Welcome to the September 2013 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, September 2013
September 2, 2013
“If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14:15-17, ASV
Sheldon Cooper is a brilliant man, more than a genius if you ask him, but he has trouble dealing with interpersonal relationships. He is particularly bad at understanding people’s feelings. He does not know what to say in times of grief or confusing. He sees the world through scientific eyes and has an answer for everything. We know, however, that pat answers do not always help a situation. And it doesn’t help to follow social conventions if that is not what a person needs to get through a problem.
I’m talking, of course, about the character on “The Big Bang Theory.” Sheldon is very intelligent but he has no idea how to be a helpful, kind or compassionate person. He does not know how to speak to people who are dealing with times of sadness. The best he knows is to give his friends a hot beverage. That offer of hospitality is the way to deal with grief for him, to the point that he does not allow them to refuse his offer.
There was an episode in which Penny was injured while taking a shower. Sheldon was the only one who was available to help her as the other guys were in the desert watching for meteors. Sheldon helped Penny, helping her dress, driving her to the hospital, filling out forms, driving her home, and helping her to bed. During the last scene, Penny was tipsy on pain killers and said to Sheldon, “You know, people think you’re this weird robot man who’s so annoying all the time, and you totally are, but then it’s like that movie Wall-E at the end. You’re so full of love, and you can save a plant and get fat people out of the floaty chairs.” In his own, weird way, Sheldon is a comforter, he’s just not comfortable doing it in an personal manner.
Sheldon’s most awkward moments are when he has to touch someone or speak words of comfort to someone who is dealing with loss. “Here, here…” he says while he barely pats them on the back. It is funny on the show, but I’m sure a great many of us identify with his discomfort. We don’t know what to do when someone is in need. What do you say? Does that person even what to be touched? How is this going to make any difference to their situation? Being a comforter does not always require a hot beverage or a hug. It’s about being there.
The passage today says that Jesus will send the disciples, and us, a Comforter. This was the promise of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God with us always. In the Amplified Bible, which gives synonyms of many words, includes the following list as possible translations for parakletos or paraclete: Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby. Parakletos means “one called or sent for to assist another; an advocate, one who pleads the cause of another.” The Holy Spirit isn’t likely to get us a cup of hot beverage, pat us on the back saying “here, here” or even give us a hug, but He’s here to help us. Most of all, He is with us, and sometimes that’s the greatest comfort we can receive.
“And they were bringing unto him also their babes, that he should touch them: but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, saying, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein.” Luke 18:15-17
Today is the first day of school for many children. “Back to school” is such a fun and exciting time. For the past few weeks, parents and children have wandered through the stores, buying supplies, checking out the new designs on notebooks, planning a first day of school outfit. They will meet a new teacher at school, perhaps meet new friends. Summer vacation is a wonderful time, but for many children it is just a little too long. They’ve become bored. They need something to do. They need to learn. And most children do want to learn. They want to be in school, and you can see it in the excitement of the first day.
They are also a little afraid. New teachers, new classrooms—some students are going to new schools—it can all be a little frightening. But their excitement is greater than their fear. They trust the people who attend to them. They trust that their parents will make sure that school is a good place for them to be. They trust that their teachers will be helpful and will teach them well. They give their hearts completely.
We all have our favorite teachers, those men and women who have changed our lives. They touch us in a way that will never be forgotten. As adults, we can see how a great teacher can impact the children. The children are drawn to them. The teacher is accosted by a whole classroom of children who want to give give hugs. Children go out of their way to stop by the room to say “Hello.” Their desks are filled with curios of apples or pictures that children have drawn. They stop to listen and really care what the children have to say. What a wonderful world this would be if every teacher were one of the great ones. Our kids would know what it means to be loved, to love learning and they would grow in every way.
Jesus was a great teacher. People were drawn to Him. Why? Because He loved, He cared, and He showed it in His actions. He did not just talk the talk; He walked the walk. He touched people, personally. He listened to them. His message was authentic and personal. He had authority but was not authoritarian. He knew what He was talking about, but even more He knew who He was talking to. He knew their hearts. He reached to their very core.
I think one of the most important things about Jesus is that He knew every person was important. It didn’t matter whether you were a political or religious leader, a mother, a slave, a merchant, a tax collector, a fisherman, or a child: Jesus loved them all. Unfortunately, Jesus lived in a time when people had difficulty seeing people as important. The leaders looked down on the people they led. Men owned their wives and their children. Children were not much better than slaves. So, when parents brought their children to see Jesus, it is no wonder that the disciples wanted to chase them away. Jesus was too important to spend time with kids.
Jesus didn’t agree. If we reject and ignore the children, they will learn to reject and ignore others. By touching them, by loving them, Jesus told them that they were important, too, especially to God. Children need to hear God’s Word to believe, and they, more than us adults, trust those who speak it to them. The kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children, who willingly trust in God and are excited to be in His presence.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 8, 2013, Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
“Having confidence in thine obedience I write unto thee, knowing that thou wilt do even beyond what I say.” Philemon 1:21, ASV
What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? What does the disciple’s life look like? We might think that it is easy to recognize the disciples by the things that they do and the life that they lead, but is it? Is the Christian who commits to a life of missionary service any more a disciple than the Christian who teaches Sunday School at the local church for fifty years? Is a pastor who goes through training, is ordained and spends his life committed to working with and for the Church more of a disciple than the blue haired lady who arrives early to church on Sunday morning to make the coffee?
Where are the disciples of Christ found on a weekday morning? Can that guy who rides the train to his corporate job be a disciple as much as the volunteer who works full time at the food bank? Does it matter which political party they follow or which denomination they prefer? Can people on opposite sides of today’s issues all be disciples of Christ?
This is a much harder question for us to answer than it appears. We all have in our heads the image of what a disciple is supposed to do and what they should look like. We know what they should not do and we are shocked when we see people who claim to be Christian acting in a way that goes against what we believe Christianity means. The hard part, however, is that they believe as strongly as we that they are living the Christian life. They see our actions, or lack of action, as proof that we are not disciples.
But is there really a job description that concisely says what we are supposed to do? We have the great commission that says it is our task to go out and make disciples, teaching them everything that Jesus taught us. The Bible gives us guidance, but even there we see different perspectives: wait and see, go and do, stand and fight, give your cloak, speak the word, wipe your feet. Which is the life of the disciple?
There are more than a dozen saints who are remembered on September 8th with feast days. Among them are these four: St. Eusebius, who destroyed a pagan temple, was arrested, beaten and killed by a mob. St. Adela joined a nunnery after her husband died and spent the rest of her life serving from there. St. Adrian was a military officer who became a Christian after seeing the courage of Christians being tortured in Nicomedia. He was imprisoned, tortured and killed. St. Corbinian lived as a hermit for more than a decade, but eventually became an evangelist to Germany. He spoke out against an improper relationship in the nobility and was persecuted. These are just four examples of Christian disciples who have been lifted up for their faith and their discipleship. There are dozens for every day of the year, and that doesn’t include the millions of Christians who have lived from the time of Christ to today that haven’t been officially sainted.
In these four examples you see four very different lives. St. Adela lived a quiet, prayerful life. St. Eusebius was a fighter. St. Adrian barely had time to even figure out what it meant to be a Christian. St. Corbinian followed the Holy Spirit wherever He led. Each are examples of discipleship and a reminder that it isn’t what you do for God, but that you do what He has called you to do.
Discipleship is about living your vocation. You might be called to a monastic life, or a life on the streets as an advocate for a cause. You might be called to serve in the food kitchen or be ordained into pastoral ministry. You might be called to be a mother, a janitor, a politician, a teacher, an artist, a writer, a plumber, an architect, an accountant, etc. There is no limit to what God can call us to do. What makes us disciples is that we obey God’s call and walk in faith, according to God’s Word. God will not call us to do something that goes against His Word.
And this is where we have to be careful. We are human. We have agendas. We have ideas and beliefs and opinions based on our worldliness. We tend to believe what we believe and we ignore what we’d rather not believe. We will see in God’s Word what fits our human desires, and justify our actions by twisting the Word. Then we stop seeing Christ in those who disagree and we ignore the reality that there is as much truth to their ideas, beliefs and opinions as there is in ours. We believe we are disciples and that others are not. In other words, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We all need Jesus.
There is something that is very obvious in the life of a disciple, however: forgiveness. We are forgiven, and we live forgiven. That’s what makes us disciples. That’s what Paul is teaching his friend Philemon.
The short book of Philemon is a letter to a man who is a Christian that lives in Colossae. Paul is a prisoner, probably in Rome, under house arrest for his faith and preaching. During his imprisonment, Paul wrote many letters, encouraging congregations and individual Christians to be the men and women God has called them to be. Philemon was a slave owner whose slave named Onesimus ran away, apparently after stealing something. Onesimus eventually met Paul, heard the Gospel and believed. He became a Christian and then served Paul as he was able.
Paul knew that the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus required forgiveness and reconciliation, for both their sakes. Onesimus must have felt guilt over his actions against his master. Philemon had every right according to the law of the land to require restitution. It may have even been within his rights to punish the runaway slave even to death.
But is that an act of a disciple? It appears that Paul gave the letter, and possibly others, to Onesimus to carry back to Colossae. This was a risk for Onesimus since he was a criminal. But Paul wrote the letter to encourage Philemon to look at Onesimus through the eyes of love, forgiveness and faith. He wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus in a new way, as a brother of Christ. There were debts to be paid, and Paul was willing to pay those debts for the sake of reconciliation. Paul says that Onesimus is more valuable now as a Christian than he was as a slave. It broke Paul’s heart to send Onesimus; he considered him a son.
We have no idea what happened to Onesimus or Philemon. Did they reconcile? Did they live in a new and better relationship? Did they work together as disciples of Christ? A man named Onesimus is identified as a Bishop in the early church writings. Was it the same man? One writer suggested that the fact that a private letter like this one to Philemon still exists is possibly proof that Onesimus was forgiven. After all, would Philemon keep a letter encouraging him to do something he refused to do?
Whatever the outcome, Paul’s letter to Philemon asks the same question we see in the Old Testament lesson: See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, which do you choose? Life is found in forgiveness. After all, Philemon was a Christian; he knew the forgiveness of Christ in his own life. How could he possibly withhold forgiveness from a brother in Christ? Moses says to the people of Israel, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
The life of a disciple begins with forgiveness and continues in God’s Word, wherever that leads.
So, we come again to the question: what does the life of a disciple look like? The Gospel lesson tells us, “If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” What? How can we in one breath talk about discipleship being about loving, and in the next talk about hate? Surely Jesus doesn’t really mean we should hate our mothers and fathers? He says elsewhere to honor them, according to the commandments. How can He talk now of hate?
The word ‘hate’ is defined in Webster’s as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury, extreme dislike or antipathy, loathing.” If it is used as a verb it means, “To feel extreme enmity toward, have a strong aversion to, find very distasteful.” It is because we define hate in this way that we are shocked by Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson. Surely Jesus does not mean for us to have extreme dislike and loathing for our parents?
