the best of circumstances. The threat of storms can keep me awake for hours. Jesus was in a relatively small vessel on a dangerous lake during a powerful storm. It seems impossible that He could sleep. They were afraid that they would die, but Jesus had no fear. He had a peace that gave Him the freedom to rest in the midst of the storm.
The Gospel story is preceded by a discourse of parables about the kingdom of God; we’ve heard a few over the past few weeks. Jesus was sitting in the boat speaking to the crowd that had gathered to listen. The boat was His platform because there were so many people. He spoke about the kingdom in terms the people might understand: the growing seed and the mustard seed, the sower who cast seed that fell on different types of ground. He said, “Is the lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it put on a stand? For there is nothing hidden, except that it should be made known; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light.” All these parables were given to lay a foundation of peace in the hearts of the disciples. In them we see that God is the Lord of everything and we need not worry.
The disciples were fishermen. They knew how to handle a boat. They had experienced rough seas. The Sea of Galilee is known for sudden squalls that seem to come out of nowhere. It would have been somewhat frightening to face such a force of nature, but not unheard of for men in that profession. They knew how to handle the water, the nets and their boat, to get into safe harbor.
When we study stories like this, particularly when there are questions about why Jesus did things He did, we have to wonder if God did this on purpose. Did Jesus know about the storm? Did He plan for this life lesson? When we face our own storms, we can’t help but wonder if this was part of God’s plan. This all too often brings us to the place where Job found himself: blaming God. Instead of having faith, we cry out in fear. “Where was God? How could the Almighty allow this to happen to me? Why?” Or, like the disciples on the boat we ask, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?”
There is a story about a man who slipped and fell off a cliff while hiking on a mountaintop. On his way down he grabbed a branch. He was twenty feet from the top and a long way from the bottom. He feared for his life and cried for help. A booming voice spoke up, “I am here, and I will save you if you believe in me.” “I believe, I believe,” yelled back the man. “If you believe me, let go of the branch and then I will save you.” The man’s fear of death was so great he yelled, “Is there anyone else who can help?” What he didn’t know is that he was just feet from a shelf; if he let go he would land and it would be easier to save him. We don’t always believe the voice. It takes faith to let go and trust that our Lord will save us.
Israel went through many tough times. They were repeatedly defeated and sent into exile. Yet, in the end they were always saved. Today’s psalm is a song of praise that the Lord delivered Israel from her enemies. God never left His people while they hung perilously on spiritual cliffside after spiritual cliffside. It is easy to praise God after we have been saved, but throughout the course of Israel’s history, the nation constantly went looking to others for help. They turned to the strength, power and might of other nations, unwilling to be obedient to God's words. “Is there anyone else,” they asked, ignoring the truth that God is greater than even the greatest nation.
We aren’t much different than the Israelites or the disciples. When we cry for help the voice of God asks, “Do you believe?” All too often we cry back, “Is there anyone else?” because we think we know the way out of our problems better than God. Yet in hindsight we sing hymns of praise like the Psalm knowing that our help is in the name of the Lord, the Creator God who is in control. Yet we all, at too many moments wonder why God would abandon us.
Paul doesn’t wear a facade; he says what he’s thinking. He is often accused of being too blunt and arrogant. He will tell the reader what’s going on in his life if it helps the reader to learn the lesson that he intends. His claims seem like boasts, even if the claim is something bad that happened to him. He has suffered more than others. He has more to offer. He has the right message. Read enough of Paul and you might just wonder if he was the right man to be given the role of apostle.
But God doesn’t make mistakes. Paul was exactly the man He needed because He knew Paul’s heart. Paul’s words ring harshly on our ears sometimes, but perhaps he is saying exactly what we need to hear. We need to know that there is a cost to discipleship, that it isn’t an easy path to walk. We need to know that we will suffer for our faith. We need to be encouraged to follow his example to be all that God is calling us to be. We have to realize we are sinners in need of a Savior and that the Savior has called us to a roller coaster life that will have highs and lows, joys and pains, lessons to learn and to teach. God does not want us to be people who wear masks or facades, but rather people that are willing to speak what our hearts know is true. Honesty and integrity matter, and while we may not always like the man Paul, we can trust that Paul is honest and that his ministry had integrity.
I suppose we might say that Paul had no filter. Oh, I’m sure he was very thoughtful about his words, but even more so he was guided by the Holy Spirit. The very things that bother us about Paul might just be the very lessons that we need to hear most. They might just be the very things that God wants to change in our lives. Are we complaining about our suffering? Then we need to know that suffering produces perseverance, etc. Are we having trouble forgiving our neighbor? Then we need to know that forgiveness is the only way to peace. We don’t like Paul sometimes because Paul says exactly what we don’t want to hear. He doesn’t whitewash the truth; he encourages us with the truth because he has learned that the truth will set us free.
Too many Christians flock to preachers that tell them God wants them to be happy and rich and successful. We don’t want to know about the suffering that comes with faith. We want to live in the rose garden. Paul lived in a rose garden, not because his life was perfect but because he trusted God. Our peace does not come from an easy life; our peace comes from faith. It comes from knowing that in the midst of the storms of life, God is with us. We can trust that He is in control even when our world seems like chaos.
In today’s second lesson, Paul says, “Working together, we entreat also that you not receive the grace of God in vain...” During his entire ministry for Christ he faced difficulty from the Jews, from the Gentiles and from all sorts of authorities. He has a long list of sufferings to his credit. He spent time in prison. He was hungry, cold and tired. He was shipwrecked, beaten and rejected. He knew what it was like to be on the edge of death. He endured many things for Christ and for those who would come to know Him through his ministry. Through his hardships, Paul remained true to God, for with every hardship he suffered he can list an even greater virtue in which he is called to live. “...in pureness, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left...” Whether the circumstances were good or bad, Paul was there to share the kingdom of God with the church and the world. He faced it all with rejoicing because God could and would bring salvation to someone, somewhere at some time. Paul got it; he knew the Lord and did not live in worry or fear.
