Welcome to the May 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 belong to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, May 2022
May 2, 2022
“What profit has he who works in that in which he labors? I have seen the burden which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good as long as they live. Also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; and God has done it, that men should fear before him. That which is has been long ago, and that which is to be has been long ago. God seeks again that which is passed away.” Ecclesiastes 3:9-15, WEB
I spent the weekend at a retreat at a Christian camp in the Hill Country of Texas. It was not a spiritual retreat; it was a chance for creative women to have a place and time to focus on craft projects. We had women who were working on scrapbooking, jewelry, quilts, painting, knitting, and t-shirts. I worked on painting, did some writing, and played with a new camera. Though our purpose was to craft, we also had times of devotion. For each of us, the weekend was a time to get away and to accomplish projects, some of which have been process for years. It is always a time to connect with old friends and to spend time in worship together.
It is also a time to rest. I love the camp where I went on retreat, and I find many excuses to visit throughout the year. I’m sure there are other camps that offer the same opportunity to connect to God, nature, and others, but this is my favorite. There are plenty of hiking trails, a creek and a bluff, wide porches on the cabins with rocking chairs for just soaking in the peace. The staff serves great food, a comfortable experience, and even s’mores if the weather allows.
I spent time on my projects, but I also walked to the creek. I took pictures, and tried the different features, taking pictures of a cross using a bunch of different filters. I also ran into some new friends, a pair of Canadian geese that seem to have decided to hang out by the creek awhile. They did not let me get too close, but I watched them and took a hundred pictures, looking for the perfect composition. They didn’t seem upset by my presence, so we enjoyed the peace together. The creek is lovely, and it so peaceful to just sit there and listen to the wind rustle the trees. It is also a great place to commune with God.
It is amazing what you see and hear when you pay attention. I could hear the water flowing over a dam long before I saw the water. I saw some sort of river grass in the final stages of bloom, ready to cast off its seed. I heard crickets hopping around the field. I found brightly colored wildflowers growing everywhere. I found a plant growing in an old post that had been hollowed by the weather. I heard the birds singing and flitting through the trees, with the new leaves of spring. I captured much of this with my camera.
The camp is in the country, but not far from the sounds of civilization, so sometimes you can hearcars driving down the road that runs along the camp property. I have also heard the sounds of construction in the far distance. It always seems odd to have that kind of sound interrupt the peace of this beautiful place.
We go to these retreats to get away from our everyday, but these moments help us remember that we live in this world even while we are no longer part of this world. I could not see what was making those noises that disturbed my peace, but they were part of my life because I could hear them. The same is true of our Christian lives. The key to dwelling in this paradox of living between two worlds is to trust that God is in the midst of both. I spent my time enjoying this beautiful little corner of the world, but even more so sought the presence of God. It is good for find a place to go because out there at camp we are reminded of the promise of eternity even while we struggle with the reality of our lives in this world.
May 3, 2022
“God said, ‘Let’s make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them. God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food;’ and it was so.” Genesis 1:27-31, WEB
I have been attending the craft retreat for many years and have worked on more projects than I can list. I have made new friends and look forward each year to see new ones. The variety of the gifts of these women is astounding. The host always offers a devotional time, to help us focus not only on our gifts, but also on the One who has given us those gifts. Other than that and meal time, we are free to do whatever we want. We all manage to take a nap or read a good book, or sit on the porch watching the wind rustle the trees. The best part is the storytelling.
Some people might think that it is a waste of time to devote a whole weekend to crafting. Few, if any of us, are professionals at our arts. We just like to do these things. There are those who have historically tried to remove the arts from schools, focusing instead on the academic subjects. I don’t know if any of the arts should be made mandatory, especially for older students who have discovered their gifts. However, there is value in the arts, and I think everyone should be exposed to them. My children followed a plan of study in High School that required classes in the fine arts, but they were able to choose what kind of art they wanted to pursue. Their education was enhanced by the addition of the arts in their lives.
Experts will tell you that there are health reasons for pursuing the arts. They also claim that it helps with brain development. The arts are important for communication and imagination. Inventors don’t come up with the things we need without growing up in creative environments. The arts make us think. They confront our biases. They make us stop and consider the value of people, places and things we might not understand. They force us out of our tiny boxes and take us to places we do not expect. Sometimes the arts even lead to incredible accomplishments that seem completely unrelated to the work.
Take, for instance, Alexander Fleming. You might be familiar with his name as the discoverer of Penicillin. The historians will tell you that he discovered it by accident, that something in one of his discarded dishes grew a fungus that he didn’t recognize. After studying it, he realized that he’d grown something that could kill bacteria. It took a cooperative work with other scientists, but Penicillin was eventually developed for use in healing. We all can agree that it was one of the greatest scientific discoveries in human history, the saving many lives.
The real story, however, is that Fleming was an artist as well as a scientist. He was a member of the Chelsea Arts Club and was working in the medium of microbes. He made living art. He pursued new and unknown organisms in his research, constantly searching for new colors he would use in his artwork. The pieces are temporary because the organisms continue to grow and eventually the lines are blurred. His work was not masterful, but it is fascinating. Modern microbial art has become more elaborate. Some artists use photographic negatives; they put organisms on prepared film, let them grow and then develop the negative and print the picture. There are many other techniques. Some of the “paintings” are incredible. In the process, these artist scientists are also making other discoveries about the invisible world that can make a difference to human beings.
There are important things that students must learn in school. Our children do need reading, writing and arithmetic. The struggles of the education system have been magnified over the past few years. Financial issues have made it difficult for decades. We cannot forget, however, that there is value to the arts. God the Creator created creative beings, and it is best to begin laying a foundation for the love of the arts when they are children, because it will build them into adults who are willing to find ways to express themselves creatively. Who knows? They might just be the next Alexander Fleming, making a groundbreaking discovery that will change the world.
You may not have the opportunity to get away for a weekend to do arts and crafts, but there are ways you can be creative today. We were created in the image of a Creator, and so we are creators. You don’t have to make art or music to be creative. It is our calling to glorify God with our gifts, in whatever way we are able, even in our storytelling. So go, be creative today, whether it is with words, or food, or dance, or numbers, or paint, or raising children, or connecting with other folk. Be creative, because God has made you that way.
May 4, 2022
Scriptures for May 8, 2022, Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 20:17-35; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27, WEB
Glencoe (Gleann Comhann in Gaelic) is a beautiful valley in Scotland, with rugged hills and rocky cliffs where hikers and climbers love to visit. It is a challenging place even for the most experienced adventures. Though Glencoe is known for its rough beauty, it is more well known for its history. In the year 1692, government troops tried to massacre and entire clan of people.
The chief of the MacDonald Clan was late in making a vow of loyalty to the king of England. The men in charge were glad to have an excuse to be rid of those people. The betrayal was incredible. The government troops moved into the homes of the MacDonalds and enjoyed their hospitality for ten days. Then one bitter winter morning, the order was given to slaughter the entire population of Glencoe. Most managed to escape, thanks to the warnings of the troops. Only 38 people were killed that day, including children and elderly. Some also died in the harsh weather. Those who survived returned to Glencoe to restart their lives, however the place was never the same.
The name Glencoe most likely means “narrow valley”, but it has come to be known as “valley of sorrows” or “valley of weeping.” It has even been referred to as “the valley of the shadow of death.” Glencoe is a place of beauty, but the pain of death lingers on in our minds as we remember the massacre of 1692. It is equally impossible to walk through this life without being reminded of the pain of sin and death, especially when we hear the daily news stories of violence and hatred all over the world. As we face these valleys in our life, we are reminded in the words of this psalm that God is with us, He loves us, and we have nothing to fear in this life. Life does go on, even in the most desolate places.
Those desolate places are different for everyone. For some, it is the grief they are experiencing over hearing about the horrific death of a friend. For another it is in the news recently received from the doctor of an illness. Some are suffering with questions about the future and their financial well-being. Others are facing separation from loved ones as they begin new phases of their life. Our desolate places might not seem so horrible to someone else, but for us they are the places where we deal with our fear and our expectations.
It was not very long ago that palms were an important part of our worship experience. On Palm Sunday we gathered and processed with palms as they had done on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. The Romans would have understood this to be a victory parade, since palms were used to reward returning heroes and the champions of the games. The Jews were also known to carry palms at festive times. As a matter of fact, palms played an important role in the Feast of Tabernacles; as the people waved palm branches as they presented their offerings in thanksgiving to God, rejoicing over His blessings.
The palm branch means many other things. In Judaism, the palm is a symbol of peace and plenty and the Tree of Life. The Muslims believe that Mohammed built his house out of palm branches and is therefore considered a symbol of hospitality. To the ancients, palms were a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth and were also a symbol of longevity. In Egypt at the thirtieth year of a Pharaoh’s reign, the Pharaoh was given a handful of palm branches to hold. The marks on the midrib indicated the number of years the Pharaoh would continue to rule.
The midrib of the palm was strong enough to be used as a walking stick. Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, and though there is little verifiable information about him he was said to have been a very large man, like a giant and that he worked shuttling people across a bridgeless river by carrying them. There is a legend that one of the people he carried across was a child, who was a much heavier burden than he expected. It was the palm branch he was carrying that helped him stand through it. When he arrived at the other side of the river, the child told him to put the stick into the ground and it suddenly became a beautiful palm tree. The child was the Christ child, and His weight was due to the great burden of the entire world He carried. This miracle was a catalyst to Christopher’s conversion to Christianity.
Today’s passage from Revelation describes Jesus as the Lamb of God whose blood sets us free. In this vision of heavenly worship, a great multitude from every nation and tongue are standing before the throne of God in white. They are waving palms, just as been done in religious ceremony for generations. The symbolism can mean many things: God’s victory, His hospitality, His peace and strength. It can represent the joy of the multitude and their thanksgiving for God’s blessings.
The white of their robes does not come from their own righteousness; they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. They cry out, “Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They sing praise and thanksgiving to God for to Him belongs the blessing and honor and glory for ever and ever.
The Lamb is the Good Shepherd who will guide His people to the springs of the water of life. They will no longer hunger and thirst; they will not mourn as God wipes the tears from their eyes. This is such a vision of hope and promise; that God is with us. In the legend about Christopher, when they arrived at the other side Christopher berated the child for nearly killing him. “Had I borne the whole world on my back,” he said, “it could not have weighed heavier than thou!” “Marvel not!” the child replied, “for thou host borne upon thy back the world and him who created it!” We are reminded that it is not by our power that we are saved, but by God’s grace. Though Christopher carried the child, it was only by the strength of God that He was able to make it to the other side. And so it is with all those who will be standing at the throne of God praising Him; it is by His grace that we will wave those palms and proclaim thanksgiving for His blessings.
We all get a little nostalgic for the world as we remember it as children. I remember having the freedom to just go outside to play, running all over the neighborhood with my friends. I never told my mother where I was going to be every second of the day; it would be impossible because we were constantly jumping from one house to another, from one pool to another. We went to the woods behind our street. Or we ended up at the ball field a few blocks away. Or we walked to the store to buy candy. here was even an arcade just around the corner. We didn’t know where we would end up; we just went. It would have taken too much time to go home with every change to let Mom know where I was going to be. We didn’t wear watches. We didn’t worry.
Mom yelled out the door when it was time to go home. I was usually within hearing distance, but not always. Sometimes I was in a friend’s house or just beyond the sound of her voice. She would yell until I went home. She didn’t worry about me, but she was often annoyed when she could not find me immediately. I wish I could have given my children the same sort of freedom, but the world seems so dangerous these days. I can remember my reaction whenever I would hear my mother’s voice calling to me to come home. I was usually disappointed because I was having too much fun with my friends to stop playing, and I confess to having selective hearing occasionally. I wasn’t so patient as a mother; I worried if one of my children took so long to come home when I called. There are so many voices calling our kids and they all too often hear what they want to hear.
Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication; He was the presence of God incarnate in the flesh of man. He was the light of the world and He told them so. He spoke with authority and performed miraculous deeds of healing and forgiveness. Yet, there were those who did not recognize Him. “Tell us plainly,” they said. Jesus answered, “I have told you.” They did not recognize His voice. When He called, they did not hear.
His sheep are those who hear, but hearing is not a passive verb in the scriptures. Hearing is doing, it is acting, it is following, it is obeying. Those who have children are quite familiar with selective hearing. Kids hear what they want to hear. I am sure I had selective hearing when I was a child. There were times when my mom called me more times than necessary because I did not hear. The last thing a child wants to hear on a pleasant summer evening is Mom’s voice calling them to go home. Perhaps they hear it with their ears, but they don’t hear it with their mind or their body. They don’t respond.
Jesus clearly declared with word and deed the truth of His identity and purpose. He was the Good Shepherd. He was the Light. He was the presence of God they so desperately were seeking in their oppression, and they did not hear because He was not the Messiah they wanted or expected. He could not be a king; He could not deliver them from their enemy. His teachings were different than the teachings of the religious leaders. They did not want to hear because they had rejected Him, they ignored His voice. They were not His and it was not because Jesus rejected them. They rejected Him.
Paul never shrank from doing the work God called him to do, even when it was difficult work. I suppose in some ways God didn’t give him much choice. After all, he was called in the most unusual fashion, with a vision that was beyond description and beyond rejection. Can you say “No” to God when He comes to you in such an intense and real way?
In today’s passage, Paul told the elders of Ephesus that despite his love for them and for the work he was doing among them, he had to go to Jerusalem. It was not going to be a pleasure trip: the Spirit was clear that Paul would face imprisonment and afflictions. He wasn’t concerned. He knew that everything he experienced was under the control of God.
We often talk about Paul’s arrogance, if that’s the right word for it, but Paul was really a very humble and obedient man. He said, “But these things don’t count; nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify to the Good News of the grace of God.” His flesh didn’t matter to him; the ministry did. If scourging or martyrdom would spread the Gospel of Christ and glorify God, then he was willing to go through it.
