Welcome to the June 2014 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, June 2014
June 2, 2014
ďAnd now, O Jehovah my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give thy servant therefore an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this thy great people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern justice; behold, I have done according to thy word: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there hath been none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honor, so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee, all thy days. And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.Ē 1 Kings 3:7-14, ASV
Solomon was king over Israel. He could have asked for the power to rule over not only Israel but over the world. He could have asked God to make the world bow before him. He could have asked for wealth and great honor. He could have asked for victory over all his enemies. He could have asked for strength, courage, good looks. He could have asked that God ensure that his throne would never fall. Instead of asking all these things, Solomon asked for wisdom to judge his people. As king it would be up to him to rule over disputes. As king it would be up to him to ensure that justice was done. Too many leaders in todayís world think that they have to seek power and strength so that they can rule with justice, but humility is the only real way to manifest the authority that comes from God. It is the humble person who recognizes their need for Godís grace and for His help to do whatever it is they are called to do. It is a good king who looks to God.
I once heard a story about a king who knew what it meant to be humble. King Canute was a Danish man who was king of England for nearly twenty years. There was war and controversy over his reign, but he became the first king to rule over all of England. He also ruled over Denmark and Norway. He was a hard ruler, but England succeeded under his reign. He was so powerful that his people claimed he was like a god, able to control even the sea. He knew that was not true, so he proved it to his people on the beach at Thorpeness. At low tide, King Canute took a chair and set it at the waterís edge. As the waves rolled inland, he said, ďStop.Ē Of course the waves did not stop. The water level rose, to his knees, to his waste, to his neck. Finally, it became impossible for him to continue. As he left the water, he said, ďSee, I cannot control the sea.Ē
The scriptures tell of the same sort of humility in Solomon, the son of David. By this time in Israelís history, Godís promise to Abraham had been at least partially fulfilled. His descendants were too numerous to count. Solomon was only twenty when he took the throne of Israel and he did not know how he could possibly govern the great nation. The story of King Canute may not be true, but we learn an important lesson from these two stories. Even great and powerful kings must submit to the Lord. When we do so, God is pleased and blesses our lives with far more than we ask.
ďNow to him that is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith: to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever. Amen.Ē Romans 16:25-27, ASV
Have you ever sat down and read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting? Have you ever taken the whole Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John at one time? Weíve certainly read most, if not all, of those particular books over the years. Weíve heard the story bits at a time, and this is good. Weíve been able to see Jesus as He is, what He has done, where He was going and what He was calling us to do. These are the most basic ideas we get out of the text. It is important that everyone find the time to get to know Jesus through the scriptures, even if it is a bit at a time.
It is amazing to read the whole books straight through, though. If we take a couple hours to just read the text as if we were reading that hot summer novel, we see the story as a whole. We begin to see that it is carefully put together. We get to see the style and focus of each of the writers. Matthew has in mind his Jewish heritage; Mark sees an immediate need for the disciples to be ready to go out into the world. Luke wants to give us an orderly account of Jesusí life and ministry, while John focuses on the signs that prove Jesus is the Messiah. We can see these differences more clearly when we read each book in total rather than piece it together over the years. We also see that though there appears to be places where the Gospel writers differ, in the end each makes the same amazing claim: Jesus is the Messiah for whom Godís people waited for salvation. Each writer comes at this truth from a slightly different angle, but they all point to the same Christ.
When we think about the disciples, even the Gospel writers, we tend to think they are not the intellectual types. We do know that Luke was a doctor, so he must have had some smarts, but how much did he know about good literary practice? Markís Gospel on the surface sounds so much like a news report, with only facts and little depth. Johnís original Greek was written in the simplest language; he used almost entirely what we would consider four letter words and could have been read and understood by children. Matthew must have been educated, after all he was a tax collector, but how much could he have possibly known about rabbinic teaching?
Now, we know that the four were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so it isnít surprising that we can see depths in the ideas and the promises that seem to come from beyond human understanding and ability. We all have experienced that incredible Ďlight in the atticí moment when we understand something in the text that is beyond the surface. Sometimes we see it when we read just a small passage and God speaks into our life and circumstances in a new way. Sometimes it happens when we see the story coming together as a whole. Sometimes we see it when we delve more deeply into study, when we try to see how the writers are using words or phrases, literary techniques or references to the Old Testament texts.
When you delve more deeply into the text you can see that the Gospel writers were not unqualified goofs who were just trying to record what they saw and did with Jesus. They formed their stories. They wove hidden ideas into the words on the page. They used patterns that built layer upon layer to help us see more clearly how Jesus truly was the One. Johnís use of Greek may have been simplistic, but as you see his references to the Temple of Jerusalem, how Jesus is the Temple, you come to know more fully that Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of all Godís promises. You realize that though the surface is simple, the underlying truth is so much more. The Holy Spirit guided the pen, inspired the thoughts, but in the end we see that these country bumpkins were brilliant theologians, pastors, storytellers and witnesses.
I spent the last two days in retreat. Our teaching theologian gave us some insight into the mind of Matthew. Summer and early fall is the Pentecost season in the church, and for the next few months we will be hearing a great deal of what Matthew wrote. It was interesting to see that Matthew was not simply a tax collector plucked off the street by Jesus Christ; Jesus trained him to be a master rabbi.
We donít need to dig to the depths to know Jesus. We simply need to see Jesus as He is, what He has done, and what He is calling us to do. But we have been given the same Holy Spirit which guided and inspired these brilliant Gospel writers in their task. We can read the text with His mind and see how truly amazing our God really is. I hope over the summer Iíll be able to share some of the knowledge that I gained so that you, too, can read Matthew in a way that will draw you ever more deeply into the heart of God and into the life He is calling you to live. All we need is Jesus, but Jesus is calling each of us into a deeply personal and intimate relationship of trust and obedience through which we will glorify God.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 8, 2014, Day of Pentecost: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 25:1-15; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39
ďMine eyes are ever toward Jehovah; For he will pluck my feet out of the net.Ē Psalm 25:15, ASV
The psalmist says, ďUnto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee have I trusted, Let me not be put to shame; Let not mine enemies triumph over me.Ē He then goes on to list his hope for this relationship with the divine. He does not want to be put to shame. He does not want his enemies to triumph over him. He believes that those who trust in God will never be put to shame, but the treacherous enemies will.
The psalmist hopes that God will show His ways and teach His paths to those who believe. He wants to be guided in truth and to be taught by the only one in whom we can have hope. He hopes God will remember His mercy and love. He hopes God will forget his sin. ďAccording to thy lovingkindness remember thou me, for thy goodnessí sake, O Jehovah.Ē His hope is based entirely on Godís goodness. The psalmist goes on to describe the reason we can trust in God. God is good and upright. He instructs, guides and teaches His people in the right way. His way is loving and faithful. He takes care of those who live according to His Word.
This sounds all well and good, but we know that Christians have not always seemed to have this peaceful and blessed life. Neither have the Jews. When we think about the Nazi regime and the incredible persecution of the Jews, we see how Godís enemies did put Godís people to shame. Most of what the Nazis did to the people who suffered at their hands was designed to be degrading and shameful, even to the ultimate humiliation: cruel suffering and death. People have died in disgusting and shameful ways throughout the history of the Church, but in the end those martyrs knew that there was no shame in their death because their God was waiting for them on the other side.
The psalmist recognizes that life is not perfect, but even more importantly that he is not perfect. ďFor thy nameís sake, O Jehovah, Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.Ē We are not worth being saved, but the psalmist knows that Godís promises make our lives valuable to Him. He asks for Godís pardon, not for himself, but so that the world will see Godís faithfulness. He asks again for Godís teaching and guidance for those who fear Him, for he recognizes that it is only by Godís grace and power that any of us can be blessed by God.
It is only by Godís grace and power that we can be set free. The psalmist puts it this way, ďMine eyes are ever toward Jehovah; for he will pluck my feet out of the net.Ē We want this to have something to do with making our life easy in this world. We want God to protect us from those enemies that threaten persecution and death. We want God to save us from the world.
But the psalmist reminds us that thereís a greater enemy that we have to face, and that it ourselves. We are sinners and nothing we do will ever be good enough to live in the presence of God our Father. We donít deserve to be led or taught by the Most High. We donít deserve to be forgiven or remembered with lovingkindness. We deserve to be shamed. But God wonít shame us. Ever. As a matter of fact, He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to take on His shoulders everything that we deserved.
Jesus suffered horribly at the hands of those who did not believe Godís Word and did not fear God, but instead feared that theyíd lose their power, position and place in this world. They shamed Him by putting Him on a cross, but the reality is that Jesus was not shamed. He was glorified on that cross, a glory that won for us the forgiveness of God and a place in His Kingdom. Because of Jesus, we have received the fulfillment of all these hopes of the psalmist. God invites us to learn from Him, to walk with Him, to share in His glory and to serve with His grace. He is our Savior, despite our failure to be the people He created us to be, and in our salvation He makes us those very people again.
Thatís what Pentecost is all about. In the life of Peter we see our own reality. Peter was chosen by Christ, he was a leader of the disciples. He was in Jesusí inner circle, perhaps even Jesusí best friend. He was given a lot of responsibility, and in many ways filled Jesusí shoes when He ascended to heaven. He was the first to speak in Acts 1:16, encouraging the gathered assembly of believers to get on with the business of Church. He was the first to speak in todayís second lesson; his speech at Pentecost was the first public ministry of the Church without Jesus. Yet, this Peter who is given so much authority by Jesus and the other disciples was as imperfect as the rest of us. He failed Jesus in many ways while He was still among the disciples. Peter never fully understood what Jesus was teaching. Peter might have gone his own way if it hadnít been for Godís answer to the prayers of todayís psalmist.
The disciples were abandoned briefly when Jesus ascended into heaven, but even then they had a bit of the promise. Jesus had breathed on them that first night after His resurrection. They received the Holy Spirit in that breath, but there was more to come. It was enough to help them learn and understand what Jesus taught them for forty days, and then to patiently wait for the fulfillment of Jesusí promise. They waited and they prayed until God finished the work of preparation.
The Holy Spirit came upon those disciples at Pentecost, not just as a breath like they experienced seven weeks ago, or like it came upon those in the Old Testament who had been so blessed. The Holy Spirit came into the world in a whole new way. They were not just kissed by the Spirit. The Spirit did not just land on them. At Pentecost they were filled with Godís Holy Spirit. They were filled. God was no longer going to work at them from the outside, pushing, leading, guiding; now He would move them from within. They would not just learn Godís Word in their heads, it would be written on their hearts. The words they spoke, though in their own voice, would be Godís Word as He spoke through them.
We see this in a spectacular way at the first Pentecost. After waiting and praying, the Holy Spirit came upon them in tongues of fire and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The people who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost, people of many different nations, could hear them declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues. ďWhat does this mean?Ē they asked. They certainly could not have spoken those words on their own. Though the disciples probably had limited knowledge of the languages of Jerusalem, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin and Greek, they could not have shared the message of Jesus in the many foreign languages that were witnesses to this incredible moment.
The Jews were all in Jerusalem for one of the three major pilgrimage festivals held throughout the Jewish year. Pentecost was a time to celebrate the first fruits of harvest. They had come from all over bringing their offerings of wheat, figs, olives and grapes to praise God for His goodness. Pentecost was also a time to remember and praise God for the Torah, the Law. This was a joyous festival, but was a time of contemplation for every Jew. Just as the Israelites received the Ten Commandments at Sinai, every Jew was expected to receive Godís Law for themselves, through study of the scriptures and prayer.
Some of those who heard the disciples at Pentecost made fun of them and claimed they must be drunk. It must have seemed so disgraceful, perhaps even shameful, for the disciples to be acting with such disrespect for Godís Word. However, they were not drunk: the disciples had finally received everything that was promised since the beginning of time. The prophecies were fulfilled. Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit. The Word of God now dwelt within each believer. The power of God was part of their life. They were fully prepared to continue the work of Jesus and do even greater things than He did, because now they were gifted to preach Godís word with POWER! Through their witness, many called on the name of the Lord and were saved.
We are also recipients of the promises Jesus gave to His disciples. He is faithful Ďtil this very day. He has not left us. He has prepared a place for us. He has given us the Holy Spirit and everything we need to continue His work in this world. At Pentecost, the Jews celebrated the outward giving of Godís Word to the people of Israel, and we continue to celebrate Pentecost to this very day. As Christians, though, we celebrate something very different. For us Pentecost is the day God sent His Spirit to dwell within the hearts of believers, each child of God filled with His Word. In faith we live in the same power and authority that the disciples were given so many years ago at that first Pentecost.
At Pentecost we also see the hope of Moses fulfilled. Moses was overwhelmed. He was leading a million people away from slavery into an unknown Promised Land. He only knew what God had told him and that God was faithful. He did not know when they would arrive or what they would find when they got there. The people were tired. They were hungry. They were scared. They wanted to go back to the place Egypt, despite the reality that they would go back to being slaves. They remembered having food to eat and water to drink. In Egypt they had roofs over their heads and they did not have to walk endlessly through the desert. Slavery seemed the much better choice. They complained, and Moses did not know how he, one man, could possibly handle the people any longer.
