Welcome to the July 2020 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, July 2020
July 1, 2020
Scriptures for Sunday, July 5, 2020, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:1-14; Romans 7:14-25a; Matthew 11:25-30
“For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice.” Romans 7:19, WEB
I was in the living room yesterday, sitting on a chair near where I have my bible study materials set. I looked at them several times and told myself that I should get to work. Instead of moving, I sat there with my tablet in my hand, a game on the screen. I decided to play for a few minutes and then get to work. A few minutes turned into longer. Then I did a little surfing on my Facebook page. I eventually moved to the chair behind my makeshift desk, but I put my tablet down in easy reach. I was distracted by it more than few times.
Alas, I do what I don’t want to do and I don’t do what I know I should do.
Paul understood what I am saying.
I think what I like most about Paul is his honesty. He is often harsh in his letters, saying what most of us think but would never say out loud. He is willing to call a sin a sin and to admit that he is the worst of sinners. In his letter to the Romans, he talks about his inability to be all he wants to be, the perfect Christian, a righteous person. He admits his frailty and his lack of control. He wants to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but he recognizes and confesses his failure.
George Carlin was a comedian, a controversial comedian at times, but very funny. He was a stand-up comic specializing in satire. He reached out and touched our basic human nature in a way that was both funny and critical. Nothing was out of bounds for Carlin, including religion. He was fascinated by words, using linguistics as the focus of some of his comedy. It was George Carlin that first asked, “Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?”
One of his most famous routines had to do with language. It was such a controversial routine; he was arrested for disturbing the peace when he first performed it in 1972. The judge dismissed the case on free speech grounds and that there was not disruption of the peace. It was later aired on radio which resulted in a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court establishing the government’s authority to control offensive language on the public airways. The routine, of course, was “The Seven Dirty Words that you can’t say on Television.” Here is an excerpt from that routine. (I have not included the seven words.)
“I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I uh, I think is important. I love…as I say, they’re my work, they’re my play, they’re my passion. Words are all we have really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. You know, [humming]. And, then we assign a word to a thought, [clicks tongue]. And we’re stuck with that word for that thought. So be careful with words. I like to think, yeah, the same words that hurt can heal. It’s a matter of how you pick them. There are some people that aren’t into all the words. There are some people who would have you not use certain words. Yeah, there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them that you can't say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to seven. They must really be bad. They’d have to be outrageous, to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you seven. Bad words. That’s what they told us they were, remember? “That’s a bad word.” “Awwww.” There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad Intentions.”
I don’t like the seven dirty words, although they have become more acceptable in today’s society. You still can’t say them on standard TV, although they are found on cable, in music, movies, and all over social media. Those words serve no real linguistic function in communication except as exclamations or for shock value. Unfortunately, for some, those words are a vital part of their speech; for them, every other word is one of the seven. Their sentences stop making sense and start sounding like jabbering.
I do not use some of those words because they are not only offensive but they are not even pleasant on the tongue. They don’t fit well into conversation and they have no value in making a statement, even if it is meant to shock. Overuse and abuse of those words stops being funny and becomes upsetting as much because it shows a lack of concern for others as it does a lack of cohesive language.
Unfortunately, I do occasionally use one or two of those words. I don’t want to do it; I do not have control of my tongue and often end up saying something I really know I should not say. It is not only dirty words that slip from my mouth. When I’m cut off on the highway, I am quick to call that person something that is not very nice. I’ve used words about people that I would never want others to use about me. When I do this, I am cut to the heart. I know I have done the very same things on the highway, and though I’m quick to justify my failure with excuses I am never willing to give the other guy the same consideration. When this happens, I vow to be more considerate on the road and to hold my tongue. I ask forgiveness for the thoughts, words and deeds against my neighbor. And it doesn’t take very long before I spit out those same words all over again.
Alas, I do what I don’t want to do and I don’t do what I know I should do.
We are saved by the grace of Christ. While our salvation is a future promise of eternal life, we are saved in this life to be transformed for the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of God. We are saved and are sanctified so that the world will see Christ in our life and in our deeds. Unfortunately, we are still living in the flesh, the flesh which is weak. We fail. We spend too much time playing games and not enough time in God’s Word. We say things we know we shouldn’t but the words come out of our mouths even before we realize we are thinking about them. We do what is wrong even before we realize we are doing it. We don’t do what is right and do not even realize our failure until the moment has passed. We fail because our flesh still holds the sin which Christ has overcome.
There is a phrase attributed to Martin Luther, “simul justus et peccator” which means “simultaneously saint and sinner.” We are saved and are assured of the hope of eternal life. We are being transformed into the saints that God has created and ordained us to be. It is a process that takes a lifetime; while we still live in these bodies of flesh we will fail.
We don’t want to admit our failure. This is true also for institutions and organizations. The Bible tells us that where two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, God will be with them. Unfortunately, there are those who believe that whatever words come out of the churches must be absolutely true, as if the words of religious people must be from the mouth of God. Those that hold leadership positions are expected to have a closer relationship with God and therefore by His hand must be right. We see this most clearly in those cults with charismatic leaders. None of their followers dare to disagree because they do not have the same connection to God. Those leaders forget their imperfection. They forget that they are no different than Paul, out of control.
It is said that if you ask ten Christians a question, you’ll get eleven answers. I’m sure the same can be said about other aspects of our life, like political parties and even family members. Our answers, our opinions, are based on our own biases and circumstances. We can fail. We can make mistakes. We can say and do the wrong things. And, as Paul suggests, it is most likely that we’ll do things wrong, especially if we rely on our own power.
The 14th and 15th centuries were a time of upheaval in the Church. National partiality created tension between the churches in Italy and in France. At one point, the seat of the Pope was moved out of Rome to Avignon, France. It was moved back to Rome after a time, but the cardinals were almost all French. The Italian people were afraid that the cardinals would elect a French pope, and that he would move the seat to France again. The cardinals elected an Italian, fled the country, and then elected a French man into the office. Who was the real authority? There were people on both sides, which was right? All claimed to be from God, which one was true?
During this controversy over authority, one of the popes actually sold indulgences to raise the money he needed to wage war against the other pope. Could God really wish His people to fight one another over a position whose official title is “Servant of the Servants of God?” This was the question asked by a man named John Huss (Jan Hus). We often think of Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation, but there were others before him who laid the foundation for reform. John Huss preached about the abuses of the church a hundred years before Martin Luther. The question of papal authority was brought into question during a debate between Luther and Johannes Eck, who asked Luther whether the Church had been right to condemn Huss. Luther thought about it a moment and said that Huss had been unjustly condemned.
John Huss was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415, having been found guilty of heresy. The question before the council was about this issue of papal authority. John Huss believed that the pope was not a divinely created position, but one of necessity to keep order in the church. The leaders had only recently managed to bring the Church under the authority of one Pope after the confusion between Italian and French popes, so they did not want anything that might disrupt the shaky unity. They found him guilty and he was martyred. The followers of John Huss became what are known today as the Moravian Church.
John Huss Day is July 6th and it is a secular holiday in the Czech Republic. Though there are few Moravians in that nation, John Huss is still seen as a national hero. As a matter of fact, most Czechs consider themselves non-religious and those who are Christian are Roman Catholic. Yet, the courage of John Huss is still remembered today because he willingly faced death for the sake of Jesus and His followers. John Huss once wrote, “One pays for confession, for mass, for the sacrament, for indulgences, for churching a woman, for a blessing, for burials, for funeral services and prayers. The very last penny which an old woman has hidden in her bundle for fear of thieves or robbery will not be saved. The villainous priest will grab it.” This quest for money above care for God’s sheep is still a problem in many churches today.
Arguments about power still divide the Church. It has been this way since the beginning; even the people who followed Jesus had differing expectations of the Messiah. Zechariah gives us a picture of the one who would be anointed to save God’s people. He called Israel to rejoice because her king would arrive on a donkey. In Jesus’ day the people were looking for someone to fight, someone who could overcome their oppressors with power. They wanted Jesus to be a fierce warrior in a chariot with a war horse. A king on a donkey does not seem like someone who could bring hope or peace. After all, how can there be peace with a humble king? This is not what they expected, this is exactly what God sent. Jesus rode a donkey as He entered victoriously into Jerusalem just days before His death. Jesus got the people’s attention not with a loud voice and awesome military power but with words of hope and miraculous deeds that changed the lives of those who met.
Our work as Christians is not to rule the world with power and might, we are to follow Jesus. The world will see God’s grace through the compassion shared by those who have experienced it.
Today’s Psalm is a prayer of praise to the lovingkindness of God. The entire psalm is an acrostic, a poem in which each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet. We can’t see this in the English, but the literary technique is important. The psalmist found a way to praise God literally from “A to Z.” Have you ever tried to write a poem that uses every letter of the alphabet?
I think the key word in today’s passage is “lovingkindness.” The Hebrew word is “hesed” and is sometimes translated “steadfast love, compassion, or mercy.” It is the sympathetic concern for the suffering of another. It can be described as an action that is not warranted by the circumstances. We think of compassion as meeting the needs of those who need our help, but hesed actually initiates the relationship. It is compassion that goes out even before the needs are known. The lovingkindness in the Psalm is God’s covenant love for His people.
Lovingkindness is proactive. The Lord God Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, has shown the most incredible compassion to all He has made. He is the Creator and Redeemer; He has redeemed His creation. Christ died for sinners even before we knew we were sinners. He died for us even before we were born. God’s lovingkindness came to us long before we even knew we needed it.
Unfortunately, too many do not recognize their need for the mercy and grace of God. They refuse His forgiveness because they do not accept that they are sinners in need of a Savior. They reject the reality of their sinfulness. Despite their rejection, God’s Kingdom came for them, too. By God’s grace, we have become the manifestation of His lovingkindness as we take the Gospel into the world. Through us, the world will see and hear of God’s mighty acts, the splendor of His kingdom. It is a hard task, and we struggle with knowing that we are not worthy of the calling.
We look to Paul for guidance about how to live and serve God. Sometimes we put Paul on a pedestal, but Paul knew that he was not perfect. Paul knew his failures, he recognized his frailty. He knew that he was likely to do what is wrong. If Paul, who met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, did not have control over his own flesh, how do we expect to be any better? This is why we must always remember that God does call and ordain His Church to do His work in this world even though the Church is made of many fallible and imperfect members. We don’t have control: we do what we want to do which is not always what God would have us do. We are called to serve God; He can and will bring us to perfection, but it won’t happen in this life. We live in hope because of God’s lovingkindness. He is faithful to His covenant promises.
Matthew is a brilliant storyteller. He was an accountant (tax collector) so his Gospel is written from a logical, almost mathematical, point of view. He organized his thoughts in a way that first reports what Jesus has to say and then shows Jesus living the truths He has spoken. Take, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount, chapters five through seven. Matthew has taken the wise words of Jesus and put them into a coherent, powerful message about the Kingdom of God. The Sermon teaches us how to live as disciples. Any life in God’s kingdom begins with healing, so in chapters eight and nine, Matthew shows Jesus touching the lives of those He is calling to faith in very real ways. There are ten acts of deliverance in those chapters, related to the wisdom spoken in the Sermon. We can see this pattern of discourse and then living throughout the book of Matthew. He ultimately ends with the revelation that HE would die, and then we see His death on the cross. Jesus didn’t just talk the talk, He walked the walk. Then He calls us to do the same.
This is hard for us to grasp, because like Paul we recognize our own sinfulness. We are yoked to sin; we do what we don’t want to do and we don’t do what we know we should do. It is a burden each one of us carries, but Jesus made a powerful promise to those of us with faith that live in a world full of burdens: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus Christ has given us the Great Commission to go out and make disciples of all nations. This task can seem like a burden, particularly when we can’t even convince the people we love that real peace is found in the Gospel. We rest in the promise of hope that comes from faith in Christ, and trust that He will be faithful. The burden is one that we do not carry alone. The yoke of Jesus Christ is light because He promised to be with us and it is by His power that the people will be saved.
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways,’ says Yahweh. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9, WEB
This holiday weekend is taking some creative planning. Many of the places and events that most people would attend to celebrate Independence Day have been closed or canceled. Families are planning smaller gatherings at home. My daughter, who lives in another state, has complained about the number of fireworks going off in her neighborhood, but I haven’t heard any in ours, yet. I haven’t even heard the daily fireworks from the local theme parks. Perhaps it will be a quiet holiday weekend this year.
One fun thing to do for those who are near a creek is to have a duck race. Every child, or person, gets a rubber duckie. If there are prizes, then each duck should have a number or marking identifying the person to whom it belongs. We went to a picnic once that had such a race, and the ducks were unmarked. Instead of a competition, the race was all about the water fun.
The race wasn’t very organized. Each child picked their duck and got into the water. A few decided to just let theirs drop from the bridge. Just as they were about to begin, someone realized that there needed to be someone at the other end of the race to catch the toys. It was too late, the race was on! The kids that were in the water had to chase all the toys down the creek. Those that had fallen into the slower running water were easier to catch. However, the creek was very shallow and there were parts that ran fast over the slippery rocks. A few children slipped as they tried to keep up with the ducks.
It was all great fun and everyone laughed and cheered. The toys were caught and the waders returned safely to shore. Some of them wanted to do it again. It might have been fun to make it a competition with prizes, although I don’t think it would have been half as fun to watch. Just before the race began, I offered to get in the creek at the end of the race to catch the toys, but there was not enough time. I could not have removed my shoes and socks and waded into the water before they would have been on me. The creek was wide enough that I’m not sure I could have caught all 20 toys by myself. However, I would have enjoyed being in the creek with the kids. In the end, there was no winner, but everyone won.
I probably would have done things differently when planning the duck race, but everything worked out well. The only real concern I had was that Zack nearly fell while trying to walk upstream after catching his duck. It is very easy for us to look at such an incident from the negative and think of ways we might have done it better. We all like to be armchair quarterbacks or back seat drivers. But it is pointless to point out the negatives after it is over, especially when it worked out so well.
Unfortunately, we often second guess our God. We look at the way things are going and we ask “Why?” or “What is He doing?” or “Shouldn’t He do it this way?” We don’t always understand the things that are happening in our life: the places or circumstances in which we find ourselves. We wonder what good will come of it all. Sometimes we even try to do things differently, thinking our ways are certainly better than what God intends.
The picnic with its duck race was a wonderful afternoon spent with family celebrating. Nothing would have made it better. As we travel through this journey of life, we must learn that we aren’t in control of everything. We shouldn’t even try. Sometimes we go through things that do not seem to be worthwhile. Sometimes these experiences are painful or inconvenient. Yet, God uses them for our good, to bring us to a deeper faith and closer relationship to Him. I can’t think of any good that may have come from Zack falling in the creek, but I bet he would have had a lot of fun getting wet.
