Welcome to the March 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 American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2019
“Remember this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work. As it is written, ‘He has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor. His righteousness remains forever.’ Now may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; you being enriched in everything to all liberality, which produces through us thanksgiving to God. For this service of giving that you perform not only makes up for lack among the saints, but abounds also through many givings of thanks to God; seeing that through the proof given by this service, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the Good News of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all; while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, yearn for you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. Now thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, WEB
Sea World in San Antonio has a penguin exhibit. I have to admit that when we visited the park during the summer, the penguin exhibit was one of our favorite destinations because it is inside a well air conditioned building. It is also fun to watch the penguins. We were able to listen to a talk given by one of the caretakers during feeding time on one of our visits. The caretaker gave us basic information about the penguins that lived in the exhibit and described how they take care of these adorable creatures. They answered questions and we enjoyed watching the penguins eat, swim and play.
The exhibit has rocky cliffs along the walls and a pool in the front. In the middle is a flat area, which is covered with snow to protect the feet of the penguins. The atmosphere is consistent with the weather in those regions where the penguins would live if they were in the wild and the lights in the exhibit act as the sun, so that when it is mid-summer here in Texas, it will appear to be mid-winter in the exhibit. The temperature is kept cool as would be expected for those animals that live in cold weather places.
Penguins are amazing creatures. On land they are clumsy, wobbling from one place to another. They do not move very much, and most of the penguins just stood still on the rocks or snow. Some of them were settled on the ledges of the cliffs, facing the wall as if they had been sent to the corner for time-out. They were probably just resting, but it looked silly for so many penguins to be looking at the rock face. Though they are awkward on land, they are graceful in the water. They are able to swim and float with an elegance that seems impossible when you see them wobbling around on land. They can speed through the water to catch fish and play with each other. It is like a whole different world because they are unencumbered by the weight and the disproportionate design of their bodies.
The water for penguins is like the grace of God in our lives. On the land, penguins are awkward, slow and clumsy. They face greater danger from predators because they can’t get away as quickly. It is hard for them to find food. They get bubble feet from walking on the rough stones. Yet, in the water they are swift, and adept at doing what is necessary to survive. In the world, we are clumsy and unable to accomplish anything of any real value. We are unrighteous sinners when we try to go it on our own. But when we live in the grace of God, He holds us up, provides all we need to live and love.
“When the multitudes heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’” Matthew 22:33-40, WEB
You’ve heard the phrase, “Walk the walk.” Perhaps our souls are not located on the bottom of our feet, but we witness to the work of Jesus Christ in our lives by the way we walk the walk. When we live according to the first commandment, manifesting the second commandment comes naturally. Unfortunately, there are many people in our world who do a lot of talking, but only because they expect others to do what they say. They do not live, or walk, according to their talk. It was the same in Jesus’ day. The priests, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had all the power and they put heavy burdens on the people. They talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. They did what suited them and expected perfection from others. They didn’t even see their own sinfulness.
There was a public service announcement that used to play on television showing a father who discovered his son’s stash. He confronted the boy about the drugs. “Where did you get this stuff?” The child struggled to answer as the father continued to berate the boy. “Where did you learn about this?” the father asked. The boy yelled, “You, alright. I learned it from watching you.” The narrator tells the listener that parents that do drugs create children who do drugs. Children learn from what they see.
This is an important lesson for us; children see and hear much more than we realize. Children often pick up bad language. “I didn’t teach her that word,” we might say, but we did by using it. They pick up the negative habits, too. We try to teach them to be polite, to say “please” and “thank you,” but they are more likely to act like we do. So, if we want them to be polite, we should model politeness. This is true not only about children; adults pick up good and bad habits from the people around whom them live and move.
I recall a children sermon from today’s passage from Matthew. The point of this Gospel reading is that we are to love God with everything. The heart is considered the center of a person’s being. The soul is the whole person. The mind is their will and emotions. So, we are to love God with everything we are. During the message, the vicar asked the children to point to where they would find his heart, soul and mind. Heart and mind were easy, but we all wondered where they would point for soul. A child approached with great confidence and pointed at the bottom of the vicar’s shoes. The congregation broke out in laughter.
The answer seemed funny to us, but it was filled with truth. The world is watching us. If we want the world to be transformed, then we need to model Godly behavior. It is not enough for us to put burdens on others, to tell our children or our neighbors what they should do. We are called to be the kind of people that will be filled with God’s grace so that others will want to follow our example. When we love God with our heart, soul and mind, that love is manifested in our thoughts, words and deeds. If we love God with our whole being, then the things we think will glorify Him. If we love God with our whole being, then we will speak the words that glorify Him. If we love God with our whole being, then all we do will be for His glory. The world will see, and perhaps even change their ways and live as God would have them live.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him; knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him! For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Also, do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. ” Romans 6:1-13, WEB
The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is called Fat Tuesday and is a national holiday in many places. It is a day of celebration. The parties began on Three Kings Day, January 6 and will end with Mardi Gras. The carnival reaches a peak on Fat Tuesday with parades, feasts and costumes. The modern celebration of Fat Tuesday is wild, self-indulgent and sinful, seeming far from the Christian tradition of Shrove Tuesday. However, evidence of the Christian foundations of the day is still found in the fact that the party ends abruptly at midnight when Ash Wednesday officially begins.
This hedonistic party seems more an attempt to an attempt to enjoy oneself as much as possible before the season of fasting. It is like the partiers are trying to get it all out of their system before they have to spend forty days suffering. Many people choose to give something up for Lent, some sort of self-sacrifice to better understand the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Lend is a time of repentance, a time of reflection and a time of preparation. Because of the seriousness of the Lenten journey, Fat Tuesday is seen as a last bastion of fun until Easter.
Others give today a more religious significance. Shrove Tuesday is a day to examine ourselves, to consider the wrongs we need to repent and to ask God in what ways we need to change our lives. Even though it is starting late, it seems hard to believe that Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It is time to think about the journey to the cross, to think about how we will engage with Christ along the way. Today is the day to decide how we will spend the Forty Days of Lent, in what ways we will fast or add spiritual disciplines to grow closer to God and increase our faith as we move toward the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In ancient, and perhaps some not so ancient times, this past weekend would have been spent cleaning out the pantry, removing the forbidden foods from the household stock. The cooks would have spent time preparing foods to use the flour, grease, sugar and other foodstuff that they would not need for nearly two months. Those foods were eaten on Shrove Tuesday so that the people would enter Lent without the burden of the temptation of those foods.
In England they hold pancake dinners and races. I grew up with donuts. Of course, the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition is for a specific kind of donut, the fastnacht, a potato donut that is deep fried and often eaten with honey or sugar. Our family did not make donuts; we usually went to the donut shop down the street to buy a dozen of our favorite kinds. However, we always had donuts. It was not until I met Bruce that I learned about the homemade kind. Bruce’s mom always made fastnachts to share, so when Vicki was just a baby I asked her for the recipe. Though I have not managed to make them every year, I do try to continue this tradition in our house. Making these donuts is a part of who we are, just as Mardi Gras is part of one culture and pancakes are part of another. It wouldn’t be Fat Tuesday without them.
These old traditions no longer hold the same purpose as they once did, since we do not empty our homes of things like flour, grease, and sugar through Lent. As we enjoy our treats, whether pancakes or donuts, let’s spend time this Shrove Tuesday to consider the things we should remove from our lives and seek reconciliation so that we too can enter into the Lenten journey free from guilt. Rather than seeing the Forty Days of Lent as a time of suffering and self-sacrifice, it can be a time of peace and a deepening of our relationship with God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 10, 2019, First Sunday in Lent: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
“Because he has set his love on me, therefore I will deliver him. I will set him on high, because he has known my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him, and honor him. I will satisfy him with long life, and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91:14-16, WEB
After His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and though He was alone, He was never from God. He always dwelt in the presence of His Father; He was secure in His identity. He was naturally hungry at the end of the forty days. Satan took advantage of his weakened state. He taunted Jesus. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus certainly had the power to change stones to bread, but He answered this first temptation with the Word of God.
Satan taunted Jesus a second time. After showing Him all the kingdoms in the world, he said, “I will give you all this authority, and their glory, for it has been delivered to me; and I give it to whomever I want. If you therefore will worship before me, it will all be yours.” Again, Jesus certainly had the authority to rule the world, but He answered this second temptation with the Word of God.
Satan taunted Jesus a third time. “If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here.” Following Jesus’ lead, Satan quoted scripture to prove his point: “He will put his angels in charge of you, to guard you” and, “On their hands they will bear you up, lest perhaps you dash your foot against a stone.” He may know the scripture as well as the best theologians, but he twisted this scripture to tempt Jesus into tempting fate. Our faith is given not to test God but so that we will know Him, love Him and worship Him.
Jesus answered this third temptation with the right use of the Word of God. Each time He faced Satan’s taunts, Jesus had an answer that came from God. He dwelled in the shadow of the Most High and the Almighty dwelt within Him. In that He was secure. He certainly did have the power to change stones to bread, to rule over the nations of the world and to call the angels to His aid, but that moment was neither the time nor the place. Satan took God’s Word and twisted it, claiming for himself the authority that he did not have in an attempt to prove Jesus was not the Son of God. Jesus proved His identity by remaining without sin despite being tempted like the rest of us.
Jesus proved He was the Son of God, dwelling within the presence of God and secure in His calling to save the world. Jesus did not come to feed the hungry, to rule over the nations or to be a famous preacher. He came to die, to bring forgiveness and healing to a world that was sick and dying from sin. He was Immanuel, God with us. We can trust His words because He is the Word. He began His ministry by associate Himself with our humanness, but He did so without falling into sin. At the end of His ministry, at the cross, He will take on our sinfulness and save us from the consequences of that sin, death and the grave. We will spend the next forty days considering our own humanness, hearing God’s promises for those who believe in Him.
We all need Jesus. We are reminded of this as we enter into the forty days of Lent. We are encouraged to face our own temptations and fight them with God’s Word, just as Jesus did in the wilderness. Jesus faced the temptations of flesh, power and faith and He prevailed against them. We can too because we have been saved by the cross of Jesus and by His grace dwell in the presence of God. By His Word we can reject Satan’s taunts and live in God’s Kingdom.
It isn’t easy. I have to admit that it would be far easier to fast from chocolate if I had to spend forty days wandering in a wilderness. It is extremely difficult to avoid eating that Oreo cookie that I know is in the cookie jar. Though it was tradition to rid the house of forbidden foods before Ash Wednesday, we don’t usually do that anymore. I don’t rid my house of Oreos because others are not fasting. I haven’t really chosen to fast Oreos, so it doesn’t really matter, but I am not sure that I’m strong enough to do so while Oreos are so accessible. We live in a world surrounded by temptations and it is very, very difficult to avoid falling for them.
I say that it would be much easier to avoid the temptation in that wilderness, but was it easy for Jesus? We find it difficult to understand this story because we know Jesus is perfect, sinless, both fully human and fully divine. How is temptation even a question for Him? Especially since us fallible, human beings are tempted by such unnecessary things.
The temptation in the wilderness was not an easy forty days for our Lord. Jesus didn’t need to be standing in a bakery to be tempted by bread. He is able to turn stones to bread, but it was important for Jesus to experience the time in the wilderness so that His focus was where it must be: on His Father and His Word. Satan didn’t just force Jesus to confront flesh, power and faith; Satan forced Jesus to think about the ministry He was about to begin. Jesus faced not only the questions of human beings, but the questions of His calling.
