Welcome to the June 2022 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2022
June 1, 2022
Scriptures for June 5, 2022, Pentecost: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 143; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31
“It will be that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21, WEB
I have become a very impatient driver. I’m not to the point of road rage, but I can’t help thinking to myself that the other drivers on the road don’t know what they are doing. I often comment sarcastically about the lack of a turn signal, or the last-minute decision cut off other drivers to cross three lanes of traffic to get off an exit. Those comments are often in my head, especially when there are others in the car with me, but I have yelled at drivers and called them names out loud. They can’t hear me and I don’t make it obvious with hand motions, of course, but it doesn’t matter. Whether in my head or yelling out loud, someone does hear: God.
I have probably been an impatient driver for a while, but I have begun to notice it lately. I say “I’m sorry” every time it happens. I am not apologizing to the driver who did not use their signal or the one who cut me off, after all they have no idea I was just yelling at them. I was repenting to my God who knows everything. Here’s the thing, though, the more I notice my reaction to their infractions, the more I realize that I do the same thing. I forget to use my turn signal and I do accidentally cut off other drivers when I realize last minute I need to be in another lane. My reaction to the other assumes the worst, but my reaction to my own infractions knows it wasn’t hostile or indifferent. I have begun to repent of those now, too. This is God’s way of helping us transform into the people that He has created us to be. Hopefully I am becoming more aware of both my reaction to other drivers and to the ways I cause a similar reaction with them.
Sometimes we see our sinfulness through others, as if we are looking in a mirror. As a matter of fact, I think if we are honest with ourselves, our worst judgments of our neighbors are often the very things we are guilty of doing or of having done. This became clear to me during the days of my daughter’s youth. She is very much like me in many ways, including her actions. I used to call my mother to apologize. My mom would say, “What did your daughter do today?” It was true, I often realized the things that drove me crazy were the very things that drove my mom crazy.
It is very easy for us to look at others and see all their faults. We curse at other drivers for cutting us off on the highway but forget we do it ourselves. We grumble about the suffering in the world expecting others to take care of it, but we do nothing to make a difference. We list the sins of our neighbor without really considering our own. My daughter has been quite a blessing because we rarely have a chance to see ourselves as we really are, as if looking in that mirror. Isn’t it strange how the things we notice most clearly in the lives of others are the very things that dominate our lives? I have heard it said that we should be careful about pointing the finger at someone, because when we do there are others pointing back at us.
Many of the Psalms are filled with pleas to God to save them from their enemies. These imprecations speak of enemies who pursue and persecute them; the psalmist asks God to silence and destroy their foes. The singers claim a special place in God’s heart. I, too, long for God’s protection on my life, but I don’t find much comfort in this type of Psalm. I can’t help but wonder if I am doing the very things that have made my neighbor my enemy. In this particular Psalm, however, David realizes his own sin and begs for God’s mercy before he seeks God’s help. It is penitential in character; David knows that he is not righteous before God. He turns to the only one who can provide for his needs, “I spread out my hands to you. My soul thirsts for you, like a parched land.” Only after admitting his own fault does David seek an answer to his prayer, and in doing so asks for God to transform his life as much as he asks to subdue his enemy.
God has been working on me, as He works on all of us. He shows us our sins and helps us to overcome them. He transforms us daily, helping us to walk a better way today than we did yesterday. When we see something we don’t like in another, we tend to be quick to pass judgment and to rebuke or correct their faults, but it would do us well to take a moment to consider our own sins when we see faults in our neighbors.
There is a place for judgment in this world, to help others to become the person God has created them to be. We should not let sin continue in the lives of those we know and love. Yet, when we see something negative in the life of another, let us stop for a moment and consider what it is we are really seeing. Is God holding before us a mirror so that we can see ourselves and that which He is trying to transform in our own lives? We certainly can seek God’s protection on our lives, because there are enemies trying to destroy us, but we should pray for His help with humility, knowing that we are not any better or more righteous than those who pursue and persecute us. It is only by God’s grace and unfailing love that we have been saved and are being transformed.
God had a plan from the beginning of time to work this salvation and transformation in our lives. He promised throughout the Old Testament that He would send a Savior, and that Savior promised that He would send a Helper. Jesus was the Savior, and for the past seven weeks we have heard Jesus preparing the disciples to continue His work in the world. Those stories are meant for us to. We have lifted up the apostles as special witnesses for God, and we think they are faultless. Yet, we know from the stories in the scriptures that they were not perfect; they were just like us. They sinned against their neighbor; they learned day by day how to be better. They needed a Savior as much as we do.
This Sunday we celebrate the beginning of the next step. We could not believe or be transformed without the power of God’s Holy Spirit which the Church received at Pentecost.
Dennis Bratcher at CRI/Voice, Institute once said, “In many churches, the season leading up to Pentecost Sunday is one of the most neglected of the church calendar.” This is true. While most churches will do something special for the Sunday of Pentecost, we rarely count down the days as we do for Advent and Lent. We set aside a period of time when we look forward to those celebrations to come. With Pentecost, however, we don’t count down the days. We don’t prepare.
We might do differently if we understand the Jewish roots of the festival which is the historical foundation of our Christian celebration of Pentecost. It was a time of counting and preparation. The word “Pentecost” means “fifty” because it was the fiftieth day following the Passover. The counting begins on the second day of the Passover feast when an omer of barley was presented at the temple as the first fruits grain offering. Forty-nine days later an omer of wheat was presented. The counting of the omer concluded with Shavuot. This period represents the time between the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law. The celebration is described Leviticus 23:15-16. At Passover they celebrate their freedom from slavery and then at Shavuot they remember their acceptance of the Torah, the Law of God. They remember their commitment as a nation to serve their God.
The barley, also called the wave offering, was representative of the food meant for the animals. It is unearned, given freely, just as the Exodus was a gift given freely by the grace of God. After forty-nine days, the next grain offering was of wheat grain, made into bread. It was an offering that was given with the cooperation of human effort. Therefore, the forty-nine days were spent not only caring for the wheat and preparing the bread, but it was spent developing one’s spiritual potential. We can see that in the way that Jesus spent those days with His disciples. He was preparing the disciples for the work they were to do when they were finally sent out into the world. When He ascended to heaven, they spent the next ten days in prayer. The Spirit came on the fiftieth day.
In some Jewish traditions, the preparation for Pentecost was a time to work on one’s inner growth, to develop good characteristics through reflection. Using the “sephirot” or attributes of God from the Kabbalah, the believer reflects on each of seven aspects one day of each week for seven weeks. The weeks also represent the seven aspects, so each day focuses on a different combination. The seven aspects are mercy/grace/love of God; judgment/strength/determination; symmetry/balance/compassion; contemplation/initiative/persistence; surrender/sincerity/steadfastness; foundation/wholly remembering/coherent knowledge; kingdom/physical presence/vision and illusion. On the first day of the first week, the believer reflected on the mercy that is in mercy. On the second day of the first week they reflected on the judgment that is in mercy. On the first day of the second week they focused on the mercy that is in judgment. They do this each day until they reach the seventh day of the seventh week when they reflect on the kingdom that is in the kingdom.
