Mark 12:28-34 The Two Great Commandments

Do you enjoy playing games? I do. Every game comes with its own special set of rules. To really enjoy the game as it was intended, everyone must play by the rules. Have you ever played a game with someone who didn’t follow the rules? Do you always follow the rules?

There are rules that we must follow in the game of life too. The Bible is the rulebook we must follow in life. To really enjoy life the way God intended, it is important to follow His rules.

Prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, various factions within Judaism were vying for control of religious practice in Roman occupied Israel. While the Chief Priests and Herodians held control of the Temple, they were viewed with suspicion by the majority of Jewish people because of their associations with the Romans. The Sadducees, while not directly connected to the Temple, insisted that the proper focus for Jewish devotion to God remained in the Temple—even under Roman control. They also followed only the written books of the Law, which they often interpreted differently from the Pharisees. The Pharisees disagreed with the Sadducees on many points, following a written and oral Law and studying God’s Word in synagogues, thereby deemphasizing the role of the Temple.

Each group had scribes whose job it was to interpret the law. However, these scribes were not the rabbis or priests in charge of the interpretation; they were more generally associated with the proclamation of the law for the group with which they were associated. And so the people often saw scribes as lacking in authority.  It is into this environment that Jesus was born; and it is in this environment that Jesus taught.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day liked to sit around and discuss the law. They would sometimes ask Jesus questions about the law to try to trick him into saying something that would cause people to turn against him. One day they were questioning Jesus and he answered them with one good answer right after another. A Jewish teacher of the Law came in and heard that Jesus was giving good answers and he asked him, “Of all of the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus answered him, “The most important one is this, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

There are a lot of rules in the Bible. It may sometimes be difficult to remember all of them. If we can just remember and obey the two commandments that Jesus said were the most important, all of the rest would follow. Then we would enjoy life the way God intended it.

A scribe of the Pharisees would find it particularly difficult to make their laws simple and meaningful: 613 statutes comprise the oral law with 365 prohibitions to coincide with the number of days in the year and 248 commandments to equal the reputed number of generations of man. Attempting to make this morass meaningful, scribes divided the statutes into “weighty” and “light” categories and cross-classified them as “ritual” or “ethical” laws. The need for meaning in the Law also kept before them the challenge to develop a single, simple, working principle that would encompass all of the other statutes. When the scribal expert asked Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?”  he must have had this challenge in mind. At least, Jesus’ answer made that assumption.

After Jesus answered in a few short sentences the question that absorbed centuries of scribal time and energy, His intellectual protagonists lost their daring and left, knowing that He would have to be faulted on something other than His words. From that point on, no one dared to ask Him a question.

When Jesus answered the scribe’s question, there was a great meeting and agreement between the Christian and Jewish traditions: that love of God had precedence over all other religious requirements, observances, and loyalties. This love of God requires that we give all of ourselves, and when that is given, love for our neighbours will be the visible symbol of our love for God.

Jesus took the Pharisees’ question one step further by identifying the second greatest commandment because it was critical to an understanding of the complete duty of love. This commandment, also from the books of Moses is of the same nature and character as the first. Genuine love for God is followed in importance by a genuine love for people.

The Law of Moses was a burden for the people, but faith in Christ is simple and light. God was willing to forgive us and love us. In return, He expects us to love Him and our neighbour. The more we understand God’s love, the more we will love Him back, the more time we will spend in prayer learning about Him and developing a relationship with Him, and the more our love for Him will grow.

Christianity is all about love. How do we define love? What does it mean in practice? The answer to both of these questions involves discernment. The Holy Spirit will tell us how, when and where to love. We can love God with our emotions, our actions, and our minds. God’s love seeps into every area of our lives and challenges us to love others with our head, our heart and our hands.

The phrase “love as I have loved you” makes Jesus the standard by which to measure our love. Jesus doesn’t love people who deserve love, and God’s love isn’t based on our worthiness or performance but upon His choice. This type of love is what a husband should have for his wife, parents for their children, and Christians for each other.

This type of love can be hard to show, especially when we’re going through life’s trials. People are going to hurt us, do unfair things, abandon us when we need them the most, and say things that will hurt us, but we can let it go. We can give it to God. God has blessed us too much to spend one moment of life being angry. There will be times when we have to fight and argue, but most of the time we can just let it go. We don’t need to hold a grudge. We can love people just where they are. No one is perfect.

There are ten ways to love other people:

  1. Listen without interrupting.
  2. Speak without accusing.
  3. Give without sparing.
  4. Pray without ceasing.
  5. Answer without arguing.
  6. Honour others above yourself.
  7. Enjoy without complaint.
  8. Trust without wavering.
  9. Forgive without punishing
  10. Live and love as a child of God.

When the people we know think of Christians what do they think? Do they think of Jesus’ love and kindness, or do they think of people who are judgmental, opinionated or hypocritical?  Jesus is clear about the impression he wants us to make in the world. That is why Jesus created the two Great Commandments.

Are you letting your light shine? This beat-up world is watching us and wondering if our faith is genuine. They don’t expect us to perfect, but they do expect to see some evidence that the love of Christ is real. How can they know it is real unless we let it shine? The kingdom of God is built and maintained by love. Christ’s love for us is the only hope and remedy for our sick world. If we are Christians, Christ’s love is ringing very loudly for us to remember it and practice it.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1366)
  2. Amy Lindeman Allen,” To Love and to Disagree.” Retrieved from https://politicaltheologytoday.com/to-love-and-to-disagree-mark-1228-34/
  3. “Rules to Live By.” Retrieved from https://www.sermons4kids.com/rules_to_live_by.html
  4. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 19822, pp. 242-245)
  5. Macarthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 31st Sunday (b), Nov. 14, 2018.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  7. David Peary, “Beyond the Rule Books.” Retrieved from mail@hope1032.com.au
  8. Bill Crowder, “Power of Simplicity.” Retrieved from noreply@rbc.org
  9. Skip Heitzig, “Christianity in a Nutshell.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Bobby Schuller, “From Blessed to Worry.” Retrieved from hourofpower@hourofpower.org
  11. Carol Around, “No Other Commandment is Greater than These.” Retrieved from www.carolaround.com
  12. The Rev. Dr. Charles Reeb, “Lose the Cape.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/8293-charley_reeb_lose_the_cape.print
  13. The Rev. Genechis Desta Buba, “Kingdom Built by Love.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/492-kingdom_built_by_love.print

Psalm 34:1-8 Praise God and Give Him Credit

Laughter erupted as the Spencer family finished a rowdy game of charades.

Jill, a neighbor girl who had joined them in the game, got ready to leave. “I wish my family liked each other better and had fun together like yours does,” she told Cara. “We argue and fight all the time. Why is your family so different?”

“I guess we’re just happy people,” replied Cara with a shrug. “And maybe we work harder at it than some people do.” Noticing her mother looking at them, Cara hurriedly told Jill goodbye before Mom could say something embarrassing.

That evening, Mom served a chocolate cake for dessert. “This tastes great, Mom!” exclaimed Kirk, Cara’s brother. “You should make it more often.”

“It’s one of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted,” agreed Dad.

“Thank you,” responded Mom. “I appreciate your compliments.”

“Mom! No fair!” complained Cara. “You know I . . .”

“Oh, that’s right.” Mom interrupted her. “You made this cake, didn’t you?” Turning to Dad, she added, “Cara made this cake today all by herself.”

“You did, Cara?” Dad asked. “It’s delicious!”

“I don’t care who made it,” Kirk mumbled through a full mouth, “as long as I get to eat it.”

