Welcome to the May 2016 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, May 2016
"While the word was in the kingís mouth, a voice came from the sky, sayingÖ" Daniel 4:31a, WEB
Nebuchadnezzar was a great king; he is called the greatest monarch of Babylon. His kingdom reached far and wide and he commanded a labor force that rebuilt the city of Babylon, adorning it with spectacles that are recalled today as great wonders of the world like the Hanging Gardens and the Ishtar Gate. He defeated Egypt and Assyria, subdued Israel and Syria, eventually destroying Jerusalem and taking God's people into exile. He controlled all the trade routes between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. He was known as "the king of kings."
Daniel was a man of God who was taken to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city of Jerusalem. The king was smart: he took the most powerful and able of Judah's people, officials and nobility, those who might learn and quickly adapt to life in Babylon. He provided for them and trained them to enter into his service. Daniel refused to be defiled by the rich food and drink, and in the end he looked healthier and better nourished than those who at the royal food. Daniel became an important part of Nebuchadnezzar's court and even an advisor to the king. This made other advisors jealous of Daniel and others from Jerusalem, but those stories are for another day.
Nebuchadnezzar knew he was a great man and perhaps for good reason. Look at all he accomplished! One day he had a dream and he called in all those who might be able to tell him its meaning. He didn't trust those magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers, so he determined that they had to not only interpret the dream, but they first had to reveal the dream. Nebuchadnezzar thought if they really had the gifts they claimed, then they would know by the power of the gods. They couldn't do the task and even told the king that no one could do it. He was so angry he decreed that all wise men should be executed, including Daniel and his friends. They sought the help of God who revealed the dream and the interpretation, so Daniel went to Nebuchadnezzar with the answer to his query. Daniel was raised to an even higher position.
Nebuchadnezzar took the interpretation, which said that he was the king of kings, to heart and he built a great gold statue of himself. He commanded that all the people worship the statue. Those who worshipped the God of Israel could not do so and their disobedience angered Nebuchadnezzar. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were sent to the fiery furnace, but the king saw the power of God as an angel protected them from the heat. Nebuchadnezzar praise their God and raised them to positions of authority. Yet, despite this apparent faith in the God of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar was still proud and overconfident in his power.
He had a second dream, which we hear about in Daniel 4. This chapter is a letter confessing his faith that the Most High God does everything right and that He can humble the great. Nebuchadnezzar praised and exalted and glorified Him and he tells others the story. The dream was of a great tree. Daniel told the Nebuchadnezzar that the tree represented him, but it wasn't all good news. It was so hard that Daniel was afraid to tell the king the interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar insisted and Daniel revealed the truth. "You shall be driven from men, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field, and you shall be made to eat grass as oxen, and shall be wet with the dew of the sky, and seven times shall pass over you; until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he will." Nebuchadnezzar was about to be humbled.
It took a year. One day the king was standing on the roof of his royal palace boasting about his great kingdom and his great treasures when a voice came from heaven. "While the word was in the kingís mouth..." King Nebuchadnezzar learned the power of God in a very real and personal way. He was said to be insane for seven years, living like an animal. At the end of that time, he looked to heaven and his sanity was restored. He praised the Most High God. When Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God is the true King of kings and that He is able to humble the proud, then God restored him to his power and position.
It is easy for us to find hope in a story like this, comforted by the fact that God is in control of even the most powerful people in the world. We know that God can humble the proud and when we look at what is happening we can trust that God can even use those who do not believe in Him to be witnesses to His power. In the end, those enemies of God might just become one who honors and glorifies Him.
But we should not just look at this as a story about the other guy; we all have our own prides that must be humbled. We may just find that even as we are boasting about the great things we have done that God will bring us to a place of humility so that we will look to heaven and proclaim the greatness of the Most High God. We may not rule over a great kingdom, but we do forget to give credit to God for our small successes. We forget to thank Him for our treasures or praise Him for what He has done in our lives. We may not spend seven years living like an animal, but we might just find ourselves in a time of physical, emotional or spiritual drought, away from those we love or wandering without purpose. When we do finally turn back to our God, we will see our lives restored and our hearts filled with gladness at what God can do.
"You are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting." Daniel 5:27, WEB
I saw a picture today of a man walking in a Victory Day Parade. He was the last living member of his World War II battle group. We are hearing more and more stories like this: the men who fought the war are aging and dying. Soon there will be no more left. Thankfully, many people have written books and built memorials so that we will hear their stories, but unless we pay attention everything they learned will be forgotten. History tends to repeat itself, which we see repeatedly in the stories of God's people throughout the Bible.
Nebuchadnezzar learned the lesson that God can humble the proud, and though we don't really hear much about his reign after his bought with insanity, but history suggests that he ruled for thirteen years as king after he was restored. He continued to wage war and subdue Babylon's neighbors, but he also rebuilt Babylon and created some magnificent ancient wonders. He probably continued to honor the gods of his people, but the letter in Daniel 4 suggests that he became a witness for the greatness of the Most High God.
It didn't take very long, however, for Nebuchadnezzar's descendants to forget what he learned. Daniel 5 tells the story of King Belshazzar, a "son" (probably grandson) of Nebuchadnezzar. He threw a great banquet and ordered that the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar took from the Temple early in his reign be brought. The nobles, his wives and concubines drank from them. Suddenly, a disembodied hand wrote on the wall near where Belshazzar feasted. The king called in the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to read the writing on the wall, but they could not do so.
The queen (thought to have been the queen mother, perhaps Nebuchadnezzar's wife or daughter) entered the banquet and told the king to not fear. "O king, live forever; donít let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your face be changed. There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him..." Daniel was called and he interpreted the writing for the king.
Unfortunately, the news was not good for Belshazzar. Daniel began by reminding the king of the story of his father, Nebuchadnezzar. Then he accused the king of not learning the lessons from that story. "You, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which donít see, nor hear, nor know; and the God in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways, you have not glorified." God did not give Belshazzar the chance to repent. That very night he was slain.
We fail over and over and over again; thankfully our God is gracious and merciful, but there comes a time when we are expected to learn the lessons of our forefathers. God is not going to cause us to drop dead, but we will suffer the consequences of our rejection of His Word. If we don't learn those lessons, history will repeat itself; we will be weighed in the balance and will be found wanting.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 8, 2016, Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:12-26; Psalm 133; Revelation 22:1-6 (7-11) 12-20; John 17:20-26
"Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me." John 17:20-21, WEB
Wait. I don't think any of us are very good at waiting. We do learn some patience as we get older, but there's always something we just can't control. Even as adults we get anxious or excited. We worry, we wonder, we watch the clock. No matter how good we are at driving, all of us manage to creep up on the stoplight as we anticipate it changing. We look forward to big events, sometimes because we want them to be over. We get frustrated in grocery store check-out lines. We have no patience to sit and wait so we find something to do. We take a book to the doctor's office. We surf the internet on our phones while we wait for our food to arrive. We sweep the floor while we wait for our children to finish getting dressed in the morning. We can't just wait; we have to do something to make good use of our time.
I suppose the same can be said about the disciples in those days between the Ascension (tomorrow) and Pentecost (ten days later). Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses, but that they needed to wait for the gift He would send. We know that gift is the Holy Spirit that would come upon them and fill them with the things they would need to do His Work. So, this Sunday is a day of waiting, wondering and praying.
Now, the question I have been pondering is this: didn't Jesus give the disciples the Holy Spirit when He appeared before them on the Resurrection day. Just a few weeks ago John told us, "Jesus therefore said to them again, 'Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit!'" (John 20:21-22, WEB) So why did they have to wait; didn't they have what they needed?
In the passage from John, Jesus continued by telling them, "If you forgive anyone's sins, they have been forgiven them. If you retain anyoneís sins, they have been retained." This was a moment about forgiveness. Now, if we see John's Gospel as a whole, we can see that he designed the story around Jesus being the Temple of God. "Destroy this temple," Jesus said, "and in three days I will raise it up." The rest of the Gospel shows Jesus as the bread, the light, the door, the shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life, and the vine. These things all line up to items found in the Temple (but that study is for another time.)
Now, forgiveness came in the Temple during the festival of Atonement, when the priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of the lamb as a sacrifice for God's people. It was the only day in a year that the only man -- the High Priest -- could enter that space. However, he could not enter only with the blood for the people. He first required forgiveness. So, he entered the space with his own sacrifice, blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant, to atone for his own sin, then he could do the same for all God's people.
Jesus Christ was the Lamb of God. He died and His blood atoned for all our sin. The disciples who were called and sent to take forgiveness into the world needed to experience forgiveness as did the High Priest so that they could do the same for the rest of God's people. Jesus breathed on them that they might experience the absolution that comes with the sacrifice. The breath of Jesus in John 20 was just a foretaste to make them ready for the gift that was to come, the indwelling Spirit that would give them the power and courage to do the work God was sending them to do.
In Acts 1, the promised gift will make the disciples witnesses for Jesus Christ. It is not just about forgiveness, which is done through the blood of the Lamb, but it is about giving them the power, the strength, the boldness, ability, and the confidence to be witnesses for Jesus. This means not just telling people that Jesus died for their sins and for forgiveness, but calling them to new life, to be transformed, to walk away from sin and death and dwell in the light and life of Jesus Christ. As disciples it is never our job to condemn someone, but it is our job to make disciples and teach them to obey God's commands. Some people would like to stop at the forgiveness part, to live and let live, to tolerate everything and encourage people to follow their heart. The Holy Spirit is given so that we can pursue a higher calling as witnesses not only to Christ on the cross, but to the life He has made us free to live.
