Welcome to the February 2022 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, February 2022
February 1, 2022
“Have mercy on me, Yahweh, for I am in distress. My eye, my soul, and my body waste away with grief. For my life is spent with sorrow, my years with sighing. My strength fails because of my iniquity. My bones are wasted away. Because of all my adversaries I have become utterly contemptible to my neighbors, a horror to my acquaintances. Those who saw me on the street fled from me. I am forgotten from their hearts like a dead man. I am like broken pottery. For I have heard the slander of many, terror on every side, while they conspire together against me, they plot to take away my life. But I trust in you, Yahweh. I said, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand. Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make your face to shine on your servant. Save me in your loving kindness.” Psalm 31:9-16, WEB
“Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not after you.” This may be a favorite saying of conspiracy theorists, or at least it is used humorously when talking about conspiracies. On the television show “Dharma and Greg,” Dharma’s dad Larry was a hippie radical leftover from the sixties, an extreme stereotype of the anti-government, free-will movement. He often thinks someone is out to get him, that everyone is a spy for the government and that everything is a conspiracy against him. On an episode when Dharma decided to run for city council, he was sure someone, or everyone, would want to destroy her. Sadly, it seems like this conspiracy theory is truer today than ever.
It is from people like Larry that we get the saying “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not after you.” Paranoia is a state of being in which the sufferer is overwhelmed by anxiety or fear, often responding irrationally or experiencing delusions. The root of the word is Greek, and it can mean “madness.”
Another state of being that is often confused with paranoia is phobia. A phobia is a morbid fear of something, so overwhelming that it can cause people to avoid certain activities, things or people. Most people are afraid of something, but there are many who are so afraid that they can’t deal with it normally. The main difference between paranoid thoughts and phobias is that paranoia assigns blame to someone or something for the fear. The paranoid person is afraid that someone is going to use the object of fear to harm them. The phobic is just afraid of the object.
In the introduction for this psalm in my NIV Study Bible, the writer states, “[This psalm is] A prayer for deliverance when confronted by a conspiracy so powerful and open that all David’s friends abandoned him.” In this psalm, David writes about the troubles he’s facing: he is sorrowful, weak, forgotten, like a dead man and broken vessel. He’s been defamed and threatened. If we heard someone like Larry speak a psalm like this today, we’d just say he was paranoid. But as they say, “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not after you.” Perhaps David was just paranoid, but we know from the stories of his life and his rule over Israel that there was always someone who wanted to see him dethroned or dead, including his own sons. It is enough to make someone live in fear constantly.
But David did not live in fear. He lived in trust and faith. He believed that God would deliver him from his enemies and that he would be vindicated. It never got easier for David, or for David’s offspring. There was always some threat looming around the corner. However, God was faithful to His promises, giving the world the only One son of David who could face the fear and defeat it forever. Jesus must have felt similar things when He was journeying toward the cross. The conspiracy against Him was not kept quiet. The leaders wanted Him dead. They schemed and planned, even reaching into Jesus’ inner circle to find the one person who would willingly give Him up to them for money. Jesus was abandoned by almost everyone in the end. As He hung on the cross only one disciple and a few women came to mourn over His life and death.
But we know that the cross was not the end of Jesus. We know that He trusted that God’s promises overcome death and the grave, beginning with His life and passed on to ours. We might be afraid of things. We might even think people are out to get us. But we need not respond to our fears by dealing with them irrationally or taking extreme measures. The things and people of this world cannot overcome the life God has promised us through Jesus Christ. If we face our paranoia and our phobias with trust in God, we’ll live in peace despite the reality of our circumstances.
February 2, 2022
Scriptures for February 6, 2022, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 14:12b-20; Luke 5:1-11
“I heard the Lord’s voice, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am. Send me!’” Isaiah 6:8, WEB
Parents are not the only ones who deal with being unheard, but anyone with teenagers will understand what I am about to say. Teenagers sometimes hear but they don’t really listen. For example, I once told my kids to put their laundry away. They both yelled, “In a minute” because they were busy with schoolwork or something. At the end of the day, after they went to bed, I realized they had never gotten around to the task. This is just one example of all those times I spoke but was not heard.
Perhaps my words were heard, because they did respond, but they were not acted upon. We learn in those days that “In a minute” never means in a minute. It means “when I get to it,” and then they wait so long that they forget. I have to wonder if I would have ever become a mom if I’d known how often my words would be ignored. It is hard enough to deal with teenagers as they naturally respond to their world in those years that I certainly would not want someone telling me to make the kids hard of heart and unable to hear.
Imagine what it must have been like for Isaiah to receive a call from God which was accompanied by this caveat, “Go, and tell this people, ‘You hear indeed, but don’t understand. You see indeed, but don’t perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat. Make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.” God was sending Isaiah to the people not to make them turn to Him, but instead to make them turn away. His task was to make them not want to hear what God had to say. God wanted their hearts hardened so that they would not turn to Him.
The people of Israel repeatedly turned away from their God to worship other gods and to ally themselves with other nations, setting God aside to satisfy their own desires. Over and over again God sent prophets to speak the Word into their lives to turn them around and bring them back into His presence. Over and over again they turned back to God for a season, but then quickly returned to the old ways. With Isaiah God offered a new way. The people would have to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness, but through it all there would always be hope for restoration. This exile was God’s way of showing His people life without His presence so that they would never want to turn to other gods again.
That day when the children forgot to put away their laundry was the day I decided they were old enough to do their own. It was time to give them the responsibility so that they would learn what it is like to not have a clean pair of underwear available. I didn’t mind doing it, and it was good to have full loads. The kids were incredibly busy with school, sports, and other activities, but it forced them to become more responsible.
That was God’s intent through Isaiah: to harden their hearts for a season so they would learn to appreciate His grace.
There were some sent into exile in Babylon whose hearts were not hard. Daniel was a young man, one who was training to be a leader in Israel, whose love of the LORD ran deep. We are very familiar with many of the stories found in his book because they are favorites to use to teach the children valuable lessons about faith and trust. Daniel did not turn to the ways of the world, even when the world promised him great things, but he found that trusting in God put him in a place where he could do great things for God’s kingdom. Daniel was an old man when the Israelites returned to Jerusalem, and he did not go with them, but he accomplished God’s work in powerful ways during his sojourn in Babylon.
We enjoy the stories from Daniel as lessons for children, but they also teach us how to face the end times. The stories give us keys to the character of those who lives in hope and peace when facing difficulty. The stories teach us how to be faithful people of prayer. In his 80 plus years, Daniel had different vocations. He was a wise man, an example of faith, a prophet and encourager. In his final years, Daniel was a prayer warrior.
As a government official for the Babylonians, Daniel was never in a ministerial job, but faith was always part of his life and work. His vocation was not religious, but he served God even in a pagan, secular world. His calling was dramatic: he was taken captive and exiled to a foreign land. The stories are incredible: near death, a fiery furnace, a lion’s den. Yet, he lived a simple life. He trusted God, did his job and in the end was greatly rewarded by God and by the kings of Babylon.
We often think of vocation as a special calling from God in ministry. However, Martin Luther’s understanding of vocation goes much deeper. Vocation is living out our faith in the world, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Martin Luther’s teaching on vocation came out of a mistaken notion that serving God in and through the Church was a higher calling. Life in a monastery or convent, being a priest or a bishop, was considered more important, spiritual, and holy than life as a farmer, carpenter, housewife, or father. Luther’s doctrine of vocation went against this attitude that the religious life is more holy or pleasing to God than the ordinary life. He once said that a washerwoman and a bishop were of equal status as long as both were faithful to their calling to serve Christ and others in their daily life and work.
In the scriptures for this week, we get a peek into the stories of some of the biblical characters that served God. Isaiah had an incredible vision. Peter witnessed a miracle. We even get a glimpse of Paul’s life of ministry in the letter to the Corinthians. Their stories in the Bible show amazing and unusual circumstances that brought them to their position and purpose in the world. All three recognized their unworthiness but heard God’s call and responded with humility and obedience.
Most pastors and church workers do not have such powerful and life changing stories. As a matter of fact, most of them will tell you that the decision to enter into ministry came after a long period of discernment during which they argued and avoided God until it was finally clear in their hearts and their minds that God was indeed calling them to ministry. I doubt that their positive response came with the expectation that God was sending them to speak to people who would not listen.
I don’t think you find people outside the church telling miraculous accounts about how they came to work in their job. As a matter of fact, most would not even consider their work in the sense of a “calling.” They might have family in the business, so they follow them in their work. They might choose a career because of the availability of jobs or the financial rewards. They might choose because they have a talent that would best be demonstrated through a particular job. In whatever way they came to their career choice, it is unlikely that they have experienced some vision or miraculous call from God.
The scriptures this week do not talk about God calling people into ordinary jobs. Isaiah, Paul and Peter were all called into extraordinary situations of serving God. The jobs might be extraordinary, but God called ordinary men out of ordinary circumstances to do His work in the world. None of them felt they were worthy of the call. They were sinners and could not possibly be able to do what God wanted to accomplish. As a matter of fact, they feared for their very lives having come face to face with God.
But vocation is all about living out our faith in the world so that we will honor God with our work. The higher calling is not working in the church or becoming a minister. The higher calling is serving God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Our journey will bring us not only face to face with God, but with our unworthiness, our failures, and our doubts. We will face the reality of our sinfulness, but God has a word for us. To Isaiah He said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” To Peter He said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people alive.”
When He calls out our name and asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” we need only remember that God will give us everything we need to accomplish the work. His call might not seem to be something special; we might be called to an ordinary job in an ordinary workplace. Yet, our calling is always extraordinary. We are to live out our faith in the world with our eyes on the Lord so that all the world will see Him and come to believe. Every Christian is to live out their faith in daily life using their particular gifts and talents in service to God. While it is hard to see the holiness in the ordinary, God has called us to see Him in the ordinary and to live out our faith in the everyday. No matter if you are a Bishop or housewife, do everything in faith and commit it to God and you will see Him do extraordinary things. We are to follow Jesus, and nothing we do in His name is ordinary.
There is a theater in San Antonio which has beautiful and ornate decorations. I love to attend shows at this theater. They say there is not a bad seat in the house, and that might just be true. This theater has the stage at one end of the auditorium with orchestra, balcony, and mezzanine seating. Other theaters have different types of stages, such as raised or theater in the round. Every type of stage is designed to present the show in the best way and separate the audience from the actors. I’ve been in a pressing crowd, and it is uncomfortable. It is hard to see and hear the actors if they aren’t separated from the audience. That’s why Jesus went into the boat. It was not that he did not like being with the crowd, but they were pressing on Him. He was unable to preach to the whole crowd because some of the people were too close. The boat offered better acoustics so that Jesus’s sermon would reach everyone.
When Jesus finished speaking, He told Peter to go out into deeper water and let out his nets. Peter started to argue, “But Master, we’ve been fishing all night and there are no fish,” but he changed his mind. He answered, “I will if you say so.” When they tried to pull back the net they found it so full of fish that they could not lift it into the boat. They called another boat to help. How do you think you might react if Jesus touched you in a very real, miraculous way? Peter was a fisherman; he knew everything about fish. Jesus was a carpenter; He knew little or nothing about fishing. Yet, Jesus told them to cast their nets and they found them full.
Peter was so awed by this incredible catch of fish that he dropped to his knees to ask for mercy. “Go away, I’m no good,” Peter said. He recognized that this was a sign of invitation, but it was an invitation to something Peter did not really want to do. He did not feel worthy. When Jesus gave him a word of encouragement, he left everything to follow.
I did not think I was worthy several times when God called me to ministry. The beginning of this devotional was somewhat accidental. I was helping moderate a discussion group and began posting daily messages of inspiration. A few months after I began, someone suggested that I post them on a website. This was before websites made blogging easy. Just as I was about to reject the idea, a friend offered to help. He helped me find the right website and taught me some coding.
If you don’t know anything about web pages, you might wonder what I mean about code. When you open a web page, you see pictures, words, colors and whatever else the programmer wants you to see. However, to make you see those things visible on the Internet, the programmer must use special codes to make it happen. Certain letters or phrases are written into the code to give the page its color, dimensions, font styles and graphics. More difficult codes are used for forms and for movie or sound files. To the uneducated, the code is just a jumble of letters and symbols and without any recognizable meaning.
The same is true of foreign languages. When you hear someone speaking a foreign language you do not recognize, their words are little more than random sounds. It makes no sense and does nothing to enlighten you as to the topic of conversation. This can also be true of the spiritual language of tongues.
You don’t need to know coding to enjoy the millions of web pages that have popped up on the Internet over the years. You don’t even need to know much about the code to build your own webpage or blog anymore because there are programs that will do it for you. However, you need to know at least some of a foreign language to have a conversation with someone from that country. Sometimes the person does not even have to be from a foreign country.
We lived in England for four years, and during that time we had several interesting experiences with language. My mom and dad came over to visit, and we spent a couple of weeks wandering around the country in search of adventure and heritage. My mother’s heritage was Cornwall and Wales, and her dream was to visit places that might have been called home to her ancestors. During our travels we went into a restaurant that is much like a Denny’s. My mom was having a lot of trouble with the waitress’s accent. They were both getting frustrated with one another, unable to understand what each other meant. Finally my mom said, “I just can’t understand your English.” The waitress answered, “It is our language, you know.” They say that America and England are divided by a common language, and that is often true.
I stopped in a Disney store during a trip to France to buy some gifts for my children. I had a few years of French classes when I was in school, so I tried to communicate using my limited knowledge. He answered me with a long monologue in his native language. I stood there with glazed eyes as his words just passed by me without understanding. I said, “Wait, I don’t speak that much French.” He said, “I know, I'm joking with you” in perfect English. He just wanted to have some fun. We could not communicate because his words seemed like gibberish to me. After he spoke English we could actually conduct business.