Peace comes from living thankful lives, trusting that the God who laid the foundation of the earth will bring His people through their troubles. Jesus wandered in His own wilderness, trusting that God was with Him. He faced darkness, knowing that God would light the way. He confronted the pain and dis-ease of this world knowing that God’s healing hand could make a difference. He shouted down the storm and it stopped.
How do we face our own troubles? Do we live in fear and worry, or do we thank God knowing that He is with us in the midst of them? We will experience new adventures, always facing the potential danger and pondering what lies beyond. As we do, let us learn the lesson of faith that Jesus taught the disciples that day on the lake facing the storm. Our scriptures today remind us that we were not there as God laid the foundations of the world. We may not fully understand the storms we face, and we’ll cry out to our God wondering where He is in the midst of it all.
Despite our uncertainty, God calls us to go forth in faith knowing that He is always with us, trusting that He is in control, rejoicing because He is faithful. We might experience things that we do not enjoy, but we are called to take the risks that will shine God’s light through the darkness. Though the world might see us as we often see Paul, too blunt and arrogant with no filters, we need have no fear because He will be there to provide us with everything we need to accomplish His work in the world.
At the end of our Gospel lesson the disciples asked, “Who is this?” The disciples never quite get it; they never quite get that Jesus is LORD. He is Lord of the Sea, Lord of the storm, Lord over our worries and fears. Jesus is more than just someone who can speak the parables of the kingdom of God; He lived them. We ask “Where were you?” and remember those important moments in our lives, but there is another question that Christians should ask. Our response to the difficulties of life will depend on our answer to the most important question, “Who is this?” Is Jesus Lord? If the answer is “Yes,” then trust that He isn’t sleeping. He is with you and He will carry you through all your storms.
“Yahweh, you have searched me, and you know me. You know my sitting down and my rising up. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but, behold, Yahweh, you know it altogether. You hem me in behind and before. You laid your hand on me. This knowledge is beyond me. It’s lofty. I can’t attain it. Where could I go from your Spirit? Or where could I flee from your presence? If I ascend up into heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there! If I take the wings of the dawn, and settle in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand will hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me; the light around me will be night’; even the darkness doesn’t hide from you, but the night shines as the day. The darkness is like light to you. For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well. My frame wasn’t hidden from you, when I was made in secret, woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my body. In your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is their sum! If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand. When I wake up, I am still with you. If only you, God, would kill the wicked. Get away from me, you bloodthirsty men! For they speak against you wickedly. Your enemies take your name in vain. Yahweh, don’t I hate those who hate you? Am I not grieved with those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred. They have become my enemies. Search me, God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139, WEB
Today is National Selfie Day, one of the many unusual reasons to celebrate throughout the year. Established in 2014 by DJ Rick Neely in Arlington, Texas, National Selfie Day has become more than just a chance to take and post pictures of ourselves. Charities in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are benefitting from a fundraising effort connected to the holiday. It is a fun way to spend the day and it is always good to make a difference in a community. Hopefully the charitable aspects will expand well beyond Texas into the four corners of the world as people take and share their own photos.
I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of selfies. The selfie is taken by holding a phone camera with viewing screen facing the person, camera turned in that direction. This means that all the photos come out backwards. This means that not only are the words flipped but also the faces. In other words, instead our face looking as it is, our face is as we see it in a mirror. There isn’t much difference, but we are not symmetrical beings, so the image in the selfie is not true to what is real. We are, perhaps, more comfortable with what we see because it is as we know ourselves, but do we know ourselves as well as we think we do?
There is One who knows us better than anyone, and that is God our Father. He knows our hearts, our thoughts. He knows our wickedness. He knows our hidden sins better than we know them. We would rather not see ourselves as we are because if we did, then we would know that we are not worthy of His grace. We prefer to think that we are good, that our good deeds are enough to get us to heaven. We check off the reasons why we deserve to be blessed. We go to church. We donate to a charity. We helped that little old lady across the street. Yet, we don’t realize that even in the very act of taking a selfie we are actually showing our self-centeredness and self-focus. We are posting an image of ourselves as we see us and we miss the reality that God wants us to see. If we really knew how unworthy we are for His grace, we’d see how gracious God really is. We think we deserve His blessings, but the reality is that He blesses us despite our failures.
I thought about shortening today’s Psalm by not posting verses 19-22. The rest of the Psalm thanks and praises God for His creating and redeeming work in our lives. He is truly worthy of our praise for all He has done for us. It is a positive and inspiring message. Then the psalmist turns to words that seem hateful. “Kill the wicked,” the psalmist says, claiming to hate those who hate God. This is something we see daily, especially when talking about politics and religion. We are right and “they” are wrong. We are good and “they” are evil. I didn’t want that kind of negativity in today’s writing.
And then I read those final words, “Search me, God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” If only we would pray those words daily, asking God to show us our own wickedness and to transform us so that we will be more like He has created and redeemed us to be. See, we often see in others the very wickedness that we do not see in ourselves. We point fingers without realizing the fingers that are pointing back at us. We see the selfie, a mirror image, and ignore the real image that Jesus came to reveal. When we admit our own wickedness, we realize we need Him even more than the neighbors we thought we wanted God to destroy. Then we will pray that God’s grace will renew us all in a way that truly glorifies Him.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one keep warm alone? If a man prevails against one who is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, WEB
We don’t trust one another. Now, the Bible makes it clear that we should not trust in men. “Thus says Yahweh: Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from Yahweh.” (Jeremiah 17:5); “Stop trusting in man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22); “Don’t put your trust in princes, each a son of man in whom there is no help.” (Psalm 146:3) All human beings are sinful, and thus not completely trustworthy. The point of the scriptures is that we are to trust in God alone because other people will disappoint us.