We may not be able to have the holiday weekend we wanted, but we can still find a way to have fun. It is strange and frustrating to live through this time, but as we look back on all our difficult times when we want to be in control, we can remember that God does know what He’s doing. His ways are always perfect and in the end we will realize that He has been working for our good. God is always greater than we will ever be, and He knows beyond the scope of our abilities. We can trust that He is faithful to all His promises.
“Now if Christ is preached, that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain. Yes, we are also found false witnesses of God, because we testified about God that he raised up Christ, whom he didn’t raise up, if it is so that the dead are not raised. For if the dead aren’t raised, neither has Christ been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then they also who are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, WEB
Thomas Edison is one of the most prolific of all the inventors, having patented more than a thousand innovations throughout his life either alone or with partners. He focused on communications, developing telegraphic equipment, transmitters and receivers. He was the driving force behind the phonograph and motion picture cameras. He is also known for his work with incandescent lighting and generators. He not only invented new things, but he made some things that existed even better. He set up the first large scale industrial research laboratory with the money he made from his inventions. He made at least one significant scientific discovery, but when he did not pursue it because he couldn’t find a practical use for it. His success seems to be due more to perseverance than any special insight. He is quoted as saying, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
His laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey caught fire in December 1914, 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 all face disaster in our lives 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, like a word of encouragement or an offer of support. Disaster is not permanent, though it may seem like it is. There is only one thing that cannot be overcome with perseverance or resilience: 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. Death is difficult for those left behind, but those who believe in Christ 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.
“My son, if you will receive my words, and store up my commandments within you, so as to turn your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures: then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and find the knowledge of God. For Yahweh gives wisdom. Out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He lays up sound wisdom for the upright. He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, that he may guard the paths of justice, and preserve the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path.” Proverbs 2:1-9, WEB
Modern researchers have discovered that twins can be used highly effectively in medical and biological studies. Since identical twins are exactly the same, medicine and procedures can be tested to see if they truly make a difference. One twin acts as a constant while the other receives the treatment. Since there are few variables between the subjects, the researchers can be more certain of the outcome of their research.
There was once a doctor who was fascinated by the study of twins. In university he even wrote a paper about the subject. He was a well-bred man, often described as refined and intelligent. He became a doctor and was active in several civic organizations. He was popular and successful. Unfortunately, he was also a rabid racist, a German war criminal who participated in Auschwitz. As a matter of fact, Dr. Josef Mengele was known as “the angel of death.” He sent four hundred thousand Jews and Gypsies to their death in the gas chambers and he conducted horrific experiments on the prisoners. He welcomed every delivery of prisoners even when he was not on duty to ensure that all sets of twins were given for his research. He ensured that his ‘patients’ were treated better than others - they had a special dorm and enough rations to keep them healthy - but he never considered them human and did whatever he wanted to their bodies.
Josef Mengele’s idea to use twins for research was a good idea used in a most horrible way. The gifts and wisdom of God were abused for all the wrong reasons and many suffered under Mengele’s hand. In those days it seemed as though he was greatly blessed. Ultimately, though, his life proved to be worthless. After the war he escaped to South America where he lived until 1979 when he died of a stroke. The papers from his research have never been found and what little we know about the findings from his studies is absolutely useless medically and scientifically. He is remembered only for the horror he brought to the world, for the waste, and for his evil attitudes.
Dr. Josef Mengele sought wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, but he did not look to God. He took an evil path for the sake of his desire for power, and he built up treasures that were worthless. He destroyed lives because he did not fear the Lord’s justice and in the end he paid the price for his wrong path.
As we look around the world, we wonder how so much evil can be so well received. How can the wicked be so blessed, popular and gifted? For a season it may seem that way, but if we do not seek the Lord’s wisdom, we never really find knowledge or understanding. Instead, we end up dead and our lives are meaningless. God calls us to listen, to hear His words and to obey His commands. When we seek Him and His wisdom, we walk a path of righteousness and justice and our ultimate end is eternal life with Jesus Christ.
“Rejoice in Yahweh, you righteous! Praise is fitting for the upright. Give thanks to Yahweh with the lyre. Sing praises to him with the harp of ten strings. Sing to him a new song. Play skillfully with a shout of joy! For Yahweh’s word is right. All his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice. The earth is full of the loving kindness of Yahweh. By Yahweh’s word, the heavens were made: all their army by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap. He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear Yahweh. Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spoke, and it was done. He commanded, and it stood firm. Yahweh brings the counsel of the nations to nothing. He makes the thoughts of the peoples to be of no effect. The counsel of Yahweh stands fast forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance. Yahweh looks from heaven. He sees all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions all of their hearts; and he considers all of their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of an army. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither does he deliver any by his great power. Behold, Yahweh’s eye is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his loving kindness, to deliver their soul from death, to keep them alive in famine. Our soul has waited for Yahweh. He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let your loving kindness be on us, Yahweh, since we have hoped in you..” Psalm 33, WEB
I have had the pleasure of driving across the continental United States of America several times. I have driven every mile of I-80 from coast to coast, and a good portion of many of the other interstate highways. I’ve seen the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve seen the Mississippi River and crystal clear creeks in the country. I’ve stood on the shore of at least one of the great lakes and fished in my grandmother’s backyard pond. I have stood on the mountaintop in the Rockies, and marveled over the landscape at Mount St. Helen’s. I’ve seen the Redwood forests, magnificent waterfalls, and rainbows that seemed to stretch all the way across California.
I have driven across Kansas at night, where a single front porch light can be seen from twenty miles away. I have driven across Montana, where every exit had a sign for a historic site to visit. It seemed to take forever to get across Montana, which is really amazing because at the time there was no daytime speed limit and I have to admit that I took my car to its limit. I’ve driven, or been stuck in, New York City and Los Angeles traffic jams. I’ve enjoyed the beauty tiny country roads across this nation, and sat in the cafes of small town America.
There is still much more I would like to see. We all have a bucket list and I’m blessed to have been able to visit places and see many things. I’ve seen fields full of bluebonnets and a blooming century plant in the middle of a desert. I’ve driven at least a few miles of Route 66, and even visited the Cadillac Ranch. I’ve been to more kitschy American oddball attractions along the road than I can remember. I’ve seen places of historic and cultural significance. I would love to revisit many of those places, perhaps to get a perfect photo I missed the first time or to better understand the reason and meaning of those places.
I have vague memories of a trip to Pike’s Peak, mostly from photographs. We went to visit relatives who lived in Colorado several times when I was a child. Having been on some of the other peaks in the Rocky Mountain range, I can certainly understand how awe inspiring it can be. Katherine Lee Bates was in Colorado Springs to teach a brief summer course. She was deeply inspired by many things during her trip, including the beauty at the top of Pike’s Peak. It was at the top of the mountain that a poem came to her, bringing together her memories of the alabaster buildings at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the wheat fields of Kansas.
The poem, of course, eventually became a favorite patriotic hymn of many Americans. “America the Beautiful” was set to music by Samuel A. Ward. The poem and tune came together and was first published in 1910, although it was first used in 1904. Sadly, Samuel Ward died in 1903, so he never knew that his inspired tune became such a beloved part of American culture and patriotism. The Kennedy administration even tried to give “America the Beautiful” legal status as a national hymn or even as the national anthem.
America is certainly beautiful. Of course, in many ways it is also horrific, ugly, sad and disgusting. Aren’t we all? America is made up of so many beautiful places, but it is also made up of human beings, all of which are too human. We are sinners in need of a Savior. Katherine Lee Bates understood this reality, and within her song she appealed to God for His healing grace upon our nation. Despite our failures, we also have a heart for good. We respond immediately to disasters with our bodies and resources. We fight for justice. We stand for truth. We pray for our neighbors. We, or at least a large number of us, believe that we are blessed by God to be a blessing not only to one another but to the world. There might be some bad, but there is a lot of good, and for that reason I continue to believe that America really is beautiful.
Scriptures for Sunday, July 12, 2020, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13; Romans 8:12-17; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“What was sown on the good ground, this is he who hears the word and understands it, who most certainly bears fruit and produces, some one hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty.” Matthew 13:23, WEB
It is very hot in Texas right now, and it is expected to get even hotter in the next few days. I confess that these hot temperatures can be difficult, but I’d rather heat than cold. I do not like snow. I would rather deal with heat in the summer than cold in the winter. It is a bias, of course, from a horrid winter in Washington state and troubling chest issues as a child. I decided years ago that I had seen enough snow, and I have happily enjoyed our mild Texas winters even though it means hot and dry Texas summers. Of course, the warm, dry weather of Texas has its own problems, but I’m happy to leave the snow to the northerners.
I suppose I would not mind snow as much if it would fall in specific places. I love the beauty of the fresh snowfall on the winter branches of trees. I like the snow that gathers on the lawns when it is crisp and white. I enjoy seeing snowmen standing guard in front of houses. But I don’t like slushy roads or sidewalks that need to be shoveled. I don’t like the dangerous roads that are slippery from ice. I could happily live in a place where the snow avoids the places we walk and drive.
That place doesn’t exist. The snow falls where it will fall, so does the rain. We have had fairly decent rainfall this year, although it has been awhile since we are seeing the first signs of drought around the state. There’s some rain out there today, but it is unlikely that we’ll see any at our house. One time we had spotty showers in the area and the weatherman suggested that those who saw some rain should buy a lottery ticket because they were the winners of the day. The rest of us wished we were so lucky.
The problem with this type of rain is that some of these storms pour so heavily on the parched ground which is so solid that the water just rolls right off into the streets and gullies. Though the rain is watering the surface, we need a slow, deep soaking rain to see a real difference. If it does not rain again, the small amount of water that has replenished the surface will disappear when the sun shines brightly again. The officials and reporters have had to remind us repeatedly that despite this refreshing rain, it is still very dry out there.
The passing showers may not do much to help with the impending drought, but we rejoice when we see it because we know that every drop helps. Even if it doesn’t do much for our lawns, those drops are part of the cycle which will eventually lead to the rainfall that will make a difference. The run off ends up in the aquifer where the water we use daily is stored. Relief might not come for weeks or months, but that drop will do what God has sent it to do today.
Despite the negatives, any rainfall is a refreshing and positive change in our weather. The temperatures go down, and the grass looks a little greener. The roads are washed clean of the dust and grime. There is always a pleasant smell in the air. The world around us becomes fresh and new. Yes, the water runs off in some places, but every drop of rain makes a difference. When God sends rain, it is never in vain.
The text from Isaiah is familiar to us. The chapter begins with the call for those who are thirsty to seek God; He offers freely and abundantly everything that is His. In today’s passage, we are reminded that everything that comes from God is productive. God is actively involved in His creation, and He is faithful to His promises. His will shall be done; He will make certain it is. Isaiah tells us that God has promised that we will see cypress instead of thorns and myrtles instead of briers. In other words, instead of plants that are useless and damaging, God will make the world productive and useful.
We sometimes think that our words just run off other people just like those summer showers on the parched earth. It seems like they are unheard or they don’t reach beyond the surface. It sometimes seems as though our witness is in vain because it doesn’t make a difference. We might see a bit of hope, but it soon dries up and disappears. We might think there is a glimmer of faith, but it quickly disappears as those two whom we have spoken face hard times or doubt.
God says that His Word will not be in vain. We simply don’t know what it was meant to accomplish at that moment in time. We want to see a difference, to know that we have done a good thing. God knows, that is what matters, and sometimes the changes come very slowly. Sometimes the change comes so slowly that we never see it happen. But we can rest in the knowledge that God’s Word does not go back to Him void. We can live in joy knowing that our witness is planting the seeds or watering the fruit of what God is doing in the world.
Did you go see fireworks anywhere this weekend? Many of the usual celebrations were canceled, but there were a few opportunities. Fireworks are beautiful and they always make my mouth drop in amazement. When was the last time we did that over God’s creation? I have watched the lightening of a thunderstorm that is even more awesome than the best fireworks show. I have seen a sunflower that grew ten feet high with a head over two feet in diameter. I have seen kittens born. I have seen sunsets that fill the sky with every color of the rainbow. I have seen babies smile their first smile and toddlers take their first steps. I have seen the starry night from the top of a mountain. Despite seeing all these incredible things, I sometimes forget the source of all that is good and beautiful is our God.
We witness the incredible power of God in the lives of people and in the whole of creation day by day. When flowers grow, it is because God sent the sun and the rain. When kittens are born, it is because God knitted them in the wombs of their mothers. When the sky is filled with color at the close of the day, it is because God keeps the heavens moving according to their purpose as they count the days and the seasons as He designed them to do.
Unfortunately, it is easy to miss seeing God in the world. Many people do. Some people outright reject the idea that God even exists. Creation can take care of itself; we do not need something or someone greater than ourselves to explain the way the world works. Others believe that God created everything and stepped back, leaving us to go it on our own. After all, doesn’t the suffering of this world prove that God has no power or has refused to take responsibility? However, it is even in the midst of the pain and turmoil of this world that we can see God is still active, loving, and powerful.
I love to watch the fireworks, but I am not so keen on the noise and the crowds that come with it. We often make ourselves comfortable at home and watch the fireworks in our neighborhood, or we find something on the television. It is never quite as impressive as the bigger shows, but we still “ooo” and “ahhh” over them.
How much more, then, should we notice the magnificent things God has done in this world? He created all things, and His hand still moves the waters of the rivers and brings life to the fields. He saves us from ourselves, forgives our sins, and shows us the ways of righteousness and truth. How can we go through any day, looking at the amazing things that God has done and not praise Him for His mercy and grace? I have seen some incredible things in my life, but God has His hand in it all. He is there in the good times and the bad. He is visible in the beauty and in the pain. God deserves our thanks and praise for all He has done.
Yet, there are still those who can’t, or who refuse, to see.
Have you ever had to deal with a young child who has fallen and hurt himself? Every parent knows the frustration. Children react with intense emotion and it is impossible to understand what is wrong. They become hysterical and cannot even talk. I have searched intently and yet never really find the problem. They scream so loud and so long that they can’t say anything and they can’t even hear. I’ve searched intently to find the problem, only to discover it was really nothing. I’ve become impatient; I have even angrily insisted the child stop crying so that I can understand what is wrong. That never helps. The more we insist a child talk, the more agitated they become.
In today’s passage, Jesus said, “He He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” A hurt child has ears, but they don’t have ears that hear. You speak words of comfort to help them to calm down so that you might understand the problem, but they just can’t listen. They only know that they are hurt and they can’t hear anything that might help make them feel better.
The people to whom Jesus was speaking may not have been screaming children, but they were often as deaf as a hurting child. They heard the words that Jesus spoke in His stories and sermons, but they did not really hear what He was saying. Jesus was sometimes very obvious in the message, giving the people very pointed and blunt information about His mission and ministry in the world, but they heard His words from their own point of view. When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, they thought He was talking about the restoration of Jewish independence. He was talking about a different kind of Kingdom.
