Welcome to the June 2019 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 2019
June 3, 2019
“For the promise to Abraham and to his offspring that he should be heir of the world wasn’t through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of no effect. For the law produces wrath, for where there is no law, neither is there disobedience. For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace, to the end that the promise may be sure to all the offspring, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. As it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ This is in the presence of him whom he believed: God, who gives life to the dead, and calls the things that are not, as though they were. Besides hope, Abraham in hope believed, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, ‘So will your offspring be.’ Without being weakened in faith, he didn’t consider his own body, already having been worn out, (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. Yet, looking to the promise of God, he didn’t waver through unbelief, but grew strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was also able to perform. Therefore it also was ‘credited to him for righteousness.’ Now it was not written that it was accounted to him for his sake alone, but for our sake also, to whom it will be accounted, who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.” Romans 4:13-25, WEB
There is no hope in the law because there is no guarantee in it. We can do everything right; we can obey every traffic signal, speed limit and safety code, but we can still be in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up in an accident. For example, I was working a job in New Jersey doing quality control for a mobile disc jockey company. On my way from one job to the next, I was in a town with which I was unfamiliar. This was before GPS and I was lost, unsure which direction I needed to take to get to my destination. I made the decision to turn left, got into the right lane and waited for the green arrow. I checked traffic in every direction when the light changed and all seemed well. Unfortunately, a car appeared out of nowhere and ran the red light as I was turning. The guy, who was drunk, high and had no insurance, hit me so hard my car spun around before coming to a halt. A can of soda on my seat flew into the dashboard and exploded. I might have done the same had I not been wearing my seat belt.
I did everything technically right when I was driving that evening, but my decision to make that left put me in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had poor information and that turn would have taken me in the wrong direction. I assumed that I would make it home without incident when I left my apartment that day, but we never have that guarantee even if we do absolutely nothing wrong. Things happen, and they even happen to people do their best to do what is right and good. Unfortunately, bad things can happen even when we obey all the laws. In my case, the bad thing happened because I did not have good information and the heart of the man who ran the red light was imperfect. If I had known that the left turn would have led to my accident, I would not have gone that way. There is no hope in obeying the law because there is no promise that can be assured.
People who don’t steal become victims of people who do. People who don’t murder become victims of those who do. People who don’t lie or cheat become victims of people who do. Unfortunately, we also make bad decisions because we do not always have all the right information. A woman can fall in love with a man who says one thing but does another. They get married and the truth is finally revealed. The woman realizes that she made a terrible decision, but she’s made a vow before God. She knows that getting out of the relationship is the best thing to do, but she also knows that breaking that vow is a sin. She could not trust in the law to protect her from what happened. However, she could trust in the promise of grace.
Even though she had to break that vow, God is gracious and merciful. Her sin is not counted against her, for it is by faith that we are saved, not by law. Faith does come with a guarantee, not that everything will be perfect, but that God will be faithful to His promises. We can be assured that our trespasses are forgiven and that our failure to live up to the expectations of the Law will never separate us from the God who gave it to us. Faith puts us in a right relationship with God that the Law could never accomplish because we are imperfect and we will make mistakes, both intentional and accidental. Faith puts our trust in the God who can do the impossible. He created the world out of nothing, gave barren Sarah and aged Abraham a child, made Jesus rise from the dead. He can forgive us our faults and keep us in a right relationship with Him today, tomorrow and always.
“But know this, that in the last days, grievous times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, not lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied its power. Turn away from these, also. For some of these are people who creep into houses, and take captive gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Even as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so do these also oppose the truth; men corrupted in mind, who concerning the faith, are rejected. But they will proceed no further. For their folly will be evident to all men, as theirs also came to be.” 2 Timothy 3:1-9, WEB
I worked in retail for several years as both a clerk and then in management. I learned some things about human nature that was disappointing to me. Unfortunately, one of the most important tasks of anybody working in retail is to stop shoplifters from taking merchandise without paying. Most stores do not have a security guard, but even if we did, so many of the ways of stealing are not as simple as just sticking something under a shirt and walking out of the store. Most shoplifters do not try to get something for nothing, they try to get something for less.
Take, for instance, braziers. I once purchased a bra from a superstore and the cashier could not get the UPC code to work. I had to explain to her that she needed to take the item out of the box and scan the code located on the item itself. It is possible to take a more expensive bra and slip it into a box of a cheaper one. We had that problem at a store where I worked with yarn, shoes and jewelry. Other shoplifters try to stuff things inside of other things. We had to open every box and take the paper out of every purse to ensure that something was not hidden inside. We ran into the problem of people trying to return items of a questionable nature at another store where I worked. We had several regulars who never had the proper receipt. There were times when it was quite obvious when the person was trying to pull something over on us. After awhile, it became difficult to look at them without wondering what game they were playing.
I disliked dealing with people when I knew they were not being honest with me. I could not understand how someone could live a life such as theirs, having to tip toe through every exchange and keeping up appearances. They used the same excuses, the same stories and the same indignant responses when questioned. Eventually, even as they walked in the door, the store employees went on guard: managers were called immediately to make sure that they were given no opportunity to pull anything. Their dishonesty became evident and we did all we could to stop their scheme.
Unfortunately, we can find the same sort of schemes in the ministries of some Christians today. Teachers and preachers who claim to be speaking the Word of God are just filling pages with garbage and making a profit by deception. We buy into the slick trends and pretty packages, thinking that they will change our lives. Sometimes they do, for a brief moment, but they lead us on a path of destruction. False teachers are selling a false Gospel.
Chasing after shoplifters was definitely not my favorite part of the job when I worked in retail. After all, I would much rather enjoy knowing that people are honest and trustworthy. Yet, it was important for the sake of the store, employees and our customers to keep shoplifting to a minimum. The cost of everything rises when we have to make up for that which has been taken or destroyed.
When it comes to the things of faith, I would much rather that everyone who claims to be from God really spoke the truth, but I know this is not going to happen. This is why it is necessary to discern between right and wrong. The comfort in this, as found in the words from Paul, is that the ways of the schemer are found out and their folly will come to an end. Until then, let us preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and pray for the gift of discernment for all who hear, so that they will see the love and mercy of God and come to live in His grace.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 9, 2019, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 (25-27)
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.” Romans 8:16-17, WEB
We have been celebrating Easter for the past seven weeks, not only the resurrection of Jesus but also the promise of what is to come for those who believe. Our scriptures have been future focused, not as in tomorrow or next year, but as in the Day of the Lord. We have looked at the promise of when the work of Christ is complete and the New Jerusalem is a reality not just a hope. We are Easter people and the Day will come when we will dwell with the Lord forever.
Jesus was taken into heaven to sit at the right hand of God on the Day of Ascension. It seemed as though the disciples were left alone to continue the work Jesus began. Though they’d been given the promise of what was to come, they had to wait for it to come. Can you imagine the doubts and uncertainties they might have experienced in between the Ascension and Pentecost? Would they recognize the promised Advocate? Would they know when He came? Would the world listen to them and understand what they were trying to say? Jesus talked about unity between people. Could the disciples really be unified when they argued about everything?
Those ten days must have been difficult, dealing with disappointment, discouragement, uncertainty and doubt. Despite the promises, the disciples did not yet have the indwelling Spirit of God, so for a moment they were left alone. How would they do it? How in the world would they ever do greater things than Jesus? After all, that’s what He promised.
Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead. He fed thousands of people with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Jesus spoke with authority and He changed lives. Jesus did things that only the Messiah was expected to do. Though they may not have fully understood the reality of it, they knew that Jesus was the Son of God. He was not an ordinary man. They might be able to follow Him, they might even be able to do some of the things He did, but they could never do greater things, could they?
Yet, that was the promise in today’s Gospel lesson: they would do greater things than Jesus. “Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father.”
The greater things are not what we might expect. Jesus did miracles, but even greater than the miracles is the message of the Gospel. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, but even greater than these is the life-giving Word of God. We are amazed to think that someone might have been dead and then was alive, but the greater miracle is found in the salvation of God. Every Christian, saved by the Gospel and transformed by the Holy Spirit, is a greater thing than all those things that Jesus did. Jesus’ expectations were not for the disciples to become like Him, wandering the countryside doing miracles, though that was one way the Gospel would be shared. Instead, Jesus intended something greater for His people. They were called to share God’s grace with the world, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to do all that Jesus commanded them to do.
Jesus made the promise that they would do greater things and that He would give them the Holy Spirit to help. The disciples spent ten days between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. It was a time of waiting, but not passive waiting. They were gathered in the upper room praying together. It was not just the twelve. The women, Mary and Jesus’ brothers were there. Matthias was appointed to replace Judas among the apostles. Can you imagine the emotions? They missed Jesus who had been the center of their lives for three years. They may have felt abandoned by God. They enjoyed being with Jesus and His departure left them empty.
Yet, they had faith. They obeyed Jesus. They waited. They prayed. They watched. Then, after ten days, something extraordinary happened.
The lectionary takes us back to the story of Babel in Genesis 11.
Mankind had settled together and founded a city. Together they decided to build a tower that would reach to heaven. It is typical of human nature to try to become like the gods. The Lord God Almighty saw that they could accomplish great feats together and so He confused their language and sent the people to the four corners of the world. Archeologists have recently identified what they believe could have been the original tower and it is interesting to note that it is dwarfed by the amazing skyscrapers of today.
The problem was not that they were able to build a tower that would reach into heaven. That is an impossible feat because heaven is not a place we pinpoint on a map. We have sent rockets into outer space and have cameras that have filmed the far edges of our universe, but they will never reach heaven. The problem in Babel was that the people were repeating the foolishness of Adam and Eve; they thought they could become like God. The languages have been confused, but human beings have never stopped accomplishing great things together. The people in the ancient world found ways to communicate with people of other languages. The people in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day were possibly capable of communicating in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin, including Jesus and the disciples.
Of course, Jerusalem was filled with people who spoke many other languages during the days of Pentecost. There were people with Hebraic heritage all over the known world. A large community lived in Ethiopia. There were communities of Jews in Asia. Luke tells us that the crowd in Jerusalem was filled with Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. There were ways to get what you need when you are in a foreign place, but who would have thought that a hodgepodge group of Galileans could speak in a way that so many could hear and understand?
Pentecost is about something more. Though the disciples did speak the languages of the nations on that first Pentecost and the people heard the Gospel in their own tongue, Pentecost is about introducing a new language to the world: the Gospel. The words might be different from nation to nation, but the Gospel is the same everywhere. Jesus Christ died for the sake of the world so that all who believe will be saved. It seems too simple, doesn’t it? It was so exciting to be with Jesus, a surprise every minute and miraculous experiences around every corner. Which would you prefer? Would you want to carry a simple message to the world or change lives in grand and miraculous ways?
The gift given at Pentecost was certainly an incredible thing. Can you imagine what it was like to miraculously be able to speak words in an unknown language that were understood by others? Anybody who has learned a second or third language knows how much effort and time it takes. It is hard. But in one miraculous moment, God reversed the confusion from Babel so that the world would know His promises.
We can focus on a number of different themes for Pentecost. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, when God gave to the disciples the final piece to the puzzle: the Spirit, who will remind them of everything Jesus taught, teach them what they do not yet know and give them the power to continue the work Jesus did in this world. We can focus on the idea of languages: that the power of God’s Spirit came at Pentecost to make it possible for disciples of all ages to share the Gospel message with the world. We can focus on the wind or breath of God, learning more about the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives to God’s people. We can talk about the unity of the body of Christ that comes by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are unified, made children of God and heirs to His kingdom, not because we have done anything right or have earned such an honor. God comes to those to whom He gives faith to fill their lives with joy and peace. It is the presence of God that gives us strength to get through the hard times and humility to get through the times of prosperity. It is by the power of God’s Holy Spirit that we can experience both the suffering of the cross of Christ as well as His glory. Life as a Christian is one of extremes that are lived at the same moment.