However, we can’t live in this world as islands; we need other people. Yet, the numbers of the trust factor are unbelievable. According to an article I read, only 36% of people trusted the grocery cashier. Only 30% trusted handymen. Only 22% trusted their garbage collector. On the upper side, only 73% trusted their family doctor, 69% clergy and only 64% teachers. The number of people trusting police is 64%, although if you listen to the news, you’d think that number is high. It seems like few people trust the police these days. Only 55% trust their next door neighbor. Only 49% trust their hairdresser. We don’t always have a choice about who will serve us, but if I didn’t trust my doctor or my hairdresser, I would certainly look for another. And how do you live in community if you don’t trust your neighbor?
The writer of the article told a story about a trip to the grocery store. The man at the cash register didn’t trust the cashier and when something showed up on the screen that he didn’t understand, he blew up at her. As it turned out, it was a savings he received from using his store card, but he thought it was a charge. “Why are you charging me that extra amount?” he yelled. He was so upset that he didn’t even let her explain. The other customers were very uncomfortable with the encounter, and it ruined the poor cashier’s confidence. He had so little trust in the cashier that he saw only the possibility that she was doing something wrong.
The trouble with this lack of trust is that we don’t see the goodness of our neighbors. We think everyone is out for self, that’s why we don’t trust that they will do what is right for us. And yet, how often do we prove our compassion? If there is a natural disaster, we are quick to make donations or rush in to help. It doesn’t seem like people care very much when you are at the grocery store and is seems like the other shoppers are completely unaware that there are other shoppers, and yet there are people who do kindnesses. It is hard to see the person who waits patiently when others are just pushing their way through the aisles. It is hard to see the person with a kind smile when so many are grumbling. Yet, I know that there are tall people willing to reach me the box on the top shelf and shoppers who move so that I can get through the aisle. Kindness is there, we just have to look for it.
When we look for the goodness in our neighbors, we realize that the reasons we do not trust are far outweighed by their kindness. The little old lady who grumbles at the kids for getting into her petunias makes a fantastic blueberry cobbler she takes to the fire station. If you knew that about her, would you complain about her to your other neighbors, or would you see how you can make life more livable for her in her home? Imagine what good you could do together if you helped her with her mission to fill hungry fireman bellies?
Our faith belongs to God alone, and it is Him only we can put our trust and confidence for salvation. Yet, we need our neighbors. We can’t live well if we don’t trust the person at the cash register because we are so busy stressing over what they might be doing wrong that we don’t see how they are doing their best. They aren’t perfect; the make mistakes. Don’t we all? We need to learn that mistakes happen and that they aren’t always on purpose. As a matter of fact, they are usually not on purpose. Trusting others will mean that we will be hurt because there are a few in this world who will take advantage of us. We should beware and remember that the only truly trustworthy One is our God. However, as the scripture for today reminds us, we are stronger if we work together to make this world a better place. Two are greater than one and three can’t be broken. We need one another, so let’s start living in a way that appreciates others for what they have been called to do, encouraging them and trusting that they will serve us to the best of their ability.
“This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:5-10, WEB
I sent my daughter a care package this week. She is the director of a Christian summer camp and she had some tough days last week. I wanted to send her a surprise, to raise her spirits and remind her that we are with her, if only in Spirit, praying that her days will get better and her kids will be blessed. One of the gifts was a word search puzzle book. Puzzle books are a great way to “get away” without going anywhere, especially if you only have a few minutes. I chose from a different types of books, including “Fill-it-in” and crossword puzzles, but ultimately chose a word find because I remember that she used to like those. Besides, it had a Bible theme, so it would keep her mind on the task at hand even while she let her mind rest a bit.
One of my favorite types of puzzle is called Sudoku. It is a game of logic, although because it usually uses numbers it seems as though there must be some mathematical solution. That’s how I tried to solve them at first; I tried adding numbers, but it did not make any sense. I gave up and decided to leave Sudoku to others. I realized later that it isn’t about math, but about placement. Each line and box needs to have one of each number present. As you look at the numbers that are already placed in the puzzle board, you can logically figure out where to place the other numbers. The more numbers preplaced, the easier it is to solve the puzzle.
The puzzle maker adds some of the numbers to make it solvable; the more numbers, the easier it is. As you look in the puzzle books or find the puzzle online, you’ll find they often use adjectives like “impossible” or “insane” to describe some of them. Even the moderate ones are challenging, giving just barely enough numbers to get a start. Sometimes there are boxes with absolutely no numbers, giving no clue how to place the numbers in that box. Online Sudoku gives you the option of “penciling in” multiple numbers until you find the right combination. Sometimes you have to play with the numbers, often putting them in the wrong box until you can find the right combination. I have to admit that I sometimes get a little help from the answer key. I don’t think I would ever finish some of the puzzles otherwise.
The hardest part of these puzzles is that when you get on a roll it is very easy to misplace a number. Then you base all your other choices on that mismarked square, so several numbers end up being wrong. Since there is only one solution to every puzzle, one mistake will cause real headaches. I usually find my mistakes fairly early and can fix them, but there are times when I have to start all over because it has become so confused.