That’s why Jesus used so many parables to teach about how to live as the people of God. Parables help us listen more deeply. We have to look at the story from a different perspective. We might know and understand the earth-bound concepts, like in this one about planting seed, but we have to think more deeply about what it means in our daily lives. What is the seed? What is growing? What are the path, the rocks, and the thorns? Jesus was not giving the people farming advice. He wasn’t a farmer and most of His listeners weren’t farmers. He was giving them a parable to help them see God’s Kingdom in terms that they would understand. But to understand, they really had to listen to what He was saying, not just the words He said.
Springtime is the time to plant seeds. It is typical for preschools and early education classrooms to do different projects to learn about growth. One idea is to plant some flower seeds in a small paper drinking cup. This project is usually done far enough before Mother’s Day so the children have a gift to give to their mom. Another project is more visible. You can put a wet cotton ball and a bean seed in a plastic bag, then hang it on the window. After just a few days the bean seeds break open and begin to grow. The seed had everything it needed: soil (the cotton ball), water and sunshine. Once the bean had “sprouted” we sent the plant home to be transplanted into real dirt. It is fun to see the growing process through the plastic bag.
I am not a gardener. I usually buy some potted flowers to set on my front porch, but I haven’t planted anything in a garden for years. I don’t have a green thumb. The plants tend to die because I don’t water then enough or I water then too much. I like to buy flowers that are already mature so that I have color and beauty immediately. I’m not very patient, so I’m better off getting the plants when they are pretty well established so that they’ll be beautiful for a little while.
There are many different kinds of seeds. Some have to be planted in the dirt or they will not grow. The seed needs a period of time in the darkness of the earth to ‘die’ so that it might sprout and grow. Many crops are planted in fields in long rows. The plow turns up the dirt, the farmer lays down the seed in straight lines, and then he covers the seeds with the dirt. Others are different. Grain is not planted with such precision. The farmer turns up the dirt on the field and then scatters the seed with his hand or a machine. The farmer might rake the ground to keep the seed from blowing away, but it does not have to be buried under the dirt. This is an easier way to plant seed, but there are disadvantages.
When you scatter seed, you can’t control where every grain lands. Most of the seed falls on the good soil, but even the most careful farmer will lose a percentage to the path, the rocks, and the thorns. This is what Jesus was talking about in the parable. It would be impossible for a farmer to plant each one individually; it would be too time consuming and impractical. Unfortunately, it means some of the seed will be lost. Jesus compared the work of a farmer to the work of those sharing the Good News in the world. The seed is the Word of God. The soil is the hearts of men.
Unfortunately, we try planting one seed at a time, carefully placing the Good News only in the ‘hearts’ of those we know will take it. We are too afraid that we might insult or offend someone. We are too afraid that we’ll be rejected. We are too afraid that the people will not receive the words we say or that we aren’t the right people to give it to them. We are imperfect, so we wonder how God could possibly use us to share His Word with the world. We don’t have enough knowledge of the Bible or of the message. We are afraid to waste a good word because we think it might fall on the path, the rocks, or in the thorns to be devoured, withered, or choked. We are too shy to scatter the seed, so we keep it to ourselves or share it selectively.
Jesus says to scatter the seed because enough will fall on good soil. It is a matter of trust. We trust that God will make sure there is soil, water, and sunshine to make it grow. Just like the rain, God’s Word never goes back to Him void, so your witness is never in vain.
It amazes me to think of all the people who heard Jesus speak, who saw Him face to face and looked into His eyes, and yet never believed. We have to consider, however, how we would have responded to Jesus if we were them. After all, He wasn’t teaching about a Kingdom like the one they expected. Would we have believed? Would we have understood? Would we have responded to His grace? A few did, but many did not. Would we have had ears to hear?
Communication is so important and yet is often the most difficult part of any relationship. Too often there are things that block the message from getting through. Jesus did not speak in parables to purposely cause them not to understand. Instead, they could not hear because of their hardness of heart. They weren’t looking toward God with hearts and minds open to His word; their own biases, pressures, and traditions blocked their hearing. Even today, we spend too much time making excuses or thinking of a response rather than listening to what God has to say.
Matthew let us in on the secret. After speaking the parable to the crowds, the disciples asked Jesus why He used parables. The disciples did not understand: why not teach clearly so that everyone would understand? Jesus knew that there are always some who feel that they are righteous on their own account; they don’t think they need mercy and grace and live in haughty pride. For these people, the parables are nothing but nonsense because they have no faith. God’s Word speaks for itself, but could not grasp how it applied to their lives. They heard, but they did not have ears to hear.
The disciples were given a spiritual understanding of God’s message because they had faith. They had ears to hear. But many had hardened their hearts and they could not see or understand. God uses very human, natural examples to help His children understand what the Holy Spirit is teaching them. He uses His creation to explain that which should be obvious. Everything we know about God comes from God Himself. At times, He gives us tangible examples that help us hear with faith. There will always be those who reject because they are not willing to listen, but God’s Word is always productive.
God sends His rain to water the earth. It might seem, especially to those living in a drought, that God has forgotten us. But it will rain. At times I wonder if there isn’t a drought of another kind: a drought of God’s Word. But I know He will send His Word into the world and that those who have listening ears will hear. His Word will produce fruit much greater than the seed planted, bringing life to many. There are paths to deal with, stones to move and thorns to eliminate, but God can make it happen. His Word is productive and it accomplishes exactly what He means it to do. He is, in every way, worthy of praise. And He is generous.
There a story about Chuck Colson. Chuck was invited into a prison to preach the Gospel. He carefully prepared a message filled with the Gospel to share with those who were lost in darkness and sin. There were two thousand prisoners in the prison and about three hundred were expected to listen to him preach. Chuck would have liked to preach to every prisoner, but he was excited about the opportunity. Several days before he was scheduled to appear, the officials discovered hidden weapons and they locked down the entire prison. When Chuck arrived at the chapel, there were only a few men waiting to hear the message, and they were all Christians. He was discouraged and was ready to just give the men a few words of encouragement.
He noticed a video camera and thought perhaps he was being recorded for the prison library. He decided to give the entire message as planned in the hope that one day someone might view the video and hear God’s love and forgiveness. After the visit was complete, Chuck was told that the video would be aired to all the inmates at a later time. In the end, every one of the 2200 prisoners saw the video, not just once, but as many as a dozen times. Chuck trusted that God’s Word would accomplish the purpose for which it was sent, despite the disappointing circumstances he faced. He gave the whole Word even though he thought at first it might be a waste of time.
All it takes is one seed to change a life. Sometimes we don’t even realize we are scattering many seeds.
Our God is a great and awesome God. He is faithful and generous. So why aren’t we bolder with our witness to the world? Paul reminds us, “For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” We are not alone in this world. God has given us His Spirit. We need not be afraid. We will be rejected; of this we can be sure. Jesus warned us that it would happen. But that is no reason to stop speaking His Word into the world. We might speak to a thousand people and never see faith grow. That’s ok, because it is God who causes the growth. He sends the sun and the rain; He sends someone to tend the heart and another to bring in the harvest. It is never up to us to decide who should hear the Good News because God can and will make it accomplish exactly what He sent it to do.
“Fraudulent food is sweet to a man, but afterwards his mouth is filled with gravel.” Proverbs 20:17, WEB
I received a very strange email from my pastor a few months ago. He was in desperate need of some gift cards which he was going to give to some shut-ins during a visit. The email didn’t make sense to me since I live quite far from our church and there are hundreds of people right around the corner that could help him out, including his wife. I wasn’t sure I could find the type of gift card he wanted, but I would try. I told him, though, I wasn’t sure how fast I could get it to him. “It might be a day or two.” He answered that I didn’t need to give him the cards in person; I could just send him the numbers on the back.
I answered that it was silly for me to buy them only to have him pay me back. “You can buy e-gift cards online yourself,” I suggested. This is the moment when I realized it was a scam. I didn’t hear from him again. Others in our church got similar emails and they recognized it immediately, but I tried to work with my “pastor” to help him out. I checked the email, it wasn’t his email. I informed the church and they verified others had gotten the email. I got a similar email several weeks ago, but I ignored that one. Fortunately, I didn’t end up falling for the scam. I was embarrassed that I let it get so far, but these scammers are good. They have just enough information to make it seem legitimate.
Unfortunately, people do fall for these scams. I know from my own experience that it isn’t because they are foolish. Usually the scammers can find just enough information online to give them a credible reason to request the gift cards. A friend of mine did buy the gift cards and give the numbers. She realized her mistake when the scammer got greedy and asked for more. She’s begun the process of reporting the fraud and disputing the charges on her credit card. The scammer took advantage of her desire and willingness to do something kind.
Scammers have always existed in one way or another. There are too many stories of men and women who think they’ve found love on the Internet, only to eventually discover that their true love is a guy behind a computer in some foreign country begging them for money. They send it because they are in love, and they are certain that the next check will get their beloved out of trouble and home to them and their beautiful future. Some of these people eventually figure it out, but others are so convinced of the sincerity of their beloved that they refuse to believe even the most obvious facts. In the end, getting justice for those who have been scammed once they acknowledge that there is a problem is difficult because the scammers are able to cover their tracts.
It is sad that there are people who spend their time and energy taking from people that which does not belong to them. They are making a fortune on the backs of hardworking people like my friend. He took advantage of her kind heart, as so the love scammers on the Internet. Hopefully she’ll get her money back, but we can learn a few lessons from these stories. From an earthly perspective, it is good to be kind and generous, but we are reminded that there is darkness in the world in which we live. We need to learn to be discerning, so that we’ll use our resources to do good works in good ways.
The other lesson is from a heavenly perspective. We want earthly justice for those who have harmed us in some way, and I hope my friend can get her money back, but sometimes we just don’t get the justice we need. We are reminded by the writer of today’s proverb, however, that the person who lives on fraud will eventually experience the fruit of their labor, and it won’t be peaches and cream. Whether they get caught and punished for their crimes, or live with the darkness on their conscience, their fraud will taste like gravel. They will suffer the consequences, whether it is in this world or the next. It still hurts to have been made a fool and to lose our resources, but we can trust that God is able to make things right in the end.
“Brothers, speaking of human terms, though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been confirmed, no one makes it void or adds to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his offspring. He doesn’t say, ‘To descendants’, as of many, but as of one, ‘To your offspring’, which is Christ. Now I say this: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God in Christ, the law, which came four hundred thirty years after, does not annul, so as to make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by promise. Then why is there the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise has been made. It was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not between one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could make alive, most certainly righteousness would have been of the law. But the Scripture imprisoned all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:15-22, WEB
One of the most common reasons people visit small claims court is over loans that are unpaid. These are often given between family and close friends who rarely require written proof of the loan. The plaintiff files the case when they get frustrated and impatient about the money. On the day they appear before the judge, the defendant often insists that the money was a gift, not a loan. They make excuses like “I didn’t ask for it,” or “If I had known it was a loan, I wouldn’t have taken the money.” The plaintiff must find some way to prove that it wasn’t a gift, a difficult task without a written contract. One television judge often says, “Grab the closest roll of toilet paper and a crayon!” It doesn’t have to be formal, just legitimate.
The judge will often spend some time going through the details of the relationship. When did they meet? What is the form of their relationship? What happened to strain the relationship? The defendant will often claim it was a gift until something happened. “It wasn’t a loan until I cheated on her!” The judge has to pick through the facts of the case, listening and discerning who to trust. In many cases, the judge wants to side with the plaintiff because the defendant is sleazy and untrustworthy. However, he or she must follow the law. One TV judge will go through years of text messages to see the timing of the loan and the demand for money. It doesn’t go well for the defendant if they ever acknowledge the loan by saying they would pay it, or by actually making payments, no matter how small. It is good if the plaintiff is able to show proof of asking for the money before the moment when the relationship fell apart.
However, the cases often settle for the defendant. The law states that you can’t change the nature of a gift to a loan based on some change of circumstances. If it was given as a gift, the giver can’t demand repayment just because they have been hurt. More than a few cases have been filed by parents or grandparents who have given money to children. It was initially intended as a gift, but the children disrespected the elders. While the judge will empathize with the parents, legally he or she must uphold the law. The television judges often try to mend fences and restore relationships, but they cannot demand repayment of a gift.
Abraham existed in a world that believed in many different gods. They were local entities that were responsible for different aspects of life like the weather and fertility. One day he heard the voice of the one true God, who commanded him to leave his home to travel to an unknown place. Abraham obeyed and this God made an incredible promise to him and his offspring. In Genesis 12, the LORD promised that Abraham’s offspring would inherit the Promised Land. In Genesis 13, the LORD affirmed the promise. In Genesis 15, the LORD established the covenant in a special ceremony. The promise was guaranteed and would never be revoked. The Promise was a gift and human actions, good or bad, could never change it.
God’s people ended up as slaves in Egypt; four hundred and thirty years after the covenant, God heard their cries and rescued them. He reestablished His relationship with them through Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai. Unfortunately, it didn’t take very long for them to turn away from their God. Their disobedience was enough to raise the anger of the Almighty. But God never forgot His promise to Abraham. He gave them the Law to help them live according to His expectations, but that Law would never act to restore them to Him. The Law established right actions, but the Promise would always stand true even when they failed to live up to the Law. They eventually received the Land promised to Abraham, but there was more to the Promise than just earthbound benefits. The time would come when the covenant would be fulfilled forever.
The Jews understood that all Abraham’s descendents would be beneficiaries of the promise, but even at that moment God knew that He would fulfill the covenant through the life and death of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “He doesn’t say, ‘To descendants’, as of many, but as of one, ‘To your offspring’, which is Christ.” This opens the Promise to those of us who are not flesh and blood descendants of Abraham; we are beneficiaries because of Jesus.
We still struggle with the Law, just as they did for thousands of years. Even in the giving of the Law, God knew that we would never be able to be restored to Him by our keeping of it. We fail every day. We sin every day. We will never deserve by our own actions to receive the Promise. This is why the Promise is not dependent on the Law. The Law has several purposes, but it mainly shows us our need for a Savior. It shows us that it is only through Jesus Christ that we can be restored in our relationship with God and recipients of the inheritance He has promised. The Promise came first; the Law was added only because of our sin. By faith we are set free from the Law, forgiven so that we can live according to God’s Promise now and forevermore.
“For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:13-14, WEB
I don’t know what the weather is like in your neck in the woods, but many places are currently experiencing record breaking heat. I take my walk early every day and it is already almost too hot to walk. It doesn’t really matter during a week like this that we are stuck at home, because most of us don’t even want to leave our air conditioning. Unfortunately, there are some people that have to go out into it because of their jobs. Some even have to work outside in it. The roofing companies are busy replacing roofs that were damaged by a hail storm a few months ago. Imagine having to stand on top of a roof when the temperature is over a hundred degrees!