Jesus did say that we are to hate our mothers and fathers, but He did not give us permission to make them our enemies or treat them with dishonor. ‘Hate’ as it is understood in ancient Israel has to do with our priorities. To hate something meant to turn your back on it, to separate yourself from it. Jacob loved Rachel but hated Leah. Obviously, he did not feel a strong aversion to her since they made several children together. The passage simply means that Jacob put Rachel first, turning his back on Leah for Rachel’s sake. When Jesus calls us to hate our mothers and our fathers, our wives and our children, He is not telling us to abandon them or treat them poorly. He is simply calling us to put Him first, setting aside everything and everyone else for His sake.
There are no shades of gray when it comes to God. Either He is first or He is last. We can’t put him in second or third place with just one priority higher while the rest of the world is behind Him. If we choose Him, we hate—or turn away from—the world. If we choose something of this world, then we hate—or turn away from—Him. Discipleship means walking with God as our focus, doing His work, walking His path, following His Word completely.
Do we put God first? Or do we put things of this world first, making them our gods? In Jesus’ day it was easy to see which false gods were turning the people’s hearts from the one true God. Rome was filled with temples to deities that had no real power. It is a little more difficult in today’s world because our gods aren’t necessarily the subject of myths and legends. Our jobs, our homes, our hobbies and sports are like gods to us. How often do we put off being a disciple to do the earthly things? After all, God doesn’t take attendance, and tomorrow is another day. We can’t miss an event because it’ll happen only once, but eternity will last forever. God is patient, right?
Yes, God is patient, but that’s not the right question. God loves us, He has forgiven us the sins that we haven’t even committed yet. Through the body and blood of Jesus we are reconciled to Him. In the story of Philemon, we are Onesimus, Paul is Jesus and Philemon is the Father. Jesus sends us home with the assurance that He has paid our debts. In this version, we know the outcome. The Father receives us with joy, welcomes us home and sets us free to be His servant in the world. How do we, as that forgiven slave to sin and death, respond to such grace? Do we go on our way to live our life of freedom as we please? Or do we commit our lives completely in service and thanksgiving to the One who has saved us?
The purpose of Christian faith is restoration and forgiveness. Philemon knew the power of God’s forgiveness in his own life because he’d become a Christian. He knew the transforming power of the call of God in the lives of those who believe. Onesimus also learned about the forgiveness that comes from faith through the teaching and concern of his new friend Paul. How do they live that life of forgiveness in the world?
The psalmist writes that the man who lives by God’s Word is like a tree planted by the streams of water. This is not simply a matter of living a life that is righteous according to the Law; it is about living in a relationship with God. God does not come to us because we are righteous, but we are made righteous by His grace. We are given everything we need to be disciples; dwelling in those gifts will keep us on the paths which God has made for us. Dwelling in those gifts means that we’ll avoid those things that will bring harm upon ourselves, our neighbors and the world in which we live. Dwelling in God’s grace means that we won’t walk in the counsel of the wicked because we have His council by which to walk. Dwelling in God’s faith means we won’t stand in the way of the sinners because we will stand in His love. Dwelling in God’s presence means that we’ll meditate on His Word, His Law, day and night.
The life of discipleship is not easy because we have to give up ourselves for His sake. Jesus says, “Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Faith for the Christians in those early days meant possible persecution and even death. The cost was very high. St. Adrian didn’t even have time to be a Christian before he was dying for his faith; few of us will ever experience that kind of persecution. That doesn’t mean we are less of a disciple: we are called to walk a different path according to God’s Word.
Are we walking that path? Are we living in our vocation? Are we using our gifts? Are we doing what God has set out for us to do? Are we living according to His Word? Are we choosing life over death? Are we choosing forgiveness and reconciliation? The cost for you and I may not be martyrdom; the cost might just be doing the very thing that goes against the world’s expectations.
Philemon had every right to deal with Onesimus as a runaway slave. I’m sure that the other masters would be upset if he forgave the debt and received Onesimus as a brother, it would set a bad precedent for the other master/slave relationships. I’ve known people who refused to forgive. “They don’t deserve mercy,” they say. Do you? Do you deserve to be forgiven for your own debts? Do you deserve the grace of God that comes at the expensive of Jesus’ own life? If you know forgiveness, how can you ignore the call of God to forgive others?
I don’t know if it is possible to truly become a disciple of Jesus Christ, though there are some throughout the history of the church that have come close. I can’t imagine giving up everything I own and everyone I love and to turn my back completely on the society in which I live, to follow Jesus wherever He might lead. Could I do it if God called me to that kind of life? I don’t know.
What I do know is that each day I wake up I’m invited to live as a disciple where I am and in whatever I do, praising God for the incredible blessings I have. I will be distracted by the things of this world, by my family and my work and myself. I will forget to see God in the lives of those who have different ideas, beliefs and opinions. I will forget that they are disciples, too. But Jesus had so much confidence in us that He willingly went to the cross to guarantee our freedom. He is the one building the tower and He is prepared to cover the cost, even when we fail to be the disciples He is calling us to be.
We will not suffer the wrath of God for our poor decisions, but we’ll never truly know the blessings of grace if we turn our backs on the One from whom true life comes. We will suffer the consequences of a life poorly lived. So God, in His love and mercy, calls us to put Him first in our lives so that He can love us and care for us as He has promised. Following Jesus comes at a great cost, even our whole world, but having Jesus to follow came at an even greater cost to our God. He paid the debt to set us free. In that freedom we are called to willingly serve Him, to turn our hearts away from the world to become His disciples. As disciples we’ll truly know what it means to be blessed, like a tree planted by the streams of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season. Our sacrifice will last but a season and we’ll soon know the blessing of dwelling with Him forever.
“Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” Matthew 5:38-42 (ASV)
Karma is taught in some of the Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddism. Properly defined, karma is a force generated by a person’s actions which will affect the future life of the believer. For those who believe in reincarnation, karma is the force that will decide the kind of existence they will have in the next life. Ultimately, the person who lives the good life will be reincarnated into a wonderful life, a life of comfort and peace. For some, karma does not just control the ultimate fate of the person’s soul, it is a force that affects our punishments and rewards in this life, too.
It isn’t just a religious concept anymore. Sitcoms and other media use karma as a way to make a joke or a point. When someone does something wrong, the action is met with a threat that “it will come back to bite you one day.” Then, later in the show when something bad happens the person is met with “I told you so.” They are supposed to learn something from this experience – mostly that you should never do something wrong because it will hurt you in the end. Good karma comes to those who do good things. They are rewarded for doing kindnesses or paid back more than they gave. A person who gives a ten dollar bill should expect to be rewarded with an even greater gift somewhere in the future.
Karma is not a Christian doctrine, although there are many Christians who teach a karmic way of thinking. Listen in on a stewardship sermon in many churches and you will hear the pastor promise some sort of windfall for the believer. One ministry claims that if you send them a certain amount of money in faith, that God will return that amount tenfold.
Karma is not a Christian teaching because it puts the power of God into the hands of human beings. In other words, we can control our destiny by doing good works. It makes righteousness a work of man; everything that happens is a reward or consequence of his or her actions. Yet, we all know that our experiences are not caused by some previous action. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes good things happen to bad people. Sometimes we can’t explain why these things occur. As Christians, we can only expect God to be just, merciful and faithful. As Christians, we are expected to live Christlike—just, merciful and faithful—in the world, but this does not mean we will always receive justice, mercy or faithfulness from the world. We like the idea of karma because it seems to make the world a fair place.
Karma does not fit into our Christian ideology. In today’s scripture passage, Jesus talks about the idea that everyone should be repaid for their actions, but He takes it to another level. Jesus taught us not to demand an eye for an eye. Our actions should always reflect mercy and grace. In this particular message, Jesus even tells us to give the cloak off our back to someone who would steal it from us.
If karma were really part of our Christian thought, then every one of us should be very afraid of our fate. None of us are good enough to deserve anything wonderful in a next life. We don’t live up to our God-given potential or gifts. We often treat others poorly, hurting them with our thoughts, words and deeds. Jesus teaches us to live differently. We aren’t to live today as if it will make a difference in our tomorrow. Instead we are to live in Christ who has already assured us of our future; in Him we have the promise of eternal life.
“And as he thus made his defense, Festus saith with a loud voice, Paul, thou art mad; thy much learning is turning thee mad. But Paul saith, I am not mad, most excellent Festus; but speak forth words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, unto whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him; for this hath not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. And Agrippa said unto Paul, With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that whether with little or with much, not thou only, but also all that hear me this day, might become such as I am, except these bonds. And the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: and when they had withdrawn, they spake one to another, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. And Agrippa said unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” Acts 26:24-29, ASV
I visited a local landmark yesterday. The Buckhorn Saloon & Museum is a intriguing place, with walls filled with taxidermy and rooms filled with curiosities. There was a room to honor Texas Rangers, a room designed to look like a small Texas town, a room full of furniture made with horns. Some of the more interesting items were pictures made out of rattlesnake rattles, two headed animals, a topsy-turvy room and a stuffed gorilla that stood guard in the Saloon for many years. They even had a recreation of the car in which the infamous Bonnie and Clyde were killed. The taxidermy animals included everything from deer, birds and a longhorn to wild cats, giraffes and even an elephant. We even had a taste of prickly pear margarita at the saloon on our way into the museum (it was 5 o’clock somewhere.)
One of the more amazing finds in this building full of amazing things was the skull and antlers of an Irish Elk. The animal has been extinct for over nine thousand years, but was found all over Europe, North Africa and Asia. The antlers were at least ten feet wide and shaped much like that of a modern elk. It was amazing because the head seemed way too small to support a rack so large, and we all commented about how it must have had an incredibly strong neck. According to the sign, this type of elk was the largest species of deer to ever exist; a mature Irish elk weighed 1000-5000 pounds and stood seven feet tall at the shoulders. The antlers averaged 12 feet and weighed 80-90 pounds.
How long could you go wearing something that heavy on your head? Taking into account the fact that the elk was so large, how long could you go with something 5-10% of your weight on your head? I know that I sometimes get a headache just from wearing a heavy barrette. I have a thick head of hair and I have to cut my hair several times a year because the weight of it eventually bothers me. I know it is time to go to the beauty parlor when my neck and back begins to hurt regularly and I get a lingering headache. I know, for sure, that I’d never survive having to carry 80 or 90 pounds of bone sticking out of my head!
Of course, the burdens we carry aren’t always on our heads. They aren’t even always a physical burden that needs strength to carry. Look at Paul. Paul was a missionary, pastor, preacher and teacher. He went out in the world telling others about Jesus and teaching them how to be Christian. His mission got him in trouble on many occasions. There are always people who do not want to hear the Gospel message. They don’t want to believe in Jesus. They prefer to believe in their own gods or religions. Those most vehemently opposed to Christianity even found ways to make it a crime.
The text for today comes late in the story of Paul. He was arrested for preaching and during the trial he appealed to Caesar. He was a Roman Citizen as well as a Jew and a Christian. He had rights that many of the Jews and Christians did not have; but they treated him poorly because he was a Jew and a Christian. Appealing to Caesar meant that they would be forced to properly try him and execute justice. At the end of this passage, King Agrippa even concedes that if Paul had not appealed to Caesar, they would have had to let him go; Paul had done nothing to deserve the death they wanted to give him.
