Weekly Reflections



King's Cross Anglican Church Tucson

3 Year Lectionary

by Jennifer Callaway

LIVING WELL

Ezekiel 31:1-14; Psalm 92; 2 Cor 5:1-10; Mark 4:26-34

            I am struggling today to find joy. I wonder why I’m here and what good I can do. I feel sorry for myself and lament to God, asking Him whether my life still has a point. Poor me, I am so pathetic.

            Days like this are what this Psalm is written for. Psalm 92 is a psalm of encouragement, a step-by-step guide out of self-pity and into glorifying God. Walk with me through it...

            First, I am reminded to give thanks to the Lord and sing praises, to declare His rock-steady love in the morning and His certain care at night. It encourages me to see with fresh eyes the wonders of His creation and the eternal nature of His perspective. “1It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night’

                  Then, it contrasts us to Him and reminds us of just how small our lives are in comparison. Likewise, we remember that our enemies are as small and frail as we are, and they are destined for destruction. Re-framing them in this way makes the battles seem less frightening, and victory more possible.

“6 The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: 7 that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; 8 but you, O Lord, are on high forever.”

            Next it reminds us of how much God favors us. We are exalted in His eyes, and He anoints us. He reminds us of our history with Him, and the ways He has delivered us over and over. “9 For behold, your enemies, O Lord, for behold, your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered. 10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil.11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.”

            Then most importantly for me today, I am reminded that no matter how I may feel, I am flourishing. I am still growing and changing, and still bearing fruit in my old age. All because He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. 12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.”

            No matter what mood we come to the Psalms with, we can find His words of comfort, instruction, encouragement and rebuke. He has given us this precious voice with which to speak to Him, and to listen to Him. It’s a treasure that is yours. Taste and see that the Lord is good!

ETERNAL VISION

Gen 3:1-21; Ps 130; 2 Cor 4:13-18; Mark 3:20-35

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”(2 Cor 4:16-18).

            The apostle Paul is a model of resilience and perseverance for all of us. He faced intense persecution, betrayal from other Christ followers and opposition to the basic tenets of the faith. He went to prison repeatedly, was shipwrecked, and faced all the dangers of traveling in his times. He battled false teachers in the church, and re-directed young churches that were losing the way of Christ. In addition, he battled his own issues, (2 Cor 12), some kind of chronic problem that was so difficult for him he begged God to take it away.

            In all these things, he did not lose heart. And these verses above contain some critical elements of his strategy to press on.

            First, he recognized and relied on the power of the Holy Spirit at work in him and in every believer. He looked beneath the surface of the frail body we live in and saw that though the physical life passes away, the part of us that counts, the spiritual person, grows stronger every day, not in spite of suffering but because of it.

            Next, he took a long view of his suffering and trials so that he was able to call all of them ‘light, momentary affliction.’ For those who have suffered, you know that keeping such perspective is a challenge! But the next line tells us how he did it. He simply knew that what he was aiming for was worth far more than he was going through to get there. Any who have ever had a goal of any kind can relate to the value of looking forward to success. And the ‘eternal weight of glory’ is the ultimate success!

            Finally, as he viewed his troubles through this lens, he knew just how temporary all of it was. Troubles and triumphs, human relationships and homes and jobs and all the things that absorb so much of our time and energy, will all be stripped away at the last. Only eternal things will still matter. The challenge is to look past all the things that clamor for our attention and emotion and energy, and focus on the things that will last.

            Meeting that challenge is difficult. But with the Holy Spirit to guide us, we can do it. What would you do for the kingdom if there were no obstacles? Look in, ahead and up. God will make a way.

TRIUNITY

Ex 3:1-6; Psalm 93; Rom 8:12-17; John 3:1-16

     A teacher who was influential in my early Christian growth died in a terrible accident this weekend. I did not know her personally, only through study of her materials and listening to her teaching. She taught about idolatry of all kinds, though the focus was on weight loss. Her teaching helped me far beyond weight loss. In those studies, I grew past some serious stumbling blocks to my faith.

            Her studies were popular in the church for a time. Many congregations were using her materials, and others I knew were impacted by it as well. Until something shocking happened.

            In her attempt to explain the Trinity, she presented a case for what is known as ‘eternal subordination’, the idea that Christ is subordinate to God as a part of the relationship within the Trinity. Church leaders spoke out, and her materials were removed from many churches. Our church leaders asked me to stop teaching the class.

            I was so upset! I didn’t give much thought to the trinity in those days, and I could not understand why this seemingly obscure issue was causing such upheaval. To my shame, I admit that I said to my pastor, “the people are coming to lose weight! They don’t care what she teaches about the Trinity!”  I thought he would fall out of his chair! I stopped teaching the class.

            For me it was a lesson in the importance of what we know to be true, even when we struggle to understand it. I have spent much time studying the Trinity since then, and even in seminary classes I hesitated to try to articulate it. But what I have done is spend a lot of time in wonder of it.

            It’s a perfect unity that is so seamless we can’t even imagine it, yet we can know our life with God is secure in its embrace. It’s a model for us of love, harmony and selflessness that we long in our spirit to experience. I believe even in her mistakes, this teacher is now seeing it with her own eyes,  And one day we all will. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

saved life

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-35; 1 Cor 12:4-13; Jn 14:8-17

‘And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

            What does it mean, ‘shall be saved?’ In the Baptist tradition, this means I will go to heaven when I die. For many years, I wasn’t really excited about salvation because I wasn’t in a rush to go to heaven, and I didn’t know what else it meant to be saved.

            On the day of Pentecost, the followers of Christ got their first glimpse of what salvation meant. The Holy Spirit came in power, and things began to happen. Though Christ Himself was no longer on earth, His promises came alive. And what salvation means is written on the pages of the Word and on our lives.

            We are saved from death, first. But we are saved from so much more—fear of death, our own worst inclinations and predispositions and the bitter darkness of unforgiveness. We are saved from God’s wrath, and from permanent separation from Him. We no longer try to make life meaningful apart from God, and we no longer have to hope in things that cannot help us. We are free from the sorrow that breaks the hearts of those who have no Savior. We are free from the doubts and fears that darken our days and make our nights unbearable.

            On the other hand, we are saved to many things as well. We are saved to a new identity as a child of God and a new family that is the body of Christ. We are saved to a new purpose, one that has meaning and influence beyond our own ability to see and understand it. We are saved to a new community that celebrates the life of God in the world, and seeks to glorify Him in all we do. We also bear the privilege of ambassadors, seeking peace between the world and God, reaching out hands of reconciliation and mercy to others who have no hope. We are given gifts to work out our salvation in the community, building one another up as we grow together in Christ. And with all this, we are given the Holy Spirit as our Comforter, our Teacher, and our Counselor.