But construction is not the only type of job that requires working outside in the heat. With social distancing and dining rooms closed, most fast food places have employees that stand outside for hours at a time taking and delivering orders to hungry customers. I am sure their managers are giving them time to cool down inside and plenty of water, but I can tell you that it doesn’t take long for the heat to overwhelm. I start sweating the minute I leave my house and I’m uncomfortable by the time I reach my car a few feet away. The heat isn’t the only problem: they are standing on macadam, in the brightly shining sun, with the additional heat of the running automobiles.
One customer realized the struggles of these kids (and most of these employees are just kids) and did something to help. He approached the young man who was waiting to serve him and asked, “How are you doing? Are you wearing sunscreen?” He then went on to spray the young man’s arms and neck (with his permission, of course) to ensure that he was protected from the threat of sunburn. It was a simple act of kindness that could have a huge impact of that you man’s life.
Loving our neighbors is about more than just saying “I love you.” It is about meeting their needs. We don’t need to make a grand gesture; the small acts of kindness sometimes have the biggest impact. How can you help your neighbor in these extraordinary times?
I normally look at today’s scripture from the point of view that we have been given freedom in the Gospel to know that we are forgiven of our sins, but that we should not use that freedom to the detriment of our neighbors. We can look at it this way, also: we have been blessed to be a blessing. The Gospel has given us freedom from worry and fear, so we can go out into the world shining the light of Jesus in service to those we see in need in the world. As we look at people through the eyes of Christ, we will see ways we can help them. Then, in the freedom of the Gospel, we can have the boldness and confidence to do what needs to be done to make their lives a little better.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.” Galatians 5:16-21, WEB
My husband and I are in a decent place financially right now, although we have had hard times in our life together. He was active duty military and we constantly moved. Even if some moving costs are covered by the military, there are always expenses that don’t really fit into the budget. A house needs curtains, and the curtains from former houses rarely fit the new one. Filling the refrigerator can empty a wallet. Cleaning products can’t be shipped, so they need to be replaced. There are fees necessary to move into a house whether it is to be owned or rented. We loved our first house in Texas, but it was a financial nightmare for the first few months, even to the point that I borrowed cash from my children’s savings accounts to pay my bills. We are well on the other side of that time after years of careful budgeting, but it took making some hard choices.
That house was in a brand new neighborhood so there were constantly salespeople trying to convince the new owners that they needed their product, like water softeners, freezers filled with meat, and maintenance programs for our new appliances. I have to admit that we made some of those purchases which added to our struggles, although they were not a waste of money. One day, however, I was visited by the vacuum cleaner salesman. I rejected him outright, told him I had no money whatsoever to purchase an expensive vacuum cleaner. None. I was barely making my bills.
The guy insisted that he would get credit for the demonstration toward a trip and that I was under no obligation. “I can clean your floors for you.” I repeated (several times) that nothing he could say would change my answer. “I cannot afford it,” I said. He spent two hours in my house, pulling every line in the book. He waited for my husband to come home (he wouldn’t be because he was deployed) so he could convince the man of the house that his little woman needed this vacuum cleaner. He never really got around to cleaning my floor, except for the one little spot where he dumped a pile of dirt. He finally called his supervisor who “could give me a deal I could not refuse.” I refused. They got mad. I wasted two hours of their time. It was tempting, after all who doesn’t want the best of the best in their home? But I knew my limits, and even a few dollars a month was beyond my ability to pay.
Balancing the checkbook is always a depressing time. We look at each of the expenditures and realize how much money we spend. Most of our money goes to necessities, like paying the bills and feeding the children. Yet, there always seems to be receipts from department, hobby and other stores with purchases that were not necessities. And there are more things we would like to purchase. We like to travel and there is always a need for new clothes or shoes. The temptation to overspend is overwhelming.
We learned to stay within our budget. We rarely use the credit cards we have and pay them off as quickly as possible. There were always things we would have liked to purchase, but we put off those desires until a time when we could afford them. Many people put themselves into financial difficulty because they spend more than they earn. Budgeting is a matter of learning what you can do with your resources. After awhile, we realize the things we desire are not necessary and are perhaps even unsound; we have to make choices and avoid making mistakes with our money. I have found that the closer I get to living according to God’s will in our lives, the more likely I will make better use of our resources.
There are many aspects of today’s society that we as Christians should avoid. As we watch television, read newspapers and magazines or just walk the streets, we can see the affects of violence, lust, greed, and anger. Paul notes the acts of a sinful nature in his letter to the Galatians. Some are easy for us to avoid because we recognize that they are dangerous to our physical bodies and our souls. However, each of us faces the temptation to act according to the desires of our sinful nature in some way.
When it comes to our shopping habits, particularly in our society, we must be careful not to fall into the sins of idolatry and envy. The vacuum salesman tried to use every societal expectation to convince me that I needed something I really did not need and could not afford. I have to admit, though, if he’d arrived before some of the other salesmen in those first months of living in our house, I may have succumbed. Which of the acts of the sinful nature are your greatest challenges? Remember, as Christians, you live by a different set of standards. The Holy Spirit lives in you, and you should no long live according to the desires of the flesh. Walk in the Spirit, and do what God desires of you. By His strength and love, you can live as He has created you to live, rejecting the sin that lurks everywhere we look.
Scriptures for Sunday, July 19, 2020, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 119:57-64; Romans 8:18-27; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“Not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for adoption, the redemption of our body.” Romans 8:23, WEB
It takes us three weeks in the lectionary to see the whole of Matthew 13. Last week we hear the parable of the seeds, this week is the parable of the weeds, and next week includes three parables about a treasure, a pearl and a net. We usually read these parables separately, interpret them individually, study every word in depth to fully understand what God wants us to know. Every book, paragraph, sentence, word and even “jot and tittle” in scripture are given for us to become the disciples He has called us to be. The words that we take for granted in the text are often the keys to truly understanding what God is saying, so it is valuable to look at the texts with a magnifying glass.
But sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the scriptures as a whole. We usually do try to put the passages in some sort of context, but we rarely take whole chapters to see how the stories and experiences fit together. For instance, we are finishing a Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount. Some commentators think that Matthew 7 should not be considered part of the Sermon because it appears to be a number of random thoughts. Yet, if you look at the Sermon as a whole, you realize that chapter 7 is the “application” part of the message. How do you live the expectations of chapters 5 and 6 in your relationships with other people? Each different passage in the whole Sermon is important for us to learn, but we will grow even more if we see how it all fits together.
Matthew 13 begins (as we read last week) with Jesus going out of the house to the sea where the crowds gathered around Him to listen to Him preach. The image is interesting, and important: Jesus was sitting in a boat on the water while the crowds stood on the shore to listen. This is not a typical picture of a preacher, is it? We are used to our preachers standing in a pulpit while we comfortably sit in our pews to listen. Chapter 13 is actually a scene of judgment as is obvious in the parables, especially the one in today’s passage.
Jesus told a parable about a farmer who planted a field. During the night an enemy planted weeds in that farmer’s field. It was not until later that the farmer’s workers realized that there were weeds in the midst of the plants. They wondered if they should remove the weeds. We want to get rid of the weeds because we know that they take important nutrients and steal the water necessary for good growth. Unfortunately, all plants look similar at the seedling stage; it is easy to confuse a weed and a good plant in the early days of growth. It is not until the crops begin to mature that the farmer can tell the difference. By then the roots of the weeds are intertwined with the wheat. It is impossible to pull the weeds without damaging the crops.
The farm hands might think they know the best way to deal with the fields, but the farmer knows what is best. Sometimes the weeds can be beneficial. Wildflowers (which are, in essence, weeds) serve to give character to fruit like grapes. If you taste wine carefully, you may be able to identify flavors such as mushroom and lavender in the wine. Some plants become stronger because they send their roots deeper into the soil seeking water and nourishment. A landowner knows the plants, the risks and the benefits and is careful to do what is best for his fields. While it might be good to pull the weeds, we don’t always know which weeds to pull.
Jesus reminds us that there will grow up in our midst people who are not really Christian, they do not truly believe in Christ.
I have heard a story that came out of a persecuted part of the world. I don’t recall where, but it doesn’t matter: it could have happened anywhere that Christians are persecuted. A congregation was gathered one Sunday to worship, fearfully but faithfully. The all knew that anti-Christian soldiers could invade their sanctuary and kill them for worshipping Jesus. Suddenly the door flew open and several armed men stormed into the church. They told the gathered crowd that anyone could denounce their faith and leave, but those who stayed would die. A majority of the congregation got up and left. The soldiers closed the door, locked it and sat in the rear pew. The Christians looked at them with questioning eyes. They said, “It is very dangerous for us to worship, so we didn’t want anyone here who were not willing to die for Jesus. Go on with the service, pastor.”
This story has come up in my Sunday school class regularly and we all struggle with whether or not we would be one who would risk life or who would leave. We’ve talked about the work we still believe we have to do in the world. We’ve talked about our grandchildren. We’ve talked about a million different reasons why we would get up and leave rather than stand for Christ in that moment. It is easy to have the confidence in the safety of a place free of persecution, but how will we respond when the danger is real?
And yet, the deeper we’ve studied the Sermon on the Mount, the more I’m convinced that God is calling us to stand even when our lives are at stake. If He has work for us to do, then that day will not be the day we die. We can’t judge the hearts of those who walked out that day, but it is likely that at least a few would be the very ones who would have reported those Christian soldiers to the authorities for their own benefit. Every person who walked out of that church may have had good reason to do so, but they are nominal Christians at best, and as Jesus tells us, some are even planted by Satan.
We know that Jesus built His church and we are uncomfortable with the thought that there might be some who are not truly believers in our midst. The church exists to encourage one another. We gather to worship together, to pray for one another, and to share our gifts. We rely on one another to keep us on the right path, but how can we stay on the right path if we are led by those who are purposely leading us down the wrong one? It is no wonder that the servant in today’s passage asks the master if they should pull out the weeds. We don’t want anyone in our midst that will be a risk to our lives, growth, faith, hope and peace.
But God says, “Don’t worry. My seeds will grow and survive and bear fruit, and I will nurture and protect those whom I have planted; the righteous will shine like the sun in my kingdom. In the end I will take care of the weeds; I will pass judgment on the seeds planted by the devil.” This is a passage about judgment; in the end the works of the devil will not succeed. The hard part is that we can’t always determine between the works of God and the works of the devil, that’s why God warns us to let Him deal with it. Sometimes we make mistakes in our quest to cleanse the church and we destroy those whom God has planted.
I am not sure we want to see how these parables fit into a judgment scene. We aren’t bothered by the reality that there will be a judgment scene, but we prefer to look at these parables as we always have: as comforting promises to those whose hearts are good soil, those who are the seeds He’s planted, those who are the good fish. We want to see God’s hand as He grows the mustard seed and the leaven. We know it will be hard, but we want to be the one who gives it all up for the hidden treasure and the great pearl. We struggle when we look at these parables in this new light. There will be judgment, and we fear that we may not benefit the way we have always expected. We will all experience judgment, but those who reject Jesus as He has revealed Himself to be will not like the way the story turns out.
We are reminded of this for two reasons. First, we can fall away. We can be led so far off the path that we will reject Him and His Word. I understand why so many prefer the Universalist ideology where God saves everyone. We have a hard time, especially today, accepting that a loving God would let anyone suffer the kinds of punishment we see in these texts. Who wants to believe in a God who “will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”? These stories of judgment, of law, cause us to cry out to God for mercy.
The second reason we hear these texts is because of our neighbors: they might be the ones who are falling away or are being led astray. If we think everyone is saved anyway, why would we ever share the Gospel? Why would we introduce our neighbors to Jesus? Why would we try to help them on to the right path? It doesn’t matter if God will save them anyway. Why risk our lives for the Gospel if God is going to save everyone? Unfortunately, this teaching is found in some churches. We just have to remember that it isn’t our job to root out the false teachers. It is up to us, however, to delve deeply into God’s Word so that we will be ready to stand when we are faced with the false teaching meant to lead us astray and so that we can help our brothers and sisters in Christ stay on the right path.
Jesus explained that He is the landowner who planted the seed and the evil one is the one who planted the weeds. The field is the world in which we live. We learn through this parable that the children of God will live side by side with the children of the evil one. We may want to do some weeding ourselves; but we are reminded that we do not know what God knows. We might think someone is a weed when they are really doing just what God intends, something beneficial to God’s plans that we do not know or understand.
We can’t tell the difference between those who are true of faith and those whose faith is false. We can’t read their hearts. Even those who ran out of that church in the story could be believers with a weak faith. We don’t know. We see the world through a very narrow point of view and we stand firmly on what we have demeaned right. They might be wrong. Their false ideas and false gods might seem obvious. But we don’t know how God might take that person and transform them and their work into something good.
Like the weeds in a wheat field, the truth will eventually come to light. We might be tempted to uproot those we think are coming from the evil one, but in doing so we do not know the damage we might do to someone who is weak in faith. We do not know how they may actually help us to mature and grow strong in courage and faith. Persecution is a strength builder. God knows what He needs to do. We are simply called to live as God has called us to live, trusting that our God is just and that He will take care of the wheat and deal with the tares. We may just find that what we thought was a tare is actually someone with whom God has not yet finished His work. We might just find that we are made better by being in their presence. In the end all will be right because God is faithful.
And God is in control.
“King of the Hill” is a fun game that kids love to play. One kid climbs a hill and the object is for the other kids to make them fall off. The one who gets to the top of the hill and knocks the “king” to the bottom gets to be “king” until someone else makes it to the top. The kids end up rolling down the hill, sometimes more from laughter than from knocking each other around.
I don’t think we stop playing “King of the Hill” when we grow up, although our games don’t take place on hillsides. They take place in boardrooms and offices. Sometimes we see those who are on the hilltops above us and do whatever it takes to knock them down so we can move up. This is not the best way to get ahead in our careers, but unfortunately it has worked since the beginning of time. Too many men became king by getting rid of a sitting ruler through warfare. In today’s world, the “king” is knocked down through less violent, though no less dangerous means. It doesn’t take much to destroy a person’s status, position, finances, or reputation. Just like the childhood game, for some the object of life is to get to the top of the hill and stay there by any means. Watch any political race and you’ll see men and women doing whatever it will take to put them on the top.
I thought of this game when I was reading and rereading this week’s Old Testament lesson. Doesn’t God sound like the big guy who has made it to the top of the hill and is calling out for everyone else to try to knock Him off? For many, this is a bothersome image of God, particularly because we see bullies grow up to be corporate bullies that destroy lives with their ambitions. However, God is not some bully playing a game. He is God. Who is there that can knock Him off the top of the hill?
