Welcome to the November 2018 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version
A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2018
“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
There is a movement to make Halloween safer for children with food allergies called the Teal Pumpkin Project. The participants put a teal pumpkin as part of their decorations and provide a non-food treat for the children. Health issues are more common than you realize and it is not just peanut allergies that are the problem. Some children are allergic to dairy and flour. Diabetic children can’t have sugars. Halloween is not fun for children with these issues and their bag full of treats often ends up in the hands of their parents or siblings. Having non-food treats available gives them something they can enjoy.
I didn’t register with the site or hang one of their signs, but I did have a teal pumpkin in my decorations and a bowl full of treat bags with a coloring book and crayons. The first dozen children did not say anything, so they got a few pieces of candy and a glow bracelet. I wondered if they just didn’t know to ask, so I began asking “Candy or Toy.” I had a large group of children come through who wanted the toy and I realized that I would quickly run out of the toys if I gave every child a choice. We made a sign, but no one asked. I ended up giving the last few dozen children one of each item.
The favorite item was definitely the glow bracelet. Nearly every child was excited about it and many stopped their forward progress to break the stick and put it on. The children who received the goody bag with the toy were also excited. I heard one child tell her mom, “Mom, look! I got a goody bag!” While the whole point of Halloween Trick or Treating is to overindulge in candy, I think many of the kids were happy to have something else, something different, perhaps even something that would last. I think next year I’ll skip the candy and put my entire Trick or Treat money into something every child, young and old, will really enjoy. I might even put it into a treat bag so they have the joy of discovering what’s inside when they get home.
It is hard to decide what to have and how much to have on hand. We get a lot of children in our neighborhood. The weather was terrible an hour before Trick or Treating started, so we didn’t really know how many families would risk being outside. Thankfully the storms moved on and the evening was perfect. I gave treats to more than two hundred children and our neighbor went over three hundred last night. I didn’t want leftovers, but I wanted enough. I struggled with what I should do, and I changed my plan multiple times as I watched my supply dwindle. I just wanted it to be a fun Halloween for every child who came to my door.
God never has a problem with knowing what to do for His children. He is able to give us just what we need. Unfortunately for us, His gifts are not always what we would want. We ask for one thing, but God knows that one thing could be harmful for us, like the child with a peanut allergy wants a Snicker’s bar. Yet, even when God says “No” to our prayers, He has something better to give to us like a glow stick or a coloring book. We want our children to be happy, and so does God, but even more He wants us to be blessed. Sometimes that means receiving His good and perfect gifts knowing that they are exactly what we need.
“Remember this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work. As it is written, ‘He has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor. His righteousness remains forever.’ Now may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; you being enriched in everything to all liberality, which produces through us thanksgiving to God. For this service of giving that you perform not only makes up for lack among the saints, but abounds also through many givings of thanks to God; seeing that through the proof given by this service, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the Good News of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all; while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, yearn for you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. Now thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, WEB
Sea World San Antonio has an exhibit for penguins; it was one of our favorite destinations when we visited the park. The exhibit has rocky cliffs along the walls and a pool in the front. In the middle is a flat area, which is covered with snow to protect the feet of the penguins. The atmosphere in the habitat is consistent with the weather in those regions where the penguins would live if they were in the wild. The lights in the exhibit act as the sun; even during mid-summer in Texas it appears to be mid-winter in the exhibit. The temperature is kept at a temperature for the penguins that usually live in cold weather places.
Penguins are amazing creatures. On land they are somewhat clumsy, wobbling from one place to another. They do not move very much. Every time we watched, most of the penguins just stood still on the rocks or snow. Some of them settled on the ledges of the cliffs, facing the wall as if they had been sent to the corner for time-out. They were probably just resting, but it made us laugh. Though they are awkward on land, they are quite graceful in the water. They are able to swim and float with an elegance that seems impossible when you see them wobbling around on land. They can speed through the water to catch fish and play with each other. It is like a whole different world because they are unencumbered by the weight and the disproportionate design of their bodies.
The water for penguins is like the grace of God in our lives. On the land, penguins are awkward, slow and clumsy. They face greater danger from predators because they can’t get away as quickly. It is hard for them to find food. They get bubble feet from walking on the rough stones. Yet, in the water they are swift, and adept at doing what is necessary to survive. In the world, we are clumsy and unable to accomplish anything of any real value. We are unrighteous sinners when we try to go it on our own. But when we live in the grace of God, He holds us up, provides all we need to live and love.
“But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? says the Lord Yahweh; and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?” Ezekiel 18:21-23, WEB
“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. We see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot! Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent to blow up king and parliament. Three score barrels were laid below to prove old England's overthrow. By god’s mercy he was catch’d with a darkened lantern and burning match. So, holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring. Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king. And what shall we do with him? Burn him!”
This litty ditty, a nursery rhyme(!), recalls a time in England that was filled with turmoil and strife. James I was king, it was an age of Civil war. It was a time when the people were fighting for their doctrinal beliefs. James was a Protestant and Parliament was his puppet. A group of Roman Catholic men were willing to do anything to keep England under the rule of the Pope. They hatched the Gunpowder Plot. The intention was to blow up Parliament on the day when James was there to open the proceedings for the year. Everyone would be present, and all would die. A new Roman Catholic king would be selected and England would be Catholic forever.
The conspirators filled the basement of Parliament with gunpowder, but Guy did something foolish. He had a relative who was a Member of Parliament. He did not want to kill someone from his own family, so he sent a note warning this man to stay away. The plot was exposed, Guy Fawkes was arrested and tortured. He eventually gave the names of the other conspirators, and was then executed for his crime. Today is Guy Fawkes Day. They celebrate the end of the Gunpowder plot by blowing things up; they celebrate fireworks and bonfires.
Guy will always be remembered for his crime against the king. That’s the way human justice works. We remember the failings of those around us. God’s justice is much different than our justice. We are unable to be righteous before God, and yet He sent His Son to be righteous for us. When we clothe ourselves in His righteousness, God no longer sees the offenses we committed, but He sees Christ in us. God does not remember our sins, He rejoices in our repentance. Turn to Him today, wear His righteousness, and live.
“Shout for joy to Yahweh, all you lands! Serve Yahweh with gladness. Come before his presence with singing. Know that Yahweh, he is God. It is he who has made us, and we are his. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, and bless his name. For Yahweh is good. His loving kindness endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100, WEB
Today is Election Day in the United States. It has certainly been a difficult time for the American public as we have listened to the incessant discussion over what would be best for America. The candidates and the commentators have gone on endlessly for weeks, months, even years, discussing the issues that affect us on a daily basis. The more they talk, the more divided we seem to be. We simply cannot find a common ground in ideas.
I recently read an article that talked about the physiology of people’s brains and the way they see the world. The author suggested that we think differently because our brains work differently. I didn’t agree completely with the thesis because if it were true then I should have different political opinions, but I agree that there is probably something in our brains that is hardwired toward certain world views.
Paul wrote to the Romans, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” (Romans 12:17b) When it comes to election issues, this is impossible to do. How do you vote for one candidate and do what is right in the eyes of the people voting for the other? There are those who are so passionately sure of their candidate that any vote against him is considered to be evil, un-Christian or stupid. They can’t see the good in the other man, whatever it might be and they are unwilling to accept that there are logical and godly reasons for making their choice.