As we look at the creation, we wonder at the magnificence of what God has done. I love living in Texas because the spring fields are filled with beautiful wildflowers. Though there are wildflowers on the roadsides throughout the year, the most spectacular displays last only a few weeks. They bloom in glory but quickly wither and die. They are the same year after year, yet each time I go out on a wildflower adventure I smile. It is so beautiful, the flowers are so pretty, that I can’t help but thank God for His incredible creative work. We often wonder at what he was thinking when He created some of the creatures in our world - like mosquitoes - but we can sing praise to Him that He has taken the time to care for such small annoying pests. If God loves the mosquito, how much more must He love the crown of His creation?
As we look at the psalm for today, we see that God has created all things, creatures both big and small. He has provided for their every need. This psalm is a call to praise God for His mercy and His grace. In the song we see that all things have a purpose, and that the purpose is not always grand and important as we might expect. Even the leviathan was specially created by God and its purpose is simply to play in the sea. We might think we have a much more noble and important purpose in this world, but we should always remember that we have been created for one reason: to glorify God.
We might want to have a much nobler and important purpose in this world, but God calls and gifts us to share the simple message of the Gospel with the world. This is how we glorify God.
I think it is interesting when the lectionary withholds a verse in a passage like this one from the psalm “Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. Let the wicked be no more.” Isn’t that what happened at Pentecost? God’s grace was showered down out of heaven into the hearts of those who believe. From that moment until now and into the future, all those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus are saved from sin and death. We are transformed into children of God to abide in Him and to do His work in this world. We glorify God by sharing the Gospel with the world, baptizing the nations and teaching them about Jesus. When we do, the sinners are consumed by God’s grace and their wickedness is no more. Then they too can sing praise to God for His amazing grace.
The water cycle is something students learn in elementary school science class. Many classrooms include a cute little poster that shows the cycle in a way that young students will understand. The water cycle is made up of four stages: evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection. There is generally a little smiley-face raindrop that goes through each stage. He is pulled up in the sky, gathers his buddies in the clouds, falls to the ground as rain and then ends up in a river flowing into the sea. This helps us to see that the water just keeps going around and around. Today’s water is the same water that was here when the earth was first formed, it just keeps getting recycled through the system.
Would it really be possible to follow a single drop of water through the entire cycle? It seems to me that as it goes from one stage to another, the drop itself changes in substance as it move from river to cloud to sea. A drop of food coloring quickly dissipates if you put it into a river, lost forever as it spreads through the water. But it is never really gone.
It would do us well to remember that when we believed in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we became part of something much greater, like the raindrop that joins a raging river. We can’t go it alone and though we are still individuals, we are one in Christ. A single raindrop will not change the path of a river, but the millions that flow by every second are constantly changing the landscape through which it moves. We, as part of the fellowship of believers, can do incredible things. Together we share the love and mercy of Jesus Christ through our gifts so that many will come to know Him and be saved.
Jesus was one man. It would have been impossible to do the work of God alone or even with the disciples who gathered around Him for those three years. He needed to go to heaven so that He could send the Holy Spirit to dwell among the people of God. Then, instead of one man, Christ’s body is made up of many people traveling to the four corners of the earth, sharing the simple Gospel message.
There may be times when we feel like we’ve been abandoned. There may be times when we feel uncertain or doubtful, worried that we’ve missed something. There may be times when we do not know what God expects. However, it is in those very moments when we join together in prayer, in praise and in worship. It is in the unity of believers that the presence of God is manifest to the world, through the love that we share by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.” It is as children of God that we will do the greater things. Those greater things are not always grand and miraculous. Sometimes the work we are called to do is as simple as sharing a word of kindness or a hug. There is a story about a little girl who was late coming home and her mother was worried. When she arrived, the mother asked the child to explain. The little girl told her mother, “My friend fell and broke her doll, so I stayed to help.” The mother asked, “What could you have done to help?” The little girl answered, “I just sat down and helped her cry.”
Most people have the answers they need; what they want is for someone to share in their pain or joy. When people are happy, they aren’t looking for our opinion about their good fortune or even a word of congratulations. They simply want to share their joy. Paul’s encouragement for the Christian life is that we become aware of one another’s emotions and share in them. In joy and in sorrow, there is no language needed. We all speak the same laughter and the same tears. Jesus came in flesh to empathize with the human condition and we are called to have empathy in this world as we share God’s grace with those who need Him. Our life as a Christian is indeed one of extremes that are lived at the same moment. We will experience joy and sorrow, doubts and uncertainties, hope and peace. Together we will suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.
Though the miracle of Pentecost is the miraculous tongues that brought so many to faith on that day so long ago, the Holy Spirit’s gift is not always about miracles. We may never raise the dead or heal a leper. We may not cast out demons or make a paralytic walk. We do not have to strive to do those things. If that is the work God is calling us to do, He’ll give us the power and the opportunity to do so. Our task, first and foremost, is to share the simple message of the Gospel, so that those who hear and believe will be restored to God and become His children. These are the greater things.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer. Our hope for you is steadfast, knowing that, since you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, WEB
Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one can understand the question, “How can you find blessedness in the midst of grief?” When the one who died is a Christian, we can rest in the hope of their eternal life in Christ, knowing that they have gone to a better place. As a matter of fact, many suggest that we should not grieve for those who have died in faith because they have already reached the eternity for which we all long.
However, grief is a very real thing. We struggle with the pain of knowing that we will never again spend time with those we love. We mourn because our lives are different without their presence. Our pain is often magnified by things we left unsaid, forgiveness we refused to give or repentance that never manifested, leaving those relationships incomplete. Death separates us from our loved ones making it impossible to reconcile our differences.
The Bible tells us that those who mourn will be blessed because God will provide comfort. When we are grieving the loss of someone we love, we can do so with the assurance that God our Father will not leave us alone. We will be comforted. The comfort comes from the Holy Spirit. He gives us that comfort through the promises of God as found in the scriptures and in the love of our brothers and sisters in Christ. God will ease the pain of our loss, not only by reminding us of His salvation in Christ Jesus, but also by removing the anger, regret, doubt and loneliness that comes with such a loss. He draws us into His presence like a Father with His children. He wipes away our tears, grants us forgiveness and takes away our fear and doubt.
We are born into death, separated from the One who loves us more than any human being. He grieves the loss of every child into the sin of this world. However, when we look to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that He has provided for the reconciliation that we often miss in our human relationships. We fail to share those words of love, grant forgiveness, or repent of our sins against others but God leaves nothing undone in our lives. Those who mourn the condition of our souls caused by sin in this world will find comfort in Christ Jesus.
The blessedness of mourning is found in the Holy Spirit of God, our Comforter and friend. He shows us the cross of Christ that we might know that death is not the end. Our mourning will turn to joy as the love and mercy of Jesus is revealed to us and God draws us deeper into His presence. He wipes away our tears and holds us close. He takes our anger, regret, doubt and loneliness and replaces it with His love. We can rest in the promise He has given that death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a greater life. In that assurance, He uses us to share His love with others who mourn, not only those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but also those that mourn the chasm that exists between themselves and their Creator. Those who mourn are blessed because they are given faith through the Gospel and are drawn into a relationship with Christ to shine His light to the world.
“Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’” Luke 10:30-37, WEB
Jesus was teaching one day when an expert in the law asked Him, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Jesus did not simply answer the question, but asked the expert to provide the answer from the scriptures. He asked the expert to provide his answer in his own words, according to his own interpretation. The expert provided the answer from two different passages of scripture. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Everything written in the scriptures - the Law and Prophets - are summarized by those two passages. The kingdom of God rests on those two commandments.
Jesus said the expert had spoken well and that he should go live according to those very words. It is difficult for us to live those commandments in our life. The first, to love God with our heart, soul, strength and mind, calls us to submit to God 100%, to give Him everything we are and do. We would prefer to give Him an hour a week and 10% of our stuff. But God desires and demands that we give Him everything, including our thoughts, words and deeds. During His ministry, Jesus taught us how to live the second commandment. He taught us how to love our neighbor as ourselves.
In thought, we must not think more highly of ourselves, but rather consider ourselves servants to all we meet. Jesus taught that though the law says we should not commit murder and adultery, we should not even think angry or lustful thoughts about our neighbor. Our actions begin with our thoughts, so we must keep our thoughts toward heavenly things so that our actions will glorify God. In word, we are taught in the scriptures to speak with compassion and love. Words of bitterness, malice or hatred should never pass from our lips. We should not speak lies or false witness against our neighbor. Our words are very powerful, and can bring pain and distress to our neighbor if we are not careful. When our words bring comfort and hope, joy and peace, then we will glorify God. In deed, Jesus showed us by His example how to love our neighbor. He healed the sick, He provided food for the hungry, and He shared the kingdom of God with all that would listen. We are to do the same in our life of faith, walking in trust that God will provide all we need to do our work.
The expert recognized that he was not living the words he spoke as fully as he should, and he did not want to change his ways. So, he tried to justify himself by asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
As Christians, we are called out of darkness into the light and life of Christ Jesus to live according the great commandments. We are to love God and each other. When we have mercy on our neighbor, whether they are family, friend or foe, we show the world our love of God, and He is glorified. It is in that love and mercy to others that we show God that we love Him with our whole selves. Today, have mercy on your neighbor. Meet their needs of comfort, protection, food and shelter. Meet those needs in whatever manner you are able, but do so in every thought, word and deed. Meet those needs by the power of God in the name of Jesus for the glory of God the Father.
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’; and yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.” James 2:14-17, WEB
Back in the day when I was first buying my own household goods, I had a choice of which type of VCR I could buy. I decided to buy the Betamax; at the time it seemed like the best purchase. The clerk who sold it to me said that Beta sales would soon surpass the sales of the other recorders available and it was easy to buy Beta videos at that time. So I purchased the machine and enjoyed it for some time. Eventually, however, I realized that Beta was going nowhere. It became increasingly harder to find videos. The newest hits were not being produced in that format. The time came when it was nearly impossible to find anything that can be used in that machine. I had it in storage for years, its only purpose seemed to be gathering dust and as a footnote in the history of technological development.
One day I decided to sell the machine at a yard sale. I had moved it from house to house a half dozen times and I didn’t even know if it worked because it had been unused for many years. Everything looked fine on the outside, but things could have gone wrong on the inside. Belts could have hardened; moisture may have gotten inside and rusted metal parts. Mechanisms that should move freely may have gotten stuck together as lubricants dried. Even if the VCR did work, it was useless sitting in the storage shed. It might as well be dead.
God gives us faith for a purpose. Through faith we know the salvation that comes from Christ. In faith we trust in God’s faithfulness to His promises. We walk in faith, living a life of obedience to God’s Word, sharing the Gospel of Christ. Though our faith rests in that which is unseen - the love and mercy of God - faith itself is not hidden. It is visible to the world through the works of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Faith does not save. The Word of the Lord saves. It is by His power and His mercy that we have eternal life. He gives us the faith to believe and He does so with a purpose. It is through our faith that He reveals Himself to the world in words and deeds by the power of the Holy Spirit. If there are no words or deeds, the faith is dead. We can have faith in many things like our church and its traditions, other people and our selves. That faith will not save; only faith in Jesus Christ will bring us into a right and true relationship with God. And that faith will be manifest in works that glorify God in the world.
I bought the wrong VCR and it became useless. It is sitting in the storage shed as good as dead. Faith in Christ is active as the Holy Spirit manifests through our lives. The world sees our faith through the fruit He produces: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are fruit that cannot be seen except through deeds. If there is no visible fruit, then the faith is not true faith in Christ. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, receive this most valuable gift and live in the faith He has given you. God will reveal Himself to the world through the fruit you bear as they see Him in the good works that you do.