            Going to heaven when we die will be wonderful. But our salvation is so much more. Eternal life has already begun for each of us. We can live as if we will never die, because when we die, true life begins.

testify

Acts 1:15-26; Ps 47; 1 Jn 5:6-15; Jn 17:11b-19

I love to read books and hear testimonies of Christian missionaries. The ways that God meets needs and makes connections for those who have surrendered their entire life to Him, both inspire and amaze me.

            One of my favorites is George Muller, who started several orphanages and schools in Britain in the early 1900s. Muller made a vow to never ask anyone but God to meet his ministry needs, and the miracles of provision God poured out have been the subject of several books. He is famous not for what he did, but for what God did through him. Stories like his feed our faith and help it to grow strong enough to carry us in our own times of need. And this is what our faith is all about. Testimony.

            Our faith is built on testimony. The prophets testified of the promises God gave about His love and mercy, fulfilled in His Son. The apostles testified about what they had seen of Jesus’ works and teaching. Their testimonies weren’t dry collections of facts, but dramatic retellings of encounters that changed their lives so much that they committed everything to Him.And because of their lives and testimonies, we hold the Testimony of the Bible in our hands today. It is alive with their stories, and as we engage with it and the God it tells us of, it comes alive with our own stories. How many verses are highlighted or notated in your Bible because of an encounter you had with God there? Those are precious testimonies He has given you to remember.

            The testimony isn’t just His written word, either. His Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are His children. Jesus testifies in His prayer (John 17) that we are one with Him and one another. He testifies that He will keep us and sanctify us. And the prayer itself is a testimony for us; who can doubt that God will answer the prayers of Christ?

            The readings this week are full of testimonies and promises given for believers of every era. Where we fit in the big plan of God’s redemption story has yet to be seen, though Christ’s coming is closer than ever. But we have these testimonies to keep us strong, and united, and full of joy as we look toward our ultimate redemption. Read them, hear them, and believe.

~If you’ve never written out your testimony, take time to do it. Even our own stories encourage and strengthen us.

love does

Acts 11:19-30; Ps 33:1-8; 1 Jn 4:7-21; Jn 15:9-17

            The church in Acts gives us a glimpse into the workings of the Holy Spirit when all are submitted to its influence and promptings. And what do we see when we read about these people who were first called Christians? How is the love of God manifested to the world through them?

            The gospel was preached to Jews and to Hellenists. Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement,’ traveled a long distance to encourage the works of those in Antioch, even going the extra distance to Tarsus to bring Saul back with him. Here they taught the love of God through Christ for a whole year.

            Next came the prophets, warning of a coming famine. On hearing this news, the believers gathered what they could together and sent it with Barnabas and Saul to relieve those living in Judea.

            This brings to mind Christ’s words in John 15, “You did not choose Me but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide...” The fruit that they bore in those very early days continues to abide with us and in us today. The gifts of the Spirit that the early believers expressed—encouragement, teaching, prophecy, evangelism, and giving—were gifts of love with which God prepared each of these people to love others through actions and works that can only be explained by the power and goodness of God. And the love of God was spread beyond Jerusalem, and Judea. The Great Commission was happening, all because they loved God and loved their neighbors.

            How do we love like this? When Moses gave the Law, it was to teach us what loving God and others looks like. It was given as a snapshot of what God wanted, with its practices designed to teach us how to love God. But we continually battle with the idea that its practices prove our love, when our practices should come out of our love, not because its what we must do, but because it’s what we want to do.

            My daily devotional practice can look the same whether I do it to look pious or I do it because I love God and want to spend time with Him. In this kind of day-to-day living, only He can truly tell the difference between legalism and love. Church attendance looks the same whether we come to worship or we want to check the box of church attendance in our quest for righteousness. The question of motivation matters greatly to God, though.

            What if we look at our Christian service as an act of love rather than an act of obligation? How would it change us? More important, how would it change the world?

Love, and let your love lead your actions. In this way the law will be fulfilled.

ONE LOVE

Acts 8:26-40; Ps 66:1-8; 1 Jn 3:11-24; Jn 14:15-21

The early Christians had quite a reputation. In the 1st century, they were commonly known to do things like rescue abandoned children  to raise them as family, and risk their own lives to care for people that had fallen prey to diseases and plagues. They gave up their own possessions to those who had need, knowing that this world was not their true home, but a place in which to shine the grace of God for the time they were in it. They existed for the benefit of those around them. In a word, they were known for their love. Not just words of love, as 1 John says, but deeds and truth. They kept the commandments of Christ, and He was manifested through them.

            The church began to change, though. Through the centuries, through persecutions and disagreements on points of understanding, different sects of the church began to distinguish themselves from other Christians by what they believed about Christ and about the gospel. Those days were the beginning of what is now 40,000+ different denominations of Christianity that believe essentially the same things, but differ on some of the finer points of how to express and to teach about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today, what a church believes and expresses on their website is the most important thing about them. Correct doctrine has overcome love, and we are all poorer for it.

            Even as I write this, I know many will disagree with me. And I want to be clear;  it matters what we believe! But the minors have become majors and the church is weak and sick with the fallout. We have limited time and energy, both in a day-to-day sense and in a cosmic sense. Couldn’t we spend our time much more productively if we went back to being known for our love instead of our correct doctrine? The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians “knowledge puffs up; love builds up.” How can we build up the church for the good of the world today?

~Get to know someone who has been taught different things than you about the life of a Christian. And marvel at the goodness of God to bring us together in Christ. 

wise sheep

Acts 4:23-37; Ps 23; 1 John 3:1-10; John 10:11-16

            We all have heard the jokes among Christians about the stupidity of sheep, and we make fun of ourselves for being just like them. But a little note on Psalm 23 in my Life Application Study Bible made me think about the whole comparison differently. It reminded me that sheep are not just passive, stupid animals, but obedient followers. Though they do go astray, they learn to follow the shepherd because he keeps them inside the safe boundaries that lead to a life of flourishing.

            A good shepherd cares so much for his sheep, in fact, that he will do whatever is necessary to protect them, even from their own carelessness. One method a shepherd will use sounds particularly harsh, but it is very effective.

