King's Cross Anglican Church Tucson
3 Year Lectionary
by Jennifer Callaway
King's Cross Anglican Church Tucson
3 Year Lectionary
by Jennifer Callaway
Isaiah 50:7; Psalm 116:1-9; Mark 9:20-27
The readings this week recall for me a time of desperation in my life that I hope never to repeat. In my weakness I seemed unable to pray, unable to muster up the faith I needed to survive. One afternoon in particular, I remember only being able to say the name, “Jesus” over and over again. But the faith—the tiny seed of faith—it took to say His name, was enough. Because I learned in the midst of that trial that it was not up to me to fight the battle. The only thing I needed to do was ask for help. He heard. He delivered me. And He has done the same thing many times since then, more times than I count. So often we talk about the power of prayer. This can lead to the mistaken conclusion that the power lies in the prayer itself, which means our prayers have to be long and eloquent for God to answer. The father of the boy in Mark 9 simply said, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” Simple and honest, no fancy words or specific expectations. Just “help.” He wanted to believe, and that was enough. Jesus heard him, and healed his son. He is still the Healer. He has given us the faith we need to ask. He only requires that we exercise that tiny seed of faith, and say the word “help.” ~What are you praying for right now? What do you need so desperately that you almost can’t bring yourself to ask for it? What do you struggle to believe that God will do?
When I was younger, I struggled with
different temptations than the ones I struggle with in older adulthood.
Different seasons bring different desires, and hopes, and fears. And in the
midst of those changing values, it can be easy to grow insensitive to the
Spirit of God as He convicts me. Fears about my health seem more normal; my expectations
shrink because of cynicism; pride in my accomplishments trumps humility at my
shortcomings. I’ve left behind the sins of my youth. But the sins of my
adulthood are always knocking at the door.
Thanks be to God, He hasn’t changed. His grace is still sufficient to withstand the assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil, no matter what they look like. We only need to ask, and He will intervene; sometimes by removing the temptation, but more often by fulfilling His promise to give us grace to withstand it. And if we fail, what a relief it is to ask for His forgiveness, knowing that in Christ He gives it, every time. That is what grace is! His love and mercy never fail, no matter how much we do.
What is your particular sin struggle? If you think you don’t have one, consider whether it might be pride. On the other hand, if you think you are too far gone to ever deserve God’s forgiveness, you are in the perfect condition to turn to God and say ‘help me.’ Because forgiveness is not about what we deserve, it’s all about grace. In Christ, it is the very recognition of our failure that brings God’s compassion. Don’t give up the struggle, but bring the struggle to the only One that never changes.
~What do you struggle with in your walk with Christ? Confess it, and ask Him to help you.
Deut 4:2; Mark 7:1-23
“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.”
Do you ever think about why you do the things you do, or avoid what you avoid? Many of us make daily choices in entertainment, activities and relationships that reflect our desire to please God in the way we live. We guard our hearts from corruption in order that our actions will be uncorrupted. This is a wise way to navigate the culture in which we live. It can, however, become a rulebook that keeps a stranglehold on our life in Christ.
Anything that takes priority over the love of God in us and through us is fair game for inspection. If we take pride in the purity of the movies we watch, but fail to guard our hearts from coveting someone else’s possessions, then we are in danger of an impure heart. If we fight for social justice by the politicians we support but don’t care for the poor around us, we must question our own motives and desires. If we attend every church activity but avoid the discomfort of caring for those who are hopeless and lonely in our neighborhood, we feel righteous without risking the rejection our Savior experienced.
If we take pride in our knowledge of the Bible but avoid doing what it says, we have indeed become the Pharisees at heart. If we rationalize our choices with anything other than love for God and His creation, we have become the Pharisees in action.
challenge for us this week is simple. Ask God to show you where your habits and
lifestyle choices reflect His love, and where they reflect your desire to
appear righteous. He will show you. And when He does, ask Him what change you
need to make in order to extend His love to the world.
Joshua 24:16; Psalm 16:1; John 6:67-69
On whom or what do you depend when you are in distress? Perhaps it’s a friend who always seems to know what to say. Maybe it’s a comforting kind of food, or a distracting activity like exercise, reading or watching TV. We are born with the desire to comfort ourselves, and life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice these behaviors. But God offers us a better way. Most human distress boils down to a fundamental fear of death. Think about this for a moment. Death is the ultimate loneliness. The end of all hope, the final meaninglessness for those who think this life is all there is. So the need to comfort our fear is almost mindless; whatever works will do. And this is how idols are formed. The Israelites sought comfort by assimilating to the culture around them, and pagan gods became their idols. Jesus’ disciples wanted privilege and power in the form of popularity, and in that way He ‘disappointed’ them again and again. Those who refused to walk with Him any longer declared their loyalty by their actions. Their idol was man’s approval, and Jesus refused to bow to this ‘god’. But Peter, in one of his amazing moments of clarity, followed Joshua’s example from centuries before when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” There is only one God. Father, Son and Spirit. Though we can choose to seek ‘life’ through all kinds of ‘gods,’ we can be assured that they will lead to death. There are many kinds of death, and many gods can lead us to them; death of relationships, death of purpose, and ultimately eternal death. But the One who leads us to Life, promises that He will give us not only eternal life, but abundant life. Only He is the true Bread. All other bread passes away, out of the body. When we learn to feed on the Bread of Heaven, we will find true life. ~Where do you turn for comfort when life is hard? What would it look like to turn away from those things, and turn to Christ?
Our readings this week focused partly on the need for wisdom in our walk in this world. The word ‘wisdom’ is defined as “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Of course, wisdom will always be limited by experience, knowledge and judgment. Or will it? When we are in relationship with Christ, and through Him with the Father and the Spirit, this insurpassable wealth of knowledge and experience is available to us. As we walk through life with Him, God reveals Himself in His Word and through our circumstances. Then He teaches us through those things to trust Him and learn from Him. We don’t just learn a bunch of facts, though. We learn who He is, His desire for us and for all His creation, His way of guiding us, and His completely trustworthy nature. By that learning, we grow in the knowledge of which way to go at every turn as we face the unknown future. Sometimes He shouts from the mountaintops, but other times He quietly requires us to go deeper in our knowledge of Him. These are the most precious times, as frustrating as they often feel. It’s through these times that, if we turn to Him, we experience Him more richly, and therefore gain in good judgment. The key then is simply to apply, by faith, the things we know, and trust that He will make the outcome profitable for our salvation (His ultimate goal). The effect is wisdom in the twists and turns of life. All true wisdom comes from Him, and He delights in giving it to His precious children. Rarely does He make decisions for us; we must seek and find, ask and receive, knock until the door opens. But when it opens, we can expect the Person on the other side to welcome us with open arms and teach us all we need to know to walk in wisdom. He just wants us to do it—one step at a time. ~What do you need wisdom for right now? Have you asked the source of all wisdom to guide you?
Deut 8:1-10; Psalm 34; Eph 4:35-5:2; John 6:37-51
What are you seeking God’s will about? It’s easy to get overwhelmed at the decisions life calls for—vocation, relationships, education, just to name a few. Have you spent a lot of time in prayer, and read books on how to discern His will, only to find after all that you aren’t any clearer than you were in the beginning?
I have good news for you! God makes His will clear in Scripture. In this week’s passages alone, He tells us enough of His will to keep us busy and on the right track for the rest of our lives. There are decisions in life that are just not that obvious, and we need His wisdom and insight. But if you are doing the things He has clearly given you to do, you will know Him better. And when you know Him better, you will know what He wants for you.
This is the point of life! Not what we do in our work, or where we live, or even who we marry. The interest He has in those things is more about how they drive us to Him than whether or not our life is self-fulfilling and happy. His desire is that we walk closely with Him, and all that He does in our lives accomplishes that, if we cooperate.
