Ooze

Colossians 3:16  Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.

How does the message dwell richly within you? Does the message ooze out of you, like a creme filling that fails to stay in its boundaries of cake?

As Christians, Paul instructs us to be so filled with the message of the Messiah that we cannot help it from escaping our lips and thoughts. As we dwell upon that Word, that holiness fills us and overflows into others, so that others may see and testify to the message that has saved us. Sometimes it comes out in speech, and sometimes in song. But may it always be when we are in one another’s presence, this message oozes out in holy worship and joy when we fellowship together.

Calendar

“There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven:” (Ecc 3:1)

Everyone this year is looking forward to turning the calendar over to 2021. If you are a bona fide 2020 survivor, you’ve earned it. I am surprised that 2020 has been a blessing to us and our family. Thankfully, we’ve not lost any of our loved ones this year. We’ve both been gainfully employed. Thankfully, despite some job changes, we’ve both been able to improve our situations, and even our son while being furloughed, was able to get a better job than he had before. My oldest daughter even starting working and making some money for herself. I’ve started into a new volunteer position with a local church with the possibility of coming onboard as staff in the near future. 2020 has been an answer to all kinds of prayers for us. I did not expect that.

I suppose I should have. God is a prayer-answering God. But I never would have imagined, had you told me, of the kinds of changes we would be looking at in 2020. The global lock-down is unprecedented. Never have all (most) of the countries of the world agreed to shut themselves down. There have been few winners and many who lost. And yet here we are. Perhaps I’m being premature, 2020 is not yet over as of this writing.

But changing the calendar to 2021 will change none of this. Tomorrow, we will still have COVID. we will not yet know who the next president is. There are still lockdowns in place. In fact, we will still be the same people as we are today, resolutions notwithstanding. Why, because you will still be you. Your heart will remain unchanged. While the calendar changes, you will remain. And the same problems you are dealing with today will follow you into the next year.

Ecclesiastes reminds us in its third chapter that there is a time for everything, and for everything there is (and will be) a time. All of those times can be recorded on a calendar, a chart we have made for ourselves to mark time. We mark days, weeks, months, seasons and years. We celebrate days of birth and special, sacred days to us. We remember days of death and ending. The calendar illustrates when the time was and will be for everything. And for everything there will be a date.

“One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Rom 14:5)

Paul reminds us in his passage in Romans about judging one another (specifically the judgment between Jews who observe holy days and Gentiles who do not) that it isn’t about being right, but about being “convinced in his own mind” and that our method of keeping track of days and times really doesn’t matter outside of our own mind. Why is that relevant?

By common consensus, we all use this western calendar to keep track of time. But the calendar is just a tool. It isn’t your master. We get up to worship on Sundays, but that too is by agreement. We all (most) agree that Sunday is the day for worship. But we could worship everyday.

By the same token, we all (most) agree that the new year starts on January 1st, but you need not allow the calendar decide for you when you will make a major life change. You can decide to give your life to Jesus right now. You can call for a new year in your own life, starting today to read through the Bible, make a new commitment, or stop an old habit.

I don’t know where 2020 left you, but I call upon you not to let the calendar decide for you what kind of person you are going to be. You are more than times and dates. You were created for a higher purpose. You were made to be a child of God.

Listen to God’s voice, God’s own Word. His wisdom will get you through any year. His grace will help you through the highs and the lows. Give glory to God!

The Miracle Jesus Didn’t Do

Read Matthew 13:53-58

Going back to His hometown, while we do not immediately see it, must have been stressful for Jesus. The text is clear that He could do few miracles there. But there is one miracle that is glaring in its absence. To see it, I need to review two assumptions we make about the life of Jesus.

First, as we study the gospels, we find Jesus’ mother fairly active in his life, whether it is taking him home, because the family thinks he is crazy, or at the foot of the cross, watching His last moments. She is still here in Nazareth, with Jesus’ brothers. She was probably in her late forties, or early fifties. But did you notice who was missing from the list of Jesus’ family members? As much as they disagree, scholars tend to agree that Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, had died by the time this story takes place. They tend to agree that Joseph had died before Jesus started his public ministry.

Second, that Jesus did not receive His power from on high to work miracles and healings until his baptism in the river Jordan. This contradicts some of the spurious “infancy” gospels of Jesus, but it makes far more sense, and this even much more significant. The Old Testament saints did not have miraculous power until they Spirit came upon them, and it is far more likely the same was true of Jesus. Just as likely, too, this power was withheld from the juvenile and even toddler Jesus, who would have gone through the same struggles with selfishness and juvenile yearnings all of us go through. Only when Jesus proves he could resist temptation without divine power had Jesus been entrusted with supernatural ability.