            If he has a lamb that is prone to wander, a shepherd will break the leg of that lamb, causing it to be unable to walk. Then, he will carry the lamb around his own shoulders as it heals. The close proximity and utter dependence forms a bond between the shepherd and the lamb that will remain long after the leg has healed. Though the pain caused by the broken leg is severe, the resulting dependence forms the lamb’s future mindset as it learns the importance of staying close to it’s source of safety and care. The shepherd is not just an option; he is life.

            When we think about this in terms of our life of discipleship, we can understand better some of the hardships we face and the question of “why” has at least a framework of an answer. Our Shepherd cares for us with love and mercy. He is invested in us! He has laid down His life for the sheep.

            Though hardships come in many forms and degrees, He will always invite us to draw closer to Him, to bring our weakness and wounds to Him, to learn another level of what it means to depend on Him, and to find once again that He is good. Though the analogy of the shepherd breaking the leg is imperfect— I do not believe He directly causes our wounds— He does actively participate in holding us and healing us so that when we are whole again, we come out of it closer than ever to our Source, our Protector, our Healer. And we learn again why staying close to Him is not a limitation; it’s where we find true freedom.

benefits

Acts 4:5-14; Ps 98; 1 Jn 1:1-2:2; Luk 24:36-49

     Why would you want to be a Christian? An unbeliever may ask you that one day—what would be your answer? On the surface, it seems to make life harder. You give the church part of your money. You spend your free time serving others instead of relaxing and enjoying yourself. The decisions you make about your life don’t belong only to you; they are guided and dictated by an ancient book and an invisible God. And the highest calling for a Christian is to follow One who hung on a Cross, rejected and betrayed. It sounds like a pretty dismal life.

            If you ignore all the benefits, that is. After the Cross comes resurrection. Giving of time and money means we get to see God multiply our efforts beyond our wildest imagination. Our decisions are based on wisdom instead of selfish desires. The Holy Spirit opens our minds so we can understand the Scriptures. We are healed; we are saved. Our relationships become stronger than our human efforts can make them. We find joy in the God of our salvation, Whose right hand makes all things possible. We gain the perspective of those that serve another King, for whom the darkness and death of this world will not have the final say.

            He heals all our diseases, and redeems our life from the pit. He crowns us with love and compassion, and satisfies our desires with good things (Ps 103). We have no need to ever despair, because He is always ready to help us, to save us, to deliver us from our own dismal failures and the pains we receive in this world.

            These are just a few of the benefits. When I was young and first said ‘yes’ to Jesus, I did it mostly because I was afraid of going to hell. When I was asked to share Jesus with others, I had no idea what to say. I had to experience Him, to be with Him, to have His Spirit open my mind to understand the Scriptures and to know the healing power He brought to my life, and the lives of those around me. Every experience of Him added to what I could tell others. But I had to start somewhere, with that first ‘yes,’ and all the smaller ‘yeses’ that came after. The more I said yes, the more benefits I experienced. That’s how I know that I have been with Jesus. My prayer is that others would know I have been as well.

~Make a list of all the benefits afforded us in salvation. Look at it often, and thank God in Christ for them.

believing

Acts 3:12a, 13-15,17-26 1 John 5:1-5 John 20:19-31

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”(John 20:30-31)

            These two verses, penned by the Apostle John near the end of his gospel account of Christ, are known as the “purpose statement” for this writing. John is a unique account of Christ, set apart from what is called the synoptic gospels as the writings of ‘the disciple who Jesus loved.’ It is written in the simplest language of the time, assuring that almost anyone could read and understand it. In fact, for those new believers that want to read the Bible but don’t know where to start, this book is most often suggested as a great place to start. It is here that we find the term ‘believe’ used again and again.

            The word itself is a translation of the Greek word ‘pistuo.’ This word means to believe, yes. But it is what’s known as a present perfect verb, meaning it expresses an ongoing action, not just a one time mental assent. In other words, belief involves action, sustained action. And all that brings me to Thomas, the disciple known for his doubt.

            I love Thomas. I so relate to him! In my doubts and indecision, I spent way too much time running from my destiny. Thomas was running, also. How do I know? Because he wasn’t there when everyone else was the first time Jesus appeared. No doubt he was somewhere in a panic, trying to figure out what to do next. But for whatever reason he came back, and when he did, his eyes saw what his mind could not believe. And when his eyes saw, he had just enough faith to stretch out his hand to feel the wound in Jesus’ side. “My Lord and my God!” was his stunned response. And that was only the beginning...

            Ultimately, Thomas’ faith carried him to India as a missionary, where he was martyred around 72 AD. All because he kept following in the midst of his doubts, and stretched out his hand to test what his eyes were seeing. Such small acts. But acts of faith don’t need to be big. They only need to be directed to the right Person.

~Is there a doubt you need to overcome? Stretch out your hand and experience life in His name.

he is risen

Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:14-17,22-24; Col 3:1-4; Mark 16:1-8


Easter is my favorite day of the year, set in the midst of my favorite season of the year. In the spring, we literally see the new life springing up all around us. The cool breezes are still beating back the heat of summer, and even the sun has a special glow, in between the hazy clouds of winter and the blistering blaze of desert heat.

            It’s most special to me, though, because it was during this season about 25 years ago that I finally got off the fence I had been straddling for a long time. Though I knew Christ, I also knew that my life would have to change drastically if I were going to really follow Him. I was afraid. What would I have to give up to follow Him? How could I turn my life in such a totally different direction?

            It was around Good Friday that year, when I was out riding my horse alone, that I made the decision that would change everything. I realized that in order to find out what He would want, I would first have to take a step of faith and say “yes.” Not yes to what I knew, but to what I could not know; a future of truly following Him. I still remember that moment. It quite literally felt like I was getting off my horse on the other side, no longer straddling both sides of this life of faith. I stepped off to a new life, and nothing has been the same since.

            The things I was afraid of losing, I never noticed were gone. Things that were so meaningless, I can’t even tell you now what they were. In their place I have found miracles, and joys indescribable, and meaning that transcends this life into eternity. And the journey is not over. In fact, it will never end. It will simply change, from the simple pleasures of this life full of hope, to the glory of that hope fulfilled.

            Jesus has defeated death, hell and the grave. I chose my favorite icon today, The Harrowing of Hell, because it illustrates so clearly what Christ has done. The people He pulls out of the grave by their wrists are Adam and Eve, a picture of their absolute helplessness and His absolute power. At His feet are the gates of Hell, forever to remain defeated by Him. The bound man represents bondage to death, a symbol of what He is destroying by His resurrection. He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! And because He lives, we can live a life we never imagined.

