Welcome to the November 2007 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 quotes taken from the American Standard Version
A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2007
November 1, 2007
Scriptures for Sunday, November 11, 2007: Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
Job 19:23-27a Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron pen and lead They were graven in the rock for ever! But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand up upon the earth: And after my skin, even this body , is destroyed, Then without my flesh shall I see God; whom I, even I, shall see, on my side, And mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.
There is a story that tells about two friends who were walking through the desert. During the journey they had a fight which ended in one friend slapping the other. The one who got slapped was hurt and he wrote in the sand: “Today, my best friend slapped me in the face.” They kept on their journey. When they reached an oasis, they decided to take a bath. The friend who was hurt started to drown but his friend saved him. When he recovered from the fright, he wrote on a stone: “Today, my best friend saved my life.”
The friend who saved and slapped his best friend, asked him, “Why, after I hurt you, did you write in the sand but now you write on a stone?” The other friend, smiling, replied: “When a friend hurts us, we should write it down in the sand, where the winds of forgiveness will blow it away. But when something great happens, we should engrave it in the stone, in the memory of the heart, where no wind can erase it.
The book of Job is filled with dialogues between Job and his friends and God. Job has suffered incredible loss and his friends are trying to help him discover the reasons for his suffering. He has suffered the loss of his family and his health. Even his friends seem to have abandoned him emotionally. They lay the blame on Job, certain that he must have done something wrong to deserve such horrible torment. Job knows that he is innocent, so he cries out in agony to God for answers. He knows that somehow, someway, sometime he will be proven correct. He clings to the certainty that his life will be restored.
In this passage we see a brief moment of faith in midst of his conflict with God. Job knows that his redeemer lives. Some suggest that this does not refer to the Lord because it does not fit in the pattern of Job’s statements before and after this passage. Job describes God as the attacker rather than as a redeemer, so to have him momentarily change perspective seems out of character with the rest of the dialogue. With this perspective, the words of Job seem to suggest that he believes someone will restore his reputation after he has died. Job thinks that it would be better for him to be dead than to continue suffering, but he does not want the world to remember him as someone who deserved the suffering and death because of some unsubstantiated claim of evil-doing. To Job, his redeemer is someone that will make sure the world will remember him rightly. Once he is dead (out of the flesh), Job knows that he will face God and that he will be able to prove his innocence. He hopes to face his adversary and to ensure that the record shows that he did not deserve such suffering.
Job asks that his words be written on stone. He wants what he has said to be recorded so that there will be no doubt in the future of what he said. Whether or not Job sees God as his Redeemer or Adversary, we see a glimmer of hope in the midst of his troubles. Job knows that his redeemer lives. I am not sure I agree with the scholars who think that Job is talking about some other redeemer. How many times have we all followed a pattern of crying out to God, even blaming Him for our troubles, yet in the midst of it we can also say that we know He is our Redeemer? This statement of faith is almost prophetic. The Redeemer will live, the Redeemer who will be the Salvation of Israel is still a future hope for Job. Jesus came to restore people to God, to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to the world. Though Job will die, his Redeemer does live, will live. Whatever happens in this life, the Redeemer will be the advocate that Job desires. He is also our advocate.
We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We sin. Every sin no matter how small is a sin against our God. He writes our sin in the sand so that the winds of forgiveness can blow them away. However, in the midst of our sin we all have moments of revelation when we remember that there is something or someone who will restore us, redeem us, save us. God takes those words of faith and writes them on stone. Those are the words He remembers. They are the words He embraces. Our faith, no matter how small the seed in the midst of our sin, is the one thing that God makes permanent and it is by our faith that we can truly have hope. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” even in the midst of my suffering and pain. O that those words were written down so that when I fail they will be permanent.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 11, 2007: Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
Psalm 17:1-9 Hear the right, O Jehovah, attend unto my cry; Give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips. Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; let thine eyes look upon equity. Thou hast proved my heart; thou hast visited me in the night; Thou hast tried me, and findest nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. As for the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the ways of the violent. My steps have held fast to thy paths, my feet have not slipped. I have called upon thee, for thou wilt answer me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech. Show thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them that take refuge in thee from those that rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me under the shadow of thy wings, from the wicked that oppress me, my deadly enemies, that compass me about.
Halloween was earlier this week and several reporters used the holiday as an opportunity to count down their favorite horror movies. Talk show hosts compared their lists to the lists of others, offering their opinion about what is scary. Some people find the blood and guts movies are the most frightening. Others prefer to be scared by more realistic horror films. Some list the older films like those from Alfred Hitchcock and others are more anxious after seeing a movie that uses special effects to create a scary atmosphere on the screen and in the theater.
I used to love to go to horror movies, but now I would rather not purposefully go to the theater to be scared. I suppose it has something to do with having children – they give me enough to worry about, especially now that they are teenagers. I just got to the point when I did not need the adrenaline rush that comes from experiencing a horror movie.
When the reporters asked the question, “Which movie scared you the most?” I could answer with several that I remember making my heart skip a beat. The scariest movie I ever saw, however, had nothing to do with the movie itself. I went to the movies with a friend of mine and we wanted to see one of the sequels to one of those blood and guts movies. I have to admit that I don’t even remember what movie it was, after they’ve made six or seven sequels it is hard to tell the difference between them. The movie was playing in a theater in the seedier side of town. It has been a long time since we had gone to a movie in that neighborhood. It was a very dark night. The crowd that came into the theater was very rough. The groups of kids were loud and angry. There were even some who were violent, slamming on the chairs and one another. I’m not sure I saw any of that movie. I spent most of the time cowering in my seat.
Perhaps my fear was unfounded. Kids, especially those living in certain neighborhoods, have an image to uphold. All I knew is that I did not feel safe. I imagine that in our world today there are a great many people who have the same sort of feeling. People feel frightened, sometimes not even knowing what it is that frightens them. We are afraid of many things such as illness, terrorism, poverty and oppression. With the threat of war in the air we wonder if we will live to see tomorrow. It seems like the prayer requests for those suffering from cancer come regularly and other diseases that have made the news recently.
Even with the threats we face, the scriptures tell us not to fear those things. The reality, whether we want to admit it or not, is that we are enemies with God and it is Him that we should fear. We are enemies because when we sin, we sin against Him. Even the smallest infraction is an offense to His holiness. He has the power to destroy us, for He is the One who created us. His judgment is right and His wrath is just. And yet, it is God Himself who is our refuge. He sent Jesus to take His wrath upon Himself and all judgment fell on His own shoulders as He hung on the cross. By His blood, God makes us His children than His enemies and He protects us from all that might bring us harm.