Now, I might have been upset to be in this situation, after all, isn’t freedom better than facing the possibility of death? Could I not do more as a free Roman Christian than I could do as an imprisoned person? I don’t think I could have carried such a heavy burden. I don’t know if I could continue to preach the Gospel with such gusto and peace. Paul even hoped that his words would turn the faith of his enemies!
Would you carry such a heavy burden? Would you continue to share the Gospel message, even if your life hung in the balance? Would you hope for your neighbors to know the Lord and become Christians if doing so was dangerous? What fear or pain or anger or frustration will keep you from being a witness to Christ’s grace? What is your tipping point? How far are you willing to go today to share the truth that Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the answer to the prophecies and the only way of salvation?
“And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days; and I fasted and prayed before the God of heaven, and said, I beseech thee, O Jehovah, the God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and lovingkindness with them that love him and keep his commandments: Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee at this time, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants while I confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee. Yea, I and my father's house have sinned: we have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye trespass, I will scatter you abroad among the peoples: but if ye return unto me, and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts were in the uttermost part of the heavens, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen, to cause my name to dwell there. Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who delight to fear thy name; and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. Now I was cupbearer to the king.” Nehemiah 1:4-11, ASV
Nehemiah was a highly respected and trusted member of King Artaxerxes court in Persia. He was the king’s cupbearer, which sounds like little more than a waterboy, but in reality he was one of the closest servants of the king. The cupbearer did not just take water to the king, he tasted it, to be sure it was not poisoned. An untrustworthy cupbearer could mean death to the king as he would pretend to drink the poisoned drink. The cupbearer was also present in the most private places in the king’s palace, perhaps even privy to conversations that others would never have heard. He had the confidence of Artaxerxes, amazing at a time when there was political intrigue in the courts. It was a dangerous time to be king; Xerxes, the father of Artaxerxes, was killed in how own bed chamber by a courtier.
Nehemiah stayed behind when many of his countrymen returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. The text for today comes after he has heard of the state of Jerusalem. It was in ruins, not only from war, but from incompetent rebuilding. Nehemiah was distraught over the bad news; he knew that God had promised His people peace and safety, especially since they’d rediscovered their faith in Him during the exile. He was afraid for the people, who were always vulnerable, but even more so if the walls could not be properly rebuilt. He mourned and fasted over this news, grieved to the point of desperate prayer.
Today’s passage is that prayer. This is an interesting prayer in that Nehemiah does not ask God for anything, but instead reminds Him of His promises. “Remember,” Nehemiah says. He calls on God to be faithful to His people, who have returned to Him. God warned them that if they turned away they would find themselves part from His care, but whenever they turned back, He would be right there to help them. Nehemiah prays on behalf of the people, “servants who delight in revering your name.” Nehemiah lifted before the Lord the people, whom God Himself had redeemed and restored. “Hear our prayer and remember your promises” he asks.
Nehemiah was returned to Jerusalem after this prayer. He went to King Artaxerxes to do his job, and the king noticed something different. “What’s wrong,” he asked. Nehemiah told the king about what had happened in Jerusalem. Despite Nehemiah’s willingness to continue to serve the king, and his hopefulness that the king would live long, Nehemiah sought permission to return and help his people restore Jerusalem. He not only sought the permission of the king, however. He also sought God’s blessing for the task through prayer. In chapter 2 verse 4, the king asks Nehemiah what he wants. The passage reads, “Then I prayed to the God of heaven and I answered the king…” Even in the midst of acting, Nehemiah sought God’s will. He knew that no matter what happened, God would deserve the credit.
I like this story because it shows Nehemiah praying first before jumping to action. Many of us are quick to respond to situations with our own strength and abilities. We forget to seek God’s will in the matter and we run in without guidance or blessing. Nehemiah knew that he needed God’s hand in this matter, for mercy from the king, for safe conduct along the way, for power and authority in Jerusalem. Nehemiah knew that he needed God. And, Nehemiah knew that God would always be faithful to His promises.
As we face the world today, with all its problems and possibilities, let us keep God in our sight. Begin each moment with prayer. We can remind God of His promises, and though He never forgets, the reminder helps us to see the situation through His eyes. He will never abandon us. He is with us as we live in the shadow of His grace. He is faithful, and we will see His faithfulness as we recall the promises that lead to life. We will see that the solutions and the blessings do not come at the hands of the kings of the earth, but from God who is King over all.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6, ASV
Sandra Bullock played FBI agent Gracie Hart in the movie “Miss Congeniality.” In the movie, the crazed former beauty queen who ran the Miss USA pageant threatened the safety of the girls. The FBI moved in to protect the girls and find the perpetrator. Gracie is placed in the pageant as a contestant so that she can watch from the inside, especially in those places where the FBI agents are not allowed. Gracie Hart is not pageant material. She is rough and unfeminine, with knotted hair and the manners of a sailor. She walks in strong, with a practical suit that hides her weapon with absolutely no grace at all.
The make-over is amazing and she manages to be a beautiful pageant contestant, doing whatever she has to do. When Victor asked what she will do for her talent, Gracie says, “I will do whatever you want me to do, Yoda.” Victor replies, “The woman has no talent!” He reminds the agents that he wasn’t hired to give her a talent, but she tells them that she has something. Her talent is playing water glasses. Unfortunately, during the final show, the other beauty contestants got thirsty and drank some of the water in the glasses, making them out of tune. Gracie needed to do something, so she got on the stage, made a joke about dehydration and then said she’d give a lesson in self defense.
She calls her partner onto the stage and gives a few basic self defense moves. For her finale, Gracie has her partner attack her from the rear and tells the women, “Just remember to SING: Solar plexus! Instep! Nose! Groin!” and she hits him in the stomach, the foot, the nose and the groin. He is left incapacitated and she is able to run away. It may sound impossible that a woman, particularly a small, fragile woman, could possibly overcome a large attacker, but Gracie shows the audience and the girls that they don’t need powerful weapons; they just have to know how to use the ones they have.
I once read a story about a woman who was attacked by an intruder at the garage where she worked. The man tried to steal the money in the cash register. She was determined to keep the crime from happening on her watch, so she grabbed a push broom that was at hand and used it to force him to submit. A broom may not be a very powerful weapon, especially against a knife, but she used it to win the battle.
We face incredible enemies in this world, even Satan himself, and there are no human weapons capable of overcoming the spiritual work of evil. Our strength is God Himself, living within us, working through us to accomplish His good purpose. The weapons we have to use are the fruits of the Spirit, weapons that seem foolish. Remember: you are backed by divine power. You have the strength of the living God as your fortress. He gives you the weapons to fight the spiritual war on His terms; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The battle is won through Him, for He has already won the war.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 15, 2013, Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost: Ezekiel 34:11-24; Psalm 119:169-176; 1 Timothy 1:(5-11) 12-17; Luke 15:1-10
“Even so, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Luke 15:10, ASV
We live in a disposable world. We buy ten dollar toasters and throw them away after a year because they no longer heat our toast properly. We buy a new phone every year because our old phone is out of date. We want the new, we want the best, and we don’t care what happens to the old when we cast it out. How many of us have dropped a penny, or even a quarter, on the ground and we walked away because it would be too hard to get it from under the car where it rolled? How many of us are willing to drive back to the grocery store when we realize that the cashier put our can of corn in a bag that we forgot to pick up?
We are careful when the item is more valuable, but we ignore the waste when it is worth only pennies. We justify it by saying that our time is more valuable, or our clothes. After all, if we crawled on the ground to reach a quarter under the car, we might ruin an expensive dress or suit, or have to pay the dry cleaner to get it clean. Is it worth going to such trouble for just a quarter?
I am guilty of so much waste. I’ve never been able to make the right amount of mashed potatoes, and while we use some for leftovers, we never eat them all. The rest is thrown into the garbage or garbage disposal. I buy fruit that goes bad because we do not eat it fast enough. I drink half a glass of soda and throw the rest away because I do not like that it gets watered down with the melting ice. I cast off items that are chipped and cracked even though they might be reusable in a different way.
I think, sometimes, that because we are in such a disposable world, we do not really understand the Gospel lesson for today. In the first parable, Jesus talks about going after the one sheep that has wandered away, leaving the ninety-nine to fend for themselves. We wonder at this, because those ninety-nine are left vulnerable without the care of a shepherd; is one sheep more valuable than ninety-nine? What happens if the wolves come while the shepherd is away? Won’t the wolves attack and kill more sheep in the flock while the shepherd is trying to save just one?
And what about the woman who lost one coin out of ten? When I lose something in my house, and I’m certain that it is in the house, I say, “It’ll show up.” As a matter of fact, I’m always excited when I find something that was lost and it shows up one day, like when you put your hand in your winter coat the first time you wear it after a long summer and find a $20 bill, or when you dig deep in the storage closet and find a favorite pair of pants that you thought was accidentally sent to Good Will.
We moved a lot over the past twenty-five years because my husband was a member of the U.S. military. We purged our household goods often, at least during every move. It is easier to get rid of stuff than to pack it and deal with it when unpacking. We never knew how much room we would have in the next house. A favorite book of mine disappeared during a move to Washington state, but since it was the only thing I could find missing I didn’t worry about it. We moved from one house to another in Washington, and then we moved to England for four years. Our baggage was limited in our move to England, so we put piles of things in storage.
We really didn’t miss all that stuff during our time in England, and it was frustrating to go through those boxes when they arrived at our new house in Arkansas. I found myself moving most of the items from the packing box to a box designated for Good Will. If I didn’t use it for four years, why keep it? I kept a few items, but most of them were given away. This included dishes, chotchkies, linens, clothes, holiday decorations and books. The worst of it were the five sixty pound boxes of National Geographic magazines that we hadn’t even unpacked in the last few moves.
Now, I love National Geographic magazine; we still receive it at our house. We still keep issues in the house because the photography is beautiful and the stories are often informative. The magazine is printed on paper that is perfect for some art projects, and so it is nice to have them around just in case I need the materials. But as I opened those five sixty pound boxes, I thought about the three hundred pounds of household stuff that was stored for four years, the space it took and the money it cost to move them. I took the boxes to the kids’ school and donated them for art projects or use in the library.
But I looked through the boxes before I gave them away and I discovered the book that I thought had disappeared. It was buried under those National Geographic magazines and since we hadn’t even opened those boxes for years, we never found it. It was never really missing; it was with us all along, I just didn’t know where it was.
As I read the parable of the woman who searches for the coin, I think, “She’ll find it eventually, and for now it is not missing, it is just not found. How much fun will it be when it shows up, just when she needs it most!” After all, those lost or hiding bills always seem to show up at just the right time, don’t they?
But these stories remind us that God does not value His people as we might value them. Sadly, I don’t think we as the church do a very good job at searching for the lost. This is certainly true when it comes to those who need to hear the Gospel message to be saved from sin and death. But do we go searching for the one who wanders away?
I have left my share of churches for many different reasons. Most of the time it was because we were moving to a new city, but other times were for personal reasons. What I have found, sadly, is that whether or not the other members of the congregation knew that we were leaving or not, very few ever called to find out what happened to us. We didn’t receive calls asking if we are ok, wondering if we needed anything. We didn’t receive calls telling us we were missed. On one occasion I ran into a member of a former congregation and instead of being concerned about us, she said that they missed everything I did for the congregation. Is it any wonder that we felt the need to find another church?