So, Jesus sent the disciples back to Jerusalem to wait. They are no different than you and I, though, unable to be patient. In today's reading from Acts, Peter says, "We need to replace Judas." Jesus chose twelve and so surely they should keep that number. Too often we think that Jesus had a small group of twelve that traveled, but it is likely that there were as many seventy men and a number of women who went in and out among them regularly during Jesus' ministry. Luke tells us that there were a hundred and twenty there in the room waiting. There were at least two that qualified to be one of the Twelve. They knew Jesus from the beginning. They walked with Him, saw the miracles, and heard the teachings. They were witnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection. They cast lots and the lot fell to Matthias.
There are those who suggest that the disciples should not have chosen another to replace Judas, that Paul was the one whom Jesus intended to be the twelfth. They certainly could have been more patient to wait until after the Holy Spirit came upon them so that their choice would come by His power, not their own. However, I don't think Paul was ever meant to be part of that group. Paul was called to a different ministry. While the disciples were sent first to the Jews, Paul was always chosen to be a witness to the Gentiles and thus separate on purpose. God meant the Gospel to go out to the whole world, to all people, that all people might come to Him.
In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus prays for His disciples. He is praying, perhaps, very specifically for those who were with Him in that Upper Room, whether it was twelve or seventy or more. But He was also praying for all those who would be filled with His Holy Spirit, sent into the world to share the Gospel that not only forgives but also transforms.
He was praying for the unity of all who will believe, not just those disciples but all Christians in all time. There would be many believers over time and space; the number of saints throughout the history of the Christian Church is beyond our ability to count. The Book of Life is so big that it would fill many libraries. Jesus' greatest desire for His Church was that they would be one, but is this even possible when we think about the many Christians that have existed in time and space?
The disciples did not agree about everything. The story about choosing Matthias is just one example. If they agreed on which disciple should become the twelfth apostle, they would not have had to cast lots to choose. So much of Luke's book of the Acts of the Apostles has to do with resolving issues. These apostles traveled to the four corners of the world and there were divisions among them even in the beginning. Peter was questioned about his actions in Cornelius' house. Apollos was teaching an incomplete Gospel. Teachers were trying to convince the members in Paul's church plants that he was not authoritative. It was happening then, just as it is happening now. We are human, we disagree. Paul and Peter disagreed.
The unity for which Jesus prays is not one dependent on our agreement about our ideas or our practices. We are bound together by the Gospel. "The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me." Our unity is not dependent on 100% agreement, but on our love of God.
We are a diverse people; we come from different times and places. The Church has existed for two thousand years and has touched every corner of the world. Unity does not necessarily mean that we will all be the same. It is impossible. Not even the twelve disciples were the same. There were fishermen, a tax collector, revolutionaries and others. At least one was married. Some were brothers. They were from different villages. Some were educated, others not so much. In the scriptures we can see they had different personalities. They did not always get along. The disciples often bickered and the early Church faced difficulties. But the stories in the scriptures, particularly the New Testament, show us how to be unified even if we can't agree.
The problem is that we hold on to our ideas, we have to win, we have to be right, we have to hold on to our truth no matter what. That's why we often jump into tasks while we wait; we don't want to give anyone a chance to get control of our world. The disciples chose one out of their own to be the twelfth man because they couldn't risk a stranger like Paul to take over their ministry. We think that what it means to be of one mind is that they will be of our mind, but the mind about which Jesus talks is not a human mind. The one mind is the mind of Christ. We are unified by the Spirit and our testimony of the Gospel, through which Christ is glorified. We share in the glory of God by witnessing together Gospel, first the forgiveness of sins that is given to all who believe through the blood Jesus shed on the cross and then the life of faith and discipleship which we are made free to live. This is our command, our mission. This is what we are called to do.
I have to admit that sometimes I get tired of waiting for the promise to be made real. I am in no sense suicidal, but I'm ready for heaven. Life in this world sometimes seems so hopeless; it seems like nothing I do is making a difference anyway. I know the only real answer to all our fears is for Jesus to return. I want to dwell in the garden that John described in the text from Revelation last week and this week. Who doesn't want to walk beside the river of life that flows from the throne of God?
The Garden is now the New Jerusalem. There is no night and no evil to be found inside the city. The gates are left open because there is no need to lock out the dark things of this world. There is nothing impure, nothing shameful, nothing deceitful. There is no more sin because Jesus Christ has overcome all that is against God and reconciled the world to Himself.
As we look at this vision, we can see that it is much like it was at the beginning of time. God spoke and there was light out of nothing. That light is the light of God's glory, manifested in time and space in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Garden of Eden, before the serpent, there was no shame, no deceit. There was no sin and no reason to lock the gates of the Garden. When Adam and Eve listened to the lie of Satan, it was necessary for God to cast them out into the world and lock the gates behind them. They could not eat from the tree of life because that would mean eternal life in a broken relationship with their Father. But now, thanks to the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, the Tree of Life will be available so that all can eat of the fruit and live forever. The people who live in this city, whose names are found in the Lamb's book of life, share in the glory of God for eternity and live in His presence. It is as God intended His creation to be, in fellowship with Him and each other for all time, worshipping God with praise and thanksgiving.
I don't want to wait, but I must. There is still work to do. There are still people lost in the darkness who need to hear the forgiving and transforming words of Jesus Christ. There are still people that need the Gospel so that they can join me under that tree, along that river, worshipping God for eternity. John encourages his readers to act now. "Don't wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may be too late." We are given the power and authority of God to call those lost in the ways of darkness and evil to faith. We are sent to call the world to repentance, so that they can join us with washed robes in the promise of eternal life. It is our task to invite people into the fellowship of believers so that they, too, will share in the fruit of the tree of life. The words are no less true today.
Isn't it funny, though, how we are so impatient for so many things, but we do not have the sense of urgency needed to do the work God is calling us to do? We don't mind waiting for the right moment to tell our neighbor about Jesus. We don't mind waiting to call someone out of darkness and to repentance so that they might experience the forgiveness Jesus has promised. After all, perhaps tomorrow is a better day. Perhaps tomorrow the neighbor will be ready to hear the truth.
We don't feel the same sense of urgency that the first Christians heard because we've had two thousand years of waiting. What's another day? Two thousand years is a long time to wait and we have lost patience and our zealousness. We have allowed the doubts and fears to creep into our faith and we justify the time by saying that God didn't mean it the way we think. We explain away the language and claim that it doesnít really mean what it says. We have allowed the worries and the cares of the world to temper our enthusiasm and we have followed with a skewed sense of purpose. We forget that for God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. For God the beginning of the church was just two days ago. The promise is as imminent today as it was for Peter and Paul and John.
Our work is as vital today as it was two thousand years ago. We don't know what tomorrow holds; even if Jesus doesn't come again as He has promised, we might just lose our chance to be the witness God has called us to be. One more day in the world makes every heart harder to the Gospel message. Every lie that is told makes the truth harder to believe. Every moment takes each one of us closer to the end of our life on earth. What if today is the day for you or your neighbor?
The message of Christ is immediate; it is for this moment, for this time. Though we've been waiting for two thousand years for the coming of Christ, this is not the time to procrastinate. There are so many who need to hear the Gospel. We may not think the time or the place is right, but God knows and He is directing the movement of His people in a way that will bring salvation to the world. The time is now to act: don't wait! Christ is coming. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Jesus prayed for unity, and the psalmist sings in hope of it. "See how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity!" There are those who would suggest that it is necessary for us to give up everything that we hold dear to ensure that all feel welcome. We are constantly told that we have to change the way we are doing things so that everyone will fit in. But God is not calling us to give up our heritage or worship style; He is calling us to find the common bond and share in the Spirit of God. That common bond is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we are of one mind when we focus on Him.
We are His witnesses, sent to share the Gospel message with the world that continues to be lost in darkness and sin. We are the witnesses who will call them to repentance, reveal God's forgiveness and call those believers to a life of faithful living in this world. Though we may have to wait another two thousand years before Jesus returns, there are those today who need to hear the Good News of Jesus. They need to be healed. They need to have their demons cast out. They need to be baptized with water and spirit so that they too can become part of the unity that we have in Christ Jesus. The need is still urgent, the mission still immediate. Jesus is coming. Soon. Let us continue to live in the expectation of the promise, knowing that God will make good come from all we do, even when we seem to fail.
We are still waiting, but not for the promised gift; that came to all those who believe beginning with the apostles at Pentecost. We might have to wait for heaven, but as they did in the Upper Room for those tend days, let us wait in prayer and worship, encouraging one another with reminders of the forgiveness Jesus Christ won for us when He atoned for our sins with His own sprinkled blood. For now, we are sent into the world and we have the power, the strength, the boldness, the ability, and the confidence to be witnesses for Jesus today because He sent His Spirit to make us one with Him.
"For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which you have toward all the saints, don't cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come. He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:15-23, WEB
After Jesus rose from the grave, He spent forty days teaching the disciples. The lessons were the same, but they were taught, and heard, from a new perspective. Jesus had accomplished the work of the Father, ensuring forgiveness through His atoning sacrifice on the cross. He guaranteed eternal life to those who believe. The disciples now understood what Jesus meant when He talked about destroying the Temple and raising it again. They understood what sort of King He was meant to be. They understood the battle was not against flesh and blood, but against sin and death. The parables were revealed in a new way. At the end of the forty days, Jesus took them to a place near Bethany, blessed them and was taken to heaven.