So in such a hotly contested election, how do we do what Paul asks? How do we do what is right in the eyes of all men? The most difficult part of this decision making process for Christians is the fact that we are also divided among ourselves. We should be united in everything, but we are divided by thought and ideology. Some Christians lean toward one candidate and others lean toward the other. The same disagreements that are happening in the political arena are also happening in the Christian church. We are divided by our understanding of who we are and whose we are. We can’t talk and seem honorable in the eyes of our brothers and sisters in Christ. How do we please all of the people all of the time when our ideas are so divided?
We must remember that our unity rests not in our own thoughts but in God.
It is not this easy. This world is divided by ideas and many people cannot overcome their differences. Paul continues in verse 18, “If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men.” Christians are called to make peace in this world. Sometimes this means to let go of our ideas - not to give them up, but rather to keep them to ourselves - so that we can find a common ground on which to walk. There are difficult issues facing the church as well as in our world. How do we deal with our differences when we cannot even talk with one another?
The one thing we have to remember as Americans is that the one place we can agree completely is that we have a right to make the choice. Every American eligible to vote should make it to the polls today no matter what they face to get there. One reminder is making its way across the Internet: “After the Election: If you win, don’t gloat. If you lose, don’t despair. This has been hard on all of us. Treat others the way you want to be treated. We all need it.” The winner might not be our choice, but at least we will be united in the process. This is the first step to finding other common ground.
We disagree about many things in the church. These differences go back to the earliest days, when the first Christians were disagreeing about certain aspects of the faith. Some of the questions are new, but many of the questions have been discussed among theologians and believers for two thousand years. And yet, one thing still unites us: the Holy Spirit. We are not called into faith to agree with everything we hear, but rather to join in the worship of God with our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we are praising Him with joy and thanksgiving with one voice, the other issues do not seem to matter quite so much.
*I should note that this is an edited repeat from 2004. As a friend said on Facebook this morning, “Amazingly, every two years the most important election of my lifetime takes place.” Elections matter. The work the government does matters. Our daily existence in this world matters. But no matter what happens today, let us always remember it has happened before and it will happen again. The most important thing that matters is our God. Keep your eyes on Him and all will be well, even if they aren’t as you want them to be.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 11, 2018, Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh, his God.” Psalm 146:5, WEB
I posted this joke on my Facebook page yesterday: “If I don’t post a selfie or mark “Voted” on Facebook, does that mean my vote won’t count?” A Christian satire site called The Babylon Bee posted an article that confirmed my suspicion. Of course, their article was also a joke. My vote counted whether or not I made a grand show of doing my patriotic duty. I did notice that my timeline was filled with people who were posting selfies and marking themselves as having voted. I have done it in the past, but have to admit that I was so burnt out by this election that I didn’t really care to put yet another post about it online. One friend set off a lengthy discussion about whether it was good or bad to post on social media. He took the position that the posting was little more than a self-congratulatory act. Others disagreed and felt that posting encouraged others to go to the polls.
There are those who truly think it is a bad thing, that it is what has recently been termed “virtue signaling.” Virtue signaling is defined by the Urban Dictionary, “to take a conspicuous but essentially useless action ostensibly to support a good cause but actually to show off how much more moral you are than everybody else.” I tend to look at people’s actions with more grace than this, believing that people are posting for all the right reasons, not to make themselves look better than their neighbors.
I thought about this idea of virtue signaling when I read the first half of this week’s Gospel lesson. Jesus warned the people to beware of the scribes because they acted in ways to make themselves look good to the world. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk in long robes, and to get greetings in the marketplaces, and the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts: those who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.”
At this point in the book of Mark, Jesus was on his way toward the cross. He had entered Jerusalem triumphantly, but He was doing things that upset the powers of the world. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the leaders, how they walked around looking for compliments, acting high and mighty, using their power to harm the weak. They took advantage of widows by seeking payment for prayers. Jesus then noticed the crowds throwing their offerings in the coffers. I can imagine those teachers of the Law clapping people on the back, pulling them aside for private conversations, making deals in the corners as they looked for patrons to support their work.
I’m a people watcher. I like to go places and watch the people around me. It is fun to think about their lives, even though I know nothing about them. Why are they buying that watch? Are they in love? What will that child grow up to be when they are an adult? People do the craziest things, and if we are attentive to the world around us, we often have a front row seat to the joke, or the joy, or even the pain. And by being attentive, we can be a part of their lives, perhaps share a smile, or a tear. We don’t even have to speak to them to have a connection; sometimes it just takes a little eye contact to make a difference.
There were people watching people in the courtyard of the Temple that day. The leaders were definitely paying attention to the pilgrims. Who did they approach? Who interested them? Did they give any attention to the average pilgrim, or did they just focus on those who were well dressed and who threw great sums into the coffers? Did they even notice the widow who offered two pennies? She was probably invisible, unless they eyed her suspiciously.
There was another group of watchers in the courtyard: Jesus and His disciples. Jesus was watching the people as they gave their offerings. He knew their hearts. Jesus knew the ones who were virtue signaling, but He also saw the multitudes that were doing their duty with reverence and faith. He said nothing negative about the rich because they were generous; Mark tells us that “many who were rich cast in much.” They were generous, giving to God out of their wealth.
But Jesus paid attention to the invisible one, the widow who was lost in the crowd. We don’t know what she looked like or what she was wearing. We don’t know if she was a foreign pilgrim or a local. We don’t know if she was alone in that courtyard or if she’d traveled with a crowd of family and friends. We only know that she gave two pennies as an offering to God and that it was all she had. And we know that Jesus saw her. In this courtyard full of people, she caught His eye. He lifted her up as a woman with extraordinary faith. The lesson we learn is that we can be like her, giving everything to Him, even when it seems insignificant, trusting that He’ll take care of us. Despite the small amount, the widow’s gift was greater than all the others because she gave God her entire wealth.
Jesus saw her. Through all those crowds, He picked out the one person whom everyone else probably ignored. He saw the one who had no earthly worth. That’s what God does. He sees through the exterior and past the mundane; He points out value where the world might see none. She didn’t have much, but she had far more than the rest because she had great faith. That’s worth noting. Money won’t do us any good in the end. Faith is the only thing that will get us through the last days; faith will take us to the other side.
God saw the worth of another widow, as we see in the Old Testament lesson. There was extreme drought in the land where Zarephath was located. The widow was suffering. She had nothing left. She had perhaps two pennies worth of flour and oil, just enough to make one more cake for her son and herself. She had hope for a future despite being a widow because she had a son if she could keep him alive. Unfortunately, all the money in the world is useless in the midst of a drought when there is nothing to buy. No wheat in the fields meant no grain to grind. She was not the only one suffering; the whole land was suffering.
God promised Elijah, “Behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain you.” She knew Elijah was coming, but her immediate response was fear. “I don’t have anything extra. I have just enough to eat and die.” She was not an Israelite. She did not worship the God of Elijah. I wonder what she thought when she first heard the command from God. Who are you? Why me? How will I know? Even those of us who know the Lord ask these questions. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for someone who did not believe? She should have been invisible to this God of Elijah, and yet He knew her and invited her into His plan. “Feed my prophet and you will be blessed.”