After eating, Cara and her mother cleaned the kitchen. “You know, honey, I have to admit something,” said Mom as she put the rest of the cake away. “I deliberately accepted the praise and compliments you deserved–but only temporarily and for a purpose.”

“You just wanted to tease me, right?” Cara asked. “That’s okay, Mom.”

“Actually, I want you to see that you did the same sort of thing today,” said Mom. “I heard you and Jill talking, and you didn’t tell her the real reason our family is different. The peace, love, and joy–and the fun–in our home isn’t just because we work hard at it. God deserves the credit for that–not us.”

Cara bit her lip. “I know, but . . . Jill wouldn’t understand that,” she argued.

“Maybe; maybe not,” said Mom, “but give God the credit He deserves.”

“So I should tell Jill it’s because of Him–whether she can understand or not?” Cara asked thoughtfully. Then she smiled and added, “Maybe she’ll want to know more about Him. That would be good!”

The background of Psalm 34 is found in 1 Samuel 21-22. In jealousy, King Saul pursued David and threatened his life, forcing David to live on the run. In one of the loneliest times of his life, David sought refuge with the Philistines. When they realized who he was, he feigned insanity to protect himself.

David was poor physically and without the help of others. He was also poor spiritually. He was weak and aware of his sin. In spite of his poverty, he sought the Lord. God heard him and delivered him from all of his fears. Only through prayer can fear be overcome by faith.

Psalm 34 is a witness to God, who has delivered David from adversity. David has seen God’s presence and power. This power has led David to respect God and praise God. Life is found and lived in the praise of God. David found life in praising God, and so can we.

David is calling us to verbal, public, personal praise. He is calling us to worship that lifts our hearts and draws us into a spontaneous, robust chorus of delighting in the name of the living God. The angelic vision in the Psalm creates proper respect and reverence before God’s glory. Those who have seen God’s glory will find that the best reaction is to respect God.

To bless the Lord at all times comes easily in times of prosperity, but David sang this psalm in the midst of a time of adversity. When God’s people are afraid, they should worship God. When they are filled with panic, it is time to praise God. When worry overwhelms God’s people, the time for worship has arrived.

The phrase “the angel of the Lord” appears only three times in the Psalms. Jesus appeared on several occasions in the Old Testament in this form. Not only has God promised to deliver His people, but He has also promised to give them the Deliverer! Jesus Himself draws near to believers in their fear.

The call to “taste and see that the Lord is good” is the call to test. We are not just to believe in God’s goodness. We are to experience it. That goodness includes both His deliverance and His gifts. When we experience God’s goodness we will not lack any good thing. Even when the devil attacks us, God will protect us and provide for us. God wants to deliver us from any and all fears that may be plaguing us today. He promises to keep us in perfect peace when we keep our minds on Him.

In the 1970’s a popular commercial for a brand of cereal introduced a catch phrase that is still popular today. In the ad we see three brothers at the breakfast table. Two of them did not want to try this new cereal. The youngest of the three, who was the pickiest of the eaters, was given the bowl of cereal. After a moment of hesitation, he began to eat the cereal-and actually enjoyed it!. The other two brothers exclaimed, “He likes it! Hey Mikey!”

Today we still refer to this commercial when we say phrases like, “Try it! You’ll like it!” or “Mikey likes it!” To a picky eater, trying new foods can be an unpleasant experience and foods are often rejected. Those that are not picky find this behaviour ridiculous. We find ourselves In similar situations today when we try to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with non-believers. We know that we have a delicious platter that is filling and delightful to the taste, but most non-believers are reluctant to try it for themselves and ultimately reject it.

What is our relationship to God? Do we believe He is good? Do we believe we are blessed when we take refuge in Him? Do we expect God’s goodness in our lives when we wake up in the morning? Do we set the tone of the day for success and every blessing with our words? Life and death are in the power of our tongues. That’s why we should praise God throughout the day.

Following Christ is often a series of sweet and successful errors. Some of these errors will seem even more bitter than sweet, but if we understand that we are on a journey with Jesus, following closely to Him and reaching for the dream He has placed in our hearts, then we are right where we belong. When we shift our perspective to focus on God, faith will rise in our hearts and we will live knowing the truth that we serve a big God who can do big things.

So what does it mean to praise God? It means to be thankful and seek to be aware of God’s presence in every situation. It means looking for God in unexpected places. It means being God’s eyes, ears, hands, and feet in the world. It means letting God use us to tip the balance from death to life, from hate to love.

How do we praise God? We praise Him with our voices-either speaking or singing. Genuine worship and praise allow God to fill our hearts and minds with His presence. How do we magnify God? We do this when we share the stories of how He has worked in our lives. Our lives aren’t perfect, but when He uses our stories for the healing and growth of others, that becomes part of the redeeming of our mistakes. When we share our own imperfections instead of hiding them, we have a chance to shine the spotlight on Jesus. He has healed our wounded places and changed the ashes of our sins into beauty.

We experience joy when nothing from our past can condemn us or sadden us, when our memories are only positive because we trust God and His goodness toward us. We can never give to God more than He has given us.

As we love God, experience Him and allow His life to fill us, His personality changes our personalities. The timid become bold, the bold become patient, the patient become fierce, the uptight become free and the religious become good. They look to Jesus and become like Him. Loving Jesus helps us to become what we were meant to be.

Who has encouraged you to walk by faith? Have you ever thanked those people for offering life-giving encouragement? Do you remember to give God credit as you accept His blessings? Let friends know that He deserves the praise when things go well for you. Let them know the credit goes to Him when you experience peace even through difficult times. Let them know that He deserves all honor and glory. Give Him credit for watching over you at all times and–as David did in today’s Scripture–express thankfulness for His power at work in your life. Use every opportunity to point your friends to God.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 728)
  2. Williams, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 13: Psalms 1-72 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1986, pp. 269-274)
  3. Bruce Epperly, “Faith in a Time of Pandemic-Blessing God.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure
  4. Jerry Savelle, “Continual Praise.” Retrieved from paul@ncmcanada.com
  5. Richard Innes, “Try It, You’ll Like It.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  6. Joel Osteen, “See the Lord.” Retrieved from devotional@goto.joelosteen.com
  7. Joel Osteen, “Constantly Speak.” Retrieved from devotional@goto.joelosteen.com
  8. Leslie Snyder, “A Sweet and Successful Error.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
  9. Christine Caine, “Shift Your Focus.” Retrieved from www.christinecaine.com
  10. Sharon Betters, “Radiant Faces, Part 2.” Retrieved from dailytreasure@markinc.org
  11. Amy Carroll, “Finding a Happy Ending to Our Sad Story.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswlakmail.com
  12. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Expressions of Praise.” Retrieved from www.intouch.org
  13. “Transformation.” Retrieved from dailyreadings@wildatheart.org
  14. “Cara’s Cake.” Retrieved from keys@lists.keysforkids.org

Mark 10:46-52 Make Yourself Heard Above the Crowd

Hello boys and girls!

How many of you have a little brother or a little sister? How about a puppy or a kitten?

How do they get attention when they want something? They whine or cry when they are hungry, thirsty, tired or wet. For example, babies don’t care if they are home or in a restaurant or even in church.

What do you do if you want to get someone’s attention?  As we get older, we learn to be more reserved about making our wants and wishes known. Or do we? Today we will hear the story about a man who was not at all bashful about letting Jesus know that he needed something.