Though he knew he did not have a choice but to go to Jerusalem, Paul was concerned for the people of Ephesus. He knew he would never see them again, and he knew that their future would be full of similar difficulties. Paul was talking to the leaders of the Ephesian church, those who had been given the responsibility to take care of the flock. They were the shepherds, God’s helpers. But the duty of those leaders was to be the voice of Christ, to speak His Word to the people and to keep them safe from those who would come to twist the scriptures to their benefit.
The Church was bought by a heavy price: the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. He took the life of His people very seriously. He is concerned that they stay on the right path, that they live as He has called them to live. If we think about the history of God’s people, we can see that it isn’t as easy to live according to God’s Word as we want it to be. After all, generations of people have come before us. It only took a few generations for the people to turn away from God and follow the ways of the world. Though there were faithful judges and kings to shepherd the people, their sons often turned to other gods. It took catastrophic events to bring God’s people to their knees so that they might seek His grace and return to Him. And then they’d be faithful for a generation or two, quickly forgetting all that He’d done for them.
We might think that because we live under the grace of God that we will be more faithful than those previous generations, but we face the same temptations. We can be led astray by the expectations of the world and the ways of those who have selfish or self-righteous ambitions. The fierce wolves about which Paul warned the Ephesian elders were men who would try to twist the Gospel and lead people astray.
Paul may have been talking to a specific group of Christians, but it is a warning for us all. It does not take long for a false gospel to sound right, especially when it tickles the ears of those listening. We can see examples of this in the church today. Leaders get rich selling a gospel that is far from the one Jesus taught. Some churches ignore the reality that we are sinners in need of a Savior and teach that God came so that we might have everything we want. Others put the emphasis on our good works. Many of these leaders seek fame or a following and will do whatever is necessary to get it. They create division in the church to ensure that they will keep their position and power. They are no different than the leaders in Jesus’ day that killed him for their own sake.
But the leaders of God’s church are meant to be like Paul: humble, obedient and unafraid. He spoke the truth with passion, despite the reality that it would get him killed. Are any of us willing to do the same? Are we willing to tell those wolves that they are wrong? Are we willing to go against the expectations of the world and do God’s will over those of men? As leaders of today’s church, we must be shepherds that protect the flock from the wolves. We must be Christ-like, doing His work as God intends.
Our scriptures this week talk about the life of a Christian who has followed Christ’s voice. Peter willingly went into the presence of a dead woman, prayed for her and God blessed his faith with a resurrection that brought joy to the community of faith. John, exiled on Patmos, wrote about a vision of heaven that was not like last week’s image of an inner sanctum separated from the world. In this week’s vision, a great multitude, more than anyone could count, from every nation praised God with palm branches in their hands. In this vision, very earthly cares like hunger and thirst, pain and suffering are no longer concerns for God’s people for the Lamb in the Shepherd and He will lead them to living water and wipe away their tears.
This image of God as the Good Shepherd is a comforting image for most people. Though we do not know what it is like to be a shepherd, we do know that the shepherd loves his sheep so much that he takes care of their every need. He protects them from danger, ensures that they are fed and leads them to the best food. We see those images in the Psalm for today, along with some other aspects of the life of sheep and shepherds. Sometimes we do not consider the importance of those other things, since water, food and shelter are so vital to our existence.
Yet, the Good Shepherd provides all the needs of his sheep. He makes the sheep lie down. How many of us could use someone to tell us to go to rest, especially when we get ourselves caught up in so many activities? He leads the sheep beside still waters. Our hectic lives are often chaotic like the churning waters of a fast-running river. We need someone who will make us slow down, walk carefully along a better path, a safer path. He leads the sheep in right paths; He helps us to make the right decisions, to do the right things according to His Word. The most comforting thing about this Psalm is the reminder that God is with us. He is with the sheep.
That’s the key message for this week: God is present among His people, His sheep. He is there doing miraculous things, and yet He is doing them in ordinary ways with ordinary people. And He calls us to do the same among His people. We are tempted to offer so many activities that we are constantly busy, but perhaps we should be encouraging one another to practice a Sabbath rest. We are tempted to go our own way, but we are called to follow a very narrow path. We are called to be God’s presence among the people and in the world, and to do so demands a faithfulness that is extraordinary. We cannot go our own way.
Jesus who is the Lamb and the Good Shepherd was at the Temple for the Feast of Dedication. The people wanted to know: are you who we think you are? “How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” They, like all of us, wanted it spelled out in easy-to-understand language. Jesus was the Messiah, but they couldn’t see it because they were looking for someone to do it their way. They couldn’t understand how the Messiah could really accomplish anything if He failed to live. They didn’t understand that God’s work was not to conform to the world, but to overcome the world. Suffering and death don’t fit when we are looking for prosperity and success.
Jesus was concerned about life, true life. We might want this life to be filled with the fulfillment of all our wishes and dreams; we want to be satisfied. But that’s not why Jesus came. He didn’t come to make life easy or to give in to all our whims. He didn’t come to make our foolishness acceptable to God. He came to restore us to Him, to overcome sin and death and to provide us with a new life. That life is meant to be lived under the care of God, following His path, doing His work. That means giving up the world. That means being a sheep, but not the kind of sheep that follows every voice. His voice is the only one that will lead us down the right path.
His voice is hard to hear in the cacophony of noises that we hear every day. Every generation faces it, but I think it might be even harder for us. We can’t go to the market without being inundated with temptations. We even carry it with us, on our phones and tablets. Everything is acceptable and embraced in our entertainment. Faith is ridiculed as something that is a way for people to blind themselves to the reality of life. God is a myth. Jesus is just another prophet or teacher. The Church is filled with hypocrites and sinners. Of course, they are right about that last one, but what we don’t see is that God embraces those who hear His voice, and He gives them forgiveness and life. Yes, we fail, but Jesus died so that we might be forgiven. Yes, we wander away, chasing after our own wishes and dreams, but Jesus the Good Shepherd calls our names and draws us back into His presence. Those who do not believe do not hear His voice. They aren’t sheep, they are of this world. And while it is up to us to share the Gospel with them, we must never allow ourselves to be conformed to the world. When the wolves come, we must be sure to remember the true Gospel, not follow the false gospels that lead us astray.
One of the hardest words of Jesus for us to understand is in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus says, “I told you, and you don’t believe.” I think this is hard for us to understand for two reasons. First, I’m not sure I have found anywhere in the scriptures where Jesus tells us plainly that He is really the Messiah. He says many things that lead us to believe in Him and know that He is indeed the Messiah, but plainly? The other thing that bothers me is that they do not believe because they are not Jesus’ sheep. Doesn’t God love all His creation? Doesn’t He promise His grace to all? How can there be sheep that do not belong to Him?
His sheep are those who hear, but hearing is not a passive verb. Hearing is doing, it is acting, it is following, it is obeying. Paul heard and he believed. He went out and began preaching the message of the Gospel to all who would hear. The Jews heard, but they did not believe. They demanded proof. They wanted to see Jesus do and say what they expected from the Messiah, but Jesus didn’t fit their mold. He refused to conform to their expectations because God had already proven Him to be who He said He was. Jesus’ authority and power were established in the signs (especially in John’s Gospel) and in the words He spoke. Saying “I am the Messiah” would not change their hearts.
Paul knew the truth: it is all about God. He is the shepherd. He is the healer. He is the Savior. Are we ready to be His sheep, to follow Him wherever He leads? Our story might not be as extraordinary as Paul’s, but we are called to do the same thing: to speak the truth, share the Gospel and live faithfully in this world. We might even be called to die. But whether at the hands of nature or man, death will bring one thing: the eternal life God has promised us.
Do not fear, for the Good Shepherd is near. Hear and believe. Go and speak and do as He has commanded. Who knows? Perhaps God has chosen you to be the vessel through which He will guard and protect and provide His sheep with everything they need. Or you might be the one to help them join the fold. Then we will spend eternity together singing God’s praise and thanksgiving at the foot of His throne.
May 5, 2022
“Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there might be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God; but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called “today”, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.” Hebrews 3:12-14, WEB
It is surprising to look at our faces in photos because the photo captures us differently than we see ourselves. I have a mole on my face that has been there for as long as I can remember. The mole is on the right cheek and I know that. However, when I look at myself in the mirror, that mole appears to be on the left. I know that the mirror gives me a reflection and that physically it is still on my right cheek, but I see myself in the mirror as if I were looking at another person. When I look at the photo of myself, I am taken aback because the mole appeared to be on the wrong side.
No one’s face is absolutely symmetrical; most of the differences are insignificant making it hard to notice. If you split your face in half, then put a flip of the right with the right side and a flip of the left with the left side, you will see two completely different faces. So, it is not surprising that the face I see in the mirror is different than the face others see when they look at me.
We don’t see the same thing as our neighbor. This seems like a superficial topic for a devotional because I’m talking about appearances, and yet I think the same is true when it comes to other aspects of our being. We see ourselves from inside and other see ourselves from the outside. We know what we think and what we feel. We know ourselves from the perspective of our experiences, good and bad. Others may think they know us and that they can read what we are feeling and thinking, but they can’t. They might interpret a facial expression as sadness or fatigue when it is really just a contemplative moment. I once had a battle with a friend over words said, interpreted to be sarcastic when they were meant to be helpful.
Though others might not see us the way we see ourselves, we should not ignore or reject their impressions because they might just see something we are missing. We are not meant to be islands, but to be part of a community. That community will see us from a different point of view, but that can be helpful. They can help us because we can be blinded by our biases and our emotions. If we are angry, we can’t see beyond the anger. If we are afraid, we can’t see beyond that fear. Though we do know ourselves better than our neighbors, we should listen to what they have to say because it might make a difference.
When we do hear advice from others, we might automatically assume that they don’t know anything about us or the situation, so we think that the advice is meaningless. But we should remember that they see us differently than we see ourselves, so what they see might warrant the help they want to offer. We can encourage one another to live as we are meant to live, to be all that we are meant to be, to love God as we were created to love.
May 6, 2022
“For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, be careful that you don’t consume one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Galatians 5:13-18, WEB
There is a bridge on the frontage road of a major highway. The bridge is large enough for two lanes of traffic, but there is no shoulder along the side. For the safety of pedestrians, the bridge has walking pathways protected by large concrete barriers.
A man was walking on the bridge, destination unknown. It was unusual because he was on the bridge, not the safe walkway. It was possible for the cars to go around the man, but there was nothing safe or reasonable about the man’s actions. He didn’t belong on that part of the road for his own sake and for the sake of others. A car could come too fast or he could cause an accident because there wasn’t room for oncoming cars and him. He could have just as easily, more easily in fact, walked on the part of the bridge meant for pedestrians. He had to step out of the pathway on which he was walking to get around the concrete barriers onto the road. It didn’t make sense. Why would anyone willingly put themselves and others at risk for no good reason?
We can’t judge what was going on, but I wonder if he was even aware of how inconsiderate and dangerous he was acting. Was he too deep in thought to see where he was walking? Did he want to inconvenience the drivers along the road? Did he think walking on the blacktop was better than walking on the concrete, even though they were part of the very same bridge? Was he more afraid of the railing on the side of the pathway than the speeding cars on the road?
I’m not sure if the man broke any laws, although I suspect that a police officer would have stopped to encourage him to walk on the pathway the next time. There have been too many stories of pedestrians who have been hit by cars because they have taken foolish chances. It frightens me every time I see someone running across the highway. It is like playing Frogger, but with real lives. I wonder how often we make similar choices when it comes to our lives of faith.
We know can’t do what is right with our own strength and ability, but we also know that we are forgiven when we fail. Many Christians use this as an excuse to ignore or reject the law completely for this very reason. We fail and are forgiven. If we rely too heavily on our own perfection, we’ll be seriously disappointed. Even Paul, who was a great and righteous man, recognized his own inability to obey the law completely. And as the scriptures tell us, if we fail at the smallest thing, we have failed it all.
But that doesn’t mean we should run around willy-nilly. Though the Law is given so that we might see in it the truth of our unrighteousness, the rules serve a purpose. Paul calls our attention to the most important law, that which honors and respects our neighbors enough to avoid doing things that might cause them to sin against God. When we choose to disobey the laws, we do so because we are being self-centered or self-obsessed. There is no good reason for it. We do what we want because we want to, even if it might be harmful for others. Though we don’t need to follow the rules to be saved, our faith is given so that we will live as God has created and redeemed us to live. This means that though we have the freedom to do what we want, we have the responsibility to do what is right.
May 9, 2022
“Praise Yah, for it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant and fitting to praise him. Yahweh builds up Jerusalem. He gathers together the outcasts of Israel. He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars. He calls them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power. His understanding is infinite. Yahweh upholds the humble. He brings the wicked down to the ground. Sing to Yahweh with thanksgiving. Sing praises on the harp to our God, who covers the sky with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.” Psalm 147:1-8, WEB
I visited an art exhibit that was focused on artists who paint the sky. The exhibit had dozens of paintings made with all sorts of materials. Each artist was unique in the way they viewed the sky, but one thing that was common among at least most of them: they saw the hand of God in the heavens. The exhibit is called “The Heavens Declare,” and it was obvious from many of the titles that the artists saw the heavens declaring the glory of God.
I followed an artist on Facebook who lives in the wilds west of Texas. His property is extensive so there is nothing to block his view of sunsets and sunrises. He posted photos almost daily of the beauty he saw. You would think that it would get boring after a while, after all, how many sunsets can you photograph? The thing is, every sunset and sunrise is different. The sky is constantly changing and is never the same. The clouds are new every moment as they move and the light changes.