Jesus was able to counter Satan’s taunts with God’s Word, but do we have enough knowledge of scriptures to do the same? Imagine you are in a wilderness where there are no Oreos. What happens? You want Oreos more than ever. We desperately desire the thing that is not accessible, that’s part of our humanness. Ask anyone who gets a craving for Chick-fil-A on a Sunday! We hunger not only for food but for other things of the flesh. This can happen, too, with our calling. Are we chasing after the wrong things instead of keeping our hearts and our minds on God?
In the Old Testament lesson, God gives His people instruction on how to present their first fruits offering at the Temple. The people are not to simply thank God for what they are able to give, but also to remember God for all that He had done for them. The past - the exodus - was more than something that had happened to them. It was the way God molded them into the nation they were to become. The escape out of Egypt, the forty years of wandering and the victories over those who dwelt in the land were all gifts from God. Everything they had was theirs by the hand of the same God who did all that for them.
They were instructed to remember their roots every time they presented the first fruits, not only in the first generation but in every generation to follow. Their offering was meant to be a time to remember how they got to that moment; this memory was as important as the offering. They praised God as the recited His story, praising Him for His gifts. It did not matter that a future generation were not the ones who escaped and wandered; the gifts of God were given to every generation that followed.
We tend to forget the past. We tend to think that we earned our present blessings with our own power and ability, ignoring the role that our ancestors played in getting us to where we are today. Their history is our history. Their successes have become ours; their failures are a part of how we have grown to be. We may not be able to claim the story of the Exodus for ourselves, but we have a story, too. We have a story in which God has saved His people - our own ancestors, both familiar and apostolic - and blessed them in this world. Their life and their faith has imprinted on our lives and faith. Where would we be today if they had not shared God’s grace so that it would trickle down to us?
Unfortunately, we also inherited their humanness. That’s why we need Jesus. The next forty days are a time when we can think about the ways we need to be transformed by God’s Word. It is also a time for us to recall God’s story as it was lived out by those who came before so that we can respond to Satan’s taunts with His Word. The hope is that we come out of our wilderness wandering closer to God than we began.
There is a movie starring Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Ed Harris called “Stepmom.” The movie is about a woman (Julia Roberts) who falls in love with a divorced man (Ed Harris). Susan Sarandon plays the ex-wife. Two children complete this very modern family.
Early in the movie Susan Sarandon’s character did everything she could to make it difficult on her ex and his new lady. She even tried turn the hearts of her children away from the new woman in their father’s life. The boy once told his mother, “Mom, if you want me to hate her, I will.” Julia Roberts did not know how to be a mom. She was young and inexperienced but willing to learn. One day the boy got lost because he wandered off when he was in her care. Julia’s character was scared and his mother was angry, accusing her of not caring enough. She even threatened to restrict visitation. The girl - a teenager who willfully fought her own mother - was often rude and mean, trying to get the “stepmom” in trouble so she would be forced out of the picture altogether. Both children think that if new woman is gone, then their family will be right again.
However, their mother got very sick with an incurable cancer. Though the doctors tried to make her well, her condition progressively worsened throughout the movie. She did not tell the family until it was too late. One day, when she was feeling very ill, she realized that her ex-husband’s new woman offered some hope for her family. She was dying so she began treating the “stepmom” with more respect. The children saw her change and also began treating her differently.
The mother told her daughter, “Try to see something good in her.” One day, Julia Roberts and the daughter were in their home and the daughter was frustrated by an art project. Julia asked her what was wrong. The daughter wanted to push her away, but eventually confessed the problem. Patiently and graciously Julia, who was an artist herself, showed her a technique that would work. That moment of grace was a turning point in their relationship. In the end the entire family accepted Julia Roberts, even Susan Sarandon, and they all dealt with the future together.
It wasn’t easy. The catalyst for love was a dinner between the mother and the new woman. The younger woman wanted to do things one way, the mother had her own way. However, they began to co-exist in a right relationship that helped the children to adjust to the inevitable. It took not only a mindful decision to cooperate, but also a love that was beyond their understanding. At first Susan Sarandon grasped the importance with her head of making Julia Roberts welcome into her world. However, it was not until they knew each other in a deeper way - with their hearts - confessing their fears and their hopes for the children together, that they really came into a right relationship.
It takes heads and hearts for us to be righteous in God’s eyes, the righteousness about which Paul speaks between God and His people. In the Old Testament, righteousness came from obedience to the Law. However, Paul explains in the book of Romans that it we can’t be righteous by our works. Human flesh is unable to be good enough, to do right enough to be in that right relationship with God. So God made it possible in a new way, with a new covenant. That covenant is found in Jesus Christ. God’s Word, which is Jesus, dwells in us and it is He that makes it possible for us to have a right relationship.
We love God. We know God. It is not enough to just love God or to just know God. For a right relationship, our hearts and our heads must be involved; we need to confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord. Salvation is found in Him.
Paul reminds us that our faith in Christ is not just a heart thing or a head thing. It is both. Jesus Christ is Lord and as Lord He is the foundation on which a new covenant and a new relationship is built. Paul looks to the past, to the story of God as we read in the scriptures, to explain this new covenant of God. The people of the past personified wisdom as the manifestation of God, Paul identified Jesus as that manifestation. The past established what would be, and Jesus fulfilled the promises.
Everything that we are - our strength, our hope, our peace - is found in Jesus Christ. He is Lord. We dwell in Him. Our salvation is dependent on our love for God and our love for Jesus, but it is also built on our knowledge of God as He is manifest in the flesh of Jesus. We dwell in Him but dwelling in Him does not mean that we should test His faithfulness. God will protect us, save us, empower us. However, we see in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness that we can be tempted by things that appear good. We need to rest in all the gifts that God has given us - our past, God’s Word and His promise - and with His strength we will be able to discern what is right and do what is truly good.
Jesus did not prove Himself to be the Son of God by turning stones into bread or by testing God’s faithfulness with foolish actions like jumping off the roof of the Temple. He was secure in His calling to save the world. The proof was not in what Jesus did. Jesus proved Himself to be the Son of God because He dwelt in the power of the Most High God, turning to God’s Word and God’s promises as the foundation of all that He was to do. He came to die, to bring forgiveness and healing to a world that was sick and dying from sin. He was Immanuel, God with us, and from then until now God no longer lives in a temple. Instead, He lives within the hearts of those who believe.
Whatever we choose to do as we go on this Lenten journey, let’s remember that we aren’t trying to prove ourselves. We feel pretty good at the end of the forty days when we manage to survive our fasting without failure. I am still delighted to say that a Lenten fast from years ago continues today because I stopped drinking so much soda. I love the paintings I produced during previous Lenten challenges. These practices had an impact on me, not just spiritually but in my daily life. But we are reminded that this is not the reason we go on this journey. We follow Jesus to draw near to God. We practice our devotions and fasting to remind ourselves how to call on the name of the Lord.
Lent teaches us how to abide in God even as we have to face the difficulties and temptations of this world. The end of our Lenten journey is not pleasant. We have to face the cross with Jesus, deal with His death and the end of our assumptions about what He really came to do. We want Jesus to feed us, to be our king and for the whole world to believe in Him as we do. But we realize as He is hanging on the cross that this is not how it is meant to be. Our troubles are far more complex, our pain is much deeper than we can imagine. Our sin is beyond our ability to overcome. There was no easy way to fix what was wrong with the world and we have to face that reality on Good Friday when even Jesus cried out to His Father in His suffering and pain.
And so we’ll spend the next six weeks learning how to abide in the shelter of God so that when Satan taunts us, we will trust that God can pull us through. We may use this time as a time for fasting, as Jesus fasted during His forty days in the wilderness. But even more so, let us take this Lenten season to listen to God’s words, to keep His Word on our lips and in our hearts so that we, too, can face the devil with God’s truth when he tries to tempt us to go by a different path. God has promised to be with us through our troubles and to save us from all that means to do us harm. We may suffer, after all Jesus suffered, but we know that God will deliver us to the place He has prepared for us in eternity.
“The man knew Eve his wife. She conceived, and gave birth to Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten a man with Yahweh’s help.’ Again she gave birth, to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. As time passed, Cain brought an offering to Yahweh from the fruit of the ground. Abel also brought some of the firstborn of his flock and of its fat. Yahweh respected Abel and his offering, but he didn’t respect Cain and his offering. Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. Yahweh said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why has the expression of your face fallen? If you do well, won’t it be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.’ Cain said to Abel, his brother, ‘Let’s go into the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and killed him.’” Genesis 4:1-8, WEB
Adam and Eve’s sons presented offerings to God. Abel was a shepherd and Cain, the older, was a farmer. Cain offered the fruit of the ground and Abel offered the firstborn of his flock. God accepted Abel’s offering, but did not regard Cain’s which made him so angry that he murdered his brother. God had warned Cain that sin was crouching at his door, and he did fall.
Martin Luther writes about this text, “The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has looked at this passage with pure and clear eyes when he says (Heb. 11:4): ‘By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God bearing witness concerning his gifts.’ Cain also brings an offering, and indeed first; but when he brings his offering, he is puffed up by the glory which was his by birth, and he hopes that the sacrifice will please God because it is brought by the first-born. Thus he comes without faith, without any confession of sin, without any supplication for grace, without trust in God’s mercy, without any prayer for the forgiveness of his sins. He comes in the hope that he will please God by nothing else than that he is the first-born. All the work-righteous do the same thing even now. They are concerned only with their own work, and so they hope that they will please God because of it; they do not trust in God’s mercy, and they do not hope that God will pardon their sins because of Christ. Cain, too, was such a person, for he could not have displeased God if he had had faith. Abel, on the other hand, acknowledges that he is an unworthy and poor sinner. Therefore he takes refuge in God’s mercy and believes that God is gracious and willing to show compassion. And so God, who looks at the heart, judges between the two brothers who are bringing their offerings at the same time. He rejects Cain, not because his sacrifice was inferior (for if he had brought the shell of a nut in faith as a sacrifice, it would have been pleasing to God), but because his person was evil, without faith, and full of pride and conceit. By contrast, He has regard for Abel’s sacrifice because He is pleased with the person. Accordingly, the text distinctly adds that first He had regard for Abel and then for his sacrifice. For when a person pleases, the things he does also please, while, on the contrary, all things are displeasing if you dislike the person who does them.”
As we begin our Lenten journey, many people have begun some extra disciplines, including devotional readings and extended quiet times. Others have chosen to fast something for the Forty Days. I saw a meme the other day that said, “The first rule of Lent fasting is don’t talk about Lent fasting.” The reason for this is because it is very easy to compare our fasting with others. Either we think we are doing so much more than our neighbor, or we feel guilty because we are not doing enough. We think that we deserve God’s regard because we are doing something great, but our works can never earn God’s grace. God looks to the heart.
Are you entering Lent with a humble heart? Are you prepared to take this journey knowing that you are a sinner in need of a Savior? The extra disciplines will do your body and your soul good, but it won’t make you any more deserving of the forgiveness and reconciliation to our Father that Jesus Christ earned on the cross. What does it mean to be humble? It means to have a child-like trust and faith in God. Children simply believe. They are not proud or arrogant. They love without question. They see the world through their innocence, trusting without fear or expectation. They don’t do things for show, but give with their whole hearts.