Jesus and his disciples had spent some time in the city of Jericho. As they were leaving town, a blind man by the name of Bartimaeus was sitting beside the road. When he heard the people saying that Jesus was approaching, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

His crying out disturbed the people around him. “Be quiet!” they yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

When Jesus heard Bartimaeus crying out, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come to me.”

They called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, Jesus is calling you to come to him.” Bartimaeus jumped up, threw aside his coat, and went to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

“I want to see,” Bartimaeus answered.

“Go,” Jesus said. “Your faith has healed you.” Instantly Bartimaeus could see and he followed Jesus down the road.

Can you imagine a mother hearing her baby cry and just ignoring it? No way! A mother will do whatever she can to find out what her baby wants or needs and tend to that need. Can you imagine God knowing that we have a need and ignoring it? Not a chance! God loves his children and wants what is best for them. The Bible says in Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

When you have a need in your life, don’t be shy. Speak up! Remember what Jesus said in John 14:13. “I will do whatever you ask in my name.”

Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes for a moment of prayer. Dear God, we know that you love your children and want what is best for them. Help us to remember that we need not worry about anything. All we need to do is to ask in Jesus’ name. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Bibliography

  1. “Speak Up!” Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.com

Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52 Jesus, the One Who Welcomes Us Home

Back in 1971, Gavin Bryars, one of England’s leading musicians and composers, agreed to help his friend Alan Powers with the sound on a film that Powers was making about street people. He was filming in an area around London’s Waterloo Station. He filmed various people living on the streets. He caught their daily rituals, trials and joys on film. Some of the homeless people were obviously drunk, some were mentally disturbed, some were very articulate, and some were incomprehensible.

Back in the studio, Gavin Bryars went through editing the audio and video footage. That’s when he became aware of a constant undercurrent, a repeating sound that was always there on the audio tape whenever one older man appeared on camera. But he couldn’t tell what the sound was. At first it sounded like muttered gibberish. So Bryars removed the background street noise and cleaned up the audio tape. Then he discovered that the old homeless man was singing.

Ironically, the footage of this old man and his muttered song didn’t make the film maker’s cut. But the film maker’s loss was Gavin Bryars’ gain. He took the rejected audio tape with him and could not escape the haunting sounds of this homeless, nameless man. He did some research on his own into who this homeless man might be.

From the film crew, Bryars learned that this street beggar didn’t drink. But neither did he engage others in conversation. His speech was almost impossible to understand, but his demeanor was cheerful. He was old and alone and filthy and homeless, but he had a kind of playfulness about him. He would tease the film crew by swapping hats with them.

What distinguished this old man from other street people was his song. The song he sang under his breath was a simple, repetitive Sunday-school tune. He would sit and quietly sing it, hour after hour after hour. He would sing:

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet, Never failed me yet
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet,
There’s one thing I know, For he loves me so…

It was like an endless loop. The song’s final line fed into its first line, starting the tune over and over again without ceasing. The man’s weak, old, untrained voice never wavered from pitch, never went flat, never changed key. The simple intervals of the tune were perfectly maintained for however long he sang.

Gavin Bryars was stunned. Although not a believer himself, Bryars could not help but be confronted by the mysterious spiritual power of this unadorned voice. Sitting in the midst of an urban wilderness, this voice touched a lonely, aching place that lurks in the human heart, offering an unexpected message of faith and hope in the midst of the darkest, most blighted night. This nameless old man brought a message from God in his simple song.

It took England’s leading contemporary composer until 1993 to create and produce what he felt was a proper accompaniment to this homeless person’s song of trust and obedience. He did this in partnership with one of America’s leading composers, Philip Glass. The result is a CD entitled “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.”

In Old Testament times, the role of the high priest was important. He was the titular head of the Jewish people, even thought they had a king. The high priest had important administrative and religious duties. In fact, the Roman governors often consulted with the high priests.

The Israelites could never be sure that the high priest would succeed when he went before God to make atonement for their sins. The Israelites’ high priests were sinners who had to constantly make sacrifices for themselves. The most famous high priests who were sinners were Caiaphas and Ananias. They were the high priests who played a key role in the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

Sacrificial animals had to be perfect in the eyes of the temple priests. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for us because he was perfect and sinless. He is a complete Saviour. Christ united the offices of high priest and king. He is unique in holiness, innocence and purity because of his exalted position in heaven because of his death, resurrection and ascension.

On the other hand, Jesus always represents us before the throne of God. Jesus intercedes for us like a lawyer intercedes on behalf of the client. We can hold to the truth that Jesus died for us. Through his death he intercedes for us by providing the one ultimate sacrifice needed for the atonement for our sins. He has not abandoned us. In fact, he constantly intercedes for us and pleads our case before God the Almighty Judge.

Jesus never fails as our high priest. He knows how to minister to us in the way that benefits us the most and matures our faith in him. Christ did not have to atone for his sins because he never sinned. He only needed to atone for us once. He saves us once and for all.

In the time period and culture of Mark’s Gospel and the Letter to the Hebrews, the best chance a blind person had to support himself was to sit in the path of pedestrians. After all, the passers-by might be moved with mercy and toss some spare change when the blind person called out to them. Jesus was moved with mercy when Bartimaeus called out to him. His mercy led to the saving of both Bartimaeus’ sight and his soul.

The attention that Jesus paid to the poor tells us that what is important to him needs to be important to us as Christians. The poor and the outcasts of society need to be paid attention to. It doesn’t matter if they are across the street or around the world. Distance and other circumstances might keep us separate from them and out of hearing, but we can pay attention to those who do speak for them-relief agencies, journals, newsletters, web pages, religious communities, etc. If Jesus could be interrupted on the way to the cross to answer the urgent, faith-filed cries of Bartimaeus, he will also stop and listen when we call out to him. He is never too busy governing the universe to hear the cries of help from his beloved children.

Crying out is an act of faith. Job cried out, and God confirmed that his cry was an expression of faith. Sometimes we are too proud to ask for help and that is totally understandable. After all, it’s part of human nature to be independent and to want to do things for ourselves. We have to remember that we can’t do everything by ourselves. We need help from time to time, especially when it comes to our salvation, and our eternal life. We need to cry out to God in faith for help when we need it. Each and every one of us has sinned, and that can keep us from heaven unless we acknowledge that we need Jesus in our lives.

When we come to Jesus, we have to get rid of our garments of self-sufficiency, just like Bartimaeus got rid of his cloak. We have to let go of our desire to control things and let God take control of our lives. God always calls someone to him through different, often difficult circumstances.

Bartimaeus gained both physical sight and spiritual sight. Unfortunately, the disciples were still spiritually blind. You see, the story of Bartimaeus occurs while Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. On the way, Jesus told his disciples several times what would happen to him in Jerusalem, but the disciples did not get it. They did not understand him, nor did they understand the cost of following him. In fact, the final mistake they made was to argue in Mark 10:32-45 about who would have precedence in God’s Kingdom!

Jesus gives us spiritual sight. His call to discipleship comes through healing so that others can be given sight of their own weakness as the place where the call to discipleship leads. Only when we can see and accept our weaknesses can we allow Christ to come and serve us. The new covenant that Jesus has with us is for everyone who accepts the free gift of salvation by placing their faith in Jesus. In return, he prays for all of us so that we receive God’s kindness instead of God’s wrath.

Bartimaeus has a lot to teach us about persistence, faith and gratitude. Jesus’ ears hear the cries of the marginalized people in society. When God calls us, or when we call out to God, we must not give up in our attempts to get to him. We must not let obstacles stop us. We need to pay attention to what God is doing in and around us so that we don’t miss what he has in store for us. We need to let Jesus lead the way. Bartimaeus’ outward healing reflected the inner wellness of his salvation. His desire to see represents our desire to be freed from the cultural blinders that have held us captive since the beginning of time.