God told Moses to gather the elders of Israel. When they were gathered, He took the Spirit that rested on Moses and divided it among the other elders. He gave them the authority to lead the people, to share in Mosesí responsibility. He took some of the burden from Moses and laid it on others. This act of mercy meant Moses would have to let go of some of the control, but Joshua was not ready for Moses to do this. The problem was not that Moses had helpers, but that God had appointed helpers that were not on Mosesí list. The Spirit also fell on some men who had not come to the gathering. ďTell them to stop,Ē Joshua told Moses. Moses was not bothered by this development because he knew that it came from God. God is in control, not Moses. As a matter of fact, Moses would have preferred for every Hebrew to prophecy for the Lord. This was a hope that would come into fulfillment beginning at that first Pentecost. Even now, God continues to pour His Spirit into the lives of all who believe, trust in the Lord, fear Him and live in obedience to His Word.
Today we recall that first Pentecost and celebrate the birth of the Church, which is the body of Christ manifest in this world. Ever since that day in Jerusalem, Jesus has continued to give the Holy Spirit to those who believe, so that we too might have the voice to speak and the words so that others might be saved. In the beginning, there was some confusion. Some even thought they were drunk. Things are not much different, for there are many who consider Christians nothing more than silly storytellers. And yet, every day people hear the message that we take into the world and miraculously, some believe. The miracle is not in our ability or in our words, but in the Holy Spirit who gives faith to those who hear with a humble heart.
Jesus said that if we believe in Him, He would give us living water that will flow from our lives. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, to live and work to Godís glory. As believers, we live in Christ, baptized into His body. We are joined with other believers by the power of the Holy Spirit as He moves in our lives. God has blessed us so that the living water will flow through us into the world. Our Father gives us the greatest gift when we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given us His Spirit so that we can join in the work of sharing His mercy and grace with the world. The Living Water flows from us so that others will be able to drink from the fountain of life.
Will it be easy? Of course not. The disciples learned immediately that there would always be someone unwilling to believe that God is at work. They will blame and accuse; they will harass and threaten. Some Christians will even die at the hands of those who want to degrade and shame Godís people. But we know that even if we do face the terror of persecution, God is on our side. He will not let us be shamed; He will be faithful to all His promises. Heíll guide us, teach us, and encourage us. He will give us the power and strength. He will give us the words. He does all this from within, dwelling in our hearts as His Living water flows from us into the world. And in that day when we no longer live in this world, whether we die by natural causes or at the hand of an enemy, God will be waiting to take us into eternity to live with Him forever. Our death will not be our shame; it will be our greatest moment of glory.
ďBlessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say, in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,-- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory.Ē Ephesians 1:3-14, ASV
I was in the grocery store today. A trip to the store can often be a very frustrating thing. People wander through the aisles in their own little worlds, often oblivious to the other people who are trying to share the space. Sometimes I run into people who have parked their cart right on one side of the aisle while they are standing in the middle looking at something on the other side. There is no way around them. There are always people who just rush into the intersections with no concern about whether or not someone is coming around another corner. Today one woman was so intent on looking at something in her cart that she couldnít even see where she was going. I had to stop and then swing wide out of her way so that she would hit me. She barely even looked up to acknowledge that there was another person. Of course, Iím sure there are times when I do it too; Iím sure that I donít pay enough attention when Iím in a hurry or frustrated at the store.
After my near head-on collision, I decided to pay closer attention to all the people around me. I am a people watcher. I often entertain myself at the grocery store wondering about the choices theyíve made. I wonder about the party that is being planned as the shopper fills the cart with pounds of beef and bottles of wine. Iíve even joked with people about how I want to be invited to their party. Yes, Iíve silently questioned the wisdom of buying diet soda with chips, cookies and processed food products. Iím curious about exotic foods and often wonder if they are shopping for a recipe. Iíve been known to ask about something: do they like it, how do you use or prepare it? I love to see when an older couple excitedly invades the sugary cereal aisle, asking each other if Ďtheyí would like this, that or the other thing. Their carts are filled with food that children will love, and I can just see the grandkids arriving for a special weekend with Grammy and Pop.
I wasnít doing that kind of people watching today. I was looking at the faces of those who passed by me in the aisles. I was taken aback by how many looked sad. I donít know if they were; perhaps they were just concentrating on the task at hand so that they could get out of the store. I couldnít see many of their faces; like the woman who nearly hit me, they were always looking down. I think, sometimes, that we donít ignore the world because we are self-centered, but because we are afraid of intruding. We donít look people in the eye because we donít know how they will react. We are afraid that they might be angry at something and take it out on us. We donít want to offend. We donít want to risk getting hurt. These are strangers, people we will never see again, and we donít know who they are. And yet, they are our neighbors, they might be brothers and sisters in Christ. At the very least they are human beings who share the same basic needs even if they have very different food in their carts.
I decided to make a conscious effort to pay attention to the people around me. I looked them in the eye. I smiled. I thanked people for moving out of my way. I wished them a good day. I donít know if I made a difference or not, but I discovered that I was enjoying the trip far more when I was paying attention to my neighbors. And a few of them smiled back. A few said, ďYou are welcome.Ē A few wished me a good day in return. How much better would our world be if we spent less time staring into our grocery carts and more time paying attention to the other people in the store?
As Christians we have something about which to be happy always. We have eternal life. We have a relationship with God our Father. We have a friend in Jesus. We might have troubles. We might have reason to be sad or frustrated, but even in the midst of our difficulties we have the joy and peace that comes from a life of faith. We have eternal life because Christ first loved us. In that life we are called to share the peace and joy we have with others, so that they may be changed by His love. Christ lives in us so that His presence will be in this world. People see Him when we are content, happy and willing to give of ourselves. How do people perceive us each day? Do we manage a smile, a word or a small act of love through which the world might see Christ? He smiled on us in the most spectacular way, and He did it out of love, so that as we live in His presence our lives will be changed in a way that can really impact the world.
ďAnd whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward.Ē Matthew 10:42, ASV
Our youth program at the church I attended as a young adult was called Double-D Disciples. We called ourselves by that name because we always had donuts from that double-d donut shop (Dunkin Donuts) we all know and love. We talked about God and the bible, but we gathered around the donuts, a delightfully sweet treat for our Sunday morning discussions. Since those days I have discovered that there are many other donut shops, some of which serve absolutely terrific donuts, and I have even learned to make donuts in my own kitchen, but my heart will always remember that group of fellow Christians as we tried to find our way through the world by understanding Godís Word with powdered sugar on our faces.
Today is National Donut Day, and many people are celebrating by getting a free donut at their favorite donut place. I thought it was interesting that today is also the 70th anniversary remembrance of D-Day which occurred on June 6, 1944. D-Day was an incredibly risky maneuver by the Allied Forces to get a hundred and sixty thousand troops into France to fight Nazi Germany. General Eisenhower said, ďWe will accept nothing less than victory,Ē and in the end he got exactly what he wanted. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of lives on the fifty mile stretch of beach. Nine thousand Allied soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed many others to work their way into the heart of France to save millions of people.
Many world leaders are in Normandy today remembering the lost and honoring the few who still live that survived that difficult but heroic operation so long ago. What would our world look like if it hadnít been for the bravery of those soldiers and the brilliance of those who planned and executed the invasion?
I know it may seem odd to talk about war and death with a hint of pride in a Christian devotional. And yet in some ways it almost seems like divine intervention must have helped the Allies and set them on a path to stop the horror and tragedy that was going on in Nazi Europe. The soldiers killed many people, perhaps even a few innocent civilians and sometimes even their fellow soldiers, in the chaos of war. In the end we canít even guess how many people, not only Jews, but also the sick, the elderly, the disabled and the different were saved by their sacrifice. Hitler may be remembered for the millions of Jews that were cruelly killed in gas chambers and other torturous ways, but he and his people also killed children with Down syndrome and other diseases, homosexuals and Christians who had the courage to speak out against this evil. War is never a good thing, but sometimes it is a necessary evil to stop an even greater evil in the world.
So, how does all this relate to the free donuts we are enjoying this morning? As it turns out, donuts were invented during the First World War by Salvation Army volunteers who set up tents near the battlefields to help and encourage the soldiers. They were there to offer spiritual aid and comfort, but they also provided the soldiers with coffee and donuts. See, it was very difficult to make enough cakes and pies to satisfy the sweet tooth of so many men. It was much easier, however, to deep fry dough and cover it in sugar. These donuts could be quickly made and served with coffee as the men came to enjoy a brief respite from their task. They were also easy to eat. The soldiers then brought the idea of the donut home when they returned from the war, and now there are donut shops all over our cities. The donut huts returned to Europe during the Second World War.
The first National Donut Day was on June 7, 1938 and honored those brave women, the Ďdonut lassiesí who risked their own lives to give comfort in body, mind and spirit to our soldiers. It is celebrated on the first Friday of June. Isnít it wonderful how this year the two celebrations fell on the same day? We might think thereís no connection, but I imagine that those few living survivors who are being honored on the beach at Normandy today have fond memories of the donuts they enjoyed during those rare occasions when they could relax and eat a sweet treat from a pretty girl.
We might think that something as simple as a donut can have no real impact on the world, but it is amazing how the little things can change an attitude, brighten a day, encourage a person and even save a life. Like a smile in a grocery store or a donut on the battlefield, the glass of water in todayís text can make a very real difference. It seems like nothing; after all for most of us water is readily available. But we all know how satisfying a cold glass of ice water can be on a hot day, and a glass of water can be lifesaving for someone who is dehydrated.
We are so thankful for the men and women who sacrificed so much on that day seventy years ago and during the necessary evil of the wars that overcame such a great evil in the world, even those donut lassies who found a way to shine a spark of light in the darkness. May we never forget, both the reality of evil that exists and the signs that the evil is getting a hold in our lives. And may we never forget that sometimes all it takes is a smile, a donut or a glass of water to shine the light of Christ in the world of someone who is being overcome by darkness.
ďThen Jonah prayed unto Jehovah his God out of the fish's belly. And he said, I called by reason of mine affliction unto Jehovah, And he answered me; Out of the belly of Sheol cried I, And thou heardest my voice. For thou didst cast me into the depth, in the heart of the seas, And the flood was round about me; All thy waves and thy billows passed over me. And I said, I am cast out from before thine eyes; Yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; The deep was round about me; The weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed upon me for ever: Yet hast thou brought up my life from the pit, O Jehovah my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered Jehovah; And my prayer came in unto thee, into thy holy temple. They that regard lying vanities Forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that which I have vowed. Salvation is of Jehovah. And Jehovah spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.Ē Jonah 2, ASV
It could not have been easy to be a prophet of God. They were called and sent to do and say things that went against the norm of society. They were persecuted and even killed. But their troubles did not always come from the people, sometimes their troubles came at their own hands. God often asked them to do things they did not want to do, so they took matters into their own hands. Our story for today is about the prophet Jonah.
The Ninevites were enemies to the Jews. The two nations had warred bitterly, and the Ninevites took many Israelite lives. The acts against Godís people were unforgivable. But God never sees our sin that way. He is the God of the second chance, forgiving even the most horrible acts of those who turn to Him in repentance. He did not desire the destruction of the Ninevites; He desired their hearts. So, He called and sent Jonah to preach the truth of Godís love to his enemies. Jonah knew God was merciful and kind, giving second chances even when it seems undeserved to us. But grace is the unmerited favor of God; He relents for those who repent. He was so willing to save the Ninevites that He sent someone to share his grace with them. How could they turn to God if they did not hear His Word?
But Jonah thought he knew better than God. He did not think they deserved to hear Godís Word and have the chance to turn from their lives of sin, so he ran away. He caught a boat to avoid the work God was calling him to do. He learned quickly that you canít hide from God. He sent a terrible storm to rock the boat. The sailors sought relief from their gods, but nothing helped. When they learned that Jonah believed in the Lord God Almighty, they asked for his aid. ďPray to your God!Ē But Jonah knew the only way he could help was to be cast overboard.
What was he thinking? God would have heard him if he had prayed. Instead of praying for forgiveness on that ship, Jonah let the sailors kill him. After all, what other outcome could be expected when a man is thrown into the raging sea during a terrible storm? He could have promised from his heart that he would turn around at the next port and go to Nineveh. Did he really want to obey God at this point? Or was he only willing to save the sailors, while finding a more permanent way out of his calling?
God was not ready to let Jonah go; He provided a way out for him. Instead of dying in the raging sea, the scriptures tell us that Jonah was swallowed up into the belly of a great fish and stayed there for three days. This prefigures the three days of Jesus between death and resurrection. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wasnít running from the work God had sent Him to do. He was obedient to God even unto death. Jonah knew he deserved death, which is why he allowed himself to be thrown overboard, but God is merciful beyond what we deserve.