CALVARY ROAD

Isa 52:13 - 53:12 Ps 22:1-11 Phil 2:5-11 Mark 14:32-15:39

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus...” is Paul’s introduction to what is called the kenosis, or the self-emptying of Christ. He goes on to say that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We joke a lot about humility. They say it’s the one virtue that the moment you think you have it, you lose it. And I can personally attest to catching myself feeling proud of my humility!

            On the other hand, thinking that humility is considering yourself worthless is also a misunderstanding. Jesus certainly did not consider Himself worthless. Yet He is our example of humility. So what are some things we see in the readings that show us what humility is in the life and death of Christ?

            First, we see that humbling ourselves is an action, not a feeling. Jesus did humble things. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth.” “We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God...but He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities...” Jesus did what only He could do in order to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

            Also, humbling myself isn’t about thinking poorly of me. As Lewis says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.” In a less dramatic way, this is the lesson Paul teaches the Philippian church. He says “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Like the self-emptying of Christ, we come to church setting aside our own preferences and priorities and seek the best interests of others. That is humility.

            Finally, humbling ourselves is about giving up our rights. Jesus could have stopped His road to Calvary at any point. He had every right. He had no sin; He had the status equal to God the Father; He had the power of the universe at His command; and He had not done anything even illegal. But He gave all that up and submitted to the will of evil people so that for a moment in time, it seemed He’d been defeated.

“Jesus breathed His last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” For a moment, His humility led to His death.

            But that’s not the whole story. His death was only the beginning. All because He acted humbly, thinking more of others than Himself, and letting go of His rights. He is our model and promise. Can we follow this Calvary road?

HEART'S DESIRE

Jer 31:31-34 Ps 51:10-15 Heb 4:14 - 5:10 John 12:20-36

When I was a little girl, we had a ritual in our home every year, about 3 months before Christmas. The Sears Wishbook would come in the mail, and my three sisters and I would take turns going through it, picking out the things we wanted for Christmas.

There were years when I thought I might die if I didn’t get the thing that I wanted. But today I couldn’t tell you what any of those treasures were, and whether I ever actually got any of them.

            Over the years, my desires have certainly changed, from toys to cars to houses. I’ve gotten some things I wanted, and others I’ve had to let go. But my heart is fickle; most of the things I have gotten only satisfied me for a short time; then soon, new and different things began to catch my eye. And the ones that got away quickly faded from my memory, not nearly as important as I thought.

            Through all of the years though, I’ve come to see that what I was looking to satisfy could not be found in material treasures. I want contentment, peace, security, fulfillment, comfort, happiness, and joy. Those trinkets that call my name promise to fill these needs, but they lie. What they deliver instead is disappointment, distress, preoccupation, and ultimately a sense that I have settled for too little, and I need to try again. Which leads me right back into the same cycle, over and over again.

            But I am learning make different choices. Because God wrote His law on my heart, and sent His Spirit to seal me as a guarantee, I began to have different desires. I have slowly realized the empty promises of this life, and the pain that grasping onto temporal things can cause. Because He has forgiven my sin, I can live free from the need to fill my empty places with things, and I have the ability to come with confidence before His throne of grace and receive mercy. In Christ, I keep my life forever, and it is a life that I won’t want to trade in.

            Is there anything you have set your heart on, anything that you are sure will fill that empty place in you? That promise is a lie. Turn away from it, and turn to the Truth. Only He offers an eternal satisfaction guarantee.

one king

2 Chro 36:14-23; Psa 122;  Eph 2:1-10; Jhn 6:1-15

“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

 

The Jews wanted Jesus to be their king, since He miraculously provided bread and fish for them. This desire highlights once again the main weakness of the people. They wanted to see where their provision came from, and control the source. Throughout their history, they struggled to wait on God, instead repeatedly taking matters into their own hands. The result was obvious in our OT reading this week; their long journey into idolatry and pagan rituals led finally to a long season of Babylonian captivity, where they would have to learn the ways of God all over again in a hostile culture. How did they go so wrong?

            We don’t have to look far into their history to trace their path. 1 Samuel 8 records the words of God through Samuel when they insisted on having a king. After a list of all the things a king would demand of them, He says, “18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” Still, they wanted a king. So He gave them one, and they followed their kings eventually into captivity.

            Human nature hasn’t changed. We look for someone to fill our needs, or to accomplish our desires, or to be responsible for our well being. When we think we’ve found them, we throw caution to the wind and follow them with all our hearts. Rarely do we stop to count the cost of what it means to serve them, and whether they are worthy of our trust and loyalty. It’s only when they betray us that we begin to understand that there really is only one King.

            There is only One worthy of all adoration, and worship, and complete trust. It is the one who refuses to sit on His throne until it’s time. The heart of this King is true; His burden is light; His compassion is endless. His love is undeserved and unquenchable. He never requires more of His subjects than He has already given Himself. Even the life we give Him is given back to us, abundantly and eternally. All other kings pale and fail in comparison. Only this King gives more than He takes.

~What do you need that only a King can do? Ask, and it shall be given to you.

SIN REVEALED

Ex 20:1-21; Ps 19:7-14; Rom 7:12-25; John 2:13-22

Romans 7:24... “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I came to Christ in a tiny Baptist Church when I was 18 years old. I wasn’t at all sure about what I was doing. I just knew I didn’t want to go to hell when I died. I also knew I wasn’t good enough to be a Christian, and spent much of my first few years of salvation asking whether it had really made any change in my life. But looking back, I don’t think I had a clue just how much change I needed.

            In the first years, I saw some of the big problems in my life; addictions, toxic relationships, and dishonesty in many forms. In those years God made some major changes in me and in my life. But that was just the beginning.

            As I learned to walk more closely with Him, I began periodically having what I think of now as epiphanies, moments of clarity where I saw a new sin in my life, bringing conviction and slow but steady change. These were not new areas of sin, just areas I had never recognized as such. Slowly but surely, God continued His work, with some periods of growth and change, followed by times of learning to walk more confidently in His Truth.

            Now, I find that God is dealing with the finer points of things, like ungodly attitudes and thought patterns, as well as my speech and other areas where I need more self-control. And He is continuing to change me, convict me and make me more of the person He’s called me to be in Christ. That work will continue until the day I stand face-to-face with Him, and as that time draws closer, I find that I am more eager than ever before to obey in every way.

            In our small group study this week, we talked about what it might have been like if God had shown us all of our sin at the moment of salvation. It makes me appreciate the fear of the Israelites when they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” If we knew how much sin lived in us at the beginning, I think we too would expect death.