There was a problem in Corinth. The worship services were not being conducted in an orderly manner; the worship did not glorify God. Paul’s letter to the people in Corinth had to deal with multiple problems with the young church, including the misuse of tongues. Paul was not suggesting that we should rid ourselves of the use of tongues; it can be a powerful form of prayer. However, he was teaching Christians to speak God’s Word in a manner that would be understood by others so that the church would be edified. Unfortunately, we still have difficulty sharing the Word of God with others because we use theological terminology and other words that can cause confusion and chaos.
How many times do we expect people to understand what we are saying, even when we are saying it in a way that they cannot understand. Even if we speak the same language, we can become confused by the various uses of certain words. This is becoming a problem beyond religion these days. We have difficulty having any sort of conversation because we do not even agree on the definitions of the words we use. Too many people use words with their own definitions, making it impossible to understand one another. God is not glorified if we muddy the conversation with confusing terms. It is good for us to ensure that we mean what we say and say what we mean, using language common to our neighbors so that they will understand. Then God will be glorified and people will experience the saving grace of God.
Paul understood the importance of the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues and he rejoiced over his gift of tongues. But he also understood that it was a self-serving gift unless the spiritual language could be translated for others, otherwise it is useless. We are to use our spiritual gifts to build up the church and edify one another. A prayer language can be vital to our own spiritual growth and maturity, but we should also seek gifts that will lift others in their faith.
How do you think Isaiah felt when he found out about the work he was being sent to do? Do you think he had second thoughts? Do you think he doubted that he could do it? Do you think he thought the whole idea was ridiculous? “Why do I have to convince them to reject you? I’d much rather convince them that you are forgiving and merciful and just.” He didn’t vocalize these doubts or misgivings, but if he’s human like you and I, he probably had them.
I can relate to Peter. He has a similar but different experience as Isaiah. Peter spent the night fishing on the lake with his companions and they did not catch anything. It was a wasted night; they were tired and ready to go home to rest. Jesus entered the story and their lives were changed. Peter was a fisherman. He knew about fishing; he knew it was a bad day on the sea and that it would be better to just try again another day. Jesus was not a fisherman; Peter was more qualified but he agreed to try again. Their luck was so great that they needed a second boat, and even then they nearly sunk under the weight. The sign was so out of the ordinary that he could clearly see what Jesus was saying. Peter realized that he was looking into the face of God, hearing the voice of God. Peter and Isaiah’s experiences were so astonishing so that there would be no doubt that they had experienced the presence of God. Isaiah and Peter were being called to something extraordinary.
I would probably respond much like Peter. He wasn’t unwilling to follow Jesus, he just thought he was unworthy. “Go away, Lord” Peter said, not because he did not want to be near Jesus but because he was afraid. A sinful man can’t stand in God’s presence without being changed. Isaiah thought he would die. Perhaps Peter thought so, too. But God’s grace overcomes our fear and uncertainty. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said, “I have an incredible offer for you.”
Peter and his companions dropped everything and followed. I wonder how long it was before they began to question whether they made the right decision. They believed, but they didn’t believe. They understood, but they didn’t really understand. Jesus had a powerful message of love and hope and peace, but He also spoke harshly, warning sinners of the coming judgment. The perceived promise of a position in a palace near the throne of a king was exciting, but the risks were great. How many times did they say to themselves, “What was I thinking?” It isn’t hard to see ourselves in the apostles. It didn’t help that so many of the people heard Jesus without really listening. When Jesus called them to follow, they answered “In a minute,” but never really had faith.
We are going to have doubts and uncertainty when it comes to the work God is calling us to do. Sometimes it is ridiculous. Sometimes it is impossible. Sometimes we insist that we are the wrong person for the job. This is especially true when we discover the people to whom we are sent might hear but they won’t listen. God has a plan and will make it work, even if it means hardened hearts. Sometimes our listeners need to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness, but we can rest in the promise that there is always hope for restoration. Exile can be God’s way of showing people that life without His presence is so unpromising that they will never want to turn to other gods again.
Our task is simply to live in the faith which by God’s grace we have been given. We might experience something extraordinary, like a vision of God in heaven or the tangible evidence of God’s power like a boat load of fish. More often, though, we are ordinary people doing ordinary things for God’s kingdom. Whatever our circumstances, God is calling us to believe, to live in His grace, and to share what He has given to us. He might just call us to something specific like Isaiah, Peter, or Paul. However, we learn from this week’s passages that the work we do will not bring us a position of honor or glory. Instead, the visible manifestation of God’s power will bring us to our knees. We will clearly see our own unworthiness. We will also see God’s mercy and His grace. He won’t let us do His work alone. He will be with us, giving us everything we need.
We are to go forward into the ordinary and the extraordinary with hearts filled with thanksgiving and praise. As the psalmist sings, “In the day that I called, you answered me. You encouraged me with strength in my soul. All the kings of the earth will give you thanks, Yahweh, for they have heard the words of your mouth. Yes, they will sing of the ways of Yahweh, for Yahweh’s glory is great!” As we keep our eyes on God, He will guide our footsteps and lead us into the work He has called us to do. Perhaps we will find, someday, that there is something extraordinary for us to do. It might even seem ridiculous to us. But let us never forget that God’s grace is made manifest in His will and purpose for our lives. The greatest calling is not to be a powerful prophet or a prolific apostle, but to serve God in the ordinary and ridiculous opportunities to share His love with the world.
February 3, 2022
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, WEB
Technology has taken away some of the fun things we used to do when I was young. We always had decks of cards available for playing solitaire, but now we can do the same thing on our tablets. I used to love the feel of a new deck of cards just out of the box and to watch the way the slid off each other. Those cards eventually became warn or dirty, or the deck becomes incomplete when a card is lost. We never got rid of those old cards, we kept them for building card houses. We spent many hours on the floor building entire cities out of cards, filling the living room with mazes of buildings, streets, and towers. You can’t do that we the cards on a tablet.
One thing I remember is that brand new cards were not very good for building a house. They look and feel good, but they slide when you try to stack them together. The crisp edges do not grasp other cards and it is impossible to build a second level on the slippery first. Old, worn cards do not look as nice, but they have been tempered by years of use. The edges are frayed, but they hold on to one another. They are no longer slippery. The deck with peanut butter and jelly residue is great to use for the foundation. We may think that the new cards are prettier, but we need the well-worn cards to truly build a house.
The same is true of the people in our lives. We may enjoy having friends who are shiny and new, they are fun and exciting, filled with adventurous ideas. We love to be with them, but they are not necessarily good for our lives. We have some friendships that provide a very strong foundation. We count on those people to be there for us. They lift us up when we are down. They may not look like much, they may even be covered with jelly stains and worn at the edges, but together we can work to build the house of God as we wait for the Day of the Lord.
How do you see the coming of Christ? What do you think you will see on that day? What will the Church look like at that time? Will it be like a brand-new shiny deck of cards or that box full of well-worn cards? Whatever your image, always remember that the promise is in Christ Jesus and that we will be with the Lord forever. He is the foundation of our life and our faith.
The people in Paul’s day, perhaps even Paul, were getting nervous. They expected Jesus to return within their lifetime. They saw the second coming as an immediate response to what was happening, and every day that passed brought doubt and concern. They people who knew Jesus personally were dying. The first believers were passing away. Would Jesus come before they were all gone? Paul assured them that it did not matter. Those who were dead were not gone forever. Jesus would return, and all those who died in faith would be with Him at that trumpet sound. Paul shares his image of that day. It might not match our image, or even match the reality when it happens, but he has found comfort in wondering what it will look like.
While those well-worn cards are good for house building and those well-worn friends are helpful to keep us on the right path, we should never become so complacent that we do not continue to grow and mature, staying ready for the second coming of Christ. As we think about His coming, let us do so in a way that encourages one another as we wait patiently for the Day of the Lord.
February 4, 2022
“Blessed is he whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh doesn’t impute iniquity, in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me. My strength was sapped in the heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to you. I didn’t hide my iniquity. I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this, let everyone who is godly pray to you in a time when you may be found. Surely when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach to him. You are my hiding place. You will preserve me from trouble. You will surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.” Psalm 32:1-7, WEB
There is a playground in Wrexham, Wales, that would not be acceptable according to modern specifications meant to protect the health and welfare of our children. The ground must be soft and the bars must be close enough so children do not fall through. Many parents focus on scheduled play and organized activities, often limiting their imagination and stifling their adventurousness. I remember as a child that we were sent out to play in the morning and were expected home for dinner and then bed. We did things that might seem shocking to modern parents. But then, I was as guilty of protecting my kids not so long ago
There are good reasons for those limitations. The playground rules came into effect after a boy died from falling headfirst from the top of a large slide onto a macadam playground sometime in the 1970’s. The world seems to be a more dangerous place; we don’t let our children out of our sight because we are afraid they will be kidnapped or seriously hurt. Experts have also suggested that organized play is good for the children.
The people who designed the playground in Wrexham realized that we have stolen our children’s freedom, their adventurousness, and we’ve made them too afraid to imagine anything for themselves. We have strangled their imaginations by telling them they can’t play the games they want to play or create the world that will help them become strong, bold, creative adults that are unafraid to try something new or to go out on their own.
The Land is a playground that looks more like a junkyard. It is filled with stuff: old tires, cement drainage pipes, broken toys, pallets, ropes and wheelbarrows. There is even an old couch. A hill leads to a creek. Nothing is off limits, they allow the children to go crazy. They even allow the kids to start fires, which often end with a large group gathered around laughing at stories and jokes. There is adult supervision, but not much. The workers are there only to ensure that none of the children get seriously hurt. Despite the minimal adult interference, the children never leave with more than a few scratches.
They don’t come out unscathed. They end up with rope burn on their hands and knees are skinned. They get splinters in their fingers and soaked to their bones. They learn from their mistakes. They eat dirt, rip their clothes, and get dirty from head to foot. They build forts with pallets that are piled way too high. They roll tires down the hill into the creek. They use the rope swing to get from one side of the creek to the other, or they just fall in. They play. They create. They imagine. They go on an adventure with the freedom to be themselves. They have fun, they learn to overcome their fears, and they find ways to get along with strangers.
Have you ever thought about why God lets us sin? After all, He’s God. He created us. He could have made us differently so that we would not be disobedient. He could have set limitations on where we could go or what we could do. He didn’t. He gave us the freedom to be ourselves, to learn from our mistakes. We suffer the consequences of our sin, and that is sometimes more than just a skinned knee.
The psalmist knew the kind of suffering that came from being separated from God because of sin. He knew the kind of physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma came when transgressions led one away from God’s grace. But he also knew that the person of God who cries out to Him is heard and that God is faithful to respond. It is tempting for us to stop our children from making mistakes so that they won’t get hurt, but we know they have to fail once in a while or they will never grow and learn. We have to walk a fine line between allowing them to be crazy while also protecting them from themselves. God walks the same line with us. We do some pretty foolish things in God’s kingdom and we may not leave unscathed, but thanks to His forgiveness and grace we will become strong, bold, and creative Christians that are unafraid to trust in Him and go out to do His work in the world.
“Be strong and courageous; for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous. Be careful to observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you. Don’t turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Haven’t I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be dismayed, for Yahweh your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:6-9
I belonged to an organization when I was a youth that had ritualistic work as part of our meetings. We had special services for installing officers, initiating new members, and for the opening and closing of our times together. The work of each station had to be memorized by the person assigned to it. We could not use the books, but most of the speeches were relatively brief and fairly easy to remember. We tried to memorize them verbatim, but it was a process that was filled with grace because we all made mistakes. Forty years later, I still remember at least some of what I learned from the offices I held. Some of each speeches had quotes from scripture, and I always smile when I come upon those verses during my Bible study.
We had a statewide gathering every year. This was a chance to make new friends, to fellowship, and to watch the ritualistic work done with near perfection. There were also activities and contests. I once won an award for visiting the most assemblies in a year, including a few in other states. Another year, a committee from our assembly created a scrapbook. There were opportunities to play sports, to perform music, and to learn about how to be the best we can be.
I tried a memorization contest one year. We could choose whatever parts of the ritual we wanted to do, but we had to be able to recite the work for thirty minutes. Each missed word was counted against us. I knew the ritual very well, but I spoke too fast which meant I had to memorize so much more to fill the thirty minutes. There were too many opportunities to make a mistake. I didn’t win, but I was proud of my accomplishment. One thing I learned is that I remember far more from the stations I held rather than from the memorization. The contest was rote speech, but the lessons I learned for our local meetings were more meaningful. Those speeches came from my heart, not just my mind.
My memory does not work quite as well as it did when I was young, but I went to a retreat a few years ago where I learned about biblical storytelling. We worked on memorizing a portion of scripture and then performed it for the rest of the people at the retreat. Actually, we did not memorize, the retreat leader insisted that we “learn the text by heart.” This is better than memorization because writing the scripture on our hearts helps us to keep God and His promises close to us. There are church programs that encourage scripture memorization, and while there is some value to it, it has never been my focus. Those programs tend to focus more on remembering the text perfectly instead of writing God’s Word on our hearts.
Yes, it is possible that the rote learning of scripture can also find its way to our hearts; we see this with recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the Creeds. For some people this is a good course of action. But I think it works much better when the goal is our hearts rather than our brains. We write God’s word on our hearts when we spend time reading the scriptures daily and meditating on what it means to us. I can share the words of God’s grace from the Bible not because I can quote certain texts perfectly, but because I’ve learned to love God and His word. Years of study and the power of the Holy Spirit puts the right words on my tongue out of the depths of my heart to encourage and uplift those who need to hear.