People change churches for many reasons, and sometimes it is because there is a problem in the old church. Sometimes it is difficult to reach out to those people. It is so much easier to let them go. But even if they have chosen to become a part of another Christian fellowship, are they not still brothers and sisters in Christ? Is there room for continuing relationship? Is there any Christian concern for those who have walked away, even if it was under difficult circumstances? We don’t need to try to convince them to return to a place that is difficult for them, but should we not be concerned about them? What if they haven’t found a new church home? Should we not be concerned that they are still faithful to God even if human brothers and sisters in Christ have hurt them in some way?
Is there anyone in your own Christian fellowship circles that has been missing? Have you called them to find out what’s happening? Have you called to ask if they would like to go to lunch? Have you rejoiced with them that they’ve found a place where they can live their Christian faith fully and faithfully? Have you encouraged them to find a place where they can be in fellowship with other Christians, even if they can’t return to your church?
We might not think there is value to the one who wanders away when there are still ninety-nine in the pews, but God assures us that He is concerned for that one. He will go looking for them. He will leave the others to go find the missing. We can see this parable in terms of finding those who are not yet saved, but we can also think about those who were once part of the flock but have wandered away. They may no longer be of value to the congregation, but they still belong to God.
Those sinners and tax collectors with whom Jesus was having dinner were probably not outsiders or foreigners. They were probably Jews who had lost their way, or had found a way to get through life that didn’t fit the expectations of the Jewish faith. They aren’t any different than the rest of us; we all find a way of living that sometimes goes against the expectations of our faith. As a matter of fact, we understand that the Law is impossible for us to keep perfectly, which is why Jesus came in the first place.
Of course, being a tax collector was so offensive to the Jews because they were traitors, puppets of the Romans, and they often took advantage of their position by taking more than they should. The tax collector received his pay by taking more than the actual taxes. The Romans didn’t care as long as they got the amount they expected, and some of the tax collectors were greedy. For the Jews, the others may not have been guilty of greed, but they were guilty of working with the Romans and of bettering themselves at the expense of their brothers and sisters.
The story of Zacchaeus shows us how Jesus deals with tax collectors. Jesus didn’t avoid or ignore Zacchaeus, but instead invited Himself to Zachhaeus’ house for dinner. During the meal, which included many of Zacchaeus’ friends, Jesus invited Zacchaeus back into the fold. Zacchaeus was that lost sheep which Jesus went out of His way to find. The religious leaders did not think it was a work worthy of a great teacher, and they refused to believe that Jesus was sent by God because He was putting so much time into people who did not deserve His attention, just like we think that the one wanderer does not deserve our attention when there are ninety-nine are left behind being good sheep.
I know that we usually see this text in terms of those outside the Church who need to be found, and we should never forget that our Great Commission is to take the Gospel to all nations. But we are responsible for one another. Who from our fellowship has become like Zacchaeus, outside the Church and in need of God’s grace to restore and return them to His flock?
The text from Ezekiel can be divided into two parts. The first, verses 11-16, talks about how God will care for His flock, searching for those who are missing, restoring them to the field where they will be fed, giving them rest. The final verse says, “I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but the fat and the strong I will destroy; I will feed them in justice.”
We don’t often talk about the fact that within the church are those who are weak and those who are strong, but it is true. It could be seen within the Jewish fellowship in Jesus’ day. The priests, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had all the power and they put heavy burdens on the people. They talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. They did what suited them and expected perfection from others. They didn’t even see their own sinfulness.
The same is true today. Every congregation has people who have power and authority who place heavy burdens on the others. There are many within our congregations who are weak. They don’t have a strong understanding of scripture. They have faith the size of a mustard seed, but can’t seem to move mountains with it. They have listened and followed the words of men without knowing that those words are not God’s Word. They have been led astray, and then often left to fend for themselves. The church becomes the seat of power for some and a place of pain for others. God promises that He will take care of those who have been harmed by leaders who did not care for His sheep.
The passage goes on to explain verse 16. God promises to judge between sheep and sheep. “Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have fed upon the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture? and to have drunk of the clear waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?” The strong and powerful sheep destroy everything good given to the flock by God so that they will get stronger and have more power. The strong does not care when a weak sheep disappears; that leaves all the more for them. But God promises that He will make things right for the weak ones.
This passage makes an even greater promise. “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I, Jehovah, will be their God, and my servant David prince among them; I, Jehovah, have spoken it.” The promise begins with David, who will make things right in Israel for all people, and it will be fulfilled with the Great Shepherd, our Lord Jesus. Jesus came and He did search for the lost sheep. He did search for the lost coin. He did search for the people of His flock who had been outcast and forgotten because they weren’t perfect. Jesus reminds us that He didn’t come for the perfect, who do not need salvation: He came for the sinners who need to be saved.
Look at Paul. There was none who was a greater sinner against Jesus in those days. He was, as he says, “…I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief…” He fought the Church. He encouraged the stoning of Stephen. He took papers to the cities with the authority to destroy the Christians. He did all this until Jesus came and found him on the road to Damascus. “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief…” He was the strong sheep who pushed the weak sheep, at the good grass and trampled the rest, drank the clean fresh water and then muddied the rest. He was the enemy of the Church.
But Jesus did not let him continue down the wrong path. He sought Saul, revealed Himself and called him by a new name: Paul. He called Paul into a new relationship, a right relationship. This is why Jesus ate with the sinners and tax collectors. He wanted to bring them home. He wanted to help them be the people God called and gifted them to be. When we ignore those who have left our fellowship because we deem them unimportant or without value, we forget that God has saved them for a purpose, just like us.
I think it is funny that the woman in the parable searches so diligently for a lost coin, but then calls her friends to a party to celebrate finding it. “Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost.” Did she use that very coin to share her joy with her friends? Did she pour out upon them the blessings of her fortune? Does it make sense to celebrate the finding of one small coin? But God does not fit into our expectations. He celebrates the restoration of each and every one of His children. He honors them and values them as if they were the most important person in the Kingdom. Is this not worth a celebration on our part, too?
The psalmist writes, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; Seek thy servant; For I do not forget thy commandments.” We know what we should do. We have heard God’s Word and we understand the life He has called us to live. We fail daily, but even in failing we know that God has promised to forgive us and restore us. We are, at times, the lost sheep. We are like Zacchaeus, even if we aren’t a tax collector. We separate ourselves from the body of Christ for very human reasons, but God will not allow us to get lost. He saved us for a purpose and He saves us from our own selfishness or weakness. And then He celebrates that we have returned into His fold.
So, let us live in the mercy of God, praising Him for His promises and for His faithfulness. We will fail, one way or another. We might be among the strong who take advantage of the weak or we might be among the weak who are led astray. But God will make things right. He doesn't think any of us are disposable, and He will always bless those who turn to Him.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Jesus therefore said unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and go out, and shall find pasture. The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” John 10:1-10, ASV
Jesus is clear: He is the door.
In our everyday life it is important that we live with our neighbors, no matter what religious path they have chosen to follow. People can be good and merciful without faith. People don’t need to be active in a church to give help to a neighbor in need. I know many people who are extremely generous but are not Christian. They don’t go to church, some don’t even believe in God. Many people, even non-Christians, are gracious and merciful, giving and responsive to the needs of the world. People from every religion worship and pray in some way. Even the atheists, though they may not realize it, live ‘faithfully’ to a set of principals, follow their own rituals and belief in their own moral standards.
Atheists are sometimes more giving than Christians. Organizations that have no religious affiliation do incredible work. Some of the most philanthropic people do good works but do so for reasons that have nothing to do with Christ. These people are honored for their good works, and many speak words of assurance that because they have done these good works than they must surely be in heaven when they die.
We know differently. Jesus Himself said that He is the door. Our good works will never earn us a place in heaven. Only faith in Christ will open that door. I don’t know what will happen to the good people who do not believe in Jesus; I wouldn’t want to guess. I believe that God can and will speak to all people to give them a chance to walk through the door, but the only answer that will open that door is the name Jesus. He is our way into heaven. He is our way into the heart of God’s Kingdom. He is the only path that will take us home.
Our age is no different than every other age in human history. There have always been people who have thought that they found another way into the heart of God. False gods have existed from the beginning of time. We’ve heard voices that claimed to speak for God but were not from God. Even Adam and Eve suffered the foolishness of believing the words of a false prophet. In today’s world many are speaking similar words. “Did God really say?” causing Christians to look at their faith in a new light, but is it truly light? Are the speaking for God? Do they allow only Christ into the flock, or are they like thieves, out to steal the sheep and take them on a dangerous path?
There is much we can do in this world with our neighbors, no matter who they are or what they believe. The world is filled with the poor and weak, the sick and imprisoned who need help and they don’t see our hearts or our eternal destiny. What makes us different is that we do it in the name of Christ and our Great Commission is to take His Word to the world. Whatever we do, it is our responsibility to the world to share Jesus, not only in works but in words. Our Father wants the world to be saved, to every last person, but they’ll never get through the door into heaven unless they know Christ. So, let us daily introduce our neighbors to Jesus, help them to hear His voice and to follow Him wherever He will lead. He is the door, the only door, and He calls us to lead the flock to Him.
“Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, who would make a reckoning with his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, that owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred shillings: and he laid hold on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay what thou owest. So his fellow-servant fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay that which was due. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were exceeding sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him unto him, and saith to him, Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me: shouldest not thou also have had mercy on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.” Matthew 18:21-35, ASV
Jubilee. In Leviticus, the Israelites were instructed to count out seven times seven years and then to declare the fiftieth year a year of liberty. All debts were forgiven, all slaves set free. Every person returned to his family land and clan. The land was even given a year of rest as they were allowed to go fallow. The year was a holy time, the Sabbath of all Sabbaths. It was not a choice, the people could not decide to set some slaves free but keep others. “In this Year of Jubilee, everyone is to return to his own property.”
Can you imagine what it would be like if we forgave all debts every fifty years? It would certainly have a negative effect in our world today, but then we have a more difficult time understanding and giving forgiveness. Turn on the television at nearly any point in the day and you will find advertisements for lawyers telling victims that they deserve payment for their pain. Some talk show hosts or advice columnists have built their careers by telling callers that they need to walk out of relationships and never look back. Movies and television tell us that it is acceptable to go looking for love in other places if their spouse has done something wrong. We don’t forgive if and often take matters into our own hands. We walk away or we try to hurt them back.
Jesus said to Peter that we should forgive seventy times seven times. When God instructed the people to have a Year of Jubilee, it was not just a year when everything was put on a shelf and then returned to normal the next year. The Year of Jubilee was a time of restoration and renewal. Everything was made new, even relationships. Jesus did not say that we should forgive a few times; He linked forgiveness with the Jubilee. There comes a time of renewal, when everything old is put aside so that our relationships can be restored.
This is what it means to love without hypocrisy. If we are holding on to the debts of our neighbors while claiming we love, then we have not forgiven. If we stop forgiving at seven or seventy times, then we do not truly love our neighbor. True Christian love is sincere and is manifested in the forgiveness we grant over and over again until the day of Jubilee when everything is made new forever. Now, however, there is no particular year to set aside debts: in Christ every moment is Jubilee. Thanks to His grace and mercy, we have been forgiven forever, even for the sins we have yet to commit. We have been forgiven a much greater debt than any of our neighbors could ever have against us. If we can be forgiven, and we have, how can we not also forgive?