            This, to me, is a testimony of God’s grace. He shows us what we need to deal with, and gives us time to turn from it before He shows us another area. And all the while, though we are never sin-free, He calls us righteous because we have trusted Christ to intercede for us, to be sin for us, and to give Himself as the only worthy payment. Praise God for your salvation, for the sin He has graciously revealed and the ones He has yet to show you. All of it is grace. Thank You Jesus! 

MINDSET

Gen 22:1-14; Ps 16; Rom 8:31-39; Mk 8:31-38

In Romans 8, Paul tears down every objection to trusting God through all of the crazy circumstances in which the early church found themselves. He says if we know that God loves us and we are safe in His love, than what can possibly defeat us? Notice that all the possible attackers are of this world.

The Roman Christians were worried about men, and what they might do. Paul is saying who cares? You are safe in the love of God and even if they do their worst and kill you, you still win! Because God has already won, and as long as you set your mind on His interests, you win with Him.

            If we look at some of Paul’s final words in his second letter to Timothy, we can see he never lost that mindset. Right before his execution, he wrote, (4:18) “The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever! Amen.”

Paul knew his time on this earth was about to end. But this doesn’t sound like a man who is defeated! In all his suffering, Paul never stopped setting his mind on the things of God. If he was attacked by a mob, he took the opportunity to preach to them! And we don’t need to wonder how that worked out for him, since we’re reading his words today, 2000 years later. This verse alone has been a tremendous encouragement to me in times of doubt and discouragement. We cannot fail. We only need to keep showing up and as Paul says in Galatians, “not grow weary in doing good.”

            We need our minds set on the things of God like never before. I truly believe that the days of passive Christianity are over. This world is growing darker every day, and though we live in the realm of men, we represent God’s kingdom on earth. If we process and react to current events with our minds on the things of men, we will serve Satan. That’s what Jesus says. We must learn to see through to what God is doing, and process and react according to His mindset. More than a dozen times in the NT we are commanded to fix our minds on things above, or on Jesus. That is a discipline; it’s not something we’ll just naturally do.

There’s only one way I know to do this. We have to spend time in His word and thinking about His ways every day, if we want to have His mindset.           

The world is clamoring for our attention! I learned in spiritual formation classes that we are always being formed spiritually. The only question is in whose image we will be formed.

What do you set your mind on? Change your habits to change your mind.

 

I’M WAITING...

Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:3-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-13

What does the Christian virtue of patience have to do with temptation? This question struck me as I read through our passages this week. The themes of waiting on God seemed to run through the verses. Peter said God waited while Noah built the ark. Jesus stayed in the desert for forty days being tempted. And Noah himself I think wins the prize for the humans who have showed patience. Over one hundred years to build it, in a place that had never seen rain. Forty days of flooding, lashed into a boat full of stinky animals. Then an uncertain length of time waiting for the flood to recede, and the land to dry, only to be faced with a world in which they are almost starting from scratch.

            Think of all the temptations Noah faced. The humiliation of community members ridiculing what he was doing. Remember, these people would have never seen a boat! The drudgery of building this massive ark, year after year, after year. His understanding of what God was going to do when it was finished; everyone he knew was doomed except his own family.

            The temptation to doubt, to quit, to join the party while it lasted, must have faced him at some points. Then, the rain started and the reality of the end of all living creatures surely led to a desire to despair, and to wonder what was the point of living. But Noah patiently persevered right up to the day that God made His covenant to never again flood the earth.

            His downfall is so undramatic it would be easy to miss. After standing strong and warding off the temptations surrounding him, he succumbed to a careless disregard for overindulgence of wine. Though his sons certainly made their own decisions, his drunken stupor led to the cursing of Canaan through Ham (9:21-27). Noah’s stellar record was marred, and the whole nation paid the consequences.

            Jesus, on the other hand, suffered temptation to its full extent and never succumbed. There is theological debate over whether Christ was not able to sin, or able not to sin. Either way, He was tempted to the greatest degree possible without taking matters into His own hands. The Cross is the ultimate example of waiting on God through temptation.

            Waiting is so hard! When we wait for a God we can’t see, and don’t even really know what we’re waiting for Him to do, the urge to act can overwhelm us. But when we experience His perfect solutions in His perfect time, the experience is so powerful we wonder why we ever thought we should act on our own. Until the next time, that is.

            Lent is the season to practice waiting on God. What situation are you trying to resolve? What solutions are you tempted to try? You have forty days of Lent to practice waiting, and praying, and trusting that God will act on your behalf. I’m praying that we all remember to “be still and know that He is God.” 

UNVEILED

1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 27; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Mark 9:2-9

        I recently heard a true story of a romance gone wrong that is mind-boggling. It was the story of a newswoman who fell in love with the person that was the subject of a documentary she was producing.

            This man had everything; an amazing career, powerful friends, and world renown for his accomplishments. As the romance grew, the couple planned a life together that most people could only dream of. They prepared for a wedding in Italy, inviting 300 of their friends to come and celebrate with them.

            Two weeks before the wedding, a good friend of the bride told her a puzzling story that didn’t make sense with the details of their wedding. She decided to check the story out, and thus began the unraveling of a web of lies the groom had told which made a mockery of all she had hoped and dreamed and loved about this man and the life he promised. He had exaggerated and outright faked most of his accomplishments; the ‘powerful friends’ had never heard of him; and most stunning of all, the ex wife he had told her about was not ex at all. They were living together with their children in a home in Spain.

            As the dream became a nightmare, this humiliated woman had to cancel the wedding, send apologies to many friends who would lose the money they’d paid for airfare, and try to process what had happened. She had given up her job and her home and taken her young daughter out of school in anticipation of their move. Her life was shattered, and it took years for her to pick up the pieces.

            This story is chilling, but what does it have to do with Jesus? Only this; that I can’t stop comparing the uncovering of this man’s lies to the uncovering of the Truth of Christ. As we come to the end of our Epiphany season, we have watched week by week as Christ revealed Himself and His purpose one layer at a time. His transfiguration is the ultimate unveiling. What the disciples witnessed on the mountain gave them the puzzle piece they needed as they prepared for their testing, “This Man is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” said God. As they descended the mountain, they had all they needed to know in the days of trials to come.

            Unlike the “hero” of the story I heard this week, the Transfiguration proved that Christ was who He said He was, and would do what He said He would do. When we peel back a layer of His story, we find only truth. There is always more truth to learn, but there is no danger of disappointment. Every time we dig a little deeper, the story grows. But it is a true story, not the fabrication of a deceptive man. As we are tested in this Lenten season, may we remember the vision of who he truly is, and listen to Him.