We certainly cannot compare a puzzle to the sin we daily commit in this world, but the Sudoku puzzle reminds us of something very important: our sins, even the little ones, affect the world around us, just as that misplaced number affects the rest of the puzzle. We may think that since our wrongdoing seems to affect no one but ourselves, then it is not sin. However, even when it seems to be a victimless crime, sin always touches others in one way or another. Our sinfulness has made the world a less beautiful place and it has caused brokenness in our relationships.
Martin Luther is quoted as saying that we are “simul justus et peccator” which means that Christians are simultaneously righteous and sinner. We dwell in a fallen world but thanks to the love and mercy of God we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. Faith in Him makes us saints. But as John reminds us, we still sin. I recently read a book that put this into a new perspective. We often think of this saint/sinner is by percentages. We think we can be 50% saint and 50% sinner. We recognize that we are sometimes 70% sinner and 30% saint. We hope we are usually 99% saint and maybe only tiny percent sinner. Yet, we are reminded that even one sin, one tiny, inconsequential thing we do wrong means we are broken and in need of forgiveness. Even 1% sinner makes us 100% sinner. Yet, Christ died so that we can take upon us His righteousness and are thus 100% saint.
Our tiniest sins will affect the world around us, but thanks to Jesus we can begin each day with a clean slate and try to be the people God has created and redeemed to be. We will put numbers in the wrong box and we will sin against God and neighbor in thought, word and deed, but we can offer our confession and receive His grace. All too often we aren’t willing to admit that we have done anything wrong, but we are truly sinners even while we are saints. Confessing our faith also means confessing our sin that we might receive that which Christ has done and live according to His good and perfect Word.
“I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. For I married you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if you receive a different spirit, which you did not receive, or a different ‘good news’, which you did not accept, you put up with that well enough. For I reckon that I am not at all behind the very best apostles. But though I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not unskilled in knowledge. No, in every way we have been revealed to you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached to you God’s Good News free of charge? I robbed other assemblies, taking wages from them that I might serve you. When I was present with you and was in need, I wasn’t a burden on anyone, for the brothers, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my need. In everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and I will continue to do so. As the truth of Christ is in me, no one will stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Why? Because I don’t love you? God knows. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them that desire an occasion, that in which they boast, they may be found even as we. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as Christ’s apostles. And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” 2 Corinthians 11:1-15, WEB
I saw a story about a marathon that was run in China. The runners were all given a gift bag at the end of the race. One of the items in the bag looked like a candy bar. It was long and flat, wrapped in colorful paper and the words on the label were written in English. Unfortunately, the bar was not chocolate, but rather soap. Most of the bars were found littering the road, all with just one bite out of the corner. It was a great gift, appropriate to those who had just run a marathon, but it was deceptive because it looked like something else. I’m sure the organizers did not plan for this mistake, I am also sure that similar mistakes have happened because items are often wrapped in deceptive packages.
Unfortunately, it is not just tangible products that can be wrapped in deceptive packages. If you pay attention to the newspapers at the check-out lane in the grocery store, you’ll often see headlines that are best described as “fake news.” These particular fake news sources have been around for decades. I recall reading the headlines one day as I waited in line; they made me curious, but not enough to buy the paper. Instead I went home and looked it up on the Internet, hoping to find those articles for free. I didn’t, but I spent some time looking at other articles, laughing at the foolishness and wondering who really believes that stuff.
Some of the most popular topics are aliens, mutated animals and people, conspiracies and prophecies. The writers manage to put some sort of spin on these stories, often crediting themselves with the discovery of a sign pointing toward the end of the world or proof that some bizarre prophecy is true. Particularly discouraging, though, are the amount of articles that are written to disparage Christianity; they often have the effect of making believers look ridiculous. They announce the discovery of some new scroll that proves things are not as we have believed. There have been stories that supposedly prove that Jesus was an alien, that he didn’t die or that he wasn’t resurrected. They claim to have some revelation from God about a new way to live or a new way to understand God’s Word. One story even claimed that a recent discovery meant rewriting the first few chapters of Genesis.
While the stories in the grocery store tabloid might be so outrageous that it is impossible for anyone to really believe, they are an extreme but not an exception. As a matter of fact, changing the text of the scriptures, transforming the story of God has become commonplace. I just learned about a new bible translation that has even added chapters, supposedly given to the “interpreter” by Jesus Himself. This is nothing new, something that began in the Garden of Eden with Satan himself twisting the words of God, leading Adam and Eve into a path of destruction. We might ignore stories from the tabloids, but how many people are using other fictional work in a way that makes it appear as though it is Gospel? How many people are falling for the false gospels being sold in the form of a Bible or Christian worship?
I doubt that very many people buy the weekly grocery store tabloids because they think the stories are true. More likely they are purchased for the entertainment value. After all, it is funny to read some of those ridiculous stories. They are extreme, beyond belief. However, there are those who wrap false gospels in paper that makes more like that soap in the form of a candy bar. They usually hold more than a grain of truth, enough to make us wonder if it isn’t really true. That’s what Satan does. He takes God’s Word and twists it. The truth is there, but it is changed just enough to no longer be true. We should not be changing the Bible because some editor claims to have proof of another story. Neither should we be changing the meaning of the texts because someone claims to have found something that sounds better. Satan can make himself look good, and he can make his lies sound right. Satan’s word will fail, it will not stand the test of time. So let us remain true to God’s Word which will always stand up against falsehoods and will last unto eternal life.