We’d like to think we are more like Abel, humble and pure of heart. I think, sadly, most of us have had moments when look more like Cain. We put on a show, but think we deserve God’s grace. We think we are righteous and try to justify ourselves. We compare our offerings against that of our neighbor and consider our works more righteous. But God says, “If you do well, won’t it be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.” We are reminded to change our attitude, to turn to God and trust in Him. We are reminded that our self-righteousness will lead us down the wrong path. We are reminded to approach our Lent disciplines with a humble heart. God won’t love us any more or less no matter what we do, but we’ll find that in our humility we’ll experience the forgiveness and reconciliation that comes at the end of the journey with hope and peace and joy.
“Be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he has said, ‘I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.’ So that with good courage we say, ‘The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5-6, WEB
My son has reached the age when he has to become more independent. He still lives at home and benefits from some of our support, but he pays us some rent and is responsible for certain bills. The older he gets, the more financial responsibility he must take. He even does his own taxes. The young adult years are a time of transition; young people have to learn to take care of themselves.
I once saw an interview with an expert who was sharing tips about how young adults can be good stewards of their finances. She talked about how difficult it can be for a young person starting out in a new career with heavy college debts and an entry level position. They do not have the financial resources to do everything they need to do. They have to set up a new home and create an entirely new wardrobe for the workplace. It is much hard for these young adults who have so many costs to cover in those first few years of independence.
The surprising thing about this interview is that she talked about credit cards in a positive manner. Many financial experts recommend that young people never use credit cards because they are so easy to abuse. The woman talked about good credit card use verses bad credit card use. It is good to use the credit card to purchase a wardrobe, because this is investing in the future. It is bad to use it to take all your friends out for a night on the town.
The trouble with credit cards is that the debt can become overwhelming very quickly. It is easy to pay only the minimum payment each month. However, the minimum payment required establishes a payment schedule that can take years to pay off. If the debt is carried over month after month after month while adding more costs, eventually the user will find it impossible to pay even the minimum. At that point the interest is costing far more than the original items. If that money was spent on an extravagant dinner, the user does not even have anything to show for the money spent. To reduce debt, one must pay more than the minimum required and it is best to pay it all off as quickly as possible.
If we are spending hundreds of dollars a month on interest for credit card debt because we’ve used our cards to buy things of no lasting value, then we are wasting the gifts that God has given us to serve others in this world. Unfortunately, as the woman said, credit is a necessary evil in our world today: few people can survive at times without using this to get through times of transition. The key is learning how to be responsible, to be good stewards of all our resources so that we can use our money to the glory of God.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ; even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without defect before him in love; having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely gave us favor in the Beloved, in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him to an administration of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth, in him; in whom also we were assigned an inheritance, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who does all things after the counsel of his will; to the end that we should be to the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation - in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:3-14, WEB
On this date in 1997, Paul McCartney was knighted for years of service to England. With the investiture, Paul was able to add the title “Sir” to his name, and he’s now held with a higher regard. He began life as a boy growing up in an average English home on an average English street in an average English town, and now he has been given an extremely high honor by the queen of his country.
When he was much younger, the members of the Beatles were given medals to celebrate the contribution they made to their world through their music. Many people were upset by the investiture in the 1960’s because it seemed to trivialize the honor that was normally bestowed on people who did much more heroic things for the country. Yet, in 1997, many were surprised it had taken so long for Sir Paul to receive this higher honor. In the younger years, they didn’t seem to have done anything that was worth the medal, but in the end he had definitely earned the special recognition. The knighting didn’t give him any special privileges. He isn’t part of the royal family; he does not tell Parliament how to vote. There are no tangible benefits to a knighthood. As a matter of fact, historically the knights had to be sufficiently able to provide for himself everything necessary to sustain the honor of the title. But he is part of a unique group of people, the few who have been given this fine honor.
As saved people of God, we are princes and princesses of the King, the Lord our God. The blood of Jesus Christ and the faith we have in Him makes us heirs to His kingdom. Yet, the honor of our title does not come like the knighthood given to Sir Paul. It is much more like the honor given to those rowdy young boys who took the world by storm in the 1960’s. Many did not think they deserved the medal, and they probably did not. What did they accomplish besides giving enjoyment to millions of people?
If you asked John Lennon, he’d tell you that they deserved it more than the ones who normally received the honor: military men and women who’d sacrificed for the sake of the nation. He was quoted as saying, “Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war - for killing people... We received ours for entertaining other people. I’d say we deserve ours more.” In the thirty years between the medal and the knighthood, Sir Paul could add a great many accomplishments to his resume, including service beyond the music industry.
But that’s why we are to be compared with that MBE rather than the knighthood. We don’t deserve to become princes and princesses of the King, He chooses us out of love and mercy and grace. We aren’t made members of the family because we’ve done anything special, but because He created us special and saved us through Jesus. We are God’s children because He has chosen us for Himself.
“Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:18-20, WEB
I was reading an interview with John Teter about his book “The Power of the 72: Ordinary Disciples in Extraordinary Evangelism.” The seventy-two were the disciples in Luke 10 that Jesus sent out ahead of Him to every town and place He was about to go. They were told not to take anything with them, but to trust God to provide as they went to share the Good News. This is the story where they are to shares God’s peace with those who would take it, and to wipe their shoes of the dust of the towns of those who reject it. I haven’t read the book, but the point I took from this interview is that Jesus didn’t call professionals to do His work of evangelism in the world. These were not trained ministers. These were men who were just like you and I. They had a heart for God and enthusiastically went to tell others about His grace.
The interviewer mentioned a Barna research study that found that 51% of the Christians they polled do not know about the Great Commission. Sadly, many who had heard that term could not describe it. The study divided the group by demographics: churchgoers were more familiar with the text than non-churched Christians. Older Christians knew it more than younger Christians. Certain denominations were more likely to know where it is found in the scriptures. Even when churchgoers were given a list of five texts, only 37% could pick the right one. We aren’t teaching Christians that we are all called to go out into the world to share the Good News of Jesus.
John Teter pointed out that today’s brief text, the Great Commission, is filled with three eternal truths. First, Jesus has all authority on everything in the universe. Second, we are called and gifted to follow Him and to share the Gospel to make disciples of all nations. Third, He will never leave us even to the very end of the age. The sharing part is scary, but note that it is found in the midst of the other great truths: Jesus is in control and He is always with us. How can we not go out and do what He wants us to do, knowing that He had assured that we will have everything that we will need?
The Story of Jesus Christ is one that we continue to share today. We don’t need to be trained ministers or professional evangelists. We are ordinary people, just like the seventy-two, sent out into the world to share the Good News with others. People spend hours debating the details of His life, work, death and resurrection, but most of us are simple people who just love the Lord. We believe what has been written about Him and we know that He loves us so much that He died so that we will inherit our place in God’s eternal kingdom. It is our responsibility to take this great gift and share it with the world. By the power of God’s Holy Spirit, His life that lives in each of us, we are able to obey the Great Commission.
Thank you, Lord, for giving us Jesus. Help us to live according to your promise every day. Amen.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 17, 2019, Second Sunday in Lent: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:20-21, WEB
Abram came from a place and a time where people worshipped many gods. There were local gods to whom they prayed for specific reasons, like the sun and moon, rain and wind, fertility and anything else to meet their daily needs. They had shrines in their homes honoring their special gods, with idols created out of wood and stone. They talked to the idols, praying for their needs, but they never heard a word in response. They looked for signs in the heavens or on the earth and interpreted the signs to mean whatever they wanted it to mean, grasping on to anything to have the assurance that they have been heard. The signs were good and bad; a good sign meant they would be blessed, a bad sign meant they would be cursed. Yet the worship of these idols was based on nothing more than superstition. The idols were not worthy of their devotion. They had nothing to give except false hope.
Abram heard a voice one day, the voice of the LORD. There was something about this voice that was different than what he experienced with the idols. It was so different that he packed up his whole life - his family, livestock and material possessions - and traveled to a far place on His Word. That took faith.
And yet, Abram also doubted. He knew this voice, this God that was different from all other gods. The Lord God had promised that he would have a son, but he had not yet seen any signs that the promise would be fulfilled. He and his wife were already old enough to be beyond child bearing; they could have been great-grandparents! Abram was considering legal action to pronounce a servant as his son to ensure that there would be an heir to take over when he died. God responded to Abram’s doubt and concern with a sign. It was more than a sign; it was a covenant promise. Despite Abram’s doubt, God provided him with the assurance he needed to go on. “I am your shield,” said the LORD to Abram, establishing Himself as King and Sovereign over Abram’s world. As King, the LORD would provide everything that Abram needed, including a son. Abram trusted the LORD.
Abram received God’s promise of an inheritance beyond anything he could ever imagine. He was prepared to grant the inheritance of his estate to a servant, accepting the fate of his life void of children. God told him to wait and promised that his heir would be from his own flesh. God promised him even more: his offspring will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. That’s a pretty big promise, especially to a guy and his wife who are both well beyond child bearing age.
Abram believed, but he lacked patience. Sarai was also impatient for the promise, so she presented Abram with her maid servant, an acceptable way of overcoming barrenness. The servant of a woman could act as the surrogate and the child would be counted as the mistress’s own. This is a natural and culturally acceptable solution to their problem. They did not trust God to fulfill His promises, not so much because they did not believe but because they were afraid to wait too long. Perhaps they were even afraid that they had missed the promise somehow. They thought that this was the way God wanted His promise to be accomplished.
We do not like to wait. As a matter of fact, we live in a world where we really do not have to wait for anything. Microwaves cook our food in seconds. Cars get us around the city in minutes. Computers make communication instantaneous. We can know what is happening anywhere around the world at any moment just by turning on the television. We do not even have to wait for our favorite televisions shows; video on demand gives us the ability to watch what we want when we want to watch it.
We have lost the ability to wait, not that it has even been a common human trait. Abram and Sarai could not wait for God’s promises. They took matters into their own hands. We do the same every day by rushing into things, making decisions without careful discernment or prayer. We are afraid we are going to miss something, so we jump in head first. We forget that God’s time is not our time and that God’s way is not our way. We even justify our impatience and call it boldness, boldly taking the leap of faith.
However, our impatience is actually distrust. We take matters in our own hands, actually creating more chaos and disorder in our world. The child of Sarai’s maidservant, Ishmael, has been the center of conflict in that family and in that region ever since his birth. The same thing happens to us when we do not trust in God. When we take matters into our own hands, rushing the will and purpose of God, we find ourselves suffering the consequences of impatience.
In the Psalm we are called to be patient, to wait on the Lord. When we keep our eyes and our hearts on the Lord we have nothing to fear; we do not even have to fear time. God is faithful; He will fulfill His promises. We are afraid that we have missed Him, afraid that we can’t hear His voice, but God is faithful. We should not rush into anything, grasping control from God, because we do not know all that we need to know. There is a reason to wait, a reason that tomorrow is a better time. We can only know that God has our life in His hands and that by faith we can have the courage to wait.
