Welcome to the November 2019 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 quotes taken from the World English Bible
A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2019
“For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which you have toward all the saints, don’t cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, authority, power, dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come. He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:15-23, WEB
I wonder what it was like to know Jesus personally. The disciples spent a lot of time with Him during His three years of ministry, but what about those who were His family and friends? What did they think of Jesus and the things He was doing? The scriptures tell us that His family went looking for Him one day and wanted to take Him home because they were worried about Him. The townspeople in His home of Nazareth didn’t appreciate His words. Mary was not always cooperative with the way Jesus wanted to do things, she seemed to believe. But I wonder what did she thought about the titles He called Himself.
Those titles - Rabbi, Son of Man, Son of God, Lord, Master - mean nothing compared to that true title He holds now. As we go through the Church year, we hear Him described in so many ways, but do we truly remember that He is LORD over all? I think most of the time we are more likely to try to hang on to control for ourselves. Despite the fact that we have no power and authority of our own, we act like we do. What we forget is that Jesus had authority and power only because He willfully gave up everything for the will of God. He was obedient, even to death, and in His obedience He was given dominion over it all. In Christ we have the same power, the power to let go of ourselves for the will of God. We might not have an important title according to the ways of the world, but in faith we have been giving a most incredible one: saint.
Today is All Saints’ Day. It is a time to remember those who have passed through death into life eternal. Throughout the ages, men and women who have led exemplary Christian lives have been given a special title so that they will be remembered for their remarkable deeds in the service of our Lord, or because of their commitment to God. There are thousands of people who have been specially recognized as Saints throughout the millennia for their work for God’s Kingdom.
Yet, they are not the only saints. All those who have believed in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are saints. The definition of a saint is one who is separated from the world and consecrated to God. That includes all those who believe in His name. It includes our parents, friends, siblings and spouses who have died in the service of Christ. Today we remember them. Though we mourn the passing of those we love, this is a day to be thankful for their love and lives. We praise God for that brief moment in time when they were with us and rejoice in knowing that they will spend eternity with the Lord.
Saints are not only those who have died, but those who live in Christ today. We are saints. As I will remember those who have died, so now I remember you, my beloved friends and fellow saints. May God bless you and keep you. May He make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May He look upon you with favor and give you His peace. I ask all this in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And I thank and praise Him for all the saints who have crossed my path, who have shared their faith, who have taught me how to live as a Christian in this world, including you.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, WEB
Daylight savings time ended Sunday morning. Daylight Savings time, which is from spring until fall, makes the summer days extra long because the time is set forward an hour. We are given more daylight to enjoy the warm weather and the vacation time we usually take during the summer. I recently saw a meme that suggested that Daylight Savings Time is like taking an inch off one end of a blanket and sewing it onto the other end thinking it would make it a longer blanket.
Despite the advantage of the longer daylight hours in summer, the change of time (forward in the spring and backward in the fall) often causes difficulties for sleep schedules, at least for a few days. Animals do not understand time on a clock, they sense the movement of time by light and dark, and they know when their tummies start grumbling. It is bad enough on weekends when Bruce gets to sleep in and they are looking for their breakfast at the normal hour. But they really don’t know what to think when we change the clock. They were ready for their evening treats two hours early last night (they usually start begging an hour before time.)
The change also affects human rest. Though we have come to rely on the time we find on our clocks, our bodies sense the movement of time by the natural processes. It is much harder when we force our bodies awake at early hours by waking to an alarm. It is, unfortunately, a fact of life in our world today that we have to make our bodies conform to the schedules of our jobs and so we wake up while it is still dark and we go to bed late in the night. This is one of the many reasons why we are so tired all the time.
There is a product designed to help people wake up more naturally, even if they have to do it at an early hour. See, the body wakes up naturally as the sun rises in the sky. Slowly, but surely, the world around our sleeping bodies becomes lighter and brighter. Though our eyes are closed, we sense the light and our bodies move slowly from sleep to awake. When we are able to wake this way, we wake more rested and with more energy. The product in the advertisement is an alarm with a special light that gradually brightens during the half hour before the alarm is set. The wake-up light also comes with noises that gradually get louder, slowly waking other senses to the dawn of the new day. It creates an experience of sunrise in your room so that your body can wake naturally, and you’ll feel better in the morning.
We are lucky to live in this time. We have so many opportunities that generations that passed would never have even imagined. Who would have thought the day would come when we could instantly talk to people all over the world? Who would have expected there to be wondrous entertainment like movies and television? Not even the science fiction writers of fifty years ago could have imagined the food preparation equipment available to us today, let alone those of a thousand years ago. Everyone has a phone they can carry anywhere they go. Music is available to all on tiny machines that fit into a pocket. Vacuum cleaners can be started and left to do the work on its own; robotic engineering is being developed into many machines to make our life easier.
But our lives aren’t easier. We are still tired. We still don’t have enough time in each day. We have to work long hours to earn the money to buy the things that are supposed to make our lives easier. But we are slaves to a clock, bound by the rush hour traffic, burdened by the very things that are supposed to set us free. I say this knowing that I’m not about to change my lifestyle, but it isn’t hard to wonder if things are really that much better now than it was in simpler times, when a body could wake up in the morning to the rising sun and the sound of roosters crowing the world to life.
The need to accomplish things even finds its way into our journey of faith, but even the most inexhaustible workers must take time to rest. Many people are constantly busy trying to fill every moment with the quest for spirituality. They want to read every book, try every faith, hear ever message there is to hear. Today they find their connection with the divine in social media and technology, but they never really meet God or hear His voice. They never find rest. There is a simpler way.
We have rest in our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we no longer have to search for the divine because He is right here in our hearts and in our lives. He died so that we would no longer have to run after every ideology and work hard to be loved. He loved us long before we were born, had plans for our lives even before the beginning of time. We don’t have to run after God, He has come to us in Jesus Christ. Let us rest always in Him, not only for a moment here and there when we stop to listen. We can hear His voice when we take time to listen in prayer and the scriptures. I pray we will know His presence in the midst of our busy-ness, so that we can live in the faith that our journey is not one filled with necessary works or duties, but rather one of faith, hope, joy and peace.
“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 really a spiritual retreat; it was given 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 took the materials to make prayer beads. Though our purpose was to craft, we also had times of devotion with a focus on Ecclesiastes 3, a time for everything. For each of us, the weekend was a time to get away and to accomplish projects, some of which were in process for years. It was a time to connect with old friends and to spend time in worship together.
It was 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. The 91 acres includes plenty of hiking trails, a creek and a bluff, wide porches on the cabins with plenty of rocking chairs for just soaking in the peace. The staff serves great food, a comfortable experience, and even some s’mores if the weather allows.
I spent time crafting but I also spent time walking some of the trails. The walk along the creek is lovely, and there are small clearings in the woods where benches have been arranged in circles for groups to pray, study and worship together. There is a path that leads up to the bluff, to a cross that overlooks the camp. There is a lovely tree house hidden in the woods. The paths are rocky and sometimes difficult to climb. I have to admit that I did not go up to the bluff this time, but there was plenty to see and experience along the creek.
I went with a purpose: to find signs of autumn. Now, many people expect autumn to be a time of intense reds and oranges and yellows, like they have in the Northeast. We have a few trees that change, but autumn is different in Texas. It is even worse when we have not had the right kind of weather. It was too hot and dry in the summer and the first freeze came too soon, so most of the leaves went from green to brown this year. The signs of fall are more subtle. I had to pay attention to the details as I walked on the trails, not only with my eyes and camera but also with my ears. I hiked alone, so I could really pay attention to the world around me.
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 mushrooms growing at the foot of an ancient tree. I heard the birds singing and flitting through the leaves of the trees. I saw a few colored leaves still clinging to branches. I heard the crunch of fallen leaves under my feet. I saw dragonflies and a lizard. I heard the joyful laughter of another group that was retreating at the camp. I captured much of this with my camera.
The most interesting moment was when I entered one of those small clearings and sat on a bench to pray for a few minutes. A flock of birds took off at once when I intruded on their song, and then it was very quiet. It was so quiet that I began hearing other sounds, like the cars driving down the road that runs along the camp property. I also heard what sounded like someone using a jack hammer somewhere in the far distance.
It seemed so odd to have those sounds interrupt my peace, but it was a reminder that our reality is that while we are no longer part of this world because of the grace of Jesus Christ, we are still in this world. I was nowhere near whatever construction was happening far in the distance, but it was part of my life because I could hear what was happening. 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 watching for the signs of autumn as I hiked those trails, but even more so sought the presence of God. Out there on the trail it was obvious that there are different seasons in life, but God is always in the midst of it all. We have the promise of the life that we will live in eternity even while we struggle with the reality of our lives in this world.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 10, 2019, Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 148; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17; Luke 20:27-40
“Praise Yah! Praise Yahweh from the heavens! Praise him in the heights!” Psalm 148:1, WEB
Have you ever looked up the meaning of your name? The study of names is called onomastics, which covers all aspects of names including linguistics, history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and philology. Etymology is the study of the meaning of names. If you look up Margaret, my given name, you will find it means “pearl.” Peggy means “little pearl” because it is a diminutive of Margaret. Many people will ask me how Peggy is a nickname for Margaret, but I don’t think anyone can really answer that question. Some nicknames make sense, like Maggie or even Meggie, but it is possible that Peggy evolved from those other nicknames. The best part of my name is that if you study its history far enough, you find that it comes from the Old Persian word for pearl, which is margarita.
Do names matter? I don’t know if my life would be different if I had any other name. As Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I hope that I would be a pearl even if I had a different name. However, there is some evidence that names to matter, and that research has been ignored by many parents, especially in modern times. Instead of giving children traditional names, many parents have decided to be creative. I did some data processing and discovered that a popular name these days is Abcde, pronounced Absidee.
I watched a video of a teaching talking about strange names of children he’s had in his class. Two were not just strange, they were impossible to believe: Sssst and Jkmn. How do you pronounce names like this? The first is Forest (4-s-t) and the second is Noel (there is no l). These are very creative names, but what will they do for the children not only in school but in life? They will always have to explain their name to everyone they meet. They will come to hate their name because someone will make fun of it. There are some studies that suggest that names can affect success at work and in life. Will those names cause employers to ignore their applications because it looks like they can’t even fill out the paperwork properly?
When I was a teenager, I had an acquaintance named Marvin. Despite the wonderful, handsome, talented men named Marvin in the world, the name itself carries a bit of a stigma. If you closed your eyes and tried to imagine Marvin, you would probably be right. He was a little geeky, thick black glasses and the confidence of a man twice his size. He was short. I was definitely not an Amazon woman, shorter by inches or even more than all my peers. He was at least as old as I and I towered over him. As a matter of fact, we once danced together and he rested his head squarely on my... “pillows.” He was very content. and a little creepy. I had an idea in my head of what a “Marvin” would be like, and this Marvin verified my bias.
Did Marvin become a creepy geek because of his name? Am I who I am because my parents gave me my name? I doubt it. I have one example of a Marvin that fits the stereotype but I could probably find hundreds of examples of men who are exactly the opposite. However, names do mean something, particularly in the Bible. God often changed the names of one His people to mean something different. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul. Jacob became Israel. These name changes defined a change in their relationship with God. The name changes defined their character in light of God’s mercy and grace.
While the meaning of names may not matter today, names do matter. Think about the people you encounter on a daily basis. Those for whom you have a name mean more to you, don’t they? You might have a pleasant moment with a stranger in the grocery store, but you won’t remember them for long. Run into someone whose name you know, and you’ll likely have a conversation that builds on your relationship. It is no surprise, then, that we have stories of people in the scriptures who want to know the name of God.