Following Christ with intention is a full time job. It requires self-control, and patience, and the humility to return to God with your failures again and again. It demands the willingness to risk offending other people in order to please God, by refusing to follow them into evil. This is the stuff our character is built on, and it happens just about every day.
If this were all we had to look forward to, it would be a hard path to walk. But the beauty on the path is the God who walks beside us, who waits at the end of the journey, and who dwells in us for power and assurance as we go. We do not walk alone. This is evident from the long list of “I wills” in the readings. As you read them, think about the fact that these are promises from a God who cannot fail us. If we think He has let us down in any way, the fault is not in God, but in our thinking about Him. He never breaks a promise!
His ultimate will was to give Himself so we might live forever. It’s because of this that we, in community, live the way we do. We sacrifice because He sacrificed. We forgive because He forgives. We speak truth because He is Truth. We are kind because God has been so kind to us. We are merciful to reflect His mercy. We are hopeful because He is the source of true hope. We are generous because His generosity overwhelms us.
Though we are pale reflections of our Heavenly Father, we nevertheless reflect Him in all that we do. His will is that we grow to reflect Him well.
~What has God clearly shown you of His will? Are you acting on it?
It was the manna that caused the Israelites to survive in the desert. (Ex 16). But the bread wasn’t given just to fill their hunger. It fell from Heaven so that they would know God. “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” Though they could only see their own physical needs, God knew that they had a much greater need, to know and believe Him, and put their hope and trust in Him. Christ encountered the same confusion. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6). Jesus fed them so they would recognize their Savior. Instead, they sought Him out only because He had fed their physical hunger. They were ignorant of the real hunger He could fill; real life, spiritual life that would free them from ever needing to eat again. He wanted to fill a need so profound that they couldn’t even recognize it; the need for true life. Today, people are no different. We think we know what we need. We pray for God to follow our instructions and solve our problems, our way. What might be different if we saw God not as our problem solver, but as the solution in Himself? What might change about our prayers and our lives if we asked God not to give us solutions but to give us Himself? It would certainly affect our problems. But the more important effect would be how we view those problems. We could see them as God sees them; important in that they drive us to Him. We could see them perhaps as opportunities to witness His work, and tell of His power and His mercy. This is the bread of life; the spiritual food that grows us up into faithful, obedient followers of Christ. And it is this bread that grows the church, the bread that we find when we look to the Source, and the bread we feed to others in the name of Christ. Are you seeking the true bread? He is worth the effort.
Our collect this week expresses an attribute of God that weaves throughout Scripture from the first words in Genesis to the last in Revelation. Our God gives. His resources are inexhaustible. His intentions are always our good. He gave the very thing that makes us worthy in His eyes—His Son. And in this Gift, we receive all other gifts. He gave us the prophets (2 Kings 2), who spoke His words to His people long before Christ walked the earth. He gave His prophets the miracles they needed to prove His worthiness, and He gave them one another to encourage, support, and together see a fuller picture of how He was working. He gave us the Psalms (114) to guide us in our worship of Him, teaching us line by line who He is, and who we are and are not. He used the Psalms to admonish, correct, and engage with His people when they were suffering and when they were celebrating. He gave His Son (Mark 6:45-52), who opened the eyes and hearts of a small group of people who, even in their failures and foolishness, managed to spread the truth of the gospel around the world until now, centuries later, we still resonate with its message. And He gave us, in the resurrection of Christ, the hope that we too can stand before Him with confidence, not in our own worthiness, but in the surpassing greatness of this gift. Finally, He gave us the church(Eph 4:1-16), this group of people whose tendency is to doubt, to question, and to repeatedly slide back into the darkness of our flesh. He gives us the church to sanctify us. He calls us to challenge and encourage and equip one another, recognizing that while we are one in the Spirit, we are many in diversity. And we all have one purpose; to glorify Him on the earth. One purpose. Many expressions. But every single one matters to One. Every member has a place, a calling, and a gift. Are you there? ~ How are you fulfilling the giving purpose of God in the church and in the world? If you’re not, what could you do to take a step in that direction today?
“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off (Gentiles) and
peace to those who were near (Jews). For through him (Christ) we both
(Jews and gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you
(gentiles) are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with
the saints (all believers) and members of the household of God, built on
the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the
Do you have the peace of God? Before you answer, think about the meaning of ‘peace’ for the believer in Christ. Some things it does not mean include; calm circumstances, a comforted feeling, or experiencing the love of everyone in the world. Though these things can come out of the peace of God, trying to find peace in them will fail you. They are as changeable as the buzzing of a fly or the sting of a careless word.
Peace for the believer is much more profound. In Christ, we have peace with God. Though we in our fallenness are corrupt beyond deserving any peace of any kind, He in His great mercy chose to send His Son for our salvation. And when He did this, He did it so that anyone who enters in by faith in Christ can have it. It isn’t a feeling; it is a reality beyond any experience we expect to find through our performance or our surroundings.
Do you long for peace? If you believe in Christ, you have it. He has already given it to you. If you want to experience it, walk in His guiding shadow, and make the simple choice to believe it. Simple, yes. Easy, no. But faith believes in a reality we cannot always see, only to find that when we believe, what was shrouded in darkness becomes crystal clear.
~What in your life
leaves you feeling hopeless or conflicted? What would it look like to believe
you have God’s peace in that area?
Who are you? We usually respond to this kind of question in its various forms with our name, our work, or even our church affiliation. But in his amazing letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells us exactly who we are.
Saints- Paul begins the letter “to the saints in Ephesus.” Every believer is a saint; it has nothing to do with how you behave. It is your identity in Christ.
Chosen before the foundation of the world-God has sovereignly chosen you to be His child.
Holy and blameless-In Christ, sin is forgiven and holy is what we are, not what we do.
Adopted Children- We are God’s children, not His slaves or His mistakes.
Redeemed- We have been bought by the blood of Christ, rescued from sin and Satan.
Forgiven- Completely. By God, through Christ. He is our salvation.
Lavished by grace- Lavished means, “cover something thickly or liberally with.” We are buried in grace, which by definition means we don’t deserve it. We have done nothing to earn it. And we can do nothing to lose it, or to keep it. It is His to give, and He has given generously, liberally, lavishly.
Knowers of mystery-We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2). It’s part of the deal when we submit to Him. And in Him all the mysteries dwell. Know Him and you will be amazed at all that you come to understand.
Heirs- We are promised to receive all this in Christ. And how could He who did not spare His own Son hold back anything else?
To the praise of His glory- All that we receive is intended glorify Him. The benefits we personally receive are just another example of His lavish grace.
Sealed by faith with the Holy Spirit- Sealed means that our identity is legitimate; the stamp of the Spirit declares our authenticity in Christ.
Guaranteed this inheritance- We all love guarantees, but they are only as good as the value of the guarantor. One who will never go bankrupt or go back on His word guarantees us.
All this is who we really are. Never
sell yourself short.
Last Sunday was an amazing day for King’s Cross. To see the bishop confirm so many of us (11!) was powerful. And to have him pray for each of us the power of the Spirit for ministry was inspiring. His prayers were prophetic, and unique to each of us. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this church! So, what now? How do we move forward from here? The answer to that is just as unique to each of us as Bishop Keith’s prayers were. But it is all bound up in the life of this body. We are one Body, but many parts. And we’re designed by God to work together for the building of His kingdom. Every one of us has gifts that He has given us for the purpose of making His Kingdom manifest in the world. Do you know what He wants you to do? Do you know how He’s gifted you? And if not, are you willing to find out? You do have at least one, if not more. It is surprising how many believers think that they don’t have a spiritual gift! Often we think we don’t because it feels too scary to use it, though. Outside of Christ, not only can our gifts go undiscovered. They can even become weaknesses in themselves if we use them without the guidance of the Spirit. A merciful person becomes an enabler; a prophet becomes a critic. An encourager becomes a badger, and a shepherd becomes a controller. There is nothing a believer has that can thrive outside of surrendering it to Christ. He may be able to work, but He won’t work mighty miracles. Give it to Him by faith and see what He does! This is discipleship, to serve in the gifts and calling God has for you, and if you want to grow in Christlikeness, it’s a major key to finding His way for you. If you aren’t sure what your gift is, or how to use it, or where it would work in the kingdom of God, please, talk to one of our leaders. The Kingdom of God needs you more than you think.