She wasn’t a woman of faith; she questioned the command. Even when she met Elijah at the gate of the city, she argued that she didn’t have enough to share. Yet, all it took was a few words of assurance from Elijah that his God would not fail her. She needed to know that this unknown God was really in the middle of this. “Go ahead. Do as you’ve been told. All is well and it will be well for you and your son.” Perhaps the widow at the Temple got the strength to give everything from similar encouraging words.
Do you ever feel invisible? Even as people of faith we can find it difficult to believe that God sees us or hears our prayers. I am nobody. I am just one person out of the billions who are currently living on earth, and just one out of the more than hundred billion people who have ever lived. Who am I that God would notice me? Who am I that God would point me out to His disciples and teach them a lesson using my life as an example? I’m probably even more invisible than those widows because I am one of the multitudes who give to God out of my wealth like the crowds in the Temple.
When things are fine, even when things are tight, most people of faith are good about giving to God first. We know it is important to give faithfully for the work of the Church in the world. There comes a time, however, when there just isn’t enough to do what needs to do be done. There are many people who are hungry, what good is one can of tuna fish? It is very easy to question charitable giving when there is not enough to money to keep the lights on. Have you ever been in a position when someone needed your generosity but you had nothing left to give? Have you ever had to trust God with such sacrificial faith that circumstances demanded everything?
I doubt that many of us are like the scribes or the widows. We are more like the crowds giving out of our wealth. The test comes when we are facing difficulty like the widow of Zarephath. When there is drought, when there is no hope, how do we respond? Is our charitable giving the first thing we drop out of our budget? Is our offering to God the last thing we pay when the money is tight? In the scribes we are reminded not to show off how much better we are than others. In the widows we see the image of faith: astonishing trust in the grace and mercy of God.
Our gifts, no matter how big they might be, are not worthy of praise. We are giving out of our wealth and God does not need anything we have to give. It is all His and He gave it to us to be good stewards for the sake of others. God deserves our first fruits, not our leftovers. Like the widow of Zarephath and the widow in the temple, faith means trusting that God will provide according to His grace. Even if those first fruits mean that we are giving “unto death” we need not fear, for God will bring great blessings out of our faith.
The psalmist reminds us that all good things come from God. “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh, his God: who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps truth forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. Yahweh frees the prisoners. Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind. Yahweh raises up those who are bowed down. Yahweh loves the righteous. Yahweh preserves the foreigners. He upholds the fatherless and widow, but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.”
God raises those that are bowed down. This is not just about God taking care of those who are victimized, who are oppressed and outcast. God raises up those who are humble before Him, who trust that God will provide. He raises up those who give with the heart of faith, whatever our circumstances. Jesus fed the crowds whether they were poor or wealthy. He healed the sick no matter their circumstances. He raised the ruler’s daughter. He raised Lazarus. He was raised on the cross so that all who believe might be raised to the greatest gift of all, eternal life.
The stories of the widows foreshadow the work of Christ Jesus. The widows gave even their lives for the sake of others in obedience to the Word of God. The widow of Zarephath was blessed with life through the drought as the flour and oil seemed in endless supply. We do not know what happened to the widow in the temple, but when Jesus was only days away from being the final, permanent sacrifice, He showed us what it is like to sacrifice everything through her self-less giving.
For generations the priests in the temple had provided ministry to the Lord by offering sacrifices for the people. Over and over again they approached the altar with blood to atone for the sins of the people. They were paid for their services through the offerings of grain and meat; they enjoyed the fruit of the people’s labor. They benefited from the wealth of the rich. They oppressed the poor by demanding much more than necessary, claiming it was given to God. Yet, they walked with handsome robes and had fine homes. They thought themselves greater than others because they served God, yet they still needed to provide sacrifice for their own sins before they could provide for the people. The Temple was not heaven, it was merely a copy of the heavenly. The priests could never bring salvation; they were gifted and chosen to point toward the One who would truly save.
The offerings of the rich did little good; money never lasts. The priests would demand more temple tax to support their ministry to God. They would demand more animals for sacrifice, more grain and oil to present to the Lord. Sin never stopped and the blood of animals was never enough for atonement, so the sacrifices had to be repeated over and over again. Only Christ could offer the perfect sacrifice. He is the only one who could enter into God’s presence and bring salvation from sin and death. He died once and we are forgiven of all. The priests who had to offer lambs every year, but He did not have to die again and again. Jesus Christ finished the work of atonement on the cross. He gave all for the sake of others, making the ultimate sacrifice so that we might have eternal life. Now, in Christ, forgiveness is like the bottomless flour jar and oil jug. The Word of God is true and He is faithful. When we live trusting in His promises we see incredible things.
“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh, his God.” This is not a giddy kind of happiness, but rather the blessedness of knowing that everything we are and everything we have comes from God. The widows knew that God takes care of those who look to Him for help. They knew that He would lift those who are bowed, sustain the fatherless and widows and frustrate the way of the wicked as promised in today’s psalm. They did not put their trust in men; they submitted willingly to the Word of God and were greatly blessed. Jesus sacrificed Himself for the sake of the world, and in Christ we can join in the chorus of praise. “Praise Yah! Praise Yahweh, my soul.”
“He spoke to them many things in parables, saying, ‘Behold, a farmer went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell by the roadside, and the birds came and devoured them. Others fell on rocky ground, where they didn’t have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of earth. When the sun had risen, they were scorched. Because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among thorns. The thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on good soil, and yielded fruit: some one hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:3-9, WEB
Jesus came to share the Kingdom of God with His people. He wanted them to understand that there was something beyond their human experience, something so incredible that it cannot be understood simply by sight, sound and touch. The message was simple: God, our heavenly Father loves you so much that He came to dwell among you and make you an heir to His Kingdom. Jesus, God in flesh, showed His children the truth of His love. He spoke so that they would understand, in stories that touched on their earthly experiences of life. He often talked of farming or fishing, normal activities for the people who were listening to His teaching. By using parables, earthly stories with a heavenly meaning, He conveyed the spiritual ideas to the people in a way they could understand.
Of all God’s creation, perhaps grain is the one thing that most directly touches our lives. Grains are small, hard, dry seeds that are used for human and animal consumption. There are different types of grains: cereals and legumes. Dried grains are more durable than other plant products; they are easy to harvest mechanically. Grains can be easily transported and are extremely versatile when milled or pressed. Grain feeds the animals we eat. It can be used for non-food purposes, too. Many aspects of our daily living depend on the use of grain in some way. The most common use of grain is for bread; every culture relies on grain in some way for survival.
Grain is easier to farm because of the way it is seeded and harvested. A wheat or corn field can be planted by scattering seed, the seed need not be buried and the farmer can almost ignored until harvest time. The farmer should check the field regularly for water, insects and other problems, but grain plants do not need to be pruned or weeded. At harvest time, the plants are cut down, gathered and separated unlike other plants that have fruit that needs to be carefully removed from the stalk or vine.