Pentecost is one of the most important festivals in the Christian year. We don’t necessarily need to follow Kabbalah tradition, but perhaps next year we’ll put more care into the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, preparing our hearts for the reality of what Christ has done. We focus on the Incarnation to the Resurrection, but His story continues through the Ascension and Pentecost. It is then that we truly join the story: He gives us the Spirit and by faith and His power we commit to serving Him in the world. Without the human cooperation, Pentecost is just a windy day that leaves those who are witnessing the power of God confused and cynical.
It was an amazing day. The disciples had been praying in the Upper Room, waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise when “Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.”
The ten days must have been difficult, dealing with disappointment, discouragement, uncertainty and doubt. Despite the promises, the disciples did not yet have the indwelling Spirit of God, so for a moment they were left alone. How would they do what Jesus told them they would do? They weren’t just going to teach people about God, they were being sent to do more. Far more. Earlier in John 14, Jesus said “Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father.” How in the world would they ever do greater things than Jesus?
This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost. The truth is that we would never do greater things than Jesus on our own, but with His Spirit we can do anything. The greater things are not necessarily healing the sick or raising the dead, however. We will probably never feed thousands of people with just a few fish and loaves of bread. He gives us authority to change lives, but will the world actually listen? Jesus did things that only the Messiah could. They would follow Him and do what they could do, but they could never do greater things than Jesus. After all, He was not an ordinary man; He was the Son of God. Yet, that promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.
The greater things are not what we might expect. Jesus did miracles, but even greater than the miracles is the message of the Gospel. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, but even greater than these is the healing and life that comes from the Word of God. We are amazed to think that someone might have been dead and then was alive, but the greater miracle is found in the salvation of God. Every Christian, saved by the Gospel and transformed by the Holy Spirit, is a greater miracle than all the miracles that Jesus did. Jesus did not expect the disciples to be like Him, wandering the countryside doing miracles. That is certainly one way to share the Gospel, but Jesus intended something greater for His people. They were called to share God’s grace with the world through the Good News, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to do all that Jesus commanded them to do.
Jesus made the promise that they would do greater things and that He would give them the Holy Spirit to help. The disciples spent ten days between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. It was a time of waiting, but not passive waiting. Jesus’ followers, including the women, Mary and Jesus’ brothers, and others, were gathered in the upper room together. Matthias was appointed to replace Judas among the apostles. Can you imagine the emotions? They missed Jesus who had been the center of their lives for three years. They may have felt abandoned by God. They enjoyed being with Jesus and His departure left them empty. Yet, they had faith. They obeyed Jesus. They waited. They prayed. They watched.
The story of what happened on Pentecost began in our Old Testament passage from the book of Genesis. Mankind had settled and founded a city. Together they decided to build a tower that would reach to heaven. Human nature has strived to become gods from the beginning. The Lord God Almighty saw that they could accomplish great feats together and so He confused their language and sent the people to the four corners of the world. Archeologists have identified what they believe could have been the original tower and it is interesting to note that it is dwarfed by the amazing skyscrapers of today.
The problem was not that they were able to build a tower that would reach into heaven. That is an impossible feat because heaven is not a place we pinpoint on a map. We have sent rockets into outer space and have cameras that have filmed the far edges of our universe, but they will never reach heaven. The problem in Babel was that the people were repeating the foolishness of Adam and Eve; they thought they could become like God. The languages were confused, but human beings have never stopped accomplishing great things together. The people in the ancient world found ways to communicate with people of other languages. The people in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, including Jesus and the disciples, were possibly capable of communicating in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin, if in limited ways.
Jerusalem was filled with people who spoke many other languages during the days of Pentecost. There were people with Hebraic heritage all over the known world. A large community lived in Ethiopia. There were communities of Jews in Asia. Luke tells us that the crowd in Jerusalem was filled with Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene. There were visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. There were ways to get what you need when you are in a foreign place, but who would have thought that a hodgepodge group of Galileans could speak in a way that so many could hear and understand?
Pentecost is about something more. Though the disciples did speak the languages of the nations on that first Pentecost and the people heard the Gospel in their own tongue, Pentecost introduced a new language to the world: the Gospel. The words might be different from nation to nation, but the Gospel is the same everywhere. Jesus Christ died for the sake of the world so that all who believe will be saved. It seems too simple, doesn’t it? It was so exciting to be with Jesus, a surprise every minute, and miraculous experiences around every corner. Which would you prefer? Would you want to carry a simple message to the world or change lives in grand and miraculous ways?
The gift given at Pentecost was certainly an incredible thing. Can you imagine what it was like to miraculously be able to speak words in an unknown language that was understood by others? Anybody who has learned a second or third language knows how much effort and time it takes. It is hard. But in one miraculous moment, God reversed the confusion from Babel so that the world would know His promises.
We can focus on a number of different themes for Pentecost. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, when God gave to the disciples the final piece to the puzzle: the Spirit, who will remind them of everything Jesus taught, teach them what they do not yet know, and give them the power to continue the work Jesus did in this world. We can focus on the idea of languages: that the power of God’s Spirit came at Pentecost to make it possible for disciples of all places to share the Gospel message with the world. We can focus on the wind or breath of God, learning more about the Holy Spirit, and the gifts He gives to God’s people. We can talk about the unity of the body of Christ that comes by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter quoted the prophet Joel, “It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams. Yes, and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days, I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath: blood, and fire, and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes. It will be that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The promise of Pentecost is not that we will be able to understand one another even if we speak different languages. It is about becoming one people again: His people. The power of God’s Spirit came at Pentecost to make it possible for disciples of all ages to share the Gospel message with the world. We are unified—made children of God and heirs to His eternal kingdom—not because we have done anything right or have earned the honor. God comes to His people and by His Spirit grants them faith and gifts to make His name known throughout the world. We are called to be Christ’s body, to share the Gospel and to bring others into the unity of the Church.
Though the miracle of Pentecost is the miraculous tongues that brought so many to faith on that day so long ago, the Holy Spirit’s gift is not always about miracles. We may never raise the dead or heal a leper. We may not cast out demons or make a paralytic walk. We do not have to strive to do those things. If that is the work God is calling us to do, He’ll give us the power and the opportunity to do so. Our task, first and foremost, is to share the simple message of the Gospel, so that those who hear and believe will be restored to God and become His children. These are the greater things.