“God said, ‘This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be a sign of a covenant between me and the earth. When I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’” Genesis 9:12-17, WEB
I’ve noticed several photo memes on Facebook that shows a rainbow touching the earth at someone’s favorite place. One is over burger fast food joint that everyone in Texas loves. Another is over a road trip rest stop chain. I’m sure there are others. These memes always make it seem like those places are the gold at the end of the rainbow. These types of photos are becoming more common because people carry a camera with them all the time in their cell phones.
We can all probably tell a story or two of our favorite rainbows. I remember one as we were driving down a long flat road in California. The rainbow was a full double bow that filled the horizon. I saw another in England that was so close that I could see the place where it touched the earth. I took a photo once of a rainbow that appeared over the church we attended. I just happened to be taking photos of a church event when I noticed the rainbow. It was just over the steeple, so the photo shows both a rainbow and the cross. I have always loved that photo because it shows the signs of God’s great promises to His people.
We look at the rainbow and are reminded of the scripture for today. Many of us probably have items in our house with rainbows on it. We paint them on the walls of our children. We have rainbow colored linens or paintings hanging on our wall. We are reminded by our scripture for today that God promised Noah that He would never destroy the whole world with a flood and that the rainbow is the sign of that covenant. What I noticed as I was reading this scripture, however, is that it doesn’t tell us that God put the rainbow in the heavens to remind us of His promise. He says, “I will look at it, that I may remember...” We benefit from the sign because it makes us think of Him, but it makes Him think of us, too.
Who are we that God would pay attention to us? We are sinners; we fail daily to live according to His promises. We know that the cross is our salvation, but we don’t think about it much. We focus on the cross at Good Friday, or when we see a pretty one. Many of us have walls full of crosses. I do, and I have to admit that when I look at it, I don’t necessarily see those crosses as it was to Jesus. I have pretty crosses from all over the world, impressive pieces of art that are beautiful on my wall. Yet, the cross is a sign of something horrific, the painful death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why would God do such a thing? Why would He care about us so much that He would send His own beloved Son to die such a horrible death? God created us. He loves us. And because He loves us, He sees the cross and remembers us. He sees the willing obedience of Jesus Christ and remembers His promise of eternity to those who believe in Him. He sees us through the eyes of Christ, our Lord, who loves us so much that He would do anything to make it possible for us to have life reconciled to our Father, dwelling with Him forever. God doesn’t need these reminders, but isn’t it nice to know that God does think of us, that He loves us so much that He is faithful even when we aren’t. Isn’t it nice to know that He remembers us, just as we remember Him, when the rainbow is in the clouds?
Scriptures for Sunday, June 16, 2019, Holy Trinity: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him?” Psalm 8:3-4a, WEB
Words matter. We learn as children that sticks and stones may break bones, but words never hurt. But words do hurt. A girl who hears that she’s fat too often will begin to believe that she’s fat, and even worse she’ll begin to feel worthless. A boy that hears that he can’t do something will eventually give up trying. A special needs child who hears that other children are normal will see themselves as abnormal. But we have a hard time understanding the importance of certain words, or the importance of avoiding certain words, if we do not have personal experience with it. Most of us do not understand why it is so hurtful to call someone with special needs ‘abnormal.’ After all, they are different than the norm, but for those who live with the children of special needs know that though they are different, they are beloved.
The language of faith is difficult for those outside the faith to understand. Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, the day when we focus on the whole Godhead: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the One in three, three in one God. This is the most difficult of our Christian doctrines for outsiders to understand. Our human brains can’t find any way to describe the Trinity so that we will understand, so we don’t want to bring up the subject because we know we can’t explain it. Human analogies are so limited, unable to truly describe the reality of the Trinity. We aren’t the first to have this difficulty; the Christian church has been agonizing over the concept since the beginning.
The Trinity is a mystery that many have tried to understand and explain in human terms, but it is beyond the human imagination. Every analogy falls apart in some way. Many suggest using water/ice/steam, but the water can’t be both ice and steam at the same time. Others describe the trinity using our human titles like mother/daughter/sister, but I can’t be my own mother or daughter. The story of St. Patrick talks about the cloverleaf, but the leaves are not unique to one another, they are all the same.
My personal favorite is to use the ocean as the analogy. God the Father is the depths of the sea, unreachable, unknowable, endless supporting life. God the Son is the surface, visible, active, touching the lives of men. God the Spirit is the mist and the waves, constantly moving, changing to world around it, invisible and yet visible, unstoppable, affected and affecting all that it touches. The ocean is all one, but the way the different parts are perceived by the human mind is different. One cannot exist without the other, they can’t be divided, but they can all be understood as uniquely different from the others. Yet even this is less than the reality of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit because it is merely the creation, not the divine Godhead.
Many argue that the Trinity is not Biblical, that the word Trinity is not found in the scriptures. Yet, the concept of the Trinity has been around since the earliest days of the Church, when the first disciples wrestled with this idea that God is present in different ways in the world. They knew that there is only One God, but they also recognized that some of what Jesus taught pointed to the idea that the Godhead was plural, involving Father, Son and Spirit. Even the Great Commission is worded to include this formula for the making of disciples. Baptism was meant to be given in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They had to discover how it could be three but one. They had to try to explain this threeness while holding to the oneness of God.
Proverbs 8 was one of the Old Testament texts used to explain the idea of the Trinity. In this passage, we see that Wisdom is both personified but also possessed by God. Wisdom is separate, but also a part of God and equal to Him. The Proverb talks about the divinity and eternity of Wisdom. Nothing is equal to God, or divine like God, or eternal like God. Therefore, Wisdom being possessed by God is an aspect of God and is God. Early Christians recognized that Wisdom, particularly in this Proverb, is the Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ. He, the Son, is also by God, brought up with God, ever present and before all time, equal with God. God’s attributes are a part of Himself. Jesus the Son is an attribute, a unique part of the Godhead, separate but not separate, unified with God the Father. We certainly hear that in the Gospel of John, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Today’s Old Testament text is part of a larger passage from Proverbs that compares Wisdom to Folly. Folly is darkness, loud and defiant, brazen like a prostitute with crafty intent. Folly hides her intent. Wisdom is like light, openness. She stands at the gates where justice is served and does not hide. She is available, public, manifest and visible. As we consider the life of Jesus, we see that He too was light. He was available, public, manifest and visible. It is no wonder that the early Christians saw Christ in this personification of Wisdom.
I have to admit that as the mother of two children, I can’t help but hope for great things for them. I want them to have satisfying jobs, find spouses to love. I want them to be happy. I have always had hope that they would do well in the world, to do things they love, and I have rejoiced with them when their wishies and dreams have come true. Unfortunately, over the years we have also been we disappointed because some of those wishes and dreams have fallen apart. But this is true for us all, isn’t it? We do not always do well on those important tests that we hope to pass or get the job that we want. We often suffer from illness and dis-ease even though we hope to stay well and happy. The world around us is imperfect and that imperfection manifests in our lives, creating roadblocks to the utopian world we hope for in this life. It is impossible to rejoice in hope knowing that our hopes might fail.
The hope we hear about in Paul’s letter to the Romans however, is not a hope that will fail. We often think of hope in terms of things that are little more than wishes and dreams, trusting and hoping in things that are created and perishable. However, when God speaks of hope, it is something more. Hope in God’s promises is not something that will fail or disappoint; it is the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s Word. Paul writes that we are justified by faith and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus. Through Him we have access to the faith that justifies us. All of this comes because the Love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Our hope rests on the Trinity. That hope does not disappoint.
This does not mean that we will never suffer. As a matter of fact, suffering is part of the circle of faith; joy in the hope and joy in the suffering leads to perseverance leads to character leads to hope. It is part of the life of faith. The joy we feel is not a giddy happiness because everything is perfect, but it is living in the expectation of God’s amazing grace. Will God’s grace grant my children all the rewards of this earth? Not necessarily. However, if those hopes fail there is always a greater hope, one that will never fail. That hope rests on the promises of God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. He does not disappoint.
When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we are saddened with the disciples that Jesus had to go. He was the visible manifestation of the Eternal One, raised from the dead to a new life that would last forever. Couldn’t He stick around to continue guiding and leading His disciples? Wouldn’t it have been easier that way? We certainly would not have questions, like we do today, about all our differences of opinion on theology and the things of God. When we have a problem, we could just go to Jesus and ask Him for the answer.
However, there would come a time, much sooner than we would ever realize or expect, that the disciples would no longer be able to receive from Christ what they needed to do His work in this world. We think it impossible for Jesus to fail to be enough, but as a flesh and blood man Jesus was limited as we are limited. Jesus would never have been able to be personally involved with every Christian today. It would have been hard even in the early days of the church as the evangelists traveled to the four corners of the earth to take the Gospel. On God in the person of the Holy Spirit would ever be able to accomplish His work in all our lives. In our Gospel passage for this week, Jesus said that they could not bear to hear everything. They could not because they did not have God’s Spirit dwelling with to give them the gifts necessary to bear it. As long as Jesus existed in flesh on earth, they could not have fully what He had to give.
With Pentecost, we usher in a new season in the Church year. This season, which lasts until Advent, is a season of learning, growing and becoming that which Christ has called us to be. The first half of the Church year focuses on the story of God: the coming and birth of Christ, the Epiphany and revelation of His presence to the world, the journey to the cross during Lent, the death and resurrection and finally His final lessons to His disciples then ascension into heaven. The second half focuses more on our story: how to be disciples in the world.
Before we begin this season of learning how to live an extraordinary life in the midst of ordinary circumstances, we stop for a moment to discover this mystery of God. Trinity Sunday gives us the chance to reflect upon our God, to draw deeper into His heart and ponder His majesty. It is a time for us to discern not our place in God’s kingdom but rather our understanding of God Himself. Who is this God that we are called to follow? What is my relationship with Him? As we come to understand more clearly who He is, we can follow more closely according to His Will and purpose for our lives. We have plenty of time to figure out who we are, which is a popular practice in modern life. For just a brief moment, let’s spend time focused on Him and who He is.
People have done this for generations, ever since the earliest days of the Church. The Church gathered repeatedly in the early days to define the teachings to be standard for all Christians throughout space and time. They wrote the most important ideas into creeds so that Christians could speak with one voice about the beliefs of our faith.
The creeds that have developed over the generations are statements of faith about God; they are proclamations of what we believe together. We learn these creeds early in our lives of faith and our journey of understanding often begins with those words. There are those, of course, who would suggest that the creeds have a sense of brainwashing, forcing the believer to conform to a human understanding of God. However, the first creeds are found in the scriptures, in the letters of Paul and the other disciples. Creeds are simply statements of faith, defining the things that matter to the body of Christ.
Most churches use the Apostles Creed on a regular basis, and many also use the Nicene Creed. There is a third creed, however, that is valuable for our knowledge and confession that is largely ignored. There is some question as to its author, but not to its authority. Many do not like it because it includes anathemas, condemnations of those who disagree with the creed. It is also terribly long, and you can hear an audible sigh in the congregation when it is used. It is the Athanasian Creed
It is important, however, that we not only know how to recite these creeds, but that we understand what they mean. Creeds are meaningless if they are just memorized words that are regurgitated on cue each Sunday. The creeds define God and to fully live the life we are called to live, we must know the God we serve. The creeds that we accept as Christians were created as the body of Christ pondered together the revelation given to the world through the scriptures and Jesus Christ. As they worked through the teachings of Jesus and the manifestation of God in their experiences, they came to more deeply understand the complexity of the God which we worship. Though words like ‘the Trinity’ are not present in the scriptures, there was no denying that the concept existed. As the Christians sought to understand God, they came to see that He is truly greater than our human ability to identify, so there must be some things about Him that will remain forever mysterious.
I once saw an email that showed the objects in the universe proportional to the others. The earth seems large when compared to some of the other planets, but it is dwarfed against Jupiter and Saturn. The sun is a huge ball compared to the planets, but is dwarfed by other suns in the Universe. In the end, the earth is so small that it is nothing but a tiny speck that could barely be seen in the vastness of space. Where do we stand in the greatness of all God created? If the earth on which we live is nothing but a speck, then we are less than a speck on that speck.