The world is full of role models, but they are not always sweet or well-behaved. Consider how many sports stars or celebrities are arrested for criminal activity. Politicians lie or think themselves above the law. We have seen disappointing stories of the people we trust most in our communities: police, teachers, and even clergy. Too many parents do not model good behavior for their children. We all struggle with the temptation to be one thing and do another. We get caught up in an attitude or situation and do not know how to respond. It does not take very much to turn a crowd into a raging mob. While a positive attitude can make things pleasant, a negative attitude can have as much power over a group. The group does not have to be something small like a congregation; it can be something as large as a culture. In a world that does not like to wait, this human tendency can create chaos.
As we look around us, we can see the impact of ideas and people on the world around them. In the right circumstances, one person can change the course of an entire nation. One designer can establish the clothing that millions of people will wear. One reporter can introduce an idea that will become a standard of policy and practice for many. One politician can set the agenda for the entire government. Good or bad, right or wrong, we can easily be led down a path of achievement or destruction by someone whom we look to as a role model.
It is not that we are all followers, blind or ignorant. It is simply that the human flesh looks for someone to emulate, to people who will be an example for us to help us to grow and mature. Intelligent, powerful people will grasp on to a policy or practice that seems right, to help it to spread and change the world. Sometimes, unfortunately, we grasp on to the ideas that are not right. With all good intention, we sometimes follow examples that are not centered in Christ.
Paul encourages us to emulate those who hold firm to the Gospel of grace. There were enemies of the cross in the community of Philippi. They may not have meant to destroy Christians or Christianity, but they looked toward a worldly salvation for their chaos. They chose to live a life of fulfillment and self-indulgence, impatient for the good life God has promised. This was not only in terms of satisfying lusts. Some well meaning people thought they had to satisfy the Law, and they did so by keeping their eyes on earthly things.
This is not the way God has called us to live. Christ lived as an example for us and Paul reminds us that we should not get stuck in the pattern of self-righteousness and self-indulgence. Too many role models in today’s world follow the wrong path; they have given us an example of the way we should not live. But those who trust in God, who believe in the covenant promises, are daily transformed into the image of Christ. By God’s grace they overcome the world which temps us to follow without question. The example we should follow is the life willing to step forth in faith, to do that which we have been called to do without concern for the opinions of others. As we live faithfully in God’s grace, we can stand as an example to the next generation.
A story circulated a number of years ago following a massive forest fire in the western part of the U.S. As a firefighter was combing an area that was burnt, he heard the sound of baby birds chirping. He did not know how anything could have survived because the area was complete destroyed. At the base of a tree, however, he found the charred remains of a mother bird with her wings outstretched over her babies. She gave her life so that her babies would live. Those chicks were received as a sign of hope in the midst of despair and that mother was recognized for her sacrificial love.
In another story, Indian evangelist Sundar Singh shared an experience during a fire in the Himalayas. Sundar was traveling through the area when they were trying to put out the fire. Along with a group of men he noticed a bird circling above a nest in a tree. She was frantic, knowing it was impossible to save her babies from the fire and yet unwilling to leave them alone. When the nest began to burn, the mother swooped in on top of the chicks and covered them with her wings. Everything was gone in seconds.
We certainly like the first story better because it has a happy ending. The babies were alive and we have a hero; the mother bird willingly giving of herself for her chicks. In the second story there is no winner. The chicks are dead, the mother is dead, and the nest is gone. We are amazed at her sacrifice, but find it foolish because we know that if she had stayed away she would have lived another day. She could have built another next and hatched more chicks. To us the story has an ending with no new beginning.
Yet, the second story is so much more an example of the work of Christ in our lives. Yes, Jesus covers us with His wings and He dies in our stead. Yet, in Christian faith we are called to die also, to share in His death and we will also share in His glory. Our death is not like His. We do not go to the cross of the Romans to suffer a horrific end. We aren’t burned to ashes like the birds. However, in Baptism we enter into His death through the water and the Word.
In the Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus mourns the unbelief of Jerusalem. Jesus wants them to have the best of God’s Kingdom: the hope, the peace, the joy. He wants to gather them under His wings, to give them fully and freely the gift He has to give. Perhaps He even wants all this without having to face the cross. How much more wonderful would it have been if Jerusalem repented like Ninevah! Yet, Jesus knew this is not the way it is to be. He knew that He is destined for the cross, for death. Perhaps if the city had repented the ultimate solution might have been pushed off to another time, but the cross was the only answer to the chaos in the world that came because of sin and death.
Abram’s story is about the making of a covenant. Abram cut the animals in half, laid them side by side leaving a “pathway” through which the makers of the covenant could walk. This was the way of “cutting a deal” in the ancient days. They did not have lawyers and a civil court system the way we do today. They did not write their promises on paper. The two parties involved walked between the sacrificed animals together, repeating the covenant aloud. In essence, they were saying “If I break my part of the covenant, you can do to me what we have done to these animals.”
Notice that Abram did not walk the covenant path. God knew, even then, that human nature would make this covenant impossible for His people to keep. While God did give the land to the people (beginning with Joshua), it was His people’s unfaithfulness that lost it to them. So, when the time was right, God paid the debt of their failure to remain faithful to Him with Christ on the cross. Ultimately, He also paid the debt of our failure to continue keeping the promises which have already been fulfilled.
Could God have done things differently? Of course He could have, He is God. However, would the world have been a better place if He had stepped in at every turn to keep His people in His total control? Eventually every child becomes independent; we can’t control them forever. God is like the parent that lets their child grow and mature through each phase of life, even when they know the children might get hurt or go the wrong way. However, in His mercy and grace, He planned for the redemption of the world long before it needed to be redeemed.
Salvation happened according to God’s time, in God’s way. Jesus refused to be moved from the path on which He was set, for it is the path of true life for all those who believe. He is the model whose life we should follow and emulate in the world.
Lent may seem to be a depressing time to some folk because it is a time of self examination, self control and self sacrifice. It is a time for looking at our sin, for understanding our sinfulness and for being transformed into something different. This is a strange perspective in our world.
I once saw an article about how we have raised our children to be narcissists because in the 1980’s we focused on creating strong self-esteem. We taught our children to see themselves as special, as good, as gifted and yet we did not give them the tools necessary to see their faults and their failures and to work at overcoming. Blame was placed on others and everything they did was encouraged for the sake of their self-image.
Unfortunately, what we have created is a world in which everyone not only wants their fifteen minutes of fame, but that they think they deserve it. Watch any of the reality competition shows and you will see average people given the chance to be extraordinary. While this is a wonderful opportunity for some folk, unfortunately that is not the way the shows usually work. Instead of using ordinary people, they purposefully select people with extreme personalities who are given free reign. The contestants are often those who believe they are great, but they really don’t have the talent needed to accomplish the tasks.
In our world today we think of ourselves as saints, forgetting that all along we are also sinners. Our scriptures for this week - particularly the story of Abram - remind us that even those who have faith can fail. Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. However, it did not take very long for Abram to become impatient with God’s promises and step out on his own. Instead of waiting for God to fulfill the promise, Abram and Sarai decided to make the promise happen by their own power by using Hagar. That decision has affected the world for four thousand years.
Jesus stands as an example to us of one who stays on the right path. He did not take His own life into consideration or try to control that which He knew was not His to control. When the Pharisees warned Him that Herod wanted to kill Him, Jesus told them that He had to do what He had to do according to God’s will and purpose for His life. This was not a self-centered grasp for control, but a humble and willing obedience to what God intended for His life.
So, even though we are truly special, each of us uniquely created and ordained for some special purpose in this world, God also calls us to humility. That’s what Lent is all about, remembering that even though we are saints, we are also sinners. We are wonderfully made and powerfully gifted, but this is true thanks to God’s incredible grace. There is a pattern by which God calls us to live, a pattern that has been laid out before us in the lives first of Jesus and then of the saints who followed His model for living. It is a life of humble and willing obedience to what God intends for us.
Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself.” The cross and its benefits are ours today, but they will not be fully realized until the Day of the Lord. Though we have been transformed, we continue to be transformed daily. Though we share in His glory, there will come a day when that promise will be fully realized. For now we have to wait and remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Though this might be a depressing point of view to the people of this world, for those of us who have our citizenship in heaven, it is the very foundation of our hope and our faith.
“Let brotherly love continue. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2, WEB
Like every big city, there are places where people linger with cardboard signs, hoping that passing motorists will give them a buck or two. The corners are often near the highway; homeless people often move from town to town quickly, hitchhiking along the highway. The main interstate highway through our town is I-10, a road that runs from coast to coast; it is the southernmost highway. They favor the southern route because the weather tends to be milder. Some of the homeless organizations have set up offices near this route to be available to those who need immediate help.
I occasionally help at one of these offices. One day I met a man who was homeless who had visited the place in search of some help. He carried his entire life in a suitcase and a grocery bag. We had a lovely conversation; he didn’t ask me once for money. He showed me his Bible and wanted to share his love of Jesus. We wished each other well and went on our way. I realized during that encounter that everyone has something, even the homeless. It isn’t much; I’m embarrassed at how much stuff I have compared to those who are struggling day to day. There are many reasons why people are homeless; though some may panhandle out of laziness or drug use, some people are truly dealing with problems and they need help. Sometimes that means giving then a dollar or two so that they can buy a meal.
We’ve all seen the television reports about people making a fortune panhandling on the side of the road. Reporters will sometimes follow the panhandlers from the corner to their car, which is nicer than most of us drive. In one instance, the reporter followed the person to a rather grand home in the suburbs. It is sometimes reported that panhandlers can make thousands of dollars every week. I’ve been skeptical about whether to give money to those standing on the street corners. I have, in the past, kept a lunch sack in my car with a few non-perishable food items and a bottle of water. I always put a few dollars in the bottom of the bag. I thought that if they were truly hungry, they would eat the food and find the money. If they just wanted money, they would throw the bag away and perhaps someone who was truly looking for food might find it and be blessed even more than they expected. I refused to give cash. While we are meant to be kind and merciful, we are also to be good stewards of our resources. I decided it was better to share in the ministries of those who work with the homeless rather than be fooled by a hustler. Unfortunately, the heat of Texas makes it difficult and unsafe to keep a bag in the car, so I don’t do that here.
I have to admit that there were times when I felt unkind when I ignored those street corner panhandlers. I often wondered if I’d missed an opportunity to share God’s grace. That encounter I had with the homeless man with the suitcase gave me a way to judge the situation. If there was evidence of a life, such as a bag or backpack, I would give. Unfortunately, most have nothing but a cardboard sign and a drink from the closest fast food place.
The other day I was driving down a road near that highway and I saw numerous men with backpacks and sleeping rolls. They weren’t on the corners asking for money, but I wondered if I might see someone in need. As it turned out, I did. The man had only a sign, but I looked carefully around the area and I spotted a life, bags and other things on the ground near the man. I don’t know if this man was an angel, or if I was fooled, but I was generous. The best I can do is let go and let God ensure that money was used in a good way. The only words that passed between us were “God bless you.” He wished the best for me and me for him.
It is true that there are many who are trying to take advantage of the generosity of others. I watch too much “People’s Court” to not know that is true. Yet, we are reminded that God makes good happen for those who love Him, and even if we make a mistake, it is better to be mistaken on the side of mercy rather than be cynical about every person we meet. We don’t know how God will use the person to whom we have shared a word of blessing or a few dollars. It is good to be smart about our giving. Organizations for the homeless can do so much more work for the many than a few dollars can do for the one. Yet, sometimes we are given the opportunity to give hospitality to an angel, to share God’s blessings with a stranger. Whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, you will be blessed for glorifying God in your trust of Him.