The psalmist reminds us that no man is righteous. We are all sinners in need of a Savior, by the grace of Jesus Christ we have received forgiveness and we are being transformed into the people God created us to be. We can seek His grace to cry out to Him, even though we are not worthy. The Gospel is a message of forgiveness, not given because we earn it but because God has promised. We don’t have to build a tower to heaven because God came to earth to dwell among us. This is the promise of the Resurrection, and which was fulfilled at Pentecost.
We are sinners in need of a Savior. It is so much easier to see the faults of others. We can cry out to God in our troubles. We can even ask God to deal with our enemies, but we but we are reminded by the psalmist that no man is righteous. By the grace of Jesus Christ, we have received forgiveness. The story of Jesus from Incarnation to Resurrection made that possible, and it is through Pentecost God restored His people and gave us one language: the language of faith. The story of Jesus continues with us, the people He saved.
God has been working on me, just as He continues to work on all of us. He shows us our sins and helps us to overcome them. He helps us to walk a better way today than we did yesterday. He is transforming us into the people He created us to be. By His power we have the authority to continue the work Jesus began, including miraculous acts. Pentecost was an incredible day with miraculous tongues that brought so many to faith, but it was just the next step in the story of Jesus. He sent the Holy Spirit, a gift that is not just about miracles. We may never do the incredible things Jesus did. The gift gives us everything we need to continue His work in the world. Our task, first and foremost, is to share the simple message of the Gospel, so that those who hear will call on the name of the Lord and be saved. This is the greater thing.
“When Yahweh brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, ‘Yahweh has done great things for them.’ Yahweh has done great things for us, and we are glad. Restore our fortunes again, Yahweh, like the streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap in joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, will certainly come again with joy, carrying his sheaves.” Psalm 126, WEB
We look to the lives of the Saints because we are encouraged by their boldness, their faithfulness, and their sheer determination to stand for God no matter what. Their stories are disheartening, though, because they are filled with violence, hatred, and death. One of the Saints remembered today is Erasmus who was beaten with iron-weighted clubs and whips, rolled in tar and burned. He survived and was thrown in prison to be starved to death. Somehow he escaped, it is said by the help of an angel. He was eventually recaptured and killed in 303 A.D. when they cut open his stomach and wound his intestines around a windlass.
The story of Erasmus is so disturbing you probably didn’t want to hear it today. The enemies of God found the most horrific ways to deal with the people of God, some more than others. The persecution of Christians under the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180) was particularly brutal. We often wonder about the reality of the stories because they seem so outlandish, like an angel helping Erasmus to escape, but in many cases we have verifiable information about the persecution. This is true in the stories of the Martyrs of Lyons. In 177 A.D. a large number of Christians were imprisoned and tortured, there is a factual and moving contemporary record of their suffering that was faithfully transcribed by Eusebius, which makes the story credible.
The document begins: “The severity of our trials here, the unbridled fury of the heathen against God's people, the untold sufferings of the blessed martyrs, we are incapable of describing in detail: indeed no pen could do them justice.” Nearly fifty saints are counted among these martyrs who are remembered on this day, including Attalus, Blandina, Maturus, Sanctus, and Pothinus, the first Bishop of Lyons. These Saints are often listed as Pothinus and Companions or Blandina and Companions. What is particularly interesting about the record of these martyrs is that the varied situation of each person was stressed’ there were bishops, priests, deacons and laity, men and women, young and old, slave and free. Pothinus was a bishop and Blandina was a slave. Pothinus was ninety years old and Blandina just fifteen years old. The persecution of the saints knows no bounds.
The persecution began as the non-Christians of the region excluded them from the markets and baths but became more violent until official action was taken. Christians were interrogated and imprisoned. The slaves of Christians were arrested and tortured to cause them to accuse their masters. The charges were of cannibalism, incest, and other abominations, charges that were regularly made against Christians. Sadly, some of the Christians succumbed to the pressure and disavowed their faith.
The type of torture and death varied among the Martyrs of Lyons. At least four were killed by wild beasts. Others were tortured with whips or roasted on the iron chair. Some died as a result of their varied sufferings; some of the martyrs were repeatedly tortured. The persecutors were brutal, and the prison was wretched. Despite the ever-growing violence against them, the martyrs remained true to God and their constancy caused some of those who lapsed from faith to confess Christ boldly and join the other martyrs.
The last of the martyrs to die was Blandina, a fifteen-year-old slave girl who was taken into custody with her master, a Christian woman. Her companions feared for her because she was small and frail, and they feared she would not be steadfast. She was tortured horribly, even to the point her executioners became exhausted. “We don’t know what more we can do to her,” they said. She remained faithful and repeated every question, “I am a Christian, and we commit no wrongdoing.”
The ruins of the amphitheater where the persecutions happened is a tourist destination in Lyon. In the center of the arena is a pole that is a memorial to the martyrs. After many tortures did not cause Blandina to disavow her faith, she was tired to a pole and surrounded by wild animals. It is said the animals did not touch her. After several days, she was forced to watch the other martyrs suffer and die. One of those martyrs, a young boy, is sometimes said to be her own brother. Finally, she was scourged, placed on a red-hot grate, enclosed in a net and thrown before a wild steer who tossed her into the air with his horns. In the end, she was killed with a dagger.
We look to the lives of the Saints because we are encouraged by their boldness, their faithfulness, and their sheer determination to stand for God no matter what. Yes, their stories are disheartening because they are filled with violence, hatred, and death. We are to learn from them and follow their example because they found life in their faithfulness. It was noted by a witness to the suffering of the Martyrs of Lyons that those Christians who suffered faithfully were joyful and ecstatic, while those who renounced their faith became dismayed. While persecution is always a possibility in this world, it is unlikely that any of us will face such horrific torture and death. The psalmist reminds us to face all our life with faith, knowing that in the end we will know the joy of God’s mercy and grace. We may weep today, but we will rejoice for eternity. And as the story of the Martyrs of Lyons tells us, we may just plant seeds that will ripen into a glorious harvest for the Lord.
“As the appearance of the rainbow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of Yahweh’s glory. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke.” Ezekiel 1:28, WEB
Eric Dowdle is an American folk artist who turns his paintings into puzzles. He creates images that places people into the landscape of a story; he is able to convey the atmosphere of a place or situation. He is more than a painter and puzzle maker; he is a storyteller. His paintings are fun to explore because there are so many fun details, secrets about the places and circumstances. The scenes are seasonal, colorful, and happy. He has a television show that you can find on streaming services where he goes into a town to discover what it is that makes that place special which he then includes in his paintings.
He made a painting of Noah’s Ark which is surrounded by dozens of animals waiting to board. The picture is especially cute because he has the animals doing some particularly human actions. The owl is reading a book. The polar bear is drinking a soda. The panda bear is playing a banjo. The penguin, in his tuxedo, is acting as a butler delivering a drink. I think I could spend hours searching the picture for the humorous and unexpected moments in that scene. Many people have portrayed that moment in time through art. Some make it very realistic, others with a touch of humor. The usual animals are almost always present: elephants, lions and cows. The most amazing part of these scenes is the proximity of animals that are rarely seen together. After all, an alligator is likely to eat the flamingo and a tiger would take down a zebra in seconds.