February 8, 2022
“The earth is Yahweh’s, with its fullness; the world, and those who dwell in it. For he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the floods. Who may ascend to Yahweh’s hill? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from Yahweh, righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek your face - even Jacob. Selah. Lift up your heads, you gates! Be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory will come in. Who is the King of glory? Yahweh strong and mighty, Yahweh mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; yes, lift them up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory will come in. Who is this King of glory? Yahweh of Armies is the King of glory! Selah.” Psalm 24, WEB
Richard Karn is known as a home improvement guru, first from his role on the people television show Home Improvement, and from other shows in which he’s been a part. He’s an actor, so I don’t know how much knowledge he really has, but his reputation has given him the opportunity to advertise for a home warranty company. This is the kind of insurance that helps homeowners when their appliances break down. He comments that no matter how good he might be at fixing things, modern appliances are made with technology that is beyond his abilities.
I have noted this when I have done my own appliance shopping. We bought a new refrigerator a few months ago, and while I like some of the features like icemakers and filtered water, I did not want a smart refrigerator. “I don’t need a refrigerator that is smarter than me,” I said repeatedly. Every feature you add to an appliance is just one more thing that can go wrong and need expensive repairs. Unfortunately, you can’t by any appliances without some sort of computer chip; there is probably even a computer chip in your toaster.
My father and brother were both car guys and they remarked decades ago about how the computer chips made car repair more difficult. We are learning right now that it is nearly impossible. Older cars are sought after these days because despite their age they are easier to run. The more complicated something is, the harder it is to fix it when it breaks. That’s why our mothers had toasters that lasted decades and we throw ours away every few years. It isn’t worth fixing a ten-dollar appliance, so our landfills are filled with cheap plastics. We certainly like the convenience of those new-fangled features, but are they worth the waste they are creating?
God has given us the brains to invent new things to make our lives better. I’m certainly glad to have a refrigerator to keep my food fresh for longer periods of time. I like having a car and I enjoy some of the modern features that make it more comfortable and safer. I also recognize, however, that we are not being good stewards of the creation God gave us by being wasteful with our resources. I’m not sure the home warranty is the answer to our problems, but let us look at the long range impact we are having as we make decisions about what we buy for our lives on this earth. Are we being good stewards of everything God has given us today and tomorrow? Are we glorifying God with the way we live and use His creation?
February 9, 2022
Lectionary Scriptures for February 13, 2022, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:(1-11) 12-20; Luke 6:17-26
“Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets.” Luke 6:23, WEB
San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the United States, and it is in the top ten fastest growing cities. This fast growth means constant road construction as the city tries to keep up with the number of people on the roads. The plan is to extend one road we drive regularly by several lanes, but until then we are constantly dealing with traffic jams. We often make a choice to take a different path, although those aren’t always a good choice since everyone else is going that way. Which is worse, sitting in very slow-moving traffic or getting stopped by a dozen traffic lights?
The construction is not always easy in such a big town because there isn’t room to put more roads. This is why we end up having highway interchanges that look like an octopus. There is one in Dallas that is the confluence of five highways and is known as the Spaghetti Bowl. These highways come together in a confusing collection of suspended roads. There is a dozen or more bridges at this type of junction; the highways and exit ramps tangle together with too many arms and no particular direction. I have often wondered if anyone even knows where all the roads go. We know where they go when we are driving on them, but can anyone stand in the midst of these super-junctions and point out which road is which?
There is an interstate highway that runs right through the center of town. It was built years ago when San Antonio was a much smaller city, but eventually that road could not handle the number of cars and trucks that were traveling both locally and cross country. Traffic necessitated a change; more lanes were needed, but there was no space to widen the roads. The only way to build was up. At the densest parts of the city the roads split and are stacked on top of each other. Drivers need to decide whether to follow the upper level or the lower one. Over the years I have learned which way I need to go to get to different destinations, but there were years when I was confused. I didn’t know if I needed to go up or down.
This decision is usually not a question of life or death, although it could be. If I take the wrong level when traveling to a certain exit, I have to cross several lanes of traffic very quickly. During a busy time of day, this could mean missing my exit or causing an accident. We need to make similar decisions when it comes to our life of faith. If we follow the wrong road, we will end up in a place of destruction rather than in God’s eternal kingdom.
I teach an adult Sunday school class at my church and over the years we have found that an underlying concept in every study has been the idea of Two Ways. In the book of Revelation John asks, “Which do you choose: God or the world?” We saw similar statements in the Didache, an ancient Greek document that was the earliest known catechism, probably dated even before Mark’s Gospel. That study asked the question, “Which way do you choose, life or death?” Though slightly different questions, they demand that we consider how we live our lives. The Sermon on the Mount compares the wide and narrow gates and makes other comparisons like the firm foundation and the sandy one.
Our scriptures for this week offer two ways to go: the path of blessing and the path of woe.
Today’s technology makes it easier to choose the right road. GPS on our phones will usually direct us to the right lane for an upcoming exit. It will give you advance notice about changes in direction. If you make a wrong turn, it will recalculate and find a better way. It will even see upcoming traffic and redirect you to the quickest way. Unfortunately, these technologies are not always perfect. Online maps are not always reliable. I was in a strange city a few years ago when my GPS went offline. I was on a busy highway and had no idea where I needed to go next. I had to get off an exit and find a parking lot so I could reconnect. Then it recalculated but I ended up driving in circles in a confusing neighborhood until I eventually found my way.
I don’t mind getting lost, because sometimes you see the most interesting things during that kind of adventure. We learned that lesson when we were living in England. We almost always found a fascinating historical site or a beautiful view when we made a wrong turn. We also learned that it was better to follow signs than to try to follow a specific route. In Cornwall we found that many of the ‘roads’ were little more than dirt tracks through cornfields. We learned to follow the signs, always heading toward the next city in our path. If we took a wrong turn at one roundabout, we would find an exit off the next roundabout headed in the right direction.
Those times were some of the most exciting because we found ourselves on an adventure. We never knew what we might find around the next corner. Unfortunately, that might be something terrible rather than good. I have heard horror stories of people who became lost making a wrong turn and who have found themselves in dangerous situations. People have gotten stuck in snow drifts after turning on the wrong road. If a driver happens into the wrong neighborhood they might find themselves victims of robbery or violence. Being lost might mean being late for an important appointment. So, it is important to know which way to go. Relying on our own wits or mistaken maps can lead to horrible circumstances.
Unfortunately, when it comes to living our lives, we often try to follow our own wits. Go into any bookstore and you’ll find shelves filled with self-help books, most of which are based on one or two successes, but which are not really reliable for most people. The books are purchased with the expectation that the program will work, but the reader often finds that self-help has disadvantages. “Self-help” means not relying on the help of others. Most of all, “self-help” means relying on anything but the One from whom all help flows.
When we try to do things on our own, we turn our back on God; we get lost when we turn our hearts away from Him. Jeremiah wrote that a person whose eyes are not on the Lord will be like a shrub in the desert that misses the stream when it comes. This is an interesting image, since a shrub cannot move toward the water even if it can see when it is coming. Desert storms cause flash floods as the rainwater fills the dry creek beds. The shrub can’t move toward the water, but desert plants have adapted to take advantage of the brief moments of water when they come. Jeremiah reminds us to keep our eyes on God so that we will always see His mercy and grace. Otherwise, we will try to handle things on our own and get lost along the way.
The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers...” There are many things in this world that want to direct our path. We are tempted by people and their expectations for us. We are led by our desires and our lusts. The psalmist warns the reader to not walk, stand, or sit in the ways of the wicked. He says, “Do not follow the advice of those who would set you on the wrong path. Do not conform to the ways of the world. Do not join in the wickedness of those who are traveling their own way.” The life Jesus was giving to the apostles was not going to be one of fame, authority, or power. Satan tried to tempt Jesus to work toward those things, but He always had His eyes on His Father. The life to which Jesus was calling His disciples would be one of service, humility, and trust in the power of God.
Jeremiah makes a similar point in today’s Old Testament lesson. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man.” This seems very harsh since we have to trust one another. As a matter of fact, trust between people is vital for strong relationships. However, Jeremiah here is talking about priorities. The Israelites had turned their back on God, they had stopped trusting Him to meet their needs. When they saw themselves in suffering or pain, or experienced persecution from their enemies, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They turned to neighbors for help. They turned to foreign nations for their protection. They turned to the strength of men to stand up against an enemy that only God could defeat.
In the verse that follows our text, Jeremiah makes another harsh point. He wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and it is exceedingly corrupt. Who can know it?” This is a particularly interesting statement just days before Valentine’s Day when hearts rule. It is at this time of year that we focus on feelings. We follow our hearts. This is not limited to Valentine’s Day, of course, or even romantic love. As a matter of fact, too many Christians center their faith on feelings rather than on God’s truth. Many churches describe spiritual experiences in terms of emotions. A particularly moving service is said to have been powerful and Spirit-led because the music brought tears to the eyes of the worshippers. Many think that happiness or an unnatural sense of joy must be the product of some spiritual encounter. After all, Jesus is all about love, and love is all about the heart, so our spiritual life must be ruled by the heart and emotions, right?
Jeremiah tells us, “No.” The heart is deceptive. Following our heart might just lead us on a path that does not go in the way God would have us go. The Corinthians followed their hearts, not the love of Christ. They fulfilled their wishes, satisfied their desires and sought after spiritual things, ignoring or even rejecting anything of the flesh. It was easier for salvation to be simply spiritual because it left the believer with no responsibilities in this world.
If resurrection is only spiritual, then the work of the cross is finished and there is no need for the hope or the promise of faith. This leaves us with the attitude that everything we do in this world is meaningless so we have the freedom to do whatever we want, to follow our hearts. In this manner, the Corinthians were able to accept the new faith of Christ and benefit from whatever it was they thought they would get from believing, and yet continue living in the ways of their pagan past. They had the best of both worlds. This is the way too many Christians are living today.
Thomas Edison was one of the most prolific of all the inventors, having patented more than a thousand inventions throughout his life. He focused on communications, developing telegraphic equipment, transmitters, and receivers. With the money earned from successful inventions, he set up the first large scale industrial research laboratory. He was also known for his work with incandescent lighting and generators. He only made one significant scientific discovery, but he did not find a practical use for the finding, so he did not pursue it. It is thought that his success was due more to perseverance than any special insight. He is quoted as saying, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
In December 1914, his laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey caught fire, destroying millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and research. The record of his life’s work was wiped out. Edison’s son found his father watching the burning building. “My heart ached for him,” Charles said. “He was no longer young and everything was being destroyed. He spotted me. ‘Where is your mother?’ he shouted. ‘Find her. Bring her here. She’ll never see anything like this again as long as she lives.’” The next day as he walked through the charred remains of his work, Edison said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Edison was not a young man at the time, but he knew that we can always bounce back better than ever.
We can respond to trouble one of two ways. We can look into ourselves and find only despair or we can cry out to the only one who can make things right.
We all face disaster and somehow we find the strength and courage to bounce back. Illness is overcome; loss is regained. Most people are able to take adversity and make their lives better for it. It usually takes the help of others: a word of encouragement or an offer of support. Disaster is not permanent, though it may seem like we will never recover. There only one thing that cannot be overcome with perseverance or resilience is death. Only in Christ do we bounce back from the death of our flesh, though there are those who do not think this is important or even possible.
Charles Edison thought the fire was the end of his father’s career, but Thomas knew that there would be a tomorrow. Those who look forward with hope to what can happen after disaster find themselves stronger and better for the adversity. There are those who are truly devastated by illness or fire, who just can’t seem to overcome. When it comes to death, the difficulty is even greater because death is permanent. Those with no hope face the loss of a loved one with emotions that are impossible to overcome: mourning, fear, regret, anger, hatred and confusion. We have to face those emotions because death is difficult for those left behind, but those who believe in Jesus have His strength to help them triumph. If there is nothing, no way to bounce back after death, then our faith is in vain. But we know that Christ has been raised and in Him we too are raised to a new life. All our mistakes are burned away and we start anew in the eternal kingdom of God, to live and love forever.
An anonymous author wrote a story about a group of alumni returning to visit an old university professor. They were highly established n their careers, but their conversations quickly turned into complaints about stress in work and in life. The professor offered his guests coffee; they had the choice of an assortment of cups: porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite. He told them to help themselves. When they all had a cup of coffee, the professor called their attention to the cups they chose. “Notice how all the nice looking, expensive cups have been chosen, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups. And then you began eying each other’s cups. Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of Life we live. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided us. God brews the coffee, not the cups. Enjoy your coffee! The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.”
The Gospel lesson for today do not present a very pleasant life. This passage, often referred to as “The Sermon on the Plain,” is a brief summary of what we find in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Jesus tells us what it means to be blessed, which is at times translated “happy.” Can we really say, “Happy are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, and the persecuted”? Can we really say we would be happy in any of those situations?
One of my favorite stories is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. It is the story a tree that loves a boy to the point of willingly giving him everything she has. Each step along life’s journey, the boy thinks that he will be happy if only he has just one more thing like money, a home and family, a boat. In the end he is old, tired and still sad. All she has left to give him is a stump on which he can rest. There they found happiness together.
Happiness or blessedness is not about having the fancy cup, a lot of money or the best home or material possessions. We are truly happy when we are content to live and serve God with our whole hearts no matter what cup holds our life. It is hard to rejoice in suffering, and we should never seek suffering just so that we can appear to be one of those who are blessed. We are blessed when we are content and rejoice in the life which God has given to us, serving Him with our hearts, our hands and our voices. We know that there is more to our hope than happiness according to the ways of the world. Blessedness is found when we rest in God, when we trust in Him.