We are all like Bartimaeus. We are often blind to what goes on around us. We are often blind to God’s love and his desire to have a loving relationship with us. He is waiting for us to come to him. He is standing at the door. He is waiting for us to open the door so that he can enter into our lives.

Jesus can save us because he did not save himself from death on the cross. He can save us because he took our guilt and endured the punishment that we justly deserved. Salvation can’t be separated from divine justice. God hates sin, and he demands punishment for sins. Either the sinner must die, or else someone must die for him. That someone was Jesus. He can save us because if we come to God by him, then he died for us. We need to experience God’s forgiveness, cleansing power and freedom. This comes through God’s mercy, and because of his faithfulness and his love for us, his mercy is new every morning.

So how can we be cured of our spiritual blindness? First, we have to seize the moment and recognize when God gives us an opportunity. Second, we have to reach out in faith and move against our fears of rejection or ridicule. Third, we announce our faith and the changes we want to make in our lives. Only then will we receive God’s grace.

Our faith in Jesus will keep us on the right path when we are in danger of losing our way. Our faith in Jesus will keep us clear and certain when things seem cloudy and confused. It will keep us strong and victorious when we feel weak and defeated. Because we believe that God is sovereign, and because we believe that the risen Christ is living and that the power of the Holy Spirit continues to make all things new, we can affirm that we are being healed again and again. We can see things in fresh, new ways. We can see that we are being called to jump up, throw off the comfortable cloaks of our blind past and follow Jesus into the unknown dangers and the unimaginable opportunities that are to come.

Bibliography

  1. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB  (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc. ;20090
  2. Dr. Mickey Anders, “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
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  16. Os Hillman, “Motivations to Call”. Retrieved from Today-God-is-First@crosswalkmail.com
  17. Mark D. Roberts, “The Jesus Prayer”. Retrieved from Newsletter@TheHighCalling.org
  18. Pastor Bob Coy “Trails of Faith, Parts 1 & 2”. Retrieved from www.activeword.org
  19. Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “A Passing Opportunity”. Retrieved from www.intouch.org
  20. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  21. Dr. Charles F. Stanley, “God Has Time for You”. Retrieved from www.intouch.org
  22. Dermot Martin, O.P., “Take Heart, He is Calling you”. Retrieved from www.torch.op.org
  23. Exegesis for Mark 10:46-52. Retrieved from ww.sermonwriter.com
  24. Pastor Rick Warren, “What Mistakes, Regrets Do You Need to Hand Over to God?” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  25. The Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews, “How Eager Are You?” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  26. Erskine White, “Blind Beggars All”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  27. King Duncan, “Lesson from a Blind Man”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  28. Roland McGregor, “Cry Out!” Retrieved from mcgregorpage@mcgregorpage.org
  29. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Year B, Season after Pentecost-Proper25 Ordinary 30. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod,org/archives/rear-b-season-after-pentecost-proper-25-ordinary-30.html

Job 42:1-6,10-17 Suffering and Humility Lead to Rewards

In 1927, the silent film “Wings,” a World War I film about two American aviators, won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. When it was being filmed, production stopped for several days. Frustrated producers asked the director why. He replied, “All we have is blue sky. The conflict in the air will not be as visible without clouds. Clouds bring perspective.” The director was right. Only by seeing aerial combat with clouds as a backdrop could the viewer see what was really going on.

We see a good example of a similar situation in Job 42:1-6,10-17. At the beginning of his suffering in Job 3:3-5, Job complained that “May the day perish on which I was born…May a cloud settle on it.” Job continued to suffer until God spoke. Then Job exclaimed in Job 42:5, “I have heard of you…but now my eye sees you.” Job had an encounter with God, and that changed his view of God’s purposes.

There are times in our own lives when we wish for blue skies instead of storm clouds, but cloudy skies often reveal God’s faithfulness. When we look back on the clouds in our lives, we gain new insights on how God has been faithful in our trials.

The Book of Job deals with the universal problem of human suffering. More importantly, it deals with the vindication of a good God in the face of evil and suffering. Nowhere is this more evident than in Job 42:1-6,10-17. God did in Job’s life what he did in the life of the nation of Israel. The way God led Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt didn’t make sense, and what he allowed in Job’s life didn’t make sense either. The Israelites suffered and complained, and so did Job. Both the Israelites and Job learned that God is sovereign and good. The only difference is that Job always remembered what he learned. The Israelites didn’t.

Job’s response to God is one of complete submission to God’s sovereignty. Job affirms that God is free-he can do anything-and he does what is good and right. Job was right where God wanted him to be-humbly bowing before God in worship and repentance. Job went from silence to submission.

Job did not confess to any of the sins he was accused of, nor did he say what he was told to say. Job was innocent of these accusations. Job’s fault was that in making judgments about matters, he did not understand, especially when he argued with God about his justice. God did not condemn Job for any sins or foolishness. He did chastise Job for saying that he could better explain what was happening in the world and better order and control its affairs. Job was wrong on both counts, so he repented.

The final picture of Job mirrors the opening picture of him in Job 1. God restored Job not because of Job’s sacrifice but as a gift. God restored Job’s family and fortune to a level surpassing that at the start of his suffering. God gave Job back twice as much as he lost, including another ten children. These children did not replace the first ten children, but were added to them. Between heaven and earth, Job had twenty children. The names Job gave to his daughters were Peace, Forgiveness and Beauty. The book of Job ends with a positive picture of Job and focuses on his character. Job acknowledged all of his children as equals in the inheritance he left them. That was a rarity in ancient times because of the society’s attitude toward women. Job probably lived to the age of 210, which was a typical lifespan in Job’s time. The term “Old and full of days” meant that Job lived a rich, full life until the day he died. Job stayed faithful to God during his suffering, so God wisely rewarded him.

Job was at a point where he had to confess that he was weak, unwise, wordy and unworthy. All of us have had times in our lives where we had to make some type of confession, and Job was no exception. Even if we have never sinned, our pride can get the best of us by ruling our lives. Job was relying on his own strength instead of relying on God. How many times have we made the same mistake? How many times has God had to make us suffer and realize that we need him? When we are at the lowest points in our lives and turn to God in repentance, we find out the truth behind the old saying that “What does not kill you makes you stronger.” God’s redeeming grace can take us from tragedy to triumph and from disbelief to a strong faith.

Worldliness can distort our view of God. Once we confess our ignorance and keep our mouths shut, we can see God clearly. We get to know him for ourselves. We don’t have to depend on human reasoning to define God. We don’t have to be afraid of God’s power because we have seen God’s grace. We don’t need an explanation for everything because we’ve placed our trust in God.

Sometimes when we suffer, we wonder where God is. We are not alone in asking this question. In his book, “Where is God When it Hurts?” author Philip Yancey answered this question. Here is his answer, and it is the same answer for each of us:

                                    He has been there from the beginning…

                                    He has watched us reflect His image…

                                    He has used pain, even in its grossest forms, to teach us…

                                    He has let us cry out and echo Job…

                                    He has allied Himself with the poor and suffering…

                                    He has promised supernatural strength to nourish our spirit…

                                    He has joined us…hurt and bled and cried and suffered

                                    He has dignified for all time those who suffer…

                                    He is with us now…

                                    He is waiting…

                                    Where, O death, is your victory?

                                    Where, O death, is your sting?