“...in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”(2 Cor 8:2). What does poverty have to do with generosity? Paul teaches us a profound truth with this seeming contradiction. It is only in poverty that generosity can truly be experienced! We may feel generous when we give out of our abundance. When I am taking a leisurely stroll down the street and stop to chat with a neighbor whose company I enjoy, I can walk away from that encounter feeling that I have been magnanimous with “my” time. But what if I am in the midst of a particularly intense passage in the audiobook I’m enjoying, or trying to finish my walk in time for an appointment? What if the person is one I’d rather avoid? My true heart becomes visible when my poverty of time meets my opportunity for kindness. I use this example for the simple reason that as Americans, our lack seems to be more about time than money. I may give monthly for an orphan in Uganda, but my heart towards him shows when the organization requests me to write a letter to him. Who has time for that?? If our poverty is time, Spirit-powered generosity is required to spend it. If our poverty is wisdom, only the power of the Spirit can impart. Wherever we feel the pinch of need, therein lies the point of God’s purpose and power. That is where He calls us to rely on His power and provision, not only willingly but enthusiastically, powered not by our own abundance, but His great mercy. We love because He first loved us. And because He loved, He gave His Son. ~Where do you sense a need but feel powerless because of your poverty? Will you trust God to provide through you?
I love to talk about God. Whenever someone engages me on the topic of theology, I get excited beyond control, sometimes literally. This happened recently when I talked almost nonstop for an hour in a meeting, hardly giving anyone else room to comment. I am convicted this week that this is not the way of Christ. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians of our true calling. We are to be ambassadors for Christ (5:20), appealing to the world to be reconciled to God, in Christ. Additionally, he reminds us that it is God’s work, not ours. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” He made. So that we might. No opinions. No arguments. No deep theological discussion, only a heartfelt plea to be reconciled not to us, but to God. God doesn’t need us, but we desperately need Him. We desperately need Him so we know when to speak and when to listen. When to love by standing firm on what is right, and when to love by reaching out with an appeal. We come to know His leading as we follow in obedience and see what He accomplishes, with little to no help from us. Each of us has unique gifts, areas of influence, and relationships. As followers of Christ, it is our calling to represent Him to the best of our Holy Spirit-empowered ability in everyday life. In this way, we experience the reality of His power not only in us, but through us. As Kingdom ambassadors, we have the best job in this realm, and the next. We represent a Kingdom that will never fail, never be defeated, and never end. Why wouldn’t we want to invite everyone to meet the King?
Have you ever noticed that our definition of some words might differ from God’s definition? The simple word ‘good’, for example. I have gone through many things in my life that I would not file under the category of Good. Quite the opposite, in fact. But it amazes me when I think of all the good that has come out of some of the most horrible of those events and circumstances. Good things like character growth, strengthened relationships, and opportunities to share of God’s love and mercy that I never would have had.
This reminds us that only God knows. Only He knows His plans, His purposes and His ultimate goal in each life, in each circumstance, whether the most personal, quiet moment or the most earth shaking event. He knows His child better than we know ourselves, and He knows our limitations. This leads many to say “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle.” I would vigorously disagree with that; He will give us things we can’t handle, so that we will turn to Him in our weakness.
He did this repeatedly with the
Israelites, and He did the same with the early church and the apostle Paul.
Though His purposes were very different, there was one goal that runs like a
theme through the readings this week; to remind us of our weakness, our
smallness, our need of Him. Whether from sin or persecution, pride or the
desire to serve Him in the most difficult circumstances, His goal is that He is
glorified and we are sanctified. This is the kingdom of God. As it’s citizens,
we must always remember we only plant the seeds through every season, and watch
Him produce the growth.
There are so many things in this life that weigh us down. Burdens that seem at times impossible to carry, events that are completely out of our control, and decisions we must make in which we have no idea the right thing to do. All of us have ways of coping with these things, from various kinds of escapism like hobbies or even addictions, to taking matters in our own hands and plowing through any resistance to our solutions. One of the most powerful testimonies we can have as believers, though, is how we deal with those reminders of how limited we are. We do not know the future; we do not know what is in the heart and mind of others around us; we do not know even what we do not know.
In this way, we are like Adam in the garden. The first couple made the decision that they wanted to live without limitations that God had placed on them. They looked at what was denied to them and decided they must have it. They listened to the one who told them God was holding out on them. And they acted. The consequences were devastating, and still shake this world. But God...He did not give them what their sins deserved, and by extension spared us as well. And ultimately, He sent His Son to bear our burden and set us free from those consequences.
Sin, however, still tries to tempt us from accepting our limitations and trusting God. We figure out ways to shoulder the load, making up our own path and paying the consequences for it. Until we once again find ourselves on our faces, asking for His mercy.
I believe these are moments precious to God. His child sees what he cannot do, and the mess she has made, and opens bleeding hands to Him, saying ‘help me please.’ Mercy wins again.
~What do you need God’s mercy to cover? Will you ask for Him to save you from yourself?
God’s commands are often thought of and talked about as limitations, or prohibitions. But if we think of sin at it’s root as our refusal to accept and live within our limitations, it quickly clarifies the necessity for these boundaries. And their purpose is to protect us, not to limit us. We often think the world is corrupt beyond measure, but have we ever considered just how bad it could be if not for the protection of our Creator? Even those who claim no belief in any god or our God almost without fail follow a code along the lines of the commandments. They may not realize the influence but it is unmistakable. And one of the profound influences of the commandments is the Sabbath rest. While it is true that Sunday is less sacred than it once was, the need for most people to take some kind of rest on that day is so engrained in society that it’s influence still affects government, business and leisure activities in every segment of our culture. And the reason God commands a Sabbath rest is in the command itself. “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” Do you see the connection? A slave doesn’t choose when he or she can rest. Only the owner can permit rest. Coming out of slavery is freedom! And the One Who brought them out of it is not demanding work, but rest. This is rest that reminds them of their freedom, and honors the One that set them free. The One Who, when they were helpless and enslaved, split the sea, stopped their pursuers, and walked them to freedom and safety. Not to bring them into His own kind of slavery, but to set them free. We are free to love God and love our neighbor. We are free to forsake idols and worship the only One Who deserves worship. We are free to rest, knowing that God will take care of all that concerns us. We are free from fear, because the One Who loves us knows all, controls all, and provides for all. Rest in Him. ~What do you find most difficult to rest from? Worry? Work? Relationships? Whatever it is, declare a Sabbath in Jesus’ name, and trust Him to provide.
is unity? I’m afraid that what most of us think of as unity is really
uniformity. We must think alike, act alike, and worship alike in order to be
unified. But the unity of the Godhead is much more profound. These three,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are never, ever at odds with one another. They
have oneness of focus, namely the ultimate restoration of the whole world. They
are completely agreed in each member’s contribution to that focus.
This does not mean they are all doing the same thing. On the contrary, they act in very different ways at different times. The Father is the first to reveal Himself, but this does not mean He existed before the Son and the Spirit. Christ came to humanity thousands of years later, but He was with the Father from the very beginning. And the Holy Spirit waited until Christ had ascended before coming to permanently indwell believers, even though we know He was also part of the acts of God from the foundation of the world. All three Persons have the same overall goal. They are all working together to accomplish the redemption of the fallen world. They act in very different ways and at different times. But they act in perfect harmony in order to bring about the plan God had from the beginning.
The local church is the Body of Christ quite literally, which means we are part of the Trinity. So, like the Trinity, our work is the restoration of all things in Christ. This is where true joy is found for every believer, as we take part in that work by His power.