We will face fearful things in this world. Sickness and war threatens our lives. We might even run into a gang of criminals or find ourselves surrounded by hoodlums. The fear we experience can paralyze us. Some people are simply unable to live daily in this world because of their worries. The fear can make us reject others, to persecute them or avoid them. The fear can make us hate, kill or lust after things which are not ours. Life in fear is not life; it is bondage. Yet fear in God is true life because it frees us to live in the salvation He has provided in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is our refuge and our strength, not because He is a kind and loving God, but because He is more fearsome than our worst enemies. We need not live in fear of the things in this world that might hurt us. Instead, let us live with fear and trembling in the shadow of the Most High God because that is where we will find true peace in the face of our enemies.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 11, 2007: Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? … But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
The Internet has made things very easy for so many people. In just a matter of minutes we can sit down at a computer, do our banking, pay our bills, purchase our Christmas presents and send hundreds of people an email. Victoria had a major project due in one class and a quick search on the Internet made the project understandable. She was able to accomplish the task because she was quickly able to find more information. I find myself searching the Internet for directions to places I want to visit and information about products I am interested in purchasing. It is amazing how many stores offer online coupons or special sales.
The Internet has given criminals a new outlet for their illegal behaviors. We have to be especially careful when dealing with our personal information online. I have received emails over the years that appear to be from national, recognizable companies. These emails have official looking logos and email addresses. The emails are designed to look like the real thing. The links in the email ‘look’ normal, but if you check out the code you find that it directs you to a completely different site. These emails are usually looking for information – it is called phishing. They deceive you into believing that the company needs you to update your account. I have seen emails like this from banks, eBay and a florist. Most times the email is from a company with which I do not even do business. However, it is so easy to send out the email that they can send a hundred emails with the hope they might find one who will fall for the deception. In reality they send out millions. The cost is minimal, so it takes only a few fools to make them rich.
All too many people do not think it is possible for them to be deceived. They believe that they are too intelligent, too observant to fall for the deception. However, these false emails are very convincing. Some of the online scams are so obviously false that only the most foolish people will fall for it. The design is less professional; the text is filled with error. I even got one that had the name of the company misspelled in the subject line. However, some of them appear so real that even the savviest people can be misled.
Paul’s second lesson to the Thessalonians addresses an issue that most of us would rather not discuss – the end times. The language of eschatology is difficult for even theologians. Which images are literal, which are figurative? When should we be concerned about the prophecies? Is what has been written for our generation or has it all come to pass in a way we did not recognize? Who is the man of lawlessness? Was he a character in the days of Paul or is he someone yet to come? Will the coming of Christ be a physical return or spiritual? While there are those who will insist they have the answer, there are perfectly acceptable arguments from many different points of view. We argue about what is true. We even argue about the definition of the terms. I suppose that is why it is so confusing to the average Christian, and why it is something that most Christians would rather not discuss.
Paul writes in this letter the message that really matters: God loves you and He chose you to be fruit, sanctified by the Holy Spirit and called by the Gospel to obtain the glory of Christ. Paul also reminds us that through it is God who chooses, sanctifies and calls, we have a responsibility for our salvation – faith in the truth. We are called to stand firm in the Christian faith we have been given, no matter the circumstances we face. Christ might return this very minute. He might not return for a thousand years. We may be totally surprised by the way things play out in this world in which we live, but we do not have to be surprised by the outcome. We have been given faith and by God’s grace we have a hope that reaches beyond the mystery of the eschatological promises of God.
Luke 20:27-38 And there came to him certain of the Sadducees, they that say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, Teacher, Moses wrote unto us, that if a man's brother die, having a wife, and he be childless, his brother should take the wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died childless; and the second: and the third took her; and likewise the seven also left no children, and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection therefore whose wife of them shall she be? for the seven had her to wife. And Jesus said unto them, The sons of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they that are accounted worthy to attain to that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: for neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the place concerning the Bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.
Our family got an email a few weeks ago from a woman who was doing some research about her family heritage. She was distantly related to our family through our mother and she was interested in knowing more about the history of her family and their immigration to America. We passed her information to our uncle who is my mother’s last remaining sibling. If anyone had the information she was seeking, it would be him.
The email was a catalyst to my own interest in our family heritage. I spent a couple weeks in communication with the woman, but I also did some of my own research. Though most of the information is available online, the details require memberships and subscriptions to the services. For that reason I did not delve as deeply as perhaps I might have liked, but I still came across some interesting things. I have an old family bible which came from my father’s family, but we never really knew the story behind it. As I was Googling family names, I came across a website that had a picture of the tombstone for a husband and wife named in the bible. It was fascinating the make a connection to the past, even if I don’t really understand the connection.
Human beings like roots. Our identity is often caught up in our history. Matthew begins his gospel with a list of the genealogy of Jesus. This was vital to the Jewish community to which Matthew was writing. The genealogy established the rights of Jesus to claim the throne of Israel through the line of David. Matthew even takes the genealogy back to Abraham, typical of a Jewish family tree. Luke’s genealogy is slightly different, defining Jesus as the Priest King whose line goes all the way back to Adam. These genealogies establish for the people Jesus’ role and define his position and authority.
Most of us are not so dependent on our heritage when it comes to our lives. I doubt that very many of us have the job we have because we were born into it. In our world, people are less likely to even stay near family. We are a mobile and transient society, choosing to live according to our interests and abilities. Yet, we still like roots. We may not be able to define generations of ancestors, but we do look to the future. We look at our children and our hope is that we will live on through them. For some families, there is a desperate need for a male heir so that the family name will live on.
What I found interesting as I was surfing the Internet a few weeks ago is how difficult it is to know for certain if there is a connection between people because names change. Families coming to America often changed their surname because the one from their homeland was too difficult to pronounce or spell. Others changed it to avoid persecution. Sometimes the name changed because the scribe made a mistake when recording the information. Language changes, so ancient names evolve with the changes in language. Other names are translated from one language to another. When looking for information about my family heritage, I have to consider the possibility of a dozen different names being possible relations.
The Sadducees were concerned about the type of eternal life that is founded in procreation. A person lived forever because they begat offspring to carry the family name and estate into the future. They did not believe in an eternal life that came after death. When a person died they were dead unless they had children. To them, the idea of resurrection was just foolishness and easily ridiculed. They thought their logic was solid enough to make a fool out of Jesus with their questions. After all, resurrection of the dead made no sense because it caused all sorts of problems in the afterlife, such as this situation presented to Jesus.