“Finally, be all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brothers, tender hearted, courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or insult for insult; but instead blessing; knowing that to this were you called, that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘He who would love life, and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil, and do good. Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears open to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’” 1 Peter 3:8-12, WEB
“Beware of the Ides of March,” a seer once told Julius Caesar. However, Caesar was a man without fear. He expanded the Roman world by conquering many lands. His success led to his destruction, since his rule became oppressive. As he conquered more and more peoples, he took upon himself a title that was not deserved, but seized. He became a dictator, taking away the authority of other men. “I came, I saw, I conquered,” were words that were spoken by Caesar which spoke not only to his military victory but also to every aspect of his life.
When the seer warned Caesar of the impending doom, he was indifferent. Men he deemed loyal surrounded him. Marcus Brutus was his friend and a man he pardoned from punishment. On March 15, 44 BC, Brutus led a group of upper statesmen in the murder of Julius Caesar. They were unhappy with the manner in which Caesar had usurped their authority. He named himself dictator of the empire, making the Senate worthless. Caesar expected men like Brutus to remain loyal because they reached their positions of authority by his grace. They did what they felt was necessary for the empire.
Caesar was not God; he was not even a god. He was a man who stepped over the line of his given authority and stole an empire. Caesar was neither the first nor the last man to conquer his world. As a matter of fact, we can name several from the twentieth century. Even today there are those who are feared around the world. Men agonized over what to do about Adolph Hitler in the 1940’s, coming to a similar decision as Brutus and the statesmen of Rome. The conspirators in Germany did not succeed, and they suffered the consequences of their schemes. The decision was likely horrifying for Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, as a minister, knew that the very thought of murder went against God’s commandments. Yet, he chose to become involved in the plot because he knew it could end the murder of many. That decision led to his own death.
I’ve heard the comparisons in our modern day politics of what happened in early 20th century Germany. There are definitely parallels, but there is not just one person with the arrogant, indifferent attitude against those who might be considered enemies. There are those in our political process who have no fear, who believe that they will get their way no matter what. They are determined to conquer their world and are willing to do anything to get their way. There are also those who have decided to take matters into their own hands to put a stop to those whom they think will destroy our world. While the end might seem to justify the means, God’s Word still condemns murder and it should not be an option for us today.
We do face oppression in this life from authorities that try to take more power than is given to them. They use the ways of deceit and violence to gain a higher place in this life. Though this is wrong, we should not repay the deceit and violence with the same. When you feel you have been wronged do not seek revenge, but rather turn your eyes to God and let Him deal with the evil. God will make all things right. It might not happen today or tomorrow, but eternity awaits those who trust in God’s grace.
“The voice of one saying, ‘Cry!’ One said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because Yahweh’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are like grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:6-8, WEB
My sister came to visit last week and we spent most of our time together in a car chasing wildflowers. We began on Thursday driving through the Hill Country of Texas, hoping to find some good fields of bluebonnets and other flowers. Unfortunately, we were a week or two early. Though we saw some flowers, there were few places to stop and take pictures. That is why we decided to drive south on Friday. The flowers always bloom a little earlier in that region.
We had much better luck. I go on these adventures every year, and over time I have found certain fields that are filled with flowers. We focused on some of the better roads, targeting certain places, but stopping along the way. We found one field with horses and llamas, another with a cool rusty old tractor. We went to a small church with a cemetery filled with color. There were so many flowers this year, it was difficult to find the path through. It wasn’t the prettiest day, with gray clouds above that made everything dark, but we still had a good time.
Wildflower season is short, just a couple of months. Oh, there are some flowers year round, but the rich spring fields of blue, red and yellow are limited. After a few weeks, it is hard to take photos without seeing brown and dying flowers. The bluebonnets look like bean plants when they go to seed. The grasses grow too tall and brown as soon as the weather becomes too warm. The flowers are here one day and gone the next. My favorite place to photograph wildflowers is the cemeteries because it is a stark reminder of the truth of our lives. We may last much longer than the wildflowers of Texas, but those gravestones in the midst of fresh colorful growth help us remember that we too will return to the dust of the earth.
I like to think that God painted those fields for us to see, that He planted each of those seeds so that those flowers will bring joy to Texas, even if it is fleeting. He communicates His love for us through His creation, but even more importantly He does so through the scriptures. His Word has stood strong for thousands of years, and it is still vital to our lives today. His Word will never die. We, too, will die, yet through the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, we have eternal life. Let us commit today to spend time in the scriptures, to hear Him speak to our lives and live according to the new life He has given us.
“Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do. Above all these things, walk in love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord. Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him. Colossians 3:12-17, WEB
I was reading an article about ordinary men and women who made incredible gifts to charities after their deaths. These people had average jobs, worked as secretaries, teachers and janitors, but managed to save millions of dollars over their lifetime. They gifted their favorite charities in ways that will have a lasting impact. Several created scholarships that will give many children the opportunity to attend schools that would have been out of their reach.
One woman talked about her aunt, an elderly woman who was still working her secretary job. The woman took her out to lunch regularly. The woman was concerned about the financial status of her aunt, not because she complained about the lack of money, but because she assumed that her humble lifestyle must mean that she was struggling. After all, if her aunt had millions of dollars, why was she living in a one-bedroom apartment and working a modest job until she was well into her 90’s? The reality is that the aunt was happy in her life and it brought her joy to create a legacy that would serve the needs of students for a very long time.
The article told similar stories about other people who lived humble lives but who left behind extraordinary legacies. They saw no need to live a lifestyle in keeping with their wealth; they planned their life around creating a generous gift for the organizations, schools or charities they loved. One man not only purposely saved $13 million dollars which he put in trust for the school where he spent his youth. He didn’t ignore the school in his adult years. As a matter of fact, he had a habit of visiting the school regularly, having lunch with the students. They had a special birthday assembly for his 90th birthday. He considered the students at that school as his kids; he loved them.
Some might suggest that instead of saving money for a lifetime that he could have used that money to meet the daily needs of those kids. Perhaps that is true, but the man’s lawyer said that he wanted to have the greatest impact possible on future generations. “He felt he owed his long life to God, his Catholic education, and his deep faith, and he wanted to pass it on.” The kids benefited from his life, and from his death.
There are truly many ways for us to be generous. For some, the best way is share their resources daily. How many of us could keep millions of dollars to share with a charity after our deaths? Most of us will find reasons to use those extra dollars. We have bills to pay. We outgrow our homes. We need a new car. Those men and women who live those humble lives have a gift from God; they were content to live a simple life. They were happy and had peace.
I would love to be able to leave such a legacy to the world. I confess that I have tried to build that kind of gift through the lottery. I had a conversation with God every time I bought a lottery ticket, promising to support this group or build that building. I thought about all the people I love who could have used a gift to help them through tough times. I’m sure we’ve all done the same. Oh, we all have selfish ideas, too, about how to use the winnings, but we want to use the funds for good. We don’t win, and we can’t do what we want to do. We can’t seem to save enough money to set up a trust for our favorite charities. Perhaps we even feel guilt because we don’t think we are doing enough, especially when we read stories about these people who have done this extraordinary thing.
The ordinary people with extraordinary gifts gave hope for the future of many; they built their lives with strong and humble hearts. This a solid foundation for a blessed life. Though we may not be able to be so generous when we die, we can live lives of generosity in other ways. For us, as Christians, we have a solid foundation: Jesus Christ our Lord. He rules in our hearts and as He dwells in us He manifests Himself in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Clothed with these gifts, we can certainly laugh at the days to come, in hope and peace and joy, glorifying God in whatever way He calls us to live.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 24, 2019, Third Sunday in Lent: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
“I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all perish in the same way.” Luke 13:5, WEB
The perfect sermon title for this week might be, “Death, Tragedy and all that Crap.” It might sound shocking, but it is an honest assessment of how we deal with the troubles in our life. We look at suffering as “crap” without realizing that it might just be the manure that will help us grow in faith and maturity. God does not make us suffer, but He uses the circumstances of our life to help us to bear fruit in this world. We don’t understand. We ask, “Why me?” But we are called to repentance from our self-focus and trust in God who has promised to get us through. We don’t like to travel through the valley of death, because it seems like there is no hope, but there is always hope in Christ. We thirst for something we don’t always understand, but God has a way of meeting all our needs.
Thirst has a way of putting a stop on all other activities. When you are thirsty, the thought of getting a drink occupies your mind. It is even hard to eat when you are thirsty. Water sustains us. We can go for weeks without eating, but we need water daily to stay alive. It is natural for our bodies to seek something to drink. Water washes impurities out of our systems and keeps us healthy.
It is understandable that spirituality is often compared to water. Throughout the scriptures there are references to our thirst and the life giving water of God. Isaiah quotes God’s invitation to all. “Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” We are invited to quench our spiritual thirst on that which will give life. Jesus repeated this invitation when He identified Himself as the One who gives the living water. We thirst for something much more than just the wetness of cool, clean water. We seek a connection to the divine, a relationship with our Father and Creator. Yet, we are much more aware of our physical thirst than our spiritual thirst.
Isaiah presents an offer from God for something greater than the stuff we buy. He spoke to the thirsty, those who craved something that would satisfy their greatest needs. For the Israelites, only God could provide such a gift. He invites us to buy the water that will quench our real thirst without cost. What does this mean? After all, the word “to buy” means “to acquire possession, ownership, or rights to the use or services of by payment especially of money.” How can we buy wine and milk without money or without price?
There is another definition for “to buy.” It is to accept or to believe, as in “I buy that premise.” We don’t buy the gifts of God with money; we have nothing of value to trade with Him. We receive that which He has to give with faith. Unfortunately, we prefer to buy the things that are tangible to us and use the money we have earned with our own two hands. God’s gift of grace is without cost, and this is hard for us to understand and accept. We have learned that we can earn favor, and we think that applies even to our relationship with God. The lessons throughout Lent remind us to trust that God is faithful to His promises and they call us to live in that trust.
During Lent we willingly and willfully quench our thirst for God, committing to a journey we know will end. Though Lent fasting and disciplines have the potential to bring some change to our lives, we never think of the benefits beyond the forty days. We follow Jesus into the wilderness, giving up something or taking up something, and yet we never look at this as a time of transformation. We don’t really use it as a time to grow closer to God.
Matthew Henry wrote about Psalm 63: “There are psalms proper for a wilderness, and we have reason to thank God that it is the wilderness of Judah we are in, not the wilderness of Sin. David, in these verses, stirs up himself to take hold on God.” David knew that his time in the wilderness was time to seek God. He isn’t giving something up, but he is taking the time to find his God and develop a relationship with Him. That’s what Jesus did also. For too many of us, Lent is a time to suffer, to give up something we love, including our time. It might appear that we are being more spiritual, devoting ourselves to God, yet we do nothing during that time to develop the relationship. For David, the wilderness journey was more than a trip in the desert. He spent time with God in the morning and at night. He spent time in the sanctuary of God’s love. He sought God in the world and in the privacy of His bed. He rejoiced in God during the whole journey and at the end of that journey he was prepared to face his future, his enemy and his purpose.
It is not enough to simply say, “I’ve done this thing and I’m sorry. Forgive me so I can go on my way.” Repentance is more than saying I’m sorry. It is more than confessing our daily sins. Repentance is turning to God, following Him, keeping Him in our sight, trusting Him to lead us on the right path.