The reality is that we let a many things knock God off the top of our hill. We put so many things first: our jobs, our families, our romances, our education, our hobbies, our interests. We set God aside to take care of the business of living. Anything that we put ahead of God becomes our god. Though He is the One and only, we make gods of so many things. “Who is like Him?” Can money stand up against God? Can our wishes and dreams? Can our opinions really be greater than God? What about our truth? Are our gods reliable? Can they declare their greatness ahead of God?
Nothing stands greater. There is nothing that can knock God off the top of the hill, but we get confused and look to so many things as if they are gods. We might confess God is the greatest, but when we rely on them above God we are relying on something less than God, they are merely pebbles next to the Rock. None are like Him.
We may have a million reasons to walk out the door of that church because we are facing the possibility of death for the sake of Christ, but when we do so we put those million reasons ahead of the God who is in control. While it is not up to us to judge others for their choices, it is up to us to live the life of discipleship that Jesus has taught us to live. It will never be comfortable to face persecution, but He expects us to be faithful not matter what.
I had a head of extremely bright, blonde hair when I was a girl which my mom would make into tight, bouncy curls. My head was Cindy Bradyish. The process was not an easy one. My mom used hard, prickly, pink curlers. She washed my hair at night, put in the curlers and then sent me off to bed. My hair dried overnight and left behind beautiful curls. Unfortunately, those curlers were extremely uncomfortable from the beginning of the process to the end. It hurt as Mom was rolling them because she often snagged a piece of hair and pulled on it too hard. It was impossible to find a comfortable position with those hard curlers on my head. Then, in the morning when it was time to take them out, the hair once again snagged on the prickly parts. Through it all my mother used to say, “We have to suffer for beauty.” I liked my curls, but I think I would have preferred life without those curlers.
Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed toward us.” The world looks no different today than it did before Jesus’ birth. It is still filled with sinners, suffering and pain. Yet, there is a difference because we now live in a hope that does not disappoint; a hope in the promises of God. Jesus Christ gives us a hope that is real, a hope that is assured. We look forward to the day when we will have true peace not only in our hearts but in the whole world. Even the creation will live to the glory of God. This hope is not something that we can make ourselves; we can’t push God off the top of the mountain and expect to experience peace. We can only patiently wait for it to come in God’s time and way. We can look toward that hope in the midst of our sufferings and know that one day we will inherit the promised Kingdom.
It may seem impossible sometimes, especially when we are out there in the world facing the weeds that have been placed in the field by the evil one. We want salvation to be complete today and the evil to be gone for eternity. However, it is not yet time for the field to be harvested. There is still work to be done. There is still growth to be made among the people of God and people to be saved by His Word. It is hard sometimes. We face difficulties; we suffer at the hands of evil men. However, those sufferings make us stronger. By God’s grace, our roots grow deeper and our stalks grow thicker. The fruit that is produced becomes more and more abundant. We may suffer, but in doing so we identify with the One who has brought us into the Kingdom, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote that we are joint heirs with Christ. We can get behind this idea. We are glad to be adopted as children of God, that He is our Abba, Daddy. However, Paul also wrote that as joint heirs in the promise we share in every aspect of Christ’s reign, including His suffering. In verse 17, he wrote, “...if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.” Suffering equals pain and weakness. It indicates a sinful nature. People just don’t want to worship a God that calls His people into a life of suffering. Yet, it is in our suffering that we find strength, courage and God’s grace. God is not a masochist who seeks to cause His people pain, but to save the world it was necessary that He share in our suffering. Then, by the blood of His suffering we are brought through our suffering into something greater. He will make things right in the end, and in the meantime, our struggles will make us more faithful if we keep our God where He belongs: as the King of not only the hill, but of everything.
The psalmist knew how to persevere despite opposition. Although I can’t possibly say better than the writer and two thousand years of translators, I like to paraphrase the text of Psalm 119 to see more clearly the Law and Gospel found within. “You have given me all I need, so I promise to obey everything you have spoken. I have sought your face with my whole heart; have mercy as you have promised. I have seen my failing and repented according to the evidence of my sin. I will quickly obey all God’s Law. I was trapped by the wicked but I held on to your teaching. I will be thankful for your right verdict. I am friends with all who follow your authoritative rule. The earth is full of God’s lovingkindness; teach me your boundaries.”
These words show us that God is a kind and just ruler. The life He calls us to live is never easy, but it is the life that will give Him glory. It is also the life where we will find peace. Chasing after the top of the mountain might get us somewhere, but there’s always someone behind us that will threaten our place at the top. Chasing after false gods might make us happy and satisfy our desires, but those gods will never be able to give to us what we truly need. There is no hope in heresy. No matter how hard it is to wait or how fraught with danger that time might be, it is worth holding on to the promise of God because He will be true.
God has planted us in this world, and the evil one has planted weeds. I don’t know about you, but I see too many weeds these days. I want to see the promise of last week’s lesson fulfilled, the harvest of 100, 60 or 30 times as much planted in the good soil, but I wonder if God’s Word is falling on deaf ears. I find myself crying “Come, Lord Jesus” because I am ready for that time when the righteous will shine like the sun and the weeds will be cast into the furnace of fire. And yet, is that any better than the Universalist response? Will I bother to share God’s grace with those who I have deemed unworthy? Some people will be judged and sent to the fire, but it is not up to us. God is in control. We can have hope that all will come to know the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, and in that hope we will be disciples who share God’s grace with all in our path, even if they will persecute us for our faith.
Paul reminds us that hope is not something tangible that we can see or touch. We want immediate gratification, but what good is a hope that is already received? It is no longer hope but it is fulfilled. There is then nothing to look forward to. Our hope rests in the fulfillment of His promises and we can be assured that those promises will be fulfilled because God is faithful.
Would it be better for it to be finished today? Yes! We cry out to Jesus to return so that He can finally set all things right. But as long as we have breath, then God has work for us to do. There are still those who have not yet heard the Gospel. It might hurt a bit at times to be a child of God. We will face persecution and suffering for our faith, but as we live in the Spirit which we have received from God, we’ll wait expectantly along with all of God’s creation for that moment when He finally finishes the work He began in Christ Jesus. For now, we are the first fruits of that work, holy and dedicated to God so that others might see God’s grace in our faith and come to believe.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already pruned clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you. In this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so you will be my disciples.” John 15:1-8, WEB
Wineries are popping up all of the nation, sometimes in the most unusual places. The vineyard owners usually discover that they have land where the vines will grow, and though they often begin by using grapes from other places, they eventually are able to bottle wine from their own vines. The Texas Hill Country has become a hotspot for these types of small wineries, with dozens of options available. There is something about the ground that makes it possible. I have noted on each trip I’ve taken to the area that there are new vineyards popping up all the time. What was once a few vineyards is now thirty miles of vineyard after vineyard, dozens of them.
Despite the near saturation of the market in that area, there are still very few people who are vineyard owners or workers. Though nearly all of us enjoy a glass of wine now and then, there are few of us who know what goes into the process of creating it. There are people who make homemade wine, and I’ve watched several videos about doing so, but who has vines in their backyard? One video showed how to make wine out of bottled grape juice! We do not know much about growing the grapes, but grapevines are used often in the scriptures. While the local wineries all over the nation offer us the opportunity to learn about how wine is produced, few of us have ever really taken the time to learn.
Jesus’ audience might have been more familiar with vineyards because it was a different time or place; they could not buy a bottle at their local grocery store. We also have far more drink choices. Fermented drinks were the only truly safe liquid because the impurities were killed in the process. Water was often unhealthy to drink. Their wine was probably produced near their homes, on a vineyard they passed on a regular basis. When Jesus, or any of the prophets, spoke about vines, the people were probably familiar enough to understand.
I did some research about vineyards and as I was reading, I realized that creating wine is a very difficult process. I realized that, too, when I watched the videos of the home wine process. It takes a dozen steps or more, and a great deal of patience, to make a drinkable wine and they aren’t dealing with growing the grapes. Grapevines take a great deal of tender loving care. It usually takes three years to produce fruit, with some vines barren up to six years. The vines should be carefully pruned and trained to grow along a trellis or wires. Wine grows best in the dirt that other plants dislike – rocky hillsides with low yielding soils. It costs a lot of money to start a vineyard and takes many years before a vintner even sees a return on his investment. It takes many vines to make one good bottle of wine. It seems strange that such difficult agriculture would be the example that Jesus would use when talking about the relationship between God and His people.
Though we are not familiar with grapevines or with vineyards, these are the perfect type of fields to use as an example of God's relationship with His kingdom. After all, aren’t we all difficult to tend? Aren’t we like that low yielding soil, full of rocks and on a steep hillside? We take careful pruning and it takes a long time for us to produce good fruit. Yet God, the faithful vineyard owner cares for us lovingly and with patience, working the soil, pruning us perfectly. And like the vineyard, it takes far more than one person to produce the good works God has called us to do in this world.
Jesus says that He is the vine and we are His branches. In a vineyard it is hard to discern which branches come from which trunk, as they weave together over the years. So too do we grow together as we share our life of faith in the vineyard. However, we will not live or produce fruit if we are cut away from the vine. We are called into fellowship with Christ and with one another, working together to share God’s kingdom with the world. We are reminded by every glass of wine that we drink that we do not live in faith alone, but rather we are woven together with Christ and with other Christians to glorify God with the fruit we produce.
“For Yahweh’s word is right. All his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice. The earth is full of the loving kindness of Yahweh.” Psalm 33:4-5, WEB
I visited Philadelphia a few years ago and spent time around Independence Mall. I visited a number of historic buildings, recalling the events that occurred there so long ago. I was never a lover of history until I lived in England. Everything is historic there, older than the oldest places in the U.S. I am sure it helped that I was an adult visiting incredible places rather than a child learning dates and places from books. I appreciated the fact that real people accomplished real things in those castles and cathedrals I visited there. I had the same appreciation when I was in Philadelphia.
I didn’t have time to visit all the sites, and I had been to Philadelphia just a few years earlier. I went into Congress Hall and the Old City Hall where the Supreme Court met in those days. I walked through Benjamin Franklin’s post office, which was the first in the United States and I saw a printing press like he may have used back then. I even went into Christ Church Cemetery to see where Ben is buried with his wife Deborah.
The Franklins’ grave wasn’t extraordinary, except in one way. The stone was a large slab that was flat on the ground with just their names engraved. It is covered in pennies. Legend has it that good luck will come to those who throw a penny on his grave. It is said that the practice began because of one of his most famous quotes: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” How ironic is it that tourists throw away a penny for good luck when Franklin would have them save that penny?
I visited Declaration House, a replica of the original house where Thomas Jefferson resided while writing the Declaration of Independence. The building is in the same place, but had fallen into disrepair many years ago. The tour guide told me that there was a hot dog stand on the spot when he was growing up. In 1976 they decided to rebuild the house and restore the rooms as best they could. The guide admitted that only a few things were original to the house, although everything was from that time period.
I think that’s what always surprises me about items on display around the historic sites. It was the same in those ancient English castles we visited. While items are historically correct, they weren’t always the actual items used in those days. The guide in Congress Hall pointed out specific chairs that were original, including that of the Speaker. There were signs near many displays that had a disclaimer, “Item may have been the original.” It is hard to know for sure two hundred and forty years later; after all it is unlikely anyone at the time thought about saving them for future generations to see on field trips and vacations. We may put special significance on those items now, adding a sign that says “So and so sat here.” We like to have the tangible reminders of these moments.
I think the most surprising sign was near the Declaration of Independence. The ancient documents in the museums are often rotated to protect them and that it is possible the document in the case at that moment is just a replica. There is no way the visitor can know for sure whether or not it is one of the original copies. The Declaration of Independence was copied multiple times in 1776 so that it could be sent to authorities and governments around the states and the world to inform them of the work of the Continental Congress. In 2009 a copy was even found in the British Archives; no one knows how it got there. The original is in the National Archives in Washington, so the one in Philadelphia is one of those first copies. However, it is possible that it isn’t even one of those copies; it might be a replica!
Does it matter? Is it really the piece of paper that guarantees the freedoms intended by the founding fathers? Is my freedom any less real because I was seeing a copy or a replica of the document? Is the history false just because the items on display are not exactly those used in those days but are like them? No. These displays are given so that we might see and understand the times and experiences of those first Americans. It is the spirit of the founding and the intent of the founders that gives us the great nation we have. The words on the page matter, not the paper itself.
Have you ever wondered that if we can’t possibly know whether a document in a museum is the “real thing”, how can we know if the words in the scriptures are real? How do we know that the message we hear from ministers, teachers and writers is real? With hundreds of translations available of the Bible and a million interpretations how can we know which is true? We cannot rely on the things of men, but we can rely on the Spirit and intent of God to know what is real. He is faithful. He loves righteousness and justice. Everything of God is centered in loving kindness. That’s how we know it is real.
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled.” 1 John 1-4, WEB
The big question in many people’s minds at this point in the pandemic is what to do about school. Should we open? Should we do online only? How do we help the children for whom online is difficult, and how to we keep them safe if we bring them into the buildings? I’ve seen posts with every point of view, posts filled with fear and anger and posts filled with hope.
Early in the lock-down, when school was first closed, the children were anxious to return. At my neighborhood prayer corner, one child asked for prayer, “for us to go back to school.” Now it has been four months and they still don’t know when they will walk into the school building again. Studies are beginning to show the unintended consequences of the school closures, and we can’t second guess the decisions because we do not know what the consequences would have been if they had continued to go to school. At this point, we simply need to find ways to encourage our students to continue learning under the care of their parents and on the computer with online teachers.
One of the things that the children missed in those last few months of school are the field trips that they would have taken. In the early days of the lock-down, the authorities reminded parents that they should not be taking kids out and about, that school was canceled so that they would stay home and stay healthy. Parents wanted to supplement their teaching by giving the children experiences, field trips, but it was not a good idea at that point. It is still questionable whether the children should be going places, especially hands-on museums.
Those hands-on museums are the most fun, however. When we were living in England, our daughter’s school took the children on a field trip to the Science Museum in London. This museum is five stories high and covers an area equivalent to about half a city block. We wandered through gallery after gallery of science from ages past to the modern days. We discovered communication, industry, farming, flight, home technology and many other fields. Every gallery was filled with buttons, bells, and other interactive activities for the children to play with. There were computer screens everywhere, with lessons relating to the subject of the gallery. The children played all day, without even realizing they were learning in the process. For example, in a place called the Launch Pad, the children learned how things work, with experiments that show motion, light and sound. We spent several hours touching, smelling, seeing, reading, and enjoying the activities, all the while learning about science and technology.
At one point we watched a show called “Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles.” Most of those kids had spent many happy hours blowing bubbles in their back garden, but in twenty minutes the demonstration showed them the science of bubble making. The performer made little bubbles, big bubbles, and human bubbles. He showed the children how the particles stretch to form the bubbles. He even made a square bubble and made bubbles go up in flame. Bubble making was no longer a simple child’s game, but it became science to those children!