We know the story of Noah’s Ark. Noah was the only one on earth that was righteous in the eyes of God, and God had a plan to deal with the wickedness of human beings. So, God called him to build an ark to save a piece of the world from a flood so that we could begin anew. According to God’s word, Noah loaded the ark with two of every creature, his wife, his sons and their wives. When the time was right, God closed them in on the ark and it started to rain. It rained for forty days and forty nights until water covered the face of the earth. It took months for the water to recede, but when it did the ark landed on a mountain.
Eventually the animals and people were set free to reestablish the earth. When it was over, God spoke to Noah and made a lasting promise, “‘I will establish my covenant with you: All flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be a sign of a covenant between me and the earth. When I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud, I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
I love to see rainbows, but they can be few and far between, especially when you live in a time of drought as we are in Texas. We haven’t seen much rain in a long time. As we go for days, weeks, months, even years without those rainbows, it is easy to wonder if God will remember the promise when it does start raining again. It is typical for our region to be dry for a long time and then to rain on and on and on when it does start again. When it begins to rain, we will face the possibility of flash flooding and then eventually rivers washing over their banks. Will God be faithful when the rain begins, even if there is no break in the storm to allow for a rainbow?
As I pondered the story of Noah, I looked through the scriptures to see whether there are rainbows mentioned any other time. I found three references, one from Ezekiel and two from Revelation, including the text for today. In each passage, the prophet describes the image of God in heaven, an image which includes a rainbow surrounding the throne of God or the Son of Man wrapped in a rainbow. In other words, though we do not see a rainbow, God does not need the reminder as we might expect. He has made it part of who He is. The rainbow, and the promise, is part of His glory, part of His majesty. That’s why He is so faithful: He isn’t separated from His promises the way human beings tend to be. He is the promise, and as such He can’t fail.
“Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, and not as Moses, who put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel wouldn’t look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away. But their minds were hardened, for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains, because in Christ it passes away. But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face seeing the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, WEB
My husband and I are preparing for a trip to Germany. We are traveling with a tour group and will walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther, see the Passion Play, and experience other uniquely German adventures. I wish our itinerary would include more about the Holocause, but there is a memorial I hope to visit. There is a museum in Berlin dedicated to the German Resistance Movement. This museum remembers the men and women who fought against the National Socialist dictatorship. Many were arrested, beaten, and even killed. One of the most famous is Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I have read several books that contain his writings, including “Letters and Papers from Prison” and “Love Letters from Cell 92”. This second book is a compilation of the letters Dietrich wrote to his fiancé Maria while he was in Tegel Prison. I have also read numerous biographical books and articles about him. In the process, I’ve learned something very interesting biographies: you have to take what you read with a grain of salt. This is especially true about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a complex man. Ask people with different world views what they think about him, and you’ll discover that some think he was on their side, while those who have a completely opposite world view think he was on their side. One biographer painted a picture of an extremely conservative person while another described him in from a more liberal perspective. I never understood why some people had certain ideas about him based on what I knew, but I’ve realized that we often see what we want to see. Dietrich had such an incredible impact on the world that we want to claim him for ourselves.
The thing is, Dietrich doesn’t fit into any of our boxes. He was conservative in some things and liberal in others. We can’t consider him either, really, because he was a man from a very different time and place. Our definitions do not describe him. I finally decided to buy the biography written by Dietrich’s best friend Eberhard Bethge. If anyone knew Dietrich, it would be him. I’m only a few pages into the book, but I’ve already begun to see him in a new light, a more complete picture because Eberhard was not trying to present a Dietrich that fit into a box of his making, particularly an American box.
What would people say if they wrote a book about you? What would your child say? Or your husband? How would your neighbor or co-workers describe your life? What about a childhood bully or someone that was hurt by something you did? They will all write that book through their eyes, from their perspective, and anyone who reads it will only know the things about you that they want you to hear. This is the very reason why we need to be careful to make judgments about people. We don’t know everything about anyone. Imagine trying to write a book about them. What would you include? What would you leave out?
When we read a biography, we hope we are seeing a person as they were but that doesn’t always happen. We see what the writer wants us to see; sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it isn’t. That’s because sometimes we are good and sometimes we aren’t. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had his virtues and his faults, and if all we ever read was the point of view of someone who saw only one side of their lives, we would never understand who they are.
Imagine if God looked at us only from the point of view of those who write our book. Thankfully, He has written His own and He sees us from a perspective that even we do not see. He sees us through Jesus-colored glasses. He sees us transformed by grace, wearing the righteousness that Jesus won for us and gives us through faith. There is a meme that that talks about having a conversation with a friend who was not living as she should. It ends, “And then I winked and turned away from the mirror.” Never mind that no one really sees us as we are, we don’t usually see ourselves as we are. But God does, and God still looks at us with mercy, grace, and love. Paul tells us to look at ourselves through those Jesus-colored glasses, knowing there is always hope for us because God has forgiven us and is transforming by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we reflect His glory now and forevermore.
“Remember my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the bitterness. My soul still remembers them, and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. ‘Yahweh is my portion,’ says my soul. ‘Therefore I will hope in him.’ Yahweh is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silence, because he has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust, if it is so that there may be hope. Let him give his cheek to him who strikes him. Let him be filled full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever. For though he causes grief, yet he will have compassion according to the multitude of his loving kindnesses. For he does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” Lamentations 3:19-33, WEB
There was a scene in the movie “City Slickers” starring Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby during which the characters were talking about the best and worst days of their lives. Billy Crystal’s character Mitch told his friends about a time when his wife found a lump in her breast. He said for the whole day they worried and wondered if it was cancer. In the end they found out it was nothing. Mitch said, “That was my worst day.” Bruno Kirby - Ed - said, “But that was a good day, it was nothing.” Mitch answered, “Until we knew, it was a horrible day.” Ed said, “But it ended well.” Back and forth they went arguing about whether it was good because the end was good or if it was bad because the whole day was filled with worry. Ed said, “You are really a glass is half-empty kind of guy” meaning that Mitch always saw the negative and missed the positive.
We are amazed when we look at faithful/faith-filled people who are suffering from some ailment. They are paralyzed and still go to the food bank every week to work. They are sick with cancer and visit the children’s ward to comfort the kids. They are financially strapped but manage to find enough to take a homeless man to dinner. They see the good in the midst of their affliction and do not wallow in pity for their own circumstances knowing that others need help more than they.