Instead of asking why God hasn’t kept his promises, we need to ask ourselves if there is anything we are doing that is keeping God from fulfilling his promises.

When God condemned Job’s friends, Job interceded for them. This was part of Job’s repentance, and because he showed grace to his friends, enemies and family, God gave Job grace.  Job prayed for his friends, and that was evidence that Job’s heart was no longer filled with resentment or bitterness toward them. Job forgave them and experienced God’s forgiveness for himself.

When we pray for others, our own lives will change. The more we appreciate God, the more we will depreciate or humble ourselves. When the thought of God rises higher and higher, our pride will sink lower and lower.

There are things in life that we can’t understand on earth, but we will understand them completely when we get to heaven. One of these things is God’s grace.  Grace can’t be earned. It is the gift of God’s unconditional love. Job’s intercession was a prophetic image for Christ’s intercession for his enemies when he was dying on the cross. Grace holds no grudges, and neither did Christ or Job. They accepted those who abandoned them just like God still loves us even when we abandon him.

Satan is always looking for ways to attack God’s children, and when he does attack, God is still in control. Even when Satan does his worst like he did when he made Job suffer, God does his best for us. When the devil attacks, we must continue to surrender our lives to God’s will, because God will always defeat the devil.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing;  2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 12; Job (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1986)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. “Perspective from the Clouds.” Retrieved from noreply@rbc.org
  7. Steve Arterburn, “Nothing to Prove.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@croswalkmail.com

Mark 10:35-45 Heaven’s Definition of Success

In Mark 10:35-45, Jesus once again told his disciples everything that would happen to him in Jerusalem-his trial, death, resurrection and ascension. James and John seized this opportunity to ask for the highest positions of honour in his kingdom-at the right and left hands of Jesus. They forgot that God controls the final destiny of each and every one of us. They expected a moment of glory, and they wanted to enjoy it. No wonder Peter and the rest of the disciples were upset. Jesus saw that a power struggle was developing, and he had to do something about it.

The disciples would have been wise to remember the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” Jesus warned them that they would suffer like he would suffer. He told them that they would be martyred for their faith, and in fact they were martyred for their faith. James was the first of the disciples to die for Christ. John was the last. He died in exile as an old man on the Greek island of Patmos.

Sometimes we have the idea that if we follow Jesus we are guaranteed to receive a reward. When that happens we forget that Jesus’ ministry was one of serving others. He gave himself for the sake of others, including suffering for their salvation. Christians today should be just as willing to suffer with Christ as they are to reign with him. Nowhere is this more evident than in countries where being a Christian could lead to jail, physical harm and even death. In our part of the world we may never have to suffer the same consequences for following Christ, but there will be times where we will have to endure our own brand of trials because of our faith. We must remember that if we suffer here on earth for our faith, we will be greatly rewarded in heaven.

Power as the standard of greatness corrupts people. You only have to look at some politicians to see that this is the case. People who are corrupted by power fail to realize that there is only a limited amount of power to go around. They want to protect their position, while people who don’t have power want it. If power is a standard of greatness in any organization, including the church, ambition will rule and jealousy will reign.

Pride wants strokes, and lots of them. Pride loves to get the credit, to be mentioned, to receive glory. For example, those of you who are in the workplace have likely been in situations where your bosses should have given you the credit you deserved, but for whatever reason they didn’t. When that happened, your pride had to be kept in check.

Jesus had the right to be mad at the disciples, but he realized that they were slowly beginning to understand what ministry would involve. He chose to teach them the meaning of true greatness by comparing human standards of greatness with God’s standard of servanthood. In Jesus’ vision, greatness is equal to servanthood. Jesus redefined the true nature of greatness. To be great does not mean to lord it over someone. It means to willingly serve under someone. By giving his own life as a ransom, Jesus-the Suffering Servant mentioned in Isaiah 53:10-12-would soon show his followers ultimate humility.

When we care about the things that hurt others, our hearts will be opened to their pain, and that openness will lead to its own suffering. We need to see other people and realize their importance to God. True humility and love for others flows from the infinite love God has for his people. Christ gave his life to God the Father as a ransom to pay for the sins of the people. The cup Jesus was to drink from was God’s wrath. Jesus bore God’s wrath in the place of sinful mankind. The cup the disciples would drink from would purify them and give God glory.

When we follow God, we lay the foundation for God’s kingdom here on earth. We have been saved by the greatness of Jesus, and in return we are to serve Jesus by serving others. Someone led us to Christ, so we must lead others to Christ. Someone helped us to grow spiritually, so in return we must help others grow spiritually. Someone was kind to us, and in return we are to be kind to others.

This can be hard to remember in our fast-paced world. It can be easy to lose sight of what it means to be great in God’s eyes, but if we slow down and open our eyes we will see that opportunities to serve are all around us. It’s easy to find them when we are at home. For example, we can do someone else’s chores or prepare a special meal. We can also serve outside of our homes as well. We can hold the door for a mom pushing a stroller or for someone who is carrying something in their arms. Regardless of what we do, we must serve gladly, because the person we are serving could be an angel in disguise. When we serve others as Jesus served us, we will know the true meaning of greatness. Being called by God is not an invitation of ease and special treatment, but is an invitation to abundant life.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 29th Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  6. Wendy Pope, “Serving Others.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Charles R. Swindoll, “To Serve and to Give.” Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca
  8. Charles R. Swindoll, “A Servant, Not a Celebrity.” Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca
  9. Pastor Dave Risendal, “You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody.” Retrieved from donotreply@wordpress.com

Psalm 104:24-35,37 Worship God the Creator

How many of you have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan?

It’s a war film set during the invasion of Normandy in World War II. The film is about U.S. Army Ranger Captain John H. Miller (who was played by Tom Hanks) and his squad as they search for Private First Class John Francis Ryan (who was played by Matt Damon). Private Ryan was the last surviving brother of four servicemen. Captain Miller lost several of his men in their search to find him. After finding him, Captain Miller himself was mortally wounded. As he laid dying, he told Private Ryan, “Earn this.”

Years later Private Ryan stood in front of Captain Miller’s grave and said, “Every day I think about what you told me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” He turned to his wife and said, “tell me I have led a good life…. tell me I’m a good man.”

Private Ryan asked the same question many of us ask ourselves: “Have I done enough with this one and only life God has given me?” On our own we can’t answer that question, but with Jesus’ help the answer is clear. He died for us so that we don’t have to do anything. By his grace we can live lives that are satisfied with good things, as the writer of Psalm 104 tells us. The question then becomes “Is the work of Jesus enough to make me satisfied and significant?”, and the answer is always a resounding “Yes!”

All of God’s creation is subject to his authority, including the biggest sea creatures. All of creation must praise him. In return, he takes pleasure in everything he has created. They depend on him, and in return he is generous to them. They can rely on him. We are part of God’s creation, so we can also depend on him.

God gives life. He makes the world new again and again. Creation is God’s and it exists for him. He cares and provides for creation, and in return everything he has created gathers in what God gives them and returns a portion to him. This is what the term “tithing” means-giving back to God a portion of what he has given us. God’s spirit has touched all of us in amazing ways, and we must share what we have been given with others.

It’s almost impossible for us to understand creation. Even our best scientists have to regularly revise their theories to try to explain creation-and God puts all of his wisdom at their service and ours. What God has created is awesome beyond our ability to understand it.

All of creation is supposed to show the majesty of God, including Jesus. He was the shekinah, or the visible sign of the invisible God. According to the Old Testament, the shekinah was a radiant cloud or a brilliant light within a cloud that showed the immediate presence of God. That same cloud led the Israelites by day in the desert. That same cloud also appeared at Jesus’ baptism and his transfiguration.