DISCIPLEMAKERS

Gen 12:1-3; Ps 86:8-13 Rev 7:9-17; Matt 28:16-20

Our gospel reading this week is so familiar that it can be easy to think that we know exactly what it says. We even have a title for it—The Great Commission. But before we rush past it to read something new, I’d like to pause and consider what it’s really saying.

            The gist of it is Jesus’ command,  “Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you.”

            First, have you ever noticed that this is really two parts? Making a disciple of Christ requires more than convincing them to say a prayer. It even requires more than baptizing them. I think we like to gloss over the hard part, because it is so hard...”teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...”

            Terms here are very important. Teaching them to observe means teaching them to obey. It doesn’t mean getting them to memorize verses or to understand deeper doctrines. It means helping them learn how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. All of His commands means just what it says, all. And maybe this is where we get discouraged and quit. It’s overwhelming! Where do we start?

            A quick search for how many commands Jesus gave came up with about fifty explicit ones. Anybody who knows their Bible could probably recite several of them. But what if we just started with one? If we are serious about following Jesus, one should be easy, and it should be easy to pass on. In order to avoid differences in interpretations, I won’t choose one like “take up your cross and follow Me.” That’s too vague. Instead, I will choose an easy one to understand. Matt 5:44 says “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Easy to understand; we all know who our enemies are. But love them? Pray for them? Impossible!

            Unless of course you follow Jesus, and His Spirit dwells in you. You just need someone further down the road with Him who can help you understand why this is so important and how it reflects the kingdom of God. That teaching takes time, and trust, and a track record of faithfulness to God and to Truth.

            Paul said it best in 1 Cor. 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” This is our calling. So simple, but so hard! As we pray for the world on this World Mission Sunday, let’s also pray for ourselves, that we will fulfill all of The Great Commission. Making disciples is hard, messy, at times discouraging work. But it is our work to do.

weakness

Deut 18:15-22; Ps 111; 1 Cor 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

            As I write this, I am celebrating a terrible, but special, anniversary. Three years ago today, I was life-flighted to Banner Hospital. I still confuse many of the details; from my perspective, I went to sleep in my own bed on February 2nd, 2018, and when I finally became aware of my surroundings again I was in a hospital bed and the date was February 17th. It took some time, but I came to understand that an aneurysm had burst in my brain, causing what doctors call a hemorrhagic stroke. My life is a miracle. But my life is also different than it used to be.

            As I’ve healed, I’ve grown aware of new limitations in my life. I tire easily, and need much more sleep than I once did. I have moments of confusion when two things I’m trying to say get tangled together and I can’t figure out what I mean to express. I spend many days in a bit of a fog, and skills like time management are things of the past.

It has been frustrating and at times humiliating to try to accomplish what I want to do and to fulfill my responsibilities.

            Now that I’m three years out though, I have begun to focus less on my limits and more on God’s abundance. Our collect this week said “Grant that your strength and protection may support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation,” and I can say without a doubt He has done that. He did it through having my daughter find me semi-conscious and call 911. He placed me in the right place and time to cross paths with the neurosurgeon who treated me. He placed me in this body of Christ, King’s Cross, to be supported and surrounded by prayers, visits and lots of other help.

            He has continued to patiently carry me as I questioned His purpose and timing, and battled dark depression that left me questioning why I am still here, and what I have to contribute to a busy American Church where we are judged by how much we serve. He has given me a new appreciation for things like rest, quiet, and a slower pace of life.

He has blessed me with strong relationships with my family and friends. And as my brain continues to heal, I have slowly begun to rejoin life.

            It is all His time, His way. My life is not mine, it’s His. If He wants me here, there’s a reason, so I will practice thanking Him for each day. His mercies truly are new every morning.

CALLED

Jer 3:19-4:4; Ps 130; 1 Cor 7:17-24; Mark 1:14-20

            The day that permanently changed our lives was just an ordinary Sunday. Kevin had stayed at church to do his Bible study, and I was at home. When he came home, he said he needed to tell me something. He said, “God is calling me to get out of the Army and go into full-time ministry.” I was horrified! “Have you lost your mind?” were the first words out of my mouth.

            That was the beginning of a different life for us. Though it didn’t all turn out anything like either of us thought at the beginning, that call set us on a path to follow where God led. Because of that, we have both spent a lot of time thinking and talking about God’s call. What is it, and will you know it when you hear it?

            This week’s readings give many examples of God’s call and our response. In Jeremiah He calls His people to repentance; they have repeatedly chosen other gods, and He is calling them back to Himself. The Psalmist calls His people to hope in Him. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians calls them to be content in Him. And Jesus calls the disciples to follow Him.

            Each of these calls comes with a promise. He gives salvation, blessings, contentment in life, and redemption. Follow Him and He says He will make us fishers of men. There is no downside to answering His call, whatever it may be. Though He does not promise an easy life, He does promise a blessed one.

            Do you sense the blessings of God in your life? I’m talking about things far beyond material wealth, perfect relationships, and easy circumstances. The blessing I mean is a sense of wellbeing and peace regardless of what’s happening around you, a security that comes only from God. He is calling all of us to that kind of blessing. Have you responded?

speak, lord

1 Sam 3:1-20 Ps 63:1-9; 1 Cor 6:9-20; John 1:43-51 

Is that really God speaking? Or me? How many times have you wrestled through that thought? It isn’t always clear. In this age of misinformation and even purposeful deception, trying to sort out what is true from what’s false can be extremely confusing. How do we know who to listen to? It seems a better time than ever to revisit the God we know. The better we know Him, the more secure we can feel in these insecure times.

            1 Samuel introduces us to the boy Samuel. His mother Hannah had dedicated him to the Lord in gratitude for his birth, so he’d been in the temple since he was weaned from her. Eli the priest had cared for him and taught him. It was a dark time in Israel; the passage says “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” God was about to do a new thing, and Samuel was part of that plan. But the first time God spoke to him, he didn’t even know what was happening. When God spoke, Samuel heard Eli. It was Eli who realized what was happening and instructed Samuel to listen. Through Samuel’s words of prophecy, God’s voice set a new direction for the priesthood.

            “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” This statement about Samuel holds hope for all of us. We can grow like Samuel, in our knowledge and experience of God, especially in these times. The hopelessness and helplessness of our world situation gives us the best motivation and the greatest need we have ever had to know Him more. And we have everything we need to know Him, to experience Him, and to glorify Him.