These two points taken together point to something much more profound going on in Nazareth for Jesus. Buried somewhere outside the village was a box of bones, the remains of his adoptive father. However and whenever Joseph died, it seems logical to assume Jesus was present. As the firstborn son, it would have been his responsibility to care for the family, and certainly to see to burial arrangements. Had they observed tradition as we understand it, Joseph would have been laid out in a tomb while his flesh decomposed, and then Jesus would have had to go back to the tomb to transfer the bones of Joseph to an ossuary for interment.

As Joseph lay on his death bed, do you think Jesus prayed to God, His heavenly Father, to spare Joseph’s life? Did He pray that God would heal him? Did He agonize over the will of God to whether Joseph should have died? Would this have been a moment of great temptation of Jesus to use His power/ His knowledge to do something good? Did the divine Jesus know that Joseph would die, and when? Did they have conversations in the wood shop about this? Did Joseph tell Jesus that it was okay, that he had lived a good life, and that he was ready to go home? That he was proud of his “son”, and that he knew Jesus would save the world through His work and sacrifice? Didn’t Jesus weep at Joseph’s bedside, even though He knew that Joseph had been a good man, and would be in Abraham’s Bosom?

Did Mary turn to Jesus, and ask Him to do something? Did His brothers beg Him to save their father? And is this what caused such a rift between them that they did not believe until after He rose from the dead? I can almost hear James’ voice, “If you are the Son of God, then save our father!” What a powerful temptation that would have been, and what a source of great sorrow.

Joseph was the best father God could have picked to be the man who raised Jesus. No doubt he was a man who loved his own children well. He showed them what it was to be a man of God. And no doubt all of his children loved him, and were grief-stricken when he died.

And yet, is this the moment that separates Jesus from his family? Is this the reason why none of them follow him to the Jordan, or receive the baptism of John? Is this the moment why his family goes to find him, because they think he is crazy, so stricken with grief and sorrow that He believes He can raise the dead? That when He goes back to His hometown, his family are nowhere to be seen, nor seek to defend Him when he is attacked by the people of the town?

I think it is safe to say that Jesus faced this kind of temptation, and reasonable to assume that is such a thing happened in his family, it could certainly happen in yours. I doubt that Jesus was a stranger to family drama, and going home to Nazareth, a place He rarely visited, would have been a place of unusual stress for Him. So if going home for the holidays is a cause for stress, you are in good company. The family of Jesus rejected Him long before they accepted Him. But that isn’t the end of the story.

In 1 Cor 15:7, the scripture says, “Then He appeared to James . . .”

After His initial resurrection, Paul records for us several appearances of the resurrected Jesus. This one stands out. I imagine Jesus appeared to James quietly, silently coming into the shop, picking up familiar tools, and just working alongside him, without saying a word. I imagine James was initially annoyed that his brother would just come into his shop, abandoned three years ago to take up preaching. It was Jesus’ responsibility to take care of the family, not his. “Preaching didn’t pan out, huh?” James’ no doubt was getting warm under the collar until he notices the holes of the nails in Jesus’ hands. Suddenly he realized that the stories of his Brother weren’t just tales in the marketplace. “They said you died. How are you here?”, and yet here He stands, risen again, and standing there with him in his shop. I imagine at some point, the words began to pour out, words beginning with confusion, followed by anger, long-held bitterness at what Jesus had done to their family, and what He did not do. But the grief and the anger melts into sobs, realization setting in, that this wasn’t just his older Brother. This was the Son of God. All that He had done, all the slights their family had suffered, was for this moment. He was dead, and is now alive. He truly was God. He may have been on his knees, apologizing for all the things he had said and done. But in the end, his old Brother embraces him, saying, “All is forgiven.”

By Acts 1:14, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers are all in attendance with the disciples. By Acts 15:13, James speaks up among the assembly, and speaks for the church, passing judgment on the entrance of Gentiles into the Church. By Galatians 2:9, James is considered one of the “pillars” of the Church and even has a book of the New Testament attributed to him. It took some time, but James overcame his anger over his older Brother’s actions, and fully embrace Him as Lord and God.