Righteousness is not about being good and doing what is right. Righteousness is about being in a right relationship with our God. We want to live our lives in a way that makes us feel good, to be satisfied in flesh and emotions, to wander on our own paths. Unfortunately, when we do so we end up crying in a place where we don’t want to be, afraid of what will happen. God does not punish us for our disobedience, but we do suffer the consequences of turning our backs on Him.
That’s why God calls us to repent. “Turn around. Keep your eyes on me. I can make things right.” God does not want anyone to suffer; He takes no pleasure in our death. He calls out to us in mercy and grace. “Why will you die?” He asks us. “Why will you continue to do those things that will keep you from my love and grace? Why will you turn away and walk your own path, the path that leads to death?” “Repent!” Jesus cried.
The stories in today’s Gospel lesson would be on the evening news today. Men died at the hands of a powerful ruler. Others died when a tower collapsed. Jesus asked, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered such things?” The prevailing thought was that trouble comes because of sin. “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all perish in the same way.” Jesus was not suggesting that the listeners would suffer a cataclysmic death because they weren’t good; He was warning them of a greater death that will come if they do not repent and turn to God.
If we believe that we can save ourselves, then we just as easily believe that the disasters of others are a punishment for sin. We think they have gotten what they deserve. The crowd asked if the people who died at the hand of Pilate deserved their deaths. Jesus compared that story to the tower. If one is punishment for sin, is the other? He answered, “I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all perish in the same way.” Jesus did not suggest that they died because of their sin, but then He warned the crowd that they would die if they didn’t repent!
They did not die because of their sin; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their story is important for us to hear because we could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, too. We could fall prey to a ruler wielding power that knows no bounds. We could be standing under a tower that is about to collapse. We could be in a car accident. We could get sick. We could lose everything because the world around us is falling apart. We don’t know what tomorrow might hold. Tomorrow might be too late. God is patient and longsuffering. God is willing to give second and third and fourth chances. But as we hear in today’s Gospel lesson we will not know when it will be too late.
When Jesus talks about life and death, He isn’t referring to the physical life and death; He is referring to eternal life and death. The Gospel text is not a lesson about our own righteousness, but about trusting in God for true life. We don’t become perfect overnight. As a matter of fact, there’s only one who was able to live perfectly in this world: Jesus. We aren’t Jesus, but we are covered by His righteousness when we repent and trust in Him.
The hope we have is not that we’ll be righteous at the moment that we will die, but that God will be faithful. And thankfully, we worship a God of second chances. Take, for instance, the parable in the second half of today’s Gospel lesson: the story of a fig tree. This tree is not bearing fruit and the landowner is ready to let it go. We might think that he is unmerciful because the tree is only three years old; however it was probably planted more than six years earlier. He would not have even looked for fruit until after the third year. That is when it should have started to bear fruit. At six years the fig tree has been a waste of time, land and resources. The unfruitful tree was stealing the nutrients from the trees that could produce. The gardener begged the landowner for one more year with a promise to work with the tree to try to get it to produce.
They say that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. We study the things of the past, what worked and what didn’t work, to help guide our decisions for the future. The Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun, and this is most certainly true in every aspect of human nature. American culture is not much different than other prosperous civilizations in ages past. Our political system was established based on ancient examples. Military, education and welfare policies were founded on principles used many times before. If we refuse to recall the lessons learned throughout history, we will continue repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
Just as ancient history is important for us to know and understand to keep from falling into the same traps, so too is the Old Testament witness important for Christians. The Israelites had Christ before them, reflections of the promise to come. They were given the manna as a promise of Jesus, who is the Bread of life. Water flowed from the rock, foreseeing the Living water that is Christ. Yet they did not remain faithful to the One who fulfilled their needs. As we look back on those stories we are reminded that Christ is the solid rock on whom we stand and who gives us strength. When we are tested, as the Israelites were tested in the desert, we are warned from their example to turn to God.
Some were blaming the victims of Pilate’s wrath and natural catastrophe with their own demise. “If they weren’t sinners...” How do you deal with things like death, tragedy and other kinds of suffering? Those that suffer must not be righteous; they deserve all that they get. There were some who drew parallels between the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 with the collapse of the tower of Siloam, as if the story in scriptures was a divine message of warning. Can we really say that those who died on that day were more sinful? No, of course not. Unfortunately, many deal with any sort of tragedy in the same way as the Pharisees, but Jesus told them that everyone is a sinner who will perish without God.
Yet, if something is said enough, we can be convinced that it is true and I am sure many people who suffer wonder what they did to deserve such a catastrophic event in their life. At some point in the mourning and healing process we ask the question, “Why me?” It is a natural reaction to the difficulties of this world. Yet, it is also a statement of doubt. When we ask, “Why me?” we question God’s judgment, we question His purpose, and we question His love. It is beyond belief that a loving God would allow such terrible things to happen to His people, so this question can lead to a deeper and much more dangerous rejection of God and Jesus Christ. Such doubt makes it impossible for us to do what is right; it makes it difficult for us to bear fruit.
No matter how hard these texts are for us to read, and even to understand, the Gospel message is clear: God forgives, He transforms and in Him is life. We might experience suffering, but like manure, God can use our hard times to bring transformation and good fruit. We might feel like we have been burdened with something beyond our ability to bear, but God gives us a way to stand up under the burden. He gives us Jesus, who offers grace to those who have no hope.
Repent and believe are not two commands but just one. We can’t believe unless we put aside those things that are incompatible with the life Christ is calling us to live. We may not live a life of violence, greed or do the things that are illegal or immoral in this world, but we all have things from which we must turn. Jesus Christ makes us new, changes our lives to conform to His good and perfect will. Repent and believe in Him that the world will see His life manifest in yours.
We all doubt. We all ask, “Why me?” It is common to human beings. God invites us, however, to be transformed, to drink in the living waters of His grace and to keep our eyes and our hearts on Him through it all. He invites us to buy His grace, not with money but with faith.
We might suffer. Jesus never said He would keep us from pain. He has promised to be with us through it, to give us the strength and the courage to stand firm in the faith which we have been given. He has promised that even there seems to be no reason for hope, there is always hope. He calls us to recognize our sinfulness and to look to Him for forgiveness. The pain we experience is not some act of divine vengeance. Bad things happen. When the bad things happen, we can be assured that God loves us through it all and that He knows what will happen in the end.
We aren’t any different than the Israelites in the desert, the pilgrims caught up in a political battle in the Temple, the people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We have all been tested and we all fall short. God is faithful, but tomorrow may never come for us. This is a mystery we cannot fully understand, because God’s ways are higher than our ways. So, we stand in between the now and not yet, and even while we will fail we are called to live as He would have us live: buying the things that are good and denying ourselves the crap.
The hard scriptures we read during Lent help us to face our own difficulties: our temptations, our fear, our doubt, our greed and our grief. We are forced to see our sinfulness, but we are also given a glimpse of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. We know that even while we are journeying with Jesus in the wilderness that He is on the way to the cross to pay our debt. He calls us to repentance with the promise that God is faithful. The free gifts of God are far better than anything we can buy; His rich blessings are more satisfying than the things of this world. In repentance we cling to the God who does not want any to perish and trust that He will get us through anything we may face.
“The foolish woman is loud, undisciplined, and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, to call to those who pass by, who go straight on their ways, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here.’ as for him who is void of understanding, she says to him, ‘Stolen water is sweet. Food eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But he doesn’t know that the departed spirits are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” Proverbs 9:13-18
I used to hang out in the online chat rooms, conversing with people from all over the world. It was interesting to hear their point of view, and though many people did not get along, I learned some things that I still apply to my life today. One day someone asked everyone’s opinion about a distressing situation in her life. She heard plenty of opinions, many of which were focused on the woman’s comfort and desires. “Do what you feel is best for you.” “You need to take care of yourself.” She took this advice with great excitement, but rejected everything that questioned her motives. “What about your children?” “Have you considered your own role in this problem?” She asked the question because she wanted justification for what she’d decided to do anyway. Today most of us find plenty of people willing to give us advice on social media.
Modern media outlets offer many opportunities to gain insight and advice from experts in love, money and health. Radio and television shows often have a call-in format that allows the listener to speak directly with a knowledgeable professional who will tell you the best way to deal with a troubling situation. Newspapers and other print media have regular columns where people write to seek advice. “Dear Abby” is just one of the many people who will share her opinion on everything. Most often the writers have a preconceived answer they want to hear.
A young woman wrote, “Dear Abby: I am a twenty-three-year-old liberated woman who has been on the pill for two years. It’s getting expensive and I think my boyfriend should share half the cost, but I don’t know him well enough to discuss money with him.” For this young woman, following her passions was more important than common sense. She was physically active with a man she couldn’t even talk with about important issues such as money. The difference between wisdom and folly is like night and day. She thought she was being wise by asking Dear Abby for advice about money, but she was lost in her folly.
We are so easily swayed by our own desires. We want to enjoy life, to taste sweet water and eat secret food. We want to enjoy our relationships without being tied down to the things that truly shine the light of Christ to the world. We want our flesh to be fulfilled and would rather set aside the truth that is God’s wisdom. We don’t want to be disciplined; we want to be accepted just as we are. This is why sound bite advice has been so successful in our world today. It isn’t possible to get to the root of our problems in 30 seconds of airtime or a paragraph in a paper. So, the lessons learned are flippant, humorous, or satirical. Unfortunately, these answers call out to the passersby, “come in here, this can fix to all your problems.”
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” This statement is found repeated throughout the book of Proverbs. In our world today, what seems to be wisdom is actually folly, because it follows the desires of the flesh rather than the will of God. We can go to experts for advice on our problems, but those who revere the Lord will accept the words of wisdom that come from God, those words that turn our focus from our flesh to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the life that comes from faith in Him.
“You shall not tempt Yahweh your God, as you tempted him in Massah. You shall diligently keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he has commanded you. You shall do that which is right and good in Yahweh’s sight; that it may be well with you, and that you may go in and possess the good land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to thrust out all your enemies from before you, as Yahweh has spoken.” Deuteronomy 6:16-19, WEB
One of the national pet stores has a policy that all leashed pets are welcome. A rancher from Texas decided to put the policy to the test. He arrived at the store with his African Watusi steer; the steer was leashed, of course. The breed is large, up to 1600 pounds, but extremely docile. This particular animal often makes appearances at fairs and events. You can even hire him to be a guest at your birthday party. His horns are so wide that he barely fit through the door of the store, but they were warmly welcomed by the staff. The test proved that the policy is true, at least when it comes to well behaved steer.
We test things all the time. When we are coming to age, we test the limits of our parents’ patience as we try to grasp our independence. Even when we are younger, we test their endurance when we begin to walk and talk. We test our teachers’ competency when we do not do the work they have assigned us to do. We test the persistence of advertisers. We test drive cars; we test new foods. We test friendships and loyalty. Hopefully we test the people we put into places of power over us. We test many things and people before we give them a piece of our lives.