Jesus would not allow them to make a fool of Him. He answered them with two points. First of all, the eternal life that comes with the resurrection of the dead is not like the world in which we live. It is different. It is new. It is not defined by the laws or practices of the earth. There will be no marriage, no need for procreation. Eternal life is not dependent on heirs. So, Jesus tells them that the question itself is ridiculous because it assumes that nothing will change. Then He uses scripture to prove that eternal life is something that comes after death – that death is not the end of one’s life but just the beginning. He says, “Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” It is Moses himself that defines God as “the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead in flesh when Moses stood before the burning bush, then they must have still had life.
We can certainly take an interest in our past and have a hope for our future. We can give our kids solid roots and tools to do well in this world so that our life will have had meaning and purpose. Yet, our position in God’s kingdom is not founded in our genealogy and our hope for the future does not rest on our children. We are children of God by faith and by faith we will live forever.
Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.
When we think about our message for each Sunday, we often take into account other things that are happening – in the world, on the calendar or in our congregations. Take, for instance, the congregation in the middle of a building program. The sermons that are preached often focus on the topic of stewardship. The preaching is designed to get the people excited about giving their money to the church so that the building can be built. This is not always the best choice, but it is a very real consideration for the pastors who are trying to grow both the disciples and the congregation.
Unfortunately, it is not always done rightly. Some preachers will draw one small statement out of the scriptures to make the point he or she has decided to make. This is especially true when we try to fit secular holidays into the preaching for the day. Many churches will focus on holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Labor Day because the people expect the church to be relevant to their lives. They are celebrating these holidays, why shouldn’t it be mentioned in church, too? We are thankful to God for our mothers, fathers and jobs, so it does have a place in our worship. The trouble comes when we try to make scriptures say what we want it to say in reference to these things.
Sunday is Veteran’s Day. So what do we do with this in our worship? It is especially hard when we consider that November 11th is also the feast day for St. Martin of Tours. St. Martin is the patron saint of soldiers and horses, and yet he was also a conscientious objector. He lived in the fourth century, born of pagan parents. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Roman soldier. He heard the Gospel and was even studying the catechism, but had not decided to become a Christian. On his way into Amiens he came across a poorly clothed beggar. He took his cloak, cut it in half and gave half to the beggar. That night Martin had a dream of Jesus Christ wearing half of his cloak. It was then he made the decision to become a Christian.
He decided that it was impossible for him to serve both in the Roman army and the army of God, so he asked to be released. He was ridiculed for being a coward. He offered to stand unarmed in front of the army as they faced their enemy, but a peace treaty was signed before he could prove his courage. He shared the Gospel with his family – his mother became a Christian, but his father would not convert. He was ordained, became a bishop and fought the heretics of his time. He did not fight the heretics as other churchmen. Some heretics were sentenced to death, but Saint Martin did not believe they deserved such a harsh sentence. He convinced the emperor that he should not shed blood in this matter, but the emperor was later convinced to carry through with the death sentence. Those heretics were the first to die because of heresy.
Martin is remembered as being compassionate, a peacemaker and very humble. He did not want to be a bishop. He wanted simply to serve the Lord. He is a reminder to us about how hard it is to live as both a soldier in an earthbound army and a soldier for God. However, as we consider Veteran’s Day in our congregations, we are reminded of the many people who have lived and worked as soldiers in this world while living out their Christian faith. Most of our congregations have some connection to men and women who live this paradox daily, so we pray for our soldiers that they will keep God as their guide, do what is right and live the life of holiness that all Christians are called to live.
The story of Job helps us to remember all the veterans who have suffered for their service. He lost everything and there was no good explanation for his suffering. There is a soldier who is at the local military hospital who is facing a similar situation. He is recuperating from an injury from service overseas, the fifth such injury during his career. His wife and children were driving to the hospital when they were in a horrible accident. Two of the children died immediately, the third child lived for a couple of weeks until his frail body finally gave in. This family was already suffering financially. They have lost property, family and health. They have no reason to hope. I do not know the family, I do not know about their faith. What I do know is that there are many people in this town who are reaching out to this family. Though God will not restore their live as it had been before their troubles, like Job had his entire world restored, we can hope that they have seen that there is hope. Hopefully they will know that there is restoration, transformation and grace for those who suffer that comes by faith in God. Hopefully they will know that God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is “not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”
Scriptures for Sunday, November 18, 2007: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Malachi 4:1-2a For, behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith Jehovah of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings.
There is a story that makes the rounds on the Internet, particularly during fire season, about a mother bird that was found in a national park after a fire. She was charred beyond recognition, but the forest ranger found several chicks under her wings. Supposedly they had survived because of the sacrificial love of the mother. The story then goes on to remind us that God covers us with His wings to save us from the dangers of this world. It is a beautiful story. Unfortunately, it never happened.
The reality is that the legend probably came from a real incident from Yellowstone. From Truthorfiction.com: “Terry MacEneany, the park's bird expert, has been on staff for many years, including during the well known 1988 fires. MacEneany says he wrote an article for National Geographic about some osprey that were affected by the fires and he suspects that's where the legend may have gotten started. Yellowstone rangers discovered some fledgling ospreys that had fallen out of their nest when the fire burned their tree. They fell into an area where the adult osprey couldn't get to them to feed them so MacEneany supervised the construction of a platform to elevate a new nest.”
Scientists have confirmed that it would have been impossible for the mother bird to have saved her chicks from the fire just by covering them with her wings, especially as the story describes. It is wonderful when we find examples in real life that help us to understand the loving and caring nature of God. Yet, the human analogies are rarely able to describe God fully. As we read the scriptures there are images of God that really touch our hearts and there are some that are unreasonable. We prefer the loving, caring God and would rather ignore the God who would all the fire to burn anyone until they no longer exist.
Now, we are more willing to accept this notion when the person being destroyed is an enemy, but deep down in our hearts we know that we are no better than they. We know that we are proud and that we are wicked. We know that there are aspects of our lives that would best be destroyed. Our sin, our doubt, our hatred – we all suffer from these things in one way or another. We deserve to enter into the furnace. But that’s where God differs from the human analogies we use to describe Him. He is like the mother bird in the legend in that He covers us with His wings when the fires come, but He is also like the fire. He burns away the pride and wickedness in our lives, leaving behind a cleaner, purer person. He brings healing and righteousness.