The Lord knows what you are going through right now. The Lord empathizes with you, more than you know, especially if you are going through the loss of a loved one. Even in this, Jesus has been there. Jesus lost his father before He had the power to save him. Don’t you think that was a lesson that stuck with Him? Do you remember how He had compassion on the widow of Nain, and raised her son back to life? Do you remember how He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, a family that has become a surrogate for His own family in Nazareth? Do you think He may have been reliving the death of His own father a little bit? Jesus’ raised very few people back to life, but have no doubt He knew the very grief that people experience at such loss. Jesus knows your pain too. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

At The Right Time

Read Lk 13: 10-17

I love it when Jesus fights for the little guy.

In this story found in Luke 13, we have another healing that Jesus performs on the Sabbath Day. This time it is a woman, crippled for eighteen years “by a spirit”. This spirit had so crippled her she couldn’t stand straight. Imagine for 18 years all this woman saw was the dust at her feet as she trudged from place to place. We see no friends here to help her. It seems there are none that care for her.

Yet there is one place she seems faithful to go, and that is to the synagogue. Despite her infirmity and the pain and suffering that go along with it, the woman attends her synagogue. You can probably imagine why, for she still has one Friend, One whom she still seeks week after week after week. Maybe for 18 years, she has lived with this crooked spine, still hoping, even praying that her God would heal her. I would say it is a greater test of faith to endure hardship as she did and still trust in God. And to not receive that miracle, than to pray and immediately be healed. I would say she did not make her infirmity a reason for leaving God behind, despite the lack of healing. She still trusted, as Job once wrote, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

It is one thing to come into an illness and to pray for healing, and receive it. We praise the Lord for His work and move with life. It is quite another to have such an illness, pray for healing, and never receive it. And still, despite this, to trust in God. Does your faith in God rest in the quiet trust that whatever is, is of God? That God knows what is best? And will do for you in His time? Would your faith endure for 18, 30 or even 50 years?

During Jesus’ life and ministry, many throngs of people came to Him for healing, pressing up to Him even to touch His garments. They were desperate to be free from their diseases. Jesus healed them. Yet this woman makes no effort to touch Jesus. She does not call attention to herself, and doesn’t seek healing. It is Jesus who sees her, notices her, and calls her forward saying, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” The woman’s back, once crooked and useless, was now straight. Once she was weak and disabled, but now she was strong, and this back made her taller than she’d ever known. Where once she was a woman ignored and overlooked, now she would be seen. The only words we hear her say is that she “praised God!” She knew who had healed her. He was the One she had been faithful to, when all others looked the other way. God saw her. He had been faithful to her, over the eighteen long years she had suffered and prayed, He had seen her, and for this moment, this moment when His Son visited this synagogue, she was prepared. She spoke perhaps more than she knew, but she knew the only power that mattered was the One come from God.

Jesus makes clear for us the struggles she faced. In verse 16, this woman was bound by Satan. But this woman, He says, was a daughter of Abraham, not just because she was a Jewess, but like her father Abraham, she too was faithful. Just as Abraham had been tested in his faith, so was she. She had received the sorest test, and had passed. Her waiting, her praying, and her willingness to endure this brokenness, despite the obstacles it presented to her life, her dreams and her future, was rewarded and commended. She had been prepared for this moment. She could have been set free on any day, but this healing on the Sabbath Day exemplified her faithfulness to her Lord and God.

Where you are today, you too may be praying for healing. Maybe you too have suffered for 18 years, as this woman did. There is hope yet. God knows your struggle. And God will act in His time. It will be the right time.

Heavenly Father, we come to you today to pray for Your healing. It may not be today, nor what we expect. It may not be this week, or at a time we think is right. So Father we also pray for trust that it will come at the right time, the best time. And may our lips and our hearts glorify You all the same. In Your Son’s name we pray, Amen.

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

Read Mark 2:1-12

The Gospel story takes us to Capernaum today, an important location central to the ministry of Jesus in His early ministry. He had done a few miracles here and some preaching. He had attained a reputation and people were crowding around him and bringing him their sick.

So it was with these four men. The fifth man, the Paralytic, is known by no other name. We are not told how long he had suffered from his paralysis, or why. The text isn’t even clear if the four men are his friends. Perhaps the paralytic man was wealthy and was paying to be brought to Jesus, or maybe the four owed him a favor. We aren’t told how old he is, or if he even wanted to be healed. In fact, the paralytic says nothing throughout the entire text. On the other hand, Jesus sees the faith of the four men, bringing the paralytic to Him, bringing him down even through the roof of the house.