Moses asked. He wanted to be able to identify to the Hebrews the source of their promised deliverance. But God does not have a name like you and I. He does not have a name we can know or speak. In ancient times knowing a person’s name gave a person power and control over that person. Since there is no human that can have power or control over God, it was understood that no human could ever know His name. There are even some who refuse to write the word “God” out of respect for His name.
However, it is alright for us to ask. God is given many names throughout the scriptures. His names define His character. His names help us to understand God and His grace. His names indicate the things that He does for His people, with His people and through His people. Each name identifies just one aspect of God. Each name gives us just one piece to the puzzle, one glimpse into His nature and purpose. To know these names does not give us control over God, but it helps us to know Him more fully, to understand our relationship with Him and to understand our purpose in this world.
Moses was given a name by his adoptive mother, the princess of Egypt. It means “to pull or draw out” and he was given that name because he was pulled out of the Nile River. Some try to establish that his name meant “deliverer” because there are similar Hebrew words, we have to remember that he was given the name by an Egyptian woman, so the simpler explanation is probably the best. Besides, God was able to use this man with an Egyptian name to pull or draw His people out of Egypt.
Moses grew in the house of Pharaoh with all the benefits of a blessed life. When he was grown, however, he went into the fields of his own people and saw how they labored. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and he killed him. When the act was made known, Moses feared for his life and ran into the desert wilderness to live. He made his home in Midian, married to the daughter of Jethro. The people of Israel cried out to God for deliverance, and God heard their pleas.
It all began one day when Moses saw a bush that burned without being burnt. He climbed the mountain to see the great sight up close. The presence of God was in that bush, and He spoke to Moses. Moses was warned to stay back and to remove his shoes, for even the ground around the busy was holy. Moses was given a most incredible task; he was to save the entire nation of Israel. But he did not think he could handle such an important job. He was just one man, one man who could not speak very well. God listened to Moses’ concerns and answered them.
During Moses’ encounter at the burning bush, he asked the name of God; he needed an answer for the people when they asked the name of the God for whom he spoke. The gods of the nations all had names; they would want to know who they were following. God responded “I AM WHO I AM” and then told Moses to tell the people, “You shall tell the children of Israel this, ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations.” The God whom Moses met on that mountain was the God who called Abram out of Ur, who saved Isaac from sacrifice, who named Jacob Israel. He is the LORD.
Moses stood on holy ground and spoke to God. Even still, his own insecurities caused him to question his ability to do what God was calling him to do. “Who am I?” he asked. How often do we say the same thing? We say it often, brought on by those who have put us down for our imperfections.
Moses argued with God but God sent him anyway and promised to be with him every step of the way. Moses still argued with God and asked Him to send someone else. God became angry with Moses, but He agreed to allow Aaron, his brother, to speak. So, Moses took his wife and sons and went back to Egypt. God sent Aaron into the wilderness to meet Moses along the way and they brought together the elders of Israel. Aaron told them that God had heard their cries and they fell down to worship the Lord in thanksgiving. It would not be an easy escape out of Egypt, but the people knew that God was with them.
Even to this day the Jewish people look back to Moses the deliverer and worship this God of their ancestors. Human beings like roots. Our identity is often caught up in our history. Matthew begins his gospel with a list of the genealogy of Jesus. This was vital to the Jewish community to which Matthew was writing. The genealogy established the rights of Jesus to claim the throne of Israel through the line of David. Matthew even takes the genealogy back to Abraham, typical of a Jewish family tree. Luke’s genealogy is slightly different, defining Jesus as the Priest King whose line goes all the way back to Adam. These genealogies establish for the people Jesus’ role and define his position and authority.
Most of us are not so dependent on our heritage when it comes to our lives. I doubt that very many of us have the job we have because we were born into it. In our world, people are less likely to even stay near family. We are a mobile and transient society, choosing to live according to our interests and abilities. Yet, we still like roots. We may not be able to define generations of ancestors, but we do look to the future. We look at our children and our hope is that we will live on through them. For some families, there is a desperate need for a male heir so that the family name will live on.
I have done a little internet searching for my own family heritage but it can be difficult because names change over time. We have papers that prove Bruce’s many-times-great-grandfather served in the Revolutionary war, but they show two different names. Which is right? Are the connections I have found of my own heritage true, or am I confused by a different letter or suffix? Families immigrating to America often changed their surname because the one from their homeland was too difficult to pronounce or spell. Others changed it to avoid persecution. Sometimes the name changed because the scribe made a mistake when recording the information. Language changes, so ancient names evolve with the changes in language. This is why Margarita can become Margaret and then Peggy. Other names are translated from one language to another. When looking for information about my family heritage, I have to consider the possibility of a dozen different names being possible relations.
The Sadducees were concerned about the eternal life that is founded in procreation. A person lived forever because they begat offspring to carry the family name and estate into the future. They did not believe in an eternal life that came after death. When a person died they were dead unless they had children. To them, the idea of resurrection was just foolishness and easily ridiculed. They thought their logic was solid enough to make a fool out of Jesus with their questions. After all, resurrection of the dead made no sense because it caused all sorts of problems in the afterlife, such as this situation presented to Jesus.
They painted a picture that was beyond ridiculous, and they did it on purpose. They presented Jesus with a case of one bride for seven brothers, none of whom were able to provide an heir. After she was given in marriage to all of them, she died, and the hope for eternal life died with her. The Sadducees wondered, “Whose wife will she be?” They assumed that the resurrected life would look exactly like life on this earth. Jesus answered their foolishness with the truth: eternal life is not like the here and now. There will be no marriage. There will be no children. The life that we will live after death is different. It is eternal, not because we have procreated a legacy, but because we will live forever in the presence of God.
Jesus would not allow them to make a fool of Him. To make His point, Jesus pointed back at our passage from Exodus. He used scripture to prove that eternal life is something that comes after death, that death is not the end of one’s life but just the beginning. He said, “Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all are alive to him.” It is Moses himself that defined God as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead in flesh when Moses stood before the burning bush, then they must have still had life. How could He be the God of men who had died if there was no life beyond death?
The Sadducees were left speechless. They couldn’t argue with Jesus over His statement because Jesus pointed to Moses. The Sadducees did not hold most of the Hebrew Bible as canon; they only referred to the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch. Jesus could have used other texts, but He understood their narrow focus of faith. Jesus was able to prove that they were wrong about the resurrection. In the process, He showed them that they were missing out on something of great value, faith in a God who does not stop being God when you die, but who embraces you into a new life. This is the life that Jesus came to guarantee for all of us, and which we embrace by faith. Jesus came in the flesh to free us from our sin and give us everything we need to serve Him. In Christ we stand in the presence of holiness, we are embraced by God himself, just like Moses did on that mountaintop.
The church year follows a constant pattern. We begin with Advent, a time for waiting on the coming of the King, both as a baby born in the manger and as the eternal King of Glory. Advent is followed by Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and finally Pentecost. We are still in the days of Pentecost, a time when we learn what it means to be a Christian in this world, but in this last month we also look forward to the day when we will no longer be in this world. It is a period when we will see text about the end of the ages, ending with Christ the King Sunday. The focus during this month is a little different from that in Advent, in that we do face the frightening uncertainty of the end of days.
Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians addresses that time. Most of us would rather not discuss the end times; the language of eschatology is difficult even for theologians. Which images are literal, which are figurative? When should we be concerned about the prophecies? Were the warnings written for our generation or has it all come to pass in a way we did not recognize? Who is the man of lawlessness? Was he a character in the days of Paul or is he someone yet to come? Will the coming of Christ be a physical return or spiritual? While there are those who will insist they have the answer, there are perfectly acceptable arguments from many different points of view. We argue about what is true. We even argue about the definition of the terms. I suppose that is why it is so confusing to the average Christian, and why it is something that most Christians would rather not discuss.
Paul wrote in this letter the message that really matters: God loves you and He chose you to be fruit, sanctified by the Holy Spirit and called by the Gospel to obtain the glory of Christ. Paul also reminds us that though it is God who chooses, sanctifies and calls, we are called to faith. It is up to us to believe. The scriptures make it clear: our eternal life is not dependent on anything we do in this world, but on the grace and mercy of God. We can’t imagine that our life now will just continue on in some way forever; eternal life is completely different.
The psalmist writes, “Praise Yah! Praise Yahweh from the heavens! Praise him in the heights.” 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 in the here and now. When you consider the entire creation – the heavens that reach far beyond our imagination, 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. It is also easy to see that we are not much in the entire scheme of things. It is humbling to realize our place in this world. Yet, He has created us to be the crown of His creation. Should we not want to glorify Him together with one voice of praise? 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.
The point that Jesus made in today’s Gospel lesson is that eternal life will be different. Imagine if it had been you on the mountain instead of Moses. How would you have reacted? How would you have answered His call? Moses was in the presence of God Himself, hearing His voice and witnessing a form of His glory. “Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.” Despite Moses’ fear, he was even more afraid of what God was calling him to do. He had many excuses. He was not eloquent enough. He was not important enough. He was not informed enough. “How can I do this? What should I say?” God answered with a promise, “Certainly I will be with you.”
We make the same excuses. Through it all, we have God’s promise to His children which is the same promise He made to Moses. He said, “I will be with you.” He is with us each step of the way, encouraging our growth, and giving us the tools necessary to do His work. God told Moses that the sign he sought would come after obedience. “Certainly I will be with you. This will be the token to you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” We have to trust that God is with us, and do according to His Will now. Complete the task He has laid before you with faith. Then He will be glorified and you will know His hand.
“It is a good thing to give thanks to Yahweh, to sing praises to your name, Most High, to proclaim your loving kindness in the morning, and your faithfulness every night, with the ten-stringed lute, with the harp, and with the melody of the lyre. For you, Yahweh, have made me glad through your work. I will triumph in the works of your hands. How great are your works, Yahweh! Your thoughts are very deep.” Psalm 92:1-5, WEB
Infants don’t have much freedom to get into trouble because we are able to keep them in one small space like a crib or playpen. We don’t have to worry about them wandering away. As they grow older, we need to give them more space. One of the difficulties of being a parent is watching the children grow into independence. We want them to mature but we have to allow them out of our zone of comfort; we would rather keep our eyes on them every moment so that we can protect them from the dangers of the world.
This is impossible, though we try to do our best to teach them the right ways to live. The theme for Vacation Bible School a few years ago was “God protects us.” On the final day, a girl was asked to stand in a blow up pool, well protected with a raincoat and umbrella. Others were asked to stand nearby. The church was protected with a large sheet of plastic. Every precaution was taken to protect the church and the people. Then one of the leaders stood on a chair with a bowl of cool-aid, which she poured very slowly and carefully over the umbrella. Unfortunately, every precaution was not enough because some drops of cool aid fell on the bystanders. The girl in the pool felt the cool-aid in between her toes. This was a demonstration that even though God protects us from harm, sometimes sin still touches our lives.
No matter how much a mom is proactive to protect her children, they still manage to get into trouble. They still get skinned knees. They still have moments of heartache and pain. The same is true of our God. We will suffer as we live in this perishable and imperfect world because sin will touch our lives but we can trust that He will make everything right.
God is with us in the midst of all our circumstances. We take advantage of time because we are constantly seeking a life of triumph in this world. The Hebrew word used in today’s verse for “triumph” can also mean “sing for joy.” This song is a liturgical hymn of praise used in the Temple worship on the Sabbath after the exile, in the morning when the sacrifice was offered. The promise from Ezekiel was being realized. The people were joyful and thankful that God rescued them, restored them and replanted them in their home. They were growing again, and they were happy.