Jonah prayed in the belly of that great fish. His prayer was not what you might expect. How would you pray if you had been swallowed by a great fish in a raging sea? Jonahís prayer is one of thanksgiving. Even while he was buried, as good as dead, Jonah praised God for hearing and answering his prayers. He knew that even though he had run from God, there would come a day when he would be able to go to Godís temple again. Even though he was threatened with death, Jonah knew God would save him. When Jonah was at the very end of his rope, a rope heíd grabbed by his own will by running from Godís call, he remembered God; he held him above all other gods and promised to obey His Word.
Jonah did not follow Godís plan perfectly. He still argued, angry that God would give them a second chance. Even after preaching the Good News to them, Jonah hoped that God would not have mercy. He hoped that God would punish them for their evil against Israel. He became depressed and pouted like a little child who hasnít gotten his way. He saw Godís mercy as unfair, but the reality is that Godís mercy is more fair than our desire to get vengeance on our enemies, because God loves all people, not just His chosen. We feel much like Jonah; weíd rather not take Godís salvation to our enemies. But we are reminded that God knows better than we the hearts of our enemies; though we do not think they deserve His grace, He desires their praise, too.
God does give second chances, even to prophets who run from His work. We can find comfort in the story of Jonah because we all have moments when we would rather run from Godís calling and go our own way. We all think we know better than God and we are like pouty little children when God does something that we donít think is fair. We would do well to remember that when God desires something He will make it happen somehow, some way, and in the process we might just end up like Jonah, wallowing in the belly of some great fish sent to save us from the consequences of our disobedience. It is at those times when we would rather die than do what is right that we should remember Jonahís prayer, for God does hear and answer His people when we call out to Him in our distress. He saves us from ourselves and sets us on the right path, the path that He has prepared for us to take His mercy and grace even to our enemies.
ďBut godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content. But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.Ē 1 Timothy 6:6-10, ASV
It occurred to me this morning that today is the anniversary of my high school graduation. It seems impossible to believe that it has been thirty-three years since we walked across the stage to get that piece of paper that said we were finally all grown up. We were adults and were about to enter into the world to make our place in it. Of course, many of us took the next step of education and went on to college, but even that required some maturity. We had to think about the future. We had to take responsibility for ourselves. We had to face the reality that the world is not always safe or fair and that life can be hard. We had to learn quickly that we wonít always get the job we want or the compliment that we need, have the money to buy the perfect car or be able to surround ourselves with people that are just like us. We had to accept that we would never have the summer to run free and do absolutely nothing.
I wonder how many of us even know where that piece of paper is today. I think I know where it is, but after thirty-three years and ten moves across cities, the country and even the world, I canít even be sure that it made it to every new house. I havenít looked for it or put it on display. I donít know where Iíd be if I hadnít walked across that stage thirty-three years ago; my graduation set me on my path to college and my life ever since.
A diploma is a good thing; the world respects what it represents. High school, college and post graduate degrees mean that the person has learned something and is prepared to face the world and their chosen careers. Or at least that is the hope. We know, however, that many people graduate high school with less than the requirements; they are pushed through out of sympathy or frustration. Sometimes students manage to fake their way through their classes. Even if the students get the required book learning, very few leave school, even college or post graduate school, without any common sense or street smarts. They can name every capital city around the world but could not find their way out of the subway if they ended up on the wrong train. We have put so much importance on that piece of paper that too many students fall through the cracks of life. They really arenít prepared to face the realities of adulthood; they arenít mature enough to survive.
That piece of paper does mean something, but we know it is never enough. Oh, many people can survive life in the real world, get a decent job, and find a place for themselves in community. They find a spouse, buy a home, have kids, and get along day by day. They might be able afford the car they want and have enough time for that dream vacation. They might even be happy. But too many people are missing something; it isnít something that someone can give you when you walk across the stage at a graduation. It is something that only one can give and that is faith. It comes to us by the power of the Holy Spirit from God Himself.
There are too many people who think that faith is pointless, a trust in useless myths and fairytales. After all, whatís God got to do with success in my job? Will God buy me that Lamborghini I think I need? Will God keep me healthy and wealthy? To them, the piece of paper has so much more value than any words about God. They see Christians who are suffering, who have lost their jobs, who canít make ends meet. They see Christians who are unhappy and think that faith is futile. Why waste time on something that has no tangible value? At least that piece of paper is proof of some accomplishment.
There is a difference between happiness and contentment. The piece of paper, that diploma from high school or college or post graduate work might bring us happiness. It might bring us wealth and success. It might make us able to buy the car we want and a house in the right neighborhood. But we will never be content chasing after the promises of that paper. We will always want more. We will want the bigger house and the better car. We will build relationships dependent on the value of those pieces of paper and they will not last.
It might seem as though there is nothing tangible about faith and that it is a waste of our time, but as we see the truth of Godís grace and the power of His Word, we know that there is nothing greater than His promises. God doesnít promise that we will get the job we want or have enough money to eat at the best restaurants. He doesnít promise that weíll have enough time in the summer to run off to the beach for a vacation. What He does promise is that He will be with us always, and that He will bless us in our contentment. Truly happy are they who believe that God is enough.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 15, 2014, Holy Trinity: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; Matthew 28:16-20
ďAnd when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.Ē Matthew 28:17, ASV
I know. Many of you will get to church on Sunday morning, glance over the bulletin and notice something unusual about the service. Instead of the usual Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed, the pastor has decided to use the Athanasian Creed. Youíll sigh and think, ďDid he really have to plan that for today? I have somewhere to be and now the service will go past the hour.Ē Perhaps thatís a flippant thought; I donít really think many of us actually fit into that terrible stereotype that we expect church to last exactly an hour.
However, the Athanasian Creed is incredibly long, and to many it is a tedious confession of faith. We are so used to the point by point confessions of the shorter creeds that we have a hard time with the long, more poetic confession of the Trinity and the Nature of Christ. Even though the theology is more sophisticated, the rhyme and rhythm of the Athanasian Creed is more lyrical and perhaps less logical, especially by our modern language expectations. After all, we are a culture that has learned to speak in a hundred and forty characters. Why bother with a long, complicated circular argument like the Athanasian Creed?
The Athanasian Creed was designed to be lyrical, an almost hymn-like explanation of Christian orthodox belief. They used circular teaching by putting the facts in repetitious statements, making it easy to learn from the sing-song patterns. It was written in response to the Arian heresy that denied that the Son of God was a subordinate entity, that he did not always exist, was a created being and is distinct from God the Father. From the late fifth or sixth century, the Athanasian Creed was probably not written by Athanasius, but was named after his orthodox Trinitarian understanding of God. It might be longer than we are used to speaking, but it is a beautiful and powerful confession of our Trinitarian faith. There is no better time than on Holy Trinity Sunday for us to confess this creed together.
No matter how well written a creed might be, we still have a great deal of difficulty grasping the concept of the Trinity. After all, this whole idea of not confounding the persons nor dividing the substance doesnít quite add up to what we know is true about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. How can they be three in one and one in three, equal and coeternal, the same yet different. How can they be three uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal and yet be not three beings but one? How can they be three almighties and yet only one almighty? Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God, but not three Gods, just one God. All are Lord, but not three Lords, just one Lord.
Then the creed gets into the differences. The Father is neither created nor begotten. The Son is not created but is begotten. The Holy Spirit is not created or begotten but proceeds from the Father and the Son. So there is only one Father, one Son and one Spirit, and the three are one in Trinity, none greater than the other, coeternal and coequal. We confess, ďSo that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.Ē
I know. My head hurts, too. The second part of the creed focuses more on Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God in flesh. This is not any less confusing to our human minds; how can Jesus be fully human and yet continue to be fully divine? He is both God and man; He is not two beings but one Christ. Jesus is both equal to the Father because He is part of the Trinity, but He is also inferior because He is flesh and blood. The easy part, as hard as this is to believe, is that Jesus suffered for our salvation, died, descended into hell, rose again and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father to judge the living and the dead.
See, thatís the part we focus on most of the time. We focus on Jesus being the Messiah, the Savior, the one who came at Christmas, who died on Good Friday and who rose again on that first Easter. We set this mystery of the Trinity on the back burner. We believe, but we donít think about it much. It makes our heads hurt.
It is ok to believe in the mystery and not try to explain it. The problem with explaining it is we often get caught up in explaining it away. We canít grasp the concept with our human understanding so we call it ridiculous. Like Arias, we establish a lesser god that is within our reach. We reject things about God that just donít make sense and we call them myths. Or we find scientific explanations for the tangible things so that we donít have to believe something that is outside our senses.
We do this with the creation, too. We can easily get buried by the question of evolution and the six day creation. However, we need to look at these mysteries beyond the words on the page and try to see the One behind the words. The creation story tells us about God the Creator and His love for His people. The details are interesting to discuss and important to study, but for this Holy Trinity Sunday, letís look at the story from the point of view of how we can respond to our Creator.
In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered it. The Creator was able to speak and transform that formless and dark void into something new. He said, ďLet there be lightĒ and there was light. He ordered the days and the substance. He brought order to the chaos. He filled the emptiness with good things. He did all this in a way that makes sense, each day building upon the work of the previous day. He did not create the animals before there was food for them to eat. He did not create plants until the land and the sea were separated in a way that would provide all that the plants would need to survive. He did not create the fish before there were bodies of water in which they could live. In this story we see that God is. We see that God is powerful, compassionate, wise, capable and magnificent.
How do we respond to the story of the creation? We respond first with fear and trembling. The Creator, who can bring order out of chaos and life out of nothingness is certainly powerful and worthy of our awe. Based on this story we can trust in God, because God provides for our every need. It is humbling for us to see the wisdom of God, not only in this story but in the creation that exists outside our windows. How is it that the bluebonnets know to spring forth in March every year? And how do the animals learn to migrate? Everything is according to Godís plan, the earth turns and is recreated daily according to His design and purpose. There is comfort in knowing that in our times of difficulty God is able and willing to transform our lives with just a word, to bring order out of our chaos and hope into our emptiness. The One who has created this world in which we live must, of necessity, be magnificent, greater than all of creation. This is the God worthy of praise and worship. God spoke and it was good.
We canít possibly understand God completely, for He is greater than anything we can even imagine. However, He is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. We can believe in Him, not out of reason but out of faith. There is a place for reason, a place to study the words and try to understand what they mean. Instead of debating the Trinity or evolution on this day, letís focus on worshipping the God who is so great that there are mysteries we will never fully grasp with our human minds. This is the kind of God that is worthy of our praise, and who is able to accomplish the very works that He promised.
God is greater than His creation. He is wiser than the wisest man. He is more loving than the most loving mother. He is worthy of our praise and worship. He has created us in His image and has given us the ability to do magnificent things in His creation, but we will never be much more than a dot on the planet, a brief blip in the expanse of time and space in which we live. Despite our unworthiness, God has made us the crown of His creation. He has made us sons and daughters. He has given us dominion over all that He has done. It is a tremendous responsibility.
This is a responsibility for all human flesh, no matter what they believe. It is up to us to take care of the earth, to ensure the welfare of our neighbors, to use the physical resources in the world to meet the physical needs of the world. But God has given us, His Christians, an even greater responsibility. We are given the spiritual resources to meet the spiritual needs of the world, and He calls us to use our gifts to bring the whole world into faith.
Faith: yet another mystery of God. It is easy to talk about believing in God, until you are asked to explain your reasons to someone who cannot believe. How do we convince an atheist that we speak the truth when they see the truth from a much different point of view? Even more mysterious, however, is how someone hears the Gospel and believes. Every Christian is a miracle. Every heart that has turned to God is a miracle. The entire story of Christ is ridiculous. God is born in flesh, lives for thirty three years teaching about God and then is destroyed in a heartbeat by men who claim to believe in God. Three days later this God in man appears alive again and His ministry is continued by the most unlikely rag-tag group of disciples. They arenít really educated. They arenít righteous in the religious sense of their day. They donít have power or position or wealth. How could they possibly impact the world?
We ask the same question. A few readers of this devotional have been educated; they have strong theological understanding. Some of my ramblings probably drive them crazy. Most of us, however, have the stories and lessons from our Sunday School teachers, messages of sermons and bible studies with other Christians. We have our own reading and prayer, and the touch of Godís Holy Spirit, but how could God possibly expect us to take His Gospel into the world? How can He expect us to baptize in His name and teach the world to be obedient to His Word? Why would they believe us? Why would they ever even listen?
It is no wonder that they doubted. This whole thing is so outside the realm of human understanding. The whole thing is beyond ridiculous. It is ridiculous, except for the fact that it comes from the God who created the heavens and the earth. He made everything out of nothing and He continues to create in this big, beautiful world. He is the God who is worthy of praise, and if He thinks we can do, who are we to doubt?
Of course, the disciples doubted. We see that in todayís Gospel lesson and we ask ourselves, ďHow?Ē How could they doubt anything after all they had seen and experienced with Jesus? We tend to understand the word Ďdoubtí according the dictionary definition which is, ďto be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe; to distrust; to be uncertain about something; be undecided in opinion or belief.Ē The Greek word Ďdistazoí is apparently not quite so concise. It isnít that they didnít believe, but that they did not want to choose one way over the other. They wavered.