            As believers, we have the Holy Spirit. We have Scripture. We have prayer, and the promise that God hears and answers our prayers. The power is not in the prayer! It’s in the God to whom we pray. He hears our silent prayers as loud as He hears us shout. And Jesus ever lives to intercede for us. We know that, because we know Him.

            Finally, we have each other. The isolation of COVID may make us feel alone. But have you considered that God’s work is to give us tools like phones, and Zoom, and all the other forms of technology we have available to stay in touch? No, it’s not as easy as it used to be. But maybe the effort required is part of God’s work in us, to teach us new ways to glorify Him in this new world.

            When we act on what we know of Him, we experience Him in new ways. And as we grow in Him, we glorify Him more. So we can ask the question like Nathanael, “Can anything good come out of Coronavirus?” As we hear God’s voice, trust His character, and pay attention to His ways, the answer is yes. God can be glorified through us.

servants

Isa 42:1-9 Ps 89:20-29; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11

One danger we face in the church today is consumerism. As Americans, we always look for value in our investments, and we’re taught that the more you get for your time and money, the better the deal. This leads us to ‘shop’ for a good deal when we go to church; do they have what I/we want? Do we like the way they look and sound? Do we leave every service feeling like well-fed sheep?

That mindset means the churches that look and feel and sound the best become mega churches. It also means that the church faces the temptation to please people so they’ll choose us out of their many options. This often makes for a fun church to visit. But what happens when those ‘awesome’ churches face a crisis?

            We are seeing what happens when great attractors become great failures. If you follow any Christian news at all you have heard about the scandals that are taking down some of the most popular Christian celebrities. And the massive fallout they leave in their wake means dozens or even hundreds of lives are shaken to the foundations. What happens to cause such calamities? I think we can trace it back to one little word we forget in the life of the church‑the word “servant.”

            The church is a body of servants, not customers or bosses. We are called to the attitude of David, of Peter, of John the Baptist, and Jesus. Our readings this week highlight our identity in Christ as a people who serve God, and by extension His creation. We do not own our lives anymore. As servants of God, we live to please Him and do His will. This includes, but isn’t limited to, the local body of believers. It means that in every area of life—personal relationships and work and every other public venue—we listen to and obey the Master. Nothing is off limits in the way our servanthood guides our lives.

            John the Baptist understood this better than most. He knew that his job was only to announce the Messiah. He didn’t presume to deserve special treatment. In fact, he made it clear he considered himself unworthy even to tie Jesus’ shoes. He lived like a servant, and he died like a servant. As did Jesus.

            Do you think of yourself as a servant? If you want to test yourself, think about how  you react when someone treats you like one?

Because Jesus

Jer 31:7-14; Ps 84; Eph 1:3-14; Matt 2:13-23

Yesterday in his homily, Father Pete juxtaposed the kingdom of Herod against the kingdom of God, illustrating why we need Jesus by the reminder of the “Herod” who lives inside each of us, demanding power and control at all costs. But the story of Herod’s attack on the small boys of the land drew me up short and made me think about the evil in the world.

            There was a time I would have said, in answer to the question ‘does God cause bad things to happen?,’ that yes, He does, in the sense that what He has the power to stop, He doesn’t. He allows little boys to be murdered—in fact, these little boys were murdered in direct response to the birth of Christ. Because of Jesus, a king came unglued and went on a rampage. Because of Jesus, countless people have lost their lives to jealous tyrants over the centuries. Because of Jesus today Christians live in hiding in some countries, their lives in danger for claiming His name. Does that mean this is all somehow under the umbrella of God’s will?

            I won’t pretend to solve the problem of evil here. But I do think I have a better understanding now of how all this works together. Evil comes not from God, but from the broken world, a world that He gave us in pure perfection, and we broke like children playing with a toy too precious for them. Evil comes from that brokenness. Some of it is the evil that men do, men like Herod, or Judas, or Cain, or me.

            Some of it is the profound disunity of nature and people and God that happened in the fall. Think cancer and natural disasters. What I understand now though, is that God so loved the world, Christ entered into all of the mess we made as one of us, with the ultimate goal of setting everything right. In the fullness of time, He will finish what He started. In the meantime, He enters in, walking with us, crying with us, praying with us, dying for us, until the day comes that He makes all things new again. It is not an easy journey, and we see plenty of evil on the way. Nothing has changed since Herod.

            But because of Jesus, we have hope. Because of Jesus we can rejoice that this is not the end of the story. Because of Jesus we have more riches than the richest of men. Read our Ephesians passage for a glimpse of all we have to celebrate. Evil may yet live for now. But it does not reign. It cannot. Because Jesus does.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Isa 61:10-62:5; Ps 147:13-21; Gal 3:23-4:7; John 1:1-18

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”(John 1:12-13)

John Chapter One is so full of truth and layers of meaning that it’s breathtaking. There’s one little phrase I want to focus on today, because I think that embracing it’s fullness would change our lives. It’s the phrase, “believed in His name.”

            Names in the Hebrew tradition were full of not only meaning, but description. This is why God sometimes changed a name to signify the change in a person. Two examples come to mind immediately; Abram, who became Abraham, and Saul, who became Paul. The small change in the name meant a change in identity. And the name became not just a label but a description.

            Jesus is called many names in Scripture. As a young believer, this was baffling and confusing to me, until I started understanding what the names said about His identity and work. I could not list them all here, but I’ll give a sampling. There is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” There is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of everything. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the path to truth that leads to life. He is the Lamb of God, the only sacrifice that will satisfy forever our sin debt. He is our Faithful Witness, whose testimony is 100% reliable. He is the Bread of Life, who gives us the only food that will sustain us forever. He is the Good Shepherd, who cares for us when we can’t care for ourselves, who protects us and guides us. These of course are just a few, and as you can see, these few names tell us enough about Him to know He is Worthy. And that leads me to the other part of the phrase, “who believe.”

            Belief is not just a nod of the head. Believing in His name means life changing acknowledgment and actions that all He says He is, we know to be true. It means we act according to Who He is, not who we are. Immanuel tells me I am never alone, even when it feels like I am. Faithful Witness means that what He says is absolutely trustworthy. Good Shepherd means that He is always protecting and guiding and caring for me. Believing these things is not just a one-time event. It is a way of life that changes my focus and my fears and helps me honor His truth in times when truth is hard to find.

There is only one Truth. Believe in Him and all the other truths—and lies—will become clear.

PROMISES, PROMISES

2 Sam 7:1-17; Ps 132: 8-19; Rom 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

            Making a promise is the easiest thing in the world. Keeping it is not. A promise is defined as “a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified.” I have lived long enough to make and break many promises, and to be on the receiving end of such treatment as well.