One of the most difficult things for a non-Christian to understand is the idea of goodness in suffering. They want to know, “If God is so good, why do people suffer?” The thing is, they aren’t able to see the wonderful things that come out of suffering. They can’t see the hope we have in tomorrow, even if tomorrow never comes. We don’t see suffering as something good or bad, but as something through which God takes us to make us better. They want to blame God, call Him an evil being because He puts this horror on people. Or they simply refuse to believe any sort of loving God exists because a loving God would not allow suffering in His world.
In Christ, however, we view things differently. We see the glass as half-full; we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We know that even if our suffering today ends in death, we will not die because we have eternal life in Christ. We know that God does not plan for us to suffer, but that He will be with us through the suffering that comes from living in this fallen and imperfect world. We know that God makes good things happen out of bad for those who love Him and have hope in His promises.
I think there are times in every man’s life when he feels like Mitch. Every woman experiences a time of self-pity or of questioning why God would allow the suffering we face. Yet, in Christ we are called to view the world differently, to look at all our experiences through God’s eyes and remember that He is faithful to the end. We know to whom we belong and what He has promised to those who have faith. So, in hope we can get through our suffering knowing that something incredible is waiting for us in the end: eternal life with our Father in Heaven. We know that God will be with us through all the trials we face, not willingly afflicting us but using all our afflictions to bring us closer to His heart. He is truly a compassionate and merciful God. Knowing this we can rejoice in our suffering and walk in faith into the glass is half-empty world with hope and peace.
Lectionary Scriptures for June 12, 2022, The Holy Trinity: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 8:48-59
“Jesus said to them, “Most certainly, I tell you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM.” John 8:58, WEB
With Pentecost, we usher in a new season in the Church year. This season, which lasts until Advent, is a season of learning, growing and becoming that which Christ has called us to be. The first half of the Church year focuses on the story of God – the coming and birth of Christ, the Epiphany and revelation of His presence to the world, the journey to the cross during Lent, the death and resurrection and finally His final lessons to His disciples then ascension into heaven. The second half focuses more on our story – how to be disciples in the world.
Before we begin this season of learning how to live an extraordinary life in the midst of ordinary circumstances, we stop for a moment to discover the mystery of God. Trinity Sunday gives us a chance to reflect upon our God, to draw deeper into His heart and to ponder His majesty. It is a time for us to discern not our place in God’s kingdom but rather our understanding of God Himself. Who is this God that we are called to follow? What is my relationship with Him? As we come to understand more clearly who He is, we can follow more closely according to His Will and purpose for our lives. We have plenty of time to figure out who we are – a popular practice in modern life. For just a brief moment, let’s spend time figuring out who He is.
A student put together a science project on the solar system and universe. First a picture showed a number of colored balls with earth as the largest, which appeared huge compared to some of the other planets. The next picture showed earth as the smallest of the balls, dwarfed by other planets like Saturn and Jupiter. Another picture showed the sun as a huge ball compared to the planets. Finally, there was a picture of the sun being dwarfed by other suns in the Universe. In the end, the ball representing earth was so small that it was nothing but a tiny speck that could barely be seen in the picture. The question for us as Christians, “What is our place in the universe? If the earth on which we live is nothing but a speck, then we are less than a speck on that speck.”
In the beginning, God made us the crown of His creation in the Garden of Eden, God made us the crown of His creation and gave us the authority to rule over everything. This does not simply mean a farmer with his fields or our domesticated animals. We have been given rule over the entirety of God’s creation. When we talked about the dispersion of the people of Babel last week for Pentecost, we noted that mankind has made incredible strides with understanding all creation. We can travel into space. We have sent telescopes that can photograph galaxies millions of light years from earth. We’ve sent probes to other planets, even able to learn about the chemical make-up of the surface and the atmosphere. We have landed on Mars and have made amazing discoveries. We can make similar claims about the depths of the sea and the discovery of the atom.
Yet, as we travel into the vast reaches of the universe which God has created both big and small, we should be humbled by the reality that we will never fully understand it all. While it is amazing what we have accomplished, we have to remember that we are limited by our humanity and much about God’s creation will always lie beyond our reach. Despite our inadequacies, God has given us the most incredible gifts, the ability to reach beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch so that we might understand the bigger and the smaller worlds around us. The fact that we can see an atom or visit the moon is a gift from God. As we continue to explore the far reaches of the universe we should remember that it is God who has given us dominion over these things, to care for it and to use it for His glory.
The same can be said about the spiritual things. God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. We can know Him intimately, which is amazing when you think of how small we are compared to all that He has created. We are nothing, yet we are the crown. We are given dominion over everything, but even more importantly, He has made us children and heirs to all that is His. In the reality of our place in God’s Kingdom, we are specks on a speck in the universe. Even the universe is a speck compared to the fullness of God. His ways are higher, His thoughts greater than anything we can imagine. When we try to understand that which is beyond our understanding, let’s remember that even though we can’t grasp it with our brains, that does not mean it is not real and true.
This is especially important for us to consider on this Trinity Sunday. The Trinity, no matter how we try to explain it, is a mystery. It is something about God that perhaps, in our humility, we need to simply believe even though it does not make sense in human terms. If we could explain God with our brains, He wouldn’t be a very big God, would He?
It is always tempting on Trinity Sunday to try to come up with creative ways of describing the indescribable. The Trinity is a mystery that many have tried to explain in human terms, but it is beyond the human imagination. Every analogy falls apart in some way. Water/ice/steam: the water can’t be both ice and steam at the same time. Mother/daughter/sister: I can’t be my own mother or daughter. The cloverleaf: the leaves are not unique to one another, they are all the same. My personal favorite is to compare God to the ocean: God the Father is the depths of the sea, unreachable, unknowable, endless supporting life; God the Son is the surface, visible, active, touching the lives of men. God the Spirit is the mist and the waves, constantly moving, changing to world around it, invisible and yet visible, unstoppable, affected and affecting all that it touches. The ocean is all one, but the way the different parts are perceived by the human mind is different. One cannot exist without the other; they can’t be divided, but they can all be understood as uniquely different from the others.
Many argue that the Trinity is not Biblical, that the word Trinity is not found in the scriptures. Yet, the concept of the Trinity has been around since the earliest days of the Church, when the first disciples wrestled with this idea that God is present in different ways in the world. They knew that there is only One God, but they also recognized that some of what Jesus taught pointed to the idea that the Godhead was plural, Father, Son and Spirit. Even the Great Commission is worded to include this formula for the making of disciples. Jesus taught that we are to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The early Christians had to discover how it could be three but one. They had to try to explain this Threeness while holding to the Oneness of God.