Think about it. If we look at the Chronology of that first Easter day, Matthew does not give us any of the appearance stories, except the women at the tomb. There the angel said that the women should tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Matthew includes a note that the guards at the tomb are paid off by the priests to keep the secret of the resurrection and tell the lie that the disciples stole the body. Then Matthew gives us this scene, with Jesus giving the disciples the authority to continue His work in the world.
When they saw Him on the mountain in Galilee, they worshipped Him, but some doubted. What did they doubt? Was this before Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them that night in the Upper Room? Did they waver between recognition and fear of the unknown? Would you have believed that Jesus had been resurrected immediately, without some further proof, especially with rumors of foul play in the city?
Things were different once Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit. They had Godís power to believe, to speak and to change the world. They could not have done it on their own. They could not have baptized were it not for the Holy Spirit. They could not have taught Godís way without God at their side. Iím sure that even with the Holy Spirit, the disciples had moments when they continued to waver, not necessarily about God, but about the many confusing and mysterious things that they were called to teach. We continue to be confused and uncertain about so many things.
Arias certainly was confused. He wavered, or doubted, the nature of Christ and the concept of the Holy Trinity. As many anti-Trinitarians will tell you, the word isnít in the scriptures. Yet, we see the Trinity in so much of the Bible. The Godhead was there in the beginning. Jesus Christ was the Word through whom all things were made. The Holy Spirit moved over the face of the waters.
We see the Trinity again in todayís Gospel lesson, where Jesus commands the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are not to baptize in the name of three Gods, but in the name of the one God in three, the Trinity: the uncreated, incomprehensible, coeternal and coequal Godhead.
The first apostles might have doubted, but they went forth in faith that Jesus would be with them to the end of the age. They may not have been perfect, but by the power of the Holy Spirit they were being perfected daily as they walked in the hope of the fulfillment of all Godís promises. They passed that faith and hope on to us through their witness to that first generation of Christians who then went out to make more disciples.
We, too, are called and gifted to go out into the world, taking hold of the authority we have been given in Jesusí name. The world will not believe we have such authority, but their rejection is no reason to be uncertain. We have the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will work through our lives to bring redemption to this world one heart and baptism at a time. And then together we can continue to learn and understand everything that Jesus taught us, growing in faith and assurance day by day.
Maybe one day weíll look at that bulletin, see the Athanasian Creed and rejoice that we have been given the opportunity to sing Godís praises in a way that reminds us His character is far greater than our human minds can grasp, but so close to us that we can believe.
ďPraise ye Jehovah. I will give thanks unto Jehovah with my whole heart, in the council of the upright, and in the congregation. The works of Jehovah are great, Sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. His work is honor and majesty; and his righteousness endureth for ever. He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: Jehovah is gracious and merciful. He hath given food unto them that fear him: He will ever be mindful of his covenant. He hath showed his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of his hands are truth and justice; all his precepts are sure. They are established for ever and ever; they are done in truth and uprightness. He hath sent redemption unto his people; He hath commanded his covenant for ever: Holy and reverend is his name. The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: His praise endureth for ever.Ē Psalm 111, ASV
I was never a big fan of history in school. Iím not very good at remembering minute details about things like names and dates, and I found it difficult to find relevance in knowing that this war began on this date and lasted until another date with battles in this place and that place with so and so kings or generals and armies of so many people. History, to me, was a bunch of facts on a page which I simply forgot when I didnít need to remember them anymore.
As an adult I know that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it, and sadly Iíve seen in too many ways the lack of interest and knowledge in history is despairingly present in our youth. I watch those Ďman on the streetí videos and I am so disappointed that college students, even those doing post graduate work, canít answer simple questions about things they should have learned in elementary school. After all, who doesnít remember that George Washington led the colonists in the revolution and became our first president? Yet, Iíve seen clips of young people who could not name him. Now, I have to admit that there are questions that even today I might get wrong, so I probably would have looked as dim-witted if I were approached back in my college days.
I discovered a love for history when we moved to England. I saw history first hand as we visited the sites around the country. I saw the castles and the battlefields. I read the stories of the people who lived and worked and died in the villages and cities. I saw evidence of the wars that were on the pages of my history books, and I met people whose lives were impacted by men like Adolf Hitler. History, for me, was no longer just a bunch of facts on a page; it was stories about real places and people that I could see, touch and hear. Many of the places we visited made the experience as close to real as possible, even serving food to eat from ancient recipes. I could imagine life in another age not only because theyíve recreated it, but because the buildings and streets, the homes, shops and pubs look as if theyíd been there forever. Many of them have.
I love history now because Iíve realized that it isnít about memorizing names and dates, but it is about the stories of the people who were there. I read a lot of historical fiction, particularly from the Medieval times, and it is fascinating to imagine the people walking the cobblestone streets of the villages we explored. As Iím reading those stories, I remember the things I learned as I wandered about the countryside and I see it all so much more clearly.
I think many Christians have the same dislike of the Old Testament that I had about history class in school. As children we learn the good stories, and we learn them in a way that is exciting, but we never move beyond that knowledge as we grow older. We donít pay attention to the details, even though it is in the details of those stories that we see the love and grace of God. We can see beyond the childish stories and recognize how God moved the world toward the time when Jesus would fulfill the promises found in the Old Testament. We focus on the works of God that have had a direct impact on our life, like the life, ministry and death of Jesus, without realizing how important it is to know how and why the human race got to the point of needed a Savior.
Why do we worship God? Why do we believe that we have been forgiven for our sin? Why do we follow the teachings of Jesus? Why are we willing to face difficult times, persecution, and even death for our faith? It has to be more than a Sunday school understanding of the scriptures. We have to see that God is who He says He is, that He can do what He says He will do, and that He has done that and more. We have to see in the Old Testament stories that He is worthy to be praised; the works of His hands are extraordinary, life saving, eternal. In Godís works we see the power, we see the mercy, we see the faithfulness on which we can trust. The psalmist remembered the works of God, and in that memory recognized that wisdom and knowledge begins with reverent fear and worship of the One who can, and does, do the greatest things.
ďAnd straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simonís wifeís mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell him of her: and he came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were sick, and them that were possessed with demons. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many demons; and he suffered not the demons to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him; and they found him, and say unto him, All are seeking thee. And he saith unto them, Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth. And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons.Ē Mark 1:29-39, ASV
Ok, Iím going to make a confession today: I often stay in my jammies until lunchtime. I usually get up in the morning, get on the computer, do my daily clicks through the internet and facebook, and then I begin doing my writing and research for this devotional and my other projects. I manage to sneak some breakfast in there and I sometimes do household tasks like the laundry or vacuuming. I take a break at noon and thatís when I get around to my morning shower and get dressed.
I donít need to worry about getting dressed because I rarely have anywhere to go. I donít get company, so I donít have to be concerned about the neighbors catching me in my jammies. I spent half my life as a stay-at-home mom so I never became anything apart from my kids' mom. Iím glad. I am so blessed that I was able to be active in my childrenís lives and available to meet their needs. But now there are many days when I feel like I have no purpose. Of course, thatís not entirely true since I do have this ministry and my other writing, as well as my art. That doesnít change the fact that sometimes I feel like a nobody.
Hereís my second confession for today: I sometimes wish I had more notoriety for my work. Like any artist, I hope that one day one of my paintings will be hanging in a museum. Iím so thankful for those who appreciate what I do, and Iím particularly thankful for those who are willing to pay for my work. I know I could do more to market myself, but the reality is that I donít want to become a business. I donít really want to be pushed into mass producing art to meet the demands of gallery or to deal with the legal and financial responsibilities of being a professional. Iím truly happy to produce work as I feel inspired and to donate most of my work to charities. I know it will never make collectors come knocking on my studio door, but Iím ok with that.
The same is true of my writing. I have to admit that I would love to get a phone call from an organization that wants me to be the keynote speaker at a convention. I would love to have more opportunities to teach workshops or lead Bible study for someone who has been blessed by this work. Iíd love to hear from people who have purchased my books or read my devotionals at least to know that the work was not done in vain. I know these confessions are a little self-centered, but sometimes it is hard to be invisible.
I suppose thatís why I find such comfort in todayís story from Mark. First of all, Jesus is ministering in a home, not at a convention or in an art museum. He can do so there, but it is good to be reminded that He goes everywhere, even to the places where the invisible people hide. In the previous story, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man after preaching and teaching the scriptures in the synagogue. He was seen and heard by many who were amazed at His authority over the word and the spirit. He was just beginning to accomplish the great things that we still remember today: the miracles, the crowds who followed Him, the willingness to give Himself wholly for the sake of the world. These are great acts. Yet, we follow the story of healing with a private and intimate moment with the ill mother of a friend. Jesus touched her and she was made well. And we see in this story that she wasnít healed for some great purpose. She was healed so that she could continue to live in her vocation: serving those she loves.
She was a nobody. She has no name and is only identified by who she knows. She had no great job, and yet Jesus restored her to her place in her community, to her place in her home. He gave her the gift of life again to do what she was meant to do. It was not a special day or a special place. This story shows us how Jesus did extraordinary things for ordinary people in ordinary places on ordinary days. Jesus can, and does, the same for us as we live our ordinary lives in this world. Oh, I still secretly want to make a big impact on the world, but Iím happy to know that Jesus is here with me, perhaps even in His jammies, helping me to do what He is calling me to do today.
ďAnd even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.Ē 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, ASV
Hereís a hypothetical question for you this Monday. If you were to lose one of your senses and can choose which one, which sense do you think you could live without? It might seem like a very easy question, after all we can live without some of our senses, right? Perhaps the easy answer would be the sense of touch. The problem with that choice is that if you canít feel, you canít feel when something bad is happening to your body. There is a disease that makes the body insensitive to pain. Children with this disease never learn the dangers of a hot stove, they canít recognize when something is wrong and this leads to horrific damage to the body.
When we think of the advantages of our senses, we think about the good things. We love to feel the soft fur of our pets, the cool smooth of satin on our skin, or the sand in our toes on the beach. We could live without these pleasant experiences, but our senses do more than give us pleasure. They help us recognize danger, they warn us to go another way. We might be able to live without smelling the roses, though weíd probably miss it, but what would you do if you could not smell the smoke that is filling a house on fire? What if you couldnít smell that the lunchmeat has gone bad?
This question is usually laid out with the choice between sight and sound. Would you rather be blind or deaf? It is interesting to see the type of people who choose one or the other. Musicians and music lovers tend to prefer the loss of sight, simply because they can continue to hear the music that makes them so happy. Artists, on the other hand, would prefer to lose their sense of hearing because then they can continue to create and enjoy seeing the world around them. I would choose the sense of hearing; I tend to tune out the noise of the world anyway and often prefer silence. I would certainly miss some things, but I would greatly appreciate being able to see rainbows and butterflies and the fields of wildflowers in the spring. It would be much easier for me to continue with photography, painting and writing.
Paul knew what it was like to be blind, at least for a brief moment. In his quest to destroy Christianity, Paul was on his way to Damascus with permission for the leaders to exterminate the followers of Ďthe Way.í He wanted to destroy this new way of seeing, but God had something different in mind. Jesus came to Saul, as he was known at the time, as a bright light and a voice calling ďSaul, Saul, why do you persecute me.Ē Jesus called Saul, whom He renamed Paul, into ministry of Light. Saul was blind for three days, during which he fasted and prayed. A man named Ananias visited Paul, healed his sight and helped him see the truth of God and understand his calling into this new ministry.
It is natural for Paul, then, to talk about the Gospel in terms of light and blindness. He had experienced it himself in a very real and powerful way. Heíd been blind, both spiritually and physically, and heíd been healed of both. We may not be physically blind, but all people are spiritually blind without the help of God. Human beings are blinded by the things of this world. Those of us who have come to believe by the power of the Holy Spirit can see that Jesus is who He says He is. We believe in His grace. We receive His forgiveness. We dwell in the Light and experience in a very real way the love and mercy and grace of God as found in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes it is hard to see the truth because we are imperfect and caught up in their own perceptions. Many non-Christians say that Christians are the reason why they refuse to believe. Christians are hypocrites; we are foolish because they fall for the fairy tale. They see Christianity as guided by emotion rather than intellect. We get caught up in our personalities, programs and agendas and we forget to focus on the center of our faith: Jesus Christ. In all his letters, Paul was not trying to sell himself, but wants his readers to know that the message is about Jesus and Jesus alone. We are reminded of Paul's own beginning of faith and his blindness, seeing again how he was healed by Jesus. God does the same thing for us and then sends us out into the world to help others see His light. By Godís grace we have the power and gifts to share His mercy and love with all the people we meet along life's road; He will continue to heal the blindness of the world through us as He shines His light through our lives.