So, what about you? How are you building up the Body of Christ? Do you consider that someone else’s job? I pray that you will use your gifts to make God visible in the world, and to glorify Him. I pray that you will celebrate the beautiful diversity of the Body of Christ, rather than insist that others must be like you. I pray that you will begin to notice the needs that different churches meet, and that you will encourage them in their work. I pray that all of us will serve to our last breath on this earth, that we will each enter into eternity hearing the words “well done, good and faithful servant.” When we remember and practice the unity Christ died to give us, we can know we will.
Do you believe that God has gifted you? Hopefully, your answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes’! Sadly though, far too many believers fail to recognize the gift or gifts God has given them. But our reading this week leaves no room for doubt. 1 Cor 12 states “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” The Holy Spirit Who indwells every believer also gifts every believer. And the gifts have a common purpose-to build up the church, both inside the Body and outside. For example, some are gifted to lead people to Christ, the gift of evangelism. But once that new believer is brought into the church, the gifts of teaching and healing and other such means of establishing the new believer in his or her faith come into play. Whatever those gifts happen to be, the common denominator is stated clearly in Jesus’ words. In John 4 He says “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The glory of God is always the goal, whether through teaching, evangelizing, physical or spiritual healing, or whatever He has gifted you to do. Do you know your gifting? If not, ask someone else. It’s usually pretty obvious to others. And when you find out what it is, use it! God will be glorified and the church will be edified. This is a promise from the Savior.
Acts 1:15-26; Ps 68:1-20; 1 Jn 5:6-15; Jn 17:11b-19 A popular philosophy today is that there is no objective truth. What is true for you may not be true for me, and we each have to come to our own truth. Though this sounds reasonable at first glance, we must question it. We can immediately see at least one major problem. If there is no truth, then how can even this statement itself be declared true? On what grounds can it be true? There must be something that we can rely on, that we can know to be true. And once we know truth, we must choose to live that truth. The life we live, in fact, gives a clear testimony to what we know to be true, regardless of what we say with our words. As Christians, we have the truth. God’s word, tried and tested and taught and lived over thousands of years, is the clearest and most objective truth for all people, everywhere, in every time. This is a wonderful and comforting promise, that when we are sanctified, or set apart, in the truth of His word, we can know that we are protected and empowered by Him even in the midst of controversy and persecution. Though it does not guarantee an easy life, it does guarantee a fruitful, abundant life here on earth as well as an eternity with Him when this temporary life gives way true life. What truth do you struggle to believe? Is it that you have God’s peace, even when your circumstances are not peaceful? Or perhaps that God knows your needs better than you do? Pay attention to your life, and you will quickly learn what you really believe by the way you respond to trials and circumstances. And when you spot areas of unbelief, take the small step of faith to pray that God will help you trust Him more. He will meet you there.
Isa 45:20-25; Ps 33 or 33:1-8; 1 Jn 4:7-21; Jn 15:9-17
What is your definition of good? Is God good because things turn out the way we want, or because His goodness is self-sustaining? We often forget that only God knows what is truly good, as defined by what most fits His plan and what brings Him glory. We don’t have the capacity to know or understand Him apart from the incredible gift of His Son. When we follow Christ, everything changes. Love becomes what is best for the other person, not what is best for myself. Sacrifice becomes second nature, because our thoughts are about the other, not ourselves. Imagination is enabled to think beyond the obvious and see things we never would have dreamed. And good becomes whatever God says it is. Because only He truly knows what good is. And He chose you to know Him, and to serve Him. Serving Him means seeing life from a different perspective, one that recognizes what seems terrible may actually be what is good, and right, and that what seems good may lead to things that are anything but. Only by walking closely with Him and paying attention to His work, can we discern the difference. His ways are truly not our ways! What are you struggling to understand in your life right now? An illness, a broken relationship, financial hardships or just the weariness of daily drudgery? Whatever it is, God is present in the midst of it, and His vision is far better than yours. Can you trust Him to bring something amazing out of it? Pay attention, and you may just be astonished. ~Where in your life do you need to see God’s perspective? Pray and ask Him to show you His face in the midst of it.
Psalm 23; 1 John 3:1-10; John 10:11-16
Do you know the Good Shepherd? If you belong to Him, He promises that you will. He promises also to give you rest when you need it, and to be always close to you. He will protect you from fear in the direst situations, and He will make sure you never go without. He gives you peace, and abundance, and security. He gives you all that, and eternity in His house along with it. He calls you His child, and the greatness of His love is hard to imagine. Nothing and no one can take what He has given you, and because of that you are secure from your most evil enemies.
Are you grieved, though, by the sin still clinging to you? Do you despair that you will ever walk in righteousness? As a child of God, you need not worry. He will do the work to grow you evermore like Him in your time on earth, and what He sets out to do, He does.
On the other hand, if there is no sin in your life that grieves you, this is the time to despair, or more important to bend your knee and submit to the Chief Shepherd. A lack of conviction is a sure sign of an unconverted or hardened heart. None of us will ever walk sin-free. And if we think that we do, we are walking in pride. But renewal is always, always available for the heart that turns to Him in repentance.
All of us are somewhere in this picture. Where do you find yourself? Whether grieved by your rebellion or uncertain where you stand, bowing the knee is the answer. The Good Shepherd will meet you there.
Acts 4:5-14; Psalm 98; 1 John 1; 2:1-2; Luke 24:36-49
Who is your role model? Most of us have someone to whom we look for advice and teaching, someone we would like to shape our lives after. It isn’t always someone we know personally; sports figures and movie stars are high on the list for many Americans. The ones we choose to emulate tell us a lot about our ambitions, our deepest desires, and ourselves.
As Christians though, there is only one role model for us. In the gospels we learn about and come to know our ultimate Role Model. In every situation and every circumstance we learn how to thrive by studying and absorbing the life of Christ. Between His teaching and His interactions with people of all kinds, we can know all we need to know about Him.
But He goes even further with us. I remember once knowing an evangelist who asked everyone he met, “do you know Jesus?” The most honest answer I ever heard him receive was “I know of Him.” What did the speaker mean by that? She was talking about the difference between hearing and experiencing.
This difference for believers is crucial. When we, by faith, repent and turn to Christ as Savior, we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus promises will teach us everything we need, and be with us always. What this looks like in everyday life is the little ‘nudge’ we get when either He is leading us to do something we ought, or avoid something we ought not do. It is through His guidance and constant presence that we come to know Christ experientially as we know Him in Scripture. Do you want to know Christ? Listen to His Spirit living in you, and follow where He leads. You will be amazed at the power of His presence and work through you. More than that, you will know Him rather than just knowing of Him. What a difference that makes!
~In what arenas of your life do you ignore the counsel of the Holy Spirit? What would it look like to give that over to Him?
It’s no great secret that the number one objection people raise against the idea of a loving God is suffering in the world. Famine, disease, war, and natural disasters (aka acts of God), are just a few of the things we face in life. We ask the question, “if God is so good, why do we have to go through these things?” Here are some things to think about as we head into the week leading up to Good Friday, the day that Jesus suffered for us. If we don’t sit in the truth of why Jesus suffered, we won’t grasp the true magnitude of His resurrection and the hope that it gives us.
Why did Jesus have to suffer? Because of me. And because of you. Because the truth is, we are the cause of the suffering in the world. This seems to be the one thing no one likes to talk about. Suffering comes, either indirectly or directly, from the sin in this world. Even the most innocent who suffer, do so because the world is broken because of sin. It doesn’t mean that person did something to deserve their suffering. It means that the world is suffering, and they got caught in that.
But was the physical pain of His torture and crucifixion His true suffering? Was this the thing that had Him begging God the Father to remove in the Garden of Gethsemane? I don’t think so. As bad as it was, it paled in comparison to the suffering He faced when the Father forsook him. The intimate fellowship of the Trinity is so unbreakable that we can’t even imagine the pain it caused Him to think about such a separation. We experience the faintest shadow of this when our own sin comes between God and us, and the only remedy for that is repentance, and reconciliation. Yet even in our most sinless moments, their perfect unity is beyond our wildest imagination.