Clouds are fascinating for that very reason. We know that when we look at the sky it will never be the same. We look for figures in the fluffy white clouds, and we search for the rainbows that appear after the rain. We are amazed when the clouds cut through the colors of a sunset. Those who are in drought look to the clouds for relief and those who are experiencing flood pray for the clouds to go away. No matter what we see in the sky, whether clouds or sunsets or rainbows, we can praise God that He is so involved with His creation that every moment is new.
I confess that there are times I wish everything would stay the same. There is comfort in consistency. There is security in a lack of change. The Bible tells us that God does not change, but we live in a world that is constantly changing. We are comforted by the fact that the unchanging God is with us, and He is glorified by what we see in the sky. The clouds promise rain even if we do not know when it will come. Though the sunset leads to darkness, the sunrise promises a brand-new day. The sky reminds us to praise God because it is His hand that paints the heavens, and in the glory of the skies we can see His presence in the midst of our lives.
May 10, 2022
“Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for he has looked at the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. His mercy is for generations and generations on those who fear him. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down princes from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty. He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.’” Luke 1:46-55, WEB
One of my favorite scriptures is from the book of Revelation. It is the passage from chapter four that shows what worship is like in heaven. John describes the throne room of God, a description of something so wonderful that we cannot even imagine the beauty and splendor. John’s words give us a taste of the glory we will see one day, the one on the throne “...that looked like a jasper stone and a sardius. There was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald to look at.”
We think of God’s glory as something like a bright light, something so shiny and magnificent that we cannot even look at it with our own eyes. The scriptures often tell us that death comes to those who see God face to face, for His glory is too much for us to see. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God put him in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand until He passed by, then Moses could see God’s back, but His face could not be seen. Martin Luther said, “We only see the glory of God from behind, in hindsight, for what He has done.”
God’s glory is not just found in this incredible scene of worship in heaven; it is not only a bright light like rainbows or jewels. That vision is something that we look forward to, but we will have to wait until we finish our journey of faith in this life. But we are able to see God’s glory today. We see it like Moses did, we see His back as He passes by, catching just a glimpse of the glory through what He has done. We see God’s glory in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. We see God’s glory in the testimony of the witnesses provided through the scriptures and the Christian community throughout all the ages.
Mary glorified the Lord with this song of praise and thanksgiving. She sang this when she had learned she was to be the mother of her Savior. This young girl saw God’s glory in His faithfulness, mercy and grace. She saw it in the way He lifted the humble and put the mighty in their place. She saw it in the way He kept His promises. Though she had not seen an incredible vision of heaven, she was chosen to play a role and be a witness to the incarnation of God! Her soul glorified God by bearing witness to His works.
How I long for the day when I will see heaven as John saw and recorded it in Revelation. Yet, I am amazed at what God has shown to His people in this age: His love that we can see in the life of our Lord Jesus. We can look forward to the day when we will live in His presence and will stand face to face with the Lord God Almighty. For today we can worship God as Mary did, by living lives of thanksgiving and praising Him for His marvelous works!
May 11, 2022
Scriptures for May 15, 2022, Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-7; John 16:12-22
“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life!’” Acts 11:18, WEB
My children are long grown and independent; my daughter even bought her first house recently. It doesn’t stop me from worrying about them, of course, since I am a mother, but I don’t have to devote my time to their care as I did when they were young. It makes it easy for me to get away on retreat as I did last week. My husband misses me, but he’s able to take care of himself. I sometimes wonder when I go to these retreats from what I am getting away, but really those retreats have become a chance to get away to something for my well-being.
I have some friends that attend those retreats who are still in the phase of life when children are their major focus. Two women who attended the craft retreat are preparing for high school graduations. They are so busy with all the end of year activities that they weren’t even sure they could get away. They did and used their time to make a book of pictures for their girls who have been friends since they were born. They were glad to have the time and freedom to work on the project, but they were also glad to get away from the hustle and bustle their life has become.
I have reminded them that this will pass. The day will come when they will be free like me, but I also cautioned them not to rush it. I enjoy my life, but I miss my kids. I’m not sure that my kids realize even now how much a part of my life they were. I confess that there were times when I looked forward to them becoming adults. We think it will get easier as they grow, but they needed me as much as teenagers as they did when they were younger. They even need me now, in different ways. Jesus said, “A woman, when she gives birth, has sorrow because her time has come. But when she has delivered the child, she doesn’t remember the anguish any more, for the joy that a human being is born into the world.” I think we go through the same sorrow and joy as we deal with the anguish and contentment of each phase of our children’s lives.
When we are young, we rarely see what our mothers really do to make our lives better. Too often we notice only those moments when she makes us clean our rooms or eat our brussels sprouts. We remember when she said that we could not have the brand-new toy or the clothes that were in fashion. We did not notice that she never bought a new outfit for herself because the money went to school supplies and after school activities. We forget the hundreds of miles a week she drove and the hours she watched our sports events. We missed the look of pride on her face when we received an award at school or when we accomplished our goals.
It is often said that mothers sacrifice a great deal to raise a family, especially her sense of self. I once had the opportunity to have several conversations with mothers of young children. Those mothers enjoyed these conversations not only because they were able to communicate with adults about adult things, but they also enjoyed knowing that the day will come when they will be able to have a life again. I suppose that is why some women do not want to have children. They do not want to have to sacrifice so much for another person. Yet, even though a mother’s love is often seen as sacrificial, the reality is that the best mothers are those who continue to retain their sense of self through those years.
Sacrificial love does not mean giving up ourselves. After all, we are created by God with individual gifts and personalities. We are who God made us to be, and if we give that up totally for another, we lose what God intends for our lives. Jesus had a sacrificial love for us, willingly doing what was necessary for our faith and salvation. We think we have to give up everything of ourselves to be like Jesus who died for our sake, but that was His purpose. It was by His death God was glorified because Jesus was obedient to God’s will. It is odd for us to see glory in death, and yet that is exactly where the glory of God can be found: in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus told His disciples that they could not follow Him where He was going, though many were martyred in His name. Still, each one remained an individual with his own unique personality and gifts.
They could not go with Him at that moment, for Jesus had to complete the work of the cross before they could go on to do the work of the kingdom in this world. He left them with one thing: each other. It seems odd that He would call loving one another something new, since God always intended His people to love. Yet, this new love is something different. It is not an emotional love; it is an active love. It is a love which glorifies God by being visibly manifest in the lives of His people. It is like a mother’s love, a love that does not sacrifice self for the sake of others but in keeping a sense of self has something very special to offer to her children and the world.
It isn’t easy. We struggle with every obstacle we faced with our children. But that’s life, isn’t it? That’s certainly the Christian life; we are constantly overcoming obstacles. It began at the cross where Jesus overcame sin and death, our greatest obstacles. Jesus also teaches us about overcoming other obstacles we face like fear, biases, hatred, doubt, hunger, loneliness, imprisonment, thirst, and despair. Many Christian writings, both canonical and the writings of Christians throughout the ages, focus on overcoming our difficulties.
Things were not much different in John’s day; the gods the people worshipped were different from ours. We have “work”, “money”, “leisure.” Though the Hellenistic culture in which John lived was in many ways similar to our own, they had a list of gods which they honored with temples, pilgrimages and religious rituals. The Christians had to overcome people’s reliance on those gods while drawing them into the heart of the One true and living God. In the story of Paul in Athens, we see how Paul used their superstitious beliefs to introduce them to Jesus. They had an altar which had no name but was meant to cover any god they may have forgotten. Paul described the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who was incarnated as Jesus Christ and told them that this God they did not know was the only God they needed.
The Jews had what we might consider an irrational fear of the sea. That fear might have come from the ancient creation stories in which the gods were brought forth out of the sea. Tiamat was like a dragon but was the goddess of chaos and salt water. She was the mother of all the Babylonian gods and dragons. It is no wonder, then, that the Jewish readers of John’s Revelation would find comfort in the end of the sea. To the Jews and early Christians, the disappearance of the sea represented the disappearance of all those other gods who were such a large obstacle for them to overcome. Since religious devotion was often directly connected to all aspects of society, living in a world worshipping One God verses the many gods, brought about persecution. Without the sea, without the chaos, without those gods, the world would be a much better place for the Christians. It seems insignificant to us, even unwarranted since the sea is such an important part of our world. But to them, the sea represented the worst of their problems and when everything is made new by God’s grace, then there would be nothing left to fear.
We have nothing to fear, but we do fear things in our world anyway. The threats of war, violence, disease, and loss constantly hang over our heads; similar threats have affected people of every generation. Sometimes it seems like we have overcome those things, but then a new generation comes along and returns to the old ways. Reading through the Old Testament is like watching reruns. Over and over again an era began with a good king, but his son and his son’s son turned away from the Lord until finally there was a king that was so bad that God lost patience. The reign of that king ended with a new king who had a heart for God. As the teacher in Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Racism, sadly, is one of those things that seems to rear its ugly head over and over again. There have been moments of hope, but then moments when society seems to turn back to the old ways. One of those moments of hope happened fifteen years ago in Ashburn, Georgia. A group of high school seniors fought to do something new. The tradition at their school for as long as anyone could remember was to have segregated proms. The students never saw this as a racial issue, it was simply that separate parties were planned by the parents for the black students and the white students. The senior class president had a dream, so the students planned their own prom, with the blessing of school officials. The students were given permission to use the school for their prom. It was controversial and some did not participate. For those who did, it was a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, fifteen years later it seems some people want to revert back to segregated communities.
This prom was not about integration, after all the schools in Ashburn have been integrated for a long time. The school was equally divided between black and white students who went to class and participated in other activities together. The prom was about table fellowship, having a social experience together rather than gathering separately. If only we could all find the grace to gather with those who are different than us as they did.
The Jewish community of Jesus’ time had strict rules about their socialization. The apostles lived according to those rules, even refusing to fellowship with those who were not circumcised. One day Peter had a vision from God. In the chapter before today’s lesson from Acts, Peter rejected an invitation from a man named Cornelius until God showed him a better way. As the three men from Caesarea approached, Peter was on his roof praying. He became hungry and he fell into a trance while the meal was being prepared. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!” Peter was upset by this command, because the food before him was unclean according to the Law. God said, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” This vision happened repeatedly, to ensure that what Peter heard was the truth. When the vision ended, the men from Caesarea arrived and asked Peter to go with them.
Peter did not hesitate. He told Cornelius it was against his law for him to be there but asked why he had been called. Cornelius shared the story of the angel and Peter understood that the vision was not only about food but also about people. So, Peter stayed with Cornelius and shared the Good News with his whole household. They believed and the Holy Spirit came upon them. The circumcised Jews who had come with Peter were amazed that God would pour out His Spirit on gentiles, but they heard them praising God in other tongues, a Pentecost for God’s new people.
After this visit, Peter returned to Jerusalem to tell them about God’s grace to the Gentiles. Unfortunately, they did not believe that the Gentiles should be accepted into their community without change. The Gentiles were, for a time, expected to convert to Judaism before they could become Christian. Peter realized that that God’s grace was not dependent on human expectations. God could bless anyone. Those who have been saved by the Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit are part of the same fellowship and are welcome at the table based on God’s grace.
In these stories from Acts, God overcame the biggest obstacles for His people in that age. He continues to work with us, encouraging us by His Word to set aside our own fear, biases, hatred, doubt, hunger, loneliness, imprisonment, thirst, and despair to dwell in harmony with all those who have been saved by His grace, whoever they are.
Science Fiction fans are familiar with the concept of time travel. I have been reading a series of books about a world much like ours but different where time travel is possible. There is an organization called St. Mary’s that uses time travel to better understand history. They don’t call it time travel, however; they insist that they “conduct investigations of major historical events in contemporary time.”
There are certain rules they have to follow because bouncing around the timeline can cause all sorts of problems. Every little change in the past can affect the future. Time Police exist to keep things moving in the right direction, and they are constantly chasing after St. Mary’s, whose assignments never quite go according to plan. In the end they manage to make everything right, but not without some exciting adventures along the way.
Time travel is important in movies like “Back to the Future” and books like the “Outlanders” series. The method of time travel is different for each, sometimes it is a state of mind, sometimes it is a strange machine and sometimes it is a glitch in the fabric of the earth. Time travel is always a two way street in the stories. Science is constantly changing, and scientists have made some discoveries about time and travel. It is complicated, but as far as I know, time travel is not really possible. That’s why it is the subject of Sci-Fi movies and books. As we’ve seen with many of the impossible things in science fiction, however, perhaps one day time travel will be real.
Clifford Pickover wrote, “Most cultures have a grammar with past and future tenses, and also demarcations like seconds and minutes, and yesterday and tomorrow. Yet we cannot say exactly what time is. Although the study of time became scientific during the time of Galileo and Newton, a comprehensive explanation was given only in this century by Einstein, who declared, in effect, time is simply what a clock reads. The clock can be the rotation of a planet, sand falling in an hourglass, a heartbeat, or vibrations of a cesium atom. A typical grandfather clock follows the simple Newtonian law that states that the velocity of a body not subject to external forces remains constant. This means that clock hands travel equal distances in equal times. While this kind of clock is useful for everyday life, modern science finds that time can be warped in various ways, like clay in the hands of a cosmic sculptor.
“The line between science and mysticism sometimes grows thin. Today physicists would agree that time is one of the strangest properties of our universe. In fact, there is a story circulating among scientists of an immigrant to America who lost his watch. He walked up to a man on a New York street and asked, ‘Please, Sir, what is time?’ The scientist replied, ‘I'm sorry, you’ll have to ask a philosopher. I’m just a physicist.’” Scientists like Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan spent much of their careers seeking to better understand time. It was much simpler when we could keep the concept of time locked in a box, or a watch, or a clock.
We try to keep God locked in a box. As we look back to the beginning of creation, we see that what God created He called good. The earth, the heavens, the plant and animal life, the man and the woman are spoken into life by God, and He said, “It is good.” When sin entered the world, everything became corrupt and perishable, ravished by time. In his sin, mankind tried to confine God to make Him suit their needs with idols, locking God behind the doors of their hearts and their temples so that He could not disrupt their plans.