There are times when it feels like we are burning, but God is working good things in our lives, bringing us to the place that He intends us to be. The perfection for which we strive will never fully be realized in our flesh because we continue to be sinners even while we are saints. We continue to go through the fire of cleansing that burns away the stubble of our lives. Those who persevere through the fire, resting on the promise of Jesus Christ, will see the other side.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 18, 2007: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Psalm 98 Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him. Jehovah hath made known his salvation: His righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the nations. He hath remembered his lovingkindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all the earth: Break forth and sing for joy, yea, sing praises. Sing praises unto Jehovah with the harp; With the harp and the voice of melody. With trumpets and sound of cornet Make a joyful noise before the King, Jehovah. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; The world, and they that dwell therein; let the floods clap their hands; Let the hills sing for joy together before Jehovah; for he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with equity.
The kids in the theatre department at our school are really excited about the release of a new movie later this year. The movie is “Sweeney Todd” and they are excited because they did the play last year as their competition show. Additionally, the movie will star Johnny Depp, a favorite actor for most of the students. They are counting down the days until its release and I expect most of them will be there on opening night.
It is an unusual show, based on a real life story from London, England. Sweeney Todd is a man who had been falsely convicted of a crime by a judge who wished to take his wife as his own. After fifteen years serving his sentence in Australia, he returns to London, takes the name Sweeney Todd and sets up a barber shop in a room above a meat pie shop. Someone recognized him and tried to blackmail him, so Sweeney murdered the man. After the first slashing, it became easier and easier to do murder. It will be a bloody and horrifying film. And it is a musical.
This seems very odd because slasher musicals are not a normal genre. Music has always played an important role in horror films, but the killers rarely break out in song when they are about to kill someone. The musical scores tend to have squeaky violin sounds or deep base beats that cause your heart to pump a little faster and your nerves to cringe in fear. The music in “Sweeney Todd” includes happy, cheerful tunes and even love songs. It is not exactly what you would expect from such a dark and disturbing story.
Johnny Depp was asked how he felt about the singing in the movie. He said that he was frightened by it. Though he had done some backup singing early in his career, he is not really a singer. Many people suggested that he should take some singing lessons, to develop his voice and to give him confidence. He decided against it. Instead, he allowed the character to develop his voice during the rehearsals, learning the words and the music as he was learning how to be Sweeney Todd. In the end, he was happy that he had not taken the lessons. He said, “I just didn't see the character developing with me doing scales in front of a piano, with a vocal teacher going, ‘No, no — bring it up from the bollocks.’ That kind of thing would have been a disaster. I would still be rehearsing right now. Or I'd have been fired. Singing couldn't be more foreign to me in a lot of ways, but at the same time, I need to incorporate my own process to find it, to see where I land.” (From EW.com)
It will be interesting to see how well he does. Music is not something that I can claim as a gift. As a matter of fact, I’m rather famous for not being a good singer. When I sing, it is truly a ‘joyful noise.’ I haven’t let that stop me. I still like the sing the hymns and songs at church, though I tend to do it quietly. I rest in the knowledge that God does not mind my singing. Even though my tongue grates on the ears of men, the song of joy in my heart is like sweet incense to God. We’ve all been given a song in our heart and we should not be afraid to sing out to Him in thanksgiving and praise. He has done, is doing and will continue to do great things for His creation.
I can imagine the psalmist did not concern himself or herself over pitch and tone when he or she was singing this hymn of praise. When we sing the psalms we join in the hymns of the angels and the saints as they worship God. When words fail us, when we have no idea what to say to the Lord God Almighty, a song of praise is enough. You need not even know all the words! God has placed a song on your heart, one that will glorify Him. Even when we do not feel like singing or our circumstances make songs of joy seem inappropriate, it is always right to sing praise to God. In your joy or in your sadness sing a joyful noise today.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 18, 2007: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat bread for nought at any man's hand, but in labor and travail, working night and day, that we might not burden any of you: not because we have not the right, but to make ourselves and ensample unto you, that ye should imitate us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear of some that walk among you disorderly, that work not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing.
Things have been crazy around here this past week. Victoria was in the fall play which was Robin Hood by Don Nigro. This meant late nights and little time for us to be together as a family. It was wonderful. The play went really well, it was entertaining, and we all enjoyed being a part of the production. It will be nice to get back to normal, however. Things have gotten a little out of control in the house. While I have tired to keep up with the mess, it has been difficult. There were days that were so rushed everything we carried into the house just landed on the closest horizontal surface. Shoes were scattered all over; mail was piled so high that it was falling over onto the floor. This is what happens when family members do not keep up with their responsibilities.
The play was interesting. Not only were the actors terrific, but the sets and transitions were fantastic. Instead of closing the curtain between scenes, the director decided to allow the audience to see the set changes. The offstage crew were in costume so as to keep the up the image of medieval England. It was vital that every member of the cast do their part. If they were assigned the duty of moving a tree, the tree had to be moved in a timely and effortless manner. The cast and crew were like a family, and every member had to do their part for the play to be successful.
Unfortunately, there was an actress missing from Sunday evening’s performance. One of the other actresses was able to take her character, performing dual roles at that one show. The girl who was missing had a very important task during one of the transitions. While the substitute did a great job throughout most of the show, she missed this one task. Another actress tried to compensate but it was impossible in the short period of time, the prop got caught and then part of the set came tumbling down. It did not ruin the show, but the actress was disappointed to have caused such a visible glitch and she was angry that none of the others were prepared to help. The rest were so caught up in their own interests (in some cases, they were too busy fooling around to notice the problem.)
Paul writes to the Thessalonians that each member of the community should do their part. The fellowship of believers is like a family, brothers and sisters in Christ. When everyone does their part, everything works well. Paul’s instruction goes beyond the work of the church. He encourages all Christians to be active participants in the world around them, working to provide for their own needs and for the needs of the community. This is not a statement that we should ignore those who can not work. It is a statement about how the able bodied should do their share so that the resources can be available for those who are truly in need.
The church to which Paul was writing was living in a time of uncertainty. They knew that Christ would return and that time was short. However, they could not define the time. Many assumed that the end would come during their life time. The Gnostic point of view was that the flesh no longer mattered. They did not need to work, to use their hands, to care for their needs because soon they would have no flesh for which to labor. They did, however, ensure their bellies were full, eating the food shared by the other members of the Christian community. They did nothing to provide, but took advantage of the grace of others, leaving few resources for the people who were really in need.