Scriptures for Sunday, July 1, 2018, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43
“Yahweh is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” Lamentations 3:25, WEB
I have been reading through the Bible in a year, using a reading program that looks at a different genre of the Bible every day of the week. Sunday is for the Epistles, Monday is the Law (the five books of Moses), Tuesday is the Histories, Wednesday is the Psalms, Thursday is the Poetry, Friday is the Prophets, and Saturday is the Gospels. It is a wonderful way to keep on track with daily Bible reading because you never get bogged down by the more tedious texts. You read a few chapters and then the next day you get to read something more exciting, returning to the tedium the next week. There is an astounding symmetry between the genres; you often find these unrelated texts lining up in a theme or thought.
Last night’s reading was out of 1 Kings. This book, along with Samuel, Chronicles and a few others, tells the history of God’s people. Quite frankly, it can get pretty tedious. Over and over again the writer tells us that this king or that did evil in God’s sight and the people of Israel turned from God. Every few generations a good king would come along to clean up the mess and bring the people to repentance, and then the pattern would start all over again. The writer tells us that Ahab did more to provoke God’s anger than all the kings before him. Ahab married Jezebel; he raised an altar to Baal and an Asherah pole. God destroyed those evil kings, although often not until they had ruled for decades. Through all this, however, God always remained true to His promise to David. Despite the failure of the kings, David’s house never fell. As a matter of fact, we know that David’s house was made eternal in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how much God’s people failed, God remained true.
The book of Lamentations was likely written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It consists of five poems that express grief of the destruction that was brought by the Babylonians who were merely human agents of God’s divine judgment. The book ends with a cry to God for His mercy to restore His people. The middle, of which today’s passage is a part, focuses on God. The lamenter confesses faith in the God of hope, love, salvation and restoration, despite the fact that it seems God has abandoned His people. He had not; He was among them, doing what needed to be done to turn them back to Him. They knew God was faithful and that His compassion is never ending.
We do not like to think of God as one who would destroy the lives of His people as punishment for their disobedience. After all, God is love, right? Many reject the God we hear about in the Old Testament because He seems out of character from the God of grace and forgiveness from the New Testament that we know and love. Yet, the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament is the One God. These songs of lament are part of our Christian heritage and worship. We sing laments around Christ’s passion because we are reminded of the very reason why Christ died: He took upon Himself the very wrath that we deserved. The God of the Old Testament took the final and permanent solution to our disobedience upon Himself by offering the final and permanent sacrifice of His own Son.
The Hebrew title of the book of Lamentations is the word ‘ekah which means “How...!” The laments begin with this word in a statement of fact rather than question: “How deserted lies the city...” “How the Lord has covered the Daughter...” “How the gold has lost its luster...” These statements betray boldness in the midst of the humiliation the people experienced. “See how much we have lost!” It is a cry to God to notice the state of His people, to remember them.
In the passage for this day we see that the cry was not one of arrogance but of trust in the love of God. The suffering was not unwarranted. Israel sinned and deserved discipline. “It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh.” We know that the Lord does not intend His people for destruction, even when it seems He has abandoned us. The lament is filled with hope. Those that trust in the Lord will be saved from the dust, from the smiter, from the insults.
Two characters in today’s Gospel passage trusted in God. The first was an important man, a leader in the synagogue. Apparently he was like an administrator, a man in charge of the property and organizing worship. Though most of the Jewish leaders were hesitant about Jesus, a few heard Him speak and believed. Nicodemus, whose story we heard just a few weeks ago on Holy Trinity Sunday, preferred to keep his interest quiet, approaching Jesus in the dead of night. He did not want to risk losing what he’d worked so hard to attain. Jairus was different, perhaps because he was spurred on by a different purpose. Nicodemus was seeking answers to his questions; Jairus was seeking answers to his prayers. Nicodemus was not willing to risk his life for his encounter with Jesus because he was not motivated by a higher cause. Jairus was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of someone else: his twelve-year old daughter.
Mark tells us the Jairus fell at the feet of Jesus and pleaded with Him to heal his daughter. He was a man of authority, yet he knelt before Jesus. There were great crowds around Jesus, pushing and shoving one another. Everyone wanted to be near Him. What was their motivation? Did they want answers to questions or answers to prayers? Did they just want to feed their curiosity or did they really believe? We will see, as we hear the telling of Jesus’ story by Mark through this season of Pentecost that some had faith but many did not. They were not willing to follow Jesus when it became hard. Jairus boldly sought God’s grace, crying out for mercy to the One he trusted could help.
The woman in the second story is not quite as confident but was equally as bold as Jairus. She is unnamed but she had faith. She had been bleeding for twelve years, which was not only physically disabling but also emotionally and spiritually. It was financially disastrous. She must have been a woman of some means, for she had seen many physicians, but none could provide healing. There was no chance for atonement because she bled continually. She could not present her offerings, and so was left separated from the community. She had nothing left; she had nowhere left to turn. She was an outcast and should not even have been in the crowd that day because her very presence made everyone around her unclean. No one could touch her and she could not go into the temple. She was just one of many in the crowd pressing in on this miracle worker. She knew it was not right for her to speak to Him, to ask Him to heal her. She believed that she would be healed if only she could touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. She didn’t need to disturb the teacher; there were others far more powerful that wanted His attention.
But she had hope. She had heard about Jesus and knew that He would make her well. So she snuck through the crowd and touched the tassel of His robe. She immediately felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Jesus knew power had left Him. "Who touched me?" He asked. He didn't ask because He was annoyed or upset by her need, but because He knew she needed more than the physical healing she had experienced. She needed to be made well. She needed to boldly proclaim her faith before the people present so that they see the truth that Jesus had been teaching. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who boldly approach God in prayer and seek His mercy.