Have you ever been asked about your happiest day? Most of us will answer something like our wedding day or the day we had a child. Others will have unique moments like a particularly fun trip or a gathering with special friends. I can remember some specific days when I was truly happy, but the answer is hard because it depends on what it means to be happy.
Jesus was not referring to a specific moment when He said, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy.” As a matter of fact, in the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus said to rejoice when your world is turned upside down. He told us to leap for joy when we were experiencing hardship and persecution. He taught them that the reward would be great when people hate us, exclude us, revile us, and defame us. He was not telling us to seek this persecution. He was telling us to trust in Him, for the hate, exclusion, revulsion and defamation will come on His account.
Jesus had just called His closest disciples, twelve of them, to be apostles. This was a special designation, and the decision did not come easy for Jesus. He spent a night in prayer, seeking God’s will in the matter so that He would make the right choices. Those twelve would become the center of Jesus’ ministry, the leaders to whom other disciples would look for inspiration and information. They would be with Jesus all the time, at His most personal moments and in the midst of great crowds. They would hear the stories, but also would be taught the deeper meaning. They would receive a special revelation from Jesus, not because they were special but because they were chosen to take the ministry of Jesus farther than He could take it.
Immediately following this commissioning, Jesus took them to a place where many people were gathering to be touched and healed by Jesus. The crowds wanted Jesus to cast out their demons and cure their dis-ease. They wanted to hear what He had to say. It was a miraculous moment, the people were simply touching Him and were being healed. It almost sounds as if being in Jesus’ presence was enough to bring transformation to a life and a body. The disciples were there in the midst of this, and they were Jesus’ most important companions. They were the apostles.
It would have been very easy for them to find joy in that moment, to experience a sense of pride and haughtiness. Jesus had chosen them to carry this ministry to the world. They could have reveled in the attention and let it all go to their head. This was a high point in the ministry of Jesus. It is the kind of mountain top experience that we all want to experience. Every day should be like this, and they thought that if it was then the ministry would spread throughout the world. They were probably very happy as they saw the possibilities of a successful future in Jesus’ Kingdom on earth.
Jesus turned their world upside down. “Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are hated.” He told them to expect to be excluded, insulted, and rejected. This was not the direction anyone wants to take with their life they are certainly not times to rejoice and leap for joy. Persecution is frightening, disappointing, and disheartening. Most people react to rejection with a change of heart. We will do whatever is necessary to be accepted and loved. We will do whatever we can to be successful like they were on that day of healing on the plain, even if it means conforming to the expectations of those around us. This is the wrong path.
Jesus said, “Happy are you when you are poor, hungry, weeping and hated.” Instead of conforming to the expectations of the world, the disciples would have to choose another way. They would have to trust in God, not man. In this scripture, blessedness or happiness has nothing to do with satisfaction. Instead, it is about contentment. We can be poor or hungry and blessed, not because we are satisfied but because we know that God will provide everything we need. We can weep and still be happy, not because we will laugh but because our joy is founded on something beyond our circumstances. We can be hated and still rejoice because we know that there is a love that conquers the world, and that love is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.
February 10, 2022
“The heart of the discerning gets knowledge. The ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15, WEB
When I began teaching an adult Sunday school class at my church, I was discouraged about calling it a theology class. It seems that some thought the word theology is intimidating and that it would dissuade people from attending. The thought was that we should leave the theology to the professional theologians. I agreed at first, but found that once we discussed what theology means, the group was not at all apprehensive. After all, every Bible study group engages in theology since theology is the study of God in the quest for knowledge of His character.
There are different types of theology. Biblical theology is related specifically to the study of the God through the biblical texts and texts that relate to the interpretation of the Bible. This is the type of theology most of us do when we are gathered in our study groups. You can also study God through the history of the Church. This looks at how our understanding of God has changed throughout history and how it has been impacted or has impacted the world around us. Systematic theology is related to the development of doctrine, which is the core set of beliefs that make up Christian theology. This allows us to organize our beliefs into a coherent system. Practical theology is about seeing how our faith relates to our everyday life. Practical theology helps guide us into lives of living faith.
I spent a couple days at a retreat earlier this week. The theme of the discussion was “The Theology of the Theology of.” This may sound convoluted, but the central question was “What is the relationship between theology and other forms of knowledge?” The theologian who came to lead the discussion began by talking of theology as the “Queen of the Sciences.” Many people like to create a hierarchy of knowledge and they place certain sciences higher than others. I am reminded of how Sheldon Cooper, a character on the “Big Bang Theory” considered physics the highest of all knowledge, and his type of physics even higher than the others. He would have disagreed vehemently with the idea of theology being higher than physics.
It might seem strange to talk about theology beside the sciences, but the reality is that theology is about telling the true things of God. Since God is the Master of everything, then nothing is off limits to theology. It is faith seeking understanding. Theology is about seeing and wondering over God’s revelation of Himself, and since God reveals Himself in the ordinary things of creation as well as the sacred things of faith, then we can consider the theology of those ordinary and sacred things. We need to remember as we consider the theology of those things that it is always about pointing to the ultimate One, not allowing the ordinary things to become the ultimate. All our theology should point to God. It should point to a deeper world and a greater reality.
If there can be a science of something, then there can be a theology of that something. The idea of the theme came when two ministers were discussing whether there could be a theology of Mexican street corn. You might wonder whether there is even a science of Mexican street corn, but cooking can be considered a science. Which foods taste good together? What spices work best? What brings the most pleasure to the person eating, and what would make it a bad experience? The question then was whether or not you can relate this discussion to the study of God. Practical theology reminds us that our faith relates to our everyday life.
Search the religious section of any bookstore and you are likely to find books titled, “The Theology of Nonsense,” “A Theology of Beauty,” and “Theology of Play.” These books may make more sense than “The Theology of Mexican Street Corn,” but all our life in this world should be colored and founded on our faith in the God who is God over everything. We have allowed pursuit of the knowledge of God to be set aside and ignored as the world pursues knowledge through the sciences. But since God is above all things, then theology is above all our human pursuits of knowledge, whatever type of knowledge it might be. Theology is based on something certain and permanent, while the sciences are based on human reason, which is fickle. So, our public discourse should include theological considerations as well as scientific (and political, social, culinary, etc. which are sciences.)
Is it ridiculous to put anything behind “the theology of...”? Perhaps. The theological study of that anything might not answer the questions we are pondering, but it is worth asking the questions to grow in our knowledge of the God who reveals Himself to us in ways we can't even imagine. “The Theology of the Theology of” lets us wonder about that which we can see as we wonder about that which we can only see by faith and God’s grace.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Psalm 32:1-11, WEB
We needed a plumber a few months ago because we had a stopped-up toilet. The plumber found roots in the pipe. It seemed as though those roots were far from the toilet, outside the foundation of the house. The plumber cleaned them out and recommended we have a technician send a camera through the pipes to discover the source of the problem. We couldn’t justify the cost at the time, and I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the service of that particular plumbing company, so we let it go for the moment. Unfortunately, we had a similar problem with the same toilet last week.
I called a different company and they discovered that the problem was much closer than the first plumber thought. The problem was under the foundation, just a few feet from the toilet. The cost to repair this problem was excessive. Would it have been better to take care of the situation a few months ago? Perhaps. Would I have saved any money? Probably not, and I am not certain I would have trusted that plumber with such a big job. It is now finished, and all is now well. We should have someone check the whole house to look for other problems, but do we want to open that “can of worms?” Perhaps not today. We may regret it the next time we have a problem, but it is easier to ignore that which is hidden.
A plumbing problem is not equal to our sin, but we it is a good example of what we do in our lives. We have hidden sins, roots in the pipes that we can’t see. We know there is something wrong, but we are just as happy to ignore it; we refuse to identify the problem because we don’t want to deal with it. The cost is just too high, perhaps not financially, but in ways far more personal. When we recognize our sinfulness, and identify those deep sins, we need to do something about it. We open a can of worms that we’d rather keep closed. It is hard to be changed; we like things as they are. Though those hidden sins are not good for us, we don’t want to give up anything about our life as we know it. We don’t want to pay the cost.
We don’t realize how those hidden sins affect our little corner of the world, particularly our relationship with our Father in heaven. We will probably have to deal with the pipes under our house sometime in the future, but we all need to deal with the sin that can destroy our lives, both temporal and spiritual. It is killing us, even those sins about which we are not aware. Seeking God’s grace for all our sinfulness might be frightening, but in the end we will discover that the transformation of our lives is in our best interest. Allowing God to reveal and remove those hidden sins from our lives will set us free and make us new. His forgiveness will give us life, and peace, and joy that we didn’t even know we were missing.
The psalmist knew the kind of physical, emotional and spiritual trauma that came from being separated from God by transgressions that led one away from God’s grace. But he also knew that the person of God who cries out to Him is heard, and that God is faithful to respond. We are encouraged to call out, to ask God to reveal the hidden sins so that we can experience His grace. He is there to make us new. We may have to struggle through the process, the cost may be high when we have to give up our life as we know it. We may have to wander in our own wilderness for a season, but He is there to lead us into the Promised Land. Happy are they who know God’s forgiveness, and happy are they who trust in the Lord.
“Beloved, let’s love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. By this God’s love was revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12, WEB
We have been putting little gifts on a bush in our yard for the children to take throughout the pandemic. In the beginning he children were so upset that they could not go to school, and many of the families walked the neighborhood together, so we provided a little excitement along their path. We planned to stop when they returned to school that fall, but nearly two years later we are still putting toys about once a month. Many of the parents have stopped to say that the children get so excited when they see something new is there; they have to walk to the bush as soon as possible. The “Giving Tree at the Kindness Corner” has made adults happy, too. This month for Valentine’s Day, we put out little bags filled with plastic ruby jewels with a sign that said they should keep one to remember they are loved and to give the others away to those they love for Valentine’s Day.
It is a small thing, but sometimes small things make a big impact. When my husband was serving in the Persian Gulf thirty-one years ago, many of our family and friends sent him mail so that he wouldn’t feel so alone. He was there over Valentine’s Day, and one of my favorite notes that he received was sent by my mother. She bought a box of children’s Valentine’s Day cards with Bruce’s favorite character and chose a few of them. She wrote little notes on the back of each, words of encouragement and love. On one she wrote, “You are special. You’ve made my Peggy happy and that’s important to us.” She signed each one “Love, Mom and Dad.” She put the cards into the individual envelopes and then put everything into one envelope for mailing.
St. Valentine’s Day has become mostly a secular and romantic holiday, but it began as a feast day for a saint called Valentine. So little is known about the man that they set it aside. Some suggest that Valentine’s Day is meant to honor a number of different martyrs with that name. He is described as a priest or a bishop in Italy or a martyr from Africa. The myth is that Valentine was martyred for marrying Christian couples who were being persecuted by the Roman emperor Claudius. He was beaten, stoned, and beheaded. This story is the reason why this day became a celebration of love and romance. St. Valentine is still the patron saint of affianced couples, happy marriages, and love.
Valentine’s Day is a festival of love and relationships; we celebrate by loving others and lifting them up with encouragement and remembrances of our relationships. The store shelves are filled with hundreds of different kinds of candy and stuffed animals, simple cards and expensive jewelry. You can even buy steak that is packaged in heart shaped plastic containers. The valentines that we give to one another may not seem like very much, but sometimes they mean the world to the receiver that needs to be reminded that they are loved. God can use those simple and ordinary exchanges to provide healing and peace.
Yet, we are reminded that those simple gifts are often forgotten quickly. The candy is eaten and the flowers wither. A stuffed bear or heart shaped diamond will never prove a deep and abiding love. Love is a daily experience, growing in our relationships through the good times and the bad. It takes harder work than an agonizing walk down the seasonal aisle at the local department store. It takes sacrifice and compromise. It takes faith and trust. Most importantly, love does not come out of human effort but from the grace of God.
Valentine is a man of mystery to us, but on Valentine’s Day it is worth considering the idea of a mysterious man whose life was about love. After all, the story of God is a love story between God and His people. It is also a love story between God and His Son. And finally, it is a love story between God’s Son and all those who believe in Him. We don’t always understand His love for us, but the scriptures describe our relationship. Life with God is like a marriage; we are the bride, and He is the bridegroom. He is the King, and we are His valentine.
John tells us that no one has seen God, but that when we love we are like Him. We truly love one another not with romantic trinkets or cheap bobbles, but with the pure love that comes from God. The world sees His image in our hearts and in our lives when we love others with real, active love. We love because God first loved us. Even more importantly, because God loves us there is nothing less we can do but to share that love with others in simple ways and daily experiences of living life together.
February 15, 2022
“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? 4 Or how will you tell your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ and behold, the beam is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5
People in our society have become very good at playing the “blame game.” If things don’t go quite the way we expect or if things go very wrong, we quickly pinpoint someone other than ourselves to blame. If we get in an automobile wreck, it was the other driver’s fault. If our children are doing poorly in school, it is because the teachers are failing. If we get deep into credit card debt, it is because our employers won’t pay us enough. Our bad habits come from our parents and our mixed-up childhood. I could go on. From simple mistakes to major crime, someone else is always to blame. We all manage to pass the buck nearly every day.
I had a friend who was very good at the blame game. Everything that went wrong in his life was the fault of someone else. His marriage failed because his wife was a *fill in the bad word.* His military career did not go well because his superiors were *fill in another bad word.* Anything else that went wrong in his life, and there were many things, was someone else’s fault. Now, it is possible that his wife was that bad word and his superiors were the other. It is possible that there were others that could be blamed for his troubles, but he was always completely innocent. No one is ever completely innocent. He eventually stopped talking to me because whenever he began complaining about everything and everyone in the world that was ruining his life, I asked him if there was ever anything he could have done to make the situation better. I didn’t lay the blame entirely on his shoulders, but I wanted him to see how he might have helped cause his wife and superiors to be those bad words.