Learning is much better when we experience the lessons. The children learned so much by doing hands-on experiments during that field trip; they began to understand science and technology better by doing the activities available at the museum. So, too, we learn to understand our salvation better by experiencing it. Christians get to know God through His creation. We get to know Jesus by reading His Word and living according to the lessons we find in the Bible. We share the presence of God when we love our neighbor and by doing so we learn what it is like to be loved. We can better understand the Holy Spirit by experiencing Him in prayer and fellowship with other believers. When we hear, see and touch the Word of God, it becomes very real to us. That learning leads to the knowledge and confidence we need to share Him with the world.
“How shall I come before Yahweh, and bow myself before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams? With tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my disobedience? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:6-8, WEB
It is so hot in Texas right now that I went out to see what my husband was doing and I stepped into the way of the hose that was spraying and I didn’t mind at all. I am sure the children are finding fun ways to stay cool, perhaps in family pools or using fun water activities in their back yards. I can imagine at least a few are having water balloon fights or are using each other for water gun target practice.
I remember an outdoor picnic with friends a long time ago. It was an extremely hot day and the children were having fun with water. I happened to have a small water gun that no one knew I had. I kept it filled, but hidden. Occasionally, when no one was looking, I squeezed the trigger and squirted one of the adults. Then I hid the gun while everyone looked around to find the source of the spray. I waited a bit and shot someone else. I was able to keep it up for a surprisingly long time, but eventually someone saw me holding the gun and then it was all out war. By the end of the battle I was soaked from head to toe, the wettest person at the party.
On another occasion the children were playing in the yard. I had recently purchased a large array of water guns. The children begged me to let them get wet. I did. They had a blast, squirting each other until they were dripping. When Bruce came home, the children tried to get him to go outside “for a surprise.” They wanted to get him all wet. I armed him with my own gun and distracted the children while he ran around the house to sneak up on them from behind; he got them all wet instead. After this short battle, Bruce came in the house and saw our cat Felix. He showed Felix the gun, which Felix sniffed out of typical feline curiosity. In a moment of silliness, Bruce decided to squirt the cat. He was too close and the stream was too strong; Felix nearly jumped out of his skin and took off to hid from the world.
Bruce felt so bad. He quickly put the water gun down, out of sight, and slowly approached Felix. With soft words and outstretched arms, Bruce apologized profusely. He filled Felix’s food bowl, as a reminder of all the good things he does, picked him up and petted him softly and used a favorite toy to distract him from the pain of the event. Bruce did everything he could to make Felix feel calm and relaxed again.
When we do things to hurt someone we love, what do we do? When we do something that hurts a friend, we call them up to apologize and offer them a trip out for lunch. When we do something against our children, we offer them a toy or something to make up for our wrong. When we sin against God, what do we do? In ancient times, sacrifice was an important part of the ritualistic aspects of the people’s faith. Through the physical act of slaughtering an animal or offering the first fruits of their labor, the people saw the redemption of their sins. It was not a bad thing. Sacrifice served a very important purpose in that day. However, good things can be misused and abused. For some, the ritual of sacrifice was nothing more than a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. They could sin against their fellow man, offer a sacrifice and feel as though they are still right with God. This might make them feel better, but it never made them right with God.
God found a better way. He gave His own son as the final sacrifice and now requires so much more. God paid the debt; He offered the sacrifice for our sins. Now, we must walk in His light and act according to His Word in our lives. In today’s passage from Micah, we see that God does not require or even desire sacrifice. He desires justice, loving kindness and a humble heart. This is the sacrifice of a humble heart, given by God’s people who see that He is the Almighty God, our Father, and that we are His children by His grace forever.
Scriptures for Sunday, July 26, 2020, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Deuteronomy 7:6-9; Psalm 125; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52
“Do good, Yahweh, to those who are good, to those who are upright in their hearts.” Psalm 125:4, WEB
I am a pretty good teacher when it comes to intellectual or spiritual lessons, but I am terrible at teaching tangible tasks. My daughter recently credited me with teaching her to be an adventurous cook, but I don’t even remember letting her spend that much time in the kitchen. I get frustrated; it is easier to just do the work than to patiently wait as a child tries to follow instructions. The same is true with helping someone with computer problems. I know it would be better to help someone learn how to troubleshoot, but I’d rather just sit down at the keyboard and quickly click through to the solution. I just don’t have the patience, but in the end the person hasn’t learned anything. They say it is better to teach a man to fish, but I’m happy to give the fish and move on.
Matthew 13 is filled with parables. We’ve heard a few over the past few weeks. Our lectionary jumps forward to verse 44, but in between are the parables of the mustard seed and leaven. These parables, and the ones for today, are about the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus uses these parables to bring a deeper spiritual truth into common language for the people listening. At the same time, parables can be confusing because we want to fit our own understanding into the stories, often making the meaning too complicated or not really listening to what Jesus has to say. Now, parables can be understood in different ways, depending on one’s perspective, but we must be careful. It is so easy to make the stories fit our own opinions and interpretations while missing out on the deeper truths that God would have us know. Sometimes we even say we understand when we really aren’t paying attention to what God is saying.
The chapter begins with Jesus teaching from a boat just off the shore with the crowds standing on the beach. After a time, Jesus went into the house. His disciples followed. Jesus gave the disciples explanations about the parables throughout the teaching, and He told them why He taught in parables. They heard several more parables inside the home that had a slightly different focus, but like the mustard seed and yeast, they taught how a small and hidden thing can become something of great value.
Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure found in a field. The man who found the treasure hid it again and then went to purchase the field. Some are bothered by the idea that the man hid the treasure again, suggesting that there are legal and ethical problems with the way this story is told. Yet, the man who found the treasure could have easily just taken the without bothering to purchase the field. The purpose of this parable is to teach us that great treasures come with some sacrifice and cost. How many people think that they can have the benefits of God’s grace without giving up one’s self? The man who found the treasure wanted it enough to go to do the right work to possess it. He will love and appreciate what he has received far more than the one who would simply take it from its hiding place.
Again, Jesus told a parable about a pearl of great price. In this parable we learn that the kingdom of heaven is something of such value that we should be willing to give up everything we have to gain possession of it. It is tempting to see these two parables as a statement about the work we must do to receive the kingdom of heaven for ourselves, but we are reminded that the value is not in our work but in the treasure. These are stories about letting go of ourselves and our stuff for the sake of something that is worth so much more than we could possibly give. We are made part of the kingdom through God’s grace, and by His grace we are called to go into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. It is not enough to know about God’s kingdom, or even to be part of it. We are called to possess it, to grasp it and hold on to it, to make it a part of our whole being.
When Jesus finished speaking these parables, He asked the disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” The disciples answered, “Yes” but we know that the disciples did not always understand what Jesus was trying to teach them. Jesus had to repeat the lessons after His resurrection that they had been learning for so long. The Holy Spirit gave them knowledge and understanding after Pentecost, and we have the same benefit today, but we are still filled with questions. We do not always understand.
We hear these stories and we have some understanding. We know about seeds and yeast. Even if we aren’t a farmer or fisherman, you probably recognize the earthly concepts in the stories. The treasure and pearl make us think about how we would react if we found something so valuable. We can look at those parables and understand that Jesus is talking about sacrifice and commitment. We can see that the kingdom of heaven is of great value and worthy of our dedication and submission. We can interpret those parables to our own lives and learn lessons that will help us grow into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God. When Jesus asks us if we understand all these things, we can probably answer like the disciples.
The final parable is a little troubling, however. I think the final parable might be a little harder. Jesus said, “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some fish of every kind, which, when it was filled, fishermen drew up on the beach. They sat down and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. So will it be in the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” There is a sense of victory to us in this story. We believe that “others” (especially our enemies) are the wicked in the story and we are glad to know that God will deal with them as they deserve in the end. We are certain that our enemies will be in that furnace of fire weeping and gnashing their teeth, and though this might not bring us joy, it does give comfort us in our times of trial. I imagine the disciples are thinking in these very terms when Jesus asked if they understood.
Leading up to the teaching of these parables, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man. The people were astonished, but the Pharisees claimed that the power Jesus used in the healing was from Beelzebub. Beelzebub was the prince of demons. In this interaction, the disciples could see that the relationship between Jesus and the authorities was not going to be congenial. The Pharisees and teachers of the law approached Jesus demanding proof of His authority; they wanted a miraculous sign. Jesus refused. This was was not going to be an easy ministry. Even Jesus’ mother and brothers seemed to be against what He was doing. They were going to have enemies. The only comfort in doing work against so many enemies is to know that in the end you will be proven righteous. The proof of a ministry’s success is in the failure of the enemies. Jesus would be proven right when God separates the good fish from the bad.
When Jesus asks, “Have you understood all these things?” we want to say “Yes,” but we want to see the parable of the net through the eyes of our vindication. We will be the good fish, saved from the furnace. We will be the ones who receive the kingdom of heaven. There is something deeper and more important in this parable, and the other parables, however. Jesus reminds us repeatedly that we are not the king. We do not rule the kingdom of heaven. We are not judge, jury, or executioner. God is in charge. He will do the separating. We can’t see the hearts. Those we see as wicked may been seen much differently through the eyes of God. It is God who will make the judgment and He looks at things much differently than we do.
We have to see the world through wider eyes. Our understanding is so narrowly focused, based on our biases. We see things through our culture, our gender, our experience, our geography, our race, our religion, our hopes and our dreams. We see things a certain way because of our personalities, our financial condition, our relationships. Jesus taught the disciples, however, that they have to see things through new eyes. Now that they have the understanding of the kingdom of heaven, they have to see things through the old and the new. We have to do the same thing, seeing the world and the kingdom of heaven through the eyes of those who have been given the understanding of God.
He is King and should never rejoice over the destruction of anyone, even our enemies.
We don’t have to defeat our enemies. Living faith means trusting that God is with us and that He will ensure that everything will be made right.
We say that we understand but it doesn’t always make sense. I know that I often see the parables in a new way when I study them. Whatever our perspective, however, we are called to accept reality that we can’t do anything without God. That’s what Paul is talking about in today’s epistle. We are weak, but God is able to search even our very hearts and speak the words we are unable to speak. He knows all the things we do not know and He ensures that all things work together for the good of those who love Him. God is truly greater than we might expect, able to make incredible things happen; He is more valuable than the richest treasures of earth. Just like those examples in the parables, God is able and He will do exactly what He has promised.
Paul writes, “He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things?” The work of God through Jesus Christ made us free to live according to His Word. We need not worry about the seeds that won’t grow or the weeds that do. We need not concern ourselves about the size of our mustard plant or which fish we should catch. These things cannot keep us from the love of Christ. As Paul writes, “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We have all probably had an experience like this one. My daughter needed a laptop for school, which at the time was a pretty large financial expenditure for our family. I did a lot of research, trying to find the best laptop for the best price. I looked on the Internet and checked the displays at every store. One day we went into a store, but for some reason I didn’t bother to look at their display. At home I checked the ads in the paper and realized that very store had the best computer for an incredible sale price. If I had looked, I would have been able to get what my daughter needed at a price that saved me money for other upcoming school expenses.
Unfortunately, unbelievable deals like that one usually only last a few hours because the stores carry a limited quantity and people rush out to be the first in line. The sale began early in the morning and by the time I saw the ad, I thought it was too late. I didn’t go back. Later that evening, however, we were out in a neighboring town that had another location of that store. We decided to run in, just in case. We got lucky! They had one laptop on the shelf.
I don’t really believe in luck. I do know that God has his hand in the world and He is able to put us in the right place at the right time. He ensures that we are exactly where He wants us to be. Now, I don’t necessarily think that He ordained for us to be at that store at that moment to get that very last laptop. His purpose is bigger and deeper than our financial security. The type and cost of our possessions does not matter much to our spiritual welfare. If anything, God would more likely teach us not to rely on those things that turn our attention from Him.
However, God does make all things work for those who love Him. There are coincidences, of course, but many things we consider “luck” are really God-incidences. God may not have moved our footsteps to be in that place at that time, but I believe God can use everything that happens to us to work for His glory and our benefit. The reason we were in that neighboring town was not a happy one. We had no reason to believe that store would have the laptop. However, perhaps God gave us a nudge, whispering that we should try.
Whether it was luck or God was nudging us to go into that store that evening, we sighed with relief over the purchase. We no longer had to worry about whether we could find the right laptop. We could rest a little easier. I was thankful, and I praised God because He has promised to have such an intimate concern over every aspect of our lives, even the seemingly unimportant things. We should never look to God as the giver of stuff; He is not a pop machine God who will fulfill every wish. But it is good to praise God in every aspect of our lives. God is always with us making everything work out for our good. There is a comfort in knowing that, especially when things don’t go so well. Just knowing that God is working things for our good, we can face the difficulties with patience and courage.
The psalmist writes, “Those who trust in Yahweh are as Mount Zion, which can’t be moved, but remains forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so Yahweh surrounds his people from this time forward and forever more.” How we live in a world of sin is dependent on our perspective. When we trust in God, we know that we will be unmoved even when tragedy strikes. When we trust in God, we can face our enemies with grace. We are a holy people, set apart to share God’s love with the world. We weren’t chosen because we are particularly special; we aren’t. He has made promises to His people, from the days of Abraham, Moses, and beyond. We have become His people through faith and we are called to live according to His good and perfect word.
We are blessed to be a blessing and we are called to share Jesus Christ who is the manifestation of God’s love for the world. Jesus was sent to set us free to live faithfully in that love. We will face enemies; Christians have faced enemies during every generation since Jesus. Yet, we need not concern ourselves about these things, for the difficulties we face in sharing God’s grace will not stop the work of God in this world.
We take this one day at a time. Even if the seeds we plant seem miniscule, or seem to fall in the wrong places, God can make them grow. Even when the yeast disappears in the flour, it is there, making it rise. The treasure we have found is worth the price of our lives, for our lives were worth the sacrifice of God’s Son. In the end, some of the catch will be thrown back, the weeds will be burned. Yet, we need not concern ourselves with who is who since God is the judge that will choose. Even when we face the difficulties of life, we can live in the confidence that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.
Jesus calls us to living faith in the kingdom of God, even if we do not fully know or understand everything He has taught us. Every parable has a glimmer of God’s grace and each story draws us to move ever more deeply into His heart. Living in His love we are called to take His kingdom to the world, sharing God’s wisdom with all so that they too might know the freedom to live in His love.