On the other hand, sinners and the unchurched are those who reject God’s rule and rebel against him. They are a blemish on the world, and God will remove that blemish in due time. The purpose of Psalm 104 is to foster hatred of sin. Its purpose is not to foster hatred against sinners. On the contrary, we are to love them. For example, Pope Francis’ 2016 statements to the Roman Catholic Church about how homosexuality and divorce are to be treated show compassion and love instead of hatred.

Our prayerful response to God’s love is to worship him and care for creation, but unfortunately our modern world has selfishly neglected to care for creation. The only way to prevent an ecological disaster is for humanity to treat God’s creation with respect.

Those who bless and praise God want to see the day when sinful men have been removed from the earth and the curse of sin removed. Throughout the Old Testament there are stories of how God used creation itself to destroy evil and rebuild the world. The prime example is the story of the Great Flood. There is a destructive power in nature. Just look at hurricanes and their destructive power. God’s world contains forces that are beyond our wildest dreams, so we would be wise to respect both the forces of nature and the forces of God. We can’t challenge God’s truth and justice because they are both swift and just. God wields his power with love and compassion.

If we take time to develop the habit of seeing God in our lives, we will be able to withstand the most trying times in our lives. I have been developing the habit of seeing God in my life, and it helps me to persevere when a situation is tough. When the Holy Spirit breathes new life into us, we can expect that it will be consistent with the character of Christ even though we might not be able to anticipate everything it will mean.

Our Christian life with God is like a song that is ready to be written. He loves to hear our praise. He will put a song in our hearts that will be the sweetest melody that we can enjoy for the rest of our lives. Just like the angels sang “Glory to God” at Christ’s birth, we are to give God glory in every circumstance in our lives. We don’t have to be a great singer to sing praise to God as long as we praise him every day. We can praise him when we do our household chores or serve others behind the scenes. When we show that Jesus is in our lives and reflect his character to those around us, we will make God happy.

Bibliography

  1. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  2. Dr. R.C. Sproul, “Witnessing His Glory.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  3. Williams, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 14: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989: pp. 239-242)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. “Sing to Me.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
  7. Carol A. Solovitz, “God Pause for Tues., June 3, 2014.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  8. Ron Moore, “Beyond the Last Note.” Retrieved from www.ronmore.org
  9. Ron Moore, “Significant in Christ.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org
  10. Joni Eareckson Tada, “What Makes God Happy?” Retrieved from communications@joniandfriends.org
  11. Alan Brehm, “The Waking Dreamer.” Retrieved from http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.ca/2010/06/breath-of-god-acts-21-21-ps.html
  12. Matthew Stith, “Commentary on Psalm 104:24-34,35b.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=320

1 Timothy 2:1-7 Giving Thanks to God

Thanksgiving was approaching, and a family had received a Thanksgiving card with a painting of a Pilgrim family on their way to church.

Grandma showed the card to her small grandchildren and observed, “The Pilgrim children liked to go to church with their mothers and fathers.”

“Oh yeah?” her young grandson replied, “So why is their dad carrying that rifle?”

This coming Sunday we will celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving. It is a time when we pause to celebrate and give thanks to God for everything he has given us, and the best way to give thanks to God is to pray. Giving thanks is one of three types of prayer, the other two being supplication and intercessions (which means speaking to God on behalf of someone else). Regardless of the type of prayer we use, we must remember that prayer is not just for our sakes or needs.

Supplications are petitions for certain definite needs. They are humble requests made because of certain situations which God alone can help. When our supplications are granted, we need to give thanks. When we take our concerns to God, God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit.

In the reading we heard from 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Paul tells us to pray for those in authority. Complaining about people in authority is easy, but God also tells us to pray for them. These prayers should include requests for the peaceable and wise rule and prayers for their salvation. Such prayers acknowledge that all authority is ultimately God’s authority, and that God is the ultimate King.

We are also to pray for salvation for lost souls. This puts us at odds with Paul. He argues that although God wants everyone to be saved, that does not mean that God will save everyone. People must either accept the Gospel or reject it. Believers should still pray for everyone, even those who seen unreachable. If we think that some people do not deserve the gift of salvation, then we are not as all-loving as God is. Scripture clearly states that God wants everyone to be saved and know the truth of salvation. There are no exceptions. No one is beyond God’s saving love.

Salvation is available because of the one person who was both man and God and who could represent humanity and reconcile humanity to God. That person is Jesus. Jesus served as a mediator between these two otherwise irreconcilable parties. Jesus is the only way to God.

The cross is the site of the most important transaction in history. Jesus served as a ransom to redeem humanity from slavery. The image is that of a slave market, with human beings as the slaves of sin. The price paid to free them was Jesus’ own death. Jesus substituted his own innocent life for our lives as slaves to sin and dying the death we all deserve and sparing us from the judgment we deserve.

False teachers were probably saying that salvation was restricted to the Jews, prompting Paul to write that Jesus gave himself for the sake of everyone and that God appointed him to teach the Gentiles.  Paul’s calling has authority because God gave it to him and because he was faithful to it. Godly obedience makes a Christian’s testimony believable so that unbelievers may hear it and receive it.

We have many gifts from God to be thankful for. These gifts range from the universal offer of the Gospel and salvation to everyone to God’s love for everyone to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for everyone to a church that is for everyone. The last one is hard to believe when you consider that some churches have allowed the world to control their agendas.

The passage from 1 Timothy links God’s grace with our concern for the church’s conduct in a world that lives by non-Christian customs. Churches that appeal to their own kind are the churches that most often grow in numbers. A church that reflects a culture of affluence and success is more likely to be successful. While God can and does bless people with success, we must remember to give thanks to God for that success. We must use that success to show God’s love to the world. One way we can do this is to pray.

Paul’s desire is for us to have compassion for the lost, to understand the depths of their pain and misery, and to come ultimately to God pleading for their salvation. Paul wants us to come to God on behalf of people who have no standing with him. We are to intercede for the lost.

We must not be “carnal Christians.” We must not live to please and serve ourselves instead of pleasing and serving Christ. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in asking God to provide us with what we need or want that we forget to pray for others. We need to ask God to help us be sensitive to the needs of others. We must take advantage of every opportunity to approach God and lay our concerns at his feet.

Things do not happen in this world because we pray. They happen when we pray. We are changed as we discover that the deepest desires of our hearts and the world are changed in some way because of God, the source of light and life, the ground of our being and the lover of our souls. God is the source of all things. If there is matter, God created it. If there is meaning and purpose to life, God determines it. If there is power, God yields it. These are great gifts from God for us, and we need to keep our sights on God’s kingdom and not on the politics of the day.

Because of the gift of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, we have the power to choose what is right. Our love for Jesus motivates us to live for Jesus, and if we live for Jesus, we are to share our faith by praying for people. God loves doing miracles in the lives of people, especially people who are not believers.

The act of praying can involve lifting hands to heaven. This act is a picture of coming before God with clean hands and a pure heart. How can we lift our hands to God if we are not seeking to relate to everyone we meet-people God loves without distinction? We can’t lift our hands to God if we don’t speak and work for the elimination of things that would destroy us. We must raise our hands without anger or doubt.

One of the greatest gifts from God, and one that we truly need to be thankful for, is the leaders in our churches. We must pray that God will give them the wisdom they need to lead us in faith. We must also pray that God will give them the wisdom to administer church affairs according to his will. This includes praying for the decisions they have to make. We must also pray that God will give all of us the strength we need to overcome the hurt some people have experienced as a result of this decision.