In today’s passage, verse 4b says, “I will triumph in the works of thy hands.” “Triumph” can also be translated “sing for joy.” Now, since triumph can be defined “to rejoice over a success or victory,” “sing for joy” makes sense. This song is a liturgical hymn of praise used in the Temple worship on the Sabbath after the exile, in the morning when the sacrifice was offered. The promise from Ezekiel was being realized. The people were joyful and thankful that God rescued them, restored them and replanted them in their home. They were growing again, and they were happy.
When the psalmist says, “I will triumph in the works of thy hands” he is not saying that he will be triumphant, but that God will make him triumphant. It is all about God’s hands, all about God’s works, all about God’s triumph. All that we have, all that we are, is thanks to God. And so we sing about the triumph of God and we triumph in His hands. We both sing of His success and are victorious in His grace. He is faithful. His lovingkindness is manifest in the lives of His people, as they share His grace so that the world will know that He is God, no matter how our days are ordered.
“For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world that he might put to shame the things that are strong. God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that don’t exist, that he might bring to nothing the things that exist, that no flesh should boast before God. Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, as it is written, ‘He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, WEB
God’s will in our lives is that we should live according to His Word rather than the ways of the world. Samuel Brengle, was once introduced as “the Great Dr. Brengle.” He later reflected on this in his diary. “If I appear great in their eyes, the Lord is most graciously helping me to see how absolutely nothing I am without Him, and helping me to keep little in my own eyes. He does use me. But I am so concerned that He uses me and that it is not of me the work is done. The axe cannot boast of the trees it has cut down. It could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it, he sharpened it, and he used it. The moment he throws it aside, it becomes only old iron. O, that I may never lose sight of this.” He understood the distinction between the ways of God and the world.
The English word ‘humble’ comes from the Latin ‘humus,’ which means ground or clay. The book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning, “Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (2:7) We began life humble, molded by the hands of the Creator from the dust of the earth. Yet, God gave us a will and the freedom to make our own decisions, so we followed the words of the serpent rather than the Word of God. Today, we still follow the wrong course of life, living in pride and fulfilling the lusts of our flesh.
God takes those who have been humiliated and He molds them like the clay from whence they came. It is those who have been cast down from the pillars of pride that God can change. The commands of God found in the scriptures are difficult for us to follow. The worst of all is that we are expected to humble ourselves. How can any human being live accordingly, especially in the world today? We can’t. That is why our Lord Jesus died on the cross and rose to new life. He did it so that we would be brought back into the relationship we had with God our Father in the Garden, where He molds us and guides us in His way.
Our Lord Jesus, and His life in you, gives you everything you need to accomplish the commands found in the scriptures. He gives you the strength, courage, wisdom, hope, faith, love and joy to walk according to God’s ways rather than the world. God did this for you, so that you would not only live in His light, but also be a vessel by which He shares His blessings with others. He has given you the grace to live as you were created to live, in a perfect relationship with Him.
“You therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit the same things to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on duty entangles himself in the affairs of life, that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier. Also, if anyone competes in athletics, he isn’t crowned unless he has competed by the rules. The farmer who labors must be the first to get a share of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.” 2 Timothy 2:1-7, WEB
There’s a meme on the Internet that shows a picture of a World War II Veteran in a wheel chair with the caption “Somewhere at the VA, there’s a 90-something old fart in a wheelchair.” Below that is a photo from the shores of Normandy showing the army wading through the water in full gear to the beaches where they fight their way into the history books. The caption on that picture says, “Who was a bigger badass at 20 than you’ll ever be. Thank him.” We take this day to thank those who have spent time serving their country. We honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on other days throughout the year, but on this day we thank the sacrifices of those who survived.
In 2003, Peter Collier and Nick Del Calzo released a book called “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty” that told the stories of Metal of Honor recipients from several wars. Over the years, only a few thousand have ever received the honor, and there are currently less than a hundred living. The Metal of Honor is given only to those who have shown extraordinary courage. The stories tell of men who ran into the firefights to save lives and flew airplanes until there was no fuel to land. Their stories are an inspiration to us even today.
Yet, there are millions of others who have also made incredible sacrifices to serve our nation. These men and women may not have done something extraordinary, but they have gone above and beyond in their own way. They have left their families for long periods of time, lived in tents during periods of extreme heat or cold, fast enemies on land, sea and air. They have worked long hours, missed important milestones, suffered injury to body, mind, and spirit. Their families have also suffered, too, because they have made sacrifices we’ll never know.
A few days ago we celebrated All Saints Day, honoring the ordinary men and women who are remembered for doing extraordinary things for the Lord. They lived faithfully above and beyond the call of duty, often dying for the kingdom of God. While we do remember all the saints, living and dead, on All Saints Day, we usually remember the individual men and women on the day of their deaths. November 11th is the day we remember two military men who were persecuted because of their faith. Mennas was a Christian soldier during the days of Diocletian’s persecution. He deserted his post and hid in a cave, but he realized that he could not live with so many other Christians dying. He professed his faith in the arena at the annual games. He was beaten and tortured, but would not recant and he eventually lost his head. The other is Martin of Tours, an army officer. One cold day he cut his cloak in half and gave part to a beggar. He later realized that he had seen the presence of Christ in that beggar and he became a Christian. He asked to be relieved of his duty, but was thrown in prison instead. When he was finally released, he began preaching and eventually was elected the Bishop of Tours. He is known for intervening on behalf of prisoners and heretics who had been sentenced to death.
It is interesting that we would remember two military men on Veteran’s Day. The date for our national celebration was chosen because it marked the end of World War I, but we thank all those who have served faithfully throughout the history of our country. Just as most military members never receive the Metal of Honor, most Christians will never be honored as a special saint by the church. Yet, we are all called to live faithfully and do whatever God has called us to do. Though there are some men and women who have been set apart for extraordinary service for our country and for the Lord, every Christian is called to live their faith in this world according to the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we remember those who have served above and beyond the call of duty and look to them as living examples of how to live our lives for the Lord. God does not make us go it on our own, He is with us through every battle, giving us all we need to stand firm in our faith.
“Jesus answered, ‘Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into God’s Kingdom. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t marvel that I said to you, “You must be born anew.” The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” John 3:5-8, WEB
An arctic cold blast has come down over much of the United States. It hit here at 1:33 p.m. this afternoon. How do I know what time it was? Bruce and I went out to do some grocery shopping so that I would not have to leave the house for two days if the weather gets as bad as they expect. It was a lovely morning. We were wearing warm weather clothes, no jackets. It was a little cloudy, but not raining yet. We decided to go out early to beat the front home, and we timed it well. I sat at my computer to begin working on my devotional just after 1:00. All was still well.
Then suddenly at 1:33 p.m., I heard, and almost felt, a gust of wind hit the house hard. I think it would have knocked me over if I had been standing outside. It rattled the windows and shook the trees. I looked out the window and the autumn leaves were raining down all around our house. The blast was so strong that it frightened one of my cats; he moved into the center of the house. Within minutes the temperature outside went from the 70’s to the 50’s.
If you think that a blast of wind could not observable, I can tell you from experience that they can be. Of course, we know that hurricanes and tornadoes seem to have walls that strike when they are on the move, but this was just a cold front. How could an invisible gust of wind have such an impact? I was visiting my sister on a day when one of these fronts hit her house. We were outside near the barbeque, enjoying the most perfect day. Then suddenly, just like today, a blast of wind hit us. You can’t see the edge of a cold front, but you can certainly feel it. It nearly knocked us over and the temperature went from warm to cold immediately.
I think about this experience whenever I hear the story of Nicodemus. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going.” The strangest thing about the blast of wind today is that we expected it to come. The timing was not perfect, but the weathermen reported that the front would come through early afternoon, and it did. I even thought about trying to be outside when it would come, just to have that experience again, but we can’t control the wind and even though it was predicted, I had no idea what time it would actually hit. Neither can we control the work of the Holy Spirit. We want to be able to control the way that God’s grace affects the world in which we live, but sometimes it seems like it hits us like that arctic cold blast yesterday.
Jesus calls us to look at the world through the eyes of faith. We have been blessed to be a blessing and so we go forth in faith to share God’s kingdom with the world. We may see our neighbors as doubtful and confused, but Jesus sees them differently. He knows there is a seed to be watered or a spark to be fanned and He sends us out to make that faith grow. The scriptures are not clear about what happened to Nicodemus, we don’t know the end of his story. The same is true about many of the people that cross our path. With our worldly eyes we see unbelievers who don’t care about God. They may even challenge our faith with their questions and their doubts. Yet, when we continue to dwell in God’s presence, He gives us the eyes to see with faith and we may just see that seed or spark that needs only to be nurtured by the Gospel and the grace of God in our lives to grow into real faith. The Holy Spirit just might hit them and impact them through your love and faith.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 17, 2019, Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost: Malachi 4:1-6; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:(1-5)6-13; Luke 21:5-28(29-36)
“By your endurance you will win your lives.” Luke 21:19, WEB
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said, “Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things are accomplished.” It is easy for every generation to hear these words and believe they were said for us. The first Christians were certain that Jesus would come for them and the focus on the end times has continued for nearly two thousand years. I have to admit that my daily mantra is “Come, Lord Jesus.” I’m certainly not ready to die, but I am ready to dwell in God’s eternal Kingdom forever. We all want to know when it will happen. “When” is our battle cry.
The Gospel lesson is about the end of the age, and it seems as if more and more people are thinking of the end times. There are wars and rumors of wars. There are false prophets touting their goods in the public squares. There are reasons to be afraid. We can even read this warning as one for our own time and place. Will our walls tumble down? It is no wonder that we worry and that we look to those who seem to have the answers as possible saviors. Jesus reminds us that worrying about the end times will not make anything happen and it will not make anything better. We have a purpose: to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be His witnesses in this world.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Over the years Harrison Ford has played Dr. Henry Walden Jones, Jr., also known as Indian Jones, a fictional character in a series of popular adventure movies. Indiana Jones was an archeologist who searched the world for some of the greatest treasures. He was a good guy, always seeking the treasures for the betterment of the world, always protecting the treasures from those who wanted to use them for selfish and self-centered reasons. Indiana Jones learned early in his life that there were many greedy, evil people and he made it his life’s purpose to protect the things that defined our lives. His adventures were exciting and in the end the treasures end up just where they are meant to be.
Real archeologists don’t actually have such exciting lives. They spend years digging through dirt and much, carefully extracting bits and pieces from ancient societies. Their excitement comes when they find a piece of pottery that can be dated, or the walls of building that shows us how that civilization lived. Josh Gates, from several television shows that search for truth, like Expedition Unknown, is the closest thing to an Indiana Jones, and even his excitement comes not from finding the thing for which he is searching, but in finding the next clue to the puzzle.
Indiana Jones is always getting into some sort of trouble. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark” he was trying to recover the Ark of the Covenant because the Nazi Germans were hoping to use its power to take over the world. He was chased all over the world, facing plane crashes, gunfight and many other difficulties. One of the most famous scenes from the Indiana Jones movies has to be from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when Indiana Jones is attempting to get through an ancient obstacle course to the hiding place of the Holy Grail. The obstacles did not just make the path difficult. They were dangerous. He had to solve riddles as he pushed forward step by step. If he got the riddle wrong, he risked being impaled by spears or falling through a hole into a bottomless cavern. Meanwhile, he was surrounded by bad guys and his father was dying by their hands. The pressure to succeed was intense.