ďAnd he said unto them, Therefore every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.Ē Matthew 13:52, ASV
I had to be on base for an appointment early this morning, so I went shopping in the Base Exchange afterwards. I donít go very often; most of the items in the store are extremely high quality but even at the discounted price they are usually out of my price range. I could not even find anything on the clearance rack that interested me. It is always worth taking a wander through the racks, checking out what items they have available. I found a few items which I purchased, so it wasnít a wasted trip.
I discovered an interesting item on one of the shelves: packages of note cards that said, ďI miss you Mommy.Ē They also had packages that said, ďI miss you Daddy.Ē I thought they were cute and almost bought a pack for my wayward daughter so that she would remember to write me occasionally. Thatís when I noticed the Daddy cards, and knew if I did one, Iíd have to do both. And then I thought I should buy some for our son, so that when he leaves the nest he will be reminded to write, too. I didnít buy any of them, because in the end I realized that it was silly to give these packs to my grown children, especially since they do keep in touch when they are away, at least via technology.
I was a little confused by the cards; it was something Iíd never seen in any other store. The cards were definitely made for small children and why would any small child need to send ďI miss youĒ cards? Then I remembered: I was on a military base. Mommies and Daddies are often being sent all over the world for temporary duty, leaving behind the rest of the family. We did it many times.
It amazed me how far removed we have become from that military lifestyle. I donít even shop at the commissary very often, although I am always pleasantly surprised to discover some item I canít find locally every time I do go. We arenít actively involved in any organizations on base, and even though we continue to pay our club dues, we havenít had dinner at the club in years. Bruce rarely goes away with his current job, and though he works some late nights, he doesnít have the kind of schedule he had when he was active duty. It is a different world for us; the old world is often forgotten.
There are times when it is good to forget the past. We do well to set aside old hurts and sad memories. We do not need to remember those moments when weíve done something stupid, except to avoid doing it again. But there is a reason to remember, too, because it is in the remembering that we can continue to identify the people who are still going through the things weíve gone through. I realized as I walked out of the base exchange that I should still be praying for the spouses and children of those deployed, a task I took very seriously when my husband was active duty. Now, sadly, I rarely even think about it. Yet there are still many spouses and children who deal with the daily fears and heartache of deployed military members.
Our Christian faith is much the same, really. We know that by faith we have been changed and that we no longer live in the world as we did before we were Christians. The world hasnít changed, but we have. We see things from a new perspective. We understand sin from a different point of view. We would prefer to forget what happened before we knew Jesus, and we eventually even forget what it was like to be in that world. Then we lose touch with the people who are still there; we forget that they need us. We miss out on the opportunities to share the grace that has made our life new with those who need a new life.
We donít miss the active military lifestyle. Oh, there are aspects we miss: the world travel, the friendships, and the camaraderie. We donít miss the long absences due to temporary duty or the long hours at work. We donít miss the danger or the fear, but I have recently wondered if I should find a way to be involved in base life, if only to be present for those spouses and children who are dealing with all the things we experienced.
As with the military life, our life before faith has value. It is good to move beyond that old life, to be everything that God has created and redeemed us to be. But letís not forget the old, especially the people who are still living a life without faith. They need us to remember so that weíll pray for them, visit them, encourage them, help them, and share our faith with them.
Scriptures for June 22, 2014, Second Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91:1-10 (11-16); Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
ďHe shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, And show him my salvation.Ē Psalm 91:15-16, ASV
Two weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost, the outpouring of Godís Spirit on His Church. Last week we celebrated the God we were called to serve, and we were given our marching orders, ďGo ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you...Ē We are left with a promise, ďÖand lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.Ē
And now we enter into the Pentecost season. For the next few months, our scriptures will focus on the life of faith. Weíll hear the stories from Matthew of Jesusí teaching and weíll see how the world confronts Jesus. Weíll also see Him moving closer to the cross through His ministry in Jerusalem. The stories are lessons for us of how to live in the grace He has given to us and how to face the world that is determined to stop our ministry.
We begin today with two disturbing texts. The first, from Jeremiah, shows what life was like for Godís servant prophets. The people to whom Jeremiah was sent wanted only to hear good news. They didnít want to see their sin and they did not anyone telling them that they needed to repent.
It is natural for people to prefer good news. None of us like to hear that our plans have failed or that we have done something wrong. We donít like to hear that we are going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, the people of Israel in Jeremiahís time preferred good news. The prophets of the day learned quickly that they would do much better if they gave the people, especially the kings and leaders, words that they wanted to hear. If they thought the king wanted peace, they spoke of peace as if it were coming right from the mouth of God. If they thought the king wanted to go to war, they promised that God was behind the war and that they would be victorious.
Jeremiah had no good news. As a matter of fact, the words which God had given him to speak were hard for the people to hear. The words were so hard that Jeremiah was persecuted. It is impossible for a man to speak the truth when there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other prophets speaking something different. We like to assume that the truth is found in the numbers. Surely the majority would be right, especially when the words make us feel good? But that is not always true when it comes to Godís word, especially since His judgment comes with the consequences of disobedience.
Jeremiah had no idea how hard it would be when God called him to be a prophet. How much easier it would have been for him to go along with the crowd. In this message, Jeremiah is bold in his blaspheme against God. The New International Version translates the first line, ďO Lord, you deceived me.Ē Perhaps Jeremiah was expecting the job of prophet to be an easy one. Yet, despite Jeremiahís hard words against God, he still had faith. Despite the persecution he faced by the world to which he was called to speak, Jeremiah still believed in Godís grace. He really wanted to stop being a prophet, but he knew there was no way he could stop speaking Godís true word to the world. In the end, his terror gave way to praise because he knew that whatever God planned would benefit His people in the end, even if he suffered for it.
The Gospel lesson is just as discouraging. In chapter 10, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples with the power and authority to heal the sick and to cast our demons. Jesus is very clear with His instructions: they are to stay among their own people, trust God to provide through the people they serve, and avoid confrontation. If the people donít want to hear what they have to say, they are to go on to the next place. Sounds like Jesus made it pretty easy, doesnít it? After all, I think I could handle a ministry that lets me rely on the people who come from the same heritage which demands hospitality. And He has given them an Ďout,í if the people reject them, they can leave.
Yet Jesus doesnít think it is going to be that easy. He tells them that life is not going to be so good for those who reject them and tells them to be ďshrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.Ē He warns them that they should be on their guard and that even their own people will turn them into their enemies. In todayís passage, Jesus even warns them that their own families will betray them. He tells them to flee when they are persecuted, to try to speak to the people in the next town. Then He tells them that the hard times will be no worse than what He is going to face and that they should expect to be persecuted because the world will think no better of them than they do their Master.
But as in the story of Jeremiah, there is grace. We were told last week that Jesus would be with us wherever we go until the end of the age, and this week He reminds us not to be afraid. He reminds us that God loves us and that HE will always be with us. We need not be afraid of those who can harm us, because He has already saved us.
Now, we have to remember that we havenít been saved from physical death. We are not immortal now that we are Christian. As a matter of fact, we have died, like Christ, through baptism. We are dead and we donít have to fear death because death actually means life for us. See, death is just the beginning of the life God has promised we will live in His kingdom. Now, this does not mean we should seek death by forcing the hands of our enemies or by taking our own lives. It means that we donít have to be afraid to do what God is calling us to do, because if they do harm us we know that He will take care of us.
At Sunday school on Sunday, one of the other students talked about the bold actions of extremists and terrorists. They are willing to risk their own lives to do what they think they are called to do, which is to kill their enemies. They believe that death will lead them to a promise and they are willing to do whatever is necessary to be obedient to what they believe.
Can you imagine the world if Christians were as bold with our mission? Of course, we are not called to kill our enemy with bombs in the city streets. We are called to ďkillĒ with the Gospel, to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are called to invite our neighbors into the Kingdom of God, to die to self so that they can live for God. If we were as bold as those terrorists, fearlessly preaching the Gospel even when we know that they will reject us and possibly harm us, then many would come to faith. See, for every person who rejects the word of God, there is more who hear and believe. Godís Word does not return to Him void, so while there are those who will reject the reality of their sinful nature so that they might be forgiven, others will see the truth and the truth will set them free.
Hereís the thing: we donít do it, do we? We live in a world that has decided that it is wrong, perhaps even un-Christian, to convince people that they need Jesus. We arenít supposed to tell people they are sinners. We are supposed to tolerate everyoneís point of view and accept everyoneís gods. So, instead of taking the Gospel to all nations, we conform to the world. We embrace the fear and reject the One who has saved us from real harm. Jesus says, ďFear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven.Ē But He doesnít leave it there: He warns us, ďBut whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.Ē
We werenít saved from death so that we can hide in our church and worship God privately. We are called to the life of a prophet, one who tells the world about Jesus Christ and who invites them to repentance. This life God has called us to means that we might have to speak words that our neighbors do not want to hear. We have to tell people the truth. We have to bring light to the darkness and reveal what is hidden. We have to say what the other prophets refuse to say. We have to give them the bad news. But in the end we have even greater news, ďYes, you are a sinner, but I know this guy named Jesus and He died so you can live. Believe in Him and you wonít have to pay the price for your sin; He has already done it for you.Ē
The life of a prophet (yes, you might think that you are an ordinary Christian, but you are a prophet, one who is sent to take Godís Word to His people) is never going to be easy. We will face the difficulties of those who want to harm us because we donít conform to their expectation. But Paul reminds us that the difficulty is not only outward. We have to face the reality that despite what Jesus did for us, we will never be perfect. We will continue to sin. We will continue to make mistakes.
But weíve been saved for a purpose, and it will take the right kind of person to accomplish Godís work in this world. He expects us to be transformed and He helps us to be transformed. We are made new, recreated to be in His image. The rest of our life is then spent overcoming that which does not look like Him. If we lie, we must stop lying. If we cheat, we must stop cheating. If we use revolting language, we must stop using it. God will help, but it is up to us to work at not doing those things that disappoint Him. ďGo and sin no more,Ē He says. Just because we have been saved doesnít mean that God is entirely pleased with our lives. He continues to work in us and on us so that we can be all that He has created and redeemed us to be.
After all, how will anyone respond to the Gospel if we continue to let sin reign in our mortal bodies? We are under grace, and so we no longer have to let sin have dominion over us. God is with us. He will take care of us. He will help us defeat the sin that tries creeping into our lives every day. The more we are aware of our own sinful behavior, the more we can work at avoiding the things that displease God. We are slaves now to God, and as servants of the Master we are called to a life of pleasing Him. That means being obedient to all that He has taught us. That means avoiding the things that still want to enslave us, the things that make us conform to the world.
Paul reminds us that while we might have been free to do whatever we wanted before we were Christian, that doesnít mean we were free. We were slaves to sin, and as a slave to sin our fruit was not good. The end of sinful behavior and a nature of sin is death. But we have been given new life, a life of righteousness. Yes, we are now slaves to that life, but now we produce fruit that is good and God pleasing. We produce fruit that will make the world a better place. We produce fruit filled with love and hope and peace. As a slave to God and righteousness, we are embraced by His grace and continually sanctified so that on that day when we will meet Him face to face, we will be everything He has created and redeemed us to be. On that day we will receive the promise in full: eternal life.
We know we wonít be perfect until that day. I try very hard to overcome some of my failings. I use language I shouldnít. I am often afraid. I know I miss opportunities to share the Gospel. I get angry and I hold a grudge. I get terribly distracted by things that I know I shouldnít let waste my time. Thatís why we are being sanctified. I may not be perfect, but Iím better. God is still working on me, but I hope that Iíve learned the great lessons and that I am less likely to do the things that disappoints God. I know that I trust Him more, that I am more likely to think twice about some things that used to come naturally. Heís made a difference, and thatís what faith is all about.
I think, too, that Iím more likely to speak about Jesus than in the past. I think I trust God more and that I look to Him for guidance, shelter and strength. I find it much easier to wipe my feet of those who refuse to listen to the words I am called to speak, to faithfully continue Godís work even when someone is determined to stop the ministry Iím called to do. I donít think Iím quite as afraid as I used to be, and Iím less likely to be swayed by every wind. I have more courage to stand up for the truth of Jesus Christ, to shine the light in the darkness and reveal that which has been hidden.
But, I have to admit that Iím still sometimes afraid. I donít mind admitting that Iíd rather it all be over. ďCome, Jesus, ComeĒ is my battle cry. But even while we wait, we canít be afraid of those who have threatened to kill the body because we know they canít kill the soul. My fear is less of them and more that Iíll fail. How could God possibly choose someone like me to be a prophet? Iím nobody. Iím ordinary. I sometimes canít even get those who love me to listen or to understand what Iím trying to say. How can God ever think I could speak to the world?
But thatís the point of these texts, isnít it. We arenít speaking; we are called to let God speak through us. It isnít our words that matter, but Godís Word. We donít need to be afraid because we are already dead but He has promised us eternal life. When the world rejects us, even if it is our closest relatives, we can go on knowing that God can make miracles in the most extraordinary circumstances. See, every person who believes the Gospel is a miracle. They believe by Godís hand, by Godís grace, by Godís Word. And we are called to share in the making of these miracles, even if we have to experience persecution or death to do so.