But you might note that Jesus does a strange thing. Jesus does not immediately heal the man, but forgives his sin. Though this causes some of the teachers of the Law to be offended, I don’t think that was entirely Jesus’ purpose. Jesus no doubt knew the man’s heart, far better than we do, and saw in him not his physical problem, but a spiritual one. Jesus knew the man’s greater problem was not his paralysis, but his sinful heart.

Coming to the hospital seeking treatment is not always as simple as it appears. Sometimes the problems you are suffering from are straightforward, requiring an antibiotic or a surgery. But sometimes the pain runs much deeper, the treatment more involved, and like the paralytic, isn’t just a physical problem. Like physical injuries, spiritual injuries require attention too.

A spiritual injury can break a heart, break relationships, even husbands and wives, parents and children. A spiritual injury can become bitterness and resentment, and inability to be close to someone, or a loss of faith in one’s church or religion. Spiritual injuries manifest in a number of ways, and they can even feel like physical pain. Before healing can begin, sometimes it needs to begin in the spirit. Sometimes it even starts with forgiveness.

Jesus could see in the man’s heart, in a way that no others could. Where others saw the paralysis, Jesus saw the broken man. Before he would heal the body, He began by healing the man’s soul.

You may find yourself in a similar circumstance today. You may be here today because four men brought you. You may have a very obvious physical need. But the Lord sees your heart. He knows your suffering, and the Lord extends His hand to you today. He offers you healing, of your heart and soul, if you would accept it.

Would you pray with me?

Heavenly Father,

I thank you that today my physical needs are being addressed by people trained, educated, and blessed in wise medical counsel. But now Lord, I seek treatment of a different sort, the treatment of my soul. Father, if there is sin in me, I ask for forgiveness. If there is brokenness in me, I ask for restoration. If there is confusion in me, I ask for wisdom. Help me Lord to see my path and seek wise counsel.

For all these things I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Alone

Loneliness is one of our greatest fears. To live alone. To die alone. To grow up without family, but to be isolated is contrary to our nature. Those who prefer to be alone will always seek the company of others, even of animals, to alleviate loneliness. It is the common plight of the orphan and the aged. God once said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” And we know it by experience.

Though there are times we need to be alone, we fear being alone, being isolated. I don’t mind sequestering myself in my office for a time, but I do so with the knowledge that others are nearby, family, friends, co-workers. Because I will need them in crisis. I will need them when stress comes. I will need them when I feel alone.

In Joshua’s first chapter, Joshua is feeling alone. The man he has grown to favor and follow, Moses, had died. Joshua is grieving. Who will lead Israel now? Who will talk with God to see what needs doing? Who will speak to Israel and lead them into the promised land. Though he probably suspected it, God chooses Joshua to be the leader and general of the army. Joshua will lead them across the Jordan, and Joshua will lead them to take the promised land. It is a large ask, but God makes this one promise to Joshua. “I will never leave you. I will always be with you.” Joshua will never be alone.

Has God asked you to do something? I’ve heard it said, “The Lord doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.” Could Joshua have taken the promised land without God? Maybe. Greater Generals had ravaged the land of Mesopotamia for centuries, taking and re-taking land. But Joshua was going to take Israel because God had promised it. And only this land was promised. Joshua was equipped to do a particular job for a particular time, and would then settle in peace. Bloodshed and war would only be for as long as necessary, and then God would permit him to live in his own home without fear.

What promises has God made to you today? Has God God promised you peace and safety? Or life abundant, eternal, and forever in His presence? Has God promised to keep you free from conflict, or to free you in the conflict?

One promise is sure. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Take heart. God is with you today. You will never be alone again.

Give Thanks

Does every day give you a reason to give thanks? Sure it does. The reasons may be profound, like, “Thank You that the test results were not cancer!” Or fairly simple, “Thank You that I could open my eyes this morning.” In whatever situation you find yourself in, there is always something to be thankful for.

But what about when I don’t feel thankful? I’ve had those days too. It feels like the whole world is against you. Everyone has wronged you, or you are angry that things did not go your way. I know what that feels like. And it’s much easier to find fault with others and with God when I feel that way. The funny thing is, I see myself doing it, and I know it’s wrong. But I also feel good being able to stand in judgment over others as if I’ve done no wrong. But you can’t stay angry for long. At least I hope not. Living life with a grudge isn’t living. When you cut yourself off from others you are dying a little bit each day. It’s better to get over it. Be thankful instead of the blessings God has given you, instead of resentful over the ones He hasn’t.