Planting grain has become very simple. Specially designed equipment can quickly scatter the seed over a large field. Farmers can cut a field and collect the grain in a matter of hours instead of days. There is even a special machine that can drive through a field of cut wheat and turn over the stalks so that the straw will dry more quickly. In ancient times, all these tasks had to be done by hand with only the help of a strong animal pulling the plow. Even grain has its risks: poor weather or a plague of insects can destroy a field. However, most communities can produce at least enough on which to live.
Since grain is an important part of daily living, not only today but throughout the history of man, Jesus used stories about grain and farming to illustrate the Kingdom of God. Though we have modern conveniences, we can listen to these very same stories and understand the concepts Jesus was trying to convey. We still have the same needs for grain and the fields still grow the same as they did two thousand years ago.
In today’s parable, we learn that scattering the seed means that there might be some loss. Some grain seeds are devoured, some wither and some are choked by weeds. Yet, even though some are lost, the field still produces far more than what was invested. We learn from the stories of Jesus and through God’s creation how to live by faith in this world. We are reminded that we are called to pray to God in supplication and thanksgiving for everything we need. We see that as we give our faith to the world some of the seeds we hope to be planted will be lost. We see that God provides abundantly without much help from us.
“Now from the fig tree learn this parable. When its branch has now become tender, and produces its leaves, you know that the summer is near. Even so you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away, until all these things are accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But no one knows of that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only. As the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ship, and they didn’t know until the flood came, and took them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:32-39, WEB
Every time there is a change of weather, no matter where it happens, someone makes a post on Facebook that says, “Don’t like the weather? Wait a minute!” Or “Only in ‘wherever’ can we have all four seasons in a day.” Of course this is true in Texas. I recall a time I was at a gathering and we were sitting outside near the grill where our dinner was being cooked. The temperature was lovely. The sun was shining. There was no wind. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a wind hit us and the temperature dropped at least ten degrees in a minute. I began to shiver and had to go inside. A cold front moved through at that very moment and it caused the weather to change instantly.
A similar cold front is headed our way. Well, two are on their way. Today was lovely, warm temperatures though cloudy. The first one is due tonight and is expected to bring rain, possibly even storms. The second is expected next week and by the time it comes, our temperatures will be near freezing. This sudden and extreme change in the weather will catch many off guard. They will wake up tomorrow morning, put on the kind of clothes they wore today and realize that they should have worn long sleeves or a sweater. Those who pay attention to the news will know how to prepare; those who aren’t paying attention will be caught unaware.
This sort of change in the weather is often to blame for the increased incidence of colds and flu, partially because people are unprepared to face the damp, cold weather. Poor health is also caused by the fact that germs pass more easily from person to person when we are gathered together in close, confined quarters to keep from the bitter winds and rain.
In today’s scripture, Jesus warned his disciples that no one will know the time when the Son of Man will come. He gave them this warning so that they would be prepared in heart and mind for the time and not be confused by every wind of doctrine that blew. As the day grows closer, Satan will become more desperate to deceive the children of God. His tactics will become harder to detect, easier to pass from one another. Jesus told His disciples to keep watch for the time of His coming and to do everything He has commanded: love God and one another. In this way they would be prepared. The same is true for us. The winds may blow and the storm may come, but we can stand firm on the truth of God’s salvation that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray that He will give us the strength and wisdom to wait with patience and expectancy, guarded from the winds of change in this world.
“Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. They came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus, the king’s personal aide, their friend, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day, Herod dressed himself in royal clothing, sat on the throne, and gave a speech to them. The people shouted, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’ Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he didn’t give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God grew and multiplied.” Acts 12:20-24, WEB
The New Testament stories of Herod can become confusing because there were several. The Herod that killed the innocents of Bethlehem (Herod the Great) was not the same as the Herod that killed John the Baptist (Herod Antipas) who was not the same as the Herod that killed James and imprisoned Peter. The Herod in today’s passage is Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great. This can become confusing and it is difficult from the scriptures to truly understand the character and reigns of these kings.
Agrippa spent most of his life in Rome. He was sent there for his education and his safety because his grandfather was a cruel and suspicious king who killed his son Aristobulus, Agrippa’s father. Agrippa was friends with the son of Tiberius, but after his mother died, Agrippa spent the family wealth and went into debt. He left Rome, settled in Palestine and took a position in his Uncle Herod Antipas’s kingdom. He left that position to go to Egypt where he took a loan which allowed him to return to Rome. He wasn’t welcome in the court because of the debt, but when it was paid, Agrippa became a tutor for Tiberius’s grandson. He became a friend of Caligula. He ended up in prison because he said something negative about Tiberius, but on the emperor’s death Agrippa was set free and raised by his friend Caligula. He was made king of the region that had been ruled by Philip the Tetrarch. Antipas was upset by this, but Agrippa had the ear of Caligula so Antipas was exiled and Agrippa ended up with a vast territory to rule.
Agrippa was a Jew, despite having spent most of his life as a Roman. He became zealous about his Jewish faith when he became king, earning the friendship of his Jewish subjects. He vigorously rejected the Christian faith which had arisen while he was in Rome. He is remembered well by the Jews because he was able to create a mutual relationship between Judah and Rome. It was a time of peace, and the Christian faith threatened conflict. A story is told about a moment when Agrippa was to read the Torah for the people. Though most kings sat for the reading, Agrippa stood like the rest of the assembly. It is said that when he read Deuteronomy 17:15, Agrippa wept because he considered himself a foreigner. The people responded, “Don’t fear Agrippa, you are our brother.” Agrippa had a reputation of being kind and humble man, even carrying his own offering to the Temple like the common folk.
The New Testament portrays him differently, of course, because he was determined to end the cult that was following Jesus of Nazareth. The stories that come before today’s passage include the death of James (the brother of John) and the imprisonment of Peter. Peter was set to be executed also, but God intervened and sent an angel to rescue him. He appeared before the Christians in Jerusalem, surprising them. Some even thought it must be Peter’s ghost because they thought he was dead. He sent word to James (the brother of Jesus) and then escaped to Caesarea. Agrippa tried to find Peter, but when he could not do so, he ordered the death of those soldiers who were charged with his imprisonment.
Today’s passage comes immediately following. We are not told why Agrippa was upset with Tyre and Sidon. There is no reason to suggest that it is because the king blamed them for Peter’s disappearance. It is more likely that Tyre and Sidon, which were major ports, did something that harmed Agrippa’s economy. He nearly declared war, but the cities sent emissaries to make peace. He gave a speech and the people cheered him and called him a god. Despite his claim to faith in the God of Israel, Agrippa accepted the accolades. He met his end in a sudden and painful manner. Agrippa is known as the last king of the Jews because the Romans decided not to give the territory to his son.
James was dead and Peter had been imprisoned. The Christian faith would continue to suffer at the hands of their enemies, both Roman and Jewish. Most of the Apostles would be martyred, along with many others. Those who remained faithful to Jesus would suffer in other ways, such as exile from their families and economic difficulties. Despite the risks, Luke tells us that the word of God grew and multiplied. It didn’t matter to the faithful that they might die because they knew by God’s grace they would live forever. The story of Agrippa is interesting, perhaps a little frightful when we think about the people around the world who think they hold our lives in their hands. We know, however, that God is in control and that no matter what happens, He will make good come out of it.
“Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard? The everlasting God, Yahweh, the Creator of the ends of the earth, doesn’t faint. He isn’t weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak. He increases the strength of him who has no might. Even the youths faint and get weary, and the young men utterly fall; But those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run, and not be weary. They will walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31, WEB
I am not a very good housekeeper. There’s always dust on the furniture and crumbs on the floor. There are always dishes in the sink. My carpets desperately need to be cleaned. It is a never-ending occupation; there is always something to be wiped down or put away. Changing the sheets on the bed is an exhausting and time consuming project. Housework seems like it is a never-ending occupation. I do what needs to be done, but I have to admit that it takes the promise of visitors for me to get around to doing more.
There is one household task that is more frustrating than others: the laundry. No matter how hard we try, there is always some dirty piece of clothing. Even as we empty the dryer and fold the final pair of pants or T-shirt, we still have a set of clothes on our back that will need washing. It can be discouraging to get to the bottom of the pile, only to have it reappear within minutes as kids toss this hour’s outfit on the pile. Perhaps you have certain jobs that are equally frustrating to you. Do you struggle with stacks of paperwork that never get smaller? Even as we are paying one bill, there are three more waiting for us. We can find solutions to the problems in our relationships, but it seems that just as we come to an agreement about something, there is another problem waiting.
It can be quite discouraging. We wonder, “Will I ever have a moment of rest?” Even in our relationship with God, we can weary of the tasks set before us, such as prayer. It seems that just as we see the answers to a prayer for a sick friend, two more ask for intercession. Just as we see someone we love come to a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ, there are two more that need to hear the Word. It is glorious to be able to do these tasks for the Lord, and yet there are moments when we cannot see the victory because it is buried under piles of things we need to do that we get discouraged.
In those moments when you are tired and weak, remember that the Lord God Almighty is your strength. He will give you all you need to complete the tasks set before you. Though you cannot see the end of the journey you are on, remember that the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus have already won the victory. Rest in Him, and know His peace.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 18, 2018, Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-13
“You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy. In your right hand there are pleasures forever more.” Psalm 16:11, WEB
When I wrote about the text from Daniel twelve years ago, I commented on how it had been an interesting week in American politics. I don’t even recall what was so historical, transformational and upsetting or elating about that particular election, but I laughed as I reread that devotion because we have been there so many times in the past twelve years and we are there again. We are still wondering at the outcome of some elections from last week; the contests are still too close to call. There have been many on all sides who have talked with great confidence about victories, but it is impossible to know the final outcome until the last vote is counted.
Every generation has found some need to look into the future, to determine the ways of things long before they happen, to predict how things will come to be. All too often, this type of prediction has a sense of self-fulfilling prophecy. The hope is that if it is spoken in a way that means just what the speaker wants it to mean, then it will happen as that speaker says. It happens in politics all the time. I suppose for some it is the power of positive thinking: if I say it, it will be. Yet, this is not always true. There are some things that are simply beyond our control, some things we can’t make happen with our own hands.
This passage from Daniel is a difficult one, though not because it has something difficult to say. It is difficult because generations of Christians have read these words and interpreted them according to their desires, defining the times and the places to their own benefit. There are others who would like to take the mystery out of the passage, to relieve us of the prophetic nature of these words.
According to the experts, the book of Daniel has the language and flavor of a text that might have been written in the 6th century B.C., long before some of the events found within the book happened. It is written like a prophetic, apocalyptic text, with visual images both frightening and strange. Yet, some claim that it should be dated much later, in the 2nd century B.C. after most of these things happened. Yet, the dating of the text is not necessarily what matters to us today. Just as there are politicians and politicos who spend months discussing the possibilities of every election, there are theologians who spend all their time discussing and interpreting the possibilities of the apocalyptic texts in the Bible. Perhaps our task is not to look into the future to guess what is going to happen, but rather to embrace the grace of God that is found in the words today. So, let’s ponder what these words mean. Should we be interpreting them to fit into our time and place?
The book of Daniel is a fascinating study into the character of a man who lived faithfully despite the struggles of living exiled in a foreign land. He was gifted, but his rise in the Babylonian government and his appeal to the kings made others jealous and determined to destroy him. Even worse, perhaps, was that Daniel’s gifts were hard to handle; the visions even made him ill. Despite all this, Daniel believed in God and was faithful. He wrote to God’s people who suffering from the persecution and oppression of exile, but he gave them a foretaste of what is to come at the end of time, at the revelation of God and the coming of His kingdom. These three verses from the last chapter was a message of comfort, reminding them that God is faithful and that they will be raised up out of the dust and into everlasting life. This is the promise we receive in Christ, the promise that came at the end of the ages and the promise that was fulfilled, is fulfilled and will be fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A few years ago I wrote the devotions for a quarterly published by a church publishing house. My assignment was for the last few weeks of the church year. It was a pretty depressing assignment because the scriptures all pointed to the last days. They were passages filled with woe and dread and it seemed like there was not much about which to hope. The focus at the end of the church year and the beginning of Advent is a reminder of the day when everything will finally be complete. We are always looking forward to the second coming of Christ, but the Day of the Lord is not necessarily going to be a happy time. Those who dwell in faith have hope because we know that any apocalypse we face will not keep us from inheriting the Kingdom of God for eternity.
It is tough to preach the apocalyptic passages in the lectionary. Even as we are looking forward to the coming of the King both at Christmas and in the future Day, the fear of what is foretold does not fit our expectation of a loving and merciful God. While we should not stand with our heads in the clouds waiting for the coming of Christ, we should not disregard the reality that the day will come. We need to hear the warnings as well as the promises to give the work we do in this world meaning. God hasn’t sent us into the world just to feed the poor with bread, but to feed the world with the Bread of Life so that all will have faith when the Day comes. As we see in those verses from Daniel, there is hope in the last days because God is faithful to His promises.
While we should not assume that every apocalyptic text speaks to our generation, we should also remember that every word in the Bible does speak to us. The key is to find the right interpretation. We read the words Jesus spoke to the disciples in the Gospel lesson from Mark and think that they are taken right out of the headlines from our newspapers: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines and false messiahs are as real to us today as they were to those who dwelled in first century Judah. The same can be said for every generation that has lived since the words were written.
We lived in England for four years and took advantage of our time there. We visited historic sites as often as possible, almost every weekend. Some of the places were still in use after a thousand years: castles and cathedrals that still are home to people and faith. We worshipped at some of the most famous places in the world; we received communion at Westminster Abbey, took in evensong at York Minster, prayed in the chapels of Salisbury Cathedral. We visited the palaces of the monarchy, saw the ancestral home of George Washington and even visited the towns where my own ancestors lived before immigrating to America.
We also visited a lot of ruins. We saw ancient Roman sites that have been uncovered, often accidentally, by modern construction. We went to old abbeys that were destroyed during the Reformation and castles that have fallen apart due to a lack of maintenance. Some of my favorite photos from that time are of my family wandering through the rooms of roofless buildings. One photo shows Bruce, Victoria and Zachary playing follow the leader along the ruins of a wall. Other photos show grand window casings of churches left standing without walls as the stones surrounding them were taken by the village residents to build homes and fences.