But God can’t be locked in a box. He is not limited by time or space because He is outside time and space. He is bigger than anything we can create. God is not hidden behind a curtain or held by our ideology and biases. That’s what Peter learned in the vision and encounter with Cornelius. He learned that God’s grace is available to all those who hear, not just for those who exist in a specific period, place, or culture. He took that news to Jerusalem and opened for them a whole new world: God’s love extended to people from all nations. This new world is made visible in the love of Christians for one another, the love which Jesus Christ commanded for His disciples. It is in that love - not a feeling but an active love between brothers and sisters = that God is glorified in this world, and He is manifest for all to see.
The question of time is not the only one asked by science fiction writers. Human beings have long asked, “Is there life out there?” We have wondered whether or not there are any planets anywhere else in the universe that might have some form of created beings. As our scientific technology advances, we’ve been able to make strides in finding information about the worlds far from earth. They have even found evidence of water on Mars. This was an amazing discovery, and many have suggested that this means that Mars has the potential to sustain life. An even more incredible discovery occurred when a European research group in LaSalla, Chili found what is believed to be the most earthlike planet. Though there are differences, there are also many similarities. This discovery has been deemed one of the most important findings in modern science because it shows that there just might be life somewhere besides earth.
From a Christian point of view, we know there is life “out there” although our understanding of “somewhere else” is much different than science. It might be exciting to think that UFOs are real and that there are beings trying to reach out in fellowship with us. However, we do not need any evidence of alien life to know that we are part of something bigger. When we sing the songs of thanksgiving and praise, like the one in today’s Psalm, we can see that there is something greater. We aren’t meant to be alone, but part of the whole, whatever that whole might include.
There are many people who enjoy a life of faith in God but prefer to do it alone. They argue that the Church is not a building; church is individual believers in personal relationships with God. They claim that He can be found anywhere, in the quietness of the fields and under the shade of a tree. While this is true, we are called to gather together in fellowship with Christians of every time and place, including the here and now. Our praises, sung together in the presence of God is far more beautiful to His ears than those we sing alone.
We are called and gathered by the Holy Spirit to join with the entire creation to sing praises to God our Father. He hears our praise wherever we are because everything He has made sings along with us. Yet, there is something very special when Christians raise their voices together to glorify God. When you consider the entire creation - the heavens that reach far beyond our imagination, the planets in the universe that might possibly sustain other life forms, the microscopic organisms that could destroy a population of humans, the redwood trees that reach so high we can’t see the top, the depths of the sea that are too deep for our technology - it is easy to see the greatness of God. He has created mankind to be the crown of His creation; our purpose is to glorify Him with our voices raise in praise together. He has given us the heavens and the earth. He has given us the sun and the wind and the rain. He has made the animals, birds, plants and trees for us. And He has given the care and love of one another, an active sacrificial love even as we remain true to who we have been created to be.
God cares about all His creation: every bug, fish, bird, animal and even every human being. Human beings might be the only creature that creates buildings in which to worship God, but we are just a small part of the creation. The sun, the moon and the stars all praise God. The heavens and the raindrops glorify God; the earth and all that lives on land and in sea sing His praises. The elements, the mountains, the hills and all the trees praise God. Wild and domesticated animals, clean and unclean and birds of the sky all join in the worship. No man is greater than all this, whether ruler or servant, young or old, male or female. All creation was made by God and all creation sings His praise.
Unfortunately, not every human being has benefitted from the saving grace of Jesus Christ; not all our neighbors have faith in our God. However, we are reminded by our scriptures for today that we cannot judge our neighbors’ faith by our expectations. That neighbor you want to reject might just be the very person God is sending you to share the Gospel of Christ. The atheist that is unwavering in their lack of faith could be the next one upon whom God’s Spirit will fall. We might just be surprised; we might just realize that there just as God is not limited by time or space, there are no limits to God’s grace.
God has done something new, but it isn’t really all that new. It is as He always intended. The psalmist shows us that the entire creation sings His praise. In Revelation we see all God’s people, no matter who they are, joining in the eternal worship of the One who did it all. Death and tears may have entered the world, but God has overcome death and will wipe away all our tears. One day we will join in the praise of the whole creation and all the Church for eternity, dwelling once again with the God who created us, loves us, and saves those who hear His voice and believe in Jesus Christ our Lord.
May 12, 2022
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving, praying together for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds, that I may reveal it as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:2-6, WEB
I worked in retail, both as an employee and in management. There are plenty of tasks that need to be accomplished every day, including checking out and helping customers, stocking shelves, and keeping the floor looking neat and organized. This last one is the most frustrating because it doesn’t take long for a department to become chaos. If you have walked through the clothing department of any retail store, you know what I mean. Those shelves of t-shirts are never neat, no matter how hard the employees try. It is an endless struggle because customers always want the shirt that is on the bottom of the pile, which then upsets the whole thing. It doesn’t help that they unfold several before deciding which one they want, and then just throw the unwanted items back on the shelf.
As a former retail employee, it bothers me to see them messy, so I tend to clean up as I shop. If something is on the floor or out of place, I put it back. I have moved the wrong size items to the right spot on the rack, straightened shelves, folded clothes and rehung items that have fallen off the hangers. Sometimes this habit of mine makes it seem as though I’m a store employee and people ask for my help. I usually do whatever I can, but I make sure that they know that I do not work there. I have read articles about others who have this habit, and it has gotten them into uncomfortable situations.
On a few occasions, I’ve been asked for help even when it was obvious I was not a store employee. Perhaps I look like I belong in retail. Or maybe I just look like a nice lady willing to help. I was once looking through the videos when an elderly began to ask me questions about movies. She wanted to know if I had seen a movie, it I liked it, would I recommend it for her? She wondered if there were any I thought she might enjoy. She followed me from rack to rack, discussing price, stars and other things. Even when I was finished with my choice, she continued to chat. It was a pleasant conversation, but I needed to leave.
I don’t know what made the woman talk to me so long, but I hope it is because the love of Christ shines in my life. I found it hard to believe that someone could trust a complete stranger’s opinion, but I think the woman was more interested in some conversation than my choice in movies. We wandered around the store a bit together until I finally told her I had to go. She gave me a hug and told me to have a good day. She needed a friend, and I could be one.
Retail employees, especially in the big box stores, have some sort of uniform to make them easily identifiable to the customers. It would be nice if we as Christians could wear some sort of badge to identify ourselves to the world. Yet, our Christian life should be recognized not by the clothes we wear or by some mark on our bodies, but by the way we live. People should be able to see Christ shining so that they will know that we can be trusted to help them.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he gave them some instructions about how to live. As we journey through life, prayer is the starting point for all we do. God is manifest through our words, prayers and thanksgiving. God has blessed us with many gifts and opportunities to use them. Yet, if we wander around as if we do not know Him, then none will be drawn by His love. This is why Paul writes of walking in wisdom, seasoning our speech with grace and being prepared to answer when people ask. The questions are not always to find out information. Sometimes people ask to just see if we are willing to listen, to love, to serve and to shine the light of Christ. We are blessed to be a blessing, saved so that we can go out and share the saving grace of Jesus with others. Do people recognize that grace in you?
May 13, 2022
“As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, even as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving. Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. For in him all the fullness of the Deity dwells bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:6-9, WEB
Superstition is defined, “A widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.” Most superstitions are considered irrational, although everybody has something that they hold to, even if it is subconsciously. Of course, there have been times throughout history when people were more superstitious than at other times. The people who lived in those times were more likely to attribute events that were beyond their control. particularly negative, to the supernatural. Superstitions are often connected to fears, so we try to find ways to control or seek supernatural control over the things we fear might bring us harm.
There is a video online of a bunch of cows moving from one field to another. For some reason, the first cow jumped over the white painted line in the center of the road. All the other cows followed suit. It is a funny video, but it brings to memory the childhood superstition, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your father’s spine.” We probably all played the game at some point in our childhood, whether we believed the superstition or not. The source of most superstitions is questionable. Look up “Friday the 13th” and you’ll discover a number of different reasons why it has become a day of bad luck. None of them are truly rational.
Do you suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is an abnormal fear of Friday the 13th? According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, North Carolina, millions of people suffer from this phobia to the point of changing their daily routine on the day to avoid bad luck. Some people refuse to go to work or even get out of bed. I once heard someone say that they planned to travel on the 12th because they refused to get on an airplane 13th. Interestingly, the Dutch Center for Insurance Statistics report that fewer accidents, fires, or thefts are reported to have happened when Friday is the 13th compared to all other Fridays. So is it really unlucky? Or, are people so frightened by the possibility of accident that they are extra careful on Friday the 13th?
Though some fears are extreme, there are often reasonable reasons for them. We are afraid of snakes because some snakes can really hurt humans. The fear of heights can come from a real experience of falling or knowing someone who fell. The news is filled with images of fiery plane crashes, so it is understandable when someone refuses to board a plane. But have millions of people really experienced something horrible on Friday the 13th to give substance to the fear? Probably not.
We are so ingrained with the belief that something bad will happen on Friday the 13th that we think the superstition has been around for a long time. However, there is little evidence it was popular before the 20th century. There are a few writings that refer to the date, a few horrific events that happened on Friday the 13th, but researchers can only theorize that the tradition began because of those events. A website lists a dozen possible reasons why people might have this unreasonable fear, but every theory is questionable. So, can this day be truly unlucky when there is no real reason to think so?
There are those who think that faith in the Christian God is nothing but superstition. They think that the story of Jesus Christ is a mere fairy tale. They have a limited understanding of the God of our salvation and think we are foolish for believing. Yet, I suspect that many of them hold to some sort of superstition of their own, such as avoiding cracks or being extra careful on Friday the 13th. We get worked up over our fears because we forget that we do not go through our days alone. Friday the 13th is like any other day; we are afraid because we do not trust. If you are afraid to go out into the world because it is Friday the 13th, remember that Jesus has promised to be with you always, and face the day with courage and faith. It might not be a perfect day and something might just go wrong, but with God in the midst of it everything will work out just the way He has planned.
May 16, 2022
“He spoke this parable. ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none. He said to the vine dresser, “Behold, these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and found none. Cut it down. Why does it waste the soil?” He answered, “Lord, leave it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine; but if not, after that, you can cut it down.”’” Luke 13:6-9, WEB
Children learn best when they have hands on experience. Math teachers use manipulatives to help children see how one plus one really makes two. Science labs give the children a chance to explore how things work. Field trips to historic sights give the children a firsthand look at the way things used to be. It is not enough to hear the lessons taught with words or read in a book. There are many ways to learn, but we all benefit from hands-on experiences; children and adults learn by using all our senses. We might like to think that as we grow older we can learn things more intellectually, using only our brains, but we really need the whole experience to be connected to the things we are learning.
I recently bought a new camera. I have some knowledge, but I’m still learning, and now I’ve added the complexity of a new-fangled camera. It has the advantage of having a cheater setting called Intelligent Auto that lets the camera do all the hard work. Of course, there are bells and whistles that will make even the easy setting take better photos, but those will come with time. I have a digital copy of the owner’s manual and when I have a question I access it occasionally to learn what I need to know. However, I’ve learned that the best way to figure out how to use my camera is to use it. Sometimes I push the wrong buttons and the photos are terrible, but sometimes I discover something fun that I can do with it. I tested it last night with the lunar eclipse and took my first ever detailed pictures of the moon. I wouldn’t have learned that by just reading the manual.
Christianity is not a purely intellectual endeavor. We read the Bible and we pray, and these are wonderful activities that God uses to draw us into His heart, but it is not enough to engage just our minds to grow spiritually mature. There are other more active things we do, like fellowship with other believers and join in worship that use other senses like our ears and our mouths. We need to experience God in worship and know His presence with our entire beings. Some churches go so far as to include other senses, like incense for the sense of smell. Of course, we share the Lord’s Supper to experience the sense of taste. We touch each other when we hug hello or pass the peace. The type of worship and fellowship that takes advantage of every sense draws us fully into the presence of God. The grace we experience with one another equips and strengthens us to become even more active with our faith.
The lesson from Luke teaches us that our Christian life is meant to bear fruit. We are God’s hands and feet in this world. William Barclay wrote in his book “The Parables of Jesus” wrote, “When God wants something done and someone helped He has to find a hand to supply that help.” I’m not sure I agree entirely on Barclay’s language here; God can do anything, even the impossible. I’d rather say that God invites us to be His hands in this world, we just need to look for the opportunities to help our neighbors in big and small ways.
The fully lived Christian life is not passive or merely intellectual. We have to become part of it with our minds, hearts and bodies, sharing in the life of Jesus in every way. We don’t need to know how to do it intellectually; God teaches us by showing us ways to practice His grace with our neighbors. The more we do for our neighbors, the more we find our connection to Jesus is greater because He is working in and through us. We cannot do this without Him, for we are sinners by nature unable to do good works on our own. But in Him we are forgiven and reconciled to God and by His power and love we can bear good fruit.
We only know God through the revelation of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. We could never participate again in fellowship, worship or growth of a Christian life and still by faith be saved. Yet, it will not bring us the joy and peace we can know when we have that deep connection that comes from the experiences of learning about Him with our whole selves. God has made it possible to enjoy Him in every way and gives us the opportunities to participate in His kingdom so that we will fully know Him and live our whole lives in His service, bearing fruit that glorifies Him.
May 17, 2022
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10, WEB
It is amazing how many people on the small claims court television shows are there because of an outstanding debt. As the judge questions the participants, the plaintiff usually admits that they “trusted that my friend would pay me back” so they didn’t put anything in writing, and the defendant claims it was a gift. The judge must discern who is telling the truth and make a judgment on the testimonies. The stories are sad because they usually involve family members who are estranged over these loans or best friends that will never talk to one another because it has ruined their relationship.