It is very easy to play the blame game. Just pick someone - parents, neighbors, a major corporation, the government or even the church - and someone will help you be compensated. We live in a sinful world where people do things that affect others negatively; there is plenty of blame to go around. It is up to us to ensure justice for those who are harmed by the actions or inaction of others. It is also up to us to make sure that our neighbors recognize the dangers of blaming others while ignoring their own faults and sins.
When we play the blame game we are judging others without considering what sort of judgment we deserve. Jesus said, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” This does not mean that we are never to judge, we just need to remember to consider our own guilt. In our ministry to our neighbors, we would do well to help them work toward forgiveness and reconciliation, which means admitting that we deserve some of the blame for the brokenness of our relationships.
We are to search our own hearts to see how we might be at least partially to blame for our difficulties. We need to see the plank in our own eye, because none of us are completely innocent. We might not be able to change the outcome of our difficulties, but we might just find a way through them that are less harmful for everyone. We might even find ways for healing and reconciliation that can’t happen when we lay the blame on everyone but ourselves.
Scriptures for February 20, 2022, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany: Genesis 45:3-15; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-42; Luke 6:27-38
“But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28, WEB
We are used to going to the grocery story and finding everything we need. If we can’t find it in a store, or don’t feel like going out to find it, we can get online and order it to be delivered within days or even hours. Of course, we’ve all recently had some issues with delayed gratification; our mail has been a few days late and our overnight orders have taken more than a day. It has been such a struggle! It hasn’t really been a struggle since there are worse problems we can face, but I heard many people complaining (including myself) about the inconvenience of not being able to find what we want or need. We have been frustrated, and frustration often leads to improper action.
A few years ago, I ordered something online that I needed in a timely manner. I paid the most expensive shipping cost to guarantee arrival by a certain day. When I tracked my package the day before it was due I realized that the box was still far away; I knew it would not arrive on time. I called the company, quite upset about the situation and spent a long time on the phone. The woman on the other end of the line tried to explain the ways of that small company and even shared her own frustrations. She was kind, and quiet, and apologetic. She asked me to write my concerns in an email so that she could share them with her manager. She said, “These are the very concerns we keep trying to bring up to management and they won’t listen.”
She reminded me that they were a Christian company and my attitude changed. It was not that I thought I should treat them kindlier because they were Christian; her words reminded me that I am also a Christian, and that I should be forgiving and patient and gracious. At the very least, I should not have been yelling at a lady on the phone who was really not at fault for my late package. In the end, the box arrived, and I was still able to share the contents even though it was late. The company even gave me a refund on some of the cost.
The woman’s reminder that I was dealing with a Christian company almost sounded as if it was an excuse for their poor business behavior. Yet, it is because we are Christian that we have a responsibility to stand above the crowd, when we are dealing with our neighbors in every way, including business. It may not seem fair, but the world expects more from us, and it is in the walking that extra mile and in the giving of our cloak as well as our tunic that they will really see the sacrificial nature of our love. They wonder, “What is it that makes these Christians so willing to love their neighbors?” It is then that they will be willing to listen as we tell them about Jesus. If we live as they do, and do business as they do, then there will be nothing that sets us apart. For the love of God changes our hearts and our minds so that the life we live is different than the world.
Every teacher remembers a difficult student: the student that never pays attention, that is a distraction to the other students, and that is often physical to the point of being dangerous. These are the kids that do not make it easy for the teacher to say anything positive about them. They make you want to pull your hair out. Yet, it is the teacher’s job to find some way to teach this child and the rest of the class. I learned much too slowly that negative attention does not help the child or the class. The disagreeable youngster uses the bad behavior to get the teacher’s complete attention and energy, leaving nothing for the rest of the children. Our natural tendency is to hate that child. Perhaps hate is too strong a word, however if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have difficulty loving these children.
We can all say this about people we know. Think about your life, your work, and your neighborhoods. Even the most kind and loving people know someone that drives them crazy for one reason or another. It is a fact of life; we don’t get along with everyone. Personalities clash. Unfortunately, these relationships often go beyond quiet disregard and the people become enemies. They attack one another verbally, physically, or emotionally, thinking this is the only way to overcome the differences. Yet, Paul writes that we should bless our enemies, not curse them.
There was a case on one of those court tv shows on which two Christian women did not love their neighbors. The case involved a plaintiff who ran a non-profit dedicated to her son who had been killed by gang members. The defendant was a woman who called herself a prophetess. They met because they thought they might be able to merge their ministries to get more accomplished together rather than separately.
The meeting did not go well. Afterwards, the defendant posted awful things about the plaintiff and her son on social media. The plaintiff then showed up at the defendant’s church and made a scene. The defendant called child welfare on a friend of the plaintiff. The judge was incensed at the actions of both women. How could Christian women act this way toward one another? “What do you think God is thinking now?” She passed her judgment on the case but reminded them that they would both face an even greater judgment.
The plaintiff won the case. The defendant lost her countersuit because the judge found that her losses were the consequences of her own actions. Despite losing the defendant left the courtroom with a holier-than-thou attitude and preached some word about God. We never really found out went so wrong at the first meeting, but the events that followed were not the way Christian women should act in the world. Both were wrong, but in a court of law the judge can find in favor of one sinner over another. In God’s court, of course, we are all sinners and those who are set free are only those who trust in God. Both women had reason to confess and seek God’s grace for their actions. The plaintiff seemed humble, the defendant not so much.
The judge turned to the defendant and said something like, “You might be doing 99% good but you have done 1% evil. That’s all of us, we all sin.” She was kinder to the plaintiff, but her comments remind all of us that we are sinners in need of a savior. The Gospel is our only way out of our bondage to sin and death. We might look at our neighbor and think that they are somehow worse than we are and that they deserve our wrath, but the reality is that even if we are only 0.0000001% sinner, we are still tainted sinners. We will all face a greater judgment.
Being a Christian is not an easy thing. We are called into a relationship with Christ not to separate ourselves from the people we do not like in this world. Rather, in Christ we are given the gifts to overcome our natural tendencies so that we can live more Christ-like in the world. When our flesh wants to hate, we are commanded to love. When our mouths want to curse, we are commanded to bless. This is a difficult thing. Just like trying to find a good word about a distrancting child or a difficult neighbor, saying nice things about our enemies is not something we are naturally able to do.
Paul says we are to speak well about our enemies. Jesus took it a step further, telling us to do well by our enemies, to love them and serve them. Instead of complaining about our difficult neighbor, the Christ centered response to his or her action is to love and encourage them. Instead of doubling down when we get into a battle with a neighbor, we should find a way to reduce the animosity. Yet, it is not enough to speak positively in the presence of those who are difficult. We also need to be kind behind closed doors and in the depths of our heart. Our worst sins against our enemies happen in the places no one sees, but God sees and He knows when we curse those we hate. We have been given the grace to love our enemies as Christ loves us.
If only we could look on our enemies the way Joseph looked on his brothers. He had every right to be upset. His flesh and blood sold him off to slavery, after considering murder. They lied to their father who mourned his death. Joseph was not perfect. He was the son of his beloved wife Rachel and was given the most wonderful gifts, especially a richly ornamented robe. This love and his gifts made him a little conceited. Jacob’s other sons were jealous of the attention Jacob paid to Joseph. It is no wonder that they wanted to be rid of him.
Joseph had dreams; he had strange and unusual dreams that seemed to speak of his being a powerful ruler over his brothers. Another dream even put him as ruler over his mother and father. His brothers became so jealous that they schemed to get rid of him. While they were in the field grazing the sheep, Joseph went out to see if all was well. His brothers thought they should kill him and pretend a wild animal did it, but Reuben convinced them to just sell him as a slave. Joseph ended up in Egypt. He suffered through many trials, but eventually Pharaoh put him in charge of the whole land. Pharaoh had several dreams that Joseph interpreted. They were warnings of good years from the fields followed by years of famine. With Joseph’s guidance, the Egyptians saved enough grain through the good years that they were able to help feed the world during the famine.
Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase food for their family. They interacted with Joseph but did not recognize him. The dreams were fulfilled. Joseph had a plan to restore his relationship with his family. His brothers went home but returned again for more grain, since the famine lasted many years. They met again with Joseph; he treated them well but hid a silver cup in his brother Benjamin’s bag. The guards discovered the silver cup was missing and Benjamin was held for theft. Judah pleaded with Joseph to let the boy go so that Jacob would not perish at the thought of another lost beloved son. Joseph’s pain - his loneliness and his longing to see his father - was so great that he revealed himself to his brothers. He wept and kissed them with love and mercy.
The story continues beyond our scripture lesson for today. Jacob and his family moved to Goshen where Joseph took care of them. When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared that he would take revenge. They pleaded with Joseph to be merciful, to remember their father and spare their lives. There was no need to beg. Joseph had forgiven them long before they asked. He understood that God used his life and even his suffering for His glory. This merciful action showed the great love he held for his brothers despite the evil he suffered at their hands. They could have been enemies, but Joseph loved them through the grace of God. Our Father did the same when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to win forgiveness for those He loves. He gives beyond measure in love and mercy.
Can we be so gracious to those who hurt us? That’s certainly what God expects from us and we will see that our mercy will be returned to us.
A great and ferocious lion ruled over all the animals of the forest. He lay down after a long day of unfruitful hunting and though he was still hungry he fell asleep. A short time later he was disturbed from his sleep by a tiny mouse that scampered across his massive form, thinking it was a rock. The lion waited patiently and at the right moment, he caught the mouse. Just as he was about to pop it into his mouth, the tiny creature begged for mercy. “Please forgive me! I did not mean to disturb you. If you let me go, I promise that I will return the favor one day.” The lion laughed at the silliness of such a small creature ever being of use to him but agreed. The mouse ran away to safety. Sometime later some hunters captured the lion and tied him to a tree. The tiny mouse appeared before the lion and began gnawing through the rope. Eventually, the mouse managed to loosen the rope enough for the lion to escape. The lion showed mercy and it was returned to him.
Mercy is about being compassionate, forgiving, and kind. In the story of the lion and the mouse, the lion set the mouse free even though he was hungry. If the lion had eaten the mouse, the mouse would not have been alive to chew the ropes for the lion. Both were blessed by the relationship. We deal with much greater evils in our world. Mercy is more difficult to understand and to express when our enemies have the power to destroy our lives.
We are called to be merciful, and our heavenly Father gives us the strength, courage and wisdom to do so. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid the highest price to give us the forgiveness that only He can give. He died for us even when we were His enemies so that we would be forgiven and set free from our lives of sin and debt to God. It isn’t easy, but we can begin as we are able with our neighbors, friends, and family members who have harmed us. We are not to seek revenge, but rather seek reconciliation by doing good to them. The love of God will manifest in the mercy you give, showing your life to be one as a child of God. God was kind and merciful to each of us, sinners and His enemies, forgiving our sin for the sake of His Son.
Those women on the judge show knew that they were strangers in a foreign land, Christians living in a fallen world. They knew that they had been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, but their story played more like a reality show. They did not live as God has called them to live, loving their enemies and treating all their neighbors with mercy. Unfortunately, the judge was correct when she said that they’d face a greater judgment one day. The question that all of us need to ask is whether or not we really trust in God’s salvation. Have we been transformed by His mercy? Are we living forgiven, recognizing our own sinfulness? Are we willing to forgive; are we willing to see our neighbors including our enemies through the eyes of Jesus?
John Bunyan, the writer of the Christian classic “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” was not always a Christian. As a matter of fact, he recalled being a lost and profane man before his conversion. One day when he was in Bedford to work he came across a few women who were discussing their faith. He was drawn to the conversation, and he stayed to listen. The women talked about the miserable state of their nature and how God came to them with love and forgiveness in the Lord Jesus. John could hear the joy in their words and voices. He needed to return to work but their words did not leave him. What he heard changed his life. He wrote in his book “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”: “Therefore I should often make it my business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people, for I could not stay away...” John Bunyan was drawn into the company of the women because they spoke the Gospel of truth in words of praise and thanksgiving.
When people overhear your conversations about God and faith, what do they hear? Do they hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: His love, forgiveness, healing, and redemption? Do they see your life as one they would want to emulate, one of praise and thanksgiving to God? Can they hear the joy in your words and voice? If someone overheard your conversations today, would they stay to listen? Would they want to return?
What about your actions in the world? Do you live according to God’s Word, treating your neighbors with mercy and grace? Does the way you live glorify God? We do not know who might be watching us. We are called to praise God in our words and our actions, remembering that His promises are real. John Bunyan has touched the lives of millions with his story of Christian’s journey to eternal life. It all began because a few women were discussing their faith in praise and thanksgiving. Whose life will you touch today? Our impact may not reach so far, but God will bless you for being a magnet in His kingdom through your words and your deeds.
Lightning has an interesting effect on sand. When lightning strikes a beach, the heat of the lightning melts the sand into an interesting glass sculpture that looks much like a tree in winter. It is hard to imagine that grains of sand can become something clear, practical, and beautiful like glass. Yet, humans have had the knowledge and capability to make glass for millennia. Even the Romans had windows and mirrors in their villas. A local museum has a glass drinking cup that dates to the time of Jesus. Their glass was not as clear as we have today, but the techniques for glass making have developed over the years. We now know how to make the furnaces hotter and how to prepare the materials so that the glass will become perfectly clear. Artisans have discovered ways to work the molten glass to make beautiful pieces. It is fascinating to watch a glass blower at work, creating bottles or vases out of the hot, molten glass. There is no way to change sand into glass without putting it through intense work and heat, and once it is glass it can never be sand again. It can be ground and reused, but it will never again be as it once was. God’s grace changes us, too, and sometimes it is through intense experiences that we truly see His mercy.