“So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and respected men, and made them heads over you, captains of thousands, captains of hundreds, captains of fifties, captains of tens, and officers, according to your tribes. I commanded your judges at that time, saying, “Hear cases between your brothers and judge righteously between a man and his brother, and the foreigner who is living with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.” I commanded you at that time all the things which you should do.” Deuteronomy 1:15-18, WEB
Judge Frank Caprio is the Chief Municipal Judge in Providence, Rhode Island has a television show called “Caught in Providence.” He hears cases involving traffic, parking, and arraignments for criminal offenses. He makes it clear that he is not an entertainer, that his show is about justice, but there’s no doubt that he is entertaining. He has fun in front of the camera even as he does his job. He’s a good judge; he’s also kind and compassionate. Many judges think it is their job to throw the book at every offender, but Judge Caprio is willing to listen to the circumstances and he tempers his judgment with mercy.
On a recent story, a young man parked in a spot just before 10:00 a.m. to attend a job interview that was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Unfortunately the spot he chose was a no parking zone until 10:00 a.m. His ticket was timed at 9:54. The judge had mercy and waved the ticket fee and then wished the man well. He does this often, and it often seems as though he’s being too lenient on those who skirt the law, but he listens to their story with compassion and determines what is right not what is demanded by the ticket. He doesn’t always let the defendant off with no consequences, sometimes ruling that they have to pay at least a part of the fee, but his judgment is always fair.
The job of a judge is not easy. We have a human tendency to demand the justice we think is right and we do not accept the justice that God demands. One thing I have noted as I have been studying the psalms is that the psalmists, including David, often demand that God deal unmercifully with their enemies. In Psalm 58, David writes, “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” This is disturbing to our Christian perspective because we know that we should not rejoice in the bloody death of anyone, including our enemies. Yet how many times have we rejoiced when someone receives their “just reward”?
Ultimately we are reminded that justice is according to God’s righteousness, not the demands of our point of view. This means listening to the circumstances that led to the infraction. It means sometimes finding a compassionate response to the offender’s story and finding a fair way to mete out justice that is both righteous and merciful. Jesus modeled this type of justice. He taught us to turn the other cheek, even while He insisted on obedience to the Law. As Christians we need to remember that even though our enemies may deserve God’s wrath, we deserve His wrath as well. He has had mercy on us; instead of the death we deserve, we are forgiven and promised eternal life in His Kingdom. Following Jesus means listening to the offenders in our lives and finding both fair justice and mercy. God is the true judge and we can trust that even if it seems like those who have hurt us get off easy, God will ensure that everything is made right in the end. Like Judge Caprio, God may know that the best answer to the infraction is to wave the fee and set the offender free.
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, even as also with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you both do and will do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love, and into the perseverance of Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (ASV)
Frances Ridley Havergal was an author and poet who lived in the late 19th century. She was preparing for a prosperous new year when she wrote the following poem for her Christmas cards. “Another year is dawning, Dear Father, let it be, In working or in waiting, Another year with Thee; Another year of progress, Another year of praise, Another year of proving They presence all the days.” Shortly after writing this prayerful poem, she received news that her work would not be published in America because her publisher had gone bankrupt. She could have been bitterly disappointed because the publisher had promised great things for her and the bankruptcy put a halt to her plans.
However, she bore the crisis with peace because she had a hope and a promise that is greater than man. She knew the Lord and His faithfulness. Though she was counting on the American deal financially and for further exposure of her work, she firmly held on to God’s faithfulness. She wrote to a friend, “I really had not expected that HE would do for me so much above all I asked, as not merely to help me to acquiesce in this, but positively not to feel it at all, and only to rejoice in it as a clear test of the reality of victorious faith which I do find brightening almost daily.”
I’ve seen a meme on Facebook that says, “I am staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, not to see in the new year but to make sure the old one leaves.” This year has been a struggle in some ways for everyone, and for some it has been disastrous. Each day we wake in the hope that something, anything, will look better for our families, cities, nation, and the world.
Thomas a Kempis once said, “Why art thou disquieted; because it happeneth not to thee according to thy wishes and desires? Who is he that hath everything according to his will? Neither I, nor thou, nor any man upon earth.” We will face disappointment. We will struggle with people and circumstances that do not go our way. The true test of our faith is how we deal with those disappointments.
The Lord is faithful, even when the world around us seems to have no faith. He gives us peace and strength to get through all our disappointments and struggles. When we are dissatisfied, we can look to the Lord and His promises and know that we will not be let down by that hope we have in Him. When the world fails us, like the publisher failed Frances Ridley Havergal, there is one that will never fail us. When the world around us seems to be falling apart, we can trust that He will establish us and guard us from the evil one. He will direct our hearts so that we can wait patiently for the day when we will see the fulfillment of His covenant and fully experience His grace for eternity. Until that day, disappointments will come, we will suffer pain, but we can do so with peace knowing God’s presence in our lives.
“Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. But if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he doesn’t yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, the same is known by him. Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For though there are things that are called ‘gods’, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him. However, that knowledge isn’t in all men. But some, with consciousness of the idol until now, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food will not commend us to God. For neither, if we don’t eat, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better. But be careful that by no means does this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak. For if a man sees you who have knowledge sitting in an idol’s temple, won’t his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? And through your knowledge, he who is weak perishes, the brother for whose sake Christ died. Thus, sinning against the brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat forever more, that I don’t cause my brother to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, WEB
There was a challenge on Twitter back in February. Supposedly there was something special about the gravitational pull on February 10th that caused brooms to stand without support. The tweet received hundreds of thousands of likes and thousands of people tried the challenge for themselves. NASA said the claim is false, and posted their own video to show the basic physics that actually made the broom stand. There are those who saw this as something beyond science, something almost magical.
We know that things have become chaotic since mid-February and some have (jokingly?) blamed the broom challenge for all the problems we have faced for the past four months. There’s been a meme on Facebook begging people who did the challenge to do it again to undo whatever magic they caused to bring so much suffering to the world. It is absolutely silly to blame a stupid Twitter challenge for everything that has gone wrong this year, but sometimes we look for any explanation so that we can perhaps find a way to turn everything around, onto a better path.
Human beings have a tendency of looking for whatever might help, even if the solution relies on spirits or forces that are not from God. How many people look for help from people like psychics? I once heard about a reader of Tarot cards. People called her (very expensive) phone number and asked questions which she answered by reading the cards. Her commercials showed a typical conversation between her and one of her callers. During the discussion, she seemed to reveal deeper aspects of the problem, such as another boyfriend or a past event, which affected the situation. She claimed they were revealed to her by the cards, and the viewer was meant to see how gifted she was. A news story about her psychic network reported that they had been billing clients who had not actually used their service. Many of the people who received these bills were no longer living. The reporter who wrote the story said, “You would think they would know that.”
We can laugh about the futility of using a psychic, or any of the other supernatural methods to foretell the future or reveal hidden things. We can laugh at people who think that there was something magical about the standing brooms that caused the whole world to get out of control. Yet, there is something dangerous about reliance of the unknown spirits that are invoked in these activities. I confess that I have wondered about the validity of astrology, numerology and other such beliefs. There is just enough truth in these practices that they appear to be true. After all, the brooms really did stand. However, there is danger to following the actions and words of those who do not seek the Lord. The biggest danger is that you may lead another down a wrong path.
We may look for explanations that are beyond the norm, but we are reminded that our God is far more powerful than any spirits and foolishness. God our Father created human beings with a spirit that is in His image. Unfortunately, our society no longer seeks to understand the spiritual nature and we spend most of our time chasing after the things that fulfill the needs of our flesh. Our spirit continues to long to be filled with things of the spirit, so we are left with an empty feeling. In today’s world, there are many who are offering things to fill this hole like tarot readers and other psychics, astrology and many religions, even Twitter posts. There are those who sell magic potions, crystals, and other objects to help guide our spiritual lives. The bookstores are filled with racks of books teaching these disciplines.
On the surface, these things seem harmless. Yet, the meat of idols we find in today’s society are these very things: the books, rocks, and readings from people who do not follow the Lord. Though they may not hurt our firm foundation in Christ, we do not know how firm the foundation is for others. They may see our use of such foolishness and think it is fine for a Christian to believe in these other spiritual practices. Remember your brother in whatever you do. Even if you are strong enough to put standing brooms and psychics in their proper place, avoid them altogether for the sake of those who are weak. Keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus, and you’ll need nothing else.
“For Yahweh says, ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, choose the things that please me, and hold fast to my covenant, I will give them in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and of daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. Also the foreigners who join themselves to Yahweh to serve him, and to love Yahweh’s name, to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and holds fast my covenant, I will bring these to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ The Lord Yahweh, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, ‘I will yet gather others to him, in addition to his own who are gathered.’” Isaiah 56:4-8, WEB
Family research has become a big thing these days. There are multiple resources that can help you put together a family tree. I haven’t joined any of them at this point, or done the DNA thing, but I’ve thought about it. I have an unusual maiden name and there are rumors in my family to Native American ties. I have an old family Bible that came from my father’s mother’s line, and the Bible was originally given to a girl with the last name Whiteman on the occasion of her marriage. She was my great-great-great-great-grandmother.
There was a company in England that would write up a history of your surname and then create a plaque with the family’s coat of arms. We probably didn’t get entirely accurate information, after all, family names did not have coats of arms, they were granted to individuals and then passed down to a person chosen to continue the line. I doubt either of our families actually had a coat of arms, but the plaque is a conversation starter.
The information given to us was not what we expected. Our family always thought that our name came from Germany, but they identified a region on the border of France and Spain where it may have originated. They suggested that it could be either depending on the date because the region passed from one nation to the other. A quick online search has it indentified with Normandy. It is interesting, and perhaps one day I’ll begin the process, but it can be time consuming and expensive. Name origins don’t have the same meaningfulness that they used to have.
Many generations ago there was no such thing as a surname. People were known by a name and the tribe to which they belonged. Eventually, as there were more people, it became necessary to identify people by another name, to distinguish people from one another. People often added prefixes or suffixes to their names that meant things like “son of” or “belonging to the clan of.” Tradesmen took on the name of their skill, such as Baker or Smith. Sometimes they added their location.
Then you have the added confusion of alternative spellings. In my quick internet search, I discovered that my name Mericle has related names like Demere, Lamery, and Merigeau. They don’t look anything alike, but names could be problematic in those warring societies. For the son of a rebel, the family name could destroy any chance of a future. The youth would often take on the name of a mentor or take a translation of their surname in a different language to protect them.
For many in the past, and also today, it is important for that family name to be carried into future generations, this is why many men want sons. It isn’t simply about having an heir for the material possessions; they want a continuation of the family line. A person’s immortality was dependent on descendents. Since women were adopted into the families of their husbands, it was vital for there to be a male child. This is why it was especially difficult for a father when the son took on a new name. Names were often lost from one generation to another, even if the past was kept alive through the stories of the ancestors.
Ancestry was important, not only to the Jews but also to the foreigners. Taking on the religion of Israel meant set aside something of themselves, their history and their name. It was not an easy thing to do, because it meant that a family could disappear. It was never the intent of the believer to leave family and friends, but taking on the faith of the Lord God Almighty was an insult to the religion of their forefathers and they were rejected.
In this passage, the Lord tells the foreigners that they will have a future and that they will benefit from the covenant promises. If they believe and obey God’s Word, they will be adopted into God’s family and given a new name: His. Though they may not be able to claim a physical ancestry to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they become sons of the patriarchs through faith. Most Christians are foreigners, but we also will benefit from the promises of God. We are those who have been gathered along with Israel to live in the heart and the kingdom of God. Our name, not our earthly name but the name given to us by God, will go on forever and our worship will be received with joy, for our future rests in our adoption as sons through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 2, 2020, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 136:1-9 (23-26); Romans 9:1-5 (6-13); Matthew 14:13-21
“Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; for his loving kindness endures forever.” Psalm 136:1, WEB
There’s a meme on Facebook of two young boys drinking water from the garden hose. The caption says “If you grew up drinking from the garden hose, you are immune to the coronavirus.” There are lots of reasons why it isn’t true, but there are some days when we just need to find reasons to laugh. Many experts say that it isn’t safe to drink water from the hose, but most of us grew up grabbing a sip when we were outside playing. Some memes talk about surviving this common childhood practice. Other experts will even tell you that tap water isn’t safe. They recommend filtering or even using bottled water.
Americans spend $16 billion on bottled water each year. Conservationists have realized the impact all this bottled water is having on our world. Although some of the bottles are recycled, many are simply thrown into landfills and they take centuries to decompose. It also takes a lot of oil to produce bottled water. Energy is used to produce the bottles, collect the water and fill the bottles. It takes energy to deliver the bottled water from the distributor to the store. There are some brands of water that are produced in foreign countries. It takes double the energy to get those foreign sourced water bottles to our store shelves. It may seem unbelievable, but it takes three liters of water to produce a one liter bottle of drinking water!
We buy these bottles because we think the water inside is better than what we can get out of the tap, if you read the fine print, you will discover that many of them say that the water is from “municipal water source.” Municipal water source is... tap water. You could get the same water from your tap and it would help the environment to put it into a reusable container. It is amazing that we are willing to spend so much to buy the bottles, but we like the convenience. We prefer the taste. We think there is something better about the bottled water. We think we are getting something for our money, but we are spending a fortune for something that is actually inexpensive.
We can’t live without water. Some experts claim that most people are dangerously dehydrated. Dehydration causes fatigue and other health problems. Drinking water also has other nutritional and health benefits. Most of our favorite drinks are extremely unhealthy and do not really quench our thirst. We will pay to have the best possible water for our health, even outrageous costs because we believe that more expensive must be better. If the bottled water were too cheap, we might suspect that it is just tap water.
In today’s Old Testament God says, “Hey! Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” How could the water, wine, or milk be any good if it is free? It is better than anything we buy because it comes from God.
Psalm 136 is a hymn of praise with a repeating refrain after every line. The psalmist focuses on the loving kindness of God which endures forever. Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; for his loving kindness endures forever. (WEB) Give thanks to God because God’s faithful love lasts forever! (Common English Bible) Give thanks to God because His love endures forever. (NIV) Give thanks to God because His faithful love endures forever. (New Living Translation) Give thanks to God because his mercy endureth for ever. (KJV) Give thanks to God because His steadfast love endures forever. (English Standard Version) Give thanks to God because His love never quits. (The Message) Give thanks to God because His lovingkindness (graciousness, mercy, compassion) endures forever. (Amplified Bible) So many different ways to say that God’s love is eternal.
This term, “loving kindness” is the Hebrew word chesed or hesed, and it refers to the covenant loyalty and faithfulness of God for His people. If we read the psalm without the refrain, we see the see how God manifests this covenant loyalty in our lives. We praise God because of His loving kindness and because He is the God of Gods and the Lord of lords.
He is good. He does great wonders. He made the heavens. He created the earth. He made the sun and moon which do what He has created them to do. He saved His people from Egypt and then guided, protected, and provided for them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. He has the power to control nature and to overcome the kings of the earth. He did all this for the people He loved. But His love did not end when they entered the Promised Land; it continued for God’s people even as they failed to be faithful. It continued for His people when He saved them from the greatest adversaries: sin, death and the devil. His loving kindness endures for us today.