Can you imagine the emotions of those disciples that day? They had their Lord back and were enjoying being in His presence again. They were learning and maturing in this new faith. They could go to Him with their questions. They could turn to Him when they were uncertain. They knew He was near if they ever had a problem. But then one day He left again, this time forever. What would they do without Him? They worshipped Him with great joy and stared into heaven after Him. It took angels to bring them back to earth. "Why are you standing here?" they asked. The disciples returned to Jerusalem to wait.
Waiting really is the hardest part, but even more so when you aren't sure what is coming. Jesus was gone, how could anything make it better? What they didn't realize is that it was necessary for Jesus to go so that He could send the Holy Spirit. See, Jesus was God incarnate, but He was limited by His body, even His resurrected body. Though His new body could do things that ours will never do, like go through locked doors, He still could only be one place at one time. He couldn't be with the disciples in the Upper Room and with Thomas wherever He was hiding in the flesh. He couldn't be with them all as they began to scatter to do ministry to the four corners of the earth. He couldn't be with me in Texas and with all my readers around the world if He was limited by time and space. He had to ascend to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father so that He could send His Spirit into our hearts.
Jesus is indeed with us, and He can be so because His flesh was taken into heaven. He is here, continuing to teach and encourage. If we turn to His Word and listen with the help of His Spirit, we can know what we should do. We might suffer, but we have His Spirit as a guarantee that our suffering will be rewarded with eternal life. We have His power because He left us; but He didn't leave us alone. Without this day, Ascension Day, we would have to take turns being in His presence, but because of this day, we share in His life, His power and His glory. Each of us has a piece of the never-ending grace that flows from the One who sits at the right hand of His Father through the Spirit that fills us with Him.
"Then king Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages, who dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all the dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for he is the living God, and steadfast forever, His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed; and his dominion shall be even to the end. He delivers and rescues, and he works signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian." Daniel 6:25-28, WEB
I'm going to finish the week with one more Daniel story, perhaps the most familiar. When King Belshazzar was slain, he was replaced by a man named Darius the Mede. It has been suggested that this is another name for Cyrus or was perhaps a general assigned by Cyrus to rule over the conquered state of Babylon. Whoever he is, Darius appointed a hundred and twenty local authorities (satraps) to help with the government, including three administrators over the others. Daniel was one of the three. Daniel's success in the kingdom caused many to be jealous and he was constantly being targeted by the other leaders. However, they couldn't find anything about Daniel to use against him.
So, one day the administrators and satraps went to King Darius to suggest a new law. They knew that Daniel was always faithful to the God of his people, so they told Darius that they all agreed that he should issue an edict that any person who worships anyone but the king for thirty days should be thrown in the lion's den. Of course, Daniel did not agree to such a decision, but they did not tell Darius. An edict issued with the king's signature could not be altered in any way; even the king could not change the law. Darius, not knowing how it would hurt Daniel, issued the edict. Daniel, knowing the edict had been issued, continued to pray to his God. The administrators and satraps caught him and took him to Darius.
Darius was heartbroken because he knew that Daniel was a good man. The law could not be changed, but even as they were throwing Daniel into the lion's den, Darius called out to Daniel, "Your God whom you serve continually, he will deliver you." Then Darius went to the palace to wait. He did not eat or call for entertainment. He did not sleep. As soon as the sun rose, he ran to the lion's den and called out to Daniel, "Daniel, Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?" God did save Daniel. "O king, live forever. My God has sent his angel, and has shut the lionsí mouths, and they have not hurt me; because as before him innocence was found in me; and also before you, O king, have I done no hurt." Darius was relieved and he had Daniel pulled out to safety.
There are some who have suggested that this story is literary fiction, and perhaps it is since the known history doesn't seem to line up very well with the story in Daniel. The book is apocalyptic, talking of visions and the fall of nations. Though there are those who would like to fill in the blanks, to understand these texts and how they relate to our world today. While it is interesting to think about the end times theology that is found in stories like Daniel's, I think it is just as important to learn the lessons that we can use today.
Take, for instance, the difference between Darius and Belshazzar. Darius repented immediately when he realized what he had done. He knew he had to what the law said, but he hoped, perhaps even prayed, that Daniel's God was truly as powerful as Daniel believed. We also see the faithfulness of Daniel. Even when he knew that his prayers to God would be dangerous, he continued to pray. He believed that God could save him, and even if he wasn't saved, God could use Daniel's life to His glory. In the end, God did both. Daniel prospered, not because he gave in to the ways of the world but because He remained faithful to the God who is King of heaven. As Nebuchadnezzar learned, "All his works are truth, and his ways justice."
We can trust in God even when it seems like the world around us is conspiring to destroy us. We can trust that God is powerful, and that His way is right. We can trust that even when we do suffer at the hands of those who are determined to harm, God will always be faithful. We might not see a long life of the prosperity of Daniel, but we have an even greater promise: eternal life in God's Kingdom. And who knows, our faithfulness might just lead to the repentance of a king and a nation, the turning of new people to believe in the God worthy of honor and praise.
"Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives. In the end, he will stand upon the earth. After my skin is destroyed, then in my flesh shall I see God whom I, even I, shall see on my side. My eyes shall see, and not as a stranger. My heart is consumed within me. If you say, 'How we will persecute him!' because the root of the matter is found in me, be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishments of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment." Job 19:23-29, WEB
I am feeling a little like Job today. Not really, because I can happily say that I'm healthy and safe. I have a roof over my head and enough of everything I need. I love and I'm loved. I'm feeling like Job because things haven't gone according to plan over the past week or so, and it has caused a great deal of stress in my life. We are still dealing with the possibility of hail damage from storms early this month and the weathermen are calling for the possibility of more storms this week. A tire on our car had to be replaced last Sunday. I was called to jury duty last Monday and was picked for the jury. The case was difficult and the verdict a hard choice to make. Yesterday, just as I was finding some normality in my life, we had an accident that totaled our car. We are fine, but now we are in the process of finding a new car, taking on a car payment (our current car would have been paid off in two months!) and the loss of the car meant I could not go to my retreat this week.
I've heard many people say, "I can wait until this year/month/week is over" and I'm beginning to understand that feeling; I'll be happy when May is over. I'm sure there are silver linings in the midst of all this chaos, but I'm ready to have my life back so that I can focus on my work again. Writing and painting helps keep me centered and I've missed it this past week. I tried, but there just wasn't enough time or energy left at the end of each day.
Our Sunday school class is focusing on the way John shows how Jesus does the work of God as is described throughout the scriptures. We've discussed or will discuss how God and Jesus are Eternal, Creator, served by angels, has a kingdom, loves the world, is opposed by the devil and many other ideas. Yesterday we talked about how God, and Jesus, raises the dead. We looked at different texts, including today's from the book of Job. Job was looking forward to the promise that God would redeem him in the end.
That's the promise that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The word "Redeemer" as is found in this text and throughout the scriptures, is a legal idea that involved the vengeance demanded by a crime against someone. The redeemer is a blood relative given the right and responsibility to pursue the murderer or perpetrator. It is a difficult task, mostly because it is easy to get caught up in the vengeance without taking into consideration the facts of the case. We want revenge and we are not always clear eyed about the truth when it involves someone we love. I'll talk more about that tomorrow. But we know that God is a Redeemer who provides justice and not revenge. He is the blood relative who has the right and the responsibility to ensure that everything is made right.
See, we all have seasons in our lives when things don't go perfectly well, and if your life has been anything like mine, you know it seems like the bad piles upon bad. It is easy to look at the bright side of things when something goes wrong, but it is much harder when the stresses come from every direction. What we have to remember, and what seems to be going through the mind of Job, is that the troubles of today are nothing compared to the promise of God. He is our Redeemer, and we will receive His justice in the end. We know that He will accomplish the vengeance that is His right and responsibility and we will see Him when we are raised into the new life that He has promised. It doesn't make it any easier to deal with the stresses of today, but we can face those troubles with the peace of knowing that God is faithful to His promises.
"Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don't seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God's wrath. For it is written, "Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord." Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head." Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:17-21, WEB
The jury selection process took us a whole day, although we only sat in the courtroom for a couple hours. We don't know what the judge, lawyers and staff were doing during the time we waited, although the hope is always that they will come to an agreement so that we do not have to go through the trial. The selected jury sat through two days of testimony and heard from ten witnesses. The third day began with the reading of the charge to the jury, the closing arguments and final instructions. Then we went into the jury room to work out the verdict.
The selection process included questions from both the prosecution and the defense. It was quickly obvious by the questions that the case would be a difficult one. "Could you convict on the testimony of just one victim?" "Do you have any experience with sexual crimes?" "Have you worked in social work with abused children?" "Could you sentence the guilty party to as little as probation or as much as twenty years?" We were reminded repeatedly that the verdict must be based only on the evidence and testimony and that we could not convict based on our own feelings about the crime or our impressions of the defendant. We were reminded that the defense did not have to do anything and that it was up to the state to prove their case "beyond a reasonable doubt." The defendant was protected behind a "steel curtain" that could not just be chipped or scratched: it had to be broken. "Will you be fair and begin this trial understanding that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty?"