“But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak; knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God. Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 (ASV)
Children are constantly seeking answers to questions. When they are young and just learning about the world, they ask questions that are generally simple with answers we can find on the Internet. Why is the sky blue? Why is Coke called Coke? How do the birds know where they should go when they fly south for the winter? These questions have scientific or historic answers, facts that are generally beyond refute. As they grow older, however, their questions become deeper and more difficult to answer. Why are some people mean and hurtful? Why do people die? What should I do with my life? They seek wisdom about life and the purpose of our existence, and these answers are not so easy to give.
Unfortunately, most people stop asking the questions as they become adults. They simply live day to day the best they can. They don’t seek to know anything more than they need to get along. They might ask questions about their job, but they stop asking questions about the things around them. They don’t care who created the name for the latest sports car or why the trees change color in the fall. Even the bigger questions of life are left unasked because it seems pointless to pursue questions that have no pat answers. They accept that pain and death is a part of our existence, and they deal with it. They stop looking for some grand purpose and just go to the jobs in the morning and then home to their families at night.
Philosophers are lovers of wisdom; they seek answers to even the hardest questions and refuse to give up until they have an answer, and then they go on to another question. They continue to ask “Why” and “How.” Some of the questions seem silly, such as “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Yet, this is a question that looks for the origin of life itself. “Does a falling tree in a forest make a sound if there is no one to hear?” This question might open discussion about the affects of nature on the whole of creation.
Throughout history there have been Christian philosophers who try to answer the questions of life by juxtaposing knowledge that has been revealed through science and experience to the knowledge given by God through creation and divine revelation. The “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” writes, “The Christian philosopher’s overriding purpose is to love God with one’s entire being, including the mind.” Paul writes to the Corinthians that because he believes he speaks. God has given us faith in something that is not seen nor explained through human experience, yet He has called us to share this with others. We are afraid to answer because the world often rejects the answers that are based in divine revelation as myth or superstition; they reject faith answers to questions to which they demand scientific or historic answers. It is up to us to speak the truth that is Christ, even when they do not want to listen.
Though our children often drive us crazy when they go through these questioning phases of life, it is good that they seek answers. Even though we have faith in Christ, that doesn’t mean we should stop asking questions. God is indeed the answer to the toughest ones, but the search for knowledge and wisdom is something that we must do every day to be alive and to grow in faith. God calls us to love Him with our whole being, including our minds, to seek wisdom and share it with the world. As we grow and mature in our faith, we will have the answers, or at least the questions, to help our neighbors see God.
“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness unto sanctification. For when ye were servants of sin, ye were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life. For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:15-23, ASV
I once had a cat named LaToya. LaToya was found in a bag in the parking lot of a mall by a friend of mine who gave her to me. I cared for her, gave her everything she needed, but she was always very skittish. I suspect that she’d been abused before she was dumped. It is no wonder that she was afraid. When she was a few years old, we moved away from my childhood home to an apartment nearer my job. She adjusted well, but was never a friendly cat. She did not cuddle on my lap and she hid from strangers.
My apartment did not have screens in the windows. I didn’t open them often, but when I did I didn’t worry too much since my apartment was well above ground level. One day I was not paying enough attention and LaToya jumped out of the window. I didn’t realize it until much later when I called for her to get her dinner. I looked for her for awhile that evening, but it was getting dark and hard to see. She didn’t reappear the next morning and I went to work, but I was a basket case. I couldn’t work. I was so worried she’d go home and I wouldn’t be there to open the door. My boss told me to go home. She didn’t show up again until the third day.
It was raining, so she was soaking wet. She’d obviously been in a cat fight because she had cuts and bruises all over her body. She was shaking, and even more scared than she had been before she escaped. I don’t know why she jumped out of the window in the first place. Perhaps she sought freedom, but she learned in a very short period of time that freedom to do whatever you please often has unintended and dangerous consequences. Her freedom led to suffering and she learned that even though the two room apartment was more confined than the big outside world, inside she was safe and warm and dry.
There are many things that we would like to do in this world that it is tempting to jump out the window to enjoy the freedom we think exists outside. We are just like LaToya. We want to leave the protection of our home, which is God, to discover the things of the world that will fulfill the desires of our flesh. Yet, that freedom comes with a price. For LaToya, it was scratches and wet fur. For us, the wages of sin is death. As Christians, we have committed ourselves to be slaves in the house of the Lord, obedient to our Master who is God. He has freed us from the world so that we can dwell in His Kingdom forever.
LaToya never strayed again. As a matter of fact, I could leave the window open 24 hours a day and she wouldn’t jump out. She sat by the open window enjoying the air, but never felt the need to jump down. We moved again and in our next house she was allowed to wander onto the patio, but she never went farther than a few feet from the door. She knew where the freedom was. Inside the house she was free from worry: safe and fed and loved.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 22, 2013, Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15
“And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him.” Luke 16:14, ASV
Ok, I’ll say it. I really like money. I am very happy that I have enough money to take care of my needs and to provide many things that are not needed. I am glad I can buy books or clothes whenever I want or that I can stop at the fast food place for a milkshake once in awhile. I like that I can afford to eat what I like and travel and have pretty things. I like having money in the bank so that I don’t have to worry when there is an emergency.
I like being able to afford to live comfortably. I am thankful that my husband has a good enough job so that we can send our kids to college, own a lovely house and share our blessings with others. I like donating money to the causes my friends support and filling bags full of food for food banks. I like that I can buy paint and canvas to make pictures to donate to help an organization serve people in need. I like that I can give away my crafts to make people happy and that I don’t have to work so I can spend my time writing to help people grow in their faith. It is sad to say, but the world revolves around money; we can’t live without it. And, well, I admit that I like to have the financial resources to be comfortable and generous.
I like money and we need money, but there is a line that has to be drawn when it comes to our relationship with money. See, the problem is that when we love money and make pursuit of it our life’s goal and the focus of our work, then we have put aside things that are much more important. We live in a time when we are encouraged to put money away for a rainy day, to take risks so that we will have a comfortable retirement and to enjoy what we have in leisure pursuits. We are encouraged to work long hours for the paycheck to pay for the life we think we deserve. We covet what we don’t have and we are tempted to take advantage of our neighbors to get ahead.
The stories about money in the bible often talk about the wage of a worker being enough to survive for one day. Laborers were paid at the end of each day, so they didn’t need enough in the bank account to make a trip to grocery store to buy food for a month. They bought the food they needed each day from the market and a little extra for the Sabbath. They didn’t need money in a bank account to pay off credit card bills. They didn’t need to save for retirement because families and communities took care of one another. All they needed was enough.
The Jews were a people of faith, called to trust in God for all they needed to survive. They lived in community and held an attitude of mutual caring. Those who had much were expected to share with those who did not have enough. Any money beyond that which was necessary to meet the current day’s needs was considered “unrighteous mammon.”
Most people lived this way by necessity. It was the only way to survive. They could not save their coins because at the end of the day there were no coins to save. But there were those who had a different life, like the Pharisees. They were able to afford fine clothes and marble columns on their homes. They could feast on good food and enjoy the company of their friends. They considered their wealth a blessing from God, but forgot that the blessing was meant to be shared. They looked down on those who were poor and blamed their circumstances on their own sinfulness. They had more than enough, and so their extra wealth was unrighteous mammon. They were misusing the blessings that God had given to them.
The problem when we seek wealth is that we begin to think that we gain it by our own power and strength. We give ourselves credit for being good at our jobs, or, as in the case of the Pharisees, that we have earned God’s gracious gifts by our own goodness. We forget that everything belongs to God and that He entrusts us with His whole creation to use it for the good of the whole world. If we are wealthy, it is not so that we will look good or have nice cars, it is so that we can take care of the needs of our neighbor when they are in trouble. We need enough, but God gives us more than enough and then calls us to be a blessing to others.
We don’t really know what’s going on in the story of the wealthy landowner and his manager. Was the manager incompetent? Was he lazy? Was he greedy? We don’t really even know how bad the situation is. All we know is that the landowner has heard rumors that the manager was wasting his possessions and he has called the manager to make an accounting. The bottom line is this: did the manager accomplish the work of his master? The landowner didn’t care about the manager’s wealth, as long as the work was done to expectation.
How different it was in that world! In this story the landowner fired manager and demanded an audit. Can you imagine if a businessman in today’s world tried to fire someone without proof of the accusations? True or not, even the accusations were enough for the landowner to let the manager go.
So, what was the manager to do? He had no skills and he was unwilling to beg. He had to do something. His solution to the problem was to make things right with his neighbors. He was dealing with unrighteous mammon, the “more than enough” that should have been shared but wasn’t. He was using the wealth at his disposal in a way that did not serve the needs of his neighbors. He may have even been taking advantage of them. At the very least, he was not taking care of them.
And so, he repented and began to help the neighbors with their bills in a way that would both satisfy the master and ingratiate him with his neighbors. Then, when he was in need, they could pay it forward to him and he would at least receive help to get him through the tough time. He made friends by using that unrighteous mammon, and established for himself the promise of a community that would take him in.
It is interesting to note that the manager did not reduce the bills equally. This may have had to do with the type of product they were supposed to give to the master, but I think that it shows the manager taking into account the needs of the neighbors. The oil producer could only really afford to give the master fifty measures, but the wheat farmer could still afford eighty. In the end the master’s books were right and the master commended the manager for being shrewd.
Many translations call the manager “dishonest” but the word means “unrighteous.” Unrighteousness is about broken relationships, about being in ‘un-right’ in one’s associations. The manager was not right in this relationship with the rich man, and not right in his relationship with the people. Unrighteousness means that we are not right in our relationship with God, but we also have other relationships in which things are “not right.” When we are lazy, we are “not right” with our boss. When we are incompetent, we are “not right” with our customers. When we are greedy, we are “not right” with the world.
The Pharisees were “not right” with God or with the people around them. They were using the unrighteous mammon with which they’d been blessed, justifying it as gifts from God, to make their lives better while ignoring the needs of their neighbors. They had more than enough and they forgot that everything they had belonged to God and was given to them as stewards, or managers, to do the Lord’s business. They sought fine robes and marble columns while their neighbors suffered until the oppression of few resources and high taxes. They wanted to be exalted, and they created an image for themselves that set them above others, but in the end God knew their hearts. They loved something more than Him: they loved money.
I’ll say it again: I like money. I hope and I pray that I don’t love it. I hope and I pray that I do not take advantage of my neighbors for the sake of money and that I use the “more than enough” to do God’s work in the world. I know I fail. I know that I haven’t always given as generously as I can. I know I like to save some money in the bank “just in case,” so that it will be available for an emergency. I know that means that I am not trusting entirely in God. But I also know that He’s called all of us to be good stewards, and I pray that I will respond to God’s voice when He calls me to share my resources in someone’s time of need.