The Holy Grail was believed to hold the power of eternal life. Indiana’s father had been injured by one of the bad guys and the only hope to save his life was to find the cup and give him a drink of water from it. Of course, the bad guys wanted the cup to abuse its power and control the world. As Indiana made it through each obstacle, they followed him to the chamber where the cup was stored. When they arrived, they discovered that there were a hundred different goblets. Which one was the right one? Choosing wrongly meant immediate death. One of the bad guys chose a precious goblet of gold with magnificent stones, thinking surely the Christ would have the best of the best. She drank some water and immediately died. Indiana knew better. He knew that Jesus Christ was a poor carpenter. The Holy Grail was not some fancy goblet, but a simple pottery cup. He took the cup, filled it with water and took it to his father.
During his quests, Indiana Jones was pushed forward by a sense of purpose. The purpose was never fame or wealth, but rather a search for the truth and the protection of the world’s precious treasures. He went forth in faith, not that he will accomplish the task but instead that what he is seeking is out there. In other words, his drive was not the benefits he would receive from finding the treasures but the treasures themselves. It didn’t matter what he would face, as long as he was able to reach his destination. Guns, rolling stones, ancient obstacle courses and bad guys would not stop him from finding the end of his quest.
For many of the people living in Jesus’ day, the Temple was the destination of their greatest quests. The Jews took pilgrimages to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and to worship their God several times a year. They believed that the courts of the Temple were as close to God as they could get. It was a magnificent place, getting more beautiful with every new building project. It was dedicated to God and it honored Him well. When Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, He was not just threatening a pretty building, but He was threatening the very foundation of their faith; this was where God dwelt. It was a terrifying possibility. What would they do? Where would they go? How would they do sacrifice to God?
They asked the question we all ask, “When?” We are not waiting for the destruction of the Temple, but we are waiting for the return of Christ. We have been waiting for the return of Christ for two thousand years. When? Jesus gives us the signs, but these are signs that have been visible for every generation. Perhaps we are the generation to see the return of Christ, but should it be the quest for our lives? Should we live as those in the past who have given up everything to sit and wait for the coming of Christ? Jesus promised that not a hair on our head will be harmed, but many faithful Christians have not only died since Jesus left, many have been harmed for their faith. There have been too many martyrs over the millennia.
We will not arrive unscathed. Imagine what is was like for the pilgrims walking hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of miles on their quest to visit the Temple in Jerusalem. They faced many challenges. Many must have been injured along the way. Criminals waited in hidden crevices to rob and even kill those who were traveling. They did their pilgrimage and risked their lives not because they would be rewarded in the end, but because they sought to honor the God who was their Creator and Redeemer. We are called to be witnesses for Christ while we journey in this world. Our goal is not to get something out of our lives, but to keep moving forward toward the prize which is eternal life. Our faith should not be in our ability to gain the treasure, but in the treasure itself, which is God. We might face many difficulties along the way, but step by step we are called to shine the light of Christ and to live according to His promises.
The Temple in Jerusalem told a story; it was an image of Christ. Each part of the Temple points to an aspect of the character and work of Jesus. John in particular shows us through the “I am” statements of Jesus that He is the fulfillment of God’s promises. “I am the Bread of life” points to the Bread of the Presence. “I am the Light of the world” refers to the candlesticks. “I am the Gate” points to the altar of incense. “I am the Good Shepherd” is the priest. “I am the Resurrection” points to the mercy seat, which is the cover of the Ark of the Covenant found in the Holy of Holies. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” takes us into the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s people protected the objects of their faith. Jesus is the true Vine, unlike the decorative golden vine on the outer walls.
For the pilgrims, nothing could have been worse than the destruction of the Temple about which Jesus spoke, but we know that He was really referring to His own body. The beautiful building they admired was nothing more than an image of the real. It was no longer necessary because He was the true Temple. He was everything that guided their faith inside, but He was living, flesh and blood, eternal. He was the Bread, the Light, and the Gate. He was the Vine. The old had to make way for the new.
The disciples believed everything that Jesus said. They didn’t reject the idea that the Temple would be destroyed. They may have wondered if the destruction would be Rome’s way of putting down a rebellion, or perhaps they thought that the destruction of the Temple was part of Jesus’ plan to save Israel. They didn’t ask why; instead they asked, “When?” They wanted to know, perhaps even control, the future of the nation.
Jesus didn’t answer the question, but instead gave them a warning, “Do not be fooled.” The scriptures for today are not pleasant. Malachi talks about the day of the Lord, when the arrogant and evildoers will be burned. Paul warns those who are idly waiting for Christ’s return, because they will starve. Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple and the danger to the believers. Even the psalmist talks about vindication and judgment. When the world around us is confused and without hope, it is easy to be fooled. We listen to every voice that speaks good words and ignore the words that can make us afraid. Jesus knew that there would be those who would claim to be from God, offering promises they could not fulfill. He warned them not to believe every charismatic speaker who promised prosperity and wealth or every leader who said that they would take care of the people. He knew that desperate people can fall easily for the lies of people who seem to have the heart and the ability to do what they promise.
We are drawn to people who promise the easy solution to our problems, but life is not always easy. As a matter of fact, Jesus told the disciples about the life they would have as His follower. It isn’t a life any of us would pursue. He spoke of war, natural disasters, and unnatural signs in nature. The disciples would face judges and prisons and violence for speaking the name of Jesus. Jesus says, “You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake.” We don’t want to be hated. We want everything we do to last. We want the world to be a garden full of roses. And while we will be blessed by our faith in Christ, it won’t be a garden of roses. Our temples might fall.
But we live in a world that insists a pretty facade will prove everything is ok. It is a world that thinks that a little money thrown at a problem will make it go away. It is a world in which some white stones and gold covered grapes define a ruler. Not much different than what they had back in Jesus’ day. The reality is that every generation has to deal with charismatic leaders that put on a show and claimed to be the one to save the world. Every generation deals with wars and rumors of war. Christians from every century have been persecuted for their faith.
But, Jesus promised the disciples that despite this hatred, not a hair on their head will perish. This is where the text becomes very difficult for us, because we know that many Christians have been killed over the Gospel. Of the Twelve, only one died of old age. The stories of the Saints are filled with beheadings, burnings and other violence. In some places, cutting the hair is an insult. Our hair falls out due to the natural process of health and aging. What about the cancer patient that loses their hair? Is he or she any less faithful because their hair has perished?
We tend to look at the promises of God from a tangible, worldly point of view. We want the monuments we build to last forever. We want our bodies to live forever. And we’ll follow whoever makes the best promise to protect the things we love. Jesus said, “Beware of those who claim to be the source of your salvation.”
There was a commercial for a local lawyer that featured a woman who had become sick and could no longer work. Unfortunately, the government would not approve her disability payments. She was scared. She didn’t know how she’d pay her bills. But the lawyer understood her problem and worked to get her the justice she deserved. In the commercial she said, “He was my savior.”
We usually think of the antichrist and false messiahs in spiritual terms, but the television commercial broke my heart. It is understandable that the woman might turn to someone who could help her with her problems, but the fact that she would use that kind of language just speaks to the reality of our world today. We are looking for the easy answer; we are looking for a savior in all the wrong places. We rely on fallible, perishable humans and the promises they make, accepting their claims that they are “the one.” But in the end they are no more able to save us than we are able to save ourselves.
We hear Jesus’ words that none will be harmed and we ask “When,” but the real words to hear from Jesus in this passage is that it is by endurance that we will be saved. We want to be remembered so we put our time and our resources into things that we think we will last, but they will topple, just as that grand Temple built by Herod fell stone by stone to the ground. As part of the community of believers, we are building a different kind of Temple. The foundation, of course, is Jesus Christ, who is the true Temple. He was right when He said that the beloved Temple would one day fall, but in this text He was referring to the real thing: Himself. The Temple that was His flesh was destroyed on the cross, but He was raised and rebuilt into something even better. We are now part of His body, pieces of the Temple that will last forever.
As Christians we continue to build that Temple by sharing the Good News of forgiveness with the world. We do this through word and deed. Our work will never gain us salvation; our work is our response to the saving Grace that God has freely given. As part of the family of Christ, we are meant to do our part no matter what our circumstances. Some may be able to build grand buildings with white stone and golden grapevines, while others teach and guide the young into a living faith. Some will be able to give food and shelter to those without, and those without can give gifts that do not require money. It is up to us to help one another discover what we have to give and to find ways to use them in the building of Christ’s body, the Church, His Temple on earth.
The psalmist recognizes that our God is worthy of our worship and praise because He has done great things. “Sing to Yahweh a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” His right hand is manifested in the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. His holy arm is the Holy Spirit that reaches out into our lives to give us faith and hope so that we might live in peace doing that which He calls us to do in this life.
More than two thousand years after this apocalyptic warning from Jesus, we are still seeing the signs of the end: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and false messiahs claiming to be able to save the people. Jesus’ words hold a measure of warning for us today as much as it did for His first disciples. We still have temples that will fall. Our temples are not just places of worship; other temples might include our jobs, our homes and our relationships. Sometimes God shakes the foundation of all that we hold dear so that we will look to Him and toward the vision of that which is imperishable. He calls us to chase after the treasure, not a reward for our quest.
Jesus is coming to judge the earth; He has come and will come again. Until that day, we will suffer during troubled times, experience persecution and we might even die. We don’t know when the day will come even though we can see that there are signs pointing to the end. It isn’t up to us to worry about the day, to even try to figure out when that day will happen. “When” is not the right question to ask when God reveals the coming of Judgment Day. What we should be asking is, “What should we do?” We are called to endure in faith, to wait patiently through the fire, and to do whatever needs to be done in the meantime. We are the branches of His vine, bearing fruit as His witnesses, sharing the love of God and building His Temple in the world through the work that is our response to all that He has done.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1-11, WEB
I read a great article about Steven Tyler from the rock group Aerosmith. There was a young man with Down Syndrome who loved Steven and the group. He was a superfan, and one of the joys of Down Syndrome people is their excitement about the things they love. One day this young man, named Anthony, went to a store with his mother. They saw a shiny white limousine waiting outside the store and wondered who might be inside. When they walked through the door, Anthony saw Steven at the counter buying a back brace to help with some pain. Anthony became very excited, ran up to Steven and gave him the biggest hug.
The headline for the article made it seem as though Steven rejected the young man, but the reality was much different. Steven returned the hug with the same gusto and then got to know him a little. He quickly discovered that Anthony was disappointed because his mother was unable to get him tickets to the show where Steven was going to perform in that town because it was sold out. Steven invited him to come and gave him back stage passes. Anthony was thrilled. Steven didn’t end the kindness there, however. On the night of the show, Steven invited Anthony on stage, gave him maracas and had him help perform “Walk this Way.” Video of the performance can be found online. Steven has remained friends with Anthony’s family, and he has even invited Anthony to other shows.
It seems like a small thing, especially for someone with the wealth and fame like Steven Tyler. Yet, for that young man, the back stage tickets were enough to give him joy for the rest of his life. The performance, the videos, the friendship keeps the joy alive in his life daily. On top of that, the story has brought joy to many people. Steven Tyler does not identify as a Christian, but this is a good story because it shows us simple ways we can put other people ahead of ourselves.
Human beings are selfish, self-centered beings; it is our selfishness and self-centeredness that has been our biggest problem since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God so they believed the word of the serpent and they ate the fruit. Like Adam and Eve, we think we know better than God; we focus on our selves without concern for everything or everyone around us. How are we affecting the world in which we live? Are we too busy pursuing our own desires that we do not see how we might be harming the rest of creation? Is our selfishness and self-centeredness hurting our neighbors? Are we trampling them in our quest for fame or wealth? Are we putting them in danger because we are thinking only of ourselves? Are we looking to our own things or to the things of others?
As Christians we are called to watchfulness. We are to watch for the opportunities to glorify God with those simple deeds that will make a difference in someone’s life. The scriptures give us some very specific examples of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned. But there are millions of other ways we can serve those who cross our path. We watch to see how we can help our neighbors, and in responding to their needs we are responding to the call of Jesus Christ. We can see His face in their faces and glorify God in our humble service.