We might shake our head at these cases, but who among us has not borrowed money at one point or another? My husband and I are blessed to be at a point in our life when our finances are strong, and we have little debt, just a car payment and mortgage, both of which I’m paying more than the minimum payment. We pay off other bills quickly. I am glad we are in good shape, but I understand those who are can barely make it from paycheck to paycheck because I’ve been there. A couple decades ago we were struggling so much that I borrowed the money from our children’s savings accounts. I was able to pay it back with interest and they were young enough that they didn’t even know the money was missing.
The problem with so many of those who end up on the small claims court shows is that they do not good financial skills. They don’t realize how quickly debt can grow, and they get into such trouble that they need help. They make promises to pay back loans, then can’t do it because they haven’t fixed anything else. They use their cards to their limits and then only pay the required payment. Unfortunately, the minimum payments don’t do much for getting rid of the debt. It is barely more than the interest that is charged each month. The debt on a credit card, if tackled with only the minimum payment, will last forever. I’ve always tried to pay at least double the minimum, because then I actually see the principle dwindle.
The financial experts encourage people to pay off their debts. For every month that the debt continues, the item purchased costs more. Take, for instance, that dinner at the steak house last weekend. It may have seemed like a good deal when you used the coupon to get half off the appetizer, but if you put that bill on a credit card, and pay only the minimum payment, you’ll end up paying interest on food long after it is gone. At least with a mortgage there is a chance to build some equity and with a car payment you get to use the car for a long time. But that steak is barely even a memory by the time the bill arrives in the mail.
Sadly, sometimes we treat our relationships like our credit cards. If a neighbor invites us to dinner, we feel like we need to reciprocate. If a friend buys us a present, we rush out to buy something for them. If we take advantage of their hospitality, we insist that there must be something we can do for them. It is as if we are constantly trying to pay off debts between people. But are these debts and can they really be paid off?
Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” The Zondervan NIV Study Bible has this in the notes, “To love is the one debt that is never paid off. No matter how much people have loved, they are under obligation to keep on loving one another.” Unfortunately, we tend to pay off the debt of love like we pay off those high credit card bills: just enough. We don’t go above and beyond expectations. If our neighbor gives us a loaf of bread, we give back a loaf of bread. We should really be inviting them to a grand feast. We don’t do this, however, because we doubt that they can reciprocate. So, we give just enough. It is a vicious circle. We eventually learn that our inability to pay our debts like credit card bills can have a negative effect on our lives.
My favorite judge often councils those litigants in her court that they should never loan any money to people they love, or if they do, they should do so without expectations. “Don’t lend more than you can lose,” she says. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and sometimes the best thing we can do is to let go of the debt for the sake of the relationship. As Christians on the other hand, if we are the borrower then we should do everything we can to make things right. That money we have borrowed may be making life harder on our loved one. Love demands we do what’s best for the other, whichever side of a debt we are on.
We may not receive in return the kind of love we give, but we are loved with an even greater love: God’s. There is nothing we can do for our neighbor that is as great as the gift God has given us. There is no feast as grand as the one we receive in faith. There is no human love that can stand up to all that God has already done for us. So, we live in that love, letting it flow to our neighbors whether or not it flows back our way. The debt we owe is because God has first loved us. As we live in that love, we will not hold back on the payment, giving freely and fully to those whom God has sent our way.
May 18, 2022
Scriptures for May 22, 2022, Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:23-33
“Oh let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you will judge the peoples with equity, and govern the nations on earth. Selah.” Psalm 67:4, WEB
The first lesson from the lectionary since Easter has been from the book of Acts. This book describes the beginning of the Church, the time when the apostles and all the believers were trying to figure out what it meant to be a Christian. These are amazing stories of ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things, living faithfully and obeying the call of God in unexpected ways. Peter went into a Gentile home to share the Gospel and went before the Jewish Christian leaders to tell them they were wrong about the Gentiles. Paul stopped persecuting Christians and became the most zealous evangelist, and Ananias went to Paul despite Paul’s horrible reputation. They all believed the word of God and did what He told them to do. They believed the visions, believed the call, and obeyed.
Paul was heading for a particular place when the Holy Spirit stopped him and would not allow him to go that direction. Paul had a vision that sent him toward Macedonia; it was a man calling for his help. They reached Philippi, a city of Macedonia, and decided to stay there are few days. They went to the river outside the city, which was a gathering place for worship on the Sabbath. Just like Peter last week, Paul discovered a place where Gentiles were open to the Gospel. He was greeted by Lydia, a woman of prominence and a woman of faith. She was a minority in Philippi since the city had very few residents who believed in the one true God. Philippi was a community of retired Roman military men, most of whom worshipped the Roman gods. It is odd that the original vision was of a man, but a woman who received him. Would Paul have gone over to Macedonia if the vision had been of a woman?
Paul may not have ignored the vision, but we have to wonder what made those apostles and early Christians believe in the visions they saw. How did they know what was real and what was not real? Did they respond to every dream, every vision, every voice they heard? We see only the stories that were put into the scriptures, but for every true call from God we experience dozens of false calls, calls from the adversary to get us to go in the wrong direction. Certainly, they had similar experiences.
In this case, Paul responded to the vision of a man in Macedonia. Would he have believed it to be true if the vision had been of a woman? Is Lydia what he expected when he arrived in Philippi? I’m not so sure. But in this story we see that Paul presented the Gospel to those who crossed his path, no matter who they were. As Peter had learned that it was good to preach the Gospel to Gentiles, Paul learned that it was good to preach the Gospel to women. God sent him on a journey and met him with surprises, but in the end God’s will was done when Paul baptized her entire household. That was the beginning of the Church in Philippi and Lydia most certainly offered leadership among those early Christians.
It wasn’t going to be easy for any of them. The book of Acts does not just show us the wonderful growth of the Church as the apostles took the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. The stories also show us how they suffered for their faith. Stephen was stoned. Peter and Paul were imprisoned. The Christians were beaten and outcast from their communities, both Jewish and secular. Following Jesus meant that they would not have the support of guilds, in some places they could not even buy food in the marketplace. Faith often meant loneliness, poverty, and starvation.
Though many people interpret the book of Revelation as a timeline of the end times, the symbolism can be understood in political ways. John was warning the Christians of the difficulties they would face from the world. In the midst of the warning, however, are words of comfort and hope. “Stand fast and you’ll dwell with Jesus forever.” Each cycle of destruction in the book leads the faithful to worship God more and more.
The earth as we know it will not last forever. God will create a new earth, and it will be greater than we can ever imagine. The images in the final chapters of Revelation are incredible. The Bible begins with the story of creation and concludes with the story of the new creation. In this we have the hope that while our current world is broken, His new world will be perfect because He has destroyed all evil. We will dwell with Him, forgiven and transformed to be like Christ. We will be made perfect like Him. God finished the work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3), Jesus finished the work of redemption (John 19:30), and the Trinity will finish the entire plan of salvation by inviting the redeemed to dwell in the new creation. For now we live in the in-between, waiting for the day when the promise of eternity will be fulfilled.
Pictures are often deceiving. I am learning to use my new camera, testing it on subjects I’ve never succeeded capturing in the past. A few weeks ago, I caught streaks of lightning. Sunday night I managed to get detailed images of the moon. The photos we see of events like lightning and the eclipse are deceiving because the photographers often use editing techniques to enhance the real. In my pictures, the moon looks so large compared as if I were standing close to it because I was able to use a zoom lens to get a close-up. A wide angle shot at the height of the eclipse showed the moon was barely visible and tiny compared to the houses and trees in my neighborhood.
I once took a picture of a bird at the zoo. The bird appears large in the photo, perhaps three feet tall, but I wasn’t able to catch the reality. It was taller than me, standing level it could look me in the eye. Anyone who has been to the Redwood forests of northern California understands how pictures can be deceiving. We have all seen pictures of these giants, but the photos do nothing to tell the real story. You have to stand in one of the groves and see one of these magnificent trees to truly comprehend their sheer size and majesty. Even if you see a picture of a person standing near the trees, or a picture of a car driving through one of the trees, those people and cars seem more like toys than the trees like giants.
There are so many images in today’s passage; it is a visual image of heaven given to us in words. We can’t even imagine the reality and won’t be able to do so until we are in the midst of it all. The City of God, the New Jerusalem, is so big that it would cover about half of the United States. We want to relate this image to our human experience; we want to try to imagine a city that looks like a perfect cube measuring 1400 square feet along the width, height and depth. It doesn’t make sense to our human minds; cities aren’t perfect cubes that big. However, John was describing the indescribable with words to which his readers could relate: this vision he saw was immense, magnificent, and greater than anything in this world.
The assigned passage does not cover the whole description, but it is worth reading on through Revelation 22, where John describes the Tree of Life. I often think about that tree and wonder about the size. It is often depicted as being twelve different trees because it bears different types of fruit, however God can do anything, and I imagine that it was one enormous tree with a new harvest every month. Can you imagine how big it would have to be to provide fruit for all those whose names are writing in the book of life. Can you imagine a tree that can bear different types of fruit each month?
It is worth considering the number twelve, not just as the number of months in a year, but as a number of another type of fruit. While the modern versions of the Holy Bible list only nine fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), I think it is interesting that the Latin Vulgate lists twelve. “But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law.” [Gal. 5:22-23, Latin Vulgate] We automatically think of fruit like apples, oranges and peaches when we think about a tree bearing fruit, but wouldn’t it make sense that the Tree of Life might bear fruit in keeping with faith? What an awesome world in which we would be living if these were the fruits on which we were living! After all, they say you are what you eat.
When we read this passage from John, we try to imagine what he is describing, but our imaginations are simply incapable of seeing that which we will see in that day. It is like we are looking at a picture that is deceptive. We will be delightfully surprised to see the City of God, to dwell in the presence of God and the Lamb, to drink from the River of Life and to eat of the Tree. And though it will be immense, it will be personal and intimate and perfect.
The Psalm for today includes a word that is used more than seventy times in the psalms and a few times in a poetic portion of the book of Habakkuk. That word is “Selah.” It is not easy to define this word, though many suggest that it is simply a liturgical word in the midst of the psalm to direct the music, as in a rest or a stop in modern musical composition.
However, there are those who think this word actually suggests something much deeper than just a pause in the music, that it is also instructional to the singer and listeners. The word “Selah” is thought to mean something like “stop and listen” indicating that the words deserve some extra attention. Others take this meaning even further, suggesting that it is related to the Hebrew word that means “to measure.” With this understanding the listener and singer are given the command to do more than just listen, but to also consider or “measure” the words. In this way, the verse to which it refers should be heard and understood and applied to our lives. Listening is more than hearing the crash in the night; it is stopping to really listen to understand what is happening.
In this passage, the word “Selah” is used twice. The first is following a benediction. “God be merciful unto us, and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us.” Stop and listen; measure these words and those that which comes after, “That thy way may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among nations.” God blesses us to be a blessing and the purpose of that blessing is so that the world knows His salvation.
That’s what the apostles understood when they obediently followed those visions into the unknown. God’s blessings to us are not for our own good, but for the good of the world.
The second time we see the word “Selah” in this Psalm comes with a directive to the people, that they, meaning all nations, be glad and sing for joy. God’s mercy and judgment is given without favoritism; the blessings are not meant for one people, but for all people. God’s grace extends far beyond our borders, beyond our walls, beyond our opinions and biases.
The apostles and early Christians might have been surprised by the way God was directing their ministries to people they did not expect. We often experience the same uncertainty, but we are reminded that God has a plan we cannot see fully. Like heaven, we see God’s work through limited eyes, and we will one day see more clearly. For now, however we are to trust in God and walk in obedience to His Word that is calling us to share the Gospel with all those to whom we are sent.
Selah. Stop and listen. Understand that God has created and redeemed the whole world and one day the whole world will sing His praise.
I live in a big city, the seventh largest in the U.S. with a population of nearly two million people. Traffic is terrible, and though they are trying to expand the highways, the construction gets in the way at rush hour, and it takes us much too long for us to get from one place to another. A zoning policy that is not well known is that the planners are trying to ensure that every citizen can accomplish everything they need to do in a day by driving less than seven miles. This doesn’t always work out for everyone, especially when families have dual incomes; some people need to commute farther for their jobs. However, most people in the city are just a few miles from all types shopping, churches, doctors, municipal buildings, libraries, etc.
This often means that there are multiple of the same type of places very near to one another. Have you noticed how often there are competing drug stories right across the street? There are five different kinds of auto parts stores in less than a mile near my home. Every town has an auto mile where you can find any brand of vehicle. There was a road in another town near where we once lived that was “Church Row.” It was almost like the street was zoned only for churches. There was one after another. I can’t imagine what traffic was like on a Sunday morning. You might think it would make more sense to merge those churches, especially since some, if not all, were struggling. Some even had similar heritage (I think there were three different Lutheran churches and multiple Baptist churches in a matter of blocks.) Yet, each of those churches, though all Christian, were unique. They each had their own style of worship, their own mission focuses, and their own preferences in the administration. They all share Christ but had aspects that make them unique. And it was those unique aspects that make their identity.
I love my church. I like liturgical worship, lectionary-based readings and preaching, a variety of music. I like the focus on the sacraments and the symbolism found in our worship space. I have tried other types of worship, and I appreciate those who enjoy and prefer their practices even though I was not particularly comfortable with them. That’s ok! We all have unique personalities and like the chain drug stores, there are those of us who are loyal to a particular type. I am delighted to know that there’s a place where someone who likes to shout “AMEN” can go and worship God in a style that gives them joy, but also a place for the quiet, introspective type to find the joy of God in prayer and listening.