As we look at the text from the Old Testament book of Amos, we see people who are lovers of money and seekers of unrighteous mammon. As a matter of fact, they can’t stand to wait through even the holy days to get out in the market to sell, sell, sell, and cheat, cheat, cheat. They make the measures small but the prices high; they use false scales and take advantage of the poor. They sell inferior products to make the biggest score. They might be faithful in their Sabbath rest, but they live unrighteously every other day of the week.
We aren’t any different. We think that it is enough to attend an hour of church and spend time in bible study, but we go about our daily lives as if God is trapped in the walls of the church and that He doesn’t care what we do the other 166 hours a week. And, like those merchants in Amos’s day, we can’t wait until the Sabbath is over so we can go about chasing after the world. But God calls us to a different life. He calls us to a life in which enough is truly enough and anything more than enough is meant to be shared. We don’t need to lie and cheat and steal to get ahead; we don’t need to pursue wealth for our own sake.
God will bless us with enough, and if we don’t have enough, He’ll bless us with a neighbor who has enough. And if we have more than enough, He’ll bless us with a neighbor who doesn’t. It is all about trusting in God. It’s all unrighteous mammon, that extra wealth. So, what are we going to do with it? Are we going to hoard the wealth we think we’ve earned ourselves or are we going to listen for God’s voice and be obedient to God’s call to use that unrighteous mammon in righteous ways?
Jesus says, “He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.” We can see that, can’t we? Worldly wealth is a fact of our life in the flesh. We can’t live without money. But we can live faithfully by using our worldly wealth in ways that will glorify God. Are we like the dishonest manager? Is there anyone who can go to our Lord and charge us with squandering God’s gifts? Are the words of the prophet appropriate for us in today’s world as they were for Israel so long ago? If we can’t be good stewards of the worldly resources we have been given, why would God trust us with the true riches?
We aren’t right with God or with one another. We are also unrighteous people doing dishonest things with unrighteous mammon. We have never been very good stewards of the resources that God has given to us. We are wasteful, greedy and dishonest. We fail at using those resources in a way that will build up the kingdom and take care of the needs of those who do not have enough. We are so much like that unrighteous manager and God calls us to account. How will we make use of our resources so as to heal broken relationships? We are put in charge of earthly wealth for a time. Will we use that wealth in a way that makes us right with one another?
Putting all things of this world aside, we are equal in the eyes of God. By our own power we are all slaves to the world. We squander the creation over which we have been given charge. We deserve to suffer the fate of that dishonest manager. Yet, Jesus Christ has taken our unworthiness and made us worthy by His blood, so that we can take what we have been given and use it wisely, in a godly manner, to glorify God in all that we do.
So where do we start. We start with prayer. Paul writes to Timothy, “I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity.” Most of us have enough. We might have a little extra and we do with it what we can. But there are those in the world who not only have the resources, but also the power and position to do more. The Pharisees could have made things right for so many people, but they were more concerned about their robes and marble columns. Many of the leaders of our world have the resources and the power to make great things happen, but they have lost touch with God.
We can do amazing things on our own, but how much more can we do if we do so together with the support of those who are in power? They need to see that their power comes from God, and that He has given them their power in this time and place for the sake of His people. This means political leaders, religious leaders, and corporate leaders. Their blessings come from God for the sake of the world. God isn’t bothered by fancy robes and marble columns as long as His work is done and everyone has enough. He knows our hearts, and He exalts those who trust in Him.
We are commanded to pray. Prayer is our way of showing support, of bringing our hopes and concerns before someone who is greater than us. It is through prayer, communication with God, that we find some sense of peace.
We are to pray “that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity.” In Paul’s day the leaders were enemies of the Christians. The Jewish leaders were fighting the Way, trying to halt this strange new religion that was bringing conflict to families and communities. The Roman leaders were fighting this new religion because the conflicts were causing strife in the cities and empire. The Christians were tearing apart the peace that Rome had enjoyed for so long. Imagine how hard it must have been to pray for those leaders who were the enemies of this new and growing religion. However, when we pray for someone, truly and really pray for them without an agenda, we can’t help but identify with them and grow in love for them. God’s grace enters into our hearts and we see them through God’s eyes and from God’s heart.
As much as we think we are right, our point of view might not be what God intends. We don’t know the whole picture. We know only that God is faithful and that He will be with us. He wants all men to be saved. He hasn’t told us how He will accomplish it. He only asks that we live the tranquil and quiet life so that men will see the God of grace in our lives. Our prayers, and the actions brought about by our prayers, will stand as a witness to God’s love in this world. He will take care of the rest. He knows what He intends, He knows hearts and He is faithful. As we live in this truth we can pray for others, whether they are unbelievers or enemies, with thanksgiving, knowing that God has purpose for them, too.
If God can use unrighteous mammon in ways that makes life better for His children, then He can use those who appear to be His enemies for the sake of those He loves. And it is up to us to start by praying for them, for dealing kindly with them, for standing firmly in God’s grace so that they might see that God is real and faith is true. God has great plans for this world, and He can accomplish them. He calls us to join Him in making the world right, however we are able, whether it is in sharing our “more than enough” or praying for those who can really make a difference.
In Christ we can join in the praise of the psalmist, “Praise ye Jehovah. Praise, O ye servants of Jehovah, Praise the name of Jehovah. Blessed be the name of Jehovah From this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same Jehovah's name is to be praised. Jehovah is high above all nations, And his glory above the heavens. Who is like unto Jehovah our God, That hath his seat on high, That humbleth himself to behold The things that are in heaven and in the earth?”
It is by His grace that people are saved, but it is through our humble human flesh that He is revealed to the world. It is His Word that brings peace, but our tongues speak that Word to the world. It is by His blood that we are forgiven, but He has chosen to institute rituals using water, bread, wine and people to share that blood with His faithful. He has provided us with a great many blessings and the opportunities to share our “more than enough.” Worldly wealth is not meant to be loved, it is meant to be shared. Let us in every way share God’s grace with the world, whether with our worldly wealth or our spiritual disciplines, that God will be glorified.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself. Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith. Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith. And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:14-26, ASV
Feel good story of the day: The customers were standing in line at a Dairy Queen with a nice young man at the register. The customer at the counter was a regular, a blind man that the worker recognized from previous visits. During the encounter, the man struggled with his wallet and accidentally dropped a twenty dollar bill. The worker saw it fall to the floor. The woman behind the blind man saw it, picked it up and put it in her own wallet. The blind man walked away without even realizing it. The young man at the counter was shocked that anyone would be so cruel.
When she approached the counter, the young man refused to serve her. “Ma’am, please give the man his twenty dollar bill.” She argued with him, claiming it was hers. He would not take her order and asked her to leave. She demanded to speak to the manager, but he was the manager on duty. She angrily left without making it right.
The young man was brave, bold and kind to stand up for the blind man with such fervency. But the story doesn’t end there. After he helped his other customers, apologizing for the disruption, the young man left the counter, reached for his own wallet and pulled out a twenty dollar bill which he gave to the blind man. He told the man, “You dropped this.” He knew it was the right thing to do. He followed his heart. He didn’t let the world change him; he did something that would change the world. He didn’t even accuse or blame the woman who stole the twenty dollar bill; he simply made things right for the blind man.
It has been said that Martin Luther did not appreciate the book of James because it seems to be centered in works righteousness; however this is not completely true. While Martin Luther did doubt the authenticity of the book, as did others in the Church at the time. In his comments on the book, detractors often focus on the negativity, but ignore the rest of Luther’s comments. He says that James is a good book because, “it sets up no doctrine of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God.” Luther continued to wonder about the book, finding contradiction between Paul and James on faith and works, but he never considered removing the book from the canon. As a matter of fact, he translated and published the German version of the whole bible, including those books about which he had doubts.
Though I am not smarter than Martin Luther or any of the Christian theologians in every time and place, I think the story of this young man at Dairy Queen is exactly an example of what James was talking about. We don’t do good works to earn our place in heaven. Christ won that for us already. We do good works because we are already in God’s kingdom and we are given the courage, boldness and heart to do what is right. We love because God first loved us. We do good works because God has been extraordinarily good to us. We share God’s grace with others because He first did so for us.
James says, “Faith without works is dead.” To me, this means that if we aren’t living a life of doing the right thing, of sharing God’s grace and loving our neighbors, then our faith is meaningless and even ‘dead.’ Living faith manifests in real action in the world, reconciling people and making things right.
“And Jehovah answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:2-3 (ASV)
Madeline Rockwell once wrote a story about her grandparents for Reader’s Digest. One night they were startled out of sleep by a commotion in the chicken house. Grandma quickly ran outside and discovered a large black snake inside. She didn’t have anything to kill the snake, so she stepped on its head with her bare feed and waited for Grandpa. After waiting for some time, Grandpa showed up fully dressed. When he saw Grandma, angry and tousled, he said cheerfully, “Well, if I’d known you had him, I wouldn’t have hurried so.”
Imagine what it must have been like for the grandmother to stand for so long with a snake under her bare feet. I am sure she experienced fear, anger, doubt, exasperation, panic, frustration. I am sure she became impatient with the grandfather as she waited for him to come. We do not like to wait for anything, but when it comes to situations that could be life or death, we are particularly eager for the end to come. We want peace so that we do not have to be afraid. We want a solution to our problems and we want them right now. Yet, there are many things that do not come instantly, particularly peace. At a time like this, peace seems so far out of reach that it is impossible.
Jesus Christ promised that we will know peace, but that peace won’t come with diplomatic agreements between nations. It is an eternal peace, a peace that is beyond human understanding. It is a peace that comes from trust in God, faith in His promises. We long for the day when all God’s promises are fulfilled completely and finally. We long for the day that Jesus will come in glory. We desire a world where there is no longer sin, death, tears, sickness, danger, anger, hatred, greed and lust. We want the end to arrive so we can rejoice in the fullness of God’s presence.
God’s time is not on our schedule. He does not delay; He will come at the appointed time. We wait in hope and faith, knowing that He will be true to His Word. The promises of God were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and yet we have not fully realized the promises. Though the peace that Christ promised is ours today, there are still things in this world that cause us to live in wonder, doubt and fear. Grandma knew she was safe, but she was ready for the experience to end so that she could go back to bed and rest. We wait the end even though the end had already come. In faith we know that the end has come but is still coming. The peace is ours, but will be made complete. May God grant us all the patience so that we can wait for His time.
“There arose therefore a questioning on the part of John's disciples with a Jew about purifying. And they came unto John, and said to him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou hast borne witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it have been given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but, that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, that standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is of the earth, and of the earth he speaketh: he that cometh from heaven is above all. What he hath seen and heard, of that he beareth witness; and no man receiveth his witness. He that hath received his witness hath set his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for he giveth not the Spirit by measure. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:25-36, ASV
We try so hard to create for ourselves a legacy, immortality. We want to be remembered forever. Most of us do not have the means to do so, unlike the wealthy families who can build colleges, hospitals and other lasting institutions that bear their names. But we still try to impact the world in a way that will keep our names alive forever. In the end, most of us have little left but an engraving on a stone in a cemetery, and even that will be worn away by the weather.
This desperate need to be remembered often has a negative effect on our lives. We live in fear of dying because we know that once we are gone we are not able to accomplish that which will guarantee our immortality. We are afraid that we have not made a difference, and our desperation manifests in ways that are not faithful or merciful. We demand those we encounter to be what we expect them to be and do what we expect them to do.