“When the multitudes were gathering together to him, he began to say, ‘This is an evil generation. It seeks after a sign. No sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah, the prophet. For even as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so the Son of Man will also be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and will condemn them: for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment with this generation, and will condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, one greater than Jonah is here.’” Luke 11:29-32, WEB
Customer service representatives have the most difficult job in a retail store. They deal with many people a day who are upset or disturbed for some reason with their purchase. In the process, they must deal with the established rules, which often leave them in a difficult position. They want the customer to be satisfied with their purchase, and yet they have no authority to meet their demands. When I was in retail management, I was often called to settle difficult situations. People who do not immediately get their way often begin to yell and call for a supervisor. Yet that is not always the case.
There are people who would rather not deal with the management. Sometimes they simply recognize the authority that has been given to the customer service representative. Other times they are seeking to fool the employee or manipulate the system, and they know that the manager is better trained to recognize such activity. I recall one particular situation where the customer left when the manager was called, but then returned a few hours later in the hopes that the new girl at the counter would give in to their demands. I was on duty all day, knew the situation and could step in immediately before there was a problem.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, it seems so often we would prefer deal with the lesser authority. We go to church to hear God’s word and listen to a message from our pastor, but we don’t open our bibles during the week to study His Word for ourselves. We will attend a prayer meeting or ask others to pray for our needs, but we don’t bother to spend time alone with God in prayer. We look for miracles in the world around us, but we miss out on the real touches from God that are a regular part of our lives.
There are many times when we would prefer deal with the lesser authority. We know that the supervisor will give a final answer, so we’d rather argue with the girl to see if we can get her to submit to our demands rather than face the manager. The same can be said about our spiritual lives. It seems we spend a great deal of time trying to justify our actions or change other people’s opinions but we do not go to the Lord as we should.
The Jews looked to their past for their understanding of God. They knew the authority by which men like Jonah and Solomon spoke, but they refused to see that Jesus had even greater authority. They wanted Jesus to give in to their demands. When He would not play parlor games with His Father’s power, they refused to believe His Words. He pointed to the stories of old, to the people who submitted to the word of God spoken through Jonah and Solomon, and warned the Jews that their own past would come back to condemn their unbelief. He is the ultimate authority, and it is by His Word we are saved. Have you given in to the greater authority, living in Christ every moment of every day? Or do you still look for miraculous signs and to the words of men for your answers?
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 In the past, you were not a people, but now are God’s people, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10, WEB
Someone once said, “A candle loses nothing of its light by lighting another candle.” This quote is easy to understand in a very literal way. Anyone who has ever lit a candle using another candle knows that the second candle does not take half the light away, but the light is doubled with another burning wick. With two candles, the darkness is lessened twice as much.
The original speaker was thinking in more metaphorical terms: the meaning of the quote depends on the point of view of the hearer. I did a quick search of this quote and though I could not find a name of a person to whom this is attributed, I did find dozens of websites that used it to inspire, challenge and encourage visitors. The devotions range from understanding the light as love, knowledge, hope and peace. Generosity can’t be compared in the same manner, because if you give something away, you have less of that thing, but the quote still holds true with it because you find yourself blessed in other ways when you are generous.
I like to think about this quote from a spiritual perspective. If Jesus is the light, giving a bit of Jesus to our neighbor will not take away any of our own relationship with Jesus. Sharing the Gospel won’t diminish the Gospel in our life, and we will be blessed by even greater light because it has been shared. When two people know Jesus, the world is a little brighter.
It is hard to believe but we are quickly nearing the start of Advent, that season of the church year when we watch in darkness for the coming of the light. The season will be busy with the usual preparations for the holiday; it has already started for many. The stores are already having sales and the aisles are full of Christmas things. A few of my neighbors have already put out their Christmas lights. We’ll see in the Advent texts how Christ came to bring light into the darkness, how the light grows as we get closer to that day, just as the light grows around the world with the secular trappings of Christmas. Now is the time for us to share that Gospel message, to share that light with others so that in spirit as well as in the world, the darkness will be overcome by the joyous light of Christ. We lose nothing by telling our neighbor about Jesus, by sharing His word, His life and His salvation with them. As a matter of fact, we will find the world is a little brighter with hope and peace of God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9, WEB
Blessedness is difficult to see in the midst of tragedy and pain. After all, we think of being blessed as being happy, healthy and without want. It is easy for us to say we are blessed, but it is also easy to question our blessedness as we experience the reality of the world around us. There seems to be so much anger and fear in our world. It might be trivial to wonder why we can’t “just get along” but the division between people these days is disheartening. As Christians know to the very depths of our souls that the Lord is with us, but our hearts and minds are overwhelmed by so many feelings that come despite our desire to appear faithful.
Our emotions can seem so burdensome, particularly those that show our human weaknesses. We would rather just bury those emotions and try to be strong to help those who have suffered a greater loss. Yet, it is in the very weakness of emotions that God can truly be glorified, because in them we see our desperate need for our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the refuge from our fear, our Savior in the midst of our despair. He knows our anger and promises justice according to His good and perfect will. For those who are facing the deep questions of faith, He offers the assurance of His faithfulness. We can depend on God even when we are undependable. As a matter of fact, it is in those times when we are weakest, that God does the most incredible things. Jesus promised to bless those who seek His face, recognizing our own weakness and seeking His strength.
Blessedness is not necessarily found in good health, wealth or happy times. It is not about good feelings and prosperity. Blessedness is seeing ourselves as we truly are and turning to the One who can give us all we need. Blessed are those who humble themselves at the altar of the Lord and give their lives into His hand so that through their weakness He is glorified. When we trust in God, we learn to live like He lived, sharing God’s grace even when it seems an impossible task because we really can’t “just get along.”
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about reconciliation and reconciliation is peacemaking. Today’s verse, which is part of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, focuses on one very hard, but necessary beautiful attitude of the Christian. We are to be like Christ, to be peacemakers. Martin Luther once said, “There is no person upon earth so bad that there is not something in him that one must praise.” Unfortuantely, as we look at our world, and watch the news or social media, all we see is people who are bent on finding something wrong with everyone with whom they disagree. Peacemaking is not only about stopping the bloodshed of war or revolution, it means bringing harmony to the world in which we live, among people who might seem like enemies.
As we discussed this verse in Sunday school this week, we asked the question, “Where are the peacemakers?” There seem to be none in politics these days. Everyone is on one side of the aisle, or the issues, or the other. We can’t even eat a family meal without finding disagreement. Many will suggest that those topics of disagreement should not even be discussed during the upcoming holiday meals because it will cause brokenness and hard feelings.
Perhaps that’s true, but as Christians our responsibility is to do more than avoid the disagreements in our world. We are to work for reconciliation. Peacemaking is Christ-like, peacemakers shall be like Him, called sons of God. Jesus had a way of turning our world upside down. We would much rather life comfortable and happy. We would much prefer a life of wealth, health and popularity. However, Jesus never promised us a rose garden. He promised Himself. We can find blessedness in the difficult things He is calling us to do because He is with us. When we share the Gospel with our neighbors, even when we disagree, always looking for something good about them, then we will experience a peace that is beyond human understanding because it is the peace that comes from the reconciliation that only God can make happen through His grace.
Let us all be peacemakers, to bring reconciliation to our own little corner of the world, but let us also pray for the peacemakers who will make a very real difference in our nation by bringing reconciliation between all those who refuse to find something good about their opponents so that we will begin to do good together rather than hate one another.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 24, 2019, Christ the King: Malachi 3:13-18; Psalm 95:1-7a or Psalm 46; Colossians 1:13-20; Luke 23:27-43
“He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.” Colossians 1:17, WEB
What is happiness? What does it meant to be happy? Malachi tells us that we call the proud happy. The NIV translation says, “We call the arrogant blessed.” The Message says, “Those who take their life into their own hands are the lucky ones.” This definition of happiness is very self-centered, as if happiness or blessedness is found in personal success.
There was once an article in a magazine about happiness. It gave an historical timeline of happiness. First they quoted Aristotle, who in 350 B.C. said, “Happiness is the best, most noble, and most pleasant thing in the world.” In 1776, the writers of our Declaration of Independence wrote that all men have the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” Laughing gas was invented in 1799. Books about parenting in the early 1900s focused on children’s happiness. The term “Happy Hour” came into use by sailors in the 1920s. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was copyrighted in 1935. The laugh track for radio and television was invented in the 1950s. The term “happy pill” for tranquillizers was coined in the 1950s. The idea of national happiness and happiness in international relations came into style in recent years.
In 2010, Matt Salzberg said, “My vision of success is based on the impact I can have, much more than the pursuit of money or prestige.” Perhaps Matt was the first one in that timeline to get it right.
The article gave several suggestions of ways to finding happiness. First, they recommended valuing your relationships. In a University of Illinois study researchers discovered that “The highest levels of happiness are found with the most stable, longest, and most contented relationships.” Second, those who are happy express themselves. According to a Wake Forest University study, participants were tracked over a two week period and they found that they were happier when they were more outgoing and less happy when reserved or withdrawn.
A third way was found in a study done by the editors of forbes.com that discovered people were happier when they used their money to buy things for others. They gave cash to strangers, from $5 to $20. Half the group was told to spend the money on themselves and the other half to spend it on someone else. Those who bought something for someone else were much happier. Fourth they suggested that it is best to focus on the positive. They recommend keeping a journal and writing down three good things that happen each day. Those who did this found themselves to be much happier. Finally, the article suggested drinking water. Apparently, dehydration can cause mood swings.
I think it is true that happiness comes when we do not put the focus on ourselves, but turn our actions and thoughts to others. Those who take their lives into their own hands are not the lucky ones. Early in the chapter from Malachi, God says, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” They didn’t understand. God told them that they were focused on the wrong things. They were more interested in themselves and their own happiness. Instead of sharing their blessings with others, they were keeping it for themselves.
Vance Havner was an evangelist in North Carolina whose wife died of an unusual disease. All his hopes and dreams of living a long, happy life with her passed away when she did, and he found no consolation. He missed her touch and her voice so much that he was constantly tempted to ask “Why, God?” In his book, “Playing Marbles with Diamonds” he wrote, “You need never ask ‘Why?’ because Calvary covers it all. When before the throne we stand in Him complete, all the riddles that puzzle us here will fall into place and we shall know in Him fulfillment what we now believe in faith - that all things work together for good in His eternal purpose. No longer will we cry ‘My God, why?’ Instead, ‘alas’ will become ‘Alleluia,’ all question marks will be straightened into exclamation points, sorrow will change to singing, and pain will be lost in praise.”
It is hard for us to ignore asking “Why” when the world seems to be turning upside down. The wicked prosper and believers are persecuted. Sickness, pain and death still reign and we often mourn the loss of those we love. The question “Why” has been a stumbling block for many, the straw that breaks the faith of those who do not trust in the Lord. All too often we hear the words, “I can’t believe in a God that would allow suffering…” We get caught up in our desire to understand the purpose for our lives and everything that happens that we lose sight of God.
The movie “The Bells of St. Mary’s” starred Bing Crosby as a lovable, independent priest namedFather O’Malley. He is sent to a failing catholic school run by nuns including Sister Beatrice who was played by Ingrid Bergman. Father O’Malley and Sister Beatrice disagree about how things should be done. She was upset that he had come to disrupt their school and he was just trying to find a way to save it. He had this way of making things happen behind the scenes that seemed to be miraculous. He managed to manipulate the circumstances in a way that caused a rich man to donate a new building to the school. Sister Beatrice thought the prayers of her sisters and the gracious way they approached him did the trick.