Proverbs 8 was one of the Old Testament texts used to explain the idea of the Trinity. In this passage, we see that Wisdom is both personified but also possessed by God. Wisdom is separate, but also a part of God and equal to Him. The Proverb talks about the divinity and eternity of Wisdom. Nothing is equal to God, or divine like God, or eternal like God. Therefore, Wisdom being possessed by God is an aspect of God and is God. Early Christians recognized that Wisdom, particularly in this Proverb, is the Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ. He, the Son, is also by God, brought up with God, ever present and before all time, equal with God. God’s attributes are a part of Himself. Jesus the Son is a unique part of the Godhead, separate but not separate, unified with God the Father. Jesus tells us Himself in John 14, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Proverbs 8 is part of a larger passage from Proverbs that compares Wisdom to Folly. Folly is darkness, loud and defiant, brazen like a prostitute with crafty intent. Folly hides her intent. Wisdom is like light, openness. She stands at the gates where justice is served and does not hide. She is available, public, manifest and visible. As we consider the life of Jesus, we see that He too was light. He was available, public, manifest and visible. It is no wonder that the early Christians saw Christ in this personification of Wisdom.
The Proverb continues with powerful words for our lives in verses 32-36, “Now therefore, my sons, listen to me, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise. Don’t refuse it. Blessed is the man who hears me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my door posts. For whoever finds me, finds life, and will obtain favor from Yahweh. But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul. All those who hate me love death.” Obedience equals life. Transgression equals death. Finding Wisdom, knowing Jesus, brings life. It is not enough to believe in some unknown and unknowable ‘god’. Life and salvation are found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Wisdom took pleasure in men, took the nature of men, dwelt among us, and filled us with unspeakable treasures. Wisdom - Jesus and similarly the Spirit - calls men by His word and works to follow virtue and flee from vice.
It isn’t part of our lectionary for this week, but one of my favorite passages is Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, visible things and invisible things, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things have been created through him and for him.” I made a painting a few years ago based on this passage. It has a black background and colorful, chaotic swirls dry brushed on top. In the upper right corner, I taped off a cross over the black to protect it from the colorful paint. The swirling pattern represents how I envision the creation of the world as God spoke light and life into existence. Jesus Christ was there, in the beginning, just as we hear in the passages from Proverbs and Colossians.
How can this be? Holy Trinity Sunday is a good day to embrace the mystery of God. Instead of trying to fit Him into boxes or limit Him with words, it is a good time to dwell on the reality that God IS. We have plenty of words to describe Him, adjectives that describe His character, names that establish His rule. The study of theology is about learning about the God who can be described in many different ways. But most importantly, we learn and understand that He IS. He IS, not because He lives in Heaven or even because He created us. He IS, not because we call Him Father or Redeemer or Lord. He IS, not because we believe that He exists, but because He said, “I AM.” He IS. There is good reason for us to talk about God and study everything about Him, but on this day that we celebrate the Holy Trinity, it is enough to know that He IS.
For those who doubt the Trinity, the Oneness of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you only have to hear the words of Jesus Himself to know it is true. Jesus said, “Most certainly, I tell you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM.” Those listening knew exactly what He was saying because they accused Him of blasphemy. That’s why they took up stones and tried to stone Him. It is no wonder that the crowds wanted to kill Him, after all, in those words Jesus claimed to be God. Unless Jesus is God, those words are blasphemy. On Trinity Sunday, and every day, we confess that we believe Jesus is who He said He IS.
The text from Acts continues the story of Pentecost from last week as Peter tells the crowd the story of Jesus. His sermon causes us to ask another impossible question: Why did Jesus Christ have to suffer and die on the cross? This is not an easy question to answer. It doesn’t make sense, especially when we consider the greatness and mercy of God. How could a God willing to forgive the sins of sinners allow His Son to die a violent, tragic death? Where is the wisdom in this? Yet, Peter shows us that the work of Jesus Christ was according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. Even David in Psalm 8 spoke the words of prophecy about the Messiah. David’s prayer was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We may have authority over all of God’s creation, but Jesus Christ is our head, the One who has authority over us all.
Our biggest problem is that we all want God to stay within our control. We want a God we can explain and understand. We don’t want mystery, we want answers. We are still trying to build that tower of Babel, but instead of reaching up, we try to drag God down. But God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. He is greater than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest sea, larger than the universe and can fit on the nucleus of an atom. He created it all, and so He is greater than it all. He has no beginning. We’d rather keep Him in heaven or behind a curtain in a Temple. We want Him to stay behind our church doors so we can go to Him at our choosing. It is easier to grasp the concept of an old man on a throne of clouds than to understand the Trinity. God was not in Heaven when He spoke the first words that brought light to nothing and life to chaos. He was. He is. He will be. He is I AM.
We may never have the words to explain the Trinity, to fully describe God or tell others what it means to be a Christian, but we are called to share our faith with the world. It need not be a lengthy dissertation on the meaning of the great doctrines of Christianity. We can share our experiences of God and His Word so that He might work in their lives to spark the faith that will make them part of God’s kingdom on earth. How wonderful, and frightening, that God has made us part of this process! The psalmist asked, “What is man, that you think of him? What is the son of man, that you care for him?” This verse has been attributed to Jesus Christ, the words are meant for us, too. Not only does God care about everyone and everything He has created, He made mankind the crown of His creation and gave us the authority to rule over His creation.
With that authority, however, comes the responsibility to treat it as God would treat it. The wise man is one who will walk according to God’s ways, without abusing or wasting what God has made. The wise man is the one who will seek to understand what God intends for the Creation and to use it to His glory. The wise man will go forth in faith and share the reality of God’s sovereignty and majesty with the world. It isn’t easy. We are tempted to do what we want with what we have been given. We face situations that leave us questioning what God would do. We don’t always understand what God intends and we fail. Sin plays a role in everything we do, no matter how much we try to avoid sinful behavior. Though saved by grace and sanctified by the Spirit, we are still sinners who make mistakes.
I suppose the greatest mystery is that God loves us anyway and that Jesus Christ did what He did for our sakes. We can’t explain this love with mere human words. We can’t convince people to believe. We must simply fear the Lord, to revere and trust that He will provide us with all we need. We are called to live lives which shun folly, turn from sin and walk in the right path. God helps us to know right from wrong, good from bad and He guides us on the smart path, so let us listen and believe even if there are mysterious things we will never fully understand.
But while it is a mystery best left to our faith, God has given us enough to believe that it is true. The scriptures make it clear that Jesus is separate and unique but is also one with and equal to the Father. The Christian Creeds have long tried to spell out in words so Christians can speak with confidence and faith. The Apostles Creed lists each aspect of the Trinitarian Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, defining their individuality while insisting upon their unity. The Nicene Creed does the same with more details. These creeds are enough and are the standard by which all Christian faith is founded. Yet, they focus more on the individual persons of the Trinity rather than on the unity.
There is another creed; it is rarely used by Christian churches because it is so long, but it is also an accepted confession of our faith. What makes it ideal for this Sunday is that it focuses more on the unity of the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed is credited to Athanasius of Alexandria. He embraced the Nicene understanding of God and the creed was designed to clarify the Trinity and exclude multiple heresies that were rampant in that day, including Arianism.