There is an amazing landmark in China that was built by the first emperor, a man named Ying Cheng. An army of eight thousand terra cotta warriors along with horses and chariots were created to surround him in his tomb to protect him in the afterlife. He was a cruel man who sought greatness for himself and his name. He killed 40,000 men because they surrendered. He called himself emperor and expected his dynasty to last ten thousand years. He did manage to create a lasting impression on the world, not only in his amazing tomb, but also in the largest manmade landmark in the world: the Great Wall of China. Unfortunately, his legacy was built on the bones of many people, slaves who died while working on the wall had their bones ground and used in the mortar. This incredible monument to the life of Ying Cheng is the longest cemetery on earth.
He lived in fear of death. Secret tunnels connected his palaces so that he could hide from his enemies. He ordered his wise men to find the fountain of youth so that he might live forever. He trusted no one and no one trusted him. He was eventually killed by his closest advisors and buried in a tomb surrounded by six thousand terra cotta warriors. His son was tricked into suicide, ending the dynasty of Ying Cheng. He had no hope beyond this world.
John the Baptist was a powerful and charismatic man. People were following him, listening to him, learning from him. His disciples realized that Jesus was doing the same work and went to John to warn him of the competition. They were jealous for his sake, thinking in terms of worldly fame rather than heavenly calling. John did not seek to become great, he only desired to do what God had called him to do. He knew that he was not the Christ, but that he came to point toward Him. He rejoiced to see the promises of God being fulfilled in his sight.
Ying Cheng thought he was great, and lived a life in fear of death. John knew that Jesus was the One they were looking for, and he remained humble before God. He did what he was gifted and sent to do, never trying to be greater. He wasn’t concerned about immortality, for he knew that God had a greater promise of life. And now we live in that promise, knowing that even if we leave no legacy or have any impact on the world, we will have life that is eternal. We need not fear death because we believe in the One who is the greatest, Jesus who is the Christ. When we believe in His words, we testify to the truth of God, the faithfulness of His grace in the fulfillment of all His promises. We have eternal life: life that is a present reality not just a future hope. This we have by believing in Jesus.
“As for man, his days are as grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; And the place thereof shall know it no more. But the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, And his righteousness unto children's children; To such as keep his covenant, And to those that remember his precepts to do them. Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens; And his kingdom ruleth over all.” Psalm 103:15-19, ASV
I attended a festival being held by an organization I support on Saturday as a vendor. I took my art and other items I’ve made and offered them for sale to the people who visited the event. There was a threat of bad weather the day before, but the clouds cleared and the day turned out to be beautiful. Unfortunately, for reasons that are not clear, the event was poorly attended. I sold barely enough to pay for my space, and with gas, hotel, food and the original costs of making the items, the day actually cost me money. Though I never expect to earn a living with my art, I was disappointed that despite everyone’s kind compliments about my talent, so few felt my paintings were worth purchasing to display in their homes.
I have to admit that I had a bit of a pity party for myself by the end of the day. It is so much work to carry all that merchandise and set it up. There is always the risk of a strong breeze knocking over displays or kids with sticky fingers touching the art. There is, unfortunately, also the risk that someone will walk away without paying for an item. By the end of the day I was exhausted, sunburned and sneezing from allergies after being outside all day. In the end, however, I realized that I was not alone. None of the vendors did very well at the event, some much worse than I. Church lady groups spend the year preparing for this one event expecting to sell everything by the end of the day, but even they had to reduce their prices and were left with baked goods and crafts when it was over. I don’t think the organization that held the festival made as much as they hoped or expected.
I know I will never become rich as an artist and I don’t want fame, although I have to admit that I hope one day to be discovered and have paintings hanging in a gallery or museum. For now, though, it is days like Saturday that help keep me humble. I see that I am one among many, and though I’d like to think that I’ve suffered more than any, I know that I was blessed that day with enough. And perhaps even more, because I had the opportunity to talk about prayer and art and life with so many people.
In the end, the things we do in this world do not really matter. I want my art to impact lives. I want my ministry to help people live in faith. I want the work I do to make a difference, but even if it does I am reminded that my days and my work are like the grass: one day I will be no more. I suppose that’s why we all want to make a difference or have an impact while we are alive; we know that we do not live forever. However, we are reminded by the psalmist that though we are one among many and that our lives will end, there is one that is from everlasting to everlasting. Our God has no end, and by faith in His Son, we join Him in His Kingdom forever.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 29, 2013, St. Michael and All Angels: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Psalm 146; Revelation 12:7-12; Matthew 18:1-11
“Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in Jehovah his God.” Psalm 146:5, ASV
Martin Luther said, “All heaviness of mind and melancholy come of the devil; especially these thoughts, that God is not gracious unto him: that God will have no mercy upon him, etc. Whosoever thou art, possessed with such heavy thoughts, know for certain, that they are a work of the devil. God sent his Son into the world, not to affright, but to comfort. Therefore be of good courage, and think, that henceforward thou art not the child of a human creature, but of God, through faith in Christ, in whose name thou art baptized; therefore the spear of death cannot enter into thee; he has no right unto thee, much less he hurt or prejudice thee, for he is everlastingly swallowed up through Christ.” (From Table Talk)
Perhaps we have reason to be melancholy. Watch just a few minutes of the news these days and you will see that there is trouble everywhere. There is war and fighting around the world, people are dying at the hands of their neighbors, people are suffering from natural disasters. Illness is rampant; it seems like there is more dis-ease in body, mind and spirit than there ever has been. People are frustrated financially, lonely because of broken relationships and afraid of what tomorrow might hold. Even our entertainment is filled with the promise of suffering rather than hope.
Daniel was a man of incredible faith who was given a gift. The book tells of visions that ultimately point to the sovereignty of God over the kingdoms of men. God wins, and though the language sounds frightening, we are reminded that the words of the prophet are always meant to encourage God’s faithful people to prayer and power in His name. That doesn’t stop us from being afraid, being upset and confused and frustrated, especially when it seems that God is taking too long to fulfill His promises.
Shortly before our passage from Daniel, we see Daniel exhausted by the experience of his vision. He was face to face with a man who was not a man, but something greater. He was dressed in linen with a gold belt; his body was like gemstone and his face like lightening, his eyes flaming torches and his arms and legs as solid as bronze. His voice was like the sound of many speaking. I would be afraid to be in the presence of such an awesome creature. On top of the vision, he was left alone because those who were with him were afraid. They didn’t even see the vision, but something about the situation terrified them and they ran away.
Daniel was given a great responsibility: knowledge of what was to be. The ‘man’ says, “Fear not, Daniel; for from the first day that thou didst set thy heart to understand, and to humble thyself before thy God, thy words were heard: and I am come for thy words’ sake.” This visitation was not meant to frighten Daniel, but to encourage him. The fear he felt was the devil trying to turn him from faith. The battle that is waged is not one between flesh and flesh, but in spirit. The devil wants us to be frightened so that we’ll stop praying, but it is our prayers that have the greatest power. Daniel need not be afraid because there are forces, angels and archangels, who are fighting those powers that seek to turn us from God’s kingdom.
There is a place off the coast of Cornwall, England, called St. Michael’s Mount. Over the years the mount was used as a port for tin trade, a monastery, a military outpost and a private home. It is a strategic and important property over which many have fought. As with everything in England, the written history comes with a sense of mystery and myth. There are several ancient legends connected with this special place.
One story talks of a giant that lived on the island that could easily walk across the causeway to the mainland to steal sheep for his lunch. The story goes on to say that a boy went to the mount to fight the giant and tricked him into falling into a hole. This tale became the story we know called “Jack and the Beanstalk.” There are also legends about King Arthur that are placed at the mount as well as stories about the Celtic saints. The name of the mount comes from a legend involving the Archangel known as Michael. It is said that some fishermen saw him standing high above the sea on a rocky ledge as if he were guarding it. Michael the Archangel is described as a mighty warrior angel that fights the devil, as in today’s story from Daniel. Many churches and religious institutions that were located on the top of a hill or mountain took the name St. Michael in honor of his feats in the heavenly realm, so it is no wonder that the legendary place off the coast of England would be called St. Michael’s Mount.
The modern understanding of angels is far different from what it was in the times of the biblical writers and even in the days that the English established St. Michael’s Mount. Angels today are pretty little things with fluffy wings and pure white garments. We rarely think of the angels in terms other than our helpers, beings that will take care of us. There are also many who think of the angels as people who have died and been transformed by God into guardian angels. We use this language to help people through their grief, to give them hope that their loved one is still with them in some way.
But Angels are unique beings created by God for a specific purpose: to serve God as His messengers to God’s people. Though in this life we are a little lower than the angels, for we do not have access to the throne of Glory as they, we will be the ones who dine at the table to grace at the great heavenly banquet that awaits us. For now, the angels move throughout the dominion of God, passing into our world only in obedience to God’s will. Their main purpose, as is ours, is to glorify God in all they do.
This Sunday we celebrate St. Michael and all the angels, including the other archangels. The Bible tells us about Gabriel, the messenger who told Mary and Joseph about the coming of their Son. The other archangels, known only extra-biblically, are Raphael and Uriel. We thank God for these beings because they help us, speak to us, guide us and protect us. They are fighting the battle we cannot even see, and guard us as we fight the battle here on earth.
On a side note, it is interesting to pay attention to the meaning of the names of those archangels. Michael means “the one who resembles God.” Gabriel means “man of God.” Raphael means, “God heals.” And Uriel means, “God is my light.” In these names we see God and the work He does among us. The angels are not God; they are created beings that God has called to do His Work in another realm.
There are those who reject that spiritual realm because it exists beyond our consciousness, but it is good for us to remember that they are there, as are the beings that fight on the other side. For every archangel and angel in God’s Kingdom there is a demon who is sent to do Satan’s work. We want the life of faith to be easy, but we will face the enemy the stronger we rely on God, the more we pray, the better we understand God’s purpose for our life. Thankfully, we have these spirits who are with us, encouraging us, protecting us and telling us not to be afraid. It is amazing to think that even though God has these magnificent beings to do His work in this world, He still calls us to do His work, too. We join in the battle with the archangels and the angels, to share God’s grace with the world.
The battles we face are not always spiritual. We face people who do not believe and call us fools for doing so. Many think that Christianity is nothing more than a fairy tale. In today’s society, if you aren’t healthy, rich or successful, then ‘the gods’ have not treated you with favor. You must have done something wrong, or you must not have enough faith. Achieving great things is seen as blessedness, yet the reality is quite different. The humble are those who are blessed. God uses the weak to accomplish great things. Success in God’s kingdom does not look the same as success in the world. It is no wonder that we become melancholy when we are facing the battles of faith; the world insists that if our faith were real then we wouldn’t have to battle. They don’t believe in that realm beyond our consciousness.
We see a similar story in the text from Revelation. In this story, Michael once again is called to wage war on those who are enemies of God. In this story the dragon is defeated. The story sounds much like that which we hear in the book of Job about the rebellion of Lucifer, once the greatest angel. And yet this story foresees a time after the saving work of Christ when the dragon, or Satan, or the devil no longer has control over the earth. We are warned, however, but until that day when the enemy is finally and completely defeated, we will face the danger of Satan’s temptations. Satan is frightened. Satan knows that his time is short. He knows that he will not have control for very long. And so, he’s trying every trick imaginable to draw as many to his side in the meantime.