We often mourn over the fact that there are so many church bodies because it seems like we are too divided, and yet what a blessing it is to have so many different ways available to us so that everyone can find God in a style that suits their personality! God gives us what we need in many and various ways. That “church row” might seem impractical, but it is actually a gift because it offers opportunities for church to people from every culture. We want our pews to be full, but our task is to share Jesus and every person needs to find ways to experience Him that fills them with joy.
How did Paul know that he was obeying a vision? What made him follow? Did he ever have any other visions that he ignored? Would he have followed the vision if it had been the woman Lydia who had called him to come? It is impossible for us to answer these questions, but it is helpful to realize that the apostles most likely suffered from the same kind of questions that we ask today. For every story of a healing, there must have been a dozen people who weren’t healed. For every conversion there must have been hundreds that never came to faith.
That’s what happens when it is all about “we.” We forget that we do not know the mind of God. We do not have a complete picture of His plan. Our image of success is deceptive. We want to fill the pews and to grow like the church next door, but what God truly wants from us is faithfulness. We have a purpose; we have work to do, and that work is to share the Gospel in a voice that will be heard by the one whom God has opened their heart to hear. That voice might loud and joyful, full of AMENS or quiet and introspective with prayerful listening. God knows and He’s called us to be true to our own identity for His sake. We can’t do that if we are so busy trying to be something we aren’t for people who can’t hear because God is not drawing them to Himself.
It is sad that there are so many different churches, but that’s how it is in this world. The passage from Revelation makes a promise, however. There is a time coming, hopefully soon!, when there will be no need of a temple, or church, or river community because we will dwell in the New Jerusalem. We will dwell in God’s eternal Kingdom, and there will be no need for special places for us to worship in our own personal, individual ways.
We have that today, although not as it will be. See, we do meet in different buildings with different practices, but as long as the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the foundation of those places, then we are one body. We share in the same promises; we are called to the same mission. We are blessed with the same Holy Spirit who gives us everything we need to follow God’s vision for our lives today. When God is our focus, then all we have to do is speak and we will be heard by the hearts God has opened.
Jesus knew it would be this way. He warned the disciples, “Behold, the time is coming, yes, and has now come, that you will be scattered, everyone to his own place, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble; but cheer up! I have overcome the world.” He was addressing the disciples and the fact that they would scatter after His arrest, but isn’t it also true for us today? Aren’t we scattered and in our own worries and fears of failure, and don’t we also sometimes forget the right focus of our ministry?
When our churches seem to be failing, when our pews are empty and we aren’t sure what will happen to our congregation tomorrow, we can have hope: Jesus Christ has overcome the world. We can live in peace even in the midst of chaos because God is with us. We gather together not to be successful but to rejoice in our God. When that is our focus, we will see God doing great things among us.
Life does not always provide for us what we expect. We do have to be careful to discern whether the dreams and visions that we receive are true and that they are from God. As we willingly follow God’s call, obediently sharing the Gospel with those who cross our path, we may experience something different than we expect, but we will see the blessings of God clearly.
This is the will and purpose of God: He calls us to take the risk, to go out into the world and find those opportunities that He has prepared for us to share His Gospel. We just need to go out in faith. God knows when and how it will happen. Thanks to the mark of Christ, we have nothing to fear; our names are written in indelible ink in God’s Book of Life. We aren’t called to worry about the numbers of people in our pews or doubt whether we are doing everything we can do to be successful. We are called to believe. We are called to take one step at a time, sharing with one person at a time.
We don’t need to wait for the Heavenly Jerusalem to come because God’s Light already shines on us even though it seems like there are too many different churches along the road and the people inside are not what we expect. As the body of Christ, we dwell in His glory now just as we will dwell with Him forever, together with all believers in every time and place. The psalmist wrote, “Oh let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you will judge the peoples with equity, and govern the nations on earth. Selah.” Let us stop and listen to hear His call so that we can follow obediently to His Word.
We can believe in the indescribable promise written by John of the New Jerusalem because we know the end of the story. We already have a place in this incredible city because we have been forgiven. That hope is our foundation, and it is even more beautiful than the jewels John uses to describe it. So let us dwell in this world as if the New Jerusalem has already come to us and share the Gospel so that those hearts which God has opened might hear and receive the forgiveness and hope of Jesus Christ and the peace that comes from knowing that their names are written in God's Book of Life.
May 19, 2022
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin. For I don’t know what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I desire to do; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I don’t desire, that I do, I consent to the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good. For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice. But if what I don’t desire, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the law that, to me, while I desire to do good, evil is present. For I delight in God’s law after the inward person, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, sin’s law.” Romans 7:14-25, WEB
I grew up on the east coast. When I was young I had a great sense of direction. I could come to an unknown corner and know by instinct which direction I had to turn to get to my destination. This was a good thing, since I held several jobs over the years that required me to travel to different locations to do my work. Some places were difficult to find, but I was generally able to find my way with little trouble. This was long before GPS.
Things were different when I moved to California. I never really understood the cause. Perhaps it was because the highway or roadway systems were different. Perhaps there were landmarks that reminded me of places back home that confused my sense of direction. However, I always blamed the fact that the ocean was in the wrong place. After all, I was on the west coast with the Pacific Ocean to the west, after having lived for so many years on the east coast with the Atlantic Ocean to the east. My instinct was confused, and I often thought south was north and north was south. I made way too many directional mistakes. As a matter of fact, I can honestly tell you that if I had to make a decision, I almost always made the wrong one.
There was an episode of “Seinfeld” during which George entered into a conversation with a pronouncement. He had realized that every decision he ever made was the wrong choice which is why his life was so messed up. He decided that day to live completely opposite to the leanings of his instinct. He began with his lunch. Instead of his usual tuna salad, he decided to have chicken. When he saw a beautiful girl at the counter, he not only decided to approach her, but he also decided to be completely open and honest with her. All this went against his better judgment, because he was at that point unemployed and living with his parents. She did not reject him; she even seemed very interested. For the rest of the show, George chose the opposite of whatever he would have normally done.
I think what I like most about Paul is his honesty. He is often harsh in his letters, saying what most of us think but would never say out loud. He is willing to call a sin a sin and to admit that he is the worst of sinners. In his letter to the Romans, he talks about his inability to be all he wants to be, the perfect Christian, a righteous person. He admits his frailty and his lack of control. He wants to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but he recognizes and confesses his failure.
We look to Paul for guidance about how to live and serve God. Sometimes we put Paul on a pedestal, but Paul knew that he was not perfect. Paul knew his failures; he recognized his frailty. He knew that he was likely to do what is wrong. If Paul, who met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, did not have control over his own flesh, how do we expect to be any better? This is why we must always remember that God does call and ordain His Church to do His work in this world even though the Church is made of many fallible and imperfect members. We don’t have control: we do what we want to do which is not always what God would have us do. We can’t decide to do the opposite of our instinct and expect it to be the right thing. We are called to serve God; He can and will bring us to perfection, but it won’t happen in this life. We live in hope because of God’s lovingkindness. He is faithful to His covenant promises.
It may seem silly to think that living on the west coast would cause me to lose my sense of direction just because the ocean is on the wrong side. It is even sillier to think that George’s life would change just because he decided to have the opposite of tuna salad for lunch one day. What is the opposite of tuna anyway? What is the opposite of living the life we live? Is it even possible for us to decide to make the opposite decisions for every choice we have to make? Our unspiritual nature draws us to seek after things that are not beneficial to us. We are tempted, and fall under temptation, much too easily. It is the state of our being that we are drawn in a direction that takes us away from God. Thank God through Jesus Christ that He can and will deliver us out of our bodies of death.
“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthans 13:8-12, WEB
C.S. Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity”, “People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on “being in love” for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change – not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest… it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and becomes a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.”
This loss of passion is even found in the life of a Christian. For example, many people have experienced one of those weekend retreats meant to build faith. The guests are church members who need a refresher course in what it means to be Christian in this world. It is a weekend of spiritual renewal and the beginning of a lifetime of walking in the light of Christ in a whole new way. I attended one a few years ago and recall the reaction of one of my fellow guests.
It was a young, troubled man who was overjoyed by what he heard, even glowed with faith and spiritual fervor. It was lifechanging for him; he made promises to live differently, to put aside his sinful ways and walk with Christ from that moment on. His joy was contagious, and we were all excited for his new life. Unfortunately, we all have to come down off the mountaintop when it is time to leave those weekends, and the passion fades away. Sometimes the person settles, as Lewis says, “a more lasting kind of interest,” but sometimes the person crashes like they are coming off a sugar high. That’s what happened to the young man, whose new life in Christ barely lasted a month before he was living as he had before the weekend. When the passion faded, so did his faith.
We love to see children who love Jesus. They sing “Jesus Loves Me” with abandon and are never bothered that they shout “Amen” a second to late at the top of their lungs. They talk about Jesus and love everyone. Sadly, we too often outgrow this innocent faith and become more somber about our Christianity. We live in a world that has put sexuality on the front page but prefers we keep our faith in the closet, and we quickly learn that life is easier if we hide our Christianity. We go to church and do what we can do to serve our neighbors, but we don’t wear our faith on our sleeves or use the words that will introduce others to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this often means that the spark dies and we set aside the Kingdom for the world.
We don’t have to be passionate, yelling Amen or preaching on the streetcorners to live our Christian faith in this world. We must beware, however, that we don’t put out the spark that began when God embraced us with His grace because it is no longer fiery. Our faith does grow and change as we mature; our faith should grow and change as we mature. But we are reminded that just like that marriage that becomes new every day, so does our faith.
Paul wrote that the exciting bits of our Christianity isn’t what makes us a Christian. Love does. We might not be on a mountaintop every moment of every day, but God loves us to eternity and back, promising that the day will come when we will dwell forever in His presence, worshipping Him with a passion we can’t even imagine because we will know Him as we have not yet been able to know Him. Until that day, let us find the excitement of faithful love in new ways every day and never let it go.
“When the multitudes heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’” Matthew 22:33-40, WEB
We moved into our current house ten years ago. We met most of our immediate neighbors quickly and they were wonderfully friendly and kind as we went through the process of making the house a home. We are still friends with one couple even though they have moved out of the neighborhood. We have met other neighbors in the past ten years, especially in the past two years. Many families began walking during the pandemic, and we’ve had the opportunity to chat with them as they passed the house if we were outside. We even had a couple over to dinner that lives a few block away.
Most of our neighbors are really great, though there are always a few people in a neighborhood that are hard to love. This is true in our lives beyond our homes, too. I confess that there are people who have crossed my path over my lifetime that I would rather not consider my neighbor in the biblical sense. We love our house, but the previous owners left us mess after mess, problem after problem. I had to hire cleaners because the house was filthy. I had to hire a locksmith to make sense of their keys. I had the HVAC serviced because it didn’t seem to be working right. During his visit, we discovered that there are a number of issues that probably should have been found by the people they were supposed to bring in to service the HVAC before closing. We even found a leak under the kitchen sink. Ten years later, there are things that probably can be blamed on those owners. I am still getting mail in their name because they never changed their business address to their new address at online sites.
It is really hard to love this “neighbor.” I don’t even know the people. I have never met them, and I will probably never meet them. Perhaps if I met them outside this circumstance I might even like them, but as it is I can honestly say that I don’t like them at all.
We met the people who bought our last home ten years ago, and it was a wonderful experience. They were so appreciative of the little details that we did before turning it over to them. They were first time home buyers and were very nervous about the process. They appreciated that we left behind some filters that we would never use and the owners’ manuals for all the appliances. We left the home clean and ready. We even left a few surprises for them, welcome home presents.
It is definitely easier to love those who do nice things for us, but the reality is that love is never to be dependent on our works. Anne Graham Lotz once said, “Our love for Christ is more important to Him than all our service to Him. Strict obedience and service alone are not enough. Love for Jesus must come first.” Love will manifest in good works. It will be made visible in the things we do for our neighbor. But love is not proven by works and works don’t create love. Love is not an emotion that we can give to one neighbor and not another. Love is a state of being that comes from dwelling in God. Love is where everything begins and ends. When we love, kindness and goodness will prevail.
I had to learn to love this “neighbor” who left me a mess, if only to stop complaining about every problem they left behind. They will never experience the love that I can give, but I will find peace in loving them because then I can let go my anger and frustration. No matter what they left behind, no matter what troubles I still face, I can’t hate, because in hating I am turning myself away from God. So, I will love God first, and with His help I will find love for those I would much rather never call neighbor.
“But we have this treasure in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, WEB
Clay is a type of soil. Clay is fine-grained earthy material, which are pliable when wet. When the clay dries, it becomes hard and can be used for a multitude of purposes. When the clay is fired in a kiln, it becomes even stronger. A coating of glaze is added to give the object more strength, as well as to cover the pores to make it retain liquid. Clay has been used for thousands of years for many practical things: tiles for floors or roofs, bowls, coins and pots. I’ve heard it said that pottery is one of the best finds at any archeological site because even the small chips of broken pots left behind can reveal so much information about the people who lived there.
I have some beautiful clay pots in my garden, made in Mexico using bright beautiful paints. Clay items are popular around here; people have pots for flowers, birdbaths, sculptures of lizards or birds. Even plain terra cotta pots are found on many porches or in many gardens. We don’t often pay attention to the clay pot, particularly when it is filled with a beautiful flower. Many of my own clay pots have had cracks and chips. When I filled my pots with flowers this weekend, I noticed that some of the paint is chipped off. I think it can be repaired, but it isn’t very noticeable. These imperfections do not matter, as the pot still holds the flower.
Clay was never my favorite medium in art classes. It seemed like something always went wrong. I made one piece that was slabs of clay ‘glued’ together into a square shaped vase. I had to remake that pot several times because it fell apart every time it was fired. Another piece was broken as it was removed from the kiln after being glazed, and though we were able to glue it together the line of the fracture is noticeable. A third piece took so long to be molded that there wasn’t time to have it glazed. I was a very imperfect potter, and my pieces are filled with flaws.