Many of the potential jurists found words to say to convince the lawyers and the judge that they could not be a good jurist. They said that they could not trust the defense attorney or the prosecutor, that they had experience with that type of case and that they did not think they could be fair. Some said that they didn't think the crime was worth twenty years and other said that they didn't think they could sentence to just probation. There were a few abuse survivors. There were a few who did not think they could judge (we'll talk about that in a future post.) There were a few with obvious health issues. Some argued that serving would create a hardship in their family or at their job. Out of eighty-four potential jurists, thirteen were chosen and we began our work.
I will admit that I had to force myself to remember, repeatedly, that the defendant was innocent until proven guilty. I wanted the prosecution to do such a good job that there'd be no question to a guilty verdict. We sat and listened. We looked at photos and read documents. We saw many things referenced and referred to that we never saw, but those documents were in our mind. The prosecution brought up the family life, a history of marital problems and possible abuse. Photos of the house showed a disgusting mess and certain stories made us question the credibility of the defense. Unfortunately, however, we also questioned much about the state's case. There were too many inconsistencies that we could not attribute to age of the length of time since the events in question. The testimonies of the defense witnesses did not agree in key points. The police could not recount conversations because that was considered hearsay. We spent some time during deliberations talking about all the things we wanted to hear or see that were not received into evidence, but even though we had a gut feeling, we could not consider all those things.
In the end, we had to find the defendant not guilty. We wanted to find him guilty, but the steel curtain was not broken. We argued for more than eight hours, but in the end it was the victim's own testimony that convinced the one person who was intent on a guilty verdict. She agreed that the prosecutor did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Most of us believed something happened, but knew that we could not convict him based on the evidence and testimony we were allowed to use to make our decision.
When it was over, we asked the bailiff to bring the defendant back into the jury room to leave us for a while. We all had ideas about how we wanted to deal with him; we wanted to hang him up by his toenails or remove parts of his body. Of course we couldn't do that; it wasn't our place to take revenge for the sake of that child. The system worked, even if we didn't like the way it worked. There is a group in our city and around the nation that support the victims of child abuse with a presence in the courtroom during the trial. They want them to know that they are loved and believed. It is easy for those who aren't charged with the jury's task to second guess the decision. "How could the jury make that judgment?" We did so because we were limited by the law. We are heartbroken, too, but we can't take it into our own hands.
This is where faith in a just God becomes so important. I have no regrets and though I wanted it to come out differently, I know that God holds that entire family in His hands. He knows what happened; He knows how they are struggling. He knows the guilt or innocence. He knows the truth and the lies. He knows their hearts and in the end His justice will prevail. It would be easy for those on either side to seek vengeance for the brokenness of the situation, but human judgment is imperfect. Job's friends blamed him for his troubles. The prosecutor blamed the parents while the defense blamed the child and the grandmother. Outsiders will blame us, the jury, because we did not listen to our hearts. Many will blame a system that allows a possibly guilty man free.
We are all imperfect, we have biases and opinions. We tend to seek revenge rather than what is right. And while most of us would not be guilty of such crimes against children, there is not one of us who can really say we are innocent. We are guilty of something against another. We lie, we are self-centered, we follow our hearts which lead us astray. We should not seek revenge because we do not know everything, but we can trust that when we do fail that God is faithful and He will make all things right.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 22, 2016, Holy Trinity Sunday: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 8:48-59
"My delight was with the sons of men." Proverbs 8:31b, WEB
It isn't part of our lectionary for this week, but one of my favorite passages is Colossians 1:16, "For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him." I made a painting a few years ago based on this passage. It has a black background and colorful, chaotic swirls dry brushed on top. In the upper right corner, I taped off a cross over the black to protect it from the colorful paint. The swirling pattern represents how I envision the creation of the world as God spoke light and life into existence. The cross reminds us that Jesus Christ was there, in the beginning.
I hear much the same in the text from Proverbs. The early chapters of Proverbs describe wisdom personified, as a woman calling her children to know and understand, teaching us what we need to know for our well-being, success and happiness. The book is based on the truth that wisdom, true wisdom, is founded on the fear of the Lord. This is not that we are too be afraid of God, but that we are to revere Him and trust that He will provide us with all we need as a father cares for his children. We are encouraged to shun folly, to turn from sin that brings death. The proverbs help the young to learn the right path, the foolish to see things rightly and the wise to become even wiser. Wisdom is not simply knowledge of facts or intelligence, it is about knowing that there is a right and wrong, a good and bad, a smart path to follow and one filled with folly. Wisdom is common sense, and most of all, it is about hearing God's Word and following it.
As we look at the passages from Colossians and Proverbs, we see that wisdom was with God in the beginning. We also understand this to be identified with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Father, Son and Spirit are Wisdom. The Father is the sources of all wisdom, Jesus is wisdom in the flesh and the Spirit is indwelling wisdom. Human beings were created in the image of God and therefore are capable of discerning, embracing and espousing wisdom. We are the crown of His creation and He has given us everything we need to be wise.
We see this text today because we are celebrating the Holy Trinity this Sunday. Holy Trinity Sunday is probably one of the most difficult for pastors. They want to preach a message that makes sense and that encourages the congregation to grow in their understanding of God. Yet, how do you do that and avoid the problem of limiting God with analogies and twisting Him with heresies?
There is a group called "Lutheran Satire" who make humorous videos about theological topics. One is called St. Patrick's Bad Analogies. It shows us how some of the most common ways of describing the Trinity actually lead us down the road to bad heresies such as Modalism (God reveals Himself in three different ways), and Arianism (that Jesus and the Spirit are creations of the Father, not one in nature.) One bad analogy is the one about water. If we say that the Trinity is like water in three states, liquid, solid and gas, then we are guilty of modalism. The same can be said with the analogy of a man who is a father, son and brother. An example of a bad analogy that espouses Arianism is that the Godhead is like the sun: the star, the light and the heat. In this analogy the light and heat are creations of the star and not part of the star. Even the beloved example of St. Patrick of the three leaf clover advocates for a view of partialism, which says that each person of the Trinity are part of the godhead.
Every human analogy breaks down because the reality of the Trinity cannot be described in human terms. It is a mystery, beyond our understanding. We want to grasp this idea in a tangible ways and think that we are wise when we can come up with creative ways of describing the indescribable, but the real wisdom is accepting that we can't always explain the unexplainable. I think, perhaps, that Holy Trinity Sunday is a good day to remind each other that God is beyond human reasoning. He is greater than creation. He is greater than us. And it is ok that there are mysteries that we canít understand or explain.
Holy Trinity Sunday is a good day to embrace the mystery of God. Instead of trying to fit Him into boxes or limit Him with words, it is a good time to dwell on the reality that God IS. We have plenty of words to describe Him, adjectives that describe His character, names that establish His rule. The study of theology is about learning about the God who can be described in many different ways. But most importantly, we learn and understand that He IS. He IS, not because He lives in Heaven or even because He created us. He IS, not because we call Him Father or Redeemer or Lord. He IS, not because we believe that He exists, but because He said, ďI AM.Ē He IS. There is good reason for us to talk about God and study everything about Him, but on this day that we celebrate the Holy Trinity, it is enough to know that He IS.
For those who doubt the Trinity, the oneness of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you only have to hear the words of Jesus Himself to know it is true. Jesus said, "Before Abraham, I AM." Those listening heard that intent because they accused Him of blasphemy. That's why they took up stones and tried to stone Him. It is no wonder that the crowds wanted to stone Him to death, after all, in those words Jesus claimed to be God. Unless Jesus is God, the words are blasphemy. On Trinity Sunday, and every day, we confess that we believe Jesus is who He said He IS.
Here's another question that doesn't have reasonable human answers: why did Jesus Christ have to suffer and die on the cross? This is not an easy question to answer. It doesn't make sense, especially when we consider the greatness and mercy of God. How could a God willing to forgive the sins of sinners allow His Son to die a violent, tragic death? Where is the wisdom in this? Yet, Peter shows us in the lesson from Acts that the work of Jesus Christ was according to God's set purpose and foreknowledge. Even David, many years earlier, was given the words of prophesy about the Messiah. In the end, all that David said was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
I was once acquainted with a woman in an internet chat room who had what she called "an eclectic faith." She liked certain aspects of the Christian religion, but she also like aspects of many others. So she decided to believe in the things she liked and ignore the things she didn't like. She loved Jesus, but she didn't like the the crucifixion. She saw no purpose in it. It was enough to her that Jesus was a model teacher and that He did good things in the world. She had no need for Jesus to be divine, except in the way that all of creation is divine. She rejected the characterization of God from the Old Testament and the parts of the New Testament that she didn't want to obey. She embraced the more spiritual aspects of other religions and rejected the physical realities of Christian faith. Unfortunately, this eclectic type of faith is creeping into the practice of many Christians, who would rather pick and choose what they like about Christianity and ignore that which makes them (or outsiders) uncomfortable. They claim they do so for the sake of the outsiders. "We have to do this so that they will not come." But what are they coming to if we are unwilling to stand up for the whole character of God?
Our biggest problem is that we all want God to stay within our control. We want a God we can explain and understand. We don't want mystery, we want answers. We are still trying to build that tower of Babel, but instead of reaching up, we try to drag God down. But God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. He is greater than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest sea, larger than the universe and farther from the furthest sun. He created it all, and so He is greater than it all. He has no beginning. We'd rather keep Him on a throne in heaven or behind a curtain in a Temple. We want Him to stay behind our church doors so we can go to Him at our choosing. It is easier to grasp the concept of an old man on a throne of clouds than to understand the Trinity. God was not in Heaven when He spoke the first words that brought light to nothing and life to chaos. He was. He is. He will be. He is I AM.