            Most promises are broken for good reason. Life happens, and we cannot always fulfill what we’ve said we will do. We are only as good as our strength, our resources, and our lifespan can make us. This is why the most binding of promises we make in this life, the marital covenant, has so many conditions in it. Sickness and health, better or worse, etc. And the only way out is death. Thus the admonition and promise, ‘til death do us part.

            I am so thankful that our God is not like us! In our readings this week I counted 34 direct or implied promises that God made. Many of His statements included reminders of all the past promises He kept, so that the listener could remember and trust Him. “What God has done in the past is a model and a promise of what He will do in the future” is one of the most helpful quotes I got from my time in school. Along with the reminder, He is too creative to do things the same way twice.

            And that leads us through the long years of waiting between His promises to David, and Gabriel’s words to Mary. God is in this for the long game. But He is keeping His promises, just as He has in the past. And unlike us, He has no reason to break them. He is eternal. He does not change. And as our Luke passage says, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

            God has promised to give us rest, to protect us, and to deliver us safely into His kingdom. No matter what we face between now and then, His word is sure and true. Stand on His promises, and no matter what, you will not fall.

~What promise of God do you struggle to believe? Pray and ask Him to give you faith that His promise is true.

rejoice!

Isa 65:17-25; Ps 126; 1 Thess 5:12-28;  John 3:22-30

What are we to do when God takes over our plans? As I thought about John the Baptists’ prophetic words, “He must increase, but I must decrease” I’m quite sure that John had no idea that his own death was close at hand. He had surrendered his life to the work of preparing the way, but like most of us, he had no idea where that way would lead him.

            Like John, we may choose to follow the way of Christ, but we cannot choose where that way leads us. We want a roadmap, a set of clear instructions, and a play book that says “if (a) happens, do (b).” We feel ill equipped to make decisions whose outcomes we can’t predict. After a time, we learn to live with the constant sense of helplessness, but few ever learn to be comfortable with it. How do we cope with such uncertainty?

            In a word, rejoice. Rejoice in a sure future with no more death, no more tears, no more loss. Rejoice in all that God has done in the past for His people and for us personally. Rejoice that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.

In John’s own words, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice.”

            Finally, rejoice that Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, quoted below, has been, is, and will continue being answered with a resounding “Yes!”

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Amen.

COMFORTED

Isa 40:1-11; Ps 85:1-13; 2 Pet 3:8-18; Mark 1:1-8

Comfort is a big commodity in our world today. Whether it’s a mattress, shoes, pillows, or clothes, this is probably the most often advertised advantage in a product. And it doesn’t stop there. We have comfort food, comfort zones, and the comforts of home. We all long for comfort, and we sacrifice other important qualities to get it. For evidence, just look at the popularity of Birkenstock shoes, whose ugliness is only surpassed by their amazing ability to conform to the foot of the wearer.

            We live in a world that leaves us seeking comfort wherever we can find it. This year of conflict and sickness and death strips away any illusions of a world that is safe and secure. The reality of its brokenness and eventual end is harder to ignore when we face such insurmountable problems every day. Every attempt to save it is met with a new set of equally challenging problems, and while politicians fight over how to save the world, the groans of pain and exhaustion get a little louder and more frequent every day.

            In addition, most of those places we look for comfort have costs of their own. Turning to other people is risky. Only those who have learned how to comfort themselves well can be any help. Many other forms of comfort, like eating, shopping, or snuggling under a blanket behind a locked door, have their own limitations. There is only One whose comfort costs us nothing, and whose only limitation is the boundaries we place on letting Him in.

            Isaiah’s words reflect the heart of God, “Comfort, comfort my people..” and God’s word reflects His heart for us. He promises His word is eternal, all-powerful, and will stand when everything else has burned. He promises it will bring peace and justice, salvation, and restoration. Ultimately He assures us that all will be made new, and our only challenge is to wait patiently and peacefully and faithfully as He prepares the way in us and through us. We need strength, and renewal and joy. And the way we find those things is through the comfort of His word.

            There’s only one catch. We must read it. Often. While it seems logical that once we’ve read and studied it, the comfort will be ours, that is faulty thinking. We may know what it says, but His word is alive, and active, and when we read it we aren’t just performing an intellectual exercise. We are listening to words of comfort directly from the Source of all comfort. And when we’ve received such comfort, we are equipped to offer it to others who don’t know where to look. We can offer the world a comfort no amount of money can buy. It’s our calling as comforted people in a comfortless world.

stay awake

Isa 64:1-9; Ps 80:1-7; 1 Cor 1:1-9; Mrk 13:24-37

            I’ve driven many, many miles in my years as a military wife. And one of the things I dreaded most on those trips the feeling of trying to stay awake when my mind and body wanted to sleep. The smart thing to do, of course, is to pull off the road and park so I could nap. But I must admit to many times just gritting my teeth and fighting the sleep, thinking I’ll sleep when I get there. I am certain I’ve been a hazard on roads on those days, and I’m thankful that God protected others and me from my own foolishness.

            Have you ever experienced that? I hope I’m not alone! When we have our minds set on a goal, it can be hard to take orders from our bodies to eat, or rest, or take care of any of our other mundane human needs. But when our body says “enough” it can be hard to argue.

            Jesus certainly knew that. How many times did He tell the disciples, “come away” or stop to eat and rest Himself? While it’s clear He often pushed His physical limits for certain seasons and purposes, He knew when to go and when to stay, when to fast and when to eat, when to pray and when to act.

            When we read His admonition to ‘stay awake,’ along with this explicit command is an unstated, implicit one. That is ‘take care.’ By this I mean, get the rest you need so when the time to wake comes, you will be prepared. As we enter into Advent, this seems a timely message.

            Advent is a time of preparation for the biggest event in history. His first coming is the biggest by far, up to now. But we also prepare for the event that will eclipse it, the return of our King. When He returns, everything will be shaken until only what cannot be shaken remains (Heb 12:27-29). We would be wise to spend our time tending to our spiritual health and strengthening our spiritual muscles for the Day.

            Advent is a perfect season to add a new spiritual practice, or to remove something that makes you spiritually sleepy. In the same way the physical rest we get affects our mood and energy, our spiritual health will only give back what we put into it. “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”(Rom 13:11).

That's our king

Rather than write my own thoughts this week, it seemed appropriate to  share the YouTube short version of the Lockridge sermon Father Pete referenced in his homily yesterday. It is inspired and inspirationsal. We need this reminder as often as we can get it right now. Click on the picture, watch and be blessed.