God has done great things and has shown His faithfulness to His people throughout the generations. The psalm may seem clearer with the repetition of the refrain, but they are words that we should utter every moment of every day to remind us of the great and good things that He has done. His love endures, His mercy endures, His covenant loyalty endures forever. By His grace His people were saved from Egypt, but that was just a foretaste of the salvation that He would offer to the world through Jesus Christ. By His willing sacrifice which overcame sin, death and the devil, we experience His love forever, dwelling eternally in His presence.
Yesterday was the feast day for Sts. Nazarius and Celsus. Little is known about these two saints. The stories of Nazarius place him in the days of Nero, when there was extreme persecution of Christians. Nazarius was the son of a Roman officer whose mother was a Christian. Despite the danger, Nazarius preached the Gospel with such zealousness that his friends told him to leave Rome to save his life. Nazarius spent time in Milan, but was beaten and thrown out when he tried to comfort other imprisoned Christians. He wandered through Gaul and then to Germany. Along the way he met Celsus, who became his traveling companion and helper. In Trier, Germany, the two were tried for being Christians and sentenced to death in the sea. Such great storm came up after they were thrown overboard that the frightened sailors thought that they were being punished for killing the two Christians. They saved the two and set them free. Nazarius had such a heart for the people of Milan that he returned to the city to share the Gospel; he was determined to share the Gospel with them despite the persecution. The two saints were beheaded in Rome.
Nazarius gave his life for the sake of the people of Milan. He knew the dangers, but he knew his salvation was complete in Christ Jesus and that nothing could destroy what he had been given by grace through faith. He was concerned for all those who did not have the same assurance because they did not know the forgiveness and mercy of God. He went to preach the Gospel to people he loved so that they too might experience God’s grace.
I wonder if Nazarius ever felt the way Paul seems to feel in his letter to the Romans. Paul was addressing a difficult question: what about the Jews? Paul was a Jew and he loved his people. He knew the blessings of being one of God’s people: the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the worship, and the promise. Yet, he also knew that they were missing something: Jesus. It was a hard quandary for Paul. How could he help God’s beloved people, the people that he loved, know the assurance of faith in Jesus Christ? How do we deal with the dichotomy?
Paul wished that he could give up his salvation for the sake of his people, but we know that this is not a possibility. Only Jesus Christ could provide salvation. Paul could only live in hope, but hope is a solid foundation for our life of faith. In hope we will have the courage to go into a place, like Nazarius, and share the Good News of God’s mercy and forgiveness with people who are determined to destroy us. We can walk through persecution, and even walk to our deaths, knowing that God’s promises are true. It is our calling to share the Gospel with the world, but we are afraid we are not capable. We need not fear failure. We rest in the hope of God’s promises. He knows what He is doing. He knows whom He has chosen. We can rest in the hope that God will be faithful to His promises even when we can’t see it now in the people we love. We are called to continue to love them, to hope for them, and to share God’s loving kindness with them. We can’t give up our salvation for them, but we know that Christ died for all and that God is faithful. There is always hope.
Raymond is a character from the sitcom called “Everybody Loves Raymond” who often got himself into situations by doing exactly the wrong thing. He stuck his ‘foot in his mouth’ repeatedly by saying the wrong things. His wife Debra was always mad at him because he managed to do exactly the opposite of what she expected. The whole concept of the television show revolved around everyone’s anger over the things Raymond did wrong. It always seemed like everyone did not love Raymond.
In one episode, Raymond wanted his wife to be extremely happy about her Christmas present so that she would give him permission to go on an upcoming golfing trip. Wrong motivation was usually why he ended up doing the wrong things. He was determined to give her something worth more than whatever he was getting him for Christmas and asked his brother to spy for him. One day Robert caught Debra wrapping a tie that she intended for him. She quickly said, “It is for Raymond” so that Robert’s present would be a surprise. Robert reported this to Raymond, and Raymond was thrilled it would be so easy. On Christmas day, Raymond gave Debra her gift, thinking he’d surely gotten something really great. Then Debra gave the tie to Robert and said, “I didn’t want you to know it was for you.” Raymond knew he was in trouble when Debra brought his real gift, a radically generous gift. Debra loved her gift and did not notice the difference. The conflict began when Debra discovered that he was trying to manipulate her.
In another episode, Raymond found the perfect gift for his mother’s birthday. It was an antique set of porcelain figurines like she had once had. His father and brothers kicked in on the gift not knowing the real cost. Raymond, unconsciously or consciously, left the receipt in the box and his mother was shocked at how expensive the figurines had been. So were Robert and Frank because the cost of a third of the gift was significantly more than they had paid. Raymond said it didn’t matter. He knew he could afford to be radically generous and that they did not have the same resources. The extremely thoughtful gift was the catalyst for a humorous fight between everyone about thoughtfulness and extravagant generosity. Raymond’s mother refused the gift because it made everyone angry. Debra hated that Raymond put so much more thought into his mother’s gift than he ever put into hers.
I remember one year when the kids were small when our Christmas tree was packed with way too many gifts. Since we lived so far from our family, they all sent money for us to purchase gifts for under the tree. In the end, the kids had too many gifts, too many new toys, too many presents to open. It was outlandish how much money we put into ‘stuff’ for under the tree. We decided from that year on that we would let the children keep the money for their bank account or for something special they might want later. It was wonderful that our loved ones were so generous, but in the end the extra toys were a waste.
In today’s story, it seems as though Jesus’ radical generosity is wasteful. He miraculously fed thousands of people with a hearty meal of fish and bread. When it was over there were baskets full of leftovers. What did they do with that extra bread? Was it used to feed the poor so that it did not go to waste? We do not know, the story doesn’t tell us. What we do see, however, is that God is radically generous. He doesn’t give out of some misplaced motivation, He meets people’s most basic needs, but He also does so with incredible extravagance. When it comes to all His gifts, we see in this story how there are always leftovers to share. He blesses us with amazing gifts, some spiritual and some very mundane, but all are meant to be shared with the world. Our joy, our resources, our spiritual gifts are given in far greater quantity than we will ever need. In Christ we can be radically generous, too, sharing the love of God with the world, even if it means suffering persecution and possibly even death.
Parents should be preparing for Back to School, but it has been such an unusual year no one really knows that that will look like. The local charities have continued their collection of backpacks and supplies, because even if the children have to work from home, they’ll still need pencils and paper. I filled a couple backpacks for some children and I was shocked at how much money it cost. I could definitely understand why some families need help with gathering the supplies their children will need.
Some colleges are reopening for onsite living, so parents are going on those expensive shopping sprees so that they will have everything they need. Someone once said, “Sometimes I think the ‘getting ready’ shopping is worse than paying tuition.” I have found that to be true. The shopping lists always contain items that the students may not need immediately, but would be necessary at some point, like cleaning and hygiene products. It is sometimes difficult for students to get to a store to purchase those items when they need them. It is tempting to purchase huge quantities of those supplies so they’ll never run out but that doesn’t make much sense. There is never enough storage space for too much extra. They don’t need too much, they need just enough.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to prefer having just a little more. I like to have fresh bread available with our meals, especially the store baked kind that is often still hot when it is purchased. You can’t get much fresher. Instead of enough, I tend to buy two loaves, but then the second goes stale and ends up in the yard for the birds.
We often get confused about the things we need verses the things we want. We need food to eat, but we don’t need so much that it will go to waste. We need the things necessary to keep our living space clean and healthy, but we don’t need a dozen bottles of cleaning solution under our sink. We need only enough for today, that is why we ask God for our daily bread. We work so hard to have ‘just a little more’ and in the end it does nothing to make our life fuller or our soul more peaceful. As a matter of fact, chasing after ‘a little more’ is why so many of us are suffering from stress and depression. We don’t have the resources available for “a little more” so we live in fear and discontent.
Remembering that God provides our daily bread will help us to live content with what we have instead of laboring for so many things that never satisfy us. As we come to rely on Him as our Provider, we will see that we indeed have enough to get us through the day and that there is even enough to share with others. We need not chase after ‘a little more’ because God provides all that we need and then some. When there is some extra, like those twelve baskets of leftovers at the meal on the hill, we need not hoard it “just in case.” God gives freely and abundantly with a radical generosity, so that there is always enough not only for our needs, but also for the daily needs of the world.
Many in our world reject the free gift of forgiveness from God and they refuse to acknowledge the good things He has to offer. God will provide you with enough, and as you grow in faith and trust, He will fill your heart with the desire for the good things in life. Jesus Christ is the bread of life. He is the Word made flesh. He was sent from heaven to live, die and rise again to new life so we can freely live in the loving kindness and glory of the Most High God. It costs us nothing. Eat and drink the gift of eternal life. Partake in the bread and living water that is Christ Jesus, and be satisfied.
Like Paul, we can hope for those who do not yet know Him. For us, the promise began at the font, but it continues regularly as we join in the feast that God lays before us at the Lord’s Table. There we will be renewed and restored to go out into the world to invite those family members, neighbors and strangers to dine with us. The meal may seem sparse, but it is more than satisfying. It is there we meet God in a very real and tangible way and proclaim the life, death and resurrection of the One who gives us true life, eternal life, life in the presence and the Kingdom of God. His loving kindness endures forever, so let us give thanks for God’s radical generosity!
“For this cause, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be the glory in the assembly and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21, WEB
My favorite paintings are those that come from the French Impressionists. They have produced some of the most moving pictures I have ever seen. Their use of color and texture brings the viewer in the story. In the landscapes, you can feel the cool breeze and smell the blossoms on the treed. In the cityscapes, you can hear the bustling of the crowd. The portraits each have a story to tell; the faces of the people are filled with emotion. As I view such masterpieces, I find myself wandering into their life, wondering why they are sad or happy or angry. I want to know what they are looking at just beyond the frame of the picture. I want to run through the field of poppies or sit in the shade of the tree and enjoy the conversation.
It is said, “A picture paints a thousand words.” In my opinion, this statement is particularly true of the work produced by those like Monet, Manet and Van Gogh and others from the mid nineteenth century who gave us so many beautiful paintings to spark our imagination and emotions. Though modern artists also produce work that makes us respond to the images on the canvas, there are none who affect me as deeply as the French Impressionists. The words that come to mind are often peace, rest, love, family, hope, beauty and joy.
I also enjoy the art that has come out of the church over the centuries. Many artists have produced paintings in glass, rock, and canvas that tell the story of God’s people in a way that will move the viewers to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Many people throughout history did not have the ability to read the scriptures for themselves, either they were illiterate or did not understand that language in which the Bible was written. It has only been in the last few centuries that the Bible has been translated into the vernacular of the people and it was only recently that people were able to own their own bibles to read and study for themselves. For many centuries, the people were moved by the art. They learned the stories by looking at the windows and murals in the churches.
What a joy it is to know that God can move in the hearts of people who are not able to read or study the scriptures for themselves. He has dwelt in the hearts of many throughout the history of the church even though they were never able to discuss theological ideas or explain the things of God. They were moved by His Spirit and the great and glorious gifts that God our Father gives to those who have faith in Christ.
The Impressionists were able to paint in a way that still moves my emotions and thoughts so that as I view their great masterpieces I wonder and rejoice at their gifts. The painters who created the magnificent works found in the churches throughout the world have told the story of God over and over again in a way that has caused millions to grow in faith and understanding of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. Even more so, however, the words of scripture that bring us to faith create an even greater response from us. We hear God’s word and are drawn into the very heart of God, and as He dwells in us we also dwell in Him, given everything we need to walk in faith in this world. The words of God - grace, peace, joy, love, mercy, hope and faith - paint the most beautiful pictures in the world and we are filled with the fullness of God and bask in His glory.
“But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length you have revived your thought for me; in which you did indeed take thought, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak because of lack, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. I know how to be humbled, and I also know how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in need. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. However you did well that you shared in my affliction. You yourselves also know, you Philippians, that in the beginning of the Good News, when I departed from Macedonia, no assembly shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again to my need. Not that I seek for the gift, but I seek for the fruit that increases to your account. But I have all things and abound. I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, a sweet-smelling fragrance, an acceptable and well-pleasing sacrifice to God. My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever! Amen.” Philippians 4:10-20, WEB
We have two different types of waste pick-ups on Friday morning in our neighborhood. One bin is specifically for organic materials like yard waste and kitchen scraps. The other bin is for all sorts of recyclable material. I have noted on my early morning walks on Fridays that many of those recycling bins are overflowing with boxes from online shopping, including my own. It seems that most of my neighbors are using the internet to buy the things they need rather than going to the store. It has certainly made life more convenient, especially since many of the things we are buying online are difficult to find in the stores.
I needed to replace a desk chair. When my husband began working from home four months ago, we lived with what we had because we thought it would be a temporary experience. After a few weeks, we realized that he needed a better chair for his desk. We actually bought a new one for my desk, again thinking that he could use the old one until he went back to work. The old one was fine, except the fake leather covering was peeling. It became worse daily and last week we realized that we this work from home might be much longer than we expected.
Now, normally I would go out and visit several different stores, trying on chairs, looking at prices. I would pop into used furniture stores and office retailers to see what types are available. I’d check out the big box stores to see if their prices are better, even if their chairs are cheaper quality. It could take me several days, but in the end I would have found a chair that would be suitable. The internet was easier, although you never really know what you are going to get when you order that way. Fortunately, we liked the chair we bought the first time enough that we bought a second just like it.
Some purchasers are not so lucky. My son works for a shipping company store and he said they get a lot of returns from people who thought they were getting one thing and it turned out to be something completely different. I purchased a case of cat food. I thought the cans were the larger ones, and that I was getting an amazing deal. The product arrived and I discovered they were small cans. The same thing happened to a friend who ordered toilet paper a few months ago. The picture looked like normal rolls, but when they arrived at their house, they were miniature. Sometimes you just don’t know what you are going to get when you order on the internet.
There are those who do not believe in God because they are never sure what to expect from Him. They pray prayers that aren’t answered. They see Christians who are imperfect. They can’t find worship or fellowship that satisfies their needs or wants. They have certain expectations and when they are not fulfilled, they reject the God they blame for their disappointment. The problem is that they have not gotten to know Him, or to know that God is not an online retailer. He answers our prayers, but sometimes the answer is not what we want because He has something even better for us.
We can’t always trust what we order from the internet but we can trust that God knows what is best for our lives. Living in His Kingdom means finding satisfaction in His will and experiencing fulfillment in His promises. It means rejoicing in our circumstances, even if they are not what we want, because we trust that God has something extraordinary waiting for us around the corner. We don’t need to go looking in a dozen places to find the right way to worship God, we simply need to trust in Him and He will provide what we truly need.