We may never have the words to explain the Trinity, to fully describe God or tell others what it means to be a Christian, but we are called to share our faith with the world. It need not be a lengthy dissertation on the meaning of the great doctrines of Christianity. We need only share our experiences of God with others so that He might work in their lives to spark the faith that will make them part of God's kingdom on earth. Isn't it amazing that God has made us part of this process? The psalmist asks, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" While attributed to Jesus Christ, these words are meant for us, too. Not only does God care about everyone and everything He has created, He has made man the crown of His creation and given us authority as His children.
With that authority, however, it is our responsibility to treat it as God would treat it. The wise man is one who will walk according to God's ways, without abusing or wasting what God has made. The wise man is the one who will seek to understand what God intends for the Creation and to use it to His glory. The wise man will go forth in faith and share the reality of God's sovereignty and majesty with the world. It won't be easy. We are tempted to do what we want with what we have been given. We face situations that leave us questioning what God would do. We don't always understand what God intends, and we fail. Sin plays a role in everything we do, no matter how much we try to avoid sinful behavior. Though saved by grace and sanctified by the Spirit, we are still sinners who make mistakes.
I suppose the greatest mystery is that God loves us anyway and that Jesus Christ did what He did for our sakes. We can't explain this love with mere human words. We can't convince people to believe. We must simply fear the Lord, to revere and trust that He will provide us with all we need. We are called to live lives which shun folly, turn from sin and walk in the right path. God helps us to know right from wrong, good from bad and He guides us on the smart path, so let us listen and believe even if there are mysterious things we will never fully understand.
Wisdom delights in the sons of man. This personification of this characteristic of God delights in you and I. We often think that we have to chase after wisdom, to study and learn so that we will be wise. But the book of proverbs tells us that she chases us, embraces us, seeks us and tries to persuade us to ignore and reject folly who is trying to entice us to reject God. Wisdom delights in us and does what she can to keep us from believing the folly and temptations that lead to sin and death. She calls us to follow her even though we may not have the words to describe the indescribable or to explain the unexplainable. The wise one will believe and trust because the God we worship in Trinity is faithful to all His promises.
"Don't judge, so that you won't be judged. For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but donít consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you tell your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye;' and behold, the beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brotherís eye." Matthew 7:1-5, WEB
I began writing today's message while waiting last week in the jury room for the trial to start. I didnít know what the day or the week would hold. The jury selection process was incredibly long and exhausting and the trial was no easier. We had to remain silent about the case for as long as we were in process, a practice thatís for the good of both the defendant and the prosecutor. I have to admit that I tried to worm my way out of being selected, as did all of us in some way, but when I was selected I took seriously the responsibility of the charge I was given as a citizen of the United States. I didn't want to be there, but once selected I willingly served and I did so with as much fairness as possible. One of the things they reminded us of constantly throughout the selection process is that we should consider what sort of jury would we would want if we were sitting in the defendant's chair. I know I would want someone fair and willing to hear all the evidence before making a judgment.
Of course, this called to mind the question of judgment. We often hear it said, "Who am I to judge?" One of the potential jurors said that she had a problem with sitting in judgment of another man for religious reasons. I suppose there's a place for that, but the judgment that is of concern for Christians has nothing to do with the necessary civil and criminal judgments in this world. We cannot judge the eternal destiny of any person; we simply do not know their hearts. We also do not know God's plan. While we might think that they are beyond redemption, our God is the God of second chances. And third chances. He can bring light into the darkness of any heart, even to the very last breath, saving even those we believe are beyond saving.
So, let's meet the text for today head on. "Don't judge, so that you wonít be judged." We certainly don't want to be judged. We know we are imperfect, that we make mistakes, and we deserve judgment too. We know that before the judgment seat of God, none of us are worthy of His grace. Yet, there is a place for earthbound judgment. Here's the thing: we must be careful of the hypocrisy comes when we judge someone for something of which we, too, are guilty.
The questions put before the prospective jurists had to do with this very thought. The lawyers were concerned about finding those who had any connection to similar crimes. They asked the potential jurists about whether they were victims, or knew victims or knew perpetrators. They wanted to know if any of us worked with children. They wanted to know if any of us were accused falsely. It could be hard to be impartial if our experiences colored our decisions. Even more important than any other question was the one that asked whether any of the potential jurists were convicted of felonies or certain other crimes because those people cannot serve on a jury.
It was necessary for us all to search our memories and our hearts to ascertain whether or not we could serve on the jury without hypocrisy. Could we judge fairly knowing that our judgment would affect the lives of the defendant and the victim? Could we do this work with a clear conscience, knowing that we will be measured by the same degree? Could we stand up to the same scrutiny? If not, then it would not have been right to be sitting in that chair.
Now, most of us will never serve on a jury, particularly at a trial like I faced last week, but we constantly face opportunities to judge others. How many of us scream at the driver who cut us off, mumbling about their bad driving? And yet, how many of us can say that we don't cut others off when we are driving? Should we judge that driver when we do exactly the same thing sometimes, even if it is accidentally? I'm sure if we consider the question carefully, we will find a million other ways we make judgments every day. It will happen. Sometimes it must happen. The important thing to consider as we make judgments, however, is whether or not we can stand up to the same judgment. If we can't, then we should think twice because we will also be judged accordingly.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen." 2 Corinthians 13:14, WEB
Those of us with siblings have probably had a similar experience with our mothers. When my mom wanted on of her children, she often called the names of the others before she got to the right one. I suppose I have done that too, and lately I've noticed myself doing it with the cats. It isn't a matter of forgetting the name of our children, but researchers have discovered that it has something to do with the speech processing information retrieval works in the brain. Similar sounding words are stored in similar ways and so they are available quickly but not always as we want. This is particularly true when our minds are actively engaged in something else. Sometimes we respond to the task with a particular order, as in age with our kids. However, something else might affect the order spoken.
I was looking for a topic for today's post and discovered an article about an interview with an author who has done research about the Trinity. The author was reading through the scriptures when he noticed that the Trinity was not listed in the usual Trinitarian formula. We usually list Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but as you can see in today's passage, the Trinity is listed as Son, Father and Spirit.
The author, Rodrick Durst, decided to see if there was a pattern in this discovery. He found that in the New Testament there are seventy five instances in which the Godhead is listed. The three names are ordered at least eight times in each of the six possible ways. As he studied these texts, he noticed that there was indeed a pattern and that each different order had a purpose. When the order is Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the writer is giving us a missional focus, as in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20.) The Father, Holy Spirit and Son order is formational in emphasis. Peter writes in 1Peter 1:2 about God directing the Holy Spirit to sanctify believers so that they will be obedient to the Word of Christ. Son, Father and Holy Spirit, as in today's passage, has a Christological emphasis, focusing on Jesus Christ. By ordering the Trinity as Son, Holy Spirit and Father, as in Acts 2:38-39, Luke has an evangelistic focus. By placing the Holy Spirit, then Son and Father, the focus is on unity. In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul is talking about ecclesial matters. In the book of Jude (verses 20-21) the application is in liturgical matters with the order as Holy Spirit, Father and Son.
The point I got out of his research is that we tend to focus our ordering of the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but since the Godhead is equal, then order does not matter. In the Athanasian Creed we confess, "And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons."
When asked why this matters, Rodrick told the story of a girl whose father was abusive. She said that she always had a problem calling God Father. However, as she prayed the Trinity in a different order, the comfort that came from the Son and Holy Spirit opened the way for her to call on the Father. We see from his research, also, that the order helps us to understand the work of each so we can seek Him in a way that helps our own work in His name.
Rodrick's research also gives us the courage to stand up for this Trinity we believe that so many deny. If the Godhead is listed so many times in the New Testament (seventy-five times!) then this is obviously a concept, while not named, which is real and true. Father, Son and Spirit are one God in three persons, equal and unified in a way we will never truly understand. However, this mystery is the foundation of our faith; believing in the Trinity is a matter of trust, confident that God really is who He says He IS.
"Praise Yahweh, my soul! All that is within me, praise his holy name! Praise Yahweh, my soul, and donít forget all his benefits; who forgives all your sins; who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies; who satisfies your desire with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagleís. Yahweh executes righteous acts, and justice for all who are oppressed." Psalm 103:1-6, WEB
Forgiveness is the hardest thing to do, even for Christians. We know we are encouraged and expected to forgive as we have been forgiven, but it is hard. We are almost shocked when we hear stories like that of the Amish community who forgave the man who murdered their children in a school in October 2006. We can't believe the words of a mother who forgives the drunk driver who hit their child. We have difficulty accepting the words of the wife of a philandering husband. We are cynical and skeptical of that forgiveness. How can they forgive such blatant disregard for human life and dignity?
Yet, those stories are very real. Those who forgive understand the peace and even joy that comes from mercy. There is no excuse for behavior that leads to the harm of another person, whether it is physical, psychological, emotional or material. There is no excuse for causing the death of another person. However, there is healing in the act of forgiveness, not only for the guilty, but especially for the victim.
I read a story about a woman whose husband was killed when a drunk driver rammed into him when he was riding a bicycle along the road. She was devastated by the loss as were their two young daughters. The woman grieved for her husband, but her grief eventually became anger and bitter. Unfortunately, she took some of that anger out on her children. One day, she said, the children were loudly giggling about something when they were supposed to be doing something else. She yelled, "I don't need this!" and realized what she had done and was ashamed. Her hatred of the man who ruined her life was manifesting in a way that was not only inappropriate, but also risked breaking the most important relationships in her life. This is not so unusual when we do not forgive. We turn on those closest when we can't directly confront those who have harmed us.