In fear and trembling, she fell down before Him and told the whole truth. He answered, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be cured of your disease.” She felt the healing, but Jesus did more. Her faith was not enough. Would the frightened woman have been fully healed if she slipped into the crowd without hearing Jesus’ word of grace? Her suffering was more than the bleeding. It was the life of isolation, spiritual oppression, fear and lack of hope. Jesus set her free. He was her salvation and gave her hope for the future. She was healed physically by His power, but she was made whole by His Word.
In the meantime, Jairus received the news that his daughter was dead. The men told Jarius to leave Jesus alone; they didn’t believe it would do any good for him to go to the house. Jesus told Jarius, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” Jesus ignored the doubters and went into the home where the child lay. He rebuked the crowd for mourning, saying she was merely asleep, but they laughed at Him. He allowed only a few people in the room: her father and mother, Peter, James and John. There He took her hand and told her to get up. Immediately she stood up and began to walk around. They were astonished, but Jesus ordered them to keep silent about the child's resurrection and told them to feed her.
Although we can only speculate by the text, I wonder if there was some connection between the twelve year old girl and the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Could the woman have been the child’s mother? An important synagogue ruler would not be able to do his work if a woman who was continuously unclean was so near. This would make the encounter with Jesus not only about restored health but also restoration to her family. The mother of the child does not appear on the scene until after Jesus healed the bleeding woman. Again, we can only speculate because Mark does not make this clear, but the twelve years connects these two in life and in death.
What is death? In the most common definition, death is when a physical body stops living, when a living thing breathes no more. I’m sure most of us have experienced the loss of someone we knew and loved, whether it was a person or even a pet. Death is the ultimate separation because except for the memories, we have no connection to that person or animal after they’ve died.
But death can be understood in a wider sense, to include objects and ideas as well as physical beings. Psychiatrists tell us that people grieve any sort of loss, just as they might grieve for a dead loved one. The loss of a job means separation from the workplace, co-workers and financial security. When we are separated from a friend because of an argument or a change in the relationship, we go through a period of grief. It can feel like we’ve died when we have been faced with the reality that our opinions or ideas are wrong, especially if those ideas or opinions are deeply rooted and long lasting.
God created us to last forever, living together in His Kingdom, under His rule, with His grace as the bond that ties us all together. Unfortunately, we live in a world corrupted by sin, our own and the sins of others, from the days of Adam and Eve until now. That sin causes death of body, mind and spirit. It causes death in relationships. It causes death of spirit as we are separated from our Creator God.
God did not intend for His creation to die. He did not intend for sickness. He did not intend for violence. This world is filled with death, illness, destruction, broken relationships. All too often death finds us because we have not lived as God intended. It began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent and believed him above the voice of God. We continue to suffer the consequences of that choice.
The woman was alive but she was dead in her world for twelve years; the child was alive for twelve years, but she died just as her life in the world was just about to begin. We usually read the story of the woman as a disruption of the story of Jairus, but by connecting the two by those twelve years, we see that Jesus answers their faith and trust with the restoration of more than just life. He restores community, family. They sought God’s grace in faith and trusted that He would be true to His promises, finding something much greater than they ever expected.
Imagine what it must have been like in Jarius’ household after Jesus left. The mourners were proven wrong. Did they know that Jesus had raised her or did they think He had been right that she was only asleep? Whatever their understanding of the event, Jesus had turned their mourning into dancing. They took off their sackcloth and rejoiced that the child was alive. How much more joy would they have had if the mother was also restored to the household?
Today’s psalm is almost shocking in its boldness. The psalmist cries to God, “What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth?” Can you imagine going to an authority figure of any sort with such a supplication? It nearly sounds as if the person thinks that God’s grace is dependent on his cry. Yet, what we are hearing is a psalm of praise for answered prayer. God has lifted him. God has saved him. God has defeated the foes and kept them silent. When the psalmist cried for help, God heard and answered.
Our psalm today was probably written by David. It is a song of praise, a song that remembers a time when God’s people became arrogant and forgetful. It is a song that is still appropriate for us today. We are reminded of our own failure to live up to the expectations of our God, the God who has done great things for us. As we gather together to sing praise to God, we are humbled by His extraordinary love and mercy. He takes the reality of our failure and turns it upside down so that we can sing His praise and give thanks to Him forever.
David knew the feeling of joy. He knew what it was like to have God lift him out of his troubles and what it was like to see God overcome his enemies. He knew what it was like to have God save him from death. He also knew what it was like to be disciplined, to face God’s disappointment and anger. But God was merciful to David, for David’s heart hoped in the LORD, even when his flesh failed. David knew what it was like to exalt God for His mercy and grace. “For his anger is but for a moment. His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” David kept the eyes of his heart on his only hope: the Lord God Almighty. “Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”
We can be bold with God, crying out to Him in our suffering, because though we may be experiencing the consequences of our failure to be faithful, God hears our cries and answers our prayers. We may lament our circumstances but God is bigger than our moans. He is ready to transform us, to make us whole, to bring us back to life. If we truly received what we deserved, we’d receive His wrath. Instead, we experience His love. Even while we are suffering we can rejoice and praise Him because we know that He is our salvation.
Many people begin their relationship with Christ using this simple but powerful prayer, “God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!” It is a lament of sinfulness, recognition of what we deserve, a confession of faith in the one who can save us and how He does so. It is finally a cry for mercy and a word of praise for what He has done for each of us. Amen.
This is a matter of trust, knowing that God is with us and that He is faithful. He has promised redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness. He has promised that we will be His through faith by grace. We hear, we believe and we confess this trust in words and in hope as we wait for God to complete His work of salvation in our lives. Our laments are broken by words of hope, encouraged that those who suffer in faith merely have to wait patiently for the mercy of God, for salvation is never far from those who trust in Him. “For the Lord will not cast off for ever.” Jairus trusted, the woman trusted and God saved those who sought His mercy and grace.