The Bible refers to God as a potter and we as the vessels He has molded to carry His Life. In the 64th chapter of Isaiah, the prophet cries out to God to do something about the enemies of Israel. He wants God to come down and make His presence known in a powerful and impactful way. “Hit our enemies so that they will know that you are the God who has done incredible things for us and that You will continue to be protective of those who are righteous in Your sight.” Isaiah realizes pretty quickly, though, that even God’s chosen people have sinned against Him. “For we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteousness is like a polluted garment.” We don’t deserve anything better than we want for our enemies. Isaiah understands that even though it seems like God has abandoned His people, they deserved to be oppressed by their enemies because they turned from Him.
In the end, though, Isaiah knows there is always hope. God does not abandon His people. He does save them from their own foolishness. Isaiah asks God to have mercy, to remember His promises, to lay His hands on His people so that they will be conformed to His will. He cries to God the perfect potter to make us into vessels for His glory. We may come to our God with the attitude wanting God to avenge us so that we can win the battle, but the reality is that what we really need is grace. As we understand our own sinfulness and our own need for God’s mercy, we see that He has never really abandoned us and that His love is big enough for everyone, even our enemy.
In this life, we as Christians are often beaten and attacked for our stand on truth and life. No matter how difficult the situations we face, we must always remember that which we were created to hold. God the perfect potter created us to glorify Him. We do that by being the vessel He created to share Him with the world. We will get chipped and cracked in the process, but we will be useful according to His purpose. Those moments when the world thinks it’s getting the better of us are the very moments when God is doing His greatest works in our lives. We are all cracked pots; let us pray that God’s grace will shine through those cracks so that the world will see the light of truth and the reality of life in Him.
Scriptures for May 29, 2022, Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:12-26, Psalm 133, Revelation 22:1-6 (7-11) 12-20, John 17:20-26
“See how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1, WEB
One of the advantages of our transient military life was the opportunity to visit some wonderful places without having to travel very far. We went to Canada when we lived in Washington. We learned all about the history of Little Rock and the beauty of the Ozarks when we lived in Arkansas. Bruce was stationed in England for four years and we used the time to see as many things as we could see. We had many visitors when we lived in California and enjoyed the incredible national treasures that were just a few hours from our home, including the Redwoods in Northern California.
We loved looking at those amazing trees that are so large that you can’t even see the canopy hundreds of feet above the ground. Among our souvenirs from that trip was the seedling of a miniature redwood tree. We were going to plant that tree in our yard so that one day it would tower over the neighborhood for all to enjoy. It was an impractical idea for many reasons, including the reality that we’d never enjoy the tree because we would be gone long before it grew big. Also, the landscape was not conducive for a redwood’s survival.
One redwood tree would have difficulty surviving alone. Even though redwood trees grow to be hundreds of feet high and wider than you can imagine, they have very small root systems. During one visit to the groves, we saw a tree that had been recently felled by a storm. I shocked by how small the roots were; they were barely larger than the trunk and only a few feet deep. It is no wonder that the tree fell; there was nothing to hold it up.
Redwood trees have lasted for centuries because they live in groves. They count on the other trees to help them stand. Their root systems intertwine, giving the group greater strength than any individual tree. That one tree was just far enough from the others that it had no support and thus no strength.
There are, unfortunately, too many Christians who think they can go it alone. They choose not to participate in the fellowship of the saints, to join others for worship, word and sacrament, or Bible study. They are disappointed with the body of Christ because they have been hurt by individuals or they do not like what they’ve seen, so they reject institutionalized faith and go it on their own. When they do this they stand separate, alone in the world. When the storm hits there is nothing to help hold them up. They have no unity with others who can give them the support they need to stand. They are too far from that which gives true strength in Christ: The Church which is strongest when we are one with each other in Christ Jesus.
In our Gospel lesson from John, Jesus prayed for the unity of believers, that they would be one just as the Father and Son were one. He was not just praying for the disciples that were with Him in the Upper Room, but for all Christians over time and space. We are a diverse people; we come from different times and places. The Church has existed for two thousand years and has touched nearly every corner of the world. Unity does not necessarily mean that we will all be the same. That is impossible. Not even the twelve disciples were the same. There were fishermen, a tax collector, revolutionaries and others. At least one was married. Some were brothers. They were from different villages. In the scriptures we can see they had different personalities. They did not always get along. The disciples often bickered, and the early Church faced difficulties.
When Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers, He was praying for them - and us - to be of one mind. That mind is not our own, or even a human mind. That mind is Christ’s. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Jesus set down how we could be unified. We are called to love one another with an active love. In service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, the world will see that we are one and will know that God is the Lord Almighty. They will see our unity and will know that God does exist in and through our lives.
The second lesson for this week is from the final chapter of the book. We struggle with some of the language in John’s description of heaven. We love the beauty he describes: a crystal-clear river, a magnificent tree, no more curses, and the face of God in our sight without fear of dying. There will be no night or lamps because God’s Light will illuminate them. God the Father and Son will reign forever on the heavenly throne.
Our struggle comes with some of the other things that John writes, they don’t seem to fit the image of God that we desire, particularly the idea that there will be some left out of the Kingdom. The Revelation of Jesus Christ according to John is the end of the story. God has accomplished all that is necessary for His people to spend eternity with Him. John’s revelation makes it clear that the grace of Jesus Christ is greater than we can imagine. How is it that John is still talking about dogs and punishment? How is there anyone left to experience judgment after all the apocalyptic events described in his book?
There are different types of judgment described in the Bible. The first is the final judgment. Strange as this may seem, the final judgment has already occurred: it was finished on the cross of Christ. Thanks to the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the judgment of sinners is done; some will live and some will die, but eternal life is entirely dependent on faith. The second kind of judgment is that which we do on the earth when we judge between to people in a court or we judge someone for their wrongdoing. The advice given for those of us in this world who will judge (all of us at some point in our lives because we all find ourselves in the position to judge, even if it is only to judge the actions of our children) is that we are to be careful because we will be judged as we have judged. So, if we accuse and condemn someone for an action, we will be accused and condemned if we are unrepentant about doing the same thing.
The third type of judgment is the believer’s judgment. Those who are believers will be judged according to the works that they do. We see this especially when Jesus talked about how we serve Him when we do good things for those who need us (Matthew 25:31-46). In the parable, of those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, and visited the imprisoned were doing so to Him and they would inherit the Kingdom. Those who did not do those things would be separated and sent to the fire. We know God is gracious and loving so this image of Him sending anyone to the fire is counter to our expectation of God.
The same is true of the verse in this passage from Revelation. John is describing the New Jerusalem where the believers will live forever in the presence of God. We are disturbed by the image that there is or will be some who are not given the same blessing, that there are those who will remain outside the city walls.
The list is very specific: sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters and liars. The point of the Revelation is to draw the believer’s attention to that which will come when Jesus returns so that they will be prepared. That day will come when we least expect it, and John’s language demands immediacy. Jesus says, “Behold, I come quickly.” John is encouraging his reader to act now. “Don’t wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may be too late. Those with washed robes are those who repented. They heard the Word and by the faith given in that Word they turned to God and responded to the invitation to “Come.” It is easy for us to become complacent, after all Jesus has been coming quickly for two thousand years! Even the earliest Christians began to struggle with their faith because Jesus did not come back right away. How much more do we question the reality of these promises and warnings after such a long time?
John warns the reader that those who remove or add to the words will be punished. Here again is a warning of punishment, but after two thousand years we know that there have been people throughout the ages who have claimed to have special knowledge of God; they claim to know what He means and intends with His Word. As a matter of fact, there are scholars who believe these were not the words of John but that they were added by a later believer to give the passage a Gnostic point of view.
There is something important in these words for us to hear, though. John tells us that if we add to the words then God will add on to the plagues we will suffer and if we take away from the words then God will take away our part from the tree of life. If we add something, then something will be added and if we take away something, then something will be taken away. When we add to God’s word, we set upon ourselves and others an extra layer of works necessary for righteousness and when we take away from God’s word we take away from His grace. The Gospel is simple and does not need our intrusion.
This passage teaches us that Christ is immediate, but not as we understand immediacy. It was certainly written for their moment and for their time, but it is now for our moment and our time. Though the Church has been waiting for two thousand years for the coming of Christ, there is never a time to procrastinate. The time is now. It doesn’t matter that generations of Christians no longer live in this world. Don’t think you have time to wait. Christ is coming. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
And yet, Christ also calls us to wait. On Thursday the Church will celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As Jesus prepared His disciples for that final moment, Jesus said to them, “Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me.” (Acts 1:4b, WEB)
Wait. I don’t think any of us are very good at waiting. We learn to be patient as we get older, but there’s always something we just can’t control. Even as adults we get anxious or excited. We worry, we wonder, we watch the clock. No matter how good we are at driving, all of us manage to creep up on the stoplight as we anticipate it changing. We look forward to big events, sometimes because we want them to be over. We get frustrated in grocery store check-out lines. We have no patience to sit and wait so we find something to do. We take a book to the doctor’s office. We surf the internet on our phones while we wait for our food to arrive at a restaurant. We sweep the floor while we wait for our children to finish getting dressed in the morning. We can’t just wait; we have to do something to make good use of our time.
I suppose the same can be said about the disciples in those days between the Ascension (tomorrow) and Pentecost (ten days later). Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses, but that they needed to wait for the gift He would send. We know that gift is the Holy Spirit that would come upon them and fill them with everything they would need to do His Work. So, this Sunday is a day of waiting, wondering, and praying.
I always wonder, though. Didn’t Jesus give the disciples the Holy Spirit when He appeared before them on the Resurrection Day? Just a few weeks ago John told us, “Jesus therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’” (John 20:21-22, WEB) So why did they have to wait; didn’t they have what they needed?
Jesus breathed on them in the passage from John, but they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. This might not seem significant, but the Holy Spirit could not fully come to the people of God until Jesus left the earth. God’s people experienced the Spirit before Pentecost in many ways, but only in specific and temporary ways. The Spirit was more an outward force that made a difference in the lives of those who believed. Saul was anointed by God to be king of Israel, but when he failed to live up to His expectations, the Spirit left him. Those who prophesied in God’s name did so by the power of the Holy Spirit. The very basics of life for all human beings come from God’s work through His Spirit who creates and sustains life. But it was just a trickle, a gift given as needed to accomplish God’s work.
Something changed on Pentecost. The promise that God made throughout the Old Testament was finally fulfilled. In Joel, God said, “I will pour out my Spirit.” In John the disciples received the Spirit as it was given throughout the Old Testament, an outer force breathed upon them to keep them until the day when they would fully receive the gift of God, the Spirit of Christ dwelling in their hearts. That Spirit brings us together, gives us the same mind as Christ, unifies us in ways we don’t always understand. Jesus prayed for our unity, but without His Spirit it would never happen. Even so, we still disagree with each other about too many things. We do not act like one body.
The problem is that we hold on to our ideas, we have to win, we have to be right, we have to hold on to our truth no matter what. That’s why we often jump into tasks while we wait; we don’t want to give anyone a chance to get control of our world. We think that they should be of our mind, but the one mind is of Christ, which is not like the human mind. We are unified by the Spirit and our testimony of the Gospel, through which Christ is glorified. We share in the glory of God by witnessing together, sharing the Gospel. This begins with the declaration of the forgiveness of sins that is given to all who believe through the blood Jesus shed on the cross and then continues in the life of faith and discipleship which we are made free to live. This is our command, our mission. This is what we are called to do.
I have to admit that sometimes I get tired of waiting for the promise to be made real. I am in no sense suicidal, but I’m ready for heaven. Life in this world sometimes seems so hopeless; it seems like nothing I do is making a difference anyway. I know the only real answer to all our fears is for Jesus to return. I want to dwell in the garden that John described in the text from Revelation. Who doesn’t want to walk beside the river of life that flows from the throne of God?
The Garden is the New Jerusalem. There is no night and no evil to be found inside the city. The gates are left open because there is no need to lock out the dark things of this world. There is nothing impure, nothing shameful, nothing deceitful. There is no more sin because Jesus Christ has overcome all that is against God and reconciled the world to Himself. This is the world in which I want to live.
I don’t want to wait, but I must. There is still work to do. There are still people lost in the darkness who need to hear the forgiving and transforming words of Jesus Christ. There are still people that need the Gospel so that they can join me under that tree, along that river, worshipping God for eternity. John encourages his readers to act now. “Don’t wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may be too late.” We are given the power and authority of God to call those lost to faith. We are sent to call the world to repentance, so that they can join us with washed robes in the promise of eternal life. It is our task to invite people into the fellowship of believers so that they, too, will share in the fruit of the tree of life.
Isn’t it funny, though, how we are so impatient for so many things, but we do not have the sense of urgency needed to do the work God is calling us to do? We don’t mind waiting for the right moment to tell our neighbor about Jesus. We don’t mind waiting to call someone out of darkness and to repentance so that they might experience the forgiveness Jesus has promised. After all, perhaps tomorrow is a better day. Perhaps tomorrow the neighbor will be ready to hear the truth.
We don’t feel the same sense of urgency that the first Christians heard because we’ve had two thousand years of waiting. What’s another day? Two thousand years is a long time to wait, and we have lost patience and our zealousness. We have allowed the doubts and fears to creep into our faith and we justify the time by saying that God didn’t mean it the way we think. We explain away the language. We have allowed the worries and the cares of the world to temper our enthusiasm and we have followed with a skewed sense of purpose. We forget that for God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. For God the beginning of the church was just two days ago. The promise is as imminent today as it was for Peter and Paul and John.