There was a student at St. Mary’s named Patricia who did not feel like she belongs. She had difficulty doing the work and keeping up with the other students. Father O’Malley knew that she just needed a little push, a bit of encouragement, and a chance to shine. He visited her one evening and found her trying very hard to write an essay. The topic was “the Five Senses.” Though she knew the five senses, she did not know what to say about them. Father O’Malley gave her some ideas which she is able to take and put into a wonderful essay.
She began the essay with the title, “The Six Senses.” Of course, Sister Beatrice was taken aback at first because the assignment was the five senses. Patricia continued, “The Six Senses: To see, to hear, to taste, to smell, to feel... to be.” She went on to say, “to be (or not to be) is the final sense, the common sense and the most important of them all.” It isn’t enough to just be aware of the senses we have. We should experience the things of this world with our whole being. Take a rose, for instance. How many of us barely even notice the roses along our path? Perhaps it is cliché to say, “Take time to smell the roses” but there is truth in that saying. God created that rose, just as He created each of us. We are part of the creation that God both made and loves. We are connected by the same creative powers that were present with Him at the beginning; that rose bush is part of what God has created and it is part of the world in which we live.
Scientifically, there is a reality that all things are connected. We experience the world with our senses: seeing the flowers, hearing the birds, smelling the bread baking in the oven, tasting that turkey and feeling the touch of a friend. It all seems separated by space and time. Yet everything in God’s world is made up of the same thing: atoms. Atoms are made up of parts. Those parts are connected by an indescribable force. A rose may seem like a solid thing, but it is made up of atoms and the parts of atoms that are swimming together in space. In his letter to Colossae Paul wrote, “He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.” When the scientists discovered this indescribable force holding the parts of an atom together, they called it “The Colossians Force.”
It is easy to lose sight of a God that seems invisible, but Jesus Christ is the image of that which we cannot see. He is the Word made flesh, the God of creation dwelling with us. He was there when God laid down the foundations of the earth and it was through Him all things were made. In Christ we see that God did not make the world and disappear, but that He has been with us always, planning even in the beginning the redemption that was to come. Everything is His, and through Him we are re-created and reconciled to God our Father in heaven, part of the body of Christ and blessed with eternal life in Him.
The worst part is that we don’t take the time to appreciate and enjoy everything that God has given us in creation. We forget the great and wonderful things God has done that can’t be seen with our senses. If we don’t enjoy the roses, birds, bread, turkey or friends and attribute them to the One who brought them forth, how can we really ever grasp God’s mercy and grace found in His redemption - the re-creation - of His world? How can we every truly be? How can we ever really find happiness if we focus only on our selves?
The world thinks it is ridiculous that we find ourselves and our happiness in the story of Jesus Christ. After all, He died a spectacularly horrible death. How could He possible give us what we need for a full and happy life? The story itself is terrible, sad, even disturbing. We look to the cross and find peace, but they are disgusted by it. They are offended by the idea that we would put so much importance to an object of ancient torture. After all, the cross was used to punish and execute criminals. I have been asked, in reference to the cross I wear around my neck, whether I would wear an electric chair. It is impossible not to see the beauty in the crosses I have collected and wear, but there is an underlying sadness about it. The cross was used to kill people. It was used to kill Jesus. It was not a thing of beauty in His day. As a matter of fact, it was ugly and horrifying. It was little more than two pieces of wood and a few nails, most likely already covered in the blood of previous victims. The death experienced on the cross was slow and painful, terrifying and disgusting. The death was not only physical, but also emotional and spiritual. It was humiliating to hang on the cross as the witnesses threw insults and accusations.
Why would we want to remember this? Why would we want to hang this symbol on our wall or wear it around our neck? Why is this cross so important? Why would we choose to remember this moment of Christ’s life, His death on a day set aside for Christ the King? In the Gospel passage from Luke we are reminded of the sign placed above Jesus’ head on the cross, the sign that calls Him “The King of the Jews.” Yet, this sign was an insult, it was meant to call to the attention of the gawkers Jesus’ foolishness. How could a king end up hanging nearly naked by a few nails on a cross?
We celebrate a different kind of king. Jesus Christ did not have a typical coronation. The kings and queens of the world celebrate their elevation to monarch with grand parties and ostentatious ceremonies. For some monarchs, the coronation ceremony is so important that they take a year or more to organize. Some have acted as monarch for months and even years before they officially took the crown to their heads. New gowns, new jewels, new furnishings were created. Dignitaries were invited and accommodations were prepared. Some even built new palaces, churches or banqueting halls before hosting the party of their lives. It was such an important moment of their lives that they wanted everything to be new, beautiful and perfect. It was all about self.
Jesus’ coronation was much different. A week before He was lifted onto the cross, Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem like a king. He rode a donkey and was surrounded by people singing thanksgiving to God for giving them a Messiah. In less than a week He was hanging on the cross, having disappointed everyone who had hung their hopes on Him. The followers turned because He was not leading them into battle against Rome. Even His closest friends betrayed, denied and abandoned Him. Yet, it was at the very moment that Jesus cried out one last time and gave up His spirit that He was crowned King. It was at that moment that He fully lived out the purpose of His life, bringing the entire burden of God’s justice on His flesh. He found His purpose in God’s will which earned Him the greatest crown of all.
We see many images of God throughout the Church year. You can find many different lists of “The Names of God”; there are too many to list here, but they include Abba, Creator, Redeemer, Friend, Master, Shepherd and Teacher. We see Him love and encourage and discipline. We see Him scold and rebuke. We see Him guide and teach. We see Him save and call us to live out our salvation.
We end the Church year with this image of Yahweh of Armies. Christ will come again. He won’t come on a donkey, as He did when He entered Jerusalem before His crucifixion. He will come on the clouds with thunder and lightning, with a double-edged sword. He will come to fight the final battle, to finally and completely destroy the last enemy. He will come as King! Christ the King is coming and He is coming to finish the work He began at the cross. Jesus Christ was crowned on that cross; it was His throne and because of His obedience to His Father on that first Good Friday, we can now wait expectantly for His coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jesus is the One who truly saves us. As the psalmist sings, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” We may struggle, but we can trust in God’s promises. He has established a King that will not fail us. He has appointed His Son to rule over our lives. Our circumstances may seem out of control. The world may seem like it is upside down. We may find ourselves in exile or beaten by our enemies, but we can rest in the knowledge that God is the driving force behind our lives. When our leaders fail, and when we are led astray, God has not forgotten His promises. He is faithful even when we cannot be. Be still and know. He is God and He is with us. And He has appointed the King who will not fail, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Though Satan does still roam on this earth and those who reject God seem to be blessed, we are to look past this life of flesh into the promises of God and know that He will make all things right. We may not see the purpose of our lives, and we will still ask “Why?” It is a human quality to desire understanding for the things that affect our lives. It is not necessarily wrong to ask; God may even answer. But it is wrong to demand from God an explanation or some action that will satisfy our desires. Even our Lord Jesus asked, “My God, why have you forsaken me” as He hung on the cross. Yet, Jesus did not demand anything from God. He trusted His Father. We are called to do the same, to keep our eyes on the One who is King.
Our lives are like a puzzle being put together piece by piece. We won’t see the whole picture until our life is complete and we stand at the throne of our Lord. Until then, there will be pieces of the puzzle that just do not seem to fit. “Why?” will remain a question in our minds as we wonder about the wickedness and suffering in this world, as we face our own pain and loss. Yet, we can rest in the promise of God that one day all things will be clear, and until that day everything will serve His purpose even if we do not understand. We can encourage one another and keep our eyes on Jesus. All else will pass away and we will rejoice in the Alleluias of praise to God.
As the Church year ends, we look to the End times. The warnings of Malachi as are vital for us to hear today as it was for the people in his day. Are we living self-centered lives, seeking happiness in all the wrong things? Or are we focused on the God will has made us His own people? Do we look to Jesus who was crowned our King when He obediently fulfilled God’s purpose by dying on the cross?
When we are faced with difficulties, God is with us. He is our refuge and our strength. We will struggle, but we can trust that God is our salvation. His hand moves mountains and His love melts hearts. He is our help in trouble. We can’t know for certain when the day will come. It is not for us to know. The very reason God has not told us the day or the hours is because he knows that we will try to save ourselves. We’ll try to hide from the inevitable. We’ll try to stand on our own strength. We will turn to leaders who promise things that they cannot fulfill. God is our only hope. We are called to dwell in His presence knowing that Christ the King may appear at any moment, even while we are actively involved in the ordinary work of the earthbound kingdom in which we live. We belong to Him and He will save us. He holds everything together.
Instead of serving God, the people in Malachi’s day served self. “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God;’ and ‘What profit is it that we have followed his instructions, and that we have walked mournfully before Yahweh of Armies?” They thought it was a waste of their time and resources to serve God. We might think that personal success will make us happy as we fill our lives with everything we could ever desire, but true happiness comes when we love God and live for Him in this world. This doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t find happiness in a great job or beautiful home, but let’s remember what matters most. Our happiness comes from living the life God is calling us to live, with Him in the forefront, doing His work in this world.
“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, then closes his heart of compassion against him, how does God’s love remain in him? My little children, let’s not love in word only, or with the tongue only, but in deed and truth.” 1 John 3:16-18, WEB
It must have been an interesting site. One day, in a Walmart parking lot in Oregon, a cowboy on a horse roped a bicyclist. He heard a woman screaming that someone had stolen her bicycle and decided to take action. He jumped on his horse and then used his lasso to stop the man. He tied the thief and called 9-1-1. The operator on the phone couldn’t believe what he was telling her, but she sent the police who discovered it was true. “I looked up and from the horse there was a rope connected to the ankle of a gentleman on the ground holding onto a tree,” said the officer. All the cowboy wanted for his good deed was to have his rope back. “It was the right thing to do,” he said.
Are we willing to step up to help someone when they are in trouble? Unfortunately, there are situations when we are afraid to take the risk. We might wonder if the thief would try to sue us for any injuries that happened that day. Sadly, some courts would find in thief’s favor. Could we afford to have such a judgment against us? The cowboy didn’t think twice. It was the right thing to do. We certainly have a lot of other excuses for not doing what is good for our neighbor. We don’t have time to get involved. We are short on cash. We don’t believe that we have anything that can help them. Sometimes, sadly, we simply do not see that there is a need. We aren’t necessarily ignoring the cries of our neighbors, but we are so caught up in our own troubles that we don’t hear that others are suffering.
It is easy to be actively involved in helping neighbor in the upcoming holiday season. The bell ringers will be at the doors of our favorite stores. Our mailbox will be filled with requests for money, food, and toys. We are more generous at this time of year, willingly taking a tag from an angel tree or filling a box for Operation Christmas Child. We make cookies for our neighbors and invite them to parties. Yet, even with all these good works that we do, we should continue to be listening and watching for the unexpected needs around us.
We might think that the actions of the cowboy were incredible, but he didn’t think he did anything spectacular. He did what came naturally. We hear stories of other people, especially at this time of year, who have done great and wonderful things that had a very real impact on the world. One young woman in San Antonio decades ago collected presents for a few families, and now the organization she began serves thousands every year. We don’t have to stop thieves or give toys to thousands, but we can respond to the cries of our neighbors with our own gifts and resources. Jesus expects us to do what is right, to act out our love in a way that will make a very real difference in the lives of those in need.
“Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:18-20, WEB
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a peacemaker. That might seem odd to say considering the fact that he was involved with an assassination attempt. He was part of the conspiracy to rid the world of Adolf Hitler. He ended up in prison and ultimately executed for his role. Yet, everything about Bonhoeffer brought light and the Gospel to a world that was out of control. The greatest impact he had was in his focus on discipleship. He taught the world what it truly meant to be a Christian.