Eventually we will die in the flesh, but that is not the end. We will be raised with Christ into something new to live forever in His presence and praise Him throughout eternity. It is natural for us to wonder what it will be like when we die. Christians know that we have eternal life, but we do not have a complete understanding of what that will be like. The glory of God is beyond our imagination. Someone once explained that heaven would be like taking the best of everything in this world and magnifying it a thousand times. The love we have for our spouses and children will be magnified well beyond our human capability, because we will be living in the presence of Love Himself. The beauty of a field full of wildflowers pales in comparison to what we will see in heaven. Food will taste a hundred times better than a meal created by a master chef.
The sand is burned until it melts so that it can be made into a window, vase or dish. The seed dies to be transformed into a living plant. Our bodies will also go through a transformation. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they had to die to live. He said, “The body is sown perishable; it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body.” In this life we might suffer through intense work as God makes us new for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. This intensity may come from relationships with people that we do not really like. However, God gives us everything we need to be like Jesus, to love our neighbors and even our enemies. We should always remember that we were enemies of God, but Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sake even though we did not deserve His grace.
We know that God will be faithful to His promises. The transformation we will experience will be complete when we leave this world to dwell in God’s eternal glory forever, but that transformation began the day we believed in Jesus and became a Christian. This means that our life should look different than it did the day before. Our life is meant to look like Joseph’s, full of forgiveness for those who meant to do us harm.
Eventually we will die in the flesh, but that is not our end. We are raised with Christ into something new, to live forever in His presence and praise Him throughout eternity. We do not have to wait, however, for that day when we will dwell with Christ because we dwell with Him today. So, let’s live like Joseph, loving our enemies even if they have done us harm because God has a plan and can use the worst of times for His purpose. We are examples of His grace, blessed to be a blessing. We are saved to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who mistreat us. He has created and redeemed us to glorify Him in this world by the words we speak and the ways we act. We can do so with peace because He is faithful to all His promises.
“My little children, let’s not love in word only, or with the tongue only, but in deed and truth.” 1 John 3:18, ASV
An American fast-food restaurant was giving away free tacos for a few hours one day a few years ago in celebration of National Random Acts of Kindness Day. This is an unofficial holiday with an unknown origin, but it is an idea that could make today a better day for those who cross the path of someone trying to be kind. There was probably at least a few people who were happy because they received a free breakfast taco that morning, and I imagine it was a good day for everyone they met. Happiness is contagious and kindness produces happiness, so every random act of kindness might affect the attitudes of dozens of people.
The problem with National Random Acts of Kindness Day is that we should not set aside one specific day to be kind to one another. I suppose the unofficial holiday is meant to gain attention on the need for random acts of kindness in our world, a need that might change so much about the way we treat one another. And yet, shouldn’t we be doing nice things for others every day? I’m not even sure I like the idea of random acts of kindness because it sounds so contrived. I know that sounds a bit like an oxymoron; how can something random be contrived? It can because people will go out into the world today with a plan on how to be kind to someone like the fast-food restaurant, but tomorrow they will completely miss the one person whom God has sent that needs or deserves an act of kindness.
I’ve seen stories about people who have done this. Take, for example, the story of a note given to a man who had taken his daughter out on a “date” for Valentine’s Day. The couple who wrote the note was so impressed with what a great dad that man was that they paid for the dinner and left the note of encouragement for him to continue teaching his daughter who a man should treat her. I’ve all seen similar stories of people who paid for the dinners of families with special needs. Other stories tell of kind diners who give outrageous tips to wait staff who do an excellent job. Around Christmas we often hear of people paying off layaways or others who pay the bill at the grocery store for someone who is struggling to find enough cash.
I was the recipient of a couple of random acts of kindness on Valentine’s Day. Neighbors who have enjoyed the ways we’ve tried to be kind in our neighborhood stopped by with little gifts. One came anonymously, a small gift left by our door. The other was brought by a neighbor, a delicious chocolate cake from a neighbor just a few doors away. She regularly leaves prayer requests in a box we have on our fence, and she wanted us to know that she appreciated our prayers.
Random acts of kindness do not always have to be money or gifts, after all, most of us can’t afford to do the big gesture. We can, however, be like the workers at the national chain store who helped a young man prepare for a job interview by teaching him how to tie a tie (he had gone into the store hoping for a clip-on) and then took the time to make sure he looked right. They also taught him a few things to say and helped him with his manners so that he would treat the interviewer with proper respect. This kindness not only made the young man feel good, but it also gave him so much confidence that he did very well at the interview. The young man got the job.
It is good to be kind, and I hope everyone will find an opportunity to do something nice for another person today. But here’s what I hope for tomorrow: instead of going out with the intention of doing something kind for one person, I hope we have a constant attitude of kindness. Let’s be conscious of those around us and respond with something that will impact their lives. A note of encouragement, a listening ear, a box of cookies or a cup of coffee can change someone’s day. Take that empty shopping cart from that struggling mother in the parking lot or hold the door open for the elderly man with a cane.
Everyone who crosses our path could use a moment of kindness, even if they seem to have it all together. We all have hidden worries and fears. We all have reasons to be hurt or angry or upset. A random act of kindness can make everyone’s day better and can transform our attitude in a way that will impact the world around us. We don’t have to make a big deal about it, or even make it known to the world. We don’t have to act as if our random act of kindness is something extraordinary. If we keep our eyes open and respond to the world in kindness, the random acts will become a natural part of our daily lives.
“Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens! From the lips of babes and infants you have established strength, because of your adversaries, that you might silence the enemy and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him? What is the son of man, that you care for him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You make him ruler over the works of your hands. You have put all things under his feet: All sheep and cattle, yes, and the animals of the field, the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8, WEB
An engagement ring is the most important possession for many women. That ring is special because it was given as a token of commitment, a gift in contemplation of a lifetime of marriage. The ring is often not really valuable. A young man can’t afford a two-carat diamond set in high purity gold. The diamond is often not the highest quality, but it is the most beautiful ring in all the world because of what it means. I know some women whose life circumstances have changed enough that they could have that ring redesigned with a larger, better quality diamond, but they choose not to do so because they honored the choice their husband made for that very special moment when he asked to marry her.
My husband and I did things backwards. We got married first and then he bought me a diamond ring a few months later, so that ring never had the same sentimental meaning to me. It was still important because it was from him, but I treasured my wedding ring so much more. I also have a ring that he bought for our tenth anniversary that is very special.
The engagement ring has, quite frankly, been a source of much frustration. One day I noticed that one of the prongs of the ring was severally bent out of shape. I should have taken it off the moment I noticed it and put it in a box until I could take it to a jeweler to be fixed. However, the stone still appeared to be solidly held in the crown, so I kept it on. The next day we were going to a water park for a day’s recreation with a group of friends. Sometime during the hustle of preparation, the stone fell out. We were at the meeting point on base, ready to drive away, when I realized it was gone. I jumped out of the car and several parents helped me look around the parking lot. Nothing. I took off the empty ring, squeezed out a few tears and we headed on our way.
During our trip I tried to recall every move I made that day. When could it have fallen out? What would have jarred it enough? I asked the kids to be very careful taking their swim clothes and towels out of the bag; it could have easily fallen out when I stuffed those things inside. I told them to be careful when taking things out of the cooler, it may have fallen when I cracked the ice and dumped it in. And though it was just a diamond, it is special because my husband gave it to me; we said a short prayer asking God to help us find it. Unbelievably, I found the ring as I picked up a bag to give it to one of the kids to carry lying in the trunk. Imagine if it had fallen out in the pool or in a field that day. It would never have been found.
I lost the whole ring a few years later. I had lost some weight and the ring was very loose on my finger. I thought I knew where it fell, but I called but got no response from the people at that place. I was sure someone found it and in my heart I accused them of theft. I let it go; what did it matter, no matter how sentimental it was just a ring. One day I needed a paperclip, so I looked in a drawer where we kept a bunch. We hadn’t used the desk since we had moved it from our other house years ago and all the junk was still in the bags we used to keep it from falling out during the move. As I rummaged through one of those bags, I was shocked to find my ring. I have no idea how it got there. Unfortunately, the ring no longer fit my finger. I was so used to not having it that I put it in my jewelry box until I could take it to a jeweler.
I inherited a diamond ring of my mother’s when she passed away. At approximately two carats, it is a lovely ring, and a special reminder of my dear mother. We found two rings as we helped my father sort through Mom’s things after the funeral. We knew she had two: a real diamond and a cubic zirconia. One was found in her jewelry box and the other was found on a windowsill. Both were about the same size and we could not tell the difference between them. We thought the real one was fake, which was found on the windowsill, and the fake, which was safely hidden away in her jewelry box, was the real one. Side by side, to an untrained eye, the fake ring appeared to be the real one. To clear up any confusion, we took both rings to a jeweler. At first glance, the jeweler knew which was the real ring and which was false. To be sure, he took a special piece of equipment that shoots a beam of light into the stone, and then reads the reaction. After the test, we had assurance of the real verses the false.
A few years ago my husband purchased a necklace as a Christmas present that I would never wear. I don’t like to take his gifts back to the store because I know he puts so much thought and love into his gift, but this one was so impractical. Instead of keeping the necklace, we decided to have a ring enlarged so that I could wear it. Instead of the engagement ring with little sentiment, we decided to do my mother’s ring. It has been a wonderful reminder of her life and her love.
Life goes full circle, and we often end up in the same place where we began. The question is whether or not we learn the lessons of the past. I noticed the other day that two of my prongs are bent. This particular ring has six prongs, and the ring is still very solid in the crown. However, I learned my lesson with the other ring. I took it to a jeweler yesterday to have it fixed. They will also clean the ring so that it will look like new again. I told the jeweler these stories and laughed about how I am so much like my mom. Would my kids have found my original ring in a strange place rather than in my jewelry box where it belonged?
These stories are humorous and filled with lessons to learn, they are fun to tell and make me smile at both my mom and me. But our faith reminds us daily that though we treasure these things both for their financial and sentimental value, they are just things. Both rings are special in their own way, but they should never become more important than God, our heavenly Father. I hope I made it clear all those years ago to my children that it was just a ring and that there are more important reasons to pray. Yet, God cares for all our concerns, even those dealing with the things in our life.
Lord God cares about every hair on your head and every tear that you shed. He cares about your pain and your heartbreak. He cares about every thought, word and deed. Why does He care? He cares because He created you, and He planned a special purpose for your life. Rejoice and praise the Lord for He loves you so much. Though neither of my rings are of ultimate importance, they mean something to me. If we think about the real worth of human beings, we are a dime a dozen, yet God has placed the highest value on our life. He gave His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, so that we can be made right and new, changed and transformed, promised true life in His presence forever. We praise God for all our blessings, but the greatest blessing is His love for us and His faithfulness to all His promises.
“May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble. May the name of the God of Jacob set you up on high, send you help from the sanctuary, grant you support from Zion, remember all your offerings, and accept your burned sacrifice. Selah. May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your counsel. We will triumph in your salvation. In the name of our God, we will set up our banners. May Yahweh grant all your requests. Now I know that Yahweh saves his anointed. He will answer him from his holy heaven, with the saving strength of his right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God. They are bowed down and fallen, but we rise up, and stand upright. Save, Yahweh! Let the King answer us when we call!” Psalm 20, WEB
Everyone should try to read through the Bible from cover to cover at least once in their life. It is a difficult task, especially if you try to do one of those Bible in a Year programs. Many people get stuck at Leviticus, where there are pages and pages of instructions and rules that do not mean anything to us today. While there is value in those passages, we simply lose interest and set the book aside to try again another year. I have done a different sort of program several times and it helps to keep the reader interested. You read a different portion of the Bible each day of the week, and by the end of a year you will have read the whole book. There is a lesson from the Epistles on Sunday, the Pentateuch on Monday, the history books on Tuesday, the Psalms on Wednesday, the poetry books on Thursday, the Prophets on Friday and the Gospels on Saturday. Reading from the different parts of the book means that you won’t give up when you face a difficult section of the scriptures. You know that tomorrow will be better and so we get through the hard reading. It is amazing, also, how many times you see connections between the different parts of the Bible. It is like fitting pieces into a puzzle.
Some of it is really hard to read because there was so much bloodshed and so many irrational expectations. How can we understand a God who would ask Abraham to sacrifice his beloved child? How can we accept the word of a God who would require the destruction of even the animals and property by His invading army? How can we believe the stories when they seem completely unbelievable?
Take the story of Gideon, for instance. He had an army of thousands that could defeat the enemy on his doorstep. Yet, God told him that he had too many for the task at hand. Gideon told the people that whoever wanted to leave could leave. Many left the battlefield and went home. Even with such a big loss of men, God told Gideon that 10,000 was too many. “I’ll tell you which men to take,” He told Gideon. In the end, God allowed only three hundred men to go into battle. Now, imagine you are one of those three hundred men. Would you really follow Gideon whose battlefield decisions seem ridiculous?
Moses was stuck with a nation of people who were not thrilled to be wandering around in the desert for forty years. They complained about everything: no water, no meat, no bread, too much meat, weird food that’s kind of like bread. They wanted to go home. They wanted it to be done. They wanted someone else to lead them because Moses was not doing things the way they thought it should be done. Yet, in the end they followed Moses because God was with him, and God proved Moses to be true.
Today’s is Presidents Day. We celebrate on the third Monday of February because it is the closest to the birthdate of George Washington, which was February 22nd. It is a day that we commemorate those who have served in the highest public office of our nation. If we are honest with ourselves, we will all admit that there are some presidents we love and there are some presidents we’d rather not honor. And those favorites will be different for each of us. We do not always honor or respect those who lead us.