In the midst of all He endured, His trust in God never wavered. Not when they tried Him in a kangaroo court. Not when they laughed and scorned Him, took His clothes and beat Him half to death. Not when they hung Him on the cross. And not when He experienced the pain of separation, a pain that we can’t even imagine because we have never experienced just how sweet perfect fellowship with the Father can be. But Jesus suffered as one step in the plan to put an end to sin and brokenness forever. He was rejected so we would be accepted. He was condemned so that we could be forgiven. Yes, Sunday was coming! But it wasn’t here yet. First He had to drink the cup of suffering prepared for Him before the foundation of the world.
What about you? Are you suffering today? If so, are you waiting for God to land the next blow? Or are you more like Jesus, who trusted His Father completely, even as He walked the road of suffering? Either way, we have life yet to live, and trusting Him with it is part of being a disciple.
If you are suffering today, can you
dedicate and entrust it to the Father? Pray for Him to help you trust Him, and
to use it to make you more like Christ.
Why is the
act of repentance so much like dying? Why does giving up my own will hurt so
much? Because it is a death. And
dying hurts, until it is accomplished and resurrection life emerges from the
Like Jesus, we must learn obedience in the midst of trials and suffering. Unlike Jesus, we will repeatedly fail in our endeavor. He learned obedience by being obedient in temptations and trials, the sinless Son of God emerging still sinless from the tests. We, on the other hand, learn obedience most often by suffering the consequences of our disobedience as His saved-but-sinful children.
Our disobedience cost Christ His life. The smallest transgression to the most heinous act of evil comes out of the rebellious fallen nature of sinful people. Our refusal to live within our limitations and accept the protective boundaries of our loving Father leads to pain and sorrow every single time. And the only way back is to admit our guilt and fall on the mercy of the One Who died for us.
The beauty in this death, though, is the incredible, disproportionate life that springs forth when it is finished. A life of freedom, of joy and of a special kind of mercy for those who are one step behind us on the path. A life of faith, which recognizes a little bit more every day that obedience is the only way, even when it costs. After all, it will never cost as much as disobedience does. Our disobedience cost Christ His life, given on our behalf. We will never pay that price. In light of such a gift, what is a little death?
Do you know
the answer to that question? Does your existence in this vast universe make any
difference at all? The answer, whether you believe it or not, is a resounding
‘yes.’ God has saved you! And if He has saved you, which He has, and if you
hear Him, which you do, or you wouldn’t be listening right now, He has a plan
and purpose for you.
But what is that plan? I can’t tell you exactly, but I can tell you a few things that will guide you as you figure it out.
First, it will glorify God and show off His grace, to you and through you. His whole purpose is to show His kindness and mercy, and He has chosen you through whom to do it.
Next, it likely won’t be where and what you expect. It will connect your life experiences, your talents and your opportunities, and those often come to us in ways we do not choose or necessarily even want. But when we begin to walk in it, we will know it. Others will know it, too. There will be a power not of this world, and a sense of freedom that only God can give.
Finally, you only need to start walking to live it out. He created the good works He has for you before the beginning of the world. He doesn’t need you. But He wants you to experience the joy of walking with Him and seeing Him accomplish what you could not do apart from Him.
You are His workmanship, created in Christ for good works. Rejoice, go forth, and walk!
"O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen."
Collect for Week Four in Epiphany
Deut 18:15-22; Ps 111; 1 Cor 8:1-13; Mk 1:21-28
The role of the prophet in the Bible is not so much about telling the future as it is about telling the truth (Deut 18). Prophets are God’s gift of grace, given to us for the purpose of encouraging and challenging us to follow the often-difficult path of discipleship. Though these people were the source of much pain to the Israelites, they acted out of love for God, love for His people, and a desire to protect and deliver them from their own foolishness.
But the people most often reacted with anger and rebellion. They repeatedly shook their fist at God by going their own way, only coming back to Him in humiliation after they had suffered for their folly. And when the ultimate Prophet came, the rebels robed in religion rejected Him.
However, their rejection didn’t nullify His Truth. Thankfully, those of us who believe the Truth are free to walk in it.
And part of that freedom includes setting others free (1 Cor 8). Free of our preferences and convictions, and free to walk their own path of freedom in Christ. We are free to love in truth, and free to set aside our right to our freedom for the better interests of another. As we all submit to God in those places of personal conviction, we grow as a community in love and truth.
When we live out this kind of community by personally submitting to God and to one another, we grow in authority (Mark 1) to speak truth in the wider world. As those who have received the full Truth and revelation of God found in Jesus Christ, our prophetic voice in public will be as strong as our love and submission in community makes us. So by all means, let’s enjoy our freedom. But let’s also never forget our responsibility to one another. Through this kind of community, the Voice of freedom rings.
~What area in your life do you need to let go of for the benefit of another believer?
Jer 3:19-4:4; Ps 130; 1 Cor 7:17-24;
When we repent and believe the gospel we become temples of the Holy Spirit, so wherever we are, there is the kingdom of God. That means we don’t do anything without taking the Holy Spirit with us. “They will know we are Christians by our Love.” Not by our ability to apply a Bible verse to any situation, or our condemnation of their behavior. Jesus saved His harshest warnings of judgment for the religious leaders, and expressed His greatest compassion for the sinners and the lowest of society, those who knew they weren’t worthy of salvation. When we look around today we see unbelievers living like unbelievers. We shouldn’t expect anything different from them. But we who have the Spirit of Christ in us should be different.
In our day-to-day lives, it’s so easy to fall into patterns of behavior. How do we treat the person that is rude to us in line at the supermarket? Do we treat the people that serve us in restaurants as human beings or as robots designed to meet our needs? Do we walk into the places we go always on the lookout for hurting people who need to see God’s love? This is a very different picture than standing on the street corner with a sign that says Repent or Burn! It is tempting with the anger and hostility we see in the world to just withdraw. This is a common reaction of Christians. But the gospel would call us to press in even more, and learn to respond rather than react. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Reactions are often based on fear and insecurities, and are not the most rational or appropriate way to act. It’s the automatic lashing out at someone who offends us. The gesture at the car who cuts us off, the sarcastic remark to the rude person, no tip for the server who forgets to check on us or messes up our order. This is easy; it’s what everyone does.
Responses take the situation in, and decide the best course of action based on our values of grace and love, the greatest values of the gospel. This would pray for the person who cuts us off, kindness in return to the rude person, a generous tip and maybe an offer to pray for the server who is obviously having a bad day. Nobody does that; that’s the gospel.
One of the top criticisms we hear about churchgoers today is hypocrisy. What if we stopped reacting by making excuses and started responding by living the gospel? Living in a continual attitude of humility and grace proclaims the gospel more loudly than words.
Isa.42:1-9; Ps 89:20-29; Acts
10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11
As part of my first time celebrating the Feast of Epiphany, I decided to do a small study of the word “epiphany.” The common dictionary meaning is ‘a sudden realization; any moment of great or sudden revelation.’ But the most interesting note I gathered was the meaning of its root in Greek; “to reveal.”
It’s so easy to take for granted the epiphany of God, His manifestation to us, for us. We forget that He owed us nothing. It is hard to fathom the possibility of life without His choice to come, to lower Himself and dwell among us. In this context, it helps us to see many of the purposes of His baptism. He did it to fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3:13-15). He did it in preparation for ministry. And He did it to give us an example to follow.
Likewise, it is easy to take our own baptism for granted. Whether we were infant-baptized, or baptized as adults, it can seem a strange-but-necessary ritual that we just have to endure as part of our initiation into the church. But Jesus’ example and teachings show us that it is so much more.