Can you trust God today to give you those things that benefit you? God is no fairy godmother. He doesn’t grant wishes. God gives blessings, and only He knows you well enough to give you exactly what you are looking for, what fills your heart with joy, because He alone can fill it. If you are looking for blessing and joy today, be thankful to God. He is already working on it. Why? Because He loves you, more than you can understand. He loves you wholly and completely, faults and all. Can you trust that love today?

Dead God, despite my faults and fears, may I trust You to satisfy my needs? Lord. I get angry and silly things, petty things, and I know they come from an ungrateful heart. D please forgive my ungrateful ness and help me be thankful for what you do give me, far more than I deserve. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Always With You

It’s been a little tradition of mine to brew a cup of coffee in the morning while we are away and set it on the railing outside our room. To me it reflects a certain contentment. Some of my favorite things in in this picture, and not just the coffee. I love the serenity of the pastoral scene, the quietness of morning, and the text of Scripture simply enhances the feeling.

Even here, away from home, my God continues to be with me. He has not abandoned me simply because I have vacated the places I usually haunt. He follows me, has even gone before me to make sure the way is clear. When we pray for traveling mercies, we are praying that God would prepare the way. And so He has. Even though our journey isn’t exactly as we planned, it is as He planned. And in this, we must be content.

I don’t know where your journey will take you today, but I pray it will be a good place, a place to worship and praise the Lord above. God bless you today.

No Weapon

www.bible.com/1713/isa.54.17.csb

Well, here is God’s answer to gun control. Or even weapons control in general. (Ever wonder why there’s always an uproar over guns, but not daggers, or poison, or any number of other means to take a life?) God says that no weapon formed against His people shall prosper. So let’s take a moment to examine this in context.

This was given to Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet to the old kingdom of Judah after the separation of Israel from her. Judah was traveling the same path as Israel, falling into the deception of idolatry. In the time of Isaiah, Assyria came south on a conquering path, taking Israel before them. Israel was gone, deported, and would never rise again. Judah was next on the hit list.

Now this prophecy was given before that happened, but Assyria was a genuine threat. And this prophecy would surely be repeated in the face of that implacable enemy. “God promised! He said we would not be defeated!” But the prophecy wasn’t for all Israel, or even all of Judah, but for the Lord’s servants. Now consider who fell into that category. Was it the idolatrous Israelites? Or even those in Judah caught serving other gods? Or was it the faithful remnant, that despite all evidence to the contrary, still believed in the words of God, still believed that God would preserve them?

There are many Christians today in the same predicament. There are many who claim to be Christian, but hold to the values of the world. They consider social standing better than standing with Christ. They consider their own lusts and pleasures more important that sacrifice and self-control. They pursue happiness, but not the will of God. These too will claim the promise of this verse, and will be disappointed when the day of strife comes. Why? Because they had proved, when times were easy, that they were not the Lord’s servants. Now when times are hard, their faithlessness becomes their burden. God is under no obligation.

While God protected Judah from the Assyrian invasion, they were not protected from Babylon some years later. They forgot the lessons of their fathers and hardship again became their teacher. We live in a similar age. The lessons of our fathers and grandfathers are being lost, and once again hardship steps in to instruct. Don’t wait to learn faith from difficult times, but learn now from the words of God. God is our very best teacher, and those who are faithful will serve Him. And those will receive the promises.

Remember you are loved today. God is a strict parent, but He loves us so. He has seen the extremity of hardship and wants to protect us from it. He gives us hardship to prevent much worse. Don’t ignore His lessons, but embrace them as instruction from a loving Father. God loves you, and so do I. May He bless you today.

Long Ago

www.bible.com/1713/isa.25.1.csb

God is never surprised. He know from eternity past what mistakes I am going to make today. He also knows how I am going to react to that, what I will do about it, and how I need Him afterwards. And God already planned His response.

There is nothing you can do that God says, “What just happened?” There is nothing that can happen to you that God isn’t aware of nor is prepared for. God has in fact prepared for every wrong decision you will ever make. Take comfort that God is prepared for your worst.

But the most important thing God had prepared for you is your salvation in Jesus Christ. Without Him, nothing matters. If you never put your faith in Christ, God will still love you, but will respect your choices. But God would rather you become a disciple of Jesus, because of you think he loves you as His child, imagine His love for you as a follower of Christ, one who willingly chooses to follow in the footsteps of His Beloved Son. (Yes, God does have a favorite.)

I invite you today to follow Christ in faith. Don’t wait another day, for God has prepared for you such an amazing, abundant life that you will never look back and say, “I was better off before.”