In the Garden of Eden, God made us the crown of His creation and gave us the authority to rule over it. This does not mean simply that the farmer rules over his fields or the rancher over his domesticated animals. We have authority over the entirety of God’s creation. In recent history, we’ve had the ability to travel into space. Our telescopes are so incredible that we have been able to take beautiful pictures of what happens millions of light years from earth. We are able to send probes and cameras to almost all of the planets, to study them and learn about the chemical make-up of the surface and the atmosphere. We have landed on Mars and have made amazing discoveries.
Yet, as we travel into the vast reaches of the universe which God has created, we should be humbled by the reality that we will never fully understand it all. While it is amazing that we can send rockets into space that will send us pictures of objects that are billions of miles from Earth, we have to remember that we are limited by our humanity and we may never really understand many things that will continue to lie beyond our reach. Despite our inadequacies, God has given us the most incredible gifts, the ability to reach beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch so that we might understand the bigger and the smaller world around us. The fact that we can see an atom or visit the moon is a gift from God. As we continue to explore the far reaches of the universe we should remember that it is God who has given us dominion over these things, to care for it and to use it for His glory.
The same can be said about the spiritual things. God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. We can know Him intimately, which is amazing when you think of how small we are compared to all that He has created. We are nothing, yet the psalmist reminds us that we are the crown of God’s creation. We are given dominion over all that He created, but even more importantly, He has made us children and heirs to all that is His. In the reality of our place in God’s Kingdom, let us always remember that we are specks on a speck in the universe. Even the universe is a speck compared to the fullness of God. His ways are higher, His thoughts greater than anything we can imagine. The Trinity, no matter how we try to explain it, is a mystery. That is ok. We are called as Christians to be humble before God and to simply believe.
“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. On his law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water, that produces its fruit in its season, whose leaf also does not wither. Whatever he does shall prosper.” Psalm 1:1-3, WEB
I belonged to an organization when I was a youth that had ritualistic work as part of our meetings. We had special services for installing officers, initiating new members, and for the opening and closing of our times together. The work of each station had to be memorized by the person assigned to it. We could not use the books, but most of the speeches were relatively brief and fairly easy to remember. We tried to memorize them verbatim, but it was a process that was filled with grace because we all made mistakes. Forty years later, I still remember at least some of what I learned both from the offices I held. Some of each speech had quotes out of scripture, and I always smile when I come upon those during my Bible study.
Girls from all over our state gathered each year for a large meeting. It was a chance to make new friends, to fellowship and to watch the ritualistic work done by girls specially chosen for their offices. There were also activities and contests. Once I won an award for visiting the most different assemblies in a year, including a few in other states. Another year, a committee from our assembly created a scrapbook. There were opportunities to play sports, to perform music, and to learn about how to be the best we can be.
One contest required memorizing the ritual perfectly. I tried that one year. We had to be able to talk for thirty minutes; each missed word was counted against us. I knew the ritual very well but I spoke too fast, which meant I had to memorize so much more to fill the thirty minutes. There were too many opportunities to make a mistake. I didn’t win, but I was proud of my accomplishment. I’m not sure I remember much from what I memorized for the contest like I did from the offices I held. The contest was a rote speech, while the speeches during the ritual were spoken to share the lessons with the assembly. Those speeches came from my heart, not just my mind.
I’m not sure my memory works quite as well as it did when I was young, but I went to a retreat a few years ago where I learned about biblical storytelling. We worked on memorizing a portion of scripture and then performed it for the rest of the people at the retreat. Actually, we did not memorize, we “learned by heart.” I like that, because writing the scripture on our hearts helps us to keep God and His promises close to us. There are church programs that encourage scripture memorization, and while there is some value to it, I’ve never really been a fan. Those programs tend to focus more on learning the passages word for word, along with the “address,” instead of writing God’s Word on our hearts.
Yes, it is possible that the rote learning of scripture can also find its way to our hearts, and for some people this is a good course of action. But I think it works much better when the goal is our hearts rather than our brains. We write God’s word on our hearts when we spend time reading the scriptures daily and meditating on what it means to us. I can share the words of God’s grace from the Bible not because I can quote certain texts, but because I’ve learned to love God and His word. Years of study and the power of the Holy Spirit puts the right words on my tongue to encourage and uplift those who need to hear. I pray the same for you as you grow in faith and mature in discipleship.
“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Haven’t I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be dismayed, for Yahweh your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:8-9, WEB
There are many stories about how the Bible has helped people through times of difficulty. One story is told of a man who was in prison. He’d led a destructive life and deserved to be there. He was even using the pages of the standard issue Bible as paper for rolling his cigarettes. One night he fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand. He awoke suddenly when the flame reached his finger and noticed the words on the paper. It was about Paul, and the man thought if God could save a man like that, then certainly God could do something for him. He became a missionary after he was released from prison.
Other stories tell of wanderers finding single pages ripped from Bibles, or see scripture quotes on subway walls. The words of God find their way into the minds and hearts of people, often in spectacular or miraculous ways. Sometimes it just takes someone like you or I to share a word of hope or comfort or inspiration with a neighbor for them to meet Jesus and hear of His mercy and grace. For those of us who are familiar with the scriptures, the Bible offers us something for every moment. We are encouraged, but we are also rebuked. We are called to repentance or filled with faith. God’s Word helps us to trust in Him, make good decisions, and do what is right.
In yesterday’s devotion we talked about the difference between rote memorization and knowing the Bible by heart. There is a story currently circulating about how Chinese Christians are memorizing the scriptures from small pieces that are being smuggled to them. “They can’t take what’s hidden in my heart,” they say. The lesson for us is to have these words written there so deeply that we can draw on them even without access to the book.
One man was able to do just that. He was imprisoned without access to a Bible, and he was being tortured. It was difficult, and he struggled with doubt and fear. One day he realized that the only way to survive was to keep his mind and his heart on Christ. He did not have the entire Bible memorized, but he knew it well enough to walk through its pages day by day. He began meditating and praying on the stories and the promises from Genesis to Revelation, hearing God’s voice in the words that were written on his heart. It took him about six months and then he began again. The physical torture was no less painful, but he lived in hope and faith that one day he would be released to serve God in this world or the next.
We are lucky because we have access to the Bible, not only bits and pieces smuggled to us, but in beautifully bound copies that often sit on our shelves unused. At the very least, if you are reading this devotional, you have access to online versions of the Bible, in many translations and versions. There may come a time, or a place, when the Bible will not be accessible to us. I pray that never happens, but are you prepared if it should happen? Do you know God’s Word well enough that you could stand strong against any persecution that may come? Would you be able to meditate and pray on the stories and promises of God if you could not open a book or click a link? God will be with you, and He will help you. But now is the time to prepare, to spend at least a few minutes a day familiarizing yourself with the words that can save, comfort, direct, encourage, and strengthen you if the world we know falls apart. Having God’s Word written on your heart will keep you focused on Him, give you hope and peace no matter the circumstances of your life.
“But don’t be far off, Yahweh. You are my help: hurry to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth! Yes, from the horns of the wild oxen, you have answered me. I will declare your name to my brothers. Among the assembly, I will praise you. You who fear Yahweh, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify him! Stand in awe of him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, neither has he hidden his face from him; but when he cried to him, he heard. Of you comes my praise in the great assembly. I will pay my vows before those who fear him. The humble shall eat and be satisfied. They shall praise Yahweh who seek after him. Let your hearts live forever. All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh. All the relatives of the nations shall worship before you. For the kingdom is Yahweh’s. He is the ruler over the nations.” Psalm 22:19-28, WEB
We are all lonely sometimes; there times when we feel everyone we love has abandoned us just when we need them the most. I was often lonely when we lived in England. Though I had my husband and my children, it was hard to make and keep friends with whom I could share my joys and frustrations. Military families overseas come and go as quickly as the spring flowers. As soon as a friend is found and a relationship is built, it is time for one of the families to move on to another base.
I found comfort in a strange place: the Internet. I suppose in today’s world it is not so unusual to have “friends” online, especially with sites like Facebook. I used to visit the chat rooms as I used to in those days, but it still amazes me how close the relationships between virtual strangers can be. Some people did meet face to face. As a matter of fact, I have had several meetings with people whom I “met” online. I was even part of the wedding of two friends who met in a chat room. My friends online helped me through some tough, lonely times. When there was no one who would spend time with me face to face, there was someone online who would.
However, I was often disappointed. Of course, relationships between people who can meet face to face can fail, but the Internet is an anonymous medium. It is easy to wear a facade when you can’t see a person’s eyes or hear their voice. I had known people for long periods of time, thinking they were one thing but later finding out that they had lied about their identity. They weren’t real. Since these relationships were built on communication that relies totally on words, it was very easy to misunderstand something that was said. There were often hurt feelings and relationships broke down easily. Sarcasm never goes over well and humor is often taken wrongly. Without body language, tone of voice and eye contact, it is difficult to know the truth about these relationships. A person can easily change their screen name, block instant message buddy lists and delete email. When things went wrong, they were gone.
Yet, there is one who is always near. The Lord God Almighty is never far off. Though it may seem He is farther than anyone, He is close and ready to help. Sometimes we simply do not understand the type of help we need, but God knows. We never see Him and sometimes it feels like He has abandoned us. He is God and is worthy of our trust and praise. So, the next time we feel so lonely and depressed because everyone we know has disappeared, let us remember the words of David. He never lost sight of the Lord, even when he faced the suffering of persecution from his enemies. He knew God was near.
As He was dying on the cross, Jesus cried the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was a quote from the beginning of this Psalm, repeating the cry of David who suffered greatly at the hands of his enemies. While Jesus hung from the cross, most of His friends went into hiding. Those who stood by Him to the end could do nothing but mourn the loss. Even God seemed to leave His presence as He took upon Himself the sin of the world to put its power to death forever. Yet, if we read the entirety of the Psalm which begins with such heartbreaking words, we find that God is never far from us, even in our loneliest moments.
“But we have this treasure in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, ‘I believed, and therefore I spoke.’ We also believe, and therefore also we speak; knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we don’t faint, but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we don’t look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, WEB
I saw a painting online this morning. It showed two artists standing at easels with a still life between them of an egg on a plate on a tablecloth covered table. The two artists represented where Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. The paintings on the artists’ canvases were incredibly different. Pablo, who was a surrealist cubist, had a painting that showed a cube shaped egg in front of an earthy background of geometric shapes. Salvador, who is known for his melting clocks, saw the egg on the table as a fried egg hanging on the branches of a tree growing out of a cube with a melting artist’s palette.
These two men saw a very simple item in very different ways. What is particularly interesting is how much they had in common. Though Picasso spent much of his life in France and Dali died in the same place he was born, they were both Spanish and were equally affected by the conflicts in Spain during their lives. They both are considered surrealistic painters. They were contemporaries; they even knew one another. They both had an incredible impact on art and culture of their world. They both admired the other, but they were also rivals. Dali was younger than Picasso. They were both influenced by Paul Cezanne, but Picasso followed Cezanne’s process of being aware of the difference between the image and the reality. Dali rejected Cezanne’s point of view and accepted his work as an art of pure illusion. That’s why Picasso’s easel held a painting that showed an egg on a plate on a tablecloth covered table, despite being cubist, and why Dali’s took the subject matter in a whole different direction.
No matter how much we have in common, we all see the world from our own point of view. The same is true about the spiritual world. It is often said that if you ask ten Christians the same question, you’ll get eleven answers. This is why we have such difficulty agreeing on the issues of the day. We can all even point to scripture that backs up our point of view. Of course, those who differ believe we are seeing the issue from our own biases, but they forget that they are doing the same thing. We perceive the world in unique ways and believe that our point of view is the only one that is right.