Imagine what it must have been like in Corinth. They were blessed to have received the Gospel. The church in Corinth was founded by Paul who visited Corinth during his second missionary journey. He kept in touch with all the churches he founded with letters. The letters help us to understand our faith, the church and the doctrines that still hold us together. Unfortunately, Corinth was also visited by false apostles, those who meant to destroy the ministry of Paul. They taught false doctrine and caused the church to doubt Paul’s authority and his words. Paul wrote to encourage them, to restore them and to correct the falsehoods that had been confusing the people.
The relationship was nearly restored when Paul wrote his second letter to Corinth. His letter was written to encourage the Corinthians to be the Church that God meant them to be, to return to the way that they were going before the false apostles entered the picture. Apparently they had begun to take a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul had seen the faith and generosity of the Corinthian church in action, and he encouraged them to continue. He had the authority to do more than encourage, but he didn’t want to use force. The text for today is a call to faithfulness. This is a call to prove that they believe. “If you do this, we will see that your faith is real.” Living faith is faith in action.
We don’t know why, but money they collected was gone. Perhaps, like so many of us today, they felt the effects of some financial crisis. Perhaps they needed to repair a roof or replace the carpeting. Perhaps the harvest was not good or some other situation in the city was causing want. Whatever happened, being faithful to their promise was going to be a struggle. Yet, even with some fear gnawing at them, Paul knew they could still offer something.
Of course, they probably set a goal. Don’t we do that for our fundraising? We even make pretty boards with pictures of something to ‘fill up’ as we collect the money. We use a thermometer which we color red until it hits the desired ‘temperature.’ We get creative and use different pictures, often related to the focus of our fundraising. Are we planning a garden? We add pictures of flowers to a green meadow. Are we planning a building? We add brick upon brick until the building is built.
There was no way they could finish the work. They couldn’t color the whole board red, or add the final flowers or place the final bricks. They were discouraged. They were probably feeling guilty, too, having abandoned Paul for the ‘super-apostles’ and for losing the gift they’d gathered. How could they send less than they intended? Wouldn’t it be better to give up? Paul told them, “No, it would not be better to give up.” He knew that even in their loss they had more than enough. They certainly had more than the believers in Jerusalem. Even though they did not have as much as they intended to give, any gift would be helpful to make things right for the believers in Jerusalem.
Paul’s letter reminds us to trust in God. Our lessons today remind us that God is in control and that His love never ceases. It might seem, at times, that the suffering in the world could have been avoided, if only God had done something. Why would a young girl get sick and die? Why would a woman bleed for twelve years? Why do we ever have a need to lament? Jairus and the woman were bold enough to seek healing through Jesus. The psalmist was bold enough to remind God that his death would be meaningless and even harmful. The lamenter trusted that God’s love will win. God can’t ignore the needs of His people. When He hears their cry, He answers.
He answered our cry with Jesus. What Christ did for you and I gives us all we need to respond to the world with the same grace. Jesus’ response to those in need was not calculated. He gave each as they needed, no matter what it did to Him. Even when it seemed like He was being zapped of power, He had enough power to do more. Jesus responded to the need of the synagogue leader and allowed His mission to be interrupted by the bleeding woman. He didn’t think about how the leader might interpret His conversation with the woman. He didn’t tell her to go away because He was too busy. He simply did what needed to be done, trusting that God would provide.
That’s what it is all about, isn’t it? Trust. The Corinthians may have had reason to be concerned about the finances of their church or even their personal finances. Paul didn’t even as them to give what they’d first promised. He simply asked them to be faithful. “Finish the work you began.” Jesus started the work, in both the synagogue leader and the woman’s lives. He spoke, they heard and believed. They cried out to God for help and He answered. He finished the work He began.
Now we continue that work. It is easy to believe in God, to have faith. It is much harder to trust that God will do what He has promised. It is even harder to live that faith that God will do what He has promised by responding to the needs of those around us. We might find excuses, even good ones. The Corinthians may have used their resources for something they deemed valuable. Perhaps they thought another use was more beneficial to the whole church. Perhaps they thought the false apostles deserved payment. Perhaps they really were facing hard times as a congregation and as individuals. But God didn’t do what He did so that we could have a dead faith. He saved us so that we might help others. He restored the relationship with us so that we could continue His work in this world.
Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” God calls us to boldly live the faith we have been given, trusting that God can and will restore our world as it is meant to be. God listens to our cries and answers our prayers. He finishes His work in our lives. Life in Christ means more than just having faith. It means responding to the cries we hear in the world with trust, knowing that God will not abandon us. His love is eternal and He is faithful. We may not be rich, but we are rich in Christ, so let us use our resources to continue the work He began until it is finished and the whole world is glorifying Him.
“‘Look to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by myself. The word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and will not be revoked, that to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. They will say of me, “There is righteousness and strength only in Yahweh.”’Even to him shall men come; and all those who raged against him shall be disappointed. All the offspring of Israel will be justified in Yahweh, and will rejoice!” Isaiah 45:22-25, WEB
A young boy named Jimmy had difficulty pronouncing the letter “R” so his teacher gave him a sentence to practice at home. The sentence was: “Robert gave Richard a rap in the rib for roasting the rabbit so rare.” Tongue twisters are commonly used by actors to develop good pronunciation; the activity would help Jimmy learn how to form the sound for “R” and speak more clearly. Some days later the teacher asked him to say the sentence for her. Jimmy rattled it off like this: “Bob gave Dick a poke in the side for not cooking the bunny enough.” He had evaded the letter “R”.