At God’s Table, which is one of the greatest gifts God can give us, we learn that we need to show an attitude of gratitude. We don’t need to wait until Thanksgiving to give thanks. We need that deep spirit of influence. It keeps us from having an attitude of selfishness. We need to give thanks for all things because there is always something to be thankful for. We can give thanks to God today and every day, and we can be thankful for the one who loved us so much that he paid the ultimate price for our sins-Jesus.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worth Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Demarest, G.W. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 32: 1,2 Thessalonians/1,2 Timothy/Titus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1984)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Bayless Conley, “The Prayer of Intercession.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Dr. Tony Evans, “What are Carnal Christians?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Everybody.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  8. Pastor Bobby Schuller, “Pray for People.” Retrieved from hourofpower@hourofpower.org
  9. Allan Smith, “Praying for Others.” Retrieved from thought-for-the-day@hub.xc.org
  10. Rebecca Barlow Jordan, “Mediator.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. A.K.M. Adam, “Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:1-7.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=717
  12. The Rev. Geoffrey Hoare, “Intercession.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  13. Exegesis for 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  14. Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “Honour the Emperor.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  15. Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “Praying for Others.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  16. Billy D. Strayhorn, “Sitting at the Big People Table.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

Matthew 6:24-34 Don’t Worry, Be Happy

What do we really need? Our society is based on acquisition of things, especially wealth. We are concerned about what we do not have, especially people who are considered to be “have not”.  Jesus is saying that it doesn’t matter how hard we try to get things, we can’t accumulate more than what God can provide for us. If we are called to our heavenly home by God, what good will earthly goods be? After all, we can’t take them with us. What Jesus is saying in the reading we just heard from Matthew’s Gospel is that we must put first things first. In other words, we are to seek first the Kingdom of God, and we must do this every day. To seek the Kingdom, we must first seek the King.

We must first seek his righteousness. In other words, we are to be seeking God’s character within us, not God’s control over us. It is our job to serve God and God’s job is to supply us with what we need-not the other way around. God will supply us with what we really need if we put our trust in him. We don’t need everything we want, and we don’t want everything we need. God doesn’t give us everything we need.

People must see the Kingdom in us as we see the Kingdom of God. That is the real mark of a Christian. When ordinary people begin to talk about their faith in Christ, long-lasting results are achieved. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We are all called to be a witness for Christ in our lives. It opens the door, even slightly, for God to do something in the life of the person who hears the story. In order for the message to have integrity, it must first be embodied in our lives. In other words, God must be number one in our lives.

The message of the Gospel about the power of Christ to change a human life is by its very nature controversial because people just naturally resist change and agents of change. Most of us would rather settle for our old familiar second-best lifestyle than venture with Christ into a far more excellent way of life. We simply don’t like for people to make waves.

But whenever the Spirit of Christ is released in a person’s life or let loose on a congregation, things begin to happen. Broken relationships are healed as reconciliation takes the place of alienation. The fruits of the Spirit such as love, peace, patience and kindness begin to emerge. And people catch fire for the Lord! No one can deny that something is going on. The earth may not quake, a sound like a mighty wind might not be heard, tongues of fire may not appear, and people may not speak in strange languages, but it could be described as a “second Pentecost”. And at times like these you can either respond favourably or negatively to Christ, but you will find it hard to ignore him. There is something about the activity of Christ that causes us to choose sides.

Jesus’ parable of the rich fool is a good example of what he is trying to tell us in Matthew 6:24-34. The rich man kept building bigger and bigger barns, and then he died. He was foolish because he spent all of his time preparing for a future that never came. The future is not God’s creation-it is our imagination. We dream about the future, but God creates today. God is not saying that we should not prepare for the future at all. On the contrary, he is telling us to prepare for a future with him by putting our trust and faith in him, and by letting him work through us to do his work in the world.

The main problem in society today is worry about the future. The problem with worrying is that it is easy to do but so hard to lose. It is a power that controls our lives. Worry is a big problem for our society. Advertising only adds to that worry because it tries to convince us that we really need the newest car, computer, dress, suit, etc. This is really about acceptance, but the only acceptance that should matter to Christians is acceptance by God.

Many of the problems we can’t solve instantly can be moved one piece at a time, one day at a time. When worries seem to be overtaking you, let God take over. Trust God to supply our needs and take care of our future. Let faith provide you with a healthy and balanced perspective about life and its demands. Instead of nursing wounds of self-pity, pray for the grace to forgive. Instead of worrying about those for whom we are responsible, ask God to intervene and lift the burden from our shoulders. Instead of thinking creatively about how to bring someone else down, pray creatively how to build them up. We find peace of mind and heart only when we wrap ourselves in something bigger than ourselves. Peace is a by-product of being committed to the Kingdom of God and the resources God gives us for the journey we call life.

We serve only that which we love supremely. We can’t serve both God and man. In other words, a man of the world can’t truly be a religious character. We can be in the world but not of the world only if we trust and serve the Lord. Our existence depends solely on God. We must trust on his wisdom that what he provides for us is truly what we need. We must obey his instructions and submit to whatever he uses to transform our character, whether it is hardship, suffering or ease. When we make a commitment to become increasingly like Christ, God will take responsibility for providing whatever we need.

Grace is the way to glory, holiness the way to happiness. God has conferred the greatest blessings (life and the body) so he will be willing to confer the lesser blessings of food, clothing, shelter and other necessities. Those who ask receive, and those who seek find, but not always in the way they expect because God answers prayer in his own time and in his own way.

Man has three basic, insatiable needs:

  1. To feel significant
  2. To feel secure
  3. To be loved

The best way to meet these needs is to make God number one in our lives. Everything we do and say, day by day, is of importance to him. Only as we love God can we love our spouse, children, neighbours, siblings and friends in a complete way. Man is formed for nobler pursuits than the desire to be rich. He lives for eternity. Those who do not know God WILL be anxious about the future, but those who do know him may surely trust him for the supply of their wants. If our minds are directed to both earthly and heavenly things, we become distracted, confused and darkened. We can’t serve both God and man. Trusting and serving God will prevent worldly anxieties.

In order to trust God to provide for our daily needs, we must value ourselves and forget ourselves and focus on God. God does not tell us not to work. In fact, he tells us in the Ten Commandments to work six days and rest on the seventh. Those who do not trust God to provide for their needs will not rest in that seventh day. By not worrying about our needs, we are free to serve him, love him and help our fellow man. We have a power stronger than anxiety-the power of God and prayer. We have a peace that outlasts our anxiety and difficulties-the peace of God, which passes all understanding.

God is committed to the gospel of Jesus and to anyone who makes it their first priority. Other than that, we’re on our own. We’ll have to “Fish or cut bait”. God is not obligated to fund our dreams and projects-only his and the ones planted within us through spiritual gifts and divine calling. To strip Christian faith of its unpredictability and risk in order to turn it into a warm velvet limo ride to a perfect world is to destroy it. Those of you who watched the reality program Fear Factor may have been disgusted by some of the stunts, but at some level we all know that getting the rewards of life is dependent on conquering and facing our fears, and that is nowhere truer than in our relationship with Jesus Christ and the kingdom he is intent on bringing to this world. He knows how large our fears are and how puny our faith is.  It honours him when we trust him. Nothing about us surprises him or makes him loves us any less. To always be seeking the kingdom is to live near the outer edge of predictability, where needs are always greater than resources. Empty hands are not hard to fill, especially when they are lifted to heaven.