I read a lot of books when I was preparing my lesson plans for my study on the Book of Revelation. I agreed with the perspective of some of the books and I did not agree with the perspective of others. One author focused too much on one aspect, referring to it repeatedly even when the text had nothing to do with that idea. Another interpreted some of symbolism so that it would fit his point of view, even though he was clearly stretching the text to say what he needed it to say. Despite my disagreements with these ideas, I found value in some of what they had to say. Just like Pablo and Salvador admired their rivals, we can respect those who see faith from a different perspective.
The thing for us to remember as we ponder and debate the different points of view that we hold as Christians about God, the Bible, and the issues of our day, is that we do have something in common: our Lord Jesus Christ. It is easy to get caught up in our own ideas and biases, forgetting that underlying everything is a God of grace. Unfortunately, when we are adamant about our own point of view, we tend to lose sight of God. The world offers so many things that look good to us; they even look right. However, there are definitely times when the things of the world jump in front of us, divert our attention, and lead us down the wrong path. That’s why it is important that we keep ourselves in God’s Word and Sacraments, to stay in fellowship with His people, even those with whom we disagree. We might just discover that we are not as right as we think we are and that they are not as wrong as we perceive. The disciplines of faith will help us to keep on the right track, to keep our eyes on God and if we are diverted they will draw us back to Him.
Lectionary Scriptures for Sunday, June 23, 2019, Second Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Kings 19:9b-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
“Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1, WEB
I am a terrible housekeeper. Oh, my house is not worthy of an appearance on a television show about hoarders. I’m actually better than my mother was at keeping the clutter at bay, but I ignore the dust on all the flat surfaces and I vacuum only when it is absolutely necessary. That usually means I know company is coming. There are often dishes in the sink in the morning. I make my bed every day, but I don’t wash those sheets every week. I welcome visitors, but I always apologize that the bathroom and the kitchen aren’t pristine.
Housework is frustrating. You always have dirty clothes because you are wearing tomorrow’s load today. There’s always a dirty glass that will end up in the sink after you’ve finished the rest. I think my least favorite task is cleaning the kitchen floor. It doesn’t fail: whenever I scrub, something happens that very day that needs to be cleaned. I mop and someone comes in with muddy shoes. That’s the day I spill the grape juice. The day the floor is clean is the same day the garbage bag drips on the way out to the trash can. I clean and within minutes I wonder why I bothered because the cats have left little paw prints on the drying floor.
Housework is hopeless. The dust always returns. The clothes and dishes always need to be washed. The clutter is endless. Yet, I have also learned that if you ignore the dust, it only gets worse. You have to eventually clean the clothes and the dishes, and it is easier to do so a little at a time, rather than all at once. It is better to recycle the mail each day than to pile it up on a table and then take an hour to go through it. Bills get lost in the clutter. Jobs put off too long are harder to accomplish.
We think that the work we do is worthless because it never seems be finished. That is true not only of housework, but also of our work in God’s Kingdom. There is a story about a man who felt God was calling him to push against a huge boulder in his yard. Day after day he pushed and shoved but the boulder never moved. People made fun of him. He eventually felt defeated. One day he turned to God and asked, “Why have you called me to this pointless task that I can't accomplish? I have failed.” God answered, “Look how you have changed in all this time. You are stronger, wiser, and ready for whatever will come next. I didn't call you to move the rock, but to push against it. You were faithful and obedient. Now that you have done this, I will move the rock.”
The problem is that we usually want to accomplish something we deem valuable. Like the man with the boulder, we expect there to be an outcome that changes the world. We become discouraged because we don’t see the outcome we expect, but we don’t know what outcome God intends. We feel alone because we doubt that God is working through us when we don’t seem to accomplish the task.
I, even I only, am left...
Have you ever felt like you were alone in the world? Have you watched your Facebook timeline and wondered if you were the only person left with any common sense? Have you seen the hot new reality show, heard the buzz around the water cooler and wondered if you were the only one who thought it was the most ridiculous thing you’d ever seen? Have you read the hot new book put out by that prolific Christian author and wondered if you were the only one who still understands what the bible really means? Have you faced an enemy and thought you were alone in the battle? Have you been lonely and thought you had no friends? Have you been challenged by a crisis and thought that there was no one to walk with you through it?
Have you ever said, “I, even I only, am left...”?
It is easy to think that we are alone in the world, especially when everyone else seem to be following much different paths. After Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, he ran away into the mountains out of fear for his life. He really thought he was all alone, that there were none who still believed God. He even felt abandoned by God. “I was so zealous for you!” he cried, “So why am I in such danger? Can’t they see that I was right about you?”
I doubt that any of us have defeated a multitude of pagan prophets lately, but I’m certain that we’ve stood up for something we believe and experienced the rejection of those who don’t believe. Post something controversial on Facebook and you are likely to get at least a few detractors. Even if there is only one, the disagreement will be the response that stands out. You can get twenty “amens” and one “you’ve got to be kidding me” and you’ll feel like you are all alone because we have this tendency to focus on the bad making us blind to the reality that we aren’t really alone.
Elijah proved God was greater than the false gods, but still people didn’t believe. It is no wonder he ran off to the mountains and begged to be finished! We understand Elijah’s point of view. We might not be upset because enemies are trying to kill us, but our relationships, work, and health in our little corner of the world can fall apart in so many ways. We do not understand how God can abandon us when we are so passionate about doing His work.
This story of Elijah is one that we all have identified with at some point in our lives. Many would say that Elijah was just having a pity party, that his attitude was selfish and self-centered. The same might be true of our own moments of melancholy and hopelessness. Elijah repeatedly whines to God, “I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” We just want to say, “Suck it up, Elijah, this is what God called you to do.” That’s what we want to say unless we are the ones who have been passionate for God and see the world around us falling apart.
We wonder what we are doing wrong. We get frustrated because we know we can’t do it alone. We begin to wonder if we are hearing God’s voice correctly. “Is this really what God intends in His word and my calling?” We see no way of making things better. We might as well just hide in a cave and let the world come to an end without us. It is easy to give up and give in. Why should we fight if it seems as though God isn’t fighting with us? If God were fighting, wouldn’t He be winning?
What we don’t know is what God has planned for the future. Sometimes the world has to come crashing down around us so that He can lift it up again. Sometimes we need to hit the bottom of the barrel before He can make pickles. We have that pity party because we just don’t want the worst to happen to us. Being drowned in vinegar doesn’t sound all that satisfying. We understand Elijah’s point of view; we do not understand how God can abandon us when we are so passionate about doing His work.
Quite frankly, when we are in the midst of one of our pity parties, we’d like to see God come in power and do something very dramatic. We’d like to see Him come in wind or earthquake or fire. As a matter of fact, there are those who claim that God has spoken through the wind of a hurricane or the ruin of an earthquake or the black ash of a fire. It happens all too often after a natural disaster as people try to come to terms to what has happened. “It is a sign from God” someone will say, suggesting that God is punishing those who are suffering.
Perhaps that’s what Elijah was hoping for in today’s Old Testament story. But he learned that God is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. God speaks to us in a still small voice. He speaks to us in a whisper. Elijah immediately knew that it was God, and he wrapped his face in his cloak so as not to look upon God and went out to the voice. God asked, “What are you doing here?” Elijah was not where God intended him to be.
God commands and commissions us to do His work, but He never controls us like we are puppets on a string. We have free will. We have the ability to say “No.” We can walk away. But when we do, God will come looking for us. “What are you doing here?” He’ll ask because He knows there’s a better place for us to be. When we want to hide in the cave and let the world fall apart without us, God will find us and send us back to continue to do His work. The party isn’t over until God’s will is done, and God knows the best way to accomplish it. That’s why He called you to do whatever it is that He has ordained for your life, even if it is pushing a rock that is going nowhere.
But it’s hard to hear that calling if we are too busy trying to call down wind and earthquakes and fire on our enemies.
God does not force us to our tasks, He calls us. Does He let go easily? No. We see that in Elijah’s story. He will ask why we are not where we should be. He will search us out to the very ends of the earth and remind us that He will be with us in His work. But He doesn’t force us to do anything. Paul writes, “For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another.” Elijah wanted to hide away in his cave and let the world fall apart without Him. But God had a plan and Elijah was part of that plan. He could stay in the cave and save himself. He could ignore the command to anoint the kings and prophet who would destroy so many lives. And perhaps he could justify ignoring it because it seemed like the loving thing to do.
But the reality is that allowing people to live in their sin does not show love. It is the selfish and self-centered choice. Love means helping God’s people live according to His word, which is good and right and true. Paul writes, “Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.” We are called to help our neighbors live so that they will inherit eternal life. He calls us to do His work and promises that there are others to help and to continue what He began with us.
God has promised Elijah that Elisha would take the mantle of power from his shoulders, and in today’s text we see their first meeting. Elijah, perhaps tired from the journey or just anxious to be rid of the responsibility, flings the mantle onto Elisha’s shoulders. The mantle, the symbol of Elijah’s power and authority, it handed over to God’s chosen successor. Elijah doesn’t try to hold onto it, he readily passes it on to the next prophet, happy to know that he’s not really alone in this work against the people who have turned from God.
Elisha seemed willing to accept the responsibility, but asked for enough time to kiss his mother and father. “Then I will follow you.” Elijah’s answer seems odd. He sent Elisha away. “Go back again; for what have I done to thee?” We might find this to be an odd response to Elisha’s request, especially in light of today’s Gospel lesson, but Elijah just kept going. It wasn’t up to Elijah to convince Elisha to follow. If Elisha was the right man, God will do the convincing. It wasn’t Elijah calling Elisha to follow, it was God. And God will be with His chosen people.
Elisha didn’t return to the work of his farm; he slaughtered the beasts and fed the people. His first act as a prophet was to sacrifice his livestock and fill the bellies of the people he is about to abandon for God’s work. We might think that Elisha isn’t worthy of being the prophet because he’s not willing to drop everything to follow Elijah. And yet, in this story the wait seems to have some religious significance. It was a necessary part of cutting himself from the old life and beginning the new one.
I’m struck in this reading not by Elisha’s pause, but by Elijah’s seemingly apathetic passing of the mantle. He doesn’t seem to care. “Come, don’t come. Do whatever you want.” Do we ever feel that way? Do we know someone who feels that way? Even with the personal encounter with God, Elijah is ready for his time as prophet to be over. He goes on as Elisha follows. He encounters other prophets who seem to know that Elijah is finished. They want his job. But Elisha continues unencumbered by Elijah’s indifference and the other prophets’ attention, ready to take over.
Perhaps Elijah wasn’t indifferent; he was willing to pass on the responsibilities of office to the one who has been chosen by God. He knew that he wasn’t alone. He knew that he didn’t have to do it all himself. He knew that God’s message would go on without him. Sometimes, when we have reached the end of our rope, we simply have to let go and let others take control. We don’t, however, because we don’t think there is anyone who can take our place. We put that burden on many of our leaders, relying on them for everything. I wonder how many pastors finish their years of ministry with the exact same attitude as Elijah. I wonder how often it is our fault that we have allowed this to happen.
God promised Elijah that there would be a remnant in Israel when His latest plan was complete. Elijah found Elisha, but that’s nowhere near the seven thousand promised by God. Where were they? What were they doing? They weren’t worshipping the Baals, but they weren’t there to help Elijah. They were also afraid of Jezebel and Ahab. They were also hiding. Do we do that to our leaders? Do we allow them to feel like they are alone in the world while hiding from the things that make us afraid?
There is a cost to following God. There is a cost to following Jesus. The three calls stories in today’s Gospel lesson help us to see that, but Jesus’ response to their responses is completely different than Elijah. In the first encounter, a man told Jesus that he will follow Jesus wherever He goes. Jesus answers, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” We don’t know how the man received that piece of news, but the context leads us to think that he was disappointed. What about God’s call makes us question whether or not we should follow Jesus?
Jesus said to the second man, “Follow me.” He wanted to bury his father. Now, this seems like a plausible reason to postpone following Jesus, but it is likely that the man’s father was not yet dead. In other words, the man was telling Jesus, “I’ll be glad to join you when my life circumstances change.” Unfortunately, we often put off following Jesus until a better time. Jesus answered, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” How often do we push aside the work of God’s kingdom to do the tasks of this world that do not change lives or glorify God?