Even though there are those who are in need of financial and physical aide, they too have a role to play in the community. Many of the widows were unable to provide support to the community, having no financial means. However, they could help to teach and guide the young women of the community, offering their time, their wisdom and their experience to help with the growth of the people and the community. Sadly, some of the widows spent much of their time being busybodies and gossiping rather than helping. As they say, “Idle hands are the devils playground.” The women who had no real purpose in the community spent their time doing things that would never benefit the believers.
As part of the community of believers, we are all called to be faithful witnesses of the Gospel in words and deeds. Our work will never gain us salvation, but as Christians it is up to us to live as God has gifted us to live. As part of the family of Christ, we are meant to do our part for the smooth and successful operation of the Church, God’s kingdom visible on earth.
Luke 21:5-19 And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and offerings, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in which there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And they asked him, saying, Teacher, when therefore shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are about to come to pass? And he said, Take heed that ye be not led astray: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am he; and, The time is at hand: go ye not after them. And when ye shall hear of wars and tumults, be not terrified: for these things must needs come to pass first; but the end is not immediately. Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be great earthquakes, and in divers places famines and pestilences; and there shall be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all these things, they shall lay their hands on you, and shall persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name's sake. It shall turn out unto you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate beforehand how to answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to withstand or to gainsay. But ye shall be delivered up even by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolk, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. And not a hair of your head shall perish. In your patience ye shall win your souls.
Harrison Ford has played Dr. Henry Walden Jones, Jr., also known as Indian Jones, a fictional character in a series of popular adventure movies from the 1980’s. Indiana Jones was an archeologist who searched the world for some of the greatest treasures of the world. He was a good guy, always seeking the treasures for the betterment of the world, always protecting the treasures from those who wanted to use them for selfish and self-centered reasons. Indiana Jones learned early in his life that there were many greedy, evil people in the world and he made it his life’s purpose to protect the things that defined our lives. A fourth movie is in post production, due to be released in spring 2008. It will be interesting to discover the treasure with him and to follow him in his latest adventures.
I’m not aware of any archeologists that actually have the kind of experiences that we see in the movies. Indiana Jones is always getting into some sort of trouble. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark” he was trying to recover the Ark of the Covenant because the Nazi Germans were hoping to use its power to take over the world. He was chased all over the world, facing plane crashes, gunfight and many other difficulties.
One of the most famous scenes from the Indiana Jones movies has to be from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Indiana Jones is attempting to get through an ancient obstacle course to the hiding place of the Holy Grail. The obstacles did not just make the path difficult. They were dangerous. He had to solve riddles as he pushed forward step by step. If he got the riddle wrong, he risked being impaled by spears or falling through a hole into a bottomless cavern. Meanwhile, he was surrounded by bad guys and his father was dying by their hands. The pressure was intense to succeed.
The Holy Grail was believed to hold the power of eternal life. Indiana’s father had been injured by one of the bad guys and the only hope to save his life was to find the cup and give him a drink of water from it. Of course, the bad guys wanted the cup to abuse its power and control the world. As Indiana makes it through each obstacle, they follow him to the chamber holding the cup. When they arrive, they discover that there are a hundred different goblets. Which one is the right one? Choosing wrongly meant immediate death. One of the bad guys chooses a precious goblet of gold with magnificent stones, thinking surely the Christ would have the best of the best. She drank some water and immediately died. Indiana knew better. He knew that Jesus Christ was a poor carpenter. The Holy Grail was not some fancy goblet, but a simple pottery cup. He took the cup, filled it with water and took it to his father.
During his quests, Indiana Jones is pushed forward by a sense of purpose. The purpose is not fame or wealth, but rather a search for the truth and the protection of the world’s precious treasures. He goes forth in faith, not that he will accomplish the task but instead that what he is seeking is out there. In other words, his drive is not the benefits he will receive from finding the treasures but the treasures themselves. It doesn’t matter what he will face, as long as he is able to reach his destination. Guns, rolling stones, ancient obstacle courses and bad guys will not stop him from finding the end of his quest.
For many of the people living in Jesus’ day, the Temple was the destination of their greatest quests. The Jews took pilgrimages to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and to worship their God. The courts of the Temple they were as close to God as they could get. It was a magnificent place, getting more beautiful with every new building project. It was dedicated to God and it honored Him well. When Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, He was not just threatening a pretty building, but He was threatening the very foundation of their faith. It was a terrifying possibility. What would they do? Where would they go? How would they do sacrifice to God?
They asked the question we all ask, “When?” We are not waiting for the destruction of the Temple, but we are waiting for the return of Christ. We have been waiting for the return of Christ for two thousand years. When? Jesus gives us the signs, but these are signs that have been visible for every generation. Perhaps we are the generation to see the return of Christ, but we must beware that we do not make it the quest for our lives. Jesus also promises that not a hair on our head will be harmed. Yet, many people have not only died since Jesus left, many have been harmed for their faith. There have been too many martyrs over the millennia.
Our quest is not to get to some state of perfection, to arrive there unscathed. We are called to be witnesses for Christ while we journey in this world. Our goal is not to get something out of our lives, but to keep moving forward toward the prize which is eternal life. Our faith should not be in our ability to gain the treasure, but in the treasure itself, which is God. We might face many difficulties along the way, but step by step we are called to shine the light of Christ and to live according to His promises.
And not a hair of your head shall perish. In your patience ye shall win your souls.
I can only imagine what the Temple during Jesus’ day must have looked like to the people living in Jerusalem and to all the pilgrims who went there to worship. I have never visited the site, but I have heard that they have a scaled model of the Temple to visit while you are in Jerusalem. There are also virtual tours available on the Internet. Though these recreations give us an idea of its beauty and size, they can’t even come close to the reality of what it would have been in that day. It is like the Redwood trees in the Northwest. You can see a million pictures of them, but you can’t really understand how big and beautiful they are unless you stand at the foot of one.
People were more than willing to put their money into the building and decoration of the Temple. It was a massive structure, built with the best stone and other materials. It was not meant to be a fortress, but it was probably very secure. The Temple was a sanctuary from the fears and dangers of the world. Visitors and residents must have felt very safe within its walls. So, Jesus words to the disciples in this week’s Gospel lesson must have been shocking and unfathomable. How could that great place be destroyed?