As a symbol, it marks our old life as dead and our resurrection as a new creation
(2 Cor 5:17). As an act of obedience, it humbles us (whether we are parents having our child baptized, or being baptized ourselves) and makes a public proclamation of our faith. As a supernatural empowerment, it marks us as full of the Holy Spirit and prepared to do every good work God has called us to. And it identifies us to the rest of the world as set apart, consecrated for the work of God on earth.
But all this starts back at that moment of epiphany, when Christ was “coming up out of the water, (and) he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This was a word of encouragement for Him, and a word of revelation for us. It is our privilege and responsibility to reveal Him to the world as He has revealed Himself to us.
were created in Christ Jesus to do good
works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”(Eph 2:10) What were
you baptized into Christ to do? How can we in the body here at King’s Cross
encourage you in doing it?
Isa. 61:10-62:5; Ps 147:13-21; Gal. 3:23-4:7; John 1:1-18
I once experienced darkness so profound it was terrifying. In the depths of a cave, far below the surface the light was extinguished for just a moment. The effect was instantaneous and intense—disorientation, panic and paralysis all at once. Such darkness needs no bogeyman. It holds a terror all its own.
The amazing thing about even such deep darkness is that the tiniest pinpoint of light will dispel it, and the deeper the darkness, the more powerful the contrast to the light.
We live every day in such darkness. The spiritual forces of darkness are constantly at work in the world, seeking to gain territory and smother light. But they are working in vain; they will never overcome the light of Christ. And His light will only grow brighter until the day when there will be no need for an alternate supply of light. The only light will radiate from Him, and it will be undimmed, without a hint of darkness (Rev. 21:23). It will be so bright, in fact, that in our current human form we couldn’t bear it.
In the meantime, we have a job to do. As those given the right to become children of God through belief in His Son, the Light, we bear the light that will not be overcome by darkness. While the song “This Little Light of Mine” is cute, it makes a serious error in its rhyme. The light is not mine, or yours. It is His, and we have the staggering privilege and responsibility of carrying it in the world. When we cooperate with Him in His work, it shines ever brighter. And the darker our surroundings get, the brighter our guidance will be.
Don’t be afraid of the dark. Embrace it with the light and love of Christ, and know that He will overcome.
~Think of the darkest place you inhabit regularly. How can you more fully embrace it with the light of Christ?
Isa.9:1-7; Ps 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
How can one describe the human beginning of an infinite God? The incarnation had a very definite starting point in space and time, so familiar to us that we almost glaze over the words, “baby..., “born in a manger...” Such an ordinary event in the experience of human life; we all were babies once, many of us have had babies, and the idea of the God we worship being a baby seems almost anti-climactic. How can we even begin to understand it?
Truly ponder it. In the words of the genie in the Disney classic Aladdin, “Great Cosmic Power! Itty bitty living space!” This can take our breath away. In Christ, God focused in on a specific time and place, said “here, now” and stepped down into our lowly realm.
Theologians argue endlessly over all the meanings and specific details of exactly how and why this happened. Perhaps the best answer to all these theories is “both, and.” Though the limitless God chose to limit Himself in His Son, His true nature and purpose and plans never changed or failed. He came as example, and sacrifice. As perfect man, and weak human. As payment and Payee. As judge and condemned.
All this, and so much more. All for us. All for you. All for me. All for humanity, and the time and space we inhabit. Does that mean we’re special? Oh, no. It means He is.
Like Christ, we inhabit a specific time and space.
How can we better communicate Jesus in us, through us, in the day-to-day life He’s given us?
Isaiah 65:17-25; Ps 126; 1 Thess 5:12-28; Jhn 3:22-30
When we truly repent, or ‘change our mind,’ we stop thinking about what we want, and start thinking what God wants. We might want to call that humility, but I like the word self-forgetfulness. It means, learning to fill your mind with the thoughts of God and the needs of other people, so that thinking about yourself starves to death. This is critical to becoming a holy person. It’s also what makes for a holy community. Following are some examples from our Thessalonians passage.
Encourage the disheartened - When we set aside our own agenda for just a few minutes and listen to one another, we will know when we need encouragement, and it’s our obligation to lift one another up. Pray right at that moment instead of saying “I’ll pray for you.”
Help the weak - This is one of our foundational values in Christ, and sets us apart from the rest of the world. Here, we help those who are weak, we don’t judge them. Paul elaborated on that in 1 Cor 12, the passage where he describes the church as a physical body. He says,”... those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.”
Be patient with one another. The patience God extends to us, we extend to each other. We are all “difficult people” to somebody.
Help one another deal with conflict in a godly way. That means doing what is best for each other as the Holy Spirit guides us, even when we risk angering our brother or sister in the process. Real love, Christ’s love, speaks truth even when it’s hard. When we forget ourselves we don’t try to protect ourselves, and we’re free to take risks in our love for each other. This is the kind of love that God has for us.
Rejoice, pray, and give thanks. How often? Always! Paul’s just given us a tall order. To fill it, we must call on the power of God’s Spirit at work in us, both individually and collectively. Don’t get bogged down in wondering how you’re supposed to do these things always. It’s a mindset, not just an activity. It means, keep in touch with God’s Spirit in you. Look for silver linings in circumstances by thanking Him for whatever you can think of. When you think of someone, pray for them. Pay attention to the good things He has given you, including this community. Focus on God’s will no matter what’s going on around you. Don’t look at things through a filter of whether they’re God’s will or not. Instead, ask Him how He wants you to live with joy in the midst of it?
~In what circumstance or relationship do you need to practice self-forgetfulness?
Isaiah 40:1-11; Ps 85; 2 Peter 3:8-18; Mark 1:1-8
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”(John 1:1)
John the Baptist knew the word of God. As the son of a priest, he grew up learning the Scriptures, which included the law, the prophets, the Psalms, and the historical books. He would have been raised to meditate on them, digest the words, and come to know the God to whom they testified. Through his study and growth, he came to fulfill the unique calling that God had placed on his life.
We hear it in his cries (Mark 1), cries that echoed the prophet Isaiah’s announcement and call to repentance. It also shows in his refusal to point to himself as the one the people should place their hope in. He understands that though his role in the unfolding story of God’s redemption is critical, it is not the most important element. The only value his ministry holds lies in the One to Whom he points, the One to come, whose sandals he is not fit to tie.
John’s story is truly unique. But each believer has a calling, a role to play in God’s redemption story that only we can fill. We discover this calling as we discover the One who calls us. As we come to know Father, Son and Spirit through the words of Scripture, we come to know what we were created to do. It will be unique for each of us, as individual as a fingerprint. But it will share one critical common denominator. It will point others not to us, but to Jesus, the Christ.
There is one pre-condition, though. When we approach the Scriptures, we must be prepared to allow the word to “change our minds,” or lead us to repentance. We must take the words not just to mind, but to heart. We must commit that what He says, we will do. This is true repentance, true transformation. This kind of change only happens through the power of the Holy Spirit, given us when we admit our helplessness and turn to God through Christ for salvation. As you approach his word, ask Him for ears to hear. And be prepared for anything.
~What keeps you from regularly reading God’s word? What can you do to overcome that obstacle?
The readings this week carry a common theme. Though written from vastly different times and perspectives, all are making the same request: “Show Yourself to us, Lord!”
In our gospel reading, Jesus responds to the request. We want to know how long we have to wait. But He essentially says, stop asking when. That knowledge is not for you. Instead, ask how can I serve the Master while I wait? Watch. Expect that it could come any moment. And keep doing what you know to do in the meantime.
The first and absolutely essential thing we know to do is implicit in all of Scripture. Repent. Turn to Him. Turn away from sin. When we read the cries of Israel, this is often a missing ingredient. In Psalm 80, their cries seemed to blame God for their situation; there was no sign of repentance, only a hint of accusation. They failed to see how they were complicit in their situation. They only wanted God to show up and fix things, make them special again in the eyes of the world.