A third man told Jesus, “I want to follow you, Lord, but first...” In this case, the man just wanted to say good-bye to his family. Isn’t that just what Elisha did? Yet, Jesus says, “o one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for God’s Kingdom.” Elisha went back, but he didn’t stay there. He broke all ties, getting rid of his cattle, saying farewell to the people in his town. He didn’t just say good-bye; he left forever. Are we willing to give up everything for the sake of the Gospel?
The cost of following Jesus is heavy. It means giving up everything including the family ties and the work we have think we have to do. It is easy to find excuses to put off the work of the kingdom, but Jesus is not willing to accept excuses. He was on His way to the cross. Time was short and there was too much left to do. Those not committed at that moment would never survive the next test. They would be the ones to fall under the pressure of the crucifixion. They would not have the strength or courage to wait for the resurrection.
The works of the flesh as listed by Paul are part of the old life that we must leave behind. At times these are quite easy to recognize and yet sometimes we do not even realize we are sinning against God with our works. It is easy to see idolatry when the god we are worshipping is a stone figurine. It is not so easy when our idols are our self-centered points of view. We are just like those men on the road to Jerusalem with an easy excuse like “now is not the time,” or “let me take care of something first.”
The life God expects from us looks so much different. Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit.” The works of the flesh destroy. The works of the Spirit shine God’s light. It is hard work, and we might be called to do some things that we simply do not want to do. We might be called to do something that just doesn’t make sense or seem to accomplish anything. We might be called to face an enemy. But God calls us to be filled with faith, trusting that He knows what He is doing.
Christ calls us to be free from our old life. If we keep turning back, we will never be free to preach the kingdom in this world. Instead of being bound by the works of the flesh, Christ lives in us to manifest the fruit of the spirit. We who follow Christ turn away from our old life and keep God before us, trusting that He will accomplish His work through us. Elisha set his face toward doing God’s will by following Elijah. He was prepared to give up everything and he took the cloak. Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem and walked forth in faith, knowing that God was going ahead of Him to prepare the way.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Trusting in God should be the simplest thing we do, especially for those of us who have been given the Holy Spirit at our baptisms. However, we learn very quickly that it isn’t always easy. Elijah was constantly blessed by God with power, and he even experienced the presence of God in a way that few others have ever known. In the end, even Elijah was burdened by his flesh, afraid to go on and tired of fighting. James and John were in Jesus’ inner circle, but they were tempted by their own anger. We suffer from the same temptations. We share in the same failings. We fall under the same burdens. But when we trust in God, knowing by faith that we are never alone, and live by the Spirit rather than the flesh, then our lives will reflect the grace and mercy of God.
David writes, “You are my Lord. Apart from you I have no good thing.” When we follow the desires of our flesh, we turn from the God who gives us all good things. Though we may not bow down at the altar of the Baals like Jezebel and Ahab and the people of Israel, our gods are as dangerous to our well-being. They might not even seem like gods. After all, how can we hold it against someone who wants to bury his father or say good-bye to his family? How can it bad to have a bed on which to sleep or a roof over one’s head? Can our relationships, our homes, our jobs, and our lives become like gods to us, taking our attention away from the one true God? Yes, those things and people can become our gods. While our gods might not require our blood, they do tempt us to set God aside while we pursue the desires of our flesh.
The fruit of the Spirit is manifest in the life of the one that says, “You are my Lord. Apart from you I have no good thing.” Dwelling in God’s presence, the faithful are not burdened by the desires of the flesh, but are set free to live in God’s mercy and grace. This is the life that is given wholly to God: heart, soul and body. This is the life that accepts the call of Christ to go and proclaim the kingdom of God, whatever He sends us to do.
“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16, WEB
I was in a store the other day, wandering the aisles, and I happened to end up in the stationary department. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but was checking out the shelves to see if anything interesting was there. I was bored and glad to be out of the house, even if it was just a brief shopping trip. An elderly woman entered the same aisle looking a little confused. I smiled at her, and she asked if I knew where she could find some pencils. I told her in the next aisle and then led her in the right direction.
There was a display of pencils on an end cap, but there were 36 pencils and they cost over five dollars, more than she wanted to have and to pay. So, I helped her search the counter and found a nice pack of 8 pencils for less than a dollar. She was disappointed because the pencils were not sharpened. “I need pencils with lead,” she said. I tried to find a cheap sharpener, but couldn’t, and the only packs with sharpened pencils were those on the end cap. Then I pointed out a pack of mechanical pencils, but she didn’t understand how they worked. “I just need one pencil with lead.”
She told me she’d given all her pencils and sharpeners to grandkids, that she’d had a stroke, that she needed the pencils for a project, and that she needed to be able to erase the line she will draw with the pencil. I must have spent five or ten minutes helping her try to find a solution to her problem. Finally, after all that time, I reached into my purse and pulled out a mechanical pencil. “Here, have my pencil.” I showed her how it worked and pointed out the eraser. It had everything she needed, and she was thankful. I hope that she is able to use it when she gets home.
I’m not sure how much my kindness will impact the woman to whom I gave my pencil. It was obvious that her stroke had affected at least part of her brain. I hope that she was able to use the pencil when she got it home, and that it did not offer a source of frustration while she was working on her project. I am sure that the incident was worth every minute of my time and patience. During our quest, another woman entered the aisle and saw what was happening. She saw my patience and willingness to help a confused elderly stranger. She even saw me reach into my bag and give away my own pencil.
A story is told of a young boy and a trip to a cathedral with his grandmother. As they wandered the aisles of the church looking at the windows, the woman asked her young grandson, “Do you know who the saints are?” The young boy answered, “They are the people who the light shines through.” A pencil may seem incredibly insignificant, but there was much more to the encounter than just the pencil. The onlooker saw my light shine. She saw a person willing to help, someone who was patient and generous. I could have easily pointed to the pencils and walked away, and I have many times. We all have opportunities just like this every day. Are you willing to respond with grace, letting your light shine in the ordinary encounters of your day?
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For let that man not think that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. But let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his high position; and the rich, in that he is made humble, because like the flower in the grass, he will pass away. For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his pursuits. Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, produces death. Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow. Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures." James 1:2-18, WEB
We recently made changes to the way we communicate with the world in our house. New Internet, television and telephone options is changing the way we spend our leisure time. We’ve had to be patient as we have waited for our phone number to be transferred to our new service. The old account had to remain active, but we have not been able to receive calls on our phone because I’ve disconnected the equipment. The new service gave us a temporary number, but I didn’t want to give it out for just a week or two. Modern technology is amazing, though. Since our old account is still active, we can receive emails with transcriptions of any voicemails and I can check my account the numbers that called without leaving a message. I didn’t have to hear the phone ring, and I knew who called. Despite the fact that most of our calls are spam, there is a sense of security knowing that we can be connected to others when we are alone.
Communication is vital, but this age of technology has made it different and something frustrating. Have you gone to dinner with someone who always has their nose in a phone? I have to admit that I am occasionally guilty of that. I’ve seen too many stories of children who get hurt because parents are too busy watching their Facebook that they don’t see their children dash out into the street or fall into a pool. Young people, who have grown up with text message, have a difficult time communicating face to face. Yet, we are also discovering that this reliance on technology is causing health problems for many people. The more they are connected to technology, the more unconnected they are to the people in their own little corner of the world.
What happens if we can not talk even to those people who are living in our presence? This is what happens to those in prison, whether it is a prison to which they have been confined by criminal behavior or otherwise. Take, for instance, those living in the Nazi concentration camps. Fellowship was impossible and talking could mean death. This is a way for the captors to keep control. By limiting fellowship, they captives are left weak by the lack of encouragement from others. Dr. Julius Segal, in his book “Winning Life’s Toughest Battles” wrote, “Few individuals can cope with trauma alone. Even the most powerful figures in the world need contact with others in the face of crisis.” So, captors force solitude to diminish strength and courage of their captives.
In the same book Dr. Segal related the experience of Vice Admiral James Stockdale who was held captive for many years as a POW in Vietnam. He was apparently an uncooperative prisoner, so the North Vietnamese forced him to sit for three days in the courtyard where everyone could see his suffering. The other prisoners could not communicate with him without risk, though that did not stop them. During their time together, the prisoners had developed a sort of code which only the prisoners could understand. It was much like Morse Code; it was a series of taps which spelled out the letters of the alphabet. The prisoners developed different ways of using this code, like tapping on the walls, shuffling their feet or sweeping a broom. One prisoner could even tell the prisoners the news in his cell block by snoring the code. He would pretend to sleep during the siesta period, but he was really communicating with the others.
The prisoners encouraged James Stockdale with this code. One day he heard a towel snapping and recognized the letters: GBUJS. It meant, God Bless You, Jim Stockdale. He said it was a message he would never forget.
It is unlikely any of us will ever really know what it is like to live in a situation with no fellowship with others like Vice Admiral James Stockdale. However, there are people suffering from a lack of fellowship due to the wickedness of others. Women live in fear of violent partners; abused children are ignored and worse. Unfortunately, technology has also become a source of bullying, one that is difficult to overcome. Whatever our situation, there are surely times when we suffer from loneliness and doubt. There are times when we do not experience the type of fellowship that will give us courage and strength to get through out bad times.
Yet, there is a code we can listen for in the midst of our troubles. It is a code that is founded on the love of Christ. There may be no way for words to be spoken, but if we listen hard enough we might just hear God's message being tapped out in an unknown code so that only you can understand. He is saying, “God bless you,” in the midst of your difficulties so that you might know that you are not alone.
“Jesus answered him, ‘If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. He who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word which you hear isn’t mine, but the Father’s who sent me. I have said these things to you, while still living with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.’” John 14:23-26, WEB
Bruce’s mom died in January and his dad is in long term care, so the family has spent the last few months dealing with the business of their estate. Bruce went home for a month to clean the house, to go through all their things, to pick out the treasures and prepare for an auction and the sale of the property. He came home with piles of things, mostly photos but also papers and a few items of sentimental and historical value. I spent hours scanning every item, digitizing the history of their family. There was a lot of history in that house. The family has owned the land for more than two hundred years and the current house was built about 175 years ago. The photos and documents record some of this history.
I often did not know what I was scanning. I don’t know the stories or the people. I was able to piece a few things together, especially when the photos were captioned on the back. Some of the documents gave the same information, sometimes in a different way, helpfully filling in blanks. Bruce and his family have been able to add some more information based on their memories, but we could not write a book if we wanted. This is a common problem as the older generations die. Though many share their memories, they aren’t written down and are often lost to time.
There is an African proverb that says, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” Our brains, all our brains, are filled with volumes of stories, histories, and memories. Those tell us about our past and help us to learn the lessons so that we can have a better future. Our children don’t always appreciate those stories. We didn’t really appreciate the ones our parents told us. Now, as I’m older, I wish I’d listened more. I wish I knew what was happening in every photograph. I wish I could name the people. I wish I had written those stories so that they would last into the future. When my mom and dad died, their libraries were lost. I still have a few memories, but the stories aren’t clear and they will be lost forever when I die because I can’t give them to my children in a way that they can also pass them on to their children.
I’m actually one of the lucky ones because I’ve spent nearly twenty years telling my stories. I’ve left a library on the Internet that will last because nothing every really disappears from the Internet. Even now as I go back and read some of my writing from the first few years, I am surprised by the memories. I wonder if it really happened that way. I can’t remember the details. I work hard to try to remember the people about whom I was writing. Those are my memories and they aren’t even clear. Can you imagine if I were trying to write based on other’s memories?