The Gospel ends with Jesus telling them that not a hair on their heads will be destroyed. This seems like a ridiculous statement. If only it would be true! I rip a dozen or more strands out of my head every time I brush my hair. I can’t tell you how often we have had to clean the drain because hair has created a blockage. And as the bald guy down the street what happened to his hair. Will he think it is a sign of God’s wrath that his hair is gone? What about the cancer patient who is wearing a scarf to cover her loss of hair from chemotherapy?
Hair certainly has a purpose on our bodies, but it is not something that needs to be protected. The heart is vital to our existence. So are the lungs and the brain. Hair can be cut, colored, woven, braided, pulled, knotted and made to stand on end without harming the person. It is the crown of a woman’s beauty and can make a man look very distinguished, but it does nothing to define their character. Oh, a blonde may be blonde, but I know plenty of redheads and brunettes who are a little blonde themselves.
So, why would Jesus begin the lesson with a warning about the destruction of the Temple and end it with a promise that the hair on their heads would be unscathed? The Temple was ‘God’s home on earth.’ It was the place where He dwelt among men. It was so beautiful, covered in the offerings of the many believers who had passed through its gates. In the story just before this message, Jesus points out to the disciples a widow who gave a measly mite to the Temple offerings. His point was that she gave more than the others who had put so much more in the plate because she gave everything. She gave her only coin, her well-being, her future to God. The others were giving just a portion, and even if that portion was a large percentage, they still kept something for themselves.
The Gospel lesson is about the end of the age, and we might focus on that aspect particularly since we are living in a time when there are plenty of wars and rumors of wars. There are plenty of false prophets touting their goods in the public squares these days. There are plenty of reasons to be afraid. Perhaps we can even read this warning as one for our own time and place. Will our walls come tumbling down? Jesus reminds us that we have a purpose in this life, and worrying about the end times will not make anything happen and it will not make anything better. Our purpose is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be His witnesses in this world.
Though Jesus says that not a hair on our head will be harmed, we must not read this as a promise for earthly protection. Saints throughout the ages discovered what it meant to be a witness for Christ in the world. Many of them died the martyr’s death. Martyr means witness. They were beheaded, impaled, hanged and slaughtered for their faith. In this passage Jesus tells us what we will face – “But before all these things, they shall lay their hands on you, and shall persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name's sake.” Persecution will lead to the opportunity to be witnesses. The earthly promise of faith is persecution and death.
We are reminded that through it all, God is concerned about even the most insignificant parts of our flesh. He has counted to the number of strands of hair on our heads; He knows our every thought, prayer, concern and doubt. He also knows that every bit of His creation is perishable. All that we have built up over our lifetime will pass away. But that doesn’t matter, because if we stand firm in God’s promises, we will gain life.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 25, 2007: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Jeremiah 23:1-6 Woe unto the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith Jehovah. Therefore thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, against the shepherds that feed my people: Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them; behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith Jehovah. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and multiply. And I will set up shepherds over them, who shall feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be lacking, saith Jehovah. Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness.
Jeremiah lived during the reign of King Zedekiah whose name means “righteousness of Yahweh.” Unfortunately, Zedekiah did not live up to his name. In 2 Kings we see that Zedekiah did evil in the eyes of the LORD. He also rebelled against the king of Babylon and it was that nation which God used to bring the Jews to their knees. It was under Zedekiah that Judah was taken into exile by the Babylonians. This passage begins with a statement to the kings of Judah, “Woe to you who have hurt God’s people.”
The kings were considered shepherds because they were the ones to lead and guide the people in all aspects of life, including religious life. The king stood as an example. He provided for the priests and ensured the safety and holiness of the Temple. He was given the care of God’s people and was therefore their shepherd. The kings of Judah did not do the task well. Though there were a few kings who remembered God and who lived righteously, many turned from Him and lived according to their own ways and the ways of the world. They turned their backs on God and took the people with them. God warned the people in the days of Samuel that the kings would rule poorly. He warned them that they would be destructive and self-centered. Earthly kings would turn their hearts from their true King, but God allowed them to have the earthbound leaders. And they acted exactly as God warned that they would act. And in doing so, they jeopardized the entire nation. Zedekiah’s disobedience would mean exile for the people.
Jeremiah’s warning comes with hope, however. God will not abandon His people to the enemy or to the earthbound kings that can not save. He will gather a remnant and they will be fruitful. The unrighteous kings will be punished and new shepherds will feed them. Even moreso, we hear the promise of the Shepherd King – the Messiah. This is the one for whom God’s people had been waiting for many years. The new King’s name will be “Jehovah our righteousness.” This play on the name Zedekiah shows the difference between an earthly king that disappoints and the King which God has appointed to rule forever. Christ is the King.
We celebrate the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His life we are returned to the state by which God intended His people to live: under His rule. God is our righteousness because no man can make us pure and holy. It is only by God’s power and might that we can truly live as we have been created to live. That is why the people’s desire to have an earthly king was so damaging to the relationship between God and His people. The earthly kings are created beings, imperfect and bound to disappoint. Even those kings that were counted as righteous were failures in some way. Only God is perfect. Only God is faithful. Only God can provide the hope that will not disappoint.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 25, 2007: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Psalm 46 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change, And though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, Though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof. Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered his voice, the earth melted. Jehovah of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of Jehovah, What desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariots in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Jehovah of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
A group of Russian doomsday cult members have sequestered themselves in a cave in Russia because they believe that the end of the world is coming next May. They have threatened to kill themselves if anyone tries to intervene. I’m not sure what they think they will accomplish by hiding in a cave. Do they think the rocks will protect them? Even if they were protected in the cave, what will they find when they come out? The police are not taking action, but are patrolling the area to keep others away. They fear that the cult will be provoked into doing something drastic and they believe that there are children in the cave. They have been there since November 7th, but the police expect that they will come out when they run out of supplies.
The reporter who submitted the story said, “After decades of state-enforced atheism under Soviet rule, many Russians and other ex-Soviet nationals have come under the influence of homegrown and foreign sects.” This makes sense. Though the Church Universal is not perfect, because it is made up of imperfect saints that are simultaneously sinners, the Church Universal has a way of keeping everyone on track. Even though there are hundreds of denominations, we correct, rebuke and encourage one another as we have been instructed. We hold one another accountable. We call each other to repentance. We lift one another in prayer. We encourage one another with love. It is dangerous for any Christians to think that they have the only answer and that they can go it on their own.
Is God with those people in that cave? Perhaps He is. If they believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ, then God will not abandon them. However, is that hole in the mountain really where God calls us to live out our final days? When God sends of warning about the end of the earth, is He telling us to go find a safe refuge and hide away from the world?