These were grand buildings. They were built to last forever, to honor God or house the nobles. They often took centuries to build. I noticed during so many of our visits that there was always scaffolding along some wall or around the domes and steeples of these ancient places. The builders, whether their work is still standing or are nothing but ruins, thought they were building something permanent. But nothing built by human hands will last forever. They might be able to make it stand for a thousand years, and may be around as ruins for longer than that, but in the end they will disappear like everything else made by man.
It isn’t just time that will bring down the manmade walls. Hurricanes, earthquakes and war can destroy something in a matter of minutes. Cities are left unoccupied and rotting as people move to better places. It doesn’t take very long before the earth takes back the land in these places; weeds grow in the cracks and ivy climbs the walls. Windows break and roofs cave, graffiti artists mark their territories. Fires weaken what is left until the walls can no longer stand. Scavengers steal the building materials to make something new. Bustling cities can become piles of brick in a matter of years when left to the ravages of time.
Imagine you were one of the disciples who had been following Jesus in that magnificent Temple that had recently been rebuilt by Herod the Great. It was a massive structure, nearly as large as ten football fields. Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “All the cloisters were double, and the pillars to them belonging were twenty-five cubits in height, and supported -the cloisters. These pillars were of one entire stone each of them, and that stone was white marble; and the roofs were adorned with cedar, curiously graven. The natural magnificence, and excellent polish, and the harmony of the joints in these cloisters, afforded a prospect that was very remarkable; nor was it on the outside adorned with any work of the painter or engraver. The cloisters - (of the outmost court) were in breadth thirty cubits, while the entire compass of it was by measure six furlongs, including the tower of Antonia; those entire courts that were exposed to the air were laid with stones of all sorts.”
It was magnificent and beautiful. It stood at the top of the hill and was built with the best of everything. Josephus described it this way, “To the stranger who suddenly came over the mountain, the Temple was like a snow-clad mountain for all that was not gold was gleaming white.” It is no wonder that one of the disciples said, “Teacher, see what kind of stones and what kind of buildings!” I experienced the same awe when I have visited the grand cathedrals and palaces of Europe.
Last week Jesus called our attention to one small woman giving one very small offering to the temple treasury. This treasury was used for the care and upkeep of the temple, to make it even more beautiful. The widow’s coins were worth so little that they were nearly useless to those who kept the treasury. How much could a penny buy in today’s dollars? It is so worthless that most of us will not even bother to bend down to pick one up off the ground.
After the story of the widow, Mark reported that the disciples were very impressed by what they saw at the Temple. “Teacher, see what kind of stones and what kind of buildings!” The widow’s tiny coins seem even smaller when compared to the huge stones and magnificent buildings of the Temple complex. Jesus told them that what they saw would be useless. “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone on another, which will not be thrown down.”
There is a prophetic voice in this text; the temple was destroyed just a few years after Jesus spoke those words. It must have been disheartening for the disciples to hear such a prophecy. Though Jesus had been teaching them about the difference between the kingdom on earth and the kingdom of heaven, the Temple was the dwelling place of God. Where would He go if there were no temple? Would He leave them? If the Temple were destroyed, where would they go? In the past, destruction of the Temple came with invasion by enemies and the exile of God’s people. What would happen if this came to be? Jesus’ disciples asked Him for more details when they were together in private. They were curious: when? how? What will be the signs? Jesus changed the conversation. Instead of answering their questions, He warned them to beware.
This text is an apocalyptic form of literature. It is not meant to foretell of a specific historical event; the words are spoken to reveal the truth of God, and to give courage, strength and hope to a suffering people. There were already false messiahs. There were already wars and rumors of wars. There were already earthquakes and famines. It would have been very easy for the disciples to follow another voice when they were left alone after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. It would have been very easy for the community of faith established by Jesus to wander down a wrong path. It happened to the Thessalonians, many of whom thought that the return of Jesus was so imminent that they could stop living. The letters to the churches in the book of Revelation remind us how easy it is to turn from God. It has happened to many Christians in today’s world.
Those who heard the words from Jesus were living in a time of difficulty, but Jesus was not the only one who was crying out in the wilderness. False messiahs were rampant, some of whom were killed at the hands of the Romans and the Jewish authorities. There were Zealots determined to fight until Israel was freed from Roman oppression. Jesus warned the disciples not to follow the wrong path. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines will always be a part of our life. We will suffer because of these things and we will be persecuted because of the way we respond. We are called to be faithful, to keep our eyes focused on Christ and doing that which He has called us to do.
This is the last ordinary Sunday of this church calendar. Next week is Christ the King Sunday when we celebrate that victorious return of our Lord and Savior. This passage is the final warning we hear before Christ comes as King, and we are called to an immediate response. Mark’s language is always urgent and immediate response is imperative. So, we are called to heed the warnings to beware, to be ready and to be active in the work of Christ in the world today. Dwelling in God’s presence will bring with it persecution, hardship and sometimes even death. The apocalyptic nature of our texts this week call us to keep our eyes not on the future hardships that will be, but rather on the God who will be with us through it all.
When the disciples asked to know the hour, Jesus told them to beware and be aware. “Do not be alarmed but believe.” He warned them that some will claim to be “I AM” but they should not follow the false prophets but trust God. The things they see will just be the beginning. Jesus warns that there will be persecution. The hope of this apocalyptic text is that the one who endures to the end, who believes, will be saved. Jesus warns us that it will be bad but the Son of Man will come again. We’ll know the time is right when the signs are right.
We don’t know when it will happen, but Jesus calls us to a life of faith and watchfulness today. We are to live according to God’s Word in faith and live according to the commandments of love of God and our neighbors. “Beware and be aware,” Jesus tells us. He warns us to be careful who we believe and who we follow. Not all who claim to speak in the name of Jesus Christ are true. Some will be led astray. Some will willingly follow the false prophets because the promises seem so real. But we can trust that God will set things right in the end.
If today were the last day, what would matter? Is there something that we need to do? False prophets and false messiahs will call people to action. “Follow me and you’ll be saved.” “Go to this place.” “Do this thing.” Works righteousness requires action for salvation, but Christian faith is different. In the days of Jesus, the priests worked day and night providing for the forgiveness of God’s people. Offerings of every kind were accepted to cover the sins of the people. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the priests offered day after day the same sacrifices that did no good. It was Jesus who offered once and for all the blood of the sacrifice that would bring salvation to the world.
From a Christian point of view, sacrifice is no longer necessary. When the priests of old took blood to the altar day after day and year after year it was worthless, “...but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever...” The forgiveness from Christ is lasting. It is eternal. There need be no more sacrifice for sins today or ever. No Christian need look for the restoration of that ancient practice. If they are, they being led astray by those who preach a gospel of vengeance and victory. We need not win the victory again, and neither must Christ because He has already won.