The word in today’s passage that is translated “tempt” can also be translated “test.” Massah was one of the places through which the Israelites passed during the Exodus. The event at Massah happened before they arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai, less than seven weeks after leaving Egypt. The people were already grumbling. They went to Moses about their thirst and even accused God of leading them out of the comforts of Egypt to let them die in the wilderness. They were just weeks out of slavery and they had already forgotten the pain and suffering it had caused to their lives. God commanded Moses to go to a rock and to strike it with his rod. Water poured from the rock, but God saw their unfaithfulness. They tested God, proving that they did not trust in Him.
Jesus quoted this passage when He was in His own wilderness. Jesus fasted for forty days and the devil tempted Him to take His ministry in a different direction. At one point, the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and commanded Him to thrown Himself down. The devil used scripture, reminding Jesus that God would send His angels to protect Him from all harm. Jesus answered, “You shall not test the Lord, your God.” Jesus trusted His Father and did not do anything to prove God’s faithfulness.
How often do we test God? How often do we try to make deals with Him? “God, if you do this for me, I’ll do this for you.” How often do we try His patience like we do our parents? How often do we demand proof from God before giving Him a piece of our hearts? We will struggle, and our struggles will test our own faithfulness to God. We ask, “Where is God?” in the midst of our troubles. We demand that He prove Himself by doing our will rather than His own. There is good reason to test the people and policies that control our lives, to ensure that they are truly the best. However, we can trust that God is always right and that He has our best interests at heart. Testing God is an act of disobedience that proves that we do not trust in Him.
“Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God listens to us. He who is not of God doesn’t listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:1-6, WEB
I had a rattle in my car. It has been around for a long time, but it has been getting progressively worse. It has been driving me crazy. I thought it was somewhere on the passenger side of the car, perhaps in the speaker or vent. I was beginning to worry that it had something to do with the window mechanisms. I’ve done some tests, but you can’t find a rattle unless you are a driving and for some reason I never heard it when I was in the passenger seat. At times I even thought that it was actually on the driver’s side. I have an appointment for an oil change at the dealer tomorrow, so I thought I would ask them, whatever the cost, to find the rattle and fix it for me.
First I decided to do a little online research. I found lots of explanations for rattle on the forums. None of the fixes were really difficult, but without the right tools I’m not sure I would be able to solve my problem. Then I found one solution that seemed much too simple to be true. Several people said that their rattle was coming from the sunglass holder above the rearview mirror. One said, “I was sure the sound was coming from the passenger door, but it really was just my sunglasses bumping the plastic.” I decided to test this theory even though I thought it must be something in or near the door. The rattling stopped as soon as I removed my sunglasses.
Sound can be deceiving. I am caught constantly by the sound of sirens on a commercial when I’m in the car. It causes me to slow down, to search all around my car to find the source. Then I realize it was on the radio. My vacuum cleaner makes a noise that sounds like my telephone ringing, so I often stop my work to check the phone. My husband sometimes thinks I am talking to him when it is just a character on the television. Some sounds are just annoying, but others are deceptive. We live in a world filled with noise, and so much of that noise is trying to convince us of something. Advertisers want us to buy their product. Stores want us to spend more money. Politicians want us to believe that they have our best interests at heart.
There are many teachings in the world that sound good, they appear to be right and true, even use the very words that have been given to us in the scriptures. But there is always a slight twist, almost indistinguishable, that brings us something we aren’t expecting. These twists make grace out to be a burden, hope to be earned, faith to be an action when these are all gifts from God. These twists make the Gospel out to be a command to be obeyed rather than a proclamation of God's message to His people. They offer a convoluted answer to our problems when the real answer is as simple as the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan asked Adam and Eve, “Did God really say...?” When we hear someone preach, it is our responsibility to compare what is said - to test the spirits - to the Word that has been given to us through the scriptures and through the Church since the beginning of time. It would not have been cheap to have a mechanic try to figure out what was making the rattle in my car. It would have been a waste of my time. The same is true of the messages we hear from the false prophets. It is costly to listen and believe to what they have to say. God’s grace is never a burden, His hope is not earned, faith is not something we can do with our own power. All these things are gifts from God to be received from our Lord Jesus Christ.
“But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer also the other; and from him who takes away your cloak, don’t withhold your coat also. Give to everyone who asks you, and don’t ask him who takes away your goods to give them back again. As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive back as much. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. ‘Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful.” Luke 27-36, WEB
I suspect most teachers have had at least one student during their career that was difficult. It is a student that never pays attention, that is a distraction to the other students and that is often physical to the point of being dangerous. There are kids about which it nearly impossible to find anything positive to say. They make you want to pull your hair out. Yet, it is the teacher’s job to find some way to overcome the animosity. Constant negative attention does not help the child or the class. The disagreeable youngster takes the teacher’s attention and energy, leaving nothing for the rest of the children. Our natural tendency is to hate that child. Perhaps hate is too strong a word, however if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have difficulty loving these children.
We can all say this about people we know. Think about your life, your work, and your neighborhoods. Even the most kind and loving people know someone that drives them crazy for one reason or another. It is a fact of life; we don’t get along with everyone. Personalities clash. Unfortunately, these relationships often go beyond quiet disregard and the people become enemies. They attack one another verbally, physically or emotionally, thinking that is the only way to overcome the differences. Yet, Luke writes that we should bless our enemies, not curse them.
Being a Christian is not an easy thing. We are called into a relationship with Christ not to separate ourselves from the people we do not like in this world. Rather, in Christ we are given the strength to overcome our natural tendencies so that we can live more Christ-like in the world. When our flesh wants to hate, we are commanded to love. When our mouths want to curse, we are commanded to bless. This is a difficult thing. Just like trying to find a good word about that young child that is always distracting and dangerous, saying nice things about our enemies is simply not something we are trained to do.
Yet, God would have us speak well about our enemies. Jesus takes us out of our comfort zone, telling us to do well by our enemies, to love them and to serve them. Instead of complaining about the difficult child, the Christ centered response to him or her is mercy. Being an example of love and encouragement will show them how to act more appropriately. Yet, it is not enough to speak positively in the presence of the child. We also need to be kind behind closed doors and in the depths of our heart. Our worst sins against our enemies happen in the places no one sees but God knows when we curse those we hate. Let us love our enemies as Christ. We too were enemies; we were enemies of God until Christ died on the cross for our sake. He was merciful so that we will have a life that will bless the world, even those who are disagreeable.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 31, 2019, Fourth Sunday in Lent: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20, WEB
It is hard to move. I know because I have dealt with moving many times. We were constantly adapting to a new way of life and new circumstances. Every move meant a new church, new friends, new places to pursue hobbies and interests. Every new house meant finding a place to fit old furniture and window coverings or purchasing something new.
Each move meant entering into a ritual of things we had to do to prepare. We went through everything, pulling out the things we no longer needed for a yard sale. We gave the leftovers away. We canceled utilities and made arrangements at the new home. We usually organized the house so that everything would be easy to find at the new house. We cleaned and made the place ready for whoever will move in after we leave.
Each time we lived between here and there. We spent time in hotels or visiting with family. We traveled by car or airplane from one home to the next. When we left England, our household goods had to leave long before we did, so we used borrowed furniture and kitchen equipment for nearly a month. We visited family on our way to our new home and then had to spend time in a hotel before we could move into a house and have our household goods delivered to us once again. We lived out of suitcases for a couple of months. The first thing we did when arriving at our new house was to put together the bed. It was such a joy to finally have a place where we could lay our heads and call home again. I was always excited to cook a normal meal for the family, to sit around a table and use our own dishes.
If it was that way for us, imagine how it must have been for the Hebrews. They had finally settled into the land promised to them through Abraham after wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Some of the people who entered into the Promised Land did not even know what it was like to live in a house. They were home. A whole new generation was entering into a new way of life. The Hebrews renewed their commitment to the God who saved them from Egypt by circumcising all those who’d been born in the desert. After the circumcision, the people gathered together to celebrate the Passover meal and for the first time in many years they ate the fruit of the land. Even more importantly, they ate the fruit of their land. They enjoyed God’s extravagant generosity in the fulfillment of His promise. From that moment they were no longer transients; they were blessed with a place to call their own.
Our scriptures this week are about restoring relationships. In Joshua, the relationship was between God and His people. Paul also writes about restoration. We build walls and break bonds when we focus on the failures of our neighbors. The harmony in our world is broken because we see the world through our own perspective, through our own selfishness. Jesus calls us to look at the world through His point of view, what I like to call Jesus-colored glasses. Though it might seem naïve to the world for us to focus on the good things about a person who has sinned against us, we are not to think as the world. The reconciliation that comes with forgiveness is brought to us through Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is the way that God restores relationships, first between Himself and His people and then between all of creation.
We have all had some moment in our lives when we have had to restore a relationship. I remember fighting with my best friend as a child, swearing that I would never talk to her again. Within a day we were playing together and we are still friends. The walls built during our fights were not big walls; they were walls that fell easily under the weight of our love for one another. Unfortunately, sometimes the relationships are not restored so easily. Sometimes we move far away. Sometimes we are afraid to try. Sometimes we get caught up in the busy-ness of our lives and we lose our chance. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we refuse to forgive.
There are two questions I ask myself when I read today’s Gospel lesson. First, why do we jump over the two other stories of lost things? Second, how does this story end? I suppose that when it comes to preaching on this text, the three parables would make for a very long sermon, each filled with wonderful images and lessons to be learned. The big difference is that the first two stories both end with a celebration because lost things have been found. The parable of the lost son, however, leaves us hanging. The party is going on, but the elder son is outside. Does he join in the celebration? What happens the next morning? How will the relationships play out the days, weeks and months following the reunion?
I think we naturally identify most with the older brother, if not directly, then as a compassionate observer. We feel sorry for the older brother who has worked hard to keep the family and the estate together after the younger took off for parts unknown. No matter how great the wealth of the landowner, taking that much of its value away from the estate would make it difficult to run the business. We see the younger brother’s greed and are offended by his boldness. Asking for his inheritance was insulting because it was akin to calling his father dead. His self-centeredness leaves the family not only with one less body to help, but also without the resources necessary, especially if they run into hard times.
Unfortunately, the money ran out and so did the rain. A severe famine struck the land where he was living. He managed to get a job, but it did not pay well and he began to starve because there was no food to eat. He was so hungry that he was willing to eat the pods the pigs were eating, but he knew that stealing from his employer would be the end of his job. He was hungry and alone; he missed the comforts of home. He did not expect to be welcome as a son but he realized that even the slaves at his father’s house were living much better than he. He decided to go home, to admit his sin before God and his father. He broke the relationship with his family, but he knew his father to be merciful. He might be treated as a slave but at least he could have a job that would provide food and a place to sleep.
The younger son offends us because he seems to have no concern for others, for his father or for his family. We have no sympathy for him because he took his father’s hard earned wealth and wasted it. He threw it away. That is surely how his older brother saw it. The older brother stayed, used his future wealth to the benefit of the whole family, continuing to build up the farm and estate. And, that’s why he’s so offended by the outcome. After wasting his share, the younger brother is given more. Worst of all, the younger brother received the fruit of his brother’s work.
There are two other points of view in this story: the younger brother and the father. We often hear about the father’s point of view as a comparison to the point of view of the older brother and we have a hard time identifying with it. The father is gracious, but we can understand how the older son must have felt to see his father have so much mercy on the one who took advantage of him. But can we identify with the younger brother, the one who offends us? During Lent we should see ourselves as the younger son; he is the one who has turned away from the Father and the one who has turned back in repentance. As we are called to repentance, we can walk humbly before the throne like that prodigal son, unworthy of grace but willing to serve.