One day the woman's daughter approached her and said that she wanted to meet the man who had been found guilty of killing her father. The woman was shocked and at first said "No" but eventually agreed to try. "Good. I made him a card," she said. She wanted the man to know that she was sad but that she was OK and that she forgave him." This request, based on the woman and her husband's teaching to their children about forgiveness, made the woman rethink her own response to the man. Maybe, she thought, I need to work on this forgiveness thing.
It was a long process, but she became involved in a group that guides victims and perpetrators into facing one another in a way that will bring peace to each. The woman discovered that there was a way of forgiving that didn't feel like surrender.
See, that's our biggest problem with forgiveness: we think that in doing so we are giving in, that we are accepting the actions that led to the hurts. We think "I forgive you," means "It's ok." The woman, however, realized that forgiveness means something much different. When she finally met the man who caused her so much pain, she said, "Forgiveness doesn't mean that you are off the hook. I want you to deal with what you have done -- to confront the pain and let it change you." She asked him to do all the things he could do to become better. She asked him to writer her letters every few months. When she left the prison that day, she felt free.
The daughter was too young at that time to meet with the man, but she did so when she turned eighteen. By that time he had changed. He was clean and sober. He'd been diagnosed and treated for bi-polar disorder. He had found his own peace. "Your family's forgiveness saved my life," he said. His own experience has led him into work helping others through crisis. He believes that his healing was an incredible gift and he wants to do everything he can to share it with others. The woman continues to work with the organization that helped her through the process of forgiving the man who killed her husband. In the end, this story was not about words of surrender, but about justice, reconciliation and peace. The woman believes that her vengeance came in the fact that the killer was changed. He was made new and her husband's life was not lost in vain.
We are forgiven and in that forgiveness we find healing and transformation. As God's people, we are called to take forgiveness into the world, not just to tell others about God's grace but to live it in our own lives. That means doing the hard work of forgiveness with those who have harmed us. It means truly telling the murderer that they are forgiven and calling them to a better life. See, the life the man was living was not good for himself or for the world, but forgiveness transformed him into a person that could make the world better for his neighbors. The healing of forgiveness comes to all those involved, the perpetrator and the victim, and those they meet along the way. You never know, that one word of forgiveness might just bring justice in a way you would never expect.
"Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. Or who is there among you, who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:7-12, WEB
I don't know about you, but I sometimes have issues finding my car in a parking lot. Oh, I'm sure the younger folk don't really understand, but some of you know the struggle. I have a confession to make: I try to park in exactly the same parking spot or at least very nearby, when I go to the grocery store so that I don't end up wandering the lot in search for my vehicle. It is particularly bad when I go to a large place like a mall. Sometimes it is difficult to even remember which door I entered, and then it is nearly impossible. I have been one of those people wandering helplessly around a parking lot looking for my car.
This can be an even greater problem when you are driving a new vehicle. Thankfully the transition between the old car and our new one has been pretty easy. I haven't, yet, been confused when I could not find my green SUV; I know to look for a red sedan. I know this is sad, but I've been pretty proud of myself! It is the simple things that make us happiest.
We all have something. Some of us have difficulty finding our car keys. Others can never remember where they left their cell phone. Yet others seem to have trouble keeping track of shoes or homework or remote controls. We get through these challenges by developing strategies. We put a hook next to the door for our keys or buy a recliner buddy to store the remote. We set up a shoe station so that kids can take them off near the door and always know where they are when it is time to leave the house. These strategies work because they become habit, like parking my car in the same place at the grocery store.
The same is true in our prayer life. Jesus tells us, "Ask and it will be given you." I am sure we have all experienced the negative answer to prayers. We don't always get what we ask God to give us. We don't always get the healing for our loved one or the winning lottery ticket. We get what God intends for our lives; we get what God knows is best for us. It is like looking for the wrong car in the parking lot. We seek the things that God will give when we are familiar with Him, when we know His Word and His way. Then we will trust in God rather than our own wishes and wants. We will seek God, knowing that He will provide what we need. It is important that we nurture our relationship with God so that we are familiar with Him. We will never know Him as He knows us, but the closer we get, the more able we will see the wisdom in His answers. And we'll ask Him for all the right things.
Just as we develop habits in our daily lives that help us remember where we park or where we've put our car keys, so too can we develop habits in our spiritual life that will be answered in a way that not only makes us happy, but also brings God glory in our lives. We'll also find that our own lives will reflect God's grace and others will seek to grow their own relationships with the God who knows us all.
Scriptures for Sunday, May 29, 2016, Third Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29, 41-43; Psalm 96:1-9; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10
"Sing to Yahweh! Bless his name! Proclaim his salvation from day to day!" Psalm 96:2, WEB
We recently bought a new car; it was a used car, but it was new to us. We went to a car dealer where we have made several previous purchases; we go there because we are friends with a member the family who owns the business. Our friend does not deal with us directly, but she sends us to members of the team that will take care of us in her name. We have always been satisfied, not only with the end result, but also with the process. They have the authority to do business with us and they do it well.
It would be impossible for my friend to do business with every person that wants her special attention. I am sure that she ensures the best deal for others and she would not have enough time to do her own job if she spent all her time wandering the lots with customers in search of the perfect car. So, she has certain people she trusts with her friends and gives them the charge and authority they need to work in her name.
Leaders often select people they trust to work in their names. The President doesn't go everywhere, but instead sends ambassadors or other representatives. Bishops can't be at every congregation that needs his shepherd's care, so he has helpers that go in his stead. Businesspeople often have assistants who take care of the everyday tasks so that they can do the work that they must do. It isn't that these leaders a< re too lazy to do the work; they simply can't do everything so they send others with the charge and authority to do what needs to be done.
We can't compare any person with a high position to the Lord God Almighty, because even the most powerful human beings are not able to do what God can do. God needs no one to accomplish His work because He can do it all. However, God has invited His people to be partners in the work He is doing in the world. From the very beginning, God gave Adam and Eve authority over all of creation. He gave the judges, kings and prophets authority over His people. He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, authority over everything. Jesus then gave His authority to those He chose to be His ambassadors in this world.
Paul makes it clear in today's Epistle lesson that his authority is not from any human being. He was called and sent as an apostle for Christ by Christ Himself and by the Father. The authority Paul had to write, to minister, to heal and encourage came because God accomplished the work of the cross and the empty tomb. He made all things right and He is the one who deserves the glory.
Unfortunately, we are easily distracted and confused by the things of this world. Satan, from the very beginning, has twisted God's Word to make it mean something very different than God intended. At the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Satan convinced Adam and Eve that God was keeping them from eating because He wanted to them to be ignorant and subservient. "You can be like God," he said. But God kept them from that tree to protect them from the harm that would come from the knowledge. He wanted them to be partners, but the knowledge they gained by eating the fruit made them afraid of Him. That's exactly what Satan intended, because when we are afraid of God, we hide from Him and are less able to be a part of His work and Kingdom.
Satan continues to confuse us today. He takes powerful words like love, hope, justice, and even sex, and He twists those words in a way that leads us down a dangerous road. It sounds good! Yes, the words of Satan in the Garden of Eden sounded very good. Who doesn't want to be like God! Yes, the worldly understanding of love, hope, justice and sex sound good to our ears, but are they truly what God intends for us as His people? Does love mean tolerance? Does hope mean we can wish for whatever we want? Does justice mean violence in the streets? Does sex mean satisfying our bodily desires no matter what? Satan and the world would have you think so, but God has given us His Word so that we will understand all those things through His eyes.
And, He has sent ambassadors, apostles, teachers, preachers, mothers and fathers, friends and other Christians to help us sort out what He meant. He gave some the authority to speak on His behalf, to help us learn to understand what God intends for our lives. He sent men like Paul to explain it to us. But even Paul had difficulty because others spoke as if they were representatives of God. The Galatians heard a different word, they heard a twisting of the Word that led them to follow a different "good news." But as Paul says, there is only one "Good News." They teach these things by some other authority, often their own.
It is interesting to note that even those beloved of God, chosen and gifted, often are not the ones whom God calls to do something specific. Take David, for instance. David had God's promise: His house would rule forever. David did the hard work of inaugurating Israel as a great nation, building a palace and a city, establishing relationships around the world with the nations. He fought the hard battle and won with God's help. He was dedicated to God, did God's Word and was blessed because of it. The Messiah came from David's line even though it was broken repeatedly throughout the history of Israel and Judah.
Yet, David was not able to build the Temple of God. His history of violence was too great. It was perhaps a necessary evil; God send David to the battlefield, ordained him to lead the army to victory over and over again. He shed the blood of thousands. In 1 Samuel, the dancers greeted David with the song, "Saul hath slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands." This was the moment when Saul lost his mind over David, but David's accomplishments were not his own. His victories were given to him by God, so why did God keep him from building a Temple?
For one thing, David shed innocent blood, particularly the blood of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband. But the ordinance against David's wish to build was not a punishment for his sinfulness. The Temple required a life, and builder, of peace not war. And David may not have built the Temple, but it was his offspring that did so. Solomon was the one to take everything David collected, the materials, the people and the place to build the house. Solomon may have been the one to complete the work, but David had his own role in the work.