Is God with our leaders? There are times when we think that is not true, yet God has a purpose for each of them. We might not agree with the way they are accomplishing their work. We may not like their agenda. We might think that their expectations are ridiculous. I’m not sure I would follow some people into battle or move to a new place if the circumstances were like those found in the scriptures. Yet, we are called to pray for our leaders, to hold them up before God and seek prosperity under their leadership. We might not understand why God has chosen them for this time and place, but we can trust that God knows what He’s doing in all things. They may not be perfect, but they should receive our honor and respect for serving.
It is up to us to pray that our leaders will remain true to God and that God will bless them. When the leaders are blessed, whether they are leaders in a local organization or a global enterprise, whether they are kings or prime ministers or presidents, whether they rule over ten or ten million, then we will be blessed. Gideon won the battle with three hundred men, not because was a great warrior and leader, but because he was obedient and trusted that God would be true to His promises. Whether we like them or not, God has chosen them for a reason and the community is centered on them for a season, so it is up to us to pray and trust God to accomplish His good work through them.
February 22, 2022
“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. Whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward.” Matthew 10:40-42, WEB
My son played youth basketball for a season. The age group was middle elementary age, so the children were just learning the game. As a matter of fact, many of them were just learning how to do many of the normal daily tasks like tying their shoes. This became a humorous problem during one of the games. Several of the players had difficulty keeping their shoes tied. Over and over again, we saw youth crouched down fiddling with their laces. The referees even stopped the clock occasionally so that they would not be hurt tripping over flying laces. At one point the ref yelled, “Everyone, check your shoes.”, Ten youth looked down at their feet, almost synchronized. One girl had particular trouble with a knot, so a referee bent down to help her tie the shoes properly. I started to giggle, thinking about how a scene like that would go over at an NBA game. Can you imagine a referee bending to retie a professional’s Nikes? Those players have been playing for many years, most since they were involved in youth basketball leagues. They earn a high salary for their skills; they should be old enough to make sure their shoes are tied properly. The children in Zack’s basketball league are just learning about so much; it is hard for them to remember everything they need to know when they get onto the basketball court. So, a ref is more likely to tie a 10-year old’s shoes than those of a professional player.
We treat people differently; this is a fact of our lives. Some of the differences are quite visible. Some people treat others differently based on beauty, or intelligence, or talents. We treat our family one way, our neighbors another. We talk to children with one type of language and tone but speak to our coworkers and friends as adults. We don’t use fifty-cent words with a five-year-old, and baby talk will never help our position at work. It is good to recognize how we do treat people differently so that we do so in a manner that encourages and uplifts all that cross our path.
Unfortunately, we often treat people negatively. We play favorites and reject people because of their differences. A racist’s attitude will never glorify God because he will separate himself completely from those with another skin color, sometimes in a violent manner. The bachelorette who is only willing to date good-looking men might never find true love because she is rejecting them for all the wrong reasons. Young people ignore the elderly because they do not think they are still useful, but older people ignore youth unworthy of their time. Jesus was concerned about these attitudes, and He showed us how to treat people equally even when we are different. Equal in Christ does not mean being the same. It means all have access to the Father’s love and mercy. Everyone deserves to be received by their neighbors, to experience the small acts of grace that meet simple but vital needs in our life. And when we are the givers, we experience the same grace from our God as we have shared. I often say that we are blessed to be a blessing, but we are reminded also that we are blessed for being a blessing.
Jesus just wanted to be received by those to whom He was sent, and in receiving Him they were blessed. And that’s how every person should be received, as unique individuals with different needs and gifts. When we receive them in this way, we will truly be blessed. The simple acts of love we do for all those who cross our path will turn out to be blessings for us, too, because we will experience the grace of God in the joy and thankfulness of those who receive our loving acts of grace.
Scriptures for February 27, 2022, Transfiguration Sunday: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 99; Hebrews 3:1-6; Luke 9:28-36
“Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken, but Christ is faithful as a Son over his house. We are his house, if we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.” Hebrews 3:5-6, WEB
Have you ever really considered the amount of knowledge that can be found in one library? My own bookshelves are covered with hundreds of books, from children’s stories to novels to reference materials. I have books about Christmas, faith, health, history and language. I can'\’t count the number of books about prayer or the books I haven’t even read yet. I have a pile of books I intend to read soon. Somehow the pile just gets bigger. I also have an e-reader with dozens of books I want to read.
Most universities have huge libraries. When my daughter and I were college shopping a few years ago, we went to several universities to see what they had to offer. During one visitation we had a few moments, so we slipped into the library to see what is available to the students. That library was the biggest building on campus, seven stories and the size of a football field. The library had many rooms available for private study and even a large auditorium, but there was also more than a million books, plus plenty of electronic resources. I have a general idea of what is available in my library. If someone asked to borrow a book about grace, I know which ones would be good for them to read. If I’m looking for a poem or a certain person’s perspective, I can find it pretty quickly. However, I can’t imagine ever knowing everything that is available in every one of my books. The university library is my library magnified hundreds of times. Can anyone ever really know everything in those books?
A library has so much knowledge that no person can know it all, but it is even harder to know everything about God. A.W. Tozer in his book “The Knowledge of the Holy” wrote, “Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire his wisdom, but his holiness he cannot even imagine.” And His holiness is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything about God stands apart; His grace and His love is beyond our wildest imaginations.
No one can know everything in every book ever written. It would be impossible for anyone to even read every book, let alone remember all the details. A librarian would have more knowledge than most people. At least she would know where to find a book on the subject. She might even be able to suggest the right book. It is that way with the holiness of God. We can study God, know the history of His people, learn and follow His law. We can try to live according to His wisdom and His love. However, there is no way we can possibly even imagine the holiness of God. His ways, His thoughts, His purposes are higher than human flesh can attain.
The psalmist reminds us that God spoke to the Israelites through the pillar of cloud and through His priests. He spoke to them through His Law. “They kept his testimonies, the statute that he gave them.” In later times, God spoke through His prophets. Moses and Elijah represent the people God chose to speak His words to the people. And then God sent His Son. Now, we hear God’s words through the stories of Jesus, through the scriptures, through the people who are still called to preach and teach today. God speaks through our priests, pastors, preachers, missionaries, prophets and teachers. He speaks through other Christians. He speaks through us.
We must remember, however, that what is important is not the work we do, but that we remain true and faithful to God’s Word. Unfortunately, we often act in response to our circumstances without really listening to God. That’s when we show our own faithlessness. Moses hit the rock because he was frustrated by the continued faithlessness of the people, and in doing so showed his own faithlessness. Peter offered to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah because he didn’t want the moment to end, and in doing so ignored the true ministry to which he was called.
I think, perhaps, the hardest part of being a parent is learning how to balance the necessity for discipline of our children and our love for them. We want to let go and forgive them everything, but we know that if we do they will never grow into mature and responsible adults. As hard as it is to punish our children, we are charged with helping them learn how to do what is good and right and true. It isn’t any easier for God, sometimes He deals with us by allowing us to suffer the consequences of our sinfulness.
The psalmist wrote, “You are a God who forgave them, although you took vengeance for their doings.” The story from the Old Testament lesson is one of those moments. Moses was the chosen one of God. He led God’s people out of Egypt and through the wilderness for forty years. He stood in the presence of God. He received the Law and gave it to the people. He sought God’s help for the people over and over again. Every time they complained about the lack of food or water, every time they grumbled, Moses asked God to help in their stead. He was an incredible man of God, faithful and obedient. And yet, he was just a man and he failed.
The consequence of Moses’ unfaithfulness was that he would never enter into the promised land. We hear in Deuteronomy 32 “Die on the mountain where you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people; because you trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah of Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because you didn’t uphold my holiness among the children of Israel. For you shall see the land from a distance; but you shall not go there into the land which I give the children of Israel.”
Moses was faithful and obedient, but not perfectly. In the desert, the people complained about the lack of water. Instead of acting according to God’s Word, he struck the rock in anger. Instead of approaching the rock trusting in God’s word, he approached with a determination to prove to the people that they will get what they do not deserve. Instead of speaking forth the water, he struck the rock twice.
It is absolutely necessary for us to trust God’s word above all else. God is gracious, and He is merciful, but faith is by hearing, not by sight. And so, at this important juncture in the story of Israel, God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. Moses, following his base instincts and his anger, struck the rock, instead.
In Numbers 20, God told Moses, “Because you didn’t believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Imagine the scene. Moses stood by the rock and hit it twice with his staff. What would you believe? Would you believe that it is the word that made the water flow? Or would you believe that Moses caused it to come? Who would you thank for that water? God commanded Moses to speak the word, and in doing so he would have shown God to be holy and powerful. Instead, Moses showed himself to be holy and powerful. This is why Moses could not enter into the Promised Land.
But God is gracious. Even though Moses was faithless at that moment, we see in today’s Old Testament lesson that God still honored Moses, “Since then, there has not arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face.” The Israelites continued to hold Moses in high regard, almost to the point of putting him above God. Even to the days of Jesus, Moses was seen as more than just the man who led them out of Egypt. He was the deliverer. He was the lawgiver. They knew God was behind it, but they gave the credit to Moses. If God had allowed him to go on, they might have made him like a god, but Moses was just a man. He was a man chosen and gifted by God to do great and wonderful things, but he was just a man.
For his faithlessness, Moses was buried on the other side of the Jordan. He was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. However, God is gracious and merciful: He gave Moses the chance to see the fulfillment of the promise. Moses died with God’s faithfulness in his sight. God did what He told Abraham He would do. His people were finally home after four hundred years in Egypt, after slavery, and after forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
Moses died, but first he laid his hand upon Joshua and gave him the authority to continue leading God’s people into the Promised Land. Moses only went so far and then had to turn the responsibility over to another. This was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Even the name Joshua parallels the story of Jesus; both names are different forms with a similar meaning, “the Lord is my salvation.” While Joshua is not Jesus, Joshua was the one who finished the Exodus; he led God’s people home, just as Jesus does for us.
Moses appears again in today’s Gospel lesson. Despite his faithlessness, God still honored Moses’ obedience. Moses may have failed, but he was also faithful. Isn’t that true of all of us? We respond faithfully to the call of God, but we also fall short. Sometimes we do things that seem to put us ahead of God. Like Moses in the desert, we make a big show of our power and authority and though we mean it to glorify God, it becomes more about our action than God’s Word.
In the story of Cinderella, Cinderella was a girl who found herself in horrible circumstances. She was unloved and abused by the people who should have cared for her the most. With the help of some friends, Cinderella overcame all the hurdles and found her prince charming. She found her happily ever after; she was at the top of the mountain reveling in the glory of her new and transformed life.
Disney made a sequel to their version of this age-old story called, “Dreams Come True.” In this story, Cinderella found out what it was like to live in the everyday moments of running a castle. She had to be a hostess to all the visitors, acting royal as was expected by the people in her new world. This mean that she could not be her usual warm and welcoming self if she was to act according to the traditional ways. So, she had difficulty living up to everyone’s expectations. She could not be herself; she had to act like something different. By the end of the movie, Cinderella discovered that she must be herself to succeed.
Jesus could not live up to the expectations of the world; He had to be obedient to the Word of God, to do what God intended. The disciples and so many others wanted Jesus to lead an army that would destroy their oppressors and then sit on an earthly throne. Jesus knew that His story would have a much different ending.
Shortly before Jesus and those three disciples were on the mountain where He was transfigured, about eight days according to Luke’s account, Jesus told the disciples for the first time that He would have to suffer and die at the hands of all who would reject Him. Those words must have been disturbing and disheartening for the disciples. Peter, James, and John witnessed His glorification. It must have made them doubt Jesus’ warning. “Surely if God would do something so miraculous, then Jesus must be more than even He thought He would be!” God would not allow His Chosen One to die, right?
There is a human tendency to need to “do something.” Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in His glory; they heard God’s voice declare Jesus as the beloved One and Peter did not want it to end. It is no wonder that he would want to build permanent structures in which Jesus, Moses, and Elijah could dwell. There on the mountaintop, in the presence of the Holy, no one could harm Jesus. However, this was not the way it was to be.
Peter was interrupted by a voice from heaven. A cloud came down and covered them and they were afraid. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” The voice does not command the disciples to bow down and worship Jesus, to follow Him, or even obey Him. God commanded the disciples to hear Jesus, to listen to Him. God's word matters and it is Jesus who speaks God’s word with faithfulness. We are to believe and do whatever He says.
Jesus had this moment of glory, but the real glory would come in a much different way. They needed to return to the real world, to the world which needed God’s mercy and grace. They needed to go back to the crowds, to the dis-ease, to the oppression. Jesus had to go back to the hatred and rejection that would send Him to the cross. The disciples quickly learned that the brilliance and magnificence of that mountain top experience was fleeting. Peter wanted to take control; for him it became more about the act than the Word.
How often do we act when we should simply listen and obey?
How does God speak to us? Unfortunately, we often become confused about what is real and what is our own response to the circumstances in which we live. Moses hit the rock because he was frustrated by the continued faithlessness of the people, and in doing so showed his own faithlessness. Peter offered to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah because he didn’t want the moment to end, and in doing so ignored the true ministry to which he was called.
We look to our pastors and leaders to help us to understand God’s Word, but we often confuse our trust in them with faith in God. By doing so, we risk following teachings that lead us in the wrong direction. We are not called to follow men, but to follow Jesus. We are faithless like Moses and Peter when we trust our pastors, institutions, doctrines and programs more than we trust God.