We can do the same thing. Our patterns of behavior, our coping mechanisms, and our underlying sin nature conspire along with our circumstances against the righteous ways God teaches us. We lie without intending to, lash out in anger when we need to forgive, and offer only judgment when others need compassion. Our salvation is not an automatic protection from such transgressions. The only difference between believers and non-believers is that we have the choice to turn to God and humbly seek His empowerment to refrain from sin, and His forgiveness when we fail. And we will fail. If we delude ourselves on this level, then pride has a foothold, and that calls for its own repentance. Only when we seek Him with no barrier of pride, self-will or sin between us is there a hope of seeing Him.
As we enter the season of Advent this year, turn to Him. Pray for Him to open your eyes to your own need of Him. When He answers your prayer—and He will—repent. And you will see Him.
Ezekiel 34:11-20; Ps 95; 1 Cor 15:20-28; Matt 25:31-46
The moment Adam fell, he caused a great division that has remained until today. Men divided from God and from one another are just some of the consequences. In the end, God’s redemptive work will set it all right again, but not before one more great divide takes place—that of the wicked from the righteous.
Pretenders have lived in every age since the garden. Ezekiel calls out the false shepherds of Israel, who have used their power to take from the weak and sick to make themselves sleek and fat. Psalm 95 reflects on the Israelites who refused to believe God in the wilderness and suffered the consequences. In the end, Jesus will stand in judgment, and all pretense will be gone. Those who know Him will be fully known, and those who do not will no longer be able to pretend.
But what are the criteria? They are remarkably simple, and alarmingly easy to overlook. How did you care for the “least of these”? Not a word about church attendance or baptism. While these things are important markers of the spiritual life, unbelievers do them all the time. Instead, Jesus points to a much more basic idea; serving the needy of every kind. Care like this is what James calls in his epistle “true religion.”
This isn’t the only test. There is more to it than that, as we know. But there is certainly not less. In serving needy people of every kind, we serve Jesus as surely as if He were standing there in place of the person whose needs we meet. And in doing so, we help to build a bridge across the divide.
This is what we’re here for. Our purpose lives in the streets and neighborhoods of Tucson. The needs might be physical, relational, mental, or spiritual, but they are real. And the way we respond to those needs, not just in our actions but in our hearts and minds, can help us to know Him better, and therefore know ourselves. Don’t be afraid of the answer. Just give someone a hand across the divide.
~Who do you see as “the least of these” in Tucson? How can you help bring them to Jesus?
There’s a law of exercise called the law of diminishing returns. This means that if you do the same form of exercise consistently, long enough, your body adapts to it, and it gets easier. Your body naturally finds the path of least resistance, and before long you actually begin to lose condition.
I think our spiritual life can be like that too. We are living in the ‘end times,’ but the time seems endless. In the Thessalonian letters, Paul was dealing with people who had stopped working because they expected the Lord’s return any second. And Paul himself made it clear that he expected it at any time as well. So, here we are 2,000 years later, still waiting...and because we’ve waited so long, it’s easy to just think less and less about it, until life is just the everyday existence of the people that Paul says live in darkness. They don’t expect God at all, so they do what they want, live how they want. When the day finally comes, they’ll be completely undone. And it’s easy to let the path of least resistance gradually ease us into living life the same way. Being a faithful Christian is hard! It requires a lot of time spent in our discomfort zone.
We only discover and reflect God’s power when we’re uncomfortable in some way. Stretched just beyond, or way beyond, our own resources. Given a job that we know is impossible without His intervention. Or suffering in some way that forces us to depend on Him. But that’s also how we do the things that make us rejoice when we see God work in the midst of our frailty. This is how we come to know His power, and it is the only way.
Jesus said “let your light shine before men, so they will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” When people see us accomplish things they know we aren’t capable of, things that bring a little bit of light to a dark world, we reflect God’s power and glory.
However, discomfort zones take all kinds of forms. They can include some personal, private spiritual practice that you decide to try when there’s nothing else you can do for the Kingdom. They can mean learning to be still and know that He is God. Whatever it may look like, whatever you do in the kingdom will matter more than you think it does. And whether the Lord comes back, or we go to meet Him in death first, we each will stand before Him. For His faithful, that will be the ultimate comfort zone. No more tears, no more disease, no more sorrow, no more night.
As children of the light, He calls
us to work while it is day, and that whatever our hand finds to do, do it with
all our strength. Stay uncomfortable in His name, and you will ultimately find
a comfort you can’t imagine.
Amos 5:18-24; Ps 70; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Matt 25:1-13
The when and how of Christ’s return is a matter of great debate among people who like to study such things. But on one facet there is no debate. The “Day of the Lord” will be unprecedented. It will be spectacular, and terrible. The process of turning the fallen world right-side up again will be so unlike anything we have experienced, it defies our greatest imaginings. However, there are some details we can know.
The oppressors will be oppressed. The selfish rich will mourn, and the generous poor will feast. The slave will walk free, and the slaver bound in chains of judgment. It will be a great day, but it will be a horrific day. Even those who rejoice will tremble at the fierceness of God. His justice is perfect. He makes no mistakes and He leaves no deed ignored.
Not even churchgoers are safe. Like the foolish virgins in Jesus’ parable, we can live religiously with no real expectation of His coming. We can separate the temporal things like home, money, and social status, from what we think of as the eternal things; serving the needy, healing the sick, and acting as ambassadors for the Kingdom.
But reality provides a different view. Everything in our lives has eternal significance. What we do Monday through Saturday—how we live, what we prioritize, and the heart attitudes we cultivate— matters to God. Are we like the foolish virgins, looking forward to a good party but not seriously preparing for it? Preparation requires investment. No one of us can make the investment on another’s behalf, and we cannot depend on the investments of another. We each will stand alone before the Judge on that Day. On that great and terrible Day, our true heart will become irrevocably, blindingly clear. Now is the time to commit ourselves fully. Then it will be too late.
~What things in your life would you not want to be doing when Jesus returns? Consider replacing those things in your life with the things that remind you of eternity.
Our readings are full of faithless people. They use His gifts for personal gain. They speak lies and attack God’s chosen ones. They try to prevent the spread of the gospel. These people do evil out of faith in themselves and their power, rather than faith in God. Because their lives and ways are faithless, He will bring them down. Their self-exaltation will be the best they receive, because they will ultimately face His judgment.
We can see it in the history behind these passages. Just as God promised through the prophet Micah, Jerusalem was destroyed and His people went into captivity. Though Paul was thwarted constantly, the gospel continued to go forth, and we hold his words in our hands today. And Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith, went to the cross faithfully, using the very faithlessness of God’s chosen people as an instrument to bring about the salvation of the world.
Men and women fail God at every turn. Even when we love Him and serve Him, we are prone to try to control outcomes, seek our own resources, and demand rewards. These tendencies come sometimes from subtle pride, sometimes from fear, and sometimes from our limited understanding—but sometimes out of a rebellious heart. Yes, even those who love Him.
Thankfully, God is not like us. He is 100% faithful. If He says He will discipline us, it will happen. He promises completion of His mission, and that will come to pass. He promises justice, and His judgment is perfect.
God’s faithfulness does not depend on our faithfulness. When we are faithful, we have the blessing of participation in His work in us and through us. But His faithfulness isn’t for our sake. He is faithful because He is faithful to Himself. It is a part of His perfect character that will not change.
Where do you need to trust God’s faithfulness today? What can you stop doing or start doing that comes from faith?
Jesus reminds us this week that everything about our salvation and life on earth hangs on two things. Loving God, and loving our neighbor
Loving God is explained in the first four of the Ten Commandments. How we follow these is a sign of our love for God. Worship only Him. Keep the Sabbath to remember His provision. Don’t use His name in making false oaths. Don’t worship idols.
The Jews had stopped practicing idolatry after the Babylonian exile, so as far as they were concerned, they were doing well. But Jesus clearly saw otherwise. The truth is that the Jews turned the command itself into an idol. The Law was their god, so they didn’t know or love God. Their cold hearts were proof of that.