Discipleship is not an easy path; perhaps that’s why so few people are willing to truly become disciples of Jesus Christ. It is enough for them to attend church and to claim salvation, but they are not willing to give their lives for Jesus’ sake. I saw a meme today that asked why people can easily get up at 4:00 a.m. to shop the Black Friday sales, but have a hard time making it to church at 10:00 a.m. The priority, the meme said, seems to be a $20 crock pot over the God of Creation and Redemption.
In his book “The Cost of Discipleship,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer had these brilliant words of wisdom. “Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.” “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ.” “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” “Every moment and every situation challenges us to action and to obedience. We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not. We must get into action and obey—we must behave like a neighbor to him.” “What are the disciples to do when they encounter opposition and cannot penetrate the hearts of men? They must admit that in no circumstances do they possess any rights or powers over others, and that they have no direct access to them. The only way to reach others is through him in whose hands they are themselves like all other men.” “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
After the resurrection, Jesus spent forty days giving the disciples His final instructions, showing them the scriptures from a new perspective: from this side of the cross. Everything was different because now Jesus had gone through death and the grave and was raised to new life. The world was changed on that one weekend and all of God's good creation was redeemed. Yet, despite the risen presence of Christ, the disciples still were unsure about what was happening to them. Jesus told them to go to a mountain and they followed. Matthew also tells us that they worshipped Him, “but some doubted.”
I don’t think the disciples doubted that Jesus was the Messiah or that He would do what He said He would do. But we are comforted by the reality that even those disciples who were with Jesus had their own doubts. They couldn’t believe that He was leaving them and commanding them to continue the work. How could they accomplish such great things? They were ordinary men from an ordinary place. They didn’t have any authority. They had no education, except that which Jesus had given to them. They had no position which would be respected. And their leader, Jesus, did not even have the respect of the world in which they were being sent. No wonder they doubted.
Yet, Jesus said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” He knew, even then, that we’d disappoint Him. He knew we’d be imperfect. He knew we would fail. But He calls us into a relationship with Himself to be transformed by His grace to move together as one body to continue transforming the world. When we were created, we were given the authority to take care of the entire world, to continue the creative work of the Father. In Christ, through our baptism, we are given a new authority: the authority to take forgiveness and grace into the lives of those who are living in darkness. We are called to continue the redemptive work of Christ, to make disciples and teach them all that He commanded.
In the Great Commission, Jesus told the disciples to “Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Our faith in Christ brings us more fully into our identity in the image of God. The world is not as God intended. Sin and death were not what He wanted for His creation. The Creator was separated from the creation He loved and He was the only One who could remove the chasm that had formed between heaven and earth. Just as He created the world out of nothing, He brought order out of the chaos it had become. When the time was right, Jesus came in flesh to bring redemption and reconciliation. And He has called us to be part of His creative and redemptive work, not to change the world but to continue what God first started because what God created is good.
So, let’s go forth in faith as disciples of Christ, doing the hard things even when we risk everything to do so. We are meant to be more than people who believe in Jesus; we are meant to be people who go out, call the world to repentance, to be peacemakers in a world filled with chaos. We are meant to give our lives fully and completely in obedience to Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow Him. This means doing the hard things; this means giving ourselves fully and completely to God’s work in the world. This means dying to self so that we can live for Him and make a very real impact on our little corner of the world.
“Let’s consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25, WEB
During Sunday School yesterday, our group discussed the final Beatitude, that of persecution. It doesn’t seem like persecution is a beautiful attitude, but it is the ultimate end of discipleship. Though it is the life God calls us to live, it is a life that is so counter to the culture of the world that we will find ourselves in opposition to what is expected by others. Spiritual poverty, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart and peacemaking are not the way of the world. Faith in Jesus Christ is deemed foolish and God’s Word is merely a fairy tale. Those who reject God will reject everything we have to say about Him and His expectations. Persecution is as much a normal mark of Christian discipleship as the other beatitudes. We will suffer for being disciples, and Jesus calls us blessed because of it.
The preaching in our church has focused heavily on the call to discipleship. We have been encouraged to worship weekly, walk daily, connect consistently, and to serve monthly. These are all good habits for us to build in our lives. Discipleship means committing time and energy to praising God with other Christians, to spending time in God’s Word and in prayer daily, to meeting with others to encourage faith, and to give of our resources to help those in need. This is the practical aspect of discipleship that helps us to live the Beatitudes daily.
I usually reference today’s scripture passage when I’m talking about the need to attend worship each week. There are many people who believe they can worship God well enough on their own; they don’t see the value of going to a church building every Sunday, especially when there are other things that we can do. I’ve even seen some churches cancel Sunday worship to do some works program in their cities. It is vital that we gather as the body of Christ to sing praise to God and to experience His grace together.
Yet, this encouragement to gather together can be fulfilled in so many other ways. We should gather in prayer groups, to lift up those who need God’s special care. We can gather together in Bible study, talking about God’s Word in a way that will help our brothers and sisters in Christ grow in faith and discipleship. We can also gather together to do good works in our communities.
I have realized, though, that it is good to assemble together without any specific purpose. A few months ago a few ladies began meeting on a monthly basis at a local restaurant with no agenda but to love one another. We talk about our joys and our worries. We share our stories. We laugh and we cry. We are connecting consistently to build relationships that will provoke one another to love and good works.
We live in a world that is more connected than ever, and yet for most of us we are less connected than we were a few decades ago. We are quick to text a friend rather than meet for lunch. I remember that my mom and her best friend used to meet for pie regularly to talk through their troubles together. There’s a commercial (for a car) that shows one friend texting another. The recipient gets in their fancy car and rushes to the friend’s house. When the friend opens the door, he says, “Are you answering my text in person?” “Yes,” he says. “Come on in!” Perhaps more of us should take the time to answer our texts in person.
Do you have someone with whom you can meet regularly? It is good to join in worship weekly and in Bible study and prayer regularly. The writer of Hebrews definitely encourages us to do these things. However, it is also good to find someone with whom we can meet, a friend or a group of friends, to help one another through tough times, to rejoice over the good times, to laugh and to cry together. It is great that we can connect so immediately with technology, but let’s not forget to meet regularly to encourage one another and build each other up to love and good works.
“Righteousness guards the way of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.” Proverbs 13:6
I am a little ahead of schedule with my holiday shipping. Everything was ready to go, so I decided to get to the post office before it really became busy next week. I paid for my boxes online and just had to drop them off, but I ran into a problem. I rushed through several boxes and did not realize that my online address book still had an old address for one family. I have sent them packages to the right address since the move, but apparently I did not update it in the app. I realized the problem this evening.
I was afraid that the package would become lost in the system, so I called to see if there was anything I could do. After a lengthy wait on the telephone, I got an operator who had no knowledge of my options. He finally found the information, which I already knew, but I was hoping he’d have a better option for me. Unfortunately, my mistake is going to cost me a lot of money.
A mistake like the one I made today would probably not be considered a sin. We all make mistakes and suffer the consequences of our mistakes. Sin, however, is much the same. Most of the sins we commit are not life threatening or willful; we probably don’t do anything that might be considered wicked. Many of our sins are accidental and come from our basic human nature that is far from perfect. We say the wrong things or react in the wrong ways. We worry or fear or get angry. We tell little white lies or do not treat God’s creation as we ought. We ignore the needs of our neighbors. We keep the extra quarter in the change from a cashier. We get impatient with our children and spouse. I can think of a million little things we do every day that goes against God’s Word. The world doesn’t call most of mistakes “sin” but the reality anything that goes against God’s Word is sin, even the little things. Those little things often come with little consequences, but sometimes the outcome can cost a lot.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that the wages of sin is death. Sin separates us from our God because He cannot look at wickedness. Unfortunately, despite the words of the Proverb, we cannot be righteous on our own. Thankfully we have a Savior who has done everything necessary for us to receive forgiveness for every sin we commit. We are made righteous by His grace, restored to a relationship with the God who is our Father.
Despite the forgiveness of Jesus, we will suffer the consequences of our sinfulness. We’ll experience pain and illness, broken relationships and loss. We might be punished and we will someday die. Our sin, the small ones and the big ones, my cost us a lot. Yet, we can go forth in faith knowing that even though we will struggle and suffer in this life, we have another life waiting for us through Jesus Christ. Wickedness might be our downfall, but we are covered by the righteousness of Christ by His grace and we can trust that His promises are true.
Scriptures for Sunday, December 1, 2019, First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122 Romans 13: (8-10) 11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Watch therefore, for you don’t know in what hour your Lord comes.” Matthew 24:42, WEB
Jesus made it clear that even He would not know the time that all things will end. There is a scene in the book of Revelation that shows the Temple emptied of everyone and everything except God Himself. The Temple fills with smoke. From there, God commands the final act of His story as the bowls of judgment are poured out upon the world. At that moment, God gives all people a final chance to choose between joining in the heavenly worship of God and the earthly blaspheming of God. And when it is over, God Himself proclaims that it is done. Jesus could not command those angels with the bowls; only God knew the time when it would happen.
Jesus reminds us that if He doesn’t know, we can’t possibly know when the time will come. This is why it is vital for us to be ready always for the end times.
What does it mean to be ready? My husband was in the military for thirty years. He wasn’t often sent on temporary duty at the spur of the moment, but he always had to be ready just in case. He had several bags that were always packed, including one that had personal items like underwear and shaving kit. Those bags were kept close at hand because they could be told that they would be leaving in an hour. They didn’t have time to pack. They barely had time to kiss their families good-bye.
There were times when the call was expected. On those occasions they could go through the bag and make sure that the underwear was not holey and the can of shaving cream was full. However, sometimes the time was short, so they went with the pack as it was, even if it was not complete. It is the same when we talk about being ready for Christ. We tend to get complacent when things seem to be going well. We pray, but half-heartedly. We read the scriptures, but we shrug if we miss a day. We decide that we are just a little too tired to get up and go to church. It doesn’t matter, anyway, right? God doesn’t take attendance. But what if the time came during at a point of apathy. Would you be ready for Christ?
The world is preparing for Christmas. The stores are filled with aisles of gifts and decorations. Invitations for parties have been mailed. The shipping places are already busy with people taking packages to send to family and friends who are far away. There are even a few houses in our neighborhood that have turned on their Christmas lights. It seems hard to believe that we are less than a month from Christmas.
There is a season through which we must pass first, though. The church calendar is cyclical. We begin with Advent, go through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and then Pentecost. The last few weeks of each year, during the month of November, we look forward to the coming of Christ the King. It is a great way to see the whole story of God in a year, to celebrate the works of His hands, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. We see the life and ministry of Jesus develop until He is finally given the Kingdom forever first on the Cross, through the empty tomb and then on Christ the King Sunday. One of the disadvantages is that we go from Christ the King directly into Advent, thus moving from the promise fulfilled to the promise yet to come. It is hard to go back to the beginning once we’ve seen the end.
For the past few weeks we have focused on the end times, especially last week with Christ the King. We continue that focus for the beginning of Advent, a reminder that though the Christmas season is about more than presents and parties. We encourage each other to take time for God, to experience His coming with prayer and devotional time. It is likely that most people who are reading this already do those things, even outside the season. The Christmas season brings us together more often. We have extra services. We have fellowship gatherings. We have Christmas pageants and programs.