We find peace through Christ. By His blood, God’s people are invited to dwell in the presence of God. Jesus was no ordinary priest. He was no ordinary messiah. He is the Son of God, sent to save the world. His promise was not that the world would be different. There will still be wars and rumors of wars. We still need to be comforted as we are persecuted for our faith. We still suffer at the hands of those who do not know God. But we can live in hope for what is to come, dwell in God’s grace and look forward to the day when we will dwell with God eternally.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to live a different life. We are called to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering because God is faithful. Jesus warned the disciples not to make them afraid, but to remind them that God can, has and will overcome it all. God is near. He is not lost when the walls tumble down. Rather, He is set free from those human constraints to be the God who is Creator, Redeemer and Comforter.
The Psalmist understood the lesson Jesus was teaching His disciples. He knew that apart from God he had no good thing, that God alone was his refuge. He knew the joy and peace that comes from trusting in God rather than the things of this world. “You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy. In your right hand there are pleasures forever more.” This is the lesson that will keep us through the hard times. Faith that God is faithful to all His promises will help us endure to the end.
“Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors, God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their righteous children, you made heaven and earth with all their beauty. You set limits for the sea by speaking your command. You closed the bottomless pit and sealed it by your powerful and glorious name. All things fear you and tremble in your presence, because no one can endure the brightness of your glory. No one can resist the fury of your threat against sinners. But your promised mercies are beyond measure and imagination, because you are the highest, Lord, kind, patient, and merciful and you feel sorry over human troubles. You, Lord, according to your gentle grace, promised forgiveness to those who are sorry for their sins. In your great mercy, you allowed sinners to turn from their sins and find salvation. Therefore, Lord, God of those who do what is right, you didn’t offer Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who didn’t sin against you, a chance to change their hearts and lives. But you offer me, the sinner, the chance to change my heart and life, because my sins outnumbered the grains of sand by the sea. My sins are many, Lord; they are many. I am not worthy to look up, to gaze into heaven because of my many sins. Now, Lord, I suffer justly. I deserve the troubles I encounter. Already I’m caught in a trap. I’m held down by iron chains so that I can’t lift up my head because of my sins. There’s no relief for me, because I made you angry, doing wrong in front of your face, setting up false gods and committing offenses. Now I bow down before you from deep within my heart, begging for your kindness. I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned, and I know the laws I’ve broken. I’m praying, begging you: Forgive me, Lord, forgive me. Don’t destroy me along with my sins. Don’t keep my bad deeds in your memory forever. Don’t sentence me to the earth’s depths, for you, Lord, are the God of those who turn from their sins. In me you’ll show how kind you are. Although I’m not worthy, you’ll save me according to your great mercy. I will praise you continuously all the days of my life, because all of heaven’s forces praise you, and the glory is yours forever and always. Amen.” Prayer of Manasseh, CEV
Manasseh was one of the many kings of Judah, the son of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was a good king, but his son did not follow in his footsteps. The writer of Kings describes Manasseh as the worst king of all, reporting that Judah’s fall would be on the shoulders of Manasseh. He was only twelve years old when he became king and was the longest reigning king in the history of Judah. He reigned for fifty-five years. He did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, rebuilding the high places, erecting altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He even built altars to the false gods in the house of the Lord. It is no wonder that God sent foreigners to bring Manasseh and Judah to their knees.
The writer of the Chronicles tells more of Manasseh’s story. God warned Manasseh and He sent foreigners into Judah. Manasseh was humbled and he turned to the Lord his God in prayer and God was moved by his entreaty. Though Manasseh had been led away in chains of bronze to Babylon, the Lord God restored him to his kingdom. “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was the true God.” (CEV) God’s plan worked, at least for a season.
Manasseh truly repented. He rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and placed commanders in all the cities. He took down the worship spaces for the false gods and restored the altar of the Lord. He commanded Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel. His reforms centered around Jerusalem, so it had little impact on the people of Judah who continued to worship at the high places. Though Manasseh removed the idols, it seems that he didn’t destroy them. Unfortunately, his son Amon would put those idols back to use, continuing the rebellion of God’s people.
You will have noticed that today’s passage is not in typical Bible, but it is accepted as one of the deuterocanonical books by many Christians around the world. It is found in some copies of the Septuagint, and is used as a canticle in some churches. Even the writer of Chronicles references this prayer, “Manasseh’s prayer and its answer, all his sin and unfaithfulness, and the locations of the shrines, sacred poles, and idols he set up before he submitted are written in the records of Hozai.”
Manasseh’s prayer is worth our reading because it shows us that even the worst people in the world can see the Light of God’s grace and turn to Him. We can, even when we have done the worst possible things, repent and God will listen. He will respond with mercy and grace, restore us to the lives He intends for us. The stories of the kings show us how God’s people repeatedly turn from Him, but Manasseh is a reminder that if we listen to His Word and pray for His forgiveness, He will make all things right.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one keep warm alone? If a man prevails against one who is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, WEB
I was a retail manager in my younger years. I believe in hands on management; there was not a task in the store that I had not done. If there was something to do and no one else available to do it, I made sure it was complete. I did everything from scrubbing the bathrooms to counting the registers, ordering the merchandise and dealing with employment issues. However my job, as the manager, was to ensure that there were employees to do the work so that I could focus my attention on making sure that the entire store was running as it should. I could not do my job I was busy unloading trucks or stocking shelves. I could not accomplish my job without the help of good, trustworthy employees.
A good leader does not know everything and does not do everything themselves. A good leader is one who surrounds himself with competent, trustworthy people who can be consulted so that the best decision is made for the sake of the store. In retail, a store manager relies on others to know the details of their sections. In business, a CEO relies on department heads to know their aspect of the business. One Christmas movie about a cookie factory showed that each employee knew only their part of the cookie recipe and this dependence on every employee saved the factory.
Strong Biblical leaders never stood on their own, they consulted advisors. In 1 Chronicles 13, David consulted with the captains. Exodus 17 tells the story of how Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms during a battle. These great men of God needed people to stand with them to help them accomplish their tasks as leader. Jesus mentored the disciples so that they would continue His work. Paul relied on Luke to be his scribe.
Most importantly, though, is that the greatest leaders relied on God and sought His help with their work. We can compare Saul and David and see how differently they led the people. Saul spent his time pursuing his enemy, constantly trying to be rid of the threat of David rather than serving the Lord. David, however, spent his time seeking the will of God. David had opportunities to kill Saul which would make him king. However David waited for God’s plan to play out, always keeping close to the Lord in prayer and worship. He surrounded himself with good military leaders and listened to the counsel of Nathan the prophet. He did not stand alone, but rather trusted people to help him do the job. In the end, Saul’s misfocus was his undoing and David was blessed for trusting in God.
A good leader is not someone who does it all; they are not the most powerful, the most intelligent or the most traveled. A good leader is one who has the discernment to surround himself with capable counselors to help him make the right decisions. Sometimes the powerful, intelligent and highly visible men tend to be the ones people remember, but real prosperity, unity and peace are brought on by good leadership. And the best leaders have God on their team.