We will often go to great lengths to avoid the things we do not want to do. We use voice mail and caller ID to screen our calls. We cross to the other side of the street if there is someone we want to avoid. Students have been known to use Cliff’s Notes or watch movies to avoid reading a book. I use paper plates when I don’t feel like doing dishes. I have to admit that I sometimes republish writing from the past when I can’t find inspiration for this devotional. If I weren’t married to Bruce, I would live in an apartment so I wouldn’t have a lawn to mow. Some tasks take more energy to avoid than to complete. Jimmy could have practiced the sentence and learned how to pronounce the letter “R”. Instead he put his effort into making a new sentence that said the same thing, accomplishing nothing. Walking across the street to avoid someone takes far more effort than a quick hello. Carrying groceries to an apartment on an upper floor could be far more difficult than mowing a lawn once a week.
Too many of us avoid something of spiritual importance: repentance. It is so hard to give up our nasty habits to live a better life. We justify our bad behavior or pass blame on another. We claim what we are doing isn’t really that bad, or that there’s good reason for our actions. It is all well and good when we change our bad behavior, but real repentance is far deeper than altering a few things about our lives. It is about admitting that we are sinners in need of a Savior and turning to God in trust and confidence that He will be merciful and forgiving. By turning to God, we reject the things that do not please Him and live in His promises.
If Jimmy had listened to his teacher, he may have overcome his speech trouble. However, he rejected her recommendation and did extra work to avoid the help she was trying to give. When we go out of our way to avoid the things we do not want to do, we often create more work for ourselves and we miss the blessings we may receive from obedience.
Richard Trench, the archbishop of Dublin once said, “Repentance: That mighty change in mind, heart, and life, wrought by the Spirit of God.” When we hear the message of Christ’s forgiveness, we may rejoice in the wonder of His love, but without turning toward Him and thus giving up our old ways, nothing will be changed. It is not enough to just regret what we have done, or feel remorse. Repentance is an active turning away from the things that separate us from God. We do this by faith, faith given by God through His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.
How often do we do everything we can to avoid that great and glorious work of repentance that God wants to do in our lives? God says, “Turn to me and be saved.” God has promised and He is faithful.
“Brothers, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, I write a new commandment to you, which is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shines. He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no occasion for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:7-11, WEB
I bought a new pair of pants yesterday. The pants are really cute with blue and white stripes. I worried that I wouldn’t have a shirt to match, but I bought it anyway. This morning, as I was looking through my closet for something to wear, I tried to match those pants with one of my shirts. I was confused when I looked at the pants and saw that the stripes were black, not blue. I was sure they were blue in the store, how could they be black? I have this same problem with another pair of pants. It is a pinkish coral shade and I have bought multiple shirts that I was sure would match. In my closet, those shirts do match that pair of pants. However, when I get out into the sunlight, the colors are so different that they outfit looks silly.
The problem is the light in my closet. I took the pants out of my closet into the sunlight and they truly were blue, not navy blue but bright cobalt. The light changes the color of some clothes so significantly that I end up making choices that do not match. I learned today that I need to take the clothes out of the closet into the sunlight before dressing so that I am certain that I am seeing them properly.
Light matters. Light is used to create ambience. That’s why romantic restaurants use candles and subdued lighting. Light is used to put the best appearance on things. Did you know that grocery stores use a particular type of light to make the produce look better? Entertainers use lighting to create excitement and to draw the eyes of the audience to exactly the right place. Photographers use specialized lighting to enhance the subject of their photos. I know one painter who has used the same landscape dozens of times, making each piece different by the way he has used light.
We need light, particularly in our 24/7 world. Life before electricity meant people went to bed when the sun set and rose when it rose. They had candles, but that was not enough light to accomplish anything, particularly outside. The light bulb means that we can work well into the night. We can drive down the street using headlights and street lights to see. Light helps us see in the darkness. A news reporter interviewed a person convicted of rape and asked what women could do to protect themselves. His best piece of advice was for the women to make sure they stayed in well-lit areas. Light matters because it reveals what is hidden.
As we’ve seen in the story of my pants, the type of light matters, too. I decided today that I should change the type of light bulb that I have in my closet. I have been thinking about the lighting in my studio, also. The right light will help make decisions about color in both my clothes and my art. The evangelist John is very clear in both his gospel and his first letter that Jesus is the Light. Unfortunately, too many Christians think they are seeing things clearly, but they are viewing them through a light that changes the reality.
John tells us how to know if we see things through the wrong light. “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in the darkness even until now.” I follow a Facebook page that posts articles of Christian satire. The stories are funny, and there are always a few commentators who make the post even funnier. Unfortunately, sometimes the stories hit a little too close to true; some of the readers take the joke a little too personally. They don’t realize it is satire, so they fight back, attacking those who embrace the joke. I suppose we could question the idea of Christian satire, since it doesn’t put anyone in the best light, but I think we are healthiest when we can laugh at ourselves and it doesn’t help when we attack our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The point that John is making is that we have to learn how to respond to the world even when we feel like we’ve been attacked.
We will be attacked when we dwell in the Light who is Christ. After all, He was attacked to the point of death. The world stands against His Kingdom, and we need to be in His Light to stand with Him. This means loving one another, even when we disagree. It means loving those who seem to strike us right where it hurts the most. We will disagree, even with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are still sinners even while we are saints, and we do not see the world as clearly as we will in eternity. That means we will fail one another. However, we share the same Light; living in His love means forgiveness, encouragement, peace and joy. Instead of attacking one another, let us dwell in the True Light so that God’s love will flow from our lives into the world.