There are those in our society who pursue success to the detriment of all else. The coach who is willing to cheat for the sake of a victory is harming the children on his team because they are not learning sportsmanship and respect. The person who is willing to destroy a family for the sake of a career misses out on the incredible blessings of being part of a loving relationship.
It is possible to take ourselves to the other extreme, to pursue the battle against the devil, which can be just as dangerous. I know people who seek persecution, who see everything as being against them. They are bound by a desire to be the underdog and they purposely set themselves up for failure just so they can wallow in their humility, but it is a false humility. God does not call us to be like the archangels and angels, but invites us to cry out to Him to fight the battle and defeat the enemy. He has created the angels to fight, and He has given us the power to pray.
Prayer seems so passive. We are people of action. We want to go out and do whatever needs to be done. We want to fight the good fight with good works, with acts of power, with tangible behavior. But prayer is not passive; prayer is reaching out to the One who can actually make things happen.
I have begun a prayer group that will meet once a month at my house, but I’m calling for the members to commit to prayer in their own homes the other weeks. Last night was our first distant prayer meeting. I was alone in a special place and yet I knew I was not alone. I do not even know how many or if any of the other members were able to spend time, but I knew that I was joined with other Christians by the Spirit of God. I was concerned that I would not be able to fill an hour alone, but when I came out of my prayer room, the clock showed that an hour had passed.
Many would say that it was a wasted hour, after all these is so much I could have accomplished in that time. And yet, I know it was not wasted. I believe that in that time God heard our voices and set in motion the answers to those prayers.
See, there is a great deal that we can do in this world to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors. We can help them through their pain, we can heal them, and we can help them. We can, and must, live an active faith. But on a Sunday like this, when we consider that there is more to the Kingdom of God than just us Christian people on earth, we are reminded that sometimes the greatest work we have to do is to pray. Prayer is a humbling experience because it means letting everything go and letting God take care of it. Action takes the solution into our own hands; prayer gives it over to the One who really can change the world.
I suppose that’s why we have today’s Gospel lesson. It doesn’t seem to fit, does it? After all, what does little children have to do with angels, unless we are talking about those pretty little angelic faces they have when they sleep? The truth is, we are meant to be more like children, humble and dependent on God.
What can a child do when they are faced with a difficult or frightening situation? They can’t fix it themselves, they do not know how. They must go to one who is greater. A child bullied in school must go to a teacher or the principal to get help. A lost child must find a policeman to help them home. A sick child must go to their mother or father to get well. Children know they cannot take action, but seek help from the one who can. Though there are many things we can do, ultimately we need to remember that there is One to whom we can go to help us through.
And so today, let us be thankful that we do not have to fight the battles of heaven alone, but that we have angels and archangels to do so. And let us all get down on our knees in faith and do the work that we have been called to do, lifting the needs of the world in prayer.
Many people are suffering from depression and are seeking aid through doctors, family and friends. We are also looking toward our government, military and emergency services to help. The heaviness of mind we face is a tool of the devil to keep us from doing what we should do: praise the Lord God Almighty. Today’s Psalm begins with prayer and a warning to look to God for our help. He loves the righteous, which are those who are in a right relationship with Him. We have that relationship through Christ our Lord. In that right relationship, God will provide all we need, including the doctors, family and friends who will serve us in love and ease our suffering. He will give wisdom, guidance, strength and courage to the government, military and emergency services that will provide help for our circumstances. He will send His archangels and angels to help us fight the battle we cannot even see.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11, ASV
I don’t take many photos of people. I don’t think that I could ever be a portrait photographer because I don’t seem to have the knack of placing people in the right position so that they look natural and comfortable. It seems like when you go into a studio for that type of picture, the photographer places heads and hands in strange positions, but the photographs are terrific. I don’t get the same result when I try; my models always look awkward and uncomfortable.
I have managed some good photos of people, however. Rather than posed, these photos are captured in the moments, snapshots of people who do not even know they are being photographed. These photos show the people in their natural habitat, often in a moment of contemplation or intimacy. This type of photo is gaining popularity with even the professional photographers who spend time at events just trying to catch those moments, the moments that create memories. We remember the big things, for sure, like the wedding or the graduation or the birthday party, but the snapshot photos help us remember the relationships we have with those we love.
Eight years ago, my father was in a hospital in Houston dying. Unfortunately, Hurricane Rita came along on September 24th, forcing all non-essential people out of the city. Thankfully I made it home safely, and the hurricane did not hit San Antonio. It did hit Houston hard, but the hospital was well built and safe. We worried and prayed and anxiously awaited the moment when we could return to Houston, expecting every day to get the phone call that Daddy had died. He held on through the storm, we returned and took him to hospice where he was allowed to die in peace without machines keeping him alive.
We had many opportunities to talk and reminisce during the five weeks that Daddy was in the hospital. One evening I recalled a favorite moment from his life. My dad was a truck driver when I was a very small child, and I rode with him occasionally when the work was not dangerous or disturbing to me. Daddy was called on one trip to help lift a sewage grating, because a bunch of ducklings had slipped through the holes when a mother duck and her ducklings were crossing the grating. It was too heavy for a man to lift, so they called Dad.
I told him that evening that he was my hero because of what he did that day. I know that he probably saved dozens of lives with his tow truck, helping injured people who were trapped in their vehicles escape. He laughed when I said that I see him as a hero for saving those ducks, and I told him that I knew he was a hero for much more important reasons, but that moment was precious to me. It is funny because I don’t recall my father being part of many of my most important moments in life, though I know he was there, but my favorite memories are those seemingly unimportant but personal encounters when we sat and talked or shared a private experience.
Today’s scripture is one of my favorites from Paul. In these words we see the deep love he had for the Christians in his care. He was unconcerned with the incredible things that were happening to him and to the Church in that incredible time. Instead, he thought of the simple grace that was taking them through the everyday experiences of life, drawing them ever closer to the Day of the Lord. I see the same thing in those precious and excellent moments I remember so fondly, as God’s presence has been there in the midst of my life.
“And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor wallet, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats. And into whatsoever house ye enter, there abide, and thence depart. And as many as receive you not, when ye depart from that city, shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them. And they departed, and went throughout the villages, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.” Luke 9:1-6, ASV
One of my favorite souvenirs from our time in England is a map taped to a form core board on which we placed map pins of all the places we visited. We had the opportunity to visit so many wonderful places, including castles and cathedrals, churches and parks. We saw the homes of famous people, wandered in places written about in literature and saw ancient sites that predate recorded history. We visited as many places as possible, taking advantage of our freedom and the geography. We could do so many things in less than a day and we learned thousands of years of history. It got to the point that we were unable to put map pins on the board in and around where we lived because we had visited so many places. The pins reach far and wide, too, as we took vacations to visit the distant places on our map.
We promised ourselves that we would continue to travel and visit places when we moved back to the United States, but alas we did not do so well. We got caught up in the usual activities with the kids like scouts and sports. Our weekends were taken up with practices or activities. We did not have as much freedom because we had other responsibilities, and so we didn’t pursue the historic or entertaining sites with as much regularity and gusto. We went everywhere in England, but did not go many places back home. Even now that the children are gone and out of the house, we say, “We should do this” and we don’t, allowing the everyday tasks of life get in the way of an adventure.
Our scripture passage comes from the first time Jesus sent the disciples to preach and heal without Him. I love that it says, “And they departed, and went throughout the villages, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.” They went everywhere and they did God’s work everywhere. I wonder how many times we miss the opportunity to go on an adventure because we are stuck in the rut of our everyday life. It is easy for us to make excuses to stay close to home, to do only what is necessary, to keep our schedules full of the mundane so that we don’t have to step out of our comfort zone.
Those disciples went out into the world into places where they were strangers and they spoke the Word of God. They displayed the power of God when the touched the sick and possessed. They didn’t worry about the fact that the lawn needed to be mowed or the kids have a bake sale. They weren’t even concerned about the fact that some people would reject them. They went on the adventure, without any of the comforts of home, and they did what God called them to do. I wonder if we could do the same; could we go everywhere without fear and tell the world about God?
“In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge; Let me never be put to shame: Deliver me in thy righteousness. Bow down thine ear unto me; deliver me speedily: Be thou to me a strong rock, A house of defence to save me. For thou art my rock and my fortress; Therefore for thy name's sake lead me and guide me. Pluck me out of the net that they have laid privily for me; For thou art my stronghold. Into thy hand I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Jehovah, thou God of truth.” Psalm 31:1-5, ASV
They say that everyone has a price. It is a common joke on sitcoms to show one person trying to get something that another person does not want to give up. As the price rises, the answers come more slowly and the buyer has hope that there is a dollar amount that will buy the item. Frustrated by the conversation, eventually the person with the item says, “Not even for a million dollars.” Instead of taking that as a complete rejection, the buyer answers, “So there is a price.” It gives them hope to continue to badger the person for the item.
Now, the devil does not always tempt us with money. Most people certainly would not do something against their principles for a free meal. Many people might do it for a large amount of cash. What would you be willing to do for a million dollars? Would you lie, steal or cheat? Would you commit adultery or do murder? Would you renounce your faith? We might think that the answer, “No,” is easy, but is it? If someone offered you something you really want to do something you would not normally do, would you accept?
Symphorianus lived in Autun, a town in Gaul during the rule of the Roman Empire. The goddess Cybele was the goddess of choice in the town. She was known as the mother of all gods. The people wheeled a statue of Cybele throughout the streets of the city on her feast day so that the people could bow before her and worship. Symphorianus refused to do so, proclaiming the Lord as the one true God. He even requested a hammer so that he could destroy the statue. The governor, Heraclius, did everything he could to convince Symphorianus to convert. He even tried to bribe him with an army commission, a high honor that guaranteed wealth and power. Symphorianus was killed when he refused to recant his faith. Heraclius thought that he could find the price that would turn Symphorianus, but there was no price he was willing to take to renounce his faith.
This faithfulness is confusing to those who do not believe. After all, trust in God does not guarantee that we’ll have a long, happy, healthy, successful life. Heraclius thought that there must be a price that would buy Symphorianus’ faith, because the God he worshipped seemed to have no power whatsoever. How can one trust in a being that doesn’t save his faithful from the power of human beings? What they don’t understand is that our faith is not that we’ll have a long, happy, healthy, successful life. The promise of God is not safety in this world, but eternal life in His presence.
Shortly before he was executed, Symphorianus’ mother yelled, “Do not be afraid, your death will lead straight to eternal life.” Symphorianus rested in the promise of God; he took refuge in love and mercy of Jesus Christ. The bribes of this world meant nothing to him, if it meant rejecting the One who gave him eternal life. When we face persecution like Symphorianus, we might be tempted to take the bribe to save ourselves from a horrible fate. But how can a million dollars replace eternal life? It can’t. That is why we take refuge in God, committing our souls to His care no matter what might happen. For no matter what happens to our bodies, God has rescued us from death through the blood of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We can’t buy that gift, or earn it, or give it to anyone. It comes from God and God alone. He is our fortress.