But we need not be afraid. As the psalmist says, ďHe that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.Ē God is with us. Jesus will be at our side wherever we may go. The Holy Spirit will guide us in the right paths and give us the words to speak. We have no reason to fear because God is our refuge and our strength.
I wrote about this psalm 9 years ago, at a time when there was a huge news story about an escaped suspected rapist running around Atlanta. Somehow he allegedly got a hold of a deputyís weapon, killed and wounded several people, beat a reporter and stole a car. For hours the authority hunted this man, to keep him from harming more people and to bring him to justice. The ordeal ended Sunday after a woman called 911 with information that the man was in her apartment. This story might not seem so unusual, after all the news is filled with stories like this of shootings and escaped criminals.
While the authorities were searching and the city was in fear, a woman was suffering a more personal horror. She arrived home at about 2:00 A.M. and parked her car at her apartment complex. When she left her car, the man stuck a gun in her side and ordered her to go into her apartment. He tied her up and told her to be quiet. He warned her that he would kill her if the police found him there. Though she must have been frightened, she calmly spoke to the man and made him feel comfortable. Eventually he untied her. They talked through the night, watched television together and she made him pancakes. They talked about God and he admitted that he did not want to hurt anyone else. The man wanted to stay at the apartment for a few more days, but he let the woman go to see her daughter. Whether or not he expected her to return is not known. When she left, she called the police and they came prepared to take the man by force. It was not necessary, he was ready to surrender and he went with them peacefully.
The woman could have easily screamed and fought for her life, but instead of hatred, the woman treated him with compassion and love. He was overwhelmed by her kindness. We donít have a transcript of that conversation, but we can know that God was there with them, speaking through her as He reached out to the man. He was terrifying in the beginning, willingly killing those who stood in his way, something about the womanís trust in God transformed him. The woman told the man that she thought God brought him to her door, and she took the opportunity to talk to him about His love and mercy. Her compassion helped to calm him and it brought an end to the violent episode, thus saving her own and perhaps more lives.
Faith does not guarantee we wonít face difficulty. No matter how much we trust in God, we might find ourselves in a frightening situation that does not end well. However, we can look to the womanís trust in God for inspiration and encouragement. When we are in the midst of terrifying situations, we should hold fast to God and speak boldly with compassion and love no matter what the consequences. If we die, we die knowing we stood firm in God to the end. If we die, we know that Jesus will acknowledge us before His Father because we acknowledged Him before the world.
We might just see the miraculous power of Godís word transform the situation and bring hope out of terror.
Will I have the courage to be like that woman? I donít think any of us will ever really know until we face the possibility of death. Will we remember that God is with us when we are too afraid to think? I hope I will have the courage if the time comes, but until that day we are all called to walk in faith and continue to build our relationship with God. One way we can do so is to write the words of todayís psalm on our hearts, holding them so close that we will not forget God is with us when we face the hate of the world. They wonít protect us from being hurt, but they will always remind us that no matter what happens, God will be there to pick us up and take us home.
ďPut on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Ē Colossians 3:12-17, ASV
I recently read an article about a grandmother who had a lifesaving close encounter with Robert Downey, Jr. The woman and her grandmother were attending an event; the woman pointed out the actor to her grandmother, who had never even heard of him. After the formal activities of the event were over, the woman and her grandmother left their seats to go mingle. The grandmother had an unfortunate accident; she fell and cut her leg severely. The woman didnít know what to do; she felt faint and couldnít think straight.
Robert Downey, Jr. knew just what to do. He removed his very expensive white linen jacket and knelt beside the bleeding grandmother. He talked to her calmly, eased her fears and encouraged her with compliments like how her legs were fantastic. He called for help from others, asking someone to call 911 and someone else to get some water. He then took his linen jacket, which the woman assumed heíd removed to protect, and wrapped it around the bleeding leg. It was quickly ruined by the spreading blood. He stayed with the grandmother until she was safely inside the ambulance.
We often talk about how ordinary people can do extraordinary things, and I thought it was interesting that this story showed a man who plays a superhero in movies actually acted like a superhero in real life. We might say that someone extra-ordinary did something beyond the ordinary, although I doubt he would have seen it that way. He was simply doing what needed to be done, and then went back to the party after it was over.
While I enjoyed the story about this encounter, it was the rest of the story that impacted my thoughts today. The woman admitted that she was so frazzled by the experience, whether it was her embarrassment that she couldnít properly respond to the emergency or the sheer presence of celebrity, she was speechless as she brushed by him into the ambulance with her grandmother. For a long time she regretted not saying ďthank you.Ē She even thought about writing him a letter, particularly when he was incarcerated for drugs.
Fifteen years after the incident, long after her grandmother had passed away, the woman ran into Robert in a restaurant where the famous are known to gather. The woman finally pulled together enough courage to approach him. She reminded him of the incident and when he said he remembered, she said, ďIíve always wanted to say thank you.Ē His response to her statement was, ďThank you. I really needed to hear that today.Ē
We have no way of knowing what sort of day he was having, but something in that moment gave him something he needed: encouragement, support, a boost to the ego, a reminder of his strengths. It doesnít matter that he is a famous celebrity, rich and successful; we all need reminders that we have accomplished something which made a difference in someoneís life. And sometimes we need those reminders at a time when everything around us isnít going quite right.
It is never too late to be grateful, or to tell someone that they mean something to you. It is never too late to make sure that they are appreciated and that they accomplished something that made a difference. We might be afraid or intimidated by those we need to thank, thinking that they wonít care because we are nobody. We might think that they wonít even remember the thing for which we are so thankful. We might think that there is no value in dredging up something in the past, especially if the people involved are long since gone and forgotten.
But on that day when you run into that person out of the blue and you have that inkling that you should say something, do it. This is the Holy Spirit working in you, guiding you to do something that will make a difference in their life. You may not ever run into them face to face, but if youíve recalled someone from your past who has done something that you never acknowledged, do so now. Write them a note or phone them. Tell them how they made a difference in your life. Tell them that they are extraordinary and that youíll never forget how they impacted your life. You never know: you might just hear the same words as spoken by Robert Downey, Jr., ďThank you. I really need to hear that today.Ē
ďAnd behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was threescore furlongs from Jerusalem. And they communed with each other of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, while they communed and questioned together, that Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What communications are these that ye have one with another, as ye walk? And they stood still, looking sad. And one of them, named Cleopas, answering said unto him, Dost thou alone sojourn in Jerusalem and not know the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, The things concerning Jesus the NazareneÖĒ Luke 24:13-19, ASV
Those of you who do not live in San Antonio and who are not very interested in professional basketball probably have no idea the kind of week weíve had here. The San Antonio Spurs, our local team, won a hard-earned national championship, a prize that they were never expected to win. Our team is made up of older players which many thought were too old to play so well. They lost last year to the same team, and it was thought that they would fail once again. They won and the city has been celebrating ever since.
It is hard to avoid the Spurs, even five days later. The news is still reporting about it. There are signs everywhere. People still have their flags displayed in their yards and on their cars. The most common t-shirt seen around town has the logo, the colors or even the faces of the Spurs. Businesses are taking advantage of the excitement by having specials and by displaying Spurs gear in their windows. We are proud of our basketball team and we arenít afraid to show it.
I was in a fast food place yesterday grabbing some lunch. The workers were all wearing Spurs t-shirts as their uniform for the day. There were posters on the wall celebrating the championship. At least a few customers in the shop were wearing the new championship t-shirt. A trio of young men came in while I was waiting to be served. Iím sure he was kidding, but one of the men said, ďWhat, did they win a championship or something?Ē I laughed, turned around with a smile on my face and said, ďYou must not be from around here.Ē They all laughed.
They laughed by the conversation revolved around San Antonioís love and pride for the Spurs. ďThey are a basketball town.Ē ďThey really do support their team.Ē To be honest, Iím not a basketball fan. The sound of the sneakers on the court gives me a headache. However, I am happy that we won. I support the team because I think that they are so much more than basketball players. They are a team. They do so much around the city through their charities. They love their families; the kids were as much a part of all the celebration as the players themselves. They are not famous because they have arrested for bar fights or for some viral video showing them doing things they should not be doing. Their videos would be boring by comparison. They are good and kind men, and while they might not be the most talented basketball players in the world, they are the best team because they rely on one another. Iíve been interested because I thought they deserved to win. I pray they will continue to be the men and the team that we know and love.
When I turned around yesterday at the fast food place and said, ďYou must not be from around here,Ē I thought about todayís bible lesson. I could hear in my words of the voice of that disciple on the road to Emmaus. ďAre you the only one who doesnít know whatís been happening around here?Ē It is hard to avoid the reality of our teamís big win, but Iím sure there are plenty of people who simply did not care enough to follow what was happening in basketball. It seems impossible to believe since the Silver and Black of the Spurs has permeated our entire city, but Iím sure there are some people who donít know. They donít watch news, they donít recognize the flags, and they donít hang out with people interested in sports. It really is possible.
We read this passage and think, ďHow could there have been anyone who doesnít know what was happening with Jesus?Ē And yet, Iím sure there are many people who were completely unaware. Others were crucified and rumors run through certain circles. Jerusalem was not nearly as large as San Antonio, but they also did not have the modern technology of television and internet. The story was raw and important to the disciples because they were in the middle of it, they experienced it personally. It mattered to them.
Think about this: there are people who do not know about Jesus. How is this possible? After all, the whole world celebrates Christmas and Easter, even if they have a more secular understanding of it. Many people have the symbols of Christian faith around them, in jewelry and dťcor. They spend at least some time each week doing something religious like attending bible study or worship. Oh, I know that many Christians are minimal, but I canít help but see how Christian faith permeates our society; how is there anyone who misses it? They donít recognize the symbols or hang out with people who are truly interested. They need someone, like you and I, to turn around and say, ďYou arenít from around here, are you?Ē
The reality is that we arenít from around here anymore. Jesus Christ has saved us from the world and made us part of His kingdom, and then He sent us here as ambassadors to share the Gospel with the world. There are still people in the world who need to hear about Godís love and mercy, the forgiveness that comes from faith in Jesus. They need to hear why we celebrate Christmas and Easter and who we worship. They need us to open up the scriptures so that they can see that Jesus really is the Savior and that He has won the victory over sin and death. They need us to talk to them with the same passion we talk about our basketball team so that they will join in the celebration!
ďBlessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man: but each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death. Be not deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.Ē James 1:12-21, ASV
I find a lot of recipes that I want to try on Facebook. Friends post links to recipes that look fantastic and I end up printing most of them for future use. The photos that accompany the recipes make the food look mouth watering. I really donít like to use recipes very much; Iíd rather throw ingredients in a pot (that go together, of course) and see what comes out. However, it is impossible to ignore recipes of chocolate cake that is oozing with yummy goodness or one pot meals that could satisfy a hungry army.
I found a recipe the other day and decided to try it immediately. I actually had everything I needed in the house, so I didnít even have to go to the grocery store. I pulled out the ingredients and after a cursory reading of the recipe, I got started. Unfortunately, despite being a professionally produced recipe, the person who published the instructions made a huge mistake. I followed it word for word, even though one step seemed strange. I did it, but the texture seemed all wrong. And then later in the recipe it called for an ingredient which was used in the strange step to be used again. I saw the mistake, but decided that Iíd try it as it was, after all, the right ingredients should at least taste right, shouldnít it? The problem is that the batter never did quite look right. I could not get it to mix well. I added some extra liquid and it appeared to come together.
The extra liquid made the cake extremely dense, more like fudge. The flavor was good, but it was strange to eat and much to rich. I will definitely try the recipe again, but next time I will follow the proper instructions. I went back to the post with the recipe and discovered that many others discovered the mistake. Some were savvy enough to recognize the mistake. I should have known; I did, but I trusted the source and thought there might be some reason for using the ingredient early in the recipe. Professional chefs are often giving tips about new ways of doing things. The second use of the ingredient made so much more sense. I should have stopped as soon as I realized the mistake and started over, but who wants to waste so much flour and cocoa? I thought I could fix it. I was wrong.
Have you ever had one of those moments that even as you are doing something you know that it isnít right? I donít just mean in the kitchen, but have you ever had an encounter with a neighbor that you realized was not going as it should? Did you think to yourself, ďThereís something wrong here, but Iíll just finish this and I can fix it later?Ē My cake failed, but I learned something and Iíll try again, but what happens when we ruin a friendship by doing something we know we should not do? What happens when we lie; can we really overcome the mistrust that is built? What happens when we get angry and say something without thinking? Can we really overcome the hurt and pain weíve caused?
We do not always know the effect of the small sins that seem so harmless. Children learn from what they see, feelings are fragile, lies lead to greater lies. This is true in thought, word and deed. We are reminded to think twice and when something seems wrong, let us not push through with the hope that we can fix it in the end. Which is easier to do: admit we are wrong before we do permanent damage, or destroy something with the arrogant attitude that we make it better later? God has certainly done all that is necessary to provide us with the forgiveness needed to overcome even the most difficult fractures in our relationships. But remember, that twinge of recognition that you are about to make a mistake is God trying to stop you from doing something you will regret.