The psalmist writes, “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early.” When we are in the midst of difficult times – times that might just be nearer than we think and hope – God is with us. He is our refuge and our strength. Even the Temple was not strong enough to withstand the forces of Israel’s enemies, but God will always be strong enough. His hand moves mountains and His love melts hearts. He is our help in trouble.
The world might just end next May. We can’t know for certain when the day will come. It is not for us to know. The very reason God has kept that detail from His creation is because we will tend to do what that cult in Russia has done. We’ll try to save ourselves. We’ll try to hide from the inevitable. We’ll try to stand on our own strength. But God is our only hope. We are called to dwell in His presence knowing that Christ may come as King and change everything in the next instant, while still being actively involved in the ordinary and earthbound world in which we live.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 25, 2007: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Colossians 1:11-20 …strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins: who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.
I happened upon the old movie “The Bells of St. Mary’s” on television yesterday. This film, made in 1945 stars Bing Crosby as the lovable, independent priest Father O’Malley who is sent to a failing catholic school run by nuns including Sister Beatrice played by Ingrid Bergman. Father O’Malley and Sister Beatrice disagree about how things should be done. She is upset that he has come to disrupt their school and he is just trying to find a way to save it. He has this way of making things happen behind the scenes that seem to be miraculous. He manages to manipulate the circumstances in a way that causes a rich man to donate a new building to the school which Sister Beatrice thinks the prayers of her sisters and the gracious way they have approached him has done the trick.
There is a student at St. Mary’s named Patricia who does not feel like she belongs. She has difficulty doing the work and keeping up with the other students. Father O’Malley knows that she just needs a little push, a bit of encouragement and a chance to shine. He visits her one evening and finds her trying very hard to write an essay. The topic is “the Five Senses.” Though she knows the five senses, she does not know what to say about them. Father O’Malley gives her some ideas which she is able to take and put into a wonderful essay.
She begins the essay with the title, “the Six Senses.” Of course, Sister Beatrice was taken aback at first because the assignment was the five senses. Patricia continued, “The Six Senses: To see, to hear, to taste, to smell, to feel... to be.” She goes on to say, “to be (or not to be) is the final sense, the common sense and the most important of them all.” It isn’t enough to just be aware of the senses we have. We should experience the things of this world with our whole being. Take a rose, for instance. How many of us have some sort of rose bush in our yards or pass some sort of roses each day and we barely even notice? Perhaps it is cliché to say, “Take time to smell the roses” but there is truth in that saying. God created that rose, just as He created each of us. We are part of the creation that God both made and loves. We are connected by the same creative powers that were present with Him at the beginning.
Now, I’m not talking about the New Age idea that the Spirit lives in everything and everything has a spirit. I’m not saying that I am connected to the rose bush because we all share the same spirit. However, that rose bush is part of what God has created and it is part of the world in which we live. It is even possible that you had a part in planting and caring for that rose bush. I manage to remember mine a few times a year when I cut off the old flowers and give it some nutrients. I bought it at a nursery and helped put it in the ground. I became part of the creative process by planting that bush in my yard.
Scientifically, there is a reality that all things are connected. We experience the world with our senses: seeing the flowers, hearing the birds, smelling the bread baking in the oven, tasting that turkey and feeling the touch of a friend. It all seems separated by space and time. Yet everything in God’s world is made up of the same thing – atoms. Atoms are made up of parts. Those parts are connected by an indescribable force. A rose may seem like a solid thing, but it is made up of atoms and the parts of atoms that are swimming together in space. Verse 17 in this passage says, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Scientists, when the discovered this indescribable force holding the parts of an atom together called it “The Colossians Force.”
Christ is the image of that which we can not see. He is the Word made flesh, the God of creation dwelling with us. He was there when God laid down the foundations of the earth and it was through Him all things were made. In Christ we see that God did not make the world and disappear, but that He has been with us always, planning even in the beginning the redemption that was to come. Everything is His, and through Him we are re-created and reconciled to God our Father in heaven, part of the body of Christ and blessed with eternal life in Him.
The worst part is that we don’t take the time to appreciate and enjoy everything that God has given us in creation. We forget the great and wonderful things God has done that can’t be seen with our senses. If we don’t enjoy the roses, birds, bread, turkey or friends and attribute them to the One who brought them forth, how can we really every grasp God’s mercy and grace found in His redemption – re-creation – of His world? How can we every truly be?
Luke 23:33-43 And when they came unto the place which is called The skull, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand and the other on the left. And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And parting his garments among them, they cast lots. And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also scoffed at him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, offering him vinegar, and saying, If thou art the King of the Jews, save thyself. And there was also a superscription over him, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors that were hanged railed on him, saying, Art not thou the Christ? save thyself and us. But the other answered, and rebuking him said, Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom. And he said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.
I have a collection of crosses. They hang on the wall behind my desk. If I take a moment to stop working on the computer and sit back, I can look at all the different types of crosses that I have collected over the years. There are crosses from all over the world. In a small oval frame is a Belgian lace cross. There are several made from wood. Numerous crosses are Mexican, some are pottery and one is made from silver. One of the crosses has a bunch of grapes with the passage from John in which Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” The crosses bring back memories. Some were gifts. Some are handmade. Some were bought to support ministries. My favorite is a silver and gold Celtic cross, the type that has the circle of life encircling the cross pieces.
Some people are disgusted by the image of the cross. They are offended by the idea that we would put so much importance to an object of ancient torture. After all, the cross was used to punish and execute criminals. I have been asked, in reference to the cross I wear around my neck, whether I would wear an electric chair. It is impossible not to see the beauty in my collection of crosses, but there is an underlying sadness about it. The cross was used to kill people. It was used to kill Jesus. It was not a thing of beauty in His day. As a matter of fact, it was ugly and horrifying. Little more than two pieces of wood and a few nails, most likely already covered in the blood of previous victims. The death experienced on the cross was slow and painful, terrifying and disgusting. The death was not only physical, but also emotional and spiritual. It was humiliating to hang on the cross as the witnesses threw insults and accusations.
Why would we want to remember this? Why would we want to hang this symbol on our wall or wear it around our neck? Why is this cross so important? Why would we choose to remember this moment of Christ’s life – His death – on a day set aside for Christ the King? In the passage we are reminded of the sign placed above Jesus’ head on the cross, the sign that calls Him “The King of the Jews.” Yet, this sign is an insult, it was meant to call to the attention of the gawkers Jesus’ foolishness. How could a king end up hanging nearly naked by a few nails on a cross?