We must always ask ourselves the question, “Is my life a gift from God, and if so can I trust God to sustain it?” There is no more basic question, and our lives each give an answer. Once the basic needs are met, is there anything more? Life without an appetite for God is flat and stale. Our good deeds must not loom high in our own minds. They are to be hidden from us. With one’s goodness looming before one’s eyes, one soon comes to feel that they deserve the recognition and admiration of the people. Jesus tells us not to seek this transient reward.

This does not mean that we have no interest in what others think of us. Sometimes we need to hear what those around us are saying, even if we find it unpleasant. Profiting from this praise is not the same as counting such praise as the supreme good. Jesus invites us to seek the true and lasting reward, not the transient and perishable one. That reward is the companionship of God himself. As Jesus said, “Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. It is not in satisfying our craving to have more and more that we have abundant life. No, it is in serving God and loving others as we love ourselves that abundant life is gained and lived. Possessions on earth are not for accumulating, they are for distributing in ways that Christ is honoured and our joy in heaven is increased. When we give (especially when we give so generously that we have to sell something to have anything to give), we show that Christ is our treasure and that we love others more than we love our own security and comfort.

Matthew 6:25-33 What? Me Worry?

A few years ago I read a news story about an elderly lady who died. The coroner’s report read “Cause of death…malnutrition.” At the time of her death, she weighed 50 pounds.

When the authorities began their investigation into her death, they found that her house was a pigpen. She begged food from her neighbours and got what little clothing she had from the Salvation Army. She appeared to be a hermit, but that was not the case. In the mess officials found two keys to safe-deposit boxes at two local banks. In one box were over 700 AT&T stock certificates and hundreds of other valuable stocks, bonds and financial securities along with a stack of cash amounting to over $200,000. The other box contained over $600,000 in cash. Altogether the lady had a net worth of over one million dollars. The estate went to a distant niece and nephew, neither of whom dreamed that their aunt had a cent to her name.

The lady wasn’t saving her money. She was worshipping it, just like many people worship material goods such as food, clothing and shelter. She would have been wise to heed the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:7: “Don’t put your hope in wealth, which is so uncertain. But put your hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” God doesn’t tell us not to stop worrying about food and shelter and clothing because we don’t really need them. He knows we need them. He wants us to stop worrying because he has promised to take care of every need we have.

With God on our side, we do not need to worry about our needs. He will supply our needs, and not necessarily our wants. For example, if we need a car and approach God in prayer with our request, he might give us a ’57 Chevy even though we sing the old song, “O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.” God knows our needs and so he will take care of us. We have to balance our desires with God’s wisdom and blessing. If we believe in him, he will take care of our needs and we can concentrate on living one day at a time.

God provides our lives and our bodies. He is powerful enough to create life, so he is powerful enough to provide for that life. Worrying about our needs does not guarantee that they will be met. If we worry about our needs, it shows that we have little faith in God’s promise to care for us and his power to fulfill that promise. To be successful in our hearts, we have to accept Christ, follow Christ and serve Christ. We can make God our number one priority by serving him instead of man and by using what he has given us to help others.

Worry steals our peace and joy and affects every area of our lives. For example, many health problems are caused in part by worry and stress. If we trust God, worry will be replaced by faith and the knowledge that God will provide for us. We can then take comfort in the words of Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

Here’s a little song I wrote

You might want to sing it note for note

Don’t worry

Be happy

In every life we have some trouble

When you worry you make it double

Don’t worry

Be Happy

When you worry your face will frown

That will bring everybody down

Don’t worry

Be Happy

When we walk with God, our faith will consume our fears. Because God provides for us, we can blossom and thrive. We can show his love, compassion, glory and life.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 to put God’s kingdom first. It does not provide the answer to every problem, but it does eliminate many possible answers. If the answer does not further God’s kingdom and reflect his righteousness, then it does not need to be considered any further.  

When we worry, it is a sign of an unhealthy relationship with God. It shows that we value material goods more than we value our heavenly Father. We need to see him as a loving father who may allow us to experience life’s difficulties but who always takes care of our needs. Relying on God to provide for our needs flies in the face of the world’s emphasis on acquiring material goods and wealth instead of spiritual wealth. When we choose God’s agenda instead of the world’s agenda, God will richly bless us. When we work and let God worry about the outcome, we can relax. Instead of worrying, we need to choose faith, and the only way to increase our faith is to start praying. When we put God first, we will find the proper balance in our lives because God will provide for our needs.

In order for God to provide for us, we have to work. Some people have taken the fact that God will provide for their needs as an excuse not to work or plan for their future We DO have to plan for our future, especially if we want God to look after us. If God looks after us, and if we do our part, things will take care of themselves, but we have to produce. We can’t be idle or dependent on others. God might not endorse all of our plans or open all the doors we want opened, but God will open the right doors at the right time. God will care for us in good times and bad,

If God is first in our giving, he has our hearts. If he has our hearts, he will guide us and meet our needs. If we are holding on to something that is keeping us from following God’s will for our lives, we have to let go of that something. As long as we believe that all that we have is ours, we will struggle with feelings of selfishness. Once we understand that all we have belongs to God and that he is letting us use them for a while, our viewpoint changes.

Anyone can give thanks when the pasture is filled, the fields are beautiful, the orchard is loaded, the barn is bursting, the work is fulfilling and their health is good. But let’s see people praise God when the crops have failed, the rain did not come, the herd has died, the trees did not produce, the job they have worked at for years disappears because the company shuts down, or when the doctor tells them that they have only a few months to live.

As we ask God to take away anything that worries us-a test, a medical finding, job insecurity-he wants us to give him thanks. This might mean that we have to reflect on similar situations in our past when we faced similar circumstances and God came through. In the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are to give God thanks and praise in the midst of everything that comes our way. That goes against our human inclination to complain when things go against us, but that is the very wisdom of God. 

Thanksgiving is more than just a day. It is a lifestyle. It is more about our attitude than it is about platitudes; about the virtue of giving thanks for all that we have received from God. It is an attitude of gratitude for everything God has provided for us because we have faith in him.

Bibliography

  1. Charles R. Swindoll, “Tightwads”. Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca
  2. Alan Smith, “It’s mine”. Retrieved from thought-for-the-day@hub.xc.org.
  3. Stanley, C.F., The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
  4. John North, “Time With God: Matthew 6:25-27, 31-34” retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  5. “He Knows Our Need”. Retrieved from ChristianVoices@att.net
  6. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  7. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  8. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
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  10. Joel & Victoria Osteen, “Refuse to Worry”. Retrieved from no-reply@joelosteen.com
  11. Michael Youssef, PhD, “Daily Living Faith”. Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  12. Gerrit J. Bomhof, “Flowers”. Retrieved from today@thisistoday.net
  13. Pastor Bob Coy, “Warned Against Worry”. Retrieved from www.activeword.org
  14. Doug Fields, “God Works”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  15. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Worry”. Retrieved from lhmlists@lhm.org
  16. Pastor Greg Laurie, “Where We Put God First”. Retrieved from Crossalks@crosswalkmail.com
  17. Exegesis for Matthew 6:25-33. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  18. Bayless Conley, “When God Has Our Hearts’. Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  19. Dick Inness, “Giving to Gain”. Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  20. The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn, “Gratitude Not Platitudes”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  21. Pastor Joe McKeever, “Top Ten Thanksgiving Texts”. Retrieved from http://joemckeever.com/wp/top-ten-thanksgiving-texts.