ďPut them in mind to be in subjection to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready unto every good work, to speak evil of no man, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all meekness toward all men. For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving diverse lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Faithful is the saying, and concerning these things I desire that thou affirm confidently, to the end that they who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men: but shun foolish questionings, and genealogies, and strifes, and fightings about law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse; knowing that such a one is perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned.: Titus 3:1-11 (ASV)
Why did God have mercy on us? We were foolish, disobedient, deceived and serving diverse lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another but God loved us. It was His love and kindness that sent Jesus Christ to the world in flesh to live and die for our sake. We have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the work of Jesus Christ, transformed and renewed into the people God intends us to be.
Sadly, we continue to be foolish, disobedient, deceived and serving diverse lusts and pleasure, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. Even worse is the fact that many Christians follow these patterns of living, justifying them by their own Christian faith. They refuse to have mercy on their enemies, pointing to their sinfulness and rejection of God. ďHow can I serve someone who has done something wrong? How can I give to a charity that is serving people I do not believe deserve any help?Ē
Hereís the problem with both those questions: where would we be if God asked the same questions? We did not deserve the grace of God or the salvation that comes from faith in Jesus Christ, but God had mercy on us.
I am fairly conservative in my religious and political views. Iím sure it shines through my writing because it is impossible to write without revealing our hearts, but I try to avoid using stories or opinions from people and materials that obviously lean toward an extreme. In this writing I try to look at those stories and opinions from the center, to see both sides of the story, and to understand that my readers have extremely diverse views of the world. My point in this devotion is to help us see how God is calling us to live in this world.
Iím going to break that practice today because I heard something on the radio this morning that is an excellent example of what we see in todayís passage. I may lose readers, but I found such grace in this story that I need to share.
The much maligned and equally adored radio talk show host Glenn Beck was discussing the situation on Americaís border with the influx of children from Central America. The discussion had nothing to do with the politics, but with mercy. The charitable organization he founded called Mercury One is working to provide humanitarian aid to the children who are living in disgusting and heartless conditions. Glenn Beck believes that we, Americans, are not heartless. While he believes that we should work toward returning those children to their home countries, he also believes that we should treat them with grace and mercy while we deal with the logistics and politics of the situation. There is not enough food; they lack beds and even toilets, and the people are crowded into conditions that are inhumane.
Sadly, many of Glenn Beckís supporters are angry that he would make this suggestion. They are calling him names, threatening to cancel subscriptions to his network, refusing to purchase anything from his company. Many have said that they will no longer support the charity. They say that we should not provide for those who have come here illegally because any kind of assistance will make more people come and will make the world think we support what is happen. Glenn disagrees, saying that we have been blessed for a blessing. We have to deal with the suffering even while we deal with the sin.
See, the people who need us most are those who are stuck in the pain and darkness. They need mercy. They need grace. And those children need a clean bed and a working toilet. We can both work toward making things right even while we give them a cup of water to drink. How much better is it for a charity to offer to help (along with the many churches and other charities that are already doing the work) than for us to rely on a government that canít possibly provide love and grace from the heart, which is what these children really need. Our aid to the border will not only help those children, but will help the ministries that are already finding it difficult to serve because their resources are being overstretched.
Instead of standing on opinions that do not help anyone, letís stand on faith and do the work God is calling us to do. Yes, things need to be made right politically and legally; but while the lawyers and politicians are dealing with legalities, letís do the work of God. He had mercy on us so that we will have mercy on others. We have been transformed by the Holy Spirit to be God-like in the world, full of mercy, kindness and love. So, let us pray, not only for the children but for the strength, courage and grace to be like God even when we do not think our Ďenemiesí deserve our help. We are blessed to be a blessing and we are called to bless those who are stuck in sin and darkness so that they can be transformed by Godís grace.
Scriptures for June 29, 2014, Third Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13; Matthew 10:34-42
ďNevertheless hear thou now this word that I speak in thine ears, and in the ears of all the people.Ē Jeremiah 28:7, ASV
Psalm 119 is the longest book of the bible with 176 verses. It is divided into twenty-two sections, each one representing a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalm speaks of the law over and over again in many and various ways. What we do not see in our English (and perhaps other language) translations is that it is an elaborate acrostic poem, with the verses of each stanza beginning with the same letter. It is devotional in character, perhaps used as a learning tool for instruction on godliness. The writer may have been a priest who was passionately devoted to the Word of God; he also humbly acknowledges his own failure to live up to it.
To many, including those who put less focus on the Law, the 176 verses seem very repetitious. Each stanza uses many synonyms for the word Law. If you compare the texts from different translations, you will find that there are dozens of different words used like, ďstatutes,Ē ďordinances,Ē ďtestimonies,Ē ďprecepts,Ē ďcommandments,Ē ďdecrees,Ē ďlaws,Ē and ďword.Ē While this psalm might seem unduly focused on obedience, we see within the stanzas repeated reminders of Godís promises. The one who lives according to Godís Word will be blessed with life, salvation, protection and provision.
A cursory reading of todayís Epistle lesson might lead us to believe that Paul is also unduly focused on obedience to the Law. He reminds us that without the Law, we would not even now we are sinners. I suppose thatís why so many wish to set aside the Law and focus on grace, rejecting the reality that the Law continues to humble us before God even while we are saved.
Paul uses the example of a marriage to establish his point. A womanís marriage is binding until her husband is deceased, but if he is still alive when she remarries, then she is an adulteress. He does not make this point to condemn women who have been cast off by their husbands (a practice that was unfortunately regularly practiced, and was as unjust as it sounds. The men often cast them off for selfish and trivial reasons, leaving them alone, outcast and impoverished.) In this example he shows us that death sets us free. Our death in Christ sets us free from the Law, having been captive to the Lawís power. Through faith and baptism, we are made captive to Christ and His promise.
Now, Paul clearly differentiates between the Law and sin. The law is not sin, but with the law we become aware of the sinful behaviors that harm others and ourselves. When we hear the commandment, ďThou shalt not lie,Ē we realize that anytime we tell an untruth, a partial truth or keep the truth hidden, then we are sinning. Paul uses the law of covetousness in this passage. He tell us that before the law we did not know what it meant to covet something, but when we heard the law, we learned that it is wrong to desire something which is not ours. The law about coveting is not sin, but it opens our eyes to the way our flesh desires go against Godís intention for our lives.
As Paul describes it, sin took advantage of the law, causing the one who heard the law to covet all the more. He writes, ďÖfor apart from the law sin is dead.Ē He goes on to tell us, ďAnd I was alive apart from the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died; and the commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death: for sin, finding occasion, through the commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me.Ē
The Law is not deadly. The Law is given to us so that we will live as God intended us to live. ďSo that the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.Ē The commandments, as we hear in the psalm for today, deliver us from the wicked ones and preserve our lives. But once we hear the law, we become slaves to sin. The law then shows us through death that we are sinners, and thus separated from God our Father. It turns us to Him, so that we might be saved.
Weíd rather not see sin for what it is. We donít want to think that we are sinners; this is why so many Christians ignore the reality of our sinful nature. We want to hear Godís promises, but refuse to believe in Godís wrath. We want to experience Godís grace, but reject any thought that God might use the consequences of our sin to turn us to Himself. Weíd rather hear fluff and stuff; the word ďsinĒ has been removed from too many Christian voices. God is love, which is true, but He is also holy and just. He demands obedience.
Will obedience save us? No. Christ has saved us. He died and when we die through faith and baptism, we are raised to new life in Him. We are set free from the law and made captive to the Word, Christ. We are not capable of being perfect on our own; our flesh is weak and perishable. Christ saves us and calls us to a new life, a life of new obedience, not to the law, but to Him. He is the fulfillment of Godís law; we dwell in Him and we live for Him.
Quite frankly, it is much easier to live as we want to live, which to us seems like true freedom. We live in a time and culture where pursuing our desires is not only acceptable, but expected. Our friends tell us to Ďfollow our hearts,í even if following our hearts will hurt someone. Society tells us that little white lies wonít hurt anyone, that it is ok to want something so badly that youíll do anything necessary to get it. We have been given permission to take care of ourselves even if Godís law commands against it, after all, those rules were made for another time and place. Certainly a God of love would want me to be happy, right? Weíve made ourselves gods, but in doing so have become slaves to sin and rejected the God who has our best interests in His heart and in His plan.
The people in Jeremiahís day knew what they wanted. They wanted to be free from Nebuchadnezzar, not so that they could live according to Godís Word, but so that they could do what they wanted. They were willing to hear anything that made them feel good. Hananiah gave them what they wanted: words of peace. He was tickling their ears with talk of hope, claiming to be speaking on Godís behalf. Who doesnít want to hear words of peace and hope? We do, of course. Even Jeremiah said, ďAmen: Jehovah do so; Jehovah perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of Jehovah's house, and all them of the captivity, from Babylon unto this place.Ē The prophecy sounded good to their ears, and so they ignored the bad news and embraced Hananiahís good news.
Who wouldnít prefer Hananiahís prophecy? Peace means that the people would no longer be oppressed and held as slaves. They would be restored to their homeland and the king would rule again. This is a message filled with hope because it promises peace. It is not surprising that Jeremiah would be rejected when faced with a message that contradicts his own warnings. The people think that Hananiah is surely Godís prophet because he spoke the message that they longed to hear.
We donít read the spectacular scene that comes after our Old Testament text for today. In it, Hananiah proves his point with a dramatic gesture. ďThen Hananiah the prophet took the bar from off the prophet Jeremiahís neck, and brake it.Ē The yoke Jeremiah was wearing was an oxen yoke and it was a symbol of political submission. Jeremiah told the people that they should submit themselves to the Babylonians and he stood as an example to them with the yoke around his neck. Hananiah was preaching a different message, a message that promised that the yoke of the Babylonians would be broken and they would be free. Hananiah took Jeremiahís yoke and broke it, not only showing the power of his message against the Babylonians, but also showing that Jeremiahís power over the people was also broken. Jeremiah walked away.
Jeremiah did not fight. We learn quickly that Hananiah is a false prophet. ďHear now, Hananiah: Jehovah hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie.Ē He might have broken a yoke of wood, but God responded to the grand gesture by making the yoke of Israel a yoke of iron, unbreakable. While a yoke of wood was a yoke of submission, the yoke of iron was symbolic of servitude. The people could have lived in quiet submission to the Babylonians for a season, but because of Hananiahís arrogance and their rejection of the truth, they would live as slaves to Babylon. Hananiahís promise of restoration was proven wrong when he died just two months later.
We are reminded by this message that something that sounds hopeful is not always the way to peace. Sometimes God has something else in mindóa lesson to learn, a call for repentance, a chance for transformation and change. We want the fluff and stuff now and we are willing to embrace the message that promises good things ahead. We are willing to ignore the reality of sin and accept only words of peace, but we might just need a season of something we donít want to bring us to the place God intends us to be.
We are blessed when we are bound to God, living according to His Word, embracing His law as the guide for our lives. Some might saw that we are slaves because we live under the yoke of some divine being. We are, but it isnít the same as being enslaved to a harsh and difficult master. Jeremiah was bound to God. Those who obeyed his word to be yoked to God would be free, but those who believed the false prophet that gave them what they wanted to hear would be bound by the lies that tickle the ears by offer no truth or promise.
We heard part of chapter ten in last weekís lectionary. During Sunday School this week, we read the whole chapter (which I encourage you to do.) We wanted to see Jesusí words in context. What was He doing? What was He teaching? What was He saying to the disciples? He is about to send them out on their first missionary journey. He divided them two by two; He probably chose the pairs carefully so that they would complement each other. He sent them only to the Israelites, giving them the opportunity to learn how to tell people about the Kingdom of God among those with similar heritage, language and expectations. He told them not to take anything with them, to rely on the graciousness and mercy of those to whom they are sent. They were to find a home in each town that welcomed them and to share Godís peace in that place.
Jesus warned them it wouldnít be easy. Last week He told them to be on their guard. Their own people will reject them; even brothers will betray brothers. He told them that they should expect to be persecuted because the world will persecute Him. They will be rejected, just as He will be rejected.
Jesus continues these warnings in todayís Gospel lesson. Life in Christ will not be all peace. He is speaking to the disciples, but also to us today, warning that our faith will separate us from even those we love. It makes us wonder, ďWhat will I do if someone I love rejects my faith?Ē I suppose some of my readers already know. Can we stand for Christ when faced with the expectations of those we love?
Jesus is very clear in this passage: ďDeny me and I will deny you.Ē Thatís what God did to the people in Jeremiahís day. They rejected the true prophet and they suffered the consequences. They chased after the fluff and stuff and ended up suffering an even greater punishment for their disobedience. They ignored Godís word and became bound to something far worse.