There are many in our world today that have found themselves struggling because they know there is good reason to leave a church, but they can’t because something is holding them there. They have roots. They have family. They built the church with their sweat and their material resources. It is understandable. We are afraid to let go because those things have been our foundation and our hope. But sometimes we have to consider whether we have placed our trust in something less than God.
It is easy to become confused by the voices we hear. Which one is God? Who is really from God? Who is telling the truth? We wonder if we truly understand what the scriptures mean and we need to consider whether we are putting our own spin on God’s Word. Peter had been listening to the expectations of the world and his own hope for Jesus’ ministry; he was acting on the wrong voices. He didn’t want to believe what Jesus was saying about His suffering and death. God reminded him that the only voice that is true is Jesus’. The writer of Hebrews says, “For every house is built by someone; but he who built all things is God.” God does not negate the ministry of those who are sent like Moses or Elijah, but He reminds us that there is one greater. Jesus is our hope and our salvation and more worthy of our praise and thanksgiving, for He has built the house.
Thankfully, God is gracious. Even when we are faithless, He is faithful. We may suffer the consequences of misfocused trust, but God will always let those with faith see the Promised Land. And though Moses did not enter with the people when they finally crossed the Jordan, He was not forgotten by God. He was still honored for his obedience and faith by standing in the glory of the true Savior. We, too, will fail but one day we will stand in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when we do, it will be for eternity because by His grace we have been made a part of His house forever.
Like Peter, we would like to focus on the transfiguration and the glory. Jesus refused to stay on the mountain and in the glory because He knew the greater glory was to come. Instead of savoring the moment, Jesus herded His disciples back down the mountain into the path of the real work of the kingdom. We are reminded that it is never about the work we do, but about remaining true and faithful to God’s Word. Moses did good work, but he fell short when he did not do as God commanded at the rock in the desert.
We want Jesus’ mission to be a great king who overcomes the oppression of our enemies, but the Gospel passage is bookended by the truth of Jesus’ mission among us (Luke 9:21 and 9:44). He came to suffer at the hands of men and to die. God reminded them that they should listen to what Jesus had to say, even though it was hard and did not make sense to them. Jesus never said that He would be an earthly king over Israel. He never promised to lead them into battle against their oppressors. Instead, Jesus told them that He would have to die. The glory would not be found on a mountain, in a castle, or on a throne. The true glory was found on the Cross. For the work of God to be complete He would need to get off the mountain.
Imagine this choice: suppose someone has offered to send you on a vacation and they give you two places from which to choose. On one vacation you will be pampered like royalty, waited on hand and foot at a beautiful resort in the balmy Caribbean. On the other trip you will be working on a ranch. The activities will include slopping pigs and cleaning out the horse stalls in the barn. You’ll even have to help with the cooking and cleaning each day. Which vacation would you choose? What if you discovered that choosing the vacation in the Caribbean would be the highlight of your life and nothing after could ever compare to it, while the vacation on the ranch was just the beginning of an incredible life you never expected?
If you could see beyond the vacation, would you choose the temporary pampering or the life-changing experience? Peter, James, and John were not given a choice, but as we look at the story of the Transfiguration we know that we are blessed that they followed Jesus down the mountain. Jesus calls us to follow Him and to join in His work. We will never know everything about God, but we know more and more as we listen to Jesus, read and study the scriptures, and hear God’s voice in our prayers and through the body of Christ.
I wonder what it would have been like to be with Peter, James, and John that day. I’d like to believe that I could understand what was happening, that Jesus was giving us a preview of what was to come. The transfiguration was a brief moment in time when God showed the disciples the end of the story, that Christ was the King, the Messiah, the One who would save the world. It was all so overwhelming for those three men, though. There they stood with Elijah and Moses, while Jesus was glorified before their eyes. What did it mean? They could only think in human terms. They did not want this moment to end.
We see the cross as a horrible and ugly thing, something to be passed over so that we can celebrate Easter. We are indeed Easter people, shining the light of Jesus Christ for the world to see, but Jesus was glorified when He took upon Himself the sin of the world to set us free from sin and death. The beauty is in the cross, the most foolish and hardest to believe aspect of Christian faith. There could be no resurrection without death, no New Covenant unless the old one passed away.
At the Transfiguration we saw Moses and Elijah honored for their faith despite their failure; they represented the Law and the Prophets who spoke for God until the Day when Jesus came. But at the Transfiguration we learned that Jesus was greater than the Law and the Prophets. He is greater than Moses and Elijah. When we listen to Him, we’ll grow in our knowledge of the God who saved us by His grace. The world will be blessed as God’s glory is reflected in our lives and through our work, even though Jesus has led us off the mountain into the hard work of His Kingdom.
“On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great multitude met him. Behold, a man from the crowd called out, saying, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. Behold, a spirit takes him, he suddenly cries out, and it convulses him so that he foams, and it hardly departs from him, bruising him severely. I begged your disciples to cast it out, and they couldn’t.’ Jesus answered, ‘Faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was still coming, the demon threw him down and convulsed him violently. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. They were all astonished at the majesty of God. But while all were marveling at all the things which Jesus did, he said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears, for the Son of Man will be delivered up into the hands of men.’ But they didn’t understand this saying. It was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” Luke 9:37-45, WEB
Some lectionaries include today’s passage as an option for Transfiguration Sunday. I didn’t use it yesterday but hinted at what it has to say. This is, as they say, the rest of the story.
“The Bucket List” is a movie about two dying men who discover life together by traveling the world. Starring Jack Nicholas as Edward and Morgan Freeman as Carter, the movie asks the question, “What would you do if you had a limited time to live?” Fortunately, Edward was an extremely wealthy businessman, so the two men had unlimited resources to complete their bucket list, a list of things they want to do before they kick the bucket.
The bucket list included the desire to “witness something truly majestic.” Though they shared some beautiful moments, like sitting on top of the pyramids in Egypt, Carter didn’t think any of those things were as majestic as being on the top of a mountain. He explained that it is so quiet on the top of a mountain that you can hear the voice of God. Nothing less than a mountain top experience would be enough for Carter. Unfortunately, they arrived at the base of an incredible mountain when the weather turned bad for the winter. They would not be able to get to the top for months. The two men had a falling out soon after their disappointment and returned to their homes. Then Carter’s cancer got the best of him and he perished on the surgical table. He never had his mountain top experience. In his final words, Carter asked Edward to finish the list.
In the end, the two men were buried together on the top of a beautiful mountain. The final scene shows Edward’s assistant adding a can filled with Edward’s ashes to a special container at the top of a majestic mountain. He crossed off the final thing on the bucket list, “witness something truly majestic,” and placed it in the container with the ashes of the two men.
We are somewhat disappointed that they did not get to experience that mountain top experience, but they both had much more powerful experiences in the valleys of their lives. Carter realized that he had a wonderful life, with a wife who adored him and that he didn’t need to get to the top of the mountain to experience the voice of God. Edward found love and joy in his daughter and granddaughter from whom he’d been estranged for many years. They both realized that life isn’t lived at the top of the mountain but in the everyday experiences with people they love.
The transfiguration must have been a most incredible experience for Peter, James, and John. Not only were they on the top of a mountain, but they were there with the Messiah. At that moment, they did hear the voice of God, not in the whisper of the quiet wind but in a voice coming out of the clouds. The words were repeated from Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son.” Whether anyone heard that voice at the Jordan we may never know for sure, but now it was heard by Jesus’ inner circle of friends. It was a moment worth grasping forever. Peter even wanted to build permanent structures so that Moses and Elijah and Jesus would have a place to stay.
But Jesus hurried them off the mountain, back into the valley because He knew that it is in the valleys where life is truly lived. They could not stay on the top of the mountain; they had to get back to work. There were still people who needed healing. There were still demons to be cast out. There were still so many who needed to hear God’s word and learn about God’s kingdom so that they might be saved for eternity. It would not happen if they lingered on the mountain top. The real work was in the valley.
Do you ever feel like you want to go to a place far away, perhaps to the top of a mountain? Have you ever had one of those moments that you never want to end? Those experiences are incredible, but they are not where we should stay. It is time to move on, to get back into the muck and mire of real life to share the Good News with others so that they too might hear the voice of God.
“For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation be made desolate. Let no one dwell in it;’ and, ‘Let another take his office.’ Of the men therefore who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, to the day that he was received up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection. They put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. They prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two you have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place.’ They drew lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:20-26, WEB
One day I was in the right place at the right time. I was visiting a small English village with a friend where a famous American author had given a huge tip to the wait staff because they were having a fundraiser for an organization that helps servers facing difficult times. A reporter was there and when he heard our American accents, he wanted to get our opinion on the event. I think he was looking for people who would put a negative spin on the act of kindness. He thought the tip was a gesture of American arrogance, a show-offy action to show off her wealth. He thought she might have done it for the publicity.
I saw the tip as incredibly generous and though I did not know the author or her faith, I told the reporter that from my Christian perspective I saw it as a kindhearted act, that she was sharing her wealth with those she thought would be helped by the fundraiser. As it turned out, the author was a Christian and did it because she believed she’s been blessed to be a blessing to others. She did it out of Christian love and concern for others. I hoped that my witness to the reporter would help him realize that some people take their faith very seriously and that sometimes people do things because they are the right thing to do, not because they think they will get anything out of it. I saw the report on the news channel later that day and unfortunately the reporter cut most of my interview. The only ones who heard that witness were the reporter and the cameraman.
It was a step of faith to make such a public proclamation of my faith and it was disappointing that more people didn’t hear that perspective on the news show that day. Editing is a fact of life these days, however. The reporter probably took enough video to fill more than an hour and he had to tell the story in just a few minutes. He edited it to fit his point of view, and my words did not fit his expectations. This is the way of the world. However, it might just be that God used my witness to begin to work in the hearts of the reporter and cameraman, or even someone at the station who needed to hear a word of God’s grace. It might have seemed like a matter of luck that I was in that right place at the right time, but I believe that God had a purpose for that moment and that He used it in a way I will never really know. We just have to trust that God can use those lucky moments to make His Kingdom grow.
Today’s scripture is about the calling of Matthias who was celebrated yesterday in some churches. We don’t know much about this disciple who replaced Judas as an apostle of our Lord Jesus. He had been following Jesus as long as the others, so he knew very well the work and words of Christ. Yet, he was not originally called among the Twelve. It seems odd that the apostles would use an act of luck through lots to choose someone of such importance, but they used it with prayer and trust in God.
Most people do not consider their daily actions or the events of their lives as part of God’s calling in their life. We don’t consider how often we are at the right place at the right time witnessing to God in ways we never expect. We think of Paul and the road to Damascus as God calling a disciple, not a chance meeting on the street of a small English town. Yet, whenever God’s Word is spoken and His work accomplished, it is done because God has guided or directed His people into that time and place. There may have been a better way of choosing Matthias as the twelfth disciple, but in the end he helped to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others by sharing his own gifts with the world. God can call the most ordinary people to do the most extraordinary things in the most unusual ways.
“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16, WEB
What sort of witness are you?
I once read a story about a trend among some Christians. The photo accompanying the article showed an empty dinner plate with a ten-dollar bill peeking out from beneath. The waitress reacted with excitement because it was such a good tip, but then she realized the truth: the bill was fake and it gave an even better “tip.” The paper read, “Some things are even better than money” and then, “like your eternal salvation that was paid for by Jesus going to the cross.” The paper quoted John 3:16 and then gave the reader a prayer to say to accept Jesus as their Savior. The waitress posted pictures of this “tip” on a blog and said, “P.S. I have never been more atheist.”
I have shared my faith with waiters and waitresses and others in the service industry. I have left my card with my website address. I’ve left cute gifts like origami butterflies or Christmas ornaments. Sometimes I like to leave a piece of candy or a candy cane. But I have never left any of those things in the place of a tip; they have always been in addition to a tip. Waitstaff do not make a living wage; they depend on tips to feed their families and pay their rent. Should this be changed? Perhaps, but if we choose to use a system, then we should abide by the system. If we go out to eat, then we should give the waiters and waitresses the tips that will make their work worthwhile.
This is especially true if we make a point of being a witness of Jesus Christ. How much better would it have been for that diner if he or she had given the waitress a ten-dollar bill along with the encouraging message of salvation? The atheist might not believe in Jesus based on one piece of paper, but they will see that the Christian is generous and compassionate, rather than haughty and inconsiderate.
You are the light of the world. We can be extremely passionate about Jesus, but we need to remember that our passion is our witness to God’s grace. How do you live out our passion in a world that is looking to find ways to subvert or diminish God? We worry when we talk about doing good works for our neighbors that it will seem like we are doing for our own sake. And “tips” like the one given to the waitress might make a giver feel good that they have witnessed for the Lord. However, those kinds of works do not do honor to the God who cares not just for the spiritual health of our neighbors, but cares also for their physical, emotional, and even financial health.
Craig Keesler wrote, “While Jesus is opposed to doing good works publicly for our own honor, He exhorts us to do those good works publicly for God’s honor.” We are to be the light in the world that glorifies the God of salvation. It is up to us to be His witnesses, to be the hands, feet, and mouths that share His mercy and grace. We can’t do that just with words; we are true light when we touch people in their bodies and their spirits. Martin Luther said, “Therefore it is works of the highest and best character, just those from which is must necessarily follow, as he here says, that our heavenly Father is honored and praised.” and “These works are to be the first and most important, that are followed by those that are called works of love, in daily life and outward treatment of our neighbor; these shine also, but only in so far as they are begun and carried on in faith.”
What sort of witness are you? We have so many opportunities to share the love of Christ in word and deed. God has invited us to join Him in the work of salvation, in the work of reconciliation. We can’t do that if we are pushing people away with false acts of grace. God will be glorified when we daily serve our neighbor and share the Gospel in gracious and respectful ways.