My Sunday school class has just begun a new study. We are looking into a document called “The Didache.” It is believed to be the first Christian catechism, written in the earliest days of the Church as an outline for teaching new believers, particularly Gentiles. It was rediscovered in 1873, though there was a record of the document from the early Church fathers. Some even thought it should have been considered as part of the canon, and though rejected it was deemed helpful for Christian growth and maturity. The text often parallels passages from the Bible, and we are going to spend the summer piecing it all together.
As we began our discussion yesterday, we discussed what we consider canon today. How did that come to be? Who made the decision? What were the guidelines for giving credence to one book over another? Why does our Bible look like it does? The Didache was lost for more than a thousand years. How do we know it is true? Now, the Bible as we know it changed over time, but it has been around forever. Yet many ask the same question. How do we know it is true? Modern experts question many of the assumptions we’ve made since the beginning of the church. They theorize that the books must have been written long after the disciples were dead, that they were recording stories they’d heard. They surmise that the disciples could not have written those books, but that their followers put down on paper what they had been taught orally. This leaves room to question, “Is that was Jesus really said?” After all, details could be lost, messages passed on from person to person can change. Can we really trust the words in the book that were written by human hands and memories?
I personally believe the credibility of the scriptures, and that the ancient identification of the apostles as the writers is more likely than a modern interpretation. But does it matter? It only really matters if you do not want to believe everything is true. Family stories are certainly embellished as we share them from generation to generation, why should we believe the stories in the Bible to be true? We believe because we have been given faith and trust that God is able to pass His Word to us. Jesus promised something that would be better than our memories. It was good that the early Christians wrote down the stories of their experiences with Jesus so that we still have them today, but the Church would not exist without the power of the Holy Spirit. Their pens were guided by something greater than their minds. We can trust what we read because God Himself has given it to us. God spoke to His people before Jesus, then through Jesus, and now after Jesus by His Spirit. We can keep His words, believe they are true and trust that God is faithful to every promise.
“Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is today, to save many people alive. Now therefore don’t be afraid. I will nourish you and your little ones.’ He comforted them, and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:19-21, WEB
I read a story this morning about a twenty-one year old man who was struggling. His mother had recently passed away, he had a young son, and he was homeless. But he had a job and was trying to lift himself up so that he could give his son a better life. “Everything I do, I want to work for it,” he said. McDonald’s might not be a great job, but it was a job. He was scheduled to work several shifts, but had a bit of time in between, so he found a quiet corner of the restaurant to catch a few minutes of sleep. A woman saw him sleeping there and complained about the man to an employee. Her response was to laugh and say that they knew about it and that it was ok. The woman was upset and said, “No it isn’t but whatever.” She took a picture and posted it on her Facebook.
The young man was upset when he heard about the posting; his feelings were hurt. He was just trying to make the best of a difficult situation, and his co-workers were trying to help him. The post, however, had a much different impact than you might think. Instead of being up in arms about a homeless man sleeping in McDonald’s, the community banded together to help him. Some donated hotel rooms. Another offered to loan him a car so he could find a better job. Others sent items for the baby like diapers and clothes. As of the time of the article, the man had several job offers and his future looked bright.
Sometimes bad things lead to good circumstances. Take the story of Joseph. He was the favorite son of Jacob. Joseph was gifted; he dreamed dreams and could interpret them. One day Joseph had a dream in which he ruled over the members of his family. His many brothers were jealous of the good things he received from his father and they plotted to kill him, but were greedy. When a merchant caravan passed, they sold Joseph to the wandering Ishmaelites, and made it appear as though he were dead. Jacob mourned.
His story is filled with bad luck. Joseph ended up in Egypt. There he worked and prospered in the house of Potiphar, one of the Pharaoh’s officials. The house was greatly blessed by Joseph’s presence. One day Potiphar’s wife, who found Joseph to be quite attractive, seduced him. Joseph refused. She accused him of rape and he was put into prison. While there, Joseph continued to prosper. Two other prisoners had dreams, which Joseph was able to interpret. One dream foretold of impending death, the other prosperity. Both interpretations were true. One prisoner was hanged and the other set free. The one who was set free promised to speak to the officials about Joseph, but forgot his promise.
Two years later, Pharaoh had a dream. No one in the kingdom was able to interpret this dream, but the man from the prison remembered Joseph. Joseph knew that Pharaoh’s dream foretold of a period of prosperity then drought. Joseph recommended storing up food while the crop was good, then they would survive the drought. Pharaoh appointed Joseph as his highest official.
The dreams proved to be true and in the midst of the drought Egypt prospered. People from all over the world came to Egypt to buy food so that they would not die. Jacob sent his sons. Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him when they came to Egypt. Joseph not only supplied their needs; he gave them back their money and brought them into Egypt to live. Israel was warmly welcomed into this foreign land, and Jacob’s house flourished. When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared that he would seek revenge.
The scriptures tell us throughout the story of Joseph that God was with him. We hear of God’s blessings in the house of Potiphar and in the prison. When Joseph is asked to interpret the dreams, he says he is not able but that God will provide the interpretation. At times Joseph was quite arrogant about his blessings, such as when he told his brothers of his dream. However, even in the midst of his imperfections, God continued to be with him. Joseph recognized this throughout his life. When his brothers sold him into slavery, they sold him into a life of suffering. However, that life brought him into the powerful role that saved many from death. Joseph could not act as a god and punish his brothers for an act that the one true and living God used in an incredible way.
We don’t know the spiritual state of the homeless man in today’s story, but we can learn that good things can come out of something that seems bad. Joseph forgave his brothers for their cruelty because he trusted God. Are you willing to forgive those who hurt you? Are you grateful for the blessings of every day, even if some of them seem bad? Do you see the circumstances of life as Joseph? Those things that are meant to hurt us are used by God to accomplish great things. Trust Him, and forgive your enemy.
*Please Note: I am usually pretty good at proving how imperfect I am in this writing. There is always some typographical error or spelling mistake that I miss in editing. The mistakes are usually small, and are rarely even noticeable unless you are really paying attention. I made an error last week that was a doozy, though. I misread my lectionary calendar and used the texts for this week instead of last week. I realized it when I saw what my pastor was preparing to preach, but it was too late to make any changes. This, unfortunately, meant that I had already written on what I should write today. I realize this error would probably have been unnoticed by most of my readers, especially those who do not use the lectionary, but it left me with a dilemma. I have decided to use some alternate texts that can be used on this Sunday, and it turns out that they continue the story in a really good way.
Lectionary Scriptures for Sunday, June 30, 2019, Third Sunday after Pentecost: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
“Elisha said, ‘As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.’” 2 Kings 2:b, WEB
If you recall, last week we saw Elijah having a pity party for himself, “I, only I am left...” He was afraid because his life was in danger, threatened by Jezebel because he had destroyed her priests. God appeared to Elijah, not in the wind, or the thunder, or the earthquake, but in a quiet voice. He told Elijah that he was not alone, that there were others, and that He was with him always. He promised that Elisha would take the mantle of authority and continue the work Elijah began, so Elijah was obedient to God’s command, willingly facing the threats for the sake of God’s kingdom.
We also saw that Elisha was willing, but he wanted to cut off all ties to his old life as his first act as a prophet. As soon as he slaughtered his livestock and filled the bellies of the people he was abandoning, he followed Elijah. Elijah seemed indifferent, “Come or don’t come. It isn’t my problem.” This attitude was so much different than Jesus’ when the three men approached him about being a disciple. They, too, seemed to want to cut off times with their past, but Jesus said that they would be unworthy if they took care of the business of their lives. The difference between Elisha and the three men is that he was truly willing, they were making excuses. “I want to follow you, but...”
The cost of following Jesus is heavy. It means giving up everything, including family ties and the work we think we have to do. It is easy to find excuses to put off following Jesus, but He is not willing to accept excuses. “Follow me now,” He says, “or don’t bother.” It isn’t that He has no compassion or patience. It is just that He knew that they would never survive the trials of discipleship if they fell into the temptation of their excuses. The one who wants to turn to look back is like Lot’s wife; they will be trapped in the past and will never be able to commit fully to the work of the Kingdom.
Elisha knew where he needed to be; he needed to follow Elijah. The journey left from Gilgal and it was to be Elijah’s last journey. Elijah tried to push Elisha away, but Elisha would not leave him. When Elijah said he was going to Bethel, Elisha insisted on going also. At Bethel the company of prophets came forward to tell Elisha that his master was about to be taken away. Elisha answered, “Yes, I know it. Hold your peace.” Two more times Elijah tried to go on without Elisha but Elisha insisted on accompanying him. Emphatically he said, “As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” At Jericho a company of prophets met them with the same news; Elijah would be taken away today. Elisha answered again, “Yes, I know it. Hold your peace.”
This must have been a frightening time for Elisha. Was he ready to take on the responsibilities of being God’s prophet? Being a prophet was not a pleasant job, especially if the word God speaks is unpopular. Elijah felt so alone, but Elisha was still willing to take on the mantle. Elisha knew that he would experience persecution and threats, but he also knew that it was where he belonged. He did not allow any fear to keep him from doing what he was called to do.
Today’s Old Testament lesson is about the proper succession of power. Elijah was about to be taken to heaven and it was time for a new head prophet to be selected. Elisha insisted on accompanying Elijah on his trip, a trip that took them along the journey of previous Hebrew leaders. It was a journey Moses was not allowed to take. Due to his own failings, Moses never entered into the Promised Land. Instead, the Hebrews were led across the Jordan River by Joshua as Moses watched from a hilltop. Then he died and God buried him in Moab. Joshua took the Hebrews through the Jordan, through Jericho, through Bethel to Gilgal where they were circumcised and restored into a right relationship with God. Elijah traveled back to the Jordan, to go into the land where Moses was buried.
Religious communities were situated at each of those places, gatherings of prophets who did the Lord’s work. They all considered Elijah their father, in the sense that they were sons who might inherit the place as lead prophet. They followed Elijah and Elisha to the Jordan, constantly reminding Elisha that he’d be left alone. Elisha refused to leave Elijah, thus showing his commitment to the task that would be required of him. Being a prophet was never easy; being God’s voice against the injustice and sin of His people meant persecution.
When they arrived on the opposite bank of the Jordan, Elijah asked Elisha what he could do to repay his loyalty. Elisha asked for a double portion of the spirit. This was not a greedy request. He didn’t want more spirit than Elijah had. Elisha was asking that it be made perfectly clear that he was the true heir and successor to Elijah’s ministry. With so many other “sons,” all of whom may have been hoping that they would become the head prophet, it was important that the inheritance was made clear. The first born, the rightful heir, was always given a double portion of the inheritance: not twice as much as the estate, but twice as much as any other son. Elisha was given what he asked, the mantle of leadership fell on his shoulders and the other prophets recognized him as the head prophet.
Elijah was taken up into heaven suddenly in a fiery chariot, the sign of God’s blessing on Elisha’s ministry. His request was granted. Elisha mourned the loss of his master, but picked up the mantle and returned to the other side of the Jordan. He crossed the same way Elijah had gone over, by hitting the water with the mantle. The water parted and he walked across to the company that waited. They recognized the sign that the spirit of Elijah had fallen on Elisha, but they did not believe that Elijah was gone. They wanted to send a company of men to search far and wide, thinking that God had lifted him and set him down on a mountain or in a valley. They were blinded by their own desires.
There may have been another reason why Elijah took Elisha on that particular journey. Despite their attitude, the prophets were a reminder that Elisha was not alone in the work he was doing. It is difficult being the one at the top, but it is encouraging to know that there are others whom God had chosen to bear the burdens of the work. Elijah forgot, but he wanted Elisha to know that there were others who would support him, pray for him, and help him. They would remind Elisha that God is with His people, working through them to accomplish His purpose in the world.
It is said that those who do not know history are bound to repeat it. That doesn’t help convince a child in a boring history class that they should learn because what about history might they repeat? “I won’t get into war with the French any time soon, so why do I need to know this stuff?” They don’t realize that it isn’t the particular event that they need to understand, but rather the causes that led up to the event. They need to know more than just the names of the people and places and dates; they need to know why it happened and what could have been different.