David had the authority to establish Israel, but his authority was limited. Solomon had the authority to build God's house. The people who helped us buy our car did not have the authority to give us a free car or promise other benefits. Ambassadors, representatives and assistants are also limited in their authority. Unfortunately, sometimes those who are given power take more for themselves. Instead of doing the work they are called to do, they do the work they want to do. This is what was happening in Galatia. Those teachers who were giving a difficult Gospel were doing so without God's authority.
We like to keep God in a box of our making. For many that is the purpose of a church or temple. Solomon knew better, however. He knew that God could not be limited by human ideas or stone walls. "Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens can't contain you; how much less this house that I have built!" Our ideas and the desires of our flesh cannot contain Him either.
The problem with the false teachers in Galatia was that they were limiting God's grace by demanding certain legalistic works. They were insistent that those who became Christians had to first become Jews, to be circumcised and follow the Laws of Moses. This was the gospel that Paul was arguing against. God's grace was given for all who believe, not all who follow a list of steps toward salvation.
Solomon knew that God's grace was for all men, even though Israel was especially blessed. During his prayer at the dedication of the Temple in today's Old Testament passage, Solomon says, "Moreover concerning the foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, when he comes out of a far country for your name's sake (for they shall hear of your great name, and of your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house; hear in heaven, your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you for; that all the peoples of the earth may know your name, to fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by your name."
Israel was blessed to be a blessing, and as such invited the world to experience the love and mercy of the God who hears our prayers. He doesn't fit into a building, even one as grant as the Temple in Jerusalem. God rules over all the earth. I was looking through some pictures this morning and came across one that I took on a trip last year. It was in West Texas, far from the congestion of the city. The landscape was so large and uninhabited that it seemed like there must not be any life for a hundred miles. I felt very insignificant as I looked at the picture, but I also thought about the God who is greater than even the greatness of Texas.
Our pastor mentioned in his sermon last week that Holy Trinity Sunday is "half time" of the church year. I had never really thought of it in that way, but it is true. We have spent the last six months or so hearing the story of God. From Advent, to Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and finally Easter, we have heard the stories of God's love for His people, of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, of His ministry among people. We've seen how God sent Jesus for our sake and learned why. We recognized our own sinfulness and received God's mercy. For the next few months, until the beginning of Advent, we will see what this means for our life of faith. Who are we? Who is the Church? How are we to live? What are we called to do? In these coming weeks weíll read through many of the letters sent by the apostles to the churches. Weíll see Jesus and the disciples doing the practical ministry of the Kingdom as recorded by Luke.
We begin this time with a reminder that we are called, like Paul, to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ. We are blessed to be a blessing. We have the authority to speak the Gospel, to do God's Work, to share God's grace with the world. It is important, however, to remember that the authority comes from God, not from men or ourselves. Anything we do, we do for the glory of God and in His name. It is not up to us to decide what that work should be or what words we should use.
God is able to do this without us. He is able to save people without one word from us. However, He has chosen to make us partners with Him. It is by His Word and by His Spirit we can do the work. While it is tempting to follow our own ways, to do what we think sounds good or what we think is best, we should remember that we are no different than Adam and Eve. We can be easily swayed by the false words and the twists of scripture that will lead us to do things our own way.
God is with us. Solomon pondered why the eternal God would dwell in a measly house on earth; we should have the same humility to wonder why He would choose to dwell with us. We know that Jesus lives in our hearts. We know that the Holy Spirit guides us and gives us all we need to continue Jesus' ministry in the world. But are we ready to go out in faith to do that work, even if we do not experience that presence or 'feel' that Spirit? Do we believe God's Word as He has given it to us or do we want to follow the twists that wound too good to our ears? Do we trust, like Solomon, that God will keep His promises?
In our texts for this week we are reminded that Jesus came for more than the Jews. He came for all nations. He came for us, even those of us who are not from the nation of Israel. He came for the world. Half of the Church year focuses on gathering around Christ, hearing His story, experiencing His presence, sharing in His sacraments. Though we continue to gather around Christ during the season of Pentecost, this time is our opportunity to take what we have learned and experienced into the world. We are not blessed to dwell inside the buildings we built, as if God is confined to those spaces. We are blessed to take God out into the world.
God's word is firm and right and true, but human understanding is lacking. God does not need us to tweak it or make it palatable to others. His promises are true and He is faithful. He has promised that His grace will fall on whomever He chooses, and that His salvation is available to all nations. Sometimes we try to make Godís word fit our own desires. We take passages and twist them to mean what we want them to mean. We create a different gospel, just as those teachers were doing in Galatia.
Thankfully, God is greater than our failing. He is not confined by our foolishness. If we fail, He will make things right. But He has given us the authority to be His ambassadors, trusting that we will follow His Word not our own. It is not up to decide how someone will be saved. God has a plan that is beyond human understanding; we are simply called to trust in Him. We might just be the one He sends to make a difference in the life of the most unexpected person.
The Centurion was not a Jew, but he'd heard about Jesus and recognized in Him something of value. He knew that Jesus had authority that others did not have. He was a powerful and wealthy man and could have paid any of the doctors to care for his servant. Instead, he sought Jesus, somehow recognizing in Him something real. Despite his power, the Centurion knew that he was unworthy to be in Jesus' presence. He also knew that Jesus needed to only speak the word and his servant would be healed. That's faith.
Do we have that kind of faith? Do we have the kind of faith that allows us to accept that Jesus can change our world without standing beside us? Do we believe that God can work through us in ways that we can't always explain? In other words, can we be like the disciples, continuing to do His work with His authority even while He has gone to sit at the right hand of the Father? Jesus could save the world without us. He already did! He's not a lazy Savior sending others to do what He doesn't feel like doing. He has chosen us to be His representatives and has given us all we need to do so. We go out into the world, blessed to be a blessing, so that He will be glorified above all else.
"We have the more sure word of prophecy; and you do well that you heed it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the morning star arises in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit." 2 Peter 1:19-21, WEB
I am working on a project for a friend. It will be a present, a picture filled with memories of a life being celebrated. The project has a million little pieces; well, perhaps a million is an exaggeration, but it feels like there are that many. Each piece has its place and it took a long time to choose which ones to use and where they fit best. It is like putting a puzzle together, although I don't have the lovely photo on the box to help with the process.
I got it all figured out this morning, but I didn't glue anything as I went. Now I have to take everything off again so that I can secure each piece where it belongs. The problem is that there are so many pieces that it will be difficult to remember. I can just see myself picking up a piece and wondering, "Now where did this go?" If I glue it in the wrong place, then another piece will not fit properly. I solved this dilemma by taking a photo of the project with all the pieces in place. I can now take everything off and begin the finishing process without worry about my memory.
God has written His Word on our hearts. We have the Holy Spirit to help us get through the days. But we are human, fallible and despite our sainthood we are sinners who fail to live up to the expectations of God. We live in a world that has encouraged us to follow our hearts, even though our hearts are too often led astray by the twists of God's word that are Satan's greatest weapon against God and His people. Satan has convinced too many people in our age that the Bible can mean whatever we want it to mean, and thus that there is no truth, that we can put the pieces together as it pleases us and follow God as we wish.
I found an article online that gives twenty different ways that the scriptures can be twisted. These techniques are used by cults, but they are also used by people who want the church to conform to the world or to their way of thinking. These twists include misquoting the text or taking it out of context. It can be done by aligning texts that have little to do with each other or by adding information to the text to make it say what we want it to say. The twisting can come by playing with the words or siting confusing definitions. Too many people "proof-text" or selectively cite passages that have been misinterpreted. There are those who have decided that they have been given authority to supplement the text with new revelation. Too many people confused about scriptures because they try to make it fit into their world view; others have rejected the biblical authority and so pick and choose what they want to believe.
We wonder how we can possibly remain faithful when we are subjected to so many obstacles. How can we really know what is true? The twists sound so good sometimes. The interpretations seem right. Like my project, we need to find a way to make all these things fit into our lives. I know that over the years I have understood the scriptures personally in many different ways, depending on the circumstances of my life at that time. Read one text to a hundred people and God will touch them in a hundred ways. God's Word is living and active in our lives. God still talks to His people
Yet, God has given us a snapshot so that we will remember how everything fits together. Each book of the Bible points us to Jesus Christ, to the promise of the Gospel and to God's faithfulness. Each story helps us to see how God deals with His people. It might seem confusing sometimes, but God has given us all we need to understand. Scripture interprets scripture and the texts do not contradict themselves, so when we come to an idea that seems contradictory we need only look to the rest of God's Word for the truth. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Church historic and present, the ancient creeds and our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can stay on the right road and walk in God's ways with faith.
"Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving; praying together for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds; that I may reveal it as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." Colossians 4:2-6, WEB
We can't argue people into agreeing with us. We can't bully or force them, either. They may, out of fear or frustration, agree briefly with what we say, but they won't be changed. They will leave and quickly return to their old point of view, perhaps even more strongly committed to it. We might think we are arguing each other into submission, but the reality is that force just pushes people away. "Bible bashing" has never made a Christian.
While more gracious, I'm not certain "living the Gospel" is any more productive. We have often heard it said, "You are the only Bible some people will ever read." While it is true that our light shines to the world, and our faith shows through our deeds, I am not the Bible. I could never live up to the story that is told within. I am not Christ and the Bible is His story, not mine. The Bible is His Word, not mine. If people are "reading" me for lifesaving words or guidance, then they are going to go down a very wrong road.