The father’s reaction was not what anyone might expect. As a matter of fact, it was unseemly. Rather than accusation and rejection, the father showered the son in love and mercy. Even when the son was a long way down the path, perhaps so far as to be beyond recognition, the father knew it was his son. He must have been a sight. When he left he was wealthy, most likely wearing fine clothes and standing tall in pride. The return, however, was much different. I am certain the son must have been thin, filthy, slumped and weary; he was a much different man than the one who left.
Yet, the father recognized his son and ran to him. It was improper for a father to run, and to run after a son that had left was unbelievable. Everyone associated with the father’s estate most certainly knew what had happened. The son should be bending his knees, bowing to honor his father and eating some humble pie. But the father saw things differently. His son was dead, but now he lived!
As the wife of a military man who has gone off to war, I understand what the father was feeling. When a soldier goes off into a dangerous situation, the family does not know if they will ever see them again. The family holds their breath whenever there is a story about something happening in the area where they are deployed. They do not know if he is alive or dead until that day when the soldier is restored into their arms.
The reaction of the father is incredible joy. His son is alive, but he knows that there is much to overcome. Reunion is never easy. During a separation everyone changes. In the case of a military family, a soldier has seen and done things that will affect the way they see the world forever. The family left behind has learned to be self-sufficient. The relationships have changed and everyone wonders where they fit. The soldier wonders if he or she is needed. The spouse wonders if they are loved. The children, who have been the sole focus of the stay-at-home parent, must find a way to accept the other parent’s presence in the family. While the first moments of reunion are filled with joy, the days, weeks, and months that follow can be difficult as everyone finds their place. This often means sacrifice, selfless actions of loving kindness toward the other members of the family. Each must work hard to rebuild the relationship through mercy and grace.
The father knew that there were relationships that needed to be mended. The elder son had been the sole beneficiary of the father’s love and attention for some time. He had been, in essence, an only child. This is true of the financial aspects of the estate, but also emotional. The elder son would have to learn how to allow another into the dynamics of the family relationship. It would be difficult.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law went to Jesus to complain about the company he kept. “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” They were like the elder son who stayed home. He was the one who worked the land like a slave. The son who returned intended to be a slave but was accepted as a son. The one who lived as a son all those years thought he was nothing but a slave. The young son sought out the father, asking for mercy and getting far more. The elder son expected everything and missed out on the joy of being in his father’s house. The fear of the elder son was not only that the father would give another portion to the younger son, not only out of his rightful share but also out of what he had earned when his brother was gone. The father says, “All that is mine is yours.” When the father gave the young son his portion, he also gave the older son his. The elder brother forgot that his father had given him everything.
The father was concerned not concerned about money but about the relationships. He wanted to break down the walls that might have always existed between the two boys. The decision of what would happen to the younger brother rested upon the elder’s shoulders. Was there room in the home for him? Was there a place in the business for him? With God there is room for all of His children, and there is plenty for all to be satisfied. The father in this story reminds the older son that his place has not been taken away, but the restoration of the younger son to the family is reason to celebrate. He was dead and now he lives. Are we willing to welcome the lost into the Kingdom? Or are we afraid that we would lose something if we share God’s grace?
You’ve heard it said, “She looks at the world through rose colored glasses.” Some people see the glass as half full. There’s a silver lining in every cloud. We can make lemonade out of the lemons. Unfortunately, most of us see at least some people through negative eyes, never seeing anything good about them. We find it even worse when someone else can see the positive. We think they are Pollyannaish, seeing in life only goodness. To us, seeing people through rose colored glasses is naive and perhaps even dangerous. We insist on sharing our truth, trying to convince others of the negative. We get so caught up in our opinion of others that we would rather not allow others to see them as good.
The problem is that as Christians we are meant to be forgiving and merciful. Unfortunately, if we cannot see any good in another, then we have an excuse for not sharing the Gospel. If we think they are beyond redemption, then we will not speak God’s Word into their lives. Even worse, if we can’t offer them forgiveness, then we are keeping them from the salvation God has promised to those who repent. We keep them in the dark because we do not want them to have the light. We are like that older brother, afraid that forgiveness for the younger will mean that we will lose.
In Christ, however, we are called to look at people through a different point of view. Instead of seeing them in the flesh, in their failures and in their sin, we are called to see them through the eyes of Christ. We are called to see them through the power of the cross; with hope and grace. If we think someone is beyond redemption, we’ll never bother to share the Redeemer. We might even make up excuses for doing so: they won’t listen, we don’t want to force our religion, we can’t change the spots on a leopard.
But Christ calls us to see others through His eyes, those Jesus-colored glasses, to have hope for them even when they seem to be beyond hope. When we do, we’ll willingly share God’s grace, to love them as they have been created to be loved. It might seem naive to the world, but a kind word might just help someone begin to change. At the very least, we will look at them from a new point of view and maybe we’ll discover that they aren’t so bad after all.
“Blessed is he whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” These could have been the words spoken by Israelites when they were finally able to settle in the Promised Land. The psalmist knew the kind of physical, emotional and spiritual trauma that came from being separated from God by transgressions that led one away from God’s grace. But he or she also knew that the person of God who cries out to Him is heard and that God is faithful to respond. We are encouraged to call out. He is there. We may have to wander in our own wilderness for a season, but He is there to lead us into the Promised Land. Happy are they who know God’s forgiveness, and happy are they who trust in the Lord.
Paul writes, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
Reconciliation comes from God through Jesus Christ. As we get closer to the cross we realize our own sinfulness and we humbly return home with the hope that our Father will receive us. If we don’t see our sin, we will be like the older son and the Pharisees, thinking that we are better than the others and bitter that they have been given a place in the kingdom. There are many people in this world who are like both sons; they have broken relationships with God. Paul calls us to be ambassadors for Christ, to take the words of forgiveness and restoration to the world. We are called to restore relationships between people, but most importantly between the lost and their God.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, WEB
Audrey Hepburn’s favorite poem was “Time-Tested Beauty Tips” by Sam Levenson. She read this poem to her children on her last Christmas Eve. The fact that this is her favorite poem shows her character and her beautiful heart.
“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge you'll never walk alone ... People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed and redeemed and redeemed. Never throw out anybody. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm. As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others. The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole, but true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows, and the beauty of a woman with passing years only grows!”
Audrey Hepburn is my favorite actress of all time. Her simple beauty and soft-spoken nature lent for wonderfully deep and paradoxical characters. Though she seemed weak and fragile, her characters had amazing strength and power. Though she most certainly used cosmetics, her classic beauty seemed so natural. When asked if she had any personal beauty tips she answered, “If I had them, I’d make a fortune. But I know what helps: health, lots of sleep, lots of fresh air, and a lot of help from Estee Lauder.”
Those simple tips are often forgotten in our world where there are so many options for creating a beautiful image. All too many women, and some men, are turning to plastic surgery to reshape the face or body. You can even have make-up tattooed permanently. Diets and exercise are followed not for health purposes but to create the “perfect body.” In this digital age, it is easy to change our looks with just a few clicks of the mouse. Few today would consider the timeless tips in that poem truly valuable advice. As a matter of fact, some of the most beautiful women are those who have the least beautiful characters.
Just as we confuse beauty with the cosmetics, we also confuse happiness with what is visible on the surface. We assume that the people with the big, pretty houses are happy. We assume that the people are blessed because they fancy cars and everything they could possibly want. Yet happiness does not always mean blessedness. True happiness is not found in the accumulation of things, but in the realization of our need for God’s grace.
Instead of hiding ourselves under layers of ‘cosmetic’ façade, true beauty and happiness is found deep in the heart of God’s love and is visible in the character of one through whom God’s grace flows. That inward beauty manifests in love. In Christ we are called to love always, to love even when it is not easy. We are called to love our neighbor, to love our enemy, to love the strangers. Love is not just a word, however. Love is accompanied by real action. Love is just, love is merciful, and love is uncomplaining. Love is forgiveness for the big things and the little ones. Love loves always, even when it is difficult. That’s why we live in the love of Christ, since we cannot love without Him.
“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Proverbs 13:11, WEB
Someone in Wisconsin just won an astounding $750 million in one of the lottery games. This wasn’t the largest prize in history, but it certainly is a lot of money for one person. In the days leading up to the drawing of one of those extremely high lotteries, there are always stories asking people on the street what they would do with the money if they won. The people always talk about helping others, but also list all the things they will buy themselves. They want to quit their jobs, buy a big house and a fancy car. There are usually stories warning winners not to waste it all. Most winners think that a million dollars will last forever. What they quickly discover is that it is not very much money if you spend, spend, spend. Most lottery winners have little or nothing left after just eighteen months: a big house, a few parties, an expensive car and it is all gone.
The movie “Brewster’s Millions” was about a man who inherited a huge fortune. To receive this money, however, he had to spend thirty million dollars in just 30 days. He had to be left at the end of the month with nothing but the clothes on his back and he could not tell anyone about the provision of the will. He spent like he was out of control, using the cash in every possible wasteful way. He bought a stamp worth a million dollars, stuck it on a postcard and mailed it to the law firm. He hired a huge staff and paid them extraordinary wages. He rented everything by the day. He even ran for political office with his tag line “None of the Above”; and when it looked like he might win, he quit the race.
Everyone around him thought he was crazy and did all they could to sustain the inheritance. They tried to save him money. They found ways to invest so that he would become richer. Toward the end, when it was obvious he was going to be left penniless, they took up a collection so that he wouldn’t be completely broke. Everyone was so grateful for his generosity over the thirty days that they wanted to be generous to the gift giver. He refused the gift because any money earned during the thirty days also had to be spent. He was frustrated every step of the way because he could not tell them that he needed to spend the money to win the true prize. He became quite sick of spending money.
There were some who did not want Brewster to succeed. The law firm would benefit from his failure; without Monty Brewster, the money would become theirs. He had an accountant assigned to him by the law firm to keep track of the money. Though the will demands that no one but Monty on the lawyers know about the challenge, they tell the ex-fiance of the accountant to keep some of the money until the very end. He presented Monty with $20,000 minutes before the challenge ended. Monty thought he’d failed.
In the end, the accountant realized how they had tricked Monty. Monty hit Warren, Warren threatened to sue, Monty hired Angela with a $20,000 retainer. They turned in the last receipt with only seconds left in the challenge. Monty Brewster managed to spend every penny and he inherited ten times as much. His late uncle wanted him to hate spending money so that he would not waste the whole thing when he got the real gift. Three hundred million seems impossible to waste, but with little thought Monty Brewster managed to spend more than a million dollars a day. Three hundred million would be gone in less than a year at that rate.
It might be fun to have a sudden rise in wealth, but those lottery winners who spend it fast often discover that it was never really a blessing. They learn that they can’t afford to pay the taxes on the big house they bought. They lose friends they gained because of their money. Those who quit their jobs have trouble finding another. Many actually go bankrupt and have to deal with bad credit. This is why Monty had to learn to respect the money he was about to inherit. God also teaches us how to respect money and warns us to be careful not to spend unwisely. Today’s passage even goes so far as to warn against seeking sudden wealth because it can cause more problems than it solves. Work hard, save, and be generous. You’ll find that is the best way to succeed at life and to honor God with your wealth.