The second phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is only possible when the first phrase is in order. Jesus is referring to Lev 19:18. The other readings for this week detail what such love looks like. The care we give to the poor and oppressed among us comes from God, not from us. It is our purpose as believers, not a nice option to choose if we want it.
God saved us because of His completely undeserved, radical love for us. The Greek word for God’s “love” is agape, which is the selfless, other-centered love that we humans are incapable of. Human love is sweet and indulgent at best and dangerous at worst. Only God loves perfectly, so only in a deep abiding relationship with Him, by listening and following the guidance of His Holy Spirit in us, can we truly love others.
If the Pharisees had recognized God’s love expressed in His son, their hearts would have recognized their Messiah. But that’s not what happened. Instead, they just stopped asking questions. And we all know what happened after that. They killed their King.
This is a danger for us too. When we go through the motions of religion, we lose touch with our purpose of bringing God’s kingdom into this world by loving Him and loving those who cross our path. We’ll start seeing His mission for us as an inconvenience that we can’t be bothered with in our busyness.
So think about this when you interact with those around you. Ask God to show you how to love like He has loved you. Then do what He says. Go where He sends you. Be His body in the everyday world around you. This is love. God sent His Son. And He sends us too. So go.
~Where is God calling you to express His love in your life? Are you doing it?
Isa. 25:1-9; Ps 23; Phil 4:4-13; Matt 22:1-14
The feast is a Biblical symbol of the intimate presence and perfect provision of God. His people throughout history understood this and placed a high priority on the table of fellowship and celebration. It’s given by Him as a way to remember His mighty acts of deliverance, from the Red Sea in Exodus all the way to the New Jerusalem in Revelation.
The readings this week highlight that intimacy. Isaiah’s promise echoes in the final verses of Revelation, the story of God’s final plan to make the world new again. The Psalm comforts us with promises of His care in every circumstance, which leads us right into Paul’s exhortation (Phil) that we can be content—feast—in any and every situation.
Our gracious God only asks that we accept His invitation and come clothed in the garment He has provided; the righteousness of Christ (Matt; see also Rom.13:14; Col. 3:12-14).
Though our gospel reading of the parable of the Wedding Feast has many interpretations, it is unmistakable that coming to the party requires more than just responding to the invitation. Without the proper credentials, no one will escape the eye of the Host. And once the party has started, there will be no second chance.
Do you know what it means to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ? If not, find out. Then come join the party.
~Do you know of someone who wants to follow God but doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Way? How can you encourage them with these readings to understand what they’re missing?
Isa 5:1-7; Ps 80(1-6) 7-19; Phil 3:14-21; Matt 21:33-44
The depth of the Israelites’ rebellion is stunning. In our passages this week, we see a pattern of revolt against God so profound that His prophets, His discipline, and even the coming of Messiah cannot pierce. The blindness formed of self-righteousness and pride leaves them unable to see God when He is standing right in front of them.
The results are clear. Instead of bearing the fruit of righteousness, they bore the blood of injustice (Isa). When God disciplined them, they blamed Him and demanded He save them so they could be happy and look good to other nations (Ps). Finally, though they claimed to wait in hopeful anticipation of Messiah, they rejected Him because He didn’t meet their criteria (Matt). They had become so accustomed to thinking God existed to serve them that they ultimately killed their King.
Their arrogance is breathtaking, and it’s easy to take offense on God’s behalf when we read of it. But we must stop and ask the question “is there an area of my life in which my rebellion runs so deep that I can no longer recognize God at work?” It is possible to ask Him to help you, and then reject His help if it requires too much change from you.
We all have the potential for that kind of rebellion. And though we may fool other people with our piety, the Vineyard Owner is no fool. We must humble ourselves and ask for His help, by His means. When it comes, we must accept it regardless of the cost to our pride, selfishness, and rebellious independence. In reality, He has already paid the price. The perfect fruit of repentance is grateful obedience.
~Where do you need to humble yourself and receive God’s help in His way? Commit to share this need with someone who can help you recognize and respond when it comes.
You can hear Fr. Pete's homily, "A Tireless Love" on the sermons page.
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-14; Phil 2:1-13; Matt 21:28-32
by Jennifer Callaway
One of the subtlest dangers Christians face is replacing obedience to God with religious activity and claims of piety. God has a particular disdain for it, and He confronts it repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments. It results from a drift that leads us so far from God we no longer acknowledge our sinfulness and need for Him.
Ezekiel challenged the Israelites about it during the years of their exile. The proverb suggested that they were suffering for the sins of their ancestors, not their own.
Ezekiel’s response crushed that assumption. His corrective? “Repent and live!”
Meaningless religion amongst a sinful, selfish people has led to their captivity. Humble obedience will lead them out.
In the gospel reading, Jesus confronts the same issue with the Pharisees, who have fallen into the same trap. He challenges the legalists’ ideas of their own superiority and perfection, with a simple parable. The story asks the question, “Is obedience found in our words or in our actions?” The answer to the question came easily to the Pharisees. How it applied to them, they failed to see. They were blinded by their religious busyness.
Finally, Paul tells the Philippians if they want to know what obedience looks like, look at Jesus. The downward path Jesus took guides the steps of His disciples. Do what you are called to do, dying to yourself daily and pouring your life into it until you die, for the purpose of glorifying God in Christ. Church on Sunday is designed to nourish and grow that obedience, not replace it.
~When you go to church, how does this prepare you to serve?
~What is your personal calling, and how are you serving Christ there?
Who do you avoid because you think they don’t deserve to hear God’s message of compassion?
The workers’ grumbling- Jesus tells the story of vineyard workers hired to work for the day. Each group in the story took the opportunity presented to them and fulfilled their obligation. The owner only promised the first group a specific wage; the following groups only knew they would get what “seemed right”.
All of us can understand the displeasure of the first workers when all received the same wage. But their displeasure was quickly silenced. They had received what they were promised. The others had received generosity. In the upside down world of the Kingdom, those who earn the least, stand to gain the most. This is grace.
Who do you know of, that seems to receive much more than they deserve? How do you see the Kingdom of Heaven at work in those lives?
Gen. 50:15-21; Psalm 103:1-14; Rom. 14:5-12; Matt. 18:21-35
by Jennifer Callaway
Christians are called to forgive in ways that the rest of the world cannot understand. These readings teach us how to practice radical forgiveness in any relationship or circumstance. Think about these things.
1) Remember God is in control- Joseph knew what his brothers had done was inexcusable. He was also wise enough to know that their ‘repentance’ was more likely from fear than a true change of heart. But his unwavering trust in God made him able to recognize that God had used their horrible crime to save their own lives as well as the life of Israel in the famine. His forgiveness is a model for us to understand that God uses every circumstance in the lives of His faithful for some kind of good.
2) Remember the mercy of God- In Psalm 103, the psalmist proclaims the forgiveness and compassion of God. Remembering, “we are dust,” keeps the reader of the Psalm face-to-face with our own need for mercy. When we remain in this posture, it’s difficult to see the fault of others.
3) Remember that God is the Judge- In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes clear to people who were squabbling over insignificant issues that God is the only Judge any one of us need be concerned about. Regardless of what we think of another person, the only one they will answer to is God. We have no right to condemn them.
4) Remember all that God has forgiven us- This parable of Jesus leaves no question about whether we should forgive. Every one of us is the servant unable to pay, whose debt the king forgave. When we refuse to forgive, we become that servant choking his fellow servant and forgetting what God has forgiven us. The conclusion to the parable is chilling. Forgiveness is not an option, it is a command.
CS Lewis says it so well “To be a Christian is to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
This week, consider:
Do you have any “outstanding debts” that you are refusing to forgive?
Is someone holding something against you that you refuse to make right?
If so, do something about it. It’s the only Christian thing to do.
To Hear Fr. Pete's Sunday Sermon Based Upon The Readings: Click Here.