Thatís what happens to us when we continue to reject the reality of sin in our lives. We think we are free because we are doing what we want, how we want it. But we are slaves. This slavery is caused by our decision making. We are burdened by debt because we covet that bigger house or that brand new car. We choose to buy things beyond our means. We set unrealistic goals and become slaves to the wrong priorities and expectations. When we are Godís slaves, we experience the freedom that comes with good choices and right priorities. To put God in front of everything is freedom. To put everything ahead of God is sin.
We have been set free, no longer a slave to sin but given the power to willingly serve the Lord. We are still slaves, but we are welcomed by a Master that will treat us well. As slaves to sin, we are bound to suffer the consequences; as slaves to righteousness, we will receive the fruit of His grace. As we live in His household, we grow closer to our Master and are transformedósanctifiedóinto the kind of servant He has ordained us to be.
Jesus says in todayís passage, ďHe that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.Ē Iím not quite sure what reward a prophet will receive, especially when you look at the cases of the biblical prophets. They werenít given any great rewards; most of them were rejected and persecuted. Many were beaten and killed. No wonder we donít want to count ourselves among the prophets. And yet, they followed their calling with the assurance that they were blessed by God. The reward is not necessarily found in this life or this world, it is found in the promise of what will be.
It isnít much better for a righteous man. As a matter of fact, the righteous ones often suffer the same rejection and persecution as the prophets. The righteous ones are the ones who refuse to take advantage of others for their personal benefit. The righteous ones are those who end up as door mats and ladder rungs for the people willing to do anything to get ahead. The righteous ones do not boast of their greatness but quietly live as God has called them to live, in a relationship with Him. Those who receive the righteous will not gain anything but a deeper and stronger relationship with God.
To receive a prophet and a righteous man means receiving a reward, but not a trophy or medal. It means gaining a stronger and more personal relationship with the God to whom they are bound. This is more valuable than any gold or silver, it is an eternal gift, one that will last forever. Receiving the prophet and righteous man is a manifestation of the faith which God gives, the faith which saves. The reward, the assurance of true faith, is priceless.
Isnít it amazing that the priceless gift of eternal life takes so little to achieve? Jesus tells us that we need only give a glass of cold water to a child in the name of Godís servants to keep that which God has promised. And yet, even this is too hard for us to do without Godís help. We cannot give a glass of cold water to a child in the name of a disciple without faith. We cannot serve God in this way without believing in the promise that is already assured through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To receive a prophet or a righteous man takes faith, and that faith comes from God by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The reality of slavery is very painful for so many in our world, not only from the stories of the past but also in the present. Children are kidnapped from schools and sold as sex slaves. There are those who do not even realize they are slaves, like those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Many are even slaves to jobs and leisure. We are slaves to our opinions, to politics, to government and even to our churches. We donít have to be yoked to any of that, because Christ has set us free. He has called us to set aside everything in this world, including those we love the most, to put God first. He has called us to live as God intends us to live, obedient to His Word and according to His law. He has called us to trust that even when things donít seem to be going as we think they should, that He is still in control. He knows what we do not know. He knows what He has to do. It wonít be fluff and stuff; it will be hard, piercing, dividing. It may include rejection and persecution, suffering and pain. It might even mean physical death.
But it wonít mean the grave. Christ has saved us for eternal life and we are yoked to Him forever. We wonít lose what God has promised because He is faithful.
ďFor this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.Ē Colossians 1:9-14, ASV
I have a confession to make. Iím not the best housekeeper. My house is not disgusting in any sense, but you will not have to look hard to find dust on the furniture or floors that could use a scrub. I think the hardest part is keeping up with the clutter. Iím an artist; I try to keep the clutter trapped in my studio, but it is so easy to stack the mail that needs to be read on a table or beside the lazy boy. My desk is covered with piles of research and bills to be paid. I have a desk that I try to keep clean, but right now there are boxes I need to prepare for shipping, materials for bible study and old paperwork that needs to be filed. I take time every once in awhile to organize, and for a brief period it will look good. Then I will start working on a new project and it will become cluttered all over again.
Isnít that the way with our Christian life? We have periods of time when everything looks terrific. We are zealous for the Lord, we are faithful in prayer and bible study, we act Christ-like in our relationships with our neighbors, doing good work and obeying Godís Word with joy and contentment. Then something sneaks in. We are tempted, we get hurt or sick, or we face a difficult situation. We let something slip, and then another something slips, until we no longer look like a Christian.
I think the best example of this is language. I have had times in my life when I wouldnít even think of saying certain words. I still avoid the most offensive of the Ďfour letter wordsí but I have found myself saying a few without even thinking about it. Iím as shocked as those around me when they slip. But it is like the clutter on my desk; Iíve let the bad language gain a foothold and I donít even realize Iím using it. This happens with lies. It happens with bad eating habits. It happens with anger and hatred and selfishness. We might have periods when we would never do those things, but something tempts us, something triggers it, and once it gets a foothold, we canít help but do it.
But God has patience with us. He knows we arenít perfect. He knows we will slip and fall. Even with the salvation that He has given us through Jesus Christ our Lord, He knows we will fail. He is constantly working in our hearts and in our flesh to help us overcome the thoughts, words and deeds that make us less than He wants us to be. He has saved us not just so that weíll spend eternity in heaven; He has saved us to bring heaven to earth. He transforms us to be His witnesses, to be His hands, to be His voice in this world. Can we be His voice with words that would make our mothers cringe on our lips? Will we have any credibility with those who seek Godís forgiveness if we look and act as if nothing has changed in our lives?
What has become a habit in your life that is making you less that God wants you to be? Where is the dust piling up, what floors need to be scrubbed? What is hidden among the clutter on your desk that you need to throw away? God is constantly calling you to change, to become better, to grow in maturity of faith so that you will be more and more Christ-like every day. Oh, weíll fail. We will start a new pile of clutter on our desk, but God will be there to help us remove it. He will be there with forgiveness and with the power to overcome. Heíll be there with us, to give us the strength and the gifts to be all that we have been created and redeemed to be.
Let it begin with the small things. Ask God for help. Confess your sins, seek His grace, receive His forgiveness and move on. You will be amazed at how beautiful the world will look with a clean desk and how people will be willing to listen when you speak without using those Ďfour letter words.í Your life will become a blessing and the world around you will be a little bit like heaven.
ďAnd this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.Ē 1 John 1:5-10, ASV
I bought a new purse yesterday. I have been looking for a purse for a long time, but my taste never seems to match the fashion of the day. I look for more practical qualities rather than aesthetics. The purse must be able to hold the things I need to carry and have just the right strap for comfort. It has been impossible to find my favorite style for some time, but I noticed my old purse was not just looking old, it was starting to fall apart. I had to find a purse immediately.
I went to a store I had not checked in a few months and I found something suitable. It isnít perfect, but it will work. The style came in multiple colors so I had to decide which one to buy. Iím not the kind of person who changes purses with every outfit. I donít buy purses to match my shoes. My purse is a practical necessity rather than a fashion accessory, so I tend to choose something that will go ok with just about anything I might wear. They had one that was almost the same color as my current purse, but I wanted something different. Several of them had bright, beautiful colors, but they were too bright for my taste in purses.
They also had a white one. I know, even as I was buying the white one I was telling myself that it was a foolish choice. White will show dirt and the purse will begin to look old after only a few trips to the grocery store. Every spot will shine, every smudge will stand out. Iíll be cleaning this purse constantly to keep it looking new and pretty. It wonít take very long before it looks gray and dingy. I might be kicking myself in a week, or grumble every time I have to clean it, but it was the one I liked. I bought it and Iím glad I did.
Have you ever wondered why God chose you to be His? That might seem like a very strange question to those who do not believe in the Christian faith. Would God, the Ruler of all, Creator of the universe, Redeemer of the world really take the time to choose me, or anyone for that matter, to be His? Why would He pick me out of a crowd and focus His lifesaving and life changing mercy and grace on me personally and individually? After all, He sent Jesus for the whole world. He loves all men. Why would He bother to care about me so much that He has even counted the number of hairs on my head?
I sure wasnít perfect when He chose me. I sure wasnít everything He wanted me to be. I was a sinner, and I needed saving. Now, by His grace I was made clean, washed in the blood of Jesus. As hard as it is to believe, He made me white as that new purse I purchased yesterday. Sadly, it wasnít very long before I was showing the dirt and smudges of life in this world. I feel pretty gray and dingy most days. Iím surely not the best example of a Christian. Iím not really a great daughter to my Father in heaven. I fall to temptation. I do what I know I shouldnít do and I donít do what I know I should. I am beaten and worn and probably not must use to God most days.
Thankfully I am not an old purse. God wonít replace me and stuff me into the rubbish bin. He will constantly forgive and transform me, renewing that Ďlike newí image over and over again. He will do this because He chose me, because He loves me, because He wants me to be all that He created and redeemed me to be. He does this because to Him I am special.
And to Him you are special, too. See, God isnít limited the way we are limited. He doesnít choose someone because they are the right style or color. He doesnít choose someone because they are a practical necessity or a fashion accessory. He chooses us because He loves us. He knows each of us, whether we are saved at this moment or not, because He loves us. And then He focuses His lifesaving and life changing mercy and grace on each of us personally and individually. Sadly, some do not recognize or believe in Him, but He wonít give up on them as He never gives us on us. He is God and is able to care for each person in His own way until the day when they meet Him face to face.
It is my prayer this day that everyone will know this wonderful grace, that we all will love this Ruler of all, Creator of the universe, Redeemer of the world so that we will be able to embrace Him as He is waiting and longing to embrace us in that great and glorious Day when His work will be complete in us. Until then, let us never forget to confess that we are broken, dirty and dingy, gray and smudged, beaten and worn and that God is always willing to have mercy, to forgive us and to wipe us clean.
ďThis is now, beloved, the second epistle that I write unto you; and in both of them I stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance; that ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandments of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles: knowing this first, that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and amidst water, by the word of God; by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.Ē 2 Peter 3:1-9, ASV
I love living in Texas, but I have to agree that sometimes the weather can become a little oppressive. The heat isnít too bad until you add the humidity that blows up from the Gulf of Mexico. We are glad when there is moisture and an unstable atmosphere because it means we might get rain, but humidity and heat is not terribly pleasant without that promise. We are expecting one of those days today.
My plan was to get up early this morning and get out of the house early. I have several errands to run, and I wanted to do it before it became too uncomfortable out there. See, I have no problem hiding myself in my nicely air conditioned house during the afternoon; I have plenty to do in my office and my studio. I have some major projects underway, so thereís no reason why I have to be outside when it is too hot. I just need to get out of bed in time; it usually isnít a problem. While Iím never up before the dawn, I am usually awake by the time Bruce leaves for work.
Today was not that kind of day. I was shocked to see how late it was when I finally opened my eyes. I remained groggy much longer than usual and I have had difficulty getting myself together. I was going to wait until after my errands to write today, but decided that it would be better give my body a chance to spring into life, so I am writing now. Iíll just have to deal with the weather and the crowds.
I am lucky; I donít have to pay that much attention to clocks. My life revolved around the clock when the kids were little. I had to make sure they were where they needed to be at the right time. I had to be at school to pick them up right when school was finished. I had to make sure that they were fed and went to bed according to a schedule that would keep them healthy and ready for their day. I donít have the responsibilities of a job, so I can get to my office or my studio any time during the day. I have a few deadlines, but I tend to stay ahead of my work and so deadlines are rarely a worry. My weekly commitments of Midweek Oasis on Wednesday, Bible study on Thursday and church on Sunday help me remember the day of the week and this writing reminds me of the passing of the months.
While I donít pay much attention to the passing of time, I was a little surprised when I realized this morning that 2014 is already half over. Tomorrow is July 1st. Where does the time go? We are getting older every day and sometimes it seems like we are getting farther and farther away from the promise. After all, it has been nearly two thousand years since Jesus ascended into heaven. I canít help but wonder why it is taking Him so long to come again. I watch the news and pray ďCome Lord JesusĒ because that seems to be the only real solution to all our problems.
I donít have to live by a clock like most of my friends, and Iím thankful. I like having the freedom to go out when it is convenient or to change my plans if things donít go just the way I hoped. I have to admit that Iím glad that I donít have the responsibilities that drive others to constantly watch the time. Isnít it funny, then, that I want to confine God to my calendar, clock and sense of time? We arenít getting farther from the promise; we are constantly getting nearer to its fulfillment. We have to remember, though, God does not perceive time as we do. To Him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. He is not waiting for a date on a calendar or a time on a clock, He is waiting until everything, and everybody, is ready.
Would we have wanted Christ to come the day before we were saved?
We canít make God be faithful to His promises a second earlier than He intends, so instead of moaning over the passage of time and begging Christ to come for our convenience, let us do what He is calling us to do. He does not want anyone to perish, and He has made us His witnesses so that all will come to repentance. Let us take the Gospel into the world, to share the forgiveness we have in Christ and invite everyone into a relationship with God. We wonít make Him come any faster, and weíll probably experience some of that mocking as those who refuse to believe reject us because of Godís timing. But God is patiently waiting for everyone who will believe, and it is up to us to speak the word so that they might hear and believe.