Unfortunately, history is most often taught as just a bunch of numbers and names. The children are expected to learn the who’s, what’s, where’s and when’s, but they don’t quite get around to the how’s. The teachers do not help children identify with the people and events in history, so it seems unimportant or irrelevant to their life. I never liked history in school, either. It was not until we lived in England where I could visit the places, see the conditions and get to know what life was like for the people, that I began to love history. Even though the world was a much different place for those who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago, I could better identify with their needs, hopes, dreams and sacrifices.
Many Christians think the Old Testament has little value for the Christian student because it is all past and Jesus has made things new and different. Yet, over the years in this devotion and following the lectionary we have heard the stories of the people of God in the Old Testament, seen their failures as well as their successes. We’ve seen the patterns of humility and trust, rebellion and failure that happened over and over again. As we read these stories today, we see them through the eyes of a new covenant, through grace and the mercy of God. When we rebel and fail, we know from whom we will receive salvation and reconciliation. The questions, doubts and fears are easier to bear because God’s grace gives us the strength to overcome. We can look back to the past to see how God was always with the people, and know that now it is even more so.
The psalmist wrote, “I will remember Yah’s deeds; for I will remember your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all your work, and consider your doings.” When we are in the midst of difficult times, times when it seems that God has abandoned us, we can remember the past and realize that things aren’t that much different between then and now. We can see that God’s hand was with the people, even when they failed. His promises were true for them, and even more true for us today. We have seen the fulfillment of all that God promised. We have seen the Lord Jesus Christ who is the way and our Redeemer. The past can show us our failure, and in seeing our failure, we see how much we need the Lord. When we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it. When we recall the people, places and events of those who came before, we can see what we need and avoid their failures. In every case, God’s people fell because they forgot the Lord; they rebelled against Him and suffered the consequences. Their failure and redemption point to the only One who could truly save them: Jesus Christ.
Accepting this means taking on a mantle that will be hard to bear. Following Christ means we will face difficult times. The world has rejected Him, and they will reject us, too, because of Him. We can’t keep looking back, making excuses for not giving Him our whole selves. Those excuses will keep us from truly being the disciples He is calling us to be. Christ calls us to be free from our old life, but if we keep looking back we will never truly be free. Paul writes, “Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Looking back means being tied to the past, and like Lot’s wife, it can mean never moving forward.
Paul lists quite a few deeds of the flesh: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. We can look at this list and easily say that we are not guilty of some of them, but there are others that are not quite so easy to acknowledge. Who among us has not been like those prophets, hoping to be the chosen one? Who can say they have never burst into anger or felt hatred for a neighbor? We can make excuses or justify some of our actions, but isn’t that like holding on to the past, keeping hold of the things we just can’t seem to give up? Can we truly follow Jesus Christ if we continue to live according to the ways of the world?
Lives filled with grace and mercy are ordered, free from the burdens of slavery to the chaos of fleshly desires. We are also freed from the need to earn our way to heaven. Paul doesn’t give us a checklist of things we cannot do and things we have to do. He shows us how different life is when lived in the Spirit of God. The irony of life is that we seek the freedom to pursue our desires and yet it is our desires that keep us in bondage. Life in Christ does not give us the freedom to do what we want, but the new life we have in Him frees us from our desire to follow our flesh. God gives us the faith to produce good fruit, fruit that glorifies Him.
There is a difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit. In the former, we see actions that can hurt and destroy, emotions that bring pain and suffering. In latter, we see the goodness of God shining through the lives of the faithful. We who follow Christ turn away from our old life and keep God before us, trusting that He will accomplish His work through us. Elisha set his face toward doing God’s will by following Elijah. He took the cloak and was prepared to give up everything. Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem and walked forth in faith, knowing that God was going ahead of Him to prepare the way.
Paul reminds us to stand firm in the Gospel so that we will not be burdened by our sinful flesh. That includes the self-centered and selfish pity parties we like to have when we feel like God is sending us into a mean and hurtful world. We seek the freedom to pursue our desires and yet it is our desires that keep us in bondage. The three men on the road wanted to join Jesus, but they wanted to do it their way. They wanted to hold on to the past while trying to move forward. We suffer from the same temptations. We share in the same failings. We fall under the same burdens. Elisha trusted in God, refusing to abandon Elijah because he knew that he was where he was meant to be. So, too, when we trust in God, we can know that we are never alone, living by the Spirit rather than the flesh, and our lives will reflect the grace and mercy of God.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’” Matthew 7:21-23, WEB
The Nazca lines in southern Peru have caused many people to wonder how and why the lines were created. They are huge geoglyphs, so large that most of the pictures are not visible from the ground. They can be seen from the surrounding hillsides, and there are a few on the hillsides that can be seen clearly from the ocean. There are pictures of plants, birds and animals. Some of the lines even appear as though they must be landing strips though airplanes were invented long after the lines were created. People have tried to recreate the lines, but it is difficult. The lines were created by removing the red pebbles that cover the white or grayish ground below; the dry, windless climate has protected the shapes for over a thousand years. The process is relatively easy except when you consider the length of these lines. The geoglyphs are hundreds of feet long; there is one line that is nine miles long. New lines have been discovered recently and the study of this amazing place continues today.
There is a theory that these lines must have been created by ancient aliens. The ancient astronaut theorists suggest that it would be impossible to make the geoglyphs without someone giving direction from above. The sheer size gives some credence that it must have taken technology that was not available to the Nazca people. Recent discoveries have shown older lines that were drawn by a previous culture and that the Nazca lines were a continuation of an older tradition.
Most historians will tell you that the ancient astronaut theory is ridiculous. An investigator on a show I watch learned that the lines and shapes have a very real purpose in the dry desert climate of south Peru: they point to water. Some point toward the ocean. Others are more like a calendar, helping the people count the time between rainy seasons. Some of the lines even point to where water can be found. The investigator was taken to the conjunction of two lines where there was an indention in the ground. He shoveled at that spot and eventually discovered an unexpected source of water. It was unexpected because there was no sign of water; there was no life, just dust and ground and lines. But if you were thirsty and wandering through this incredible desert filled with lines, you could find water at these conjunctions.
One of the reasons why the ancient astronaut theorists are convinced that the Nazca lines had to be created is the art that the people drew. There is a picture of a man on one hillside that faces the ocean. The shape is simplistic, but it is obvious to the fishermen that it is of a fisherman. The ancient astronaut theorists see a space man because the head appears to be large and round, as if the man is wearing a helmet. They use this interpretation whenever they discuss ancient art. It all looks like men from space, like modern astronauts, to them, so that must mean that the artists were impacted by spacemen.
Here’s the thing: the progression of art in the world lines up pretty closely to the progression of art in the life of a child. In the beginning a child just scribbles, a record of an enjoyable kinesthetic activity. The child eventually begins to make shapes, but the heads and bodies of people are just line drawings with extra large heads. The drawing becomes more detailed, although at first it is a modified, schematic version of reality. The older child begins to draw more realism, even to the point that they become more critical of the work. As the child nears the teenage years, the art becomes less spontaneous and they become even more critical. By sixteen, the child needs to choose whether or not they will continue at art.
The progression of art history follows a similar pattern, early art like that found on caves is simplistic, often line drawings with large heads. The art developed through the years from drawings with more details to more realistic pictures. Art once was simply to share information or record something, but as it progressed the purpose became more subtle, such as for beauty. The earliest art forms were made with simple tools, but as time progressed so did the ability of the artists. Instead of a few lines on a wall, the painting became very detailed and on canvas. Sculpture changed, too, from simple forms to more detailed figures. What appears to some as a space man with a simple body and large head is just one step in the development of art.
The problem with these incredible theories is that they are not willing to see the whole story. The ancient astronaut theorists find a way to credit aliens with everything. They are the gods of the world. They are the answer to questions in the myths and legends. They are the reason why art appears as it does. Every cave is an alien hideout and every ocean covers their base. The world’s wonders are thanks to the aliens and they can show you why by the history, religion, literature, music and accomplishments of every society. They tell us that we should believe because if we don'\’t we are rejecting the very foundation of our lives.
Yes, I know. Many think the same of Christians. We give credit to God for everything. God is the answer to all our questions. God is the reason why we see the world as we do. Yes, we are as firm in our understanding that those who do not believe are rejecting the very foundation of life. Sadly, even among Christians we have these same problems. We pick and choose what we want to believe about God and the Bible, seeing what we want to see, believing what we want to believe. God forgives, we can rest in that, but He also wants us to hear His Word as He intends. It takes a lifetime. We’ll be wrong, often. We will see only a part of the picture. We will accept only part of the story. We will all fail to live up to His expectations. He loves us anyway.
And because He loves us He calls us to a life of repentance, of transformation by His Spirit, of study and prayer because He wants us to be everything He has created and redeemed us to be. We won’t get there in this life, but if we believe in Him and trust in His promises, we will find that He is faithful when we face Him in His day. If we do not live this life of seeking God and trying to be faithful, we might just discover that we missed the truth all along. He calls us to a different kind of life that that which the world expects. It is a life of sacrifice, not for stuff or people, but for Him. It is hard, perhaps it is even impossible, but this sacrificial life rejects everything that turns us away from the God who loves us.
“For my soul was grieved. I was embittered in my heart. I was so senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you. You have held my right hand. You will guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom do I have in heaven? There is no one on earth whom I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart fails, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from you shall perish. You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to you. But it is good for me to come close to God. I have made the Lord Yahweh my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” Psalm 73:21-28, WEB
“Oh, woe is me!” Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel as though your enemies succeed when you should succeed, taking your triumphs right out of your hands? Ok, perhaps the words enemies and triumphs are a little extreme. But haven’t we all had an experience of loss because someone has done something to get ahead that is manipulative or dishonest?
A few years ago I was looking for ways to earn some extra cash while keeping the flexibility of being a stay-at-home-mom. I discovered several sites where writers are hired on a freelance basis. Topics for articles or essays were posted, and writers were invited to submit articles to be purchased by the requester. On some sites authors could write about subjects they knew, posting the articles for those who are seeking general topics. I sold one or two of my articles on one of these sites, and it gave me the confidence to look for other opportunities.
I found one site that seemed to pay really well, and it seemed to be a little bit more professional than the first one. The writing would require more research, but the money would have been worthwhile. I had to submit a writing sample which was judged by professionals. Once accepted, I was given passwords and encouraged to jump right into writing. I started checking out the opportunities and I was shocked. This particular site was a place where students could go to get research papers for college and to fulfill other coursework. Several assignments were for essays needed for scholarships.
Now, I was checking into this business during the time that Victoria was searching for college scholarships. She was working so hard at her essays and filling out all the paperwork. I was upset to think that I might be writing an essay for a student that could be competing against her for college money. It wasn’t right: if colleges discover the essays are purchased the students will be rejected. But, most students will adapt the purchased essays just enough to make them personal. When I realized that I would be doing the work that students should be doing themselves, I knew I could not work for the company.
Yet, many people do work for the company and many college students are making their way through their school years with others doing their work. They’ll get the good grades, receive the honors and triumph over their peers by cheating. It isn’t fair to those students who truly work hard and earn their grades and honors. Though those students may not be enemies, they are not friends if they are willing to cheat to get ahead.
The psalms tell the stories of people oppressed by enemies who have done what is wrong to get ahead. David, Solomon, Asaph (a family appointed to serve in the Temple) wrote songs that bemoaned the success of the wicked, crying “Oh woe is me!” because of their losses to those willing to do what is wrong to get what was rightfully someone else’s. Yet, in today’s Psalm, Asaph realizes that it doesn’t matter. He realizes how bitter he has become, how foolish he appears to God. His attitude turns around when he remembers that God is with him, guiding him into the right paths. We may be sad because we don’t get what we want, but we can rejoice in what we truly have: God. He will take us down the paths that are right and good and true. He is our strength and in Him we triumph over the things that really matter.