Just as many Christians would rather ignore the aspects of God that makes them uncomfortable, the Athanasian Creed is hard to bear in our modern world of tolerance and acceptance. It begins with the words, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith.” In this case, the word “catholic” means “universal” or “Christian.” To be saved, you must believe this. It is not enough to believe there is a god or to believe in a god of our making. It is necessary to believe in the Trinitarian God.
The creed goes on to say, “Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.” The creed goes on to lay out the characteristics of this Trinity. The Father, Son and Spirit are each one person, but the deity of the three is one, equal in glory and coeternal in majesty. What God is, they all are: uncreated, infinite, eternal. They are all these things, but they are one. There are not three beings. They are all Almighty, but not three almighty beings. All are God, but there are not three gods, but one God. All are Lord, but there are not three Lords, but one Lord.
The creed goes on to describe the distinctions between the three. “The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten; the Son was neither made nor created, but alone was begotten of the Father; the Spirit was neither made nor created but is proceeding from the Father and the Son. There is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.”
This section of the creed finishes, “And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons. Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.” The rest of the creed parallels the explanations found in the other creeds about the work of Jesus and the Spirit and the Church. Finally, it ends, “This is the catholic faith. One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.”
The ending of this creed is bothersome to most people today because they want to pick and choose what they believe. Many even want to create a god that fits their needs, but this kind of god can never really be like God who is outside our ability to define and explain. A God worthy of worship must be greater than His creation. And yet, this same Trinitarian God who is beyond our human understanding is so personal that we are made one with Him through faith. This God invites us to help Him invite others to join us in His life.
Trinity Sunday is all about discovering this God who is both knowable and mysterious. If someone asked, “Who is God?” what would you say? Would you share the words of one of the foundational creeds? Would you talk about your relationship with God? Would you share your calling and describe the work you have been called to do? Would you try to explain the mysteries that are unexplainable? Whatever we do, let us be careful that we will hold firmly to the faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into which we’ve been baptized, the faith of our forefathers, the faith in the God who is I AM.
June 9, 2022
“Sing to Yahweh a new song! Sing to Yahweh, all the earth. Sing to Yahweh! Bless his name! Proclaim his salvation from day to day! Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For Yahweh is great, and greatly to be praised! He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but Yahweh made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him. Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to Yahweh, you families of nations, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength. Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due to his name. Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Worship Yahweh in holy array. Tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, ‘Yahweh reigns.’ The world is also established. It can’t be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice. Let the sea roar, and its fullness! Let the field and all that is in it exult! Then all the trees of the woods shall sing for joy before Yahweh; for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, the peoples with his truth.” Psalm 96, WEB
Advertisers rely on word of mouth as one of their best forms of advertising. There is good reason for this fact. People do not necessarily believe the claims of a product even when they are supported by plenty of evidence obtained through testing and researchers. Consumers want to hear the testimonial, especially from people they know and trust. We are more likely to believe someone who says, “I tried it and I liked it” than if the research proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is the best product ever produced. I don’t buy much without checking out online reviews. I have even done a web search while I was in a store checking out a product on the shelf.
One of the things celebrity endorsers are often asked when being interviewed is whether or not they really use the product they are advertising. Some people refuse to tout a product they don’t believe in, others are willing to sell their name for anything. However, the people that really sell a product are those who really believe in it. They have a passion for it, can speak with honesty and integrity. Those who are unconvincing in commercials most likely never even used it. Advertising is much more believable when the speaker tells what the product has done for them rather than what the product can do to others.
Evangelism is the same way, which is why testimonials work so well when sharing the good news of Christ. A person trapped in the web of guilt and sin is more likely to listen to someone who was in the same place. This is why the former alcoholic can reach the alcoholic much better than someone who never liked to drink. The sin and guilt are often so entrenched that the sinner who needs to hear Christ’s message of love and forgiveness can’t hear it from someone they don’t think is a sinner. They think it was easy for Christ to save the goody-two-shoes, but impossible to save them. So, rather than evangelizing by telling unbelievers what Christ can do for them, we need to sing in praise and thanksgiving for the things He has done for us. We need to proclaim that we are also sinners in need of the Savior and praise Him for His grace. Then they might listen and believe that He could transform them too.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if we lived daily in the praise and thanksgiving of God’s grace we feel and let it shine into our everyday encounters? Oh, perhaps some people would think we are nuts and others will persecute us for our foolishness. However, many people - those open to the Gospel message - will see our joy and want to know from whence it came. Evangelism is the witnessing of Good News of God to the world. We don’t do this simply by telling others their need for a Savior, but by sharing what the Savior has done for us. Our testimonial will help others to realize their own need and then they can look to the one that meets all our needs: Jesus Christ our Lord.
“Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord, looking carefully lest there be any man who falls short of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it, lest there be any sexually immoral person, or profane person, like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal. For you know that even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for a change of mind though he sought it diligently with tears. For you have not come to a mountain that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and to blackness, darkness, storm, the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which those who heard it begged that not one more word should be spoken to them, for they could not stand that which was commanded, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned’. So fearful was the appearance that Moses said, ‘I am terrified and trembling.’ But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable multitudes of angels, to the festal gathering and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better than that of Abel. See that you don’t refuse him who speaks. For if they didn’t escape when they refused him who warned on the earth, how much more will we not escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven, whose voice shook the earth then, but now he has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more’ signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can’t be shaken, let’s have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:14-28, WEB
There are many legends that describe the life of the king known as Arthur. Some of these stories include mystical and magical helps, out of the ordinary circumstances, incredible situations that are beyond our own experience. There are a dozen places in England that claim to be the birthplace of Arthur, others that claim to be the sight of his burial. A number of castles are known for being Camelot or the sight of the round table. The history itself is fascinating, but there are so many conflicting facts that it is like trying to do a puzzle with pieces that will never fit together.
It is more likely that the historical Arthur is a compilation of several different men. Historic records don’t always fit the details of the stories, the man doesn’t really fit into the time and place where he was supposed to live. The clothes, the title, the wars are often from different eras. It really does not matter whether or not there was a real King Arthur; we can still learn from the legends.
What we like most about Arthur is that he was a ruler who led with power, authority, and mercy. He was known for using an even hand to deal with troubles in a time when the powerful served only themselves. Poverty, hunger, illness, and death reigned. Luxury was not as we know it today, but the wealthy had more than enough while the poor had nothing. It was commonplace for neighbors be in battle with one another, always fighting over the land. It was the peasants that paid the worst price in those wars because the rulers took everything as taxes to pay for their soldiers.
The legends of King Arthur paint a different picture in his kingdom. He did not rule with an iron hand but had a council of knights to help with the decisions. He did not judge according to his own best interest, but according to what would be best for all the people. The peasants, though still poor because there was no great wealth even among the rulers, had food to eat and a warm place to live. War played a part of the Arthur legends, but he was always fighting against the evil rulers who had no concern for the people. Arthur was known as a man of the people, a man to whom the afflicted could go for help. He was merciful and full of love.