Our work is as vital now as it was two thousand years ago. We don’t know what tomorrow holds; even if Jesus doesn’t come again as He has promised, we might just lose our chance to be the witness God has called us to be. One more day in the world makes every heart harder to the Gospel message. Every lie that is told makes the truth harder to believe. Every moment takes each one of us closer to the end of our life on earth. What if today is the day for you or your neighbor?
The message of Christ is immediate; it is for this moment, for this time. Though we’ve been waiting for two thousand years for the coming of Christ, this is not the time to procrastinate. There are so many who need to hear the Gospel. We may not think the time or the place is right, but God knows and He is directing the movement of His people in a way that will bring salvation to the world. The time is now to act. Don’t wait! Christ is coming. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
We are His witnesses, sent to share the Gospel message with the world that continues to be lost in darkness and sin. We are the witnesses who will call them to repentance, reveal God’s forgiveness and call those believers to a life of faithful living in this world. Though we may have to wait another two thousand years before Jesus returns, there are those today who need to hear the Good News of Jesus. They need to be healed. They need to have their demons cast out. They need to be baptized with water and spirit so that they too can become part of the unity that we have in Christ Jesus. The need is still urgent, the mission still immediate. Jesus is coming. Soon. Let us continue to live in expectation of the promise, knowing that God will make good come from all we do, even when we seem to fail.
We are still waiting, but not for the promised gift; that came to all who believe beginning with the apostles who were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost. We might have to wait for heaven, but as they did in the Upper Room for those ten days, let us wait in prayer and worship, encouraging one another with reminders of the forgiveness Jesus Christ won for us when He atoned for our sins with His own sprinkled blood. For now, we are sent into the world, and we have the power, strength, boldness, ability, and confidence to be witnesses for Jesus today because He sent His Spirit to make us one with Him.
Jesus prayed for unity, and the psalmist sings in hope of it. “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” We are a diverse people, from different times and places. We come from every corner of the world, and we are not the same. It is impossible for us to be of one mind if that mind is human. Even the disciples were different. They did not always get along, just like us. God is not calling us to become like others so that we can be the same; He is calling us to share the mind of Christ and the Spirit of God. The common bond that makes us one is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, the world does not see one body when they look at the Church. There are many reasons why we disagree, we are still dealing with the same troubles as the first Christians. We have built fences between our brothers and sisters that block the Spirit of the Living God from displaying His power to the world. He doesn’t need us, yet He wants us to be part of the blessing that comes from unity of spirit. Christ’s Church is made up of unique and interesting individuals who together form a beautiful picture of life in Christ. May we always remember the things that bring us together - faith, hope, and God’s Spirit - and work together to serve God in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
May 26, 2022
“The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God’s Kingdom. Being assembled together with them, he commanded them, ‘Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ Therefore when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.’ When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, who also said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky, will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.’” Acts 1:1-11, WEB
Today is Ascension Day. Most Christians are familiar with Christmas and Easter. They know Pentecost. I’m sure most of us have heard of Ascension Day, but since it always occurs on a Thursday forty days after Easter, few of us celebrate the day. If you don’t know about the day, you can probably guess what why we recognize it: it was the day Jesus ascended to heaven. This might not seem very significant, particularly when considered next to Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. However, it was a necessary moment in the life of the Church. Just like Easter could not happen without Good Friday, Pentecost cannot happen without the Ascension. Jesus had to rise so that He could send the Spirit.
We’ve reached the end of another school year; many students are graduating from college and high school. These students have spent years learning and maturing with the ultimate goal of going out into the world to be independent and follow their dreams. Some of the students will go on to more school; others will search for the perfect job. For many, the search will be difficult, as jobs are not easy to find. There are students that know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives; others are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.
It is a time of great change. Life out in the real world is much different than academia; even college with its freedom and competition is a closed and protected world. The graduates won’t have anyone to blame when they fail and there are fewer people willing to bail them out when they run into trouble. It is time to stand on their own two feet. Even their social lives will change as their friends move on in different directions.
The disciples faced a similar change in life. Jesus spent three years with the disciples before He was killed on the cross and was raised again. He spent forty days with them after the Resurrection, giving them final instructions and proving that He was truly alive by many wonderful acts. He promised them that they would receive power to continue His work when they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures. Everything Jesus had taught them for three years and forty days was finally making sense.
After all they went through with Jesus, the day had to come when He would no longer be with them in flesh, when they would do the work of the Kingdom on their own. It was a daunting task that Jesus called them to do. How do you share the Gospel with the world that is unwilling to hear? How do you proclaim forgiveness to people who do not think they are sinners in need of a Savior? How do you take the Kingdom to a world whose whole understanding of God is upside down? Jesus told them repeatedly that He would have to leave, but I don’t think they expected it to happen so soon.
Now, just forty days after He was raised and returned to them, He was taken into heaven, bodily raised from the earth into the clouds right before their eyes. They had seen Jesus do many miraculous things; this was just one more. However, there was something very important about that moment.
When Jesus was raised to the right hand of God, it left little room to question the very nature of this man they had known for three years. This was God in flesh, worthy of their worship and praise. This was also the moment that He left them alone, seemingly abandoning them with nothing but a promise of a helper to come. He sent them into the world to share the Kingdom of God but would no longer be there to pick them up after they fell. It was up to them to do the work they were called to do. It was no wonder that they stopped to stare into the heavens. It would have been easy to stay right there at that spot and continue looking toward heaven for Jesus’ return.
Would we know Jesus if He hadn’t ascended into heaven? Perhaps that’s not an appropriate question, but the reality is that even His disciples did not truly understand who He was until they received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. If Jesus had continued to walk on earth, as He did during His ministry and for those forty days after, He would not have been able to touch nearly as many people. Even if He lived forever on earth, His impact would have been minimal since He could not possibly reach every human being born. Even with modern technology like the radio, television and Internet, Jesus might get lost among the names that are more familiar. Without His Spirit, we would never truly know Him.
Ascension Day might seem like the end of something (Jesus’ time on earth,) but it was really a new beginning. Jesus did not intend for them to stand around and wallow in the past. There are times in our own lives, such as when we graduate from school, that we can understand why the disciples would stare after Jesus. It is easy to gape at the clouds and hope for His return, but they were called to live in that day, to worship Him by doing the work He prepared them to do. On this Ascension Day we are also encouraged to move forward, to go out in faith and do all that He has called us to do.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation, a snare, and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:6-10, WEB
There used to be a show on TV called, “America’s Dumbest Criminals.” You can still find episodes on YouTube. One episode began with this opening, “What makes a dumb criminal dumb? Well, we know that drugs, alcohol, greed, and just old bad luck are all contributing factors. But what really makes a dumb criminal dumb is not thinking. And tonight we have a cell block full of crooks who were brain dead before arrival.” The show went on to show several videos, either real life or reenactments, of criminals doing stupid things. The show played for four years and on every episode several criminals got caught in their foolishness and were punished for their crime.
These dumb criminal stories are all over the Internet, too. I heard a story of a man who hid in a store he was planning to rob until everyone went home in the evening. Then he took a duvet cover and filled it with merchandise. All was going very well until he tried to leave the store. He took a crowbar to the front door, but it would not budge. He tried to break through the rear wall. None of his escape attempts succeeded. He eventually called the police so he would be freed. Unfortunately, his freedom was very short-lived.
We don’t know why he chose to rob that store, but in many cases like this, the criminals are just not content with what they already possess, so they try to get more. It isn’t just criminals who live that way. We work hard to make money to buy more stuff. In the case of this criminal, his lack of contentment led him into a life of crime, and a destructive trap from which he could not escape. That is what sin is, a destructive trap. God, our heavenly Father gives us everything we need to live in this world for this time. When we try to have more than our daily needs, we are tempted to do whatever is necessary to meet those desires.
Money is not evil. Throughout the ages, men and women have given up everything to live lives of poverty so as to follow closely in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not always the life God calls us to live. As a matter of fact, God sometimes blesses people with incredible wealth, but He does so with a purpose. It is not necessary to follow a lifestyle of deprivation as long as we remember to be content with what we have. We fall into temptation when we desire to get rich, and we do whatever we can to make that happen.
For many of those dumb criminals, their choice to seek more causes them to end up on a path of destruction. The locked doors of the store trapped that one man, but there was a way out. He called the police who freed him, but he suffered the consequences of his foolish behavior. We too, have a way out when we fall into temptation. We can call on God, in the name of Jesus, and ask for His mercy, grace and forgiveness. We may face some consequence of our actions. However, in the blood of Jesus Christ, we know we are forgiven and can move on in freedom to be content with what we have.
May 30, 2022
“Even as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and remain in his love. I have spoken these things to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his lord does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you. I command these things to you, that you may love one another.” John 15:9-17, WEB
There is a scene from the movie Forest Gump with the character played by Tom Hanks called Forest is in Vietnam. Things went very wrong, and people were dying. Forest ran out of the danger zone, but when he reached safety, he realized that his friend had not followed behind. He went back into the battle to find him. He had no concern for his own life as he dragged many wounded men out of the fire. He finally found his friend, who was injured and would rather have died on the battlefield than live the rest of his life as an invalid. His friend was not grateful for the sacrifice Forrest made, and was angry and spiteful for years, hating the life he had to live and Forrest for causing him to live it.
At this time of year, we often see film clips about real American heroes. These men and women went beyond the call of duty; they risked their own lives for the lives of their friends. I once heard a story about one pilot who was on his last flight before being sent home. On his way back to the base, he saw that the other pilots in his squadron needed help. He went right back into the battle, saved several planes and died in the process. He had done his share but went the extra mile to save lives. He sacrificed everything so that others might have life.
How much would you be willing to sacrifice for a friend, a family member, a neighbor, or even an enemy? Would you be willing to lay down your life to save a friend?
Jesus Christ had a short-lived, but incredible ministry. In those few short years, He taught the people about love and God, He healed the sick and raised the dead. Lives were changed by His presence. He did more than His share to make the world a better place, but it was not enough. He went to the front lines of the battlefield with Satan, and He suffered death so that we will have life. Are you thankful for the work of Jesus Christ on the cross? Or are you like Forest Gump’s friend, angry that he didn’t just let you die?
Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day set aside to remember those who died in the line of duty. Today, I am thankful to all those who gave their lives for their country. I am even more thankful to Jesus Christ for the sacrifice He made for me. It is my prayer that I will have the courage to do the same for my friends.
May 31, 2022
“Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She called out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy! Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!’” Luke 1:39-45, WEB
We are preparing for a trip overseas. There are many little things that need to be accomplished. We purchased some money that we can use in the country we are visiting, and we will tell our bank that any charges on our card are fine. We have purchased electrical adapters and other items so that we can charge batteries and use our laptop. We’ve checked out our itinerary to see what we’ll be doing and where we will be staying. We’ve even looked at restaurant menus. Since the pandemic is still an issue, we’ve purchased test kits and masks appropriate for the country where we are visiting.
One of the concerns was the use of our cell phones. Whenever I watch a movie that takes place in a foreign country, I’m always amazed at how much the characters use their cell phones to call home. I wonder, “How much is that costing them?” I’ve checked with my phone company, and it isn’t as bad as I thought. Oh, it will still cost us money, but it will be worth having the option if we want to send a text or post a picture. Quite frankly, we have been spoiled by the easy access to our cell phones and it will be strange not to have my extra appendage during our two weeks of travel. It will, however, be a good thing.
What do you see when you go into a restaurant? Just about everyone has their eyes focused on their phones, not on their companions. I confess that I’m as guilty as the next person. I’ve seen cartoons with characters of young people in a park, all of whom are busy on their phones rather than enjoying the world around them. Studies are showing that people are lonelier today than they have ever been, and it is likely that technology is a major reason for this because people have lost the ability to communicate, and this is far worse for younger generations who have grown up with cell phones use those devices to do everything. We have become even more dependent on technology over the past few years as we have been separated and distanced by the pandemic. The consequences of this are beginning to show in the mental and physical health of people of all ages.
There is something missing in our lives when we have our eyes focused on cell phones. We have all this modern technology, yet some of the best communication has nothing even to do with words. There is something very special about a hug from a friend when we are sad. So much is said between a husband and wife as they sit on a couch holding hands. Friends gathering at a party can say so much with body language and silence. Facial expressions give away happy secrets and tears speak volumes. You can’t communicate in these ways from the far sides of the earth. Human beings need more than words on the screen; we need physical touch and the closeness of face-to-face communication.
Today is the day when we remember this visit of Mary to her relative Elizabeth. On that occasion there was a great deal of communication happening that did not need words. Being in the presence of Mary gave Elizabeth great joy because she knew that Mary was the most blessed woman. Even John, growing in the womb of Elizabeth, jumped for joy at the presence of the Christ. There is no explaining such a miraculous event, particularly in our world where technology is so important. Would Elizabeth have been so happy to hear this message over the phone? Would the baby in her womb have leapt for joy when the email arrived in a text on Elizabeth’s cell phone?
Elizabeth was too old, and Mary was likely too young to share the joy of childbirth. John would be the last prophet of the Old Covenant and Jesus would be the bearer of the New Covenant. Mary went to Elizabeth’s house to escape persecution and Elizabeth offered to her a place to rest. Even more important in this story we see the fellowship of two women who have come together to support one another in their difficulties. It could not have been easy for either woman to bear her child. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually they faced questions, doubts and fears. Yet together they could bear witness to the joy of their situation and praise God together for His amazing grace.
We see the sweet fellowship of two women in this story and we are reminded of how wonderful it can be. There is communication that can’t be found on a cellphone. I am going to try to remember this as I wander the streets of the cities we visit, eat in the restaurants, and share the adventure with our tour group. Perhaps after a few days I won’t even miss that extra appendage and I focus my attention on the world I will be experiencing. It would do us all well, where we live and where we travel, to find time to be with others, to have the kind of fellowship that does not need words. That’s where we will truly experience love and grace and peace.