I was reading an article about a woman who was an atheist but who became a Christian. She said, "No one could have in a billion years of their gripping testimony or by showing me a radiant life of good deeds or through song or even the most beautiful of books brought me to Christ. I had to be tapped on the shoulder." The door had to be opened for her before she would hear or believe. There is only One who can open that door: God.
The woman's father was an atheist and she graduated out of university with a firm rejection of religion, even being snarky and defensive about it. She eventually warmed to people of faith and even worked for a website that published "thoughtful pieces" about religion. She said that she eventually thought it was nice for people of faith to have faith, although she still did not accept faith or religion for herself. She didn't need an afterlife; to her the finality of death was comforting. She liked Christians, but thought them sweet in their delusion. "I did not wish to believe. I had no untapped, unanswered yearnings."
One day, however, she was going through a tough time and she blurted out "Be with me" in an empty room. She was embarrassed by this "prayer" because she didn't even know why she said it or who she was saying it to. Something cracked, a flame was kindled. She remained steadfastly atheist, but something was changed. The obituary for philosopher Dallas Willard written by a friend brought tears to her eyes. She started crying for no reason, while doing the most insignificant things, a very unusual reaction for the upbeat person that she was. "It was very unsettling to suddenly feel like a boat being tossed on the waves. I wasn't sad, I wasnít frightened -- I just had too many feelings."
She began reading books about Jesus. They made her cry. She knew she had to discover the reason for her emotional turmoil, or she had to stop reading the books. She email a Christian friend and asked to meet to talk about Jesus. She felt ridiculous and immediately regretted the email. An hour before her friend called to talk, the woman knew not only that she believed in God, but that she was a Christian.
She said, "I was crying constantly while thinking about Jesus because I had begun to believe that Jesus really was who he said he was, but for some reason, that idea had honestly not occurred to me. But then it did, as though it always had been true. So when my friend called, I told her, awkwardly, that I wanted to have a relationship with God, and we prayed, and giggled a bit, and cried a bit, and then she sent me a stack of Henri Nouwen books, and here we are today."
Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations." It is our calling to take Christ into the world so that others will hear His Word and believe. We don't always do this very well. We can do apologetics with grace, intelligence and reason, but we are more likely to argue with those who disagree. We aren't always bullies, but frustration leads to desperation which leads to hounding. Sometimes we even end up trying to force faith on people. On the other hand, we also like the idea of "being the Bible" because then we aren't to blame if they don't "read us." Unfortunately, the deeds without the Word is meaningless because even the atheist does good for his or her neighbor.
This is why Paul writes, "Pray that God will open the door." God will cause something to crack, a fire to kindle. He calls us to be ready, to be available, to be there to listen, to pray, to giggle, and to cry with those who finally see the light. In the meantime, we are encouraged to live the life God has called us to live, sharing our faith, living His Word, walking in His Way so that they will know where to go for the answers when they start asking the questions.
"Show me your ways, Yahweh. Teach me your paths guide me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation, I wait for you all day long. Yahweh, remember your tender mercies and your loving kindness, for they are from old times. Donít remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions. Remember me according to your loving kindness, for your goodnessí sake, Yahweh. Good and upright is Yahweh, therefore he will instruct sinners in the way. He will guide the humble in justice. He will teach the humble his way. All the paths of Yahweh are loving kindness and truth to such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your nameís sake, Yahweh, pardon my iniquity, for it is great. What man is he who fears Yahweh? He shall instruct him in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease. His offspring[a] shall inherit the land. The friendship of Yahweh is with those who fear him. He will show them his covenant." Psalm 25:4-14, WEB
The world would certainly be a better place if there were no war. Peace is always the best direction to walk. Yet, it is unrealistic to believe that we can truly live in a world that is completely at peace. After all, this is a fallen world filled with sinners, you and I included. We know that the last hundred years have been incredibly ugly and violent, with world wars and ongoing conflict. Many people long for the days when there was none.
Yet, has there really been a time throughout human history that has been truly peaceful all over the world? We are more aware of war today, but even in ancient times there was always conflict. I read one theory that in the last 3500 years there have only been 230 years of relative peace in the civilized world Even then, I suspect that there was war someone that is not recorded in the history books.
I love to read historical fiction, primarily from Europe during the Middle Ages. Before William the Conqueror arrived on the shores of England, the English found the Danes, the Saxons and one another. Meanwhile, on the mainland, the French battled against the Normans who battled against the Angevins. King against king, duke against duke, all vying for control of land, resources and people.
Things weren't any better when William finally became king of England. There was always strife between those who had power and those who wanted it. Read just a few stories on King Henry VIII (or any of them) and you'll find that the war often happened within the very halls of their own castles. These were not good for the people or for the nation, but to think that things are worse today is naÔve. These kind of wars, the ones between two tribes, are rampant in Africa and South America, although the "tribes" these days tend to be political parties or gangs ruled by drug lords. Even American neighborhoods suffer from turf wars. None of this is good.
But war is sometimes a necessary evil. Even God commanded His people to fight against those who stood in the way of His people's accomplishing His work. Sometimes the war was meant to humble His own people. There are just and right reasons for war: there may be responsibilities so important, atrocities that can be prevented or outcomes so undesirable they justify war.
Too many wars, like those between those kingdoms in the middle ages, had more to do with the egos and desires of men (and women) and yet even then the wars may have a positive outcome. Peace is certainly the best possible way, but sometimes the only way to peace is through war. Sometimes it is necessary to do the unimaginable to stop the horrific. Where would the world be today if we had not stopped Hitler? World War II was a great tragedy, but in the end the lives lost may have saved many, many others.
That's why we remember those who died at war on Memorial Day. We remember them and their sacrifices so that their deaths won't have been in vain. We hate war, but the lives they willingly gave established peace for a moment and restored a sense of normality in a world that had been turned upside down by the egos and desires of men. We remember them because they did what they believed that they had a responsibility so important that they had to fight to stop the atrocities and they sought to overcome the undesirable consequences of human sinfulness.
Have all soldiers died for a just cause? Certainly not. From the beginning of time men have fought one another for all the wrong reasons. Yet, it is just as important to remember those who died pursuing a mistaken objective so that we learn what it means to fight justly, seeking righteousness even in our conflicts with our neighbors. We remember, we turn to God for mercy and we ask Him to guide us in a better way.
There will be peace one day, but that day will come at the end of time when God blows the final trumpet. Only in heaven will peace be real and eternal. Until that day, let's look to God and thank Him for those willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of others and to ask Him to help us do what is right in this world.
"God, you are my God. I will earnestly seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water. So I have seen you in the sanctuary, watching your power and your glory. Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you. So I will bless you while I live. I will lift up my hands in your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with the richest food. My mouth shall praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you on my bed, and think about you in the night watches. For you have been my help. I will rejoice in the shadow of your wings. My soul stays close to you. Your right hand holds me up. But those who seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth. They shall be given over to the power of the sword. They shall be jackal food. But the king shall rejoice in God. Everyone who swears by him will praise him, for the mouth of those who speak lies shall be silenced." Psalm 63, WEB
I was at a friend's house after he had recently adopted an eight-week-old kitten. Alex was a ball of fur filled with energy, zooming, bouncing and climbing all over the room, entertaining us with her zest and curiosity. She was a brand new member of the family, and she had not yet come to know the room where we sat. At one point she jumped onto the keys of a piano, causing a raucous noise that made us all jump, including her.
The family also had a hamster that had been sleeping all day in a cage in that room. Alex never noticed the cage until the hamster woke up. Tilly began to do hamster things, like chewing away at her cage. Alex stopped and watched when she noticed the movement, mesmerized by this thing behind the plastic walls. She quickly became bored with the hamster and took off to zoom, bounce and climb again. When Tilly was done chewing, she moved to another part of her cage. Alex noticed the movement again and went back to investigate. She sniffed at the plastic walls and tapped them with her paws. No matter what she tried she was unable to reach Tilly.
Through it all, Tilly remained very peaceful. She went about her business, climbing through the rooms of her house, chewing on everything she could get her teeth on. She had no concern for this playful creature outside her cage even though Alex's play could have seemed threatening. Alex is just a tiny ball of fluff, certainly non-threatening to the humans in the room, but she was much larger than the hamster and seemed intent on finding a way to catch Tilly. Tilly never flinched.
Have you ever felt like a hamster in a cage, attacked by the pressures of the world? We live in a fallen world, sin and death surround us. Satan roams like a lion ready to attack, twisting God's Word and tempting God's people. This imperfect world is filled with dangers that can harm us body, mind and spirit. We sometimes feel like it is coming at us from every direction. One friend has lost many family members in a short period of time. Others are dealing with the shock (and the stresses) of broken relationships. Others are facing the uncertainty of poor health. We fear the loss of jobs, the effects of nature, and problems in the world around us. We are attacked by the pressures of the world and the effects of sin.
Sometimes evil seems to come in a package that looks as harmless as a tiny ball of fluff, yet it can be overwhelming, particularly when the attacks come one after another. We don't have to hide away behind plastic walls to feel safe, however. We have a God who is with us. We might suffer; that is what happens when we dwell in a fallen world. Sadly, we are often the cause of harm to our neighbors because we are imperfect, too. Yet, we can sing for joy in the midst of the attacks because the God of our salvation has promised that all will be made right according to His will. He will guard and protect us even unto eternal life. He covers us with his wings. He is our refuge. He is our peace. It is my prayer that we can all be more like Tilly, unflinching when the attacks come for we dwell in a house, the Kingdom of God, where we will find peace.