We also deal with the secular aspects of the holiday season. A confession: I like the secular aspects of Christmas. I like to shop for Christmas presents, even on Black Friday. I like to have the biggest, brightest Christmas tree. I like to bake cookies and make ornaments for my family. I enjoy the brightness, the joy and the love of the season. But even though I like these things, I am troubled by the pervasiveness of the worldly and greedy aspects of the holidays. It seems that too many people are not ready for the moment when God will ask if we ready to join the heavenly chorus of eternal praise, or if we are more interested in living in the ways of the world.
We begin the season of Advent in darkness. Today’s Gospel lesson is not very hopeful. Jesus told his disciples to keep watch for the time of His coming, and to do everything He has commanded: to love God with our whole heart and to love one another as ourselves. We won’t know the time, so He told them to prepare their hearts so that they will be strong against those who try to confuse them with false doctrine, false prophets who will come. As the day grows closer, Satan will become more desperate to deceive the children of God. His tactics will become harder to detect, easier to pass from one another. We don’t think we can fall for the deception, but we can see how easy it might be as we prepare for our Christmas celebrations.
I have seen several memes on the Internet that say something like, “Only in America do we wait in lines to trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we have.” Black Friday is considered an official beginning to the shopping season. I remember in the days of my youth when the malls did not open until normal time on Black Friday. The night before was spent decorating for the Christmas season. The mall where my mother worked had an event the hour before opening at which time Santa Claus arrived with much fanfare. My sister and some other girls wore reindeer antlers and danced in front of the sleigh. It was adorable. Then the doors opened and the people went into the mall to take advantage of the sales.
I don’t even know why they are calling it Black Friday anymore. The Friday after Thanksgiving was originally called Black Friday because it was the day when retailers saw their yearly sales go from being “in the red” to being “in the black.” Christmas sales were their profits for the year. Now Black Friday starts well before Thanksgiving. Several stores have been advertising their sales for weeks and Santa is already set up in the malls. The ads have been online for weeks and people have been preparing to rush to the stores the minute they open so that they’ll be the first in line to get the best deals. You have to be there early or you might not get one of the limited quantities available. There are, of course, some extraordinary deals that will begin Friday. Sadly, some retailers insist on getting an early start on the chaos, so they open in the evening on Thanksgiving.
There was once a woman hosted the Thanksgiving celebration at her house every year; she worked for hours to make everything wonderful for her family. One year, however, a bunch of her family members ate dinner, wiped their mouths and rushed out the door to go to the mall so that they could be there in time for the sales. She said that she was hurt and disappointed that they were more interested in shopping than spending time together. “I won’t invite them again,” she said. A family is falling apart because of this need to be the first in line for the sale.
I suppose in some ways this is exactly what it means to be entering Advent in darkness. Even though the decorations are up and the lights are twinkling, the attitudes and expectations of the people are exactly why Jesus came in the first place. People are looking to the world instead of to God. People are more interested in fulfilling some quest for the perfect gift (although I imagine a lot of the shopping is not even for others) than in spending time in the company of family and friends.
Advent is a dichotomy. It is a time when we wait for something we know has already come, and yet we also wait for something that we know is still coming. It is a time of looking to the past while looking to the future. We hope for something we know exists by faith but which has not yet been completely fulfilled. We wait for the baby in the manger even though we just celebrated the coming of Christ as King.
It can be confusing to hear texts from the final days of Jesus’ life as we prepare for His birth. But that’s what Advent is all about. It is about seeing Christ as He was, as He is and as He will be all at once. When we think of Christ only in terms of the past, the present or the future, we do not live fully in His presence. If we stay in the past, we live as if there is nothing left to be done. We do not bother to keep watch or to wake up from our slumber. If we stay in the present, then we think what we do matters for our salvation. When we look only to the future, we think we have time to get ready and we put off the things we should do for the sake of Christ.
In other words, this first Sunday in Advent we are reminded that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. As we live in this truth, we realize that our faith is not a past, present or future reality; it is all three. We die with Christ through our baptism. We live with Christ in this present reality, a reality that includes faith and grace and the hope of the promise to come. We look forward to the fulfillment of the promises: yesterday, today and tomorrow.
At the same time we are living in this world, and we have to find a way to our life with our faith. That means making choices that are God-pleasing, ready at a moment’s notice to receive Him. See, there will be a time when Christ comes again in glory, a time when we will see Christ the King come as victorious Lord of all. But Christ comes to us constantly in our daily living: in the request from a charity for food, in the paper ornaments on an Angel Tree at the mall with the wishes of children, a knock on the door from a neighbor who needs a friend to talk to. Christ comes to us in those busy crowds as we are fighting over the last hot toy or cheap television. He comes to us in that car that needs to merge on the highway and in the parking lot at the mall. Will we choose to be selfish or will we choose to be generous? Will we glorify God this Advent, or will we chase after our own needs and desires?
What if Jesus came tomorrow? What would He find on earth? Would He mind if He found you in line to buy the latest gaming system at the Black Friday sales? Quite honestly, I don’t think so. He would mind if you had abandoned a loved one to chase after a sale. It is about attitude, and Advent is about making our hearts right before God so that we’ll be ready to receive our King, both as a baby in the manger and as the Victorious One at the end of all the ages.
Jesus calls us to be ready so that we’ll embrace every opportunity to share Him with others. Christmas can be about presents and parties and decorations, but it is also about sharing Christ with our neighbor. Isaiah says, “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” The many peoples to whom Isaiah refers are the Gentiles. The day will come when those who are not believers will seek the LORD and His Word. Even as the book of Revelation talks about the destruction of those who do not believe, God offers second, third and more chances.
At His call, they will go to hear God and to learn from His wisdom. Our relationship with God acts as a call to those who do not yet believe. They see our faith and wonder what it is that gives us that joy and peace that is visible in the way we live. Why are we a little happier waiting in the checkout lines? Why are we more willing to give bags of food at a time when our own purse strings are tightening? Why are we excited about going to a boring worship service with a bunch of hypocrites? What is it about Jesus that makes our life different?
Isaiah says, “O House of Jacob, come, and let’s walk in the light of Yahweh.” We are that house of Jacob now. We are the witnesses of God’s light and love and mercy. While individual prayer and devotional time is a good thing, and is encouraged for everyone to help make their hectic lives a little more peaceful, we are sent into the world to share that peace with others. They will not see the Christ in Christmas if we are too busy to share Him with the world.
The psalmist writes, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let’s go to Yahweh’s house!’” Those who hear the Gospel message and experience the love and mercy of God are glad when they discover that which has been with them all along. God is not asking us to reject the secular aspects of the Christmas season. He’s relying on each of us as Christians to shine His light.
Paul writes to the Christians in Rome that salvation is nearer at that moment than when they first became believers. That promise is continued into our day. We know this is true, and yet we wonder. So much time has passed since Paul wrote his letters. It might be closer, but it is so easy to become apathetic. We’ve heard for two thousand years that each day brings us closer to the day when Christ will come again. It is hard to wait anxiously for something that doesn’t seem to be coming. But we are called to wait patiently, to look forward to the birth of the King and remember that the King will come again. We live between the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Until that day, we are called to live in Christ, who is as present now as He was then and as He will be in that day.
We dwell in a world full of darkness, even when there appears to be light. But the True Light dwells among us, too, and we are sent out into the world to live in faith and shine that light to others. Remember that Christ is with you always, whatever the days of Advent hold for you. These weeks will be filled with opportunities and choices. How will you answer His call? Will you keep your faith separate from your quest for the perfect Christmas or will you be ready at a moment’s notice to be generous with His grace? Christ came. Christ is here. Christ will come again. Let us live today remembering the past, embracing the present and looking forward to the future as we dwell in His presence always.
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, ‘Rejoice!’ Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report: if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think about these things. The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:4-9, WEB
It is hard to believe that Christmas is less than one month away. Our schedule is already full with activities - parties and programs, preparation and decoration. It is a wonder that we get any of it done while we still have to maintain our daily lives. Isn’t it amazing, though, that I have not yet even begun cooking my Thanksgiving Day turkey and I am already worried about tomorrow? We are so busy looking ahead to tomorrow that we forget to enjoy the here and now. Today is Thanksgiving Day; will we be so busy with preparation that we miss out on the blessings of living in thanksgiving and praise right now?
It may seem impossible for us to rejoice always, particularly since we live in a world that is filled with incredible difficulties as sickness, poverty and war. However, Paul’s lesson for us is not that we should walk around singing and laughing as if there is nothing wrong, but rather to live in the peace of God knowing that He is present in our lives through it all. That peace of God is not something that can be earned or discovered through our work. It comes from faith, trusting that God is near. Paul is calling us to keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus so that when we do face those times of worry and fear that we can still rejoice and walk in faith.
Walking in faith includes living in thanksgiving and praise to God our Father. Our greatest hope is in the future, that day when we will spend eternity with God, yet we have so much for which we can be thankful. There might be a great deal to accomplish in the next month. There might be many things to do today to make this a special day for our family and friends. But let’s not forget that this is Thanksgiving Day and take time to thank God for His many blessings. Our praise should include a remembrance of what He has done for us in the past year, but it should also be filled with joy for the promises which we have not yet seen fulfilled. As we walk in thanksgiving, our lives will shine with the joy and peace of Christ. We can’t explain the peace that comes from actively living out our praise to God, but the world will see the joy we have in the presence of our God.
“After these things, Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is also called the Sea of Tiberias. A great multitude followed him, because they saw his signs which he did on those who were sick. Jesus went up into the mountain, and he sat there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Jesus therefore lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to him, said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may receive a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these among so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in that place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus took the loaves; and having given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to those who were sitting down; likewise also of the fish as much as they desired. When they were filled, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather up the broken pieces which are left over, that nothing be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.” John 6:1-13, WEB
Thanksgiving is over and we can officially begin preparing for the holiday season. We have a party scheduled in two weeks and Bruce has pulled down boxes so I can begin decorating. I’ve begun making lists of ingredients for the food I will serve. I actually began some prep work yesterday. Instead of making a turkey appropriate for the number of people who were eating at my house, I made an extra large one. I will boil the leftovers to make turkey barbeque. I’ll freeze it until the party. I’m not sure I needed to make such a large turkey even with my plan, so I’ll probably have leftovers after the party.
I will have more than turkey left over after the party. I always make more than I could ever need, but I don’t want to run out of food. Our party is an open house, so we could see dozens of friends throughout the evening. I want to make sure there is enough food for those who arrive later in the evening. At the end of every party as I am gathering my leftovers, I try to remind myself that I did not need to make so much food. I promise myself I will do better next time. Yet, the next time comes around and I do not have the faith of Andrew; I worry about how we will feed so many people. Andrew saw something in that small amount of food. Even more importantly, he saw something in Jesus and knew He could use that small amount to do incredible things.
I’m not suggesting we should begin every party with two fish and five loaves of bread; I really do need to make sure there is enough for all my guests. However we should go forth in faith in all our circumstances without worrying about whether or not we have enough. This is true about everything we do in faith. God has granted us gifts to be used for His glory. Though we do not always think we have enough to accomplish the work He has for us to do, we need only believe in God for He will make our little bit become a great feast.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s version of this story, the disciples told Jesus to send the people away so that they could find something to eat. In this story, Philip sees this as an impossible situation. Eight month’s wages would not even begin to feed the crowd. Andrew noticed a young boy with a few loaves of bread and some fish. He pointed it out to Jesus.
Jesus threw a party for five thousand with the lunch of one small boy. Yet Jesus was able to feed the entire crowd until they were stuffed full. Jesus filled the bellies of the people, supplied their physical needs; in the process, He taught the disciples a lesson in trust, that God will fulfill their physical needs. Five barley loaves and two fish might have fed the disciples and Jesus. It would have been easy to keep it for themselves and send the crowd to seek food on their own. Yet, Jesus met their needs, the needs of the crowd and even had leftovers to share.