We celebrate a different kind of king. Jesus Christ did not have a typical coronation. The kings and queens of the world celebrate their elevation to monarch with grand parties and ostentatious ceremonies. For some monarchs, the coronation ceremony is so important that they take a year or more to organize. Some have acted as monarch for months and even years before they officially took the crown to their heads. New gowns, new jewels, new furnishings were created. Dignitaries were invited and accommodations were prepared. Some even built new palaces, churches or banqueting halls before hosting the party of their lives. It was such an important moment of their lives that they wanted everything to be new, beautiful and perfect.
Jesus’ coronation was much different. A week before He was lifted onto the cross, Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem like a king. He rode a donkey and was surrounded by people singing thanksgiving to God for giving them a Messiah. In less than a week He was hanging on the cross, having disappointed everyone who had hung their hopes on Him. The followers turned because He was not leading them into battle against Rome. Even His closest friends betrayed, denied and abandoned Him. Yet, it was at the very moment that Jesus cried out one last time and gave up His spirit that He was crowned King. It was at that moment that He fully lived out the purpose of His life, bringing the entire burden of God’s justice on His flesh. His obedience to God’s will earned Him the greatest crown of all.
For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.
It would be unusual to break into the praise and worship of Christ the King with the remembrance of a human saint on such an important festival Sunday. After all, this is the culmination God’s will and purpose for Jesus. The season of Advent starts on the first Sunday of December, beginning again the story of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. It seems odd, and almost out of place, to bring in the life of one Christian on a day like this.
Isaac Watts was born in Southampton in 1674. It was a turbulent time in England, with dissent rampant in the church. The official church of England was the Anglican Church; it was the church that held the power, the monarchy, the politicians and every other aspect of life in the land. The effects of the Protestant Reformation had made their ways into the congregations of England, with people following the teachings of men like Calvin and Luther. Isaac Watts and his family were nonconformists. They were part of a movement that did not think that the Anglican Church had gone far enough reforming the Church. There was persecution, but most of all the nonconformists were not able to attend university.
Isaac Watts was brilliant, obvious from a very early age. He learned Latin, Greek, French and Hebrew by the time he was thirteen. Someone recognized his abilities and offered to send him to Oxford or Cambridge. He would have been readily accepted if only he would renounce his nonconformist convictions. He could not do so but decided to attend an academy sponsored by the Dissenters, an institution created for those denied acceptance at the universities. He was a prolific writer. He began writing poetry while he was in school. He wrote works on logic, theology, metaphysics, astronomy and even children’s books. He was known as a powerful and inspirational preacher. His congregation hung on his every word. However he is perhaps most known for his hymns.
Isaac Watts was part of a church that followed Calvinist teachings. They believed that the only acceptable music in worship was the singing of psalms or scripture. Isaac found the music to be awkward, sad and stodgy. He felt that the music was putting people off worship. His father answered, “Why don’t you write a hymn.” He wrote his first hymn that day and the congregation sang it at worship that evening. He went on to write more than six hundred hymns. Some thought that his hymns were too worldly for the church. His work split many congregations and got many pastors fired. Isn’t it amazing how more than two hundred years can pass and we are still dealing with similar problems? How many churches are facing upheaval because some want to introduce contemporary music and others think it is too worldly?
Isaac Watts is a good fit for Christ the King Sunday not because he was anything extraordinary. He was unusual. He suffered from recurring emotional and physical problems. He faced persecution for his passions. But he had a deep and personal understanding of the grace of God, how He takes over our lives with His love and draws us into His heart. He celebrated the immensity of God, seeing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as seemingly insignificant moments that had eternal significance. He knew that God was bigger than our human imaginations could ever envisage. His hymns often had a theme of God’s sovereignty, His majesty, His rule over all.
He wrote, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” And “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does his successive journeys run; His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.” In his music we see Christ the King. We see His Kingdom and we see that the cross is where it all began.
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A WORD FOR TODAY, Advent Announcement
I have been writing A WORD FOR TODAY based on the lectionary for several years now and it is a wonderful opportunity to look at the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday. It has helped me prepare my thoughts for MIDWEEK OASIS which is posted on Wednesday of each week, based on those same passages.
However, I really enjoy using Advent as a time of preparation for Christmas, not just the regular preparation we do – shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, partying – but also in a spiritual sense. After all, Christmas is about more than Christmas trees, presents and parties. It is about Jesus Christ.
In the past I have done Advent series using Christmas traditions from around the world and the Jesse Tree. The writing for this season is generally focused on preparing for Christ whether it is a themed series or not. We prepare for His coming both at Christmas and when He will come again. It is a time of light, or growing light as we look at the promises of God and the fulfillment of those promises in Jesus Christ. In the past, Advent has been a time for new Christians to learn more about the faith until they are ready to become members at Christmas. It is a time for learning, growing, praying, focusing and remembering God’s grace.
We do that each week with the lectionary, particularly since the next four weeks will be Advent Sundays, and those scriptures lead us to the birth with reminders of the prophetic promises from the Old Testament. We are entering in the year of Matthew, so the Gospel passages will be in his voice, calling for repentance and watchfulness. Matthew focuses on Joseph but we also hear about Mary. John the Baptist always appears in the stories leading to the birth of Christ, as he was the forerunner. The Epistle lessons come from Paul and James, focusing on the revelation of Light to the world, both Jew and Gentile.
Instead of following the regular scripture lessons for the Sundays in Advent, I have decided to do a new series. This year we will look at the names of God. I will write daily from December 1st through December 25th, using one of the many names of God each day. The names of God define His character. They help us to see more fully His hand in this world, in our lives, in our futures. The names of God help us to understand His purpose and our purpose in the world.
Since I will be writing daily, including weekends, and will not be using the lectionary texts, I will not be posting A WORD FOR TODAY the week of November 26-30. I will take time this week instead to prepare, research and write. I will continue to write Midweek Oasis, so if you are interested in the texts for each Sunday they will be explored through that weekly devotional (available at http://www.angelfire.com/ak3/dailyword/midweekoasis.html). You can sign up to receive that posting emailed to you at the webpage.
I hope this series will be an inspiration and that it will help you to prepare your heart as you prepare your home and family for the holidays. As always, I want you to know how thankful I am that you have been with me for so many years, supporting me with prayer and notes of encouragement. May you have a blessed Advent and may your Christmas light shine for all the world.
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