Whoever the real Arthur might have been, he was not loved by everyone. Those who want power do not appreciate justice that threaten to their ambitions. Many tried to befriend Arthur to take advantage of his kindness so that they might get what they wanted. Others battled fiercely against all for which he stood. Despite these obstacles, Arthur stood strong and fought for what he thought was right. Those who were weak and helpless felt that they could approach Arthur for justice because he was a merciful king with power to make things right.
The people in the Old Testament approached God through the Law. They had to go through priests, through sacrifice, through righteous obedience to the rules of their faith. This was like trying to make an evil ruler happy just to get a morsel of bread. Even then, it did not work. The Law is impossible to keep perfectly, and the people struggled with their faith. In Christ we approach the King of mercy through grace. In today’s passage, the writer compares two mountains: Mount Sinai with Mount Zion. At Sinai, Moses trembled in fear and anyone, including the animals, that stepped foot on the mountain perished. At Zion, the city of God, the Church can approach God with through the blood of Jesus Christ.
It is easy to see why people would not want to follow the evil ruler who refused to even feed the starving and why it would be different with a king like Arthur. Arthur was merciful and was approachable. The same can be said about God, and this is true through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He died that we might have life and have it abundantly. Why would we want to refuse to live a life of heirs to the kingdom of God when so much is given through grace? This God we know through Jesus is more than worthy of our praise and thanksgiving, manifested in a life of active service in His name.
June 13, 2022
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.” Mark 6:30-32, WEB
We have reached summertime, and many people are getting ready to travel. Families will go to theme parks. Campers will go into the mountains. Couples will go to the beach. Some vacations will be full of activities and others were will peaceful and relaxing. Vacations are a time to get away from the everyday and to experience new things. This summer may look different for many people because of the financial strains, but for others this summer could be the fulfillment of dreams. That’s what is happening for my husband and me.
We began planning in 2018. We paid in 2019. We were supposed to go in 2020. Of course, we all know what happened. Oh, people were able to travel, even at the beginning of the pandemic, but our trip was to Germany, and it was canceled. It was rescheduled for 2021, but that tour was also canceled. Now we have reached June 2022, and we are just about packed and ready to go. It was a long wait, but perhaps that will make the trip even more special. This particular vacation won’t be a relaxing time on the beach. We are part of a tour that will visit more than a dozen towns. We are going to eat our way through big cities and small towns from Frankfurt to Berlin. We’ll watch a five-hour play. We’ll climb hills and explore history. We’ll get to know a group of strangers who share a desire to know more about the people and places we will visit. I am sure we’ll come home exhausted. As they say, sometimes we need a vacation to get over our vacation.
The disciples had not been on vacation. Jesus sent them out into the world to share the Kingdom of God with people. Two by two they went out to be His witnesses with the authority to cast out unclean spirits and call people to repentance. They returned excited, telling Jesus everything they did. Jesus could see their exhaustion and tried to get them away to a quiet place to rest because the crowds were coming and going so that they couldn’t even eat. The plans were disturbed by the crowds that followed Jesus, and Jesus would not let them down. He began to teach because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus does want us to take time to rest, but we are reminded by this story that sometimes that time is not when we want it to be. Sometimes there is work to be done. We are going on vacation, but we are not leaving Jesus behind. I will not be writing my daily devotional for the next two weeks, but I promise that I will be looking for revelations of God all along the way so that I will be ready to write again, inspired by our experiences.
Jesus was not without compassion for the disciples’ need for rest, but the people needed to be fed, not only with bread and fish but with the Word of God. In the next few months, I am sure many of you will take a vacation of your own. It might be filled with busy adventures or with time to rest. As you go about your time away from the everyday, keep an eye out for the opportunities that Jesus is presenting you to share God’s Word with the people that cross your path. You might think that you just have no more to give, that you need to get away to a quiet place. But God might just be calling you to feed people in ways you would never expect. Don’t make excuses, follow Jesus’ lead and you might just see a miracle.
See you when I get home!
June 30, 2022
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26, WEB
My husband and I just returned from a whirlwind tour of Germany. Our tour focused on the life and times of Martin Luther, but we also visited sites connected to figures like Bach, Guttenburg, and King Ludwig II. We attended a performance of the Passion Play in Oberammergau and took brief cruises on the Rhine and the Danube. We saw historic sites that went back thousands of years as well as sites from the twentieth century. We ate too much food and climbed more stairs than I can count. It was a wonderful trip.
My mind is still spinning from all the information we heard over those fourteen days. I learned new things, but it was also exciting to see places which I’ve heard about in my studies of Luther. I stood where he was born and where he died. I visited a house where he lived as a boy and worshipped in a building where his vision of school for all children was first established. I walked hallways where he walked and visited the room where he hid as an outlaw and translated the New Testament. I saw the very first publication of his translation of the German Bible, as well as more than a thousand of his publications that still exist. I took pictures of several pulpits where he preached and the doorway where he nailed the 95 Theses. I saw the homes where his friends lived and paintings (very many paintings) that were made of him.
Love him or hate him, Martin Luther was a figure that we can’t ignore. He is considered one of the most influential figures in history, and much that he did changed the world. Did you know that our daily newspaper is still patterned after the broadsheets he published to teach the people about faith? He promoted social improvement by encouraging the children, all children no matter their social status or gender, to attend school. He offered hospitality to many, even during the plague. He made terrible mistakes, of course, and was not the kindest adversary. But he loved the LORD and wanted all people to love Him with servant hearts and willful obedience.
We don’t follow the footsteps of a man like Martin Luther because we revere him, but because we want to learn from him. We learn from both his successes and his failures. We learn about good ways to deal with the world in which we live, and we learn some ways that should be avoided. We learn about courage and boldness, but also humility and submission. He changed the world and showed us what could be accomplished if we just sought God’s grace and walked in obedience to His Word. He had so much to say, but the most important thing was that Martin Luther wanted every Christian to hear God’s voice and experience God’s grace for themselves.
He was as loved and hated by those in his day as he is today. We are reminded by his story, though, that we aren’t meant to be loved by the world. We are loved by God and when we live according to His Word, we have nothing to fear. Martin Luther was never free from the threat to his life, but he lived a full life of service to God and his people, never afraid of what might happen, but always working for the Kingdom of God. We live at a different time and place, but the world has not changed. There are people who love us, but there are also many who hate us for our faith. As we look to the life of those like Martin Luther, we can walk in faith, knowing God can and will use us, even though we are imperfect. He will forgive our mistakes and make good things happen through our lives despite the bad things we do. We will never be as influential as Martin Luther, but we can influence the people in our little corner of the world, sharing our faith in ways that can make a difference in every aspect of their lives.