“Samuel said to Saul, ‘Yahweh sent me to anoint you to be king over his people, over Israel. Now therefore listen to the voice of Yahweh’s words. Yahweh of Armies says, “I remember what Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way, when he came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and don’t spare them; but kill both man and woman, infant and nursing baby, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”’” 1 Samuel 15:1-3, WEB
The Megamillions lottery prize a few weeks ago was exciting and many people who do not usually buy tickets stood in line for their chance. After all, who couldn’t use $1.5 billion? I have to admit that I was among them. I don’t play the lottery often, but I do play it when the prize is extraordinary. I have all sorts of plans of what I want to do with that money. I promise God to give way more than a tithe; I want to build buildings for a camp I support. I want to do good for the people in my town. I want to help those I love get through tough times. I made all sorts of deals with God in prayer, hoping that He would see my intentions for the prize were good and that I would glorify Him with the work I would do.
And I would have been faithful to those promises, but I have to admit that I would also spend a large portion of that money on myself. I imagined renovating my current home. I thought about all the places I would travel. I considered opening an art gallery where I could sell my work and offer space to other struggling artists. My plan, if I won, would definitely include God, but I was also thinking about myself in my prayers.
The daily devotional I was reading is focused on the Proverbs; that week the subject matter was unearned income. I was cut to the heart by the passages I read each day. I realized that I was chasing after something God did not intend for my life and that I needed to be satisfied with the ways I am able to glorify Him with my life as it is. Sometimes we make deals with God, insisting that we will glorify Him if only He did this or that, and then we act without listening or obeying His word.
That was the problem with Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul was chosen and anointed by God to be king, and though God had been rejected as King by His people, He had great plans for the man Saul and for His nation. He would have blessed them all if they had been obedient to His Word. Saul did well for a time, but when things did not go as he expected, he took matters into his own hands. Instead of waiting for Samuel, Saul offered a sacrifice. Instead of obeying God’s command in today’s passage, Saul allowed the Israelites to plunder the Amalekites. He blamed the people, but he was with them. He let the king of Amalek live and he spared the best of everything from the sword.
God’s command doesn’t make sense to us. First of all, would it not be good for His people to take the plunder of the battle to raise the wealth of the nation? Why kill perfectly good cattle when it could be used to feed God’s people? Saul claimed to have kept the best of the animals to offer as sacrifice to God. He vowed to glorify God with the plunder. Samuel answered, “Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying Yahweh’s voice? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because you have rejected Yahweh’s word, he has also rejected you from being king.” God prefers obedience to sacrifice.
God’s command to Saul was a test of trust in His Word. Would Saul obey? Would Saul trust that God had a purpose? Saul claimed to want to glorify God, but the greater glory would have come with Saul’s willingness to do exactly what God said. The true sacrifice would have been to leave the best behind as an offering to the God who gave them the victory. It was already God’s, but Saul would benefit from taking that plunder home. The eyes of the nation would be on him as he made that sacrifice. Some of that plunder would be used by the king and his people. By allowing the king of Amalek to live, Saul risked a future conflict with his enemy.
God knows my heart and He knows I would be true to my word, but that doesn’t mean I should continue to desire this unearned wealth just to glorify Him. God wants obedience rather than sacrifice. As a matter of fact obedience is the greater sacrifice. Saul was meant to leave the plunder behind, but he thought he knew better than God. How often do we do the same? How often do we think we are doing what is best for God, even though He has lead us in a different direction? How often do we disobey His Word but promise to make it up to Him by offering sacrifices from the plunder? The true test of faith and trust in God is not whether we will glorify Him with our plunder, but whether we will listen to His Word and obey.
“Like a father has compassion on his children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows how we are made. He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass. As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone. Its place remembers it no more. But Yahweh’s loving kindness is from everlasting to everlasting with those who fear him, his righteousness to children’s children; to those who keep his covenant, to those who remember to obey his precepts.” Psalm 103:13-18, WEB
Vincent Van Gogh was the model of the starving artist, affected by mental illness, loneliness and unrequited love. He cut off his ear and committed suicide. His art was not appreciated while he was alive. There is a measure of truth to this story, but there is so much more about his life. He lived from March 30, 1853 to July 29, 1890, the son of a Protestant minister in the Netherlands, one of six children. He described his childhood, “My youth was gloomy cold and barren.” He went to a boarding school and received some training in the arts, but Van Gogh was unimpressed with institutional education. He became an art dealer at his uncle’s firm when he was just sixteen, but quickly learned to dislike the way the art was treated as a commodity and let his disdain show to his customers.
Van Gogh went through a period of religious fanaticism. He spent some time as a teacher in England and then as an assistant to a Methodist minister, “wanting to preach the gospel everywhere.” He tried to go to school for theology, but failed the exam and then tried missionary school but failed. He did preach, but took his Christianity to such an extreme, living and sharing the hardships of the poor, that he was unable to serve his parish well. The church authorities claimed that he “undermined the dignity of the priesthood.” Though it turned out poorly, his religious work gave him insight into the everyday world which would eventually affect his art. There are those who believe that his mental illness made his art brilliant, but he was a far better artist during his times of lucidity.
Van Gogh created nearly two thousand pieces of art – approximately 900 paintings and 1100 drawings. You would think that to have created so much, Van Gogh must have started art early in life, especially since he was only 37 years old when he died. However, he was a prolific artist and he worked to excess. He did not take care of his body; he ate poorly and rarely slept. He studied art (despite his dislike for formal education) and learned about anatomy, modeling and perspective which he said, “you have to know just to be able to draw the least thing.”
Though he suffered from unrequited love, he did find someone to love. Unfortunately, both families opposed the marriage. He was accused in one village of impregnating the young peasant girls he used as models, and suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. Some doctors believe that was the cause of his mental illness. His art was very dark and colorless in the beginning, perhaps mirroring the dark and colorless depths of his soul. As he grew as an artist, he became friends with other artists. These friends encouraged him to use more color. He liked the Impressionist use of light and color, though he did not like how the impressionists seemed separated from the world. Van Gogh was always engaged in the world around him and painted scenes that were full of life. He liked to use complimentary colors like blue and orange together because the contrasts between these colors bring out the intensity of both.
It is true that Van Gogh cut off his ear, but it was just the lobe and it was not due to unrequited love. He was friends with another artist, Paul Gauguin. It was a difficult relationship, they fought constantly about art and Van Gogh was afraid that Gauguin would leave him. He chased Gauguin with a razor, but ended up cutting off his own earlobe, wrapping it in newspaper and giving it to a prostitute to keep. Of course, that severed the relationship forever. In 1890, Van Gogh’s difficult life and harsh living caught up to him. He walked into a field and shot himself in the chest with a pistol. The shot did not kill him, so he walked back to his room and died in bed two days later. His last words were “La tristesse durera toujours,” which means, “The sadness will last forever.”
Don McLean’s Hit “Starry Starry Night” was actually called “Vincent” and it was about Van Gogh. In the refrain McLean sings, “Now I understand what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free, they would not listen, they did not know how, perhaps they’ll listen now.” I’ve heard it said that Jesus must have been out of his mind to live as He lived and to die as He died. Jesus certainly did not live the same kind of life as Vincent Van Gogh, but in some ways their story is the same. They were unappreciated and unloved, but had a beautiful gift to give. For Van Gogh, it was his art. For Jesus it was life. Our lives do not last forever. Our bodies grow old and they die. Our minds and our hearts are frail. But in Christ we know the mercy of God that grants forgiveness to those who believe. In Him we have true life; life that will never end.