Dirty, Don’t Touch

How often have parents told their young children, “dirty, don’t touch.”  Toddlers especially are known to be curious about anything they see whether it be a piece of chewed gum stuck to an object, a piece of trash on the ground, or a decaying bird in the grass.  The toddler wants to pick it up and examine it, see what it is, and feel it between its fingers.  Thus, the well-known parental prohibition, “dirty, don’t touch.”  As a result, as the child ages, the lesson of clean and unclean becomes part of their psyche; helping them discern things in a germ-filled world.

In the days of Jesus, they might not have had much of an understanding of germs, but they did understand the difference between that which was clean and unclean. A person or thing could contract ritual “uncleanness” in many different ways: by skin diseases, discharges of bodily fluids, touching something dead, or eating unclean foods.  Because of the strict purity laws of the day, an unclean person would have been avoided and even shunned until cleanliness could be restored which took much more than a hot shower.  As a result, if something or someone was unclean, the word of advice of the day was “dirty, don’t touch.”

Yet, when Jesus stepped on the scene, he seemed to have little regard to the thought that dirty or unclean things could not be touched.  It seemed that Jesus went out of his way to touch that which was rendered unclean.  In Matthew 8: 1-4 we read of one such an encounter.  “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.”  In reaching out to touch the man with the dreaded disease of leprosy, Jesus demonstrated the reach of God’s love to a broken world.  Even in his state of uncleanliness, God’s love would not be deterred from reaching out and touching the man.  It would not be a touch that would lead to the uncleanliness of Jesus, but the healing and restoring and cleansing of the man with leprosy.  For Jesus, whether it was a person with leprosy, a woman with a flow of blood, a woman with a sinful lifestyle, or the body of a dead person, Jesus did not fear touching the untouchable, but he feared individuals going through life and not experiencing the touch of God’s love.  For Jesus, every individual was of value and worth.

As Jesus’ followers, we are called to a life and ministry of touch.  Individuals today still find themselves shunned, ignored, and even hated at times by a world that labels them as unclean, unworthy, and untouchable.  As Christians, we operate under the guidelines that Jesus left behind that wherever there is human suffering, pain, rejection, and fear, we must stretch ourselves and touch the world with the compassion and mercy of our Lord.  We must reject the label system that classifies people as worthy and unworthy.  We must move beyond the “dirty, don’t touch” mindset that seeks us to separate us and embrace one another as a community of grace.  In doing so we tell the world that the touch of Jesus is not stuck between the pages of our Bibles, but it a real and living presence in the world today.

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The Deep End

At some point in children’s lives, the parents permit them to swim in the deep end of the pool.  Growing up with a public pool, I can remember the various roped off areas based on the water depth.  There was the shallow end, the larger pool that went from three feet to five feet, and then the deep end where the diving boards were.  As a kid, the goal was to be able to swim in the deep end.  The older you grew and the better swimmer you became, you didn’t want to remain in the shallow end.  You wanted to go deeper.

In many ways, growing in our faith is like learning to swim in deeper water.  When we enter into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ, the goal is to grow in our faith.  The Christian faith is not a static stop in life, but an ongoing journey whereby God’s Holy Spirit works in our lives to shape us and mold us into the image of our Lord.  As the apostle Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)  God desires to move our faith to deeper waters.

In the Gospel of Mark, there is a story of Jesus healing a blind man.  In the town of Bethsaida, a blind man was brought to Jesus to heal.  Jesus took the man and touched his eyes with his saliva.  Jesus asked the man if he could see anything.  The man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” (Mark 8:24)  The man could see, but his vision was blurry.  Jesus touched the man a second time and with this second touch, the man now saw everything clearly.  Something in that second touch enabled the man’s sight to be restored.

We need to daily be touched by Christ Jesus.  Each day is an opportunity for God’s Spirit to work in our lives to restore us completely.  While at the first touch of Jesus we are saved, God is not finished with us yet.  Rather, over time, as we daily surrender to God’s Spirit, God helps us to see more clearly.  Daily God moves us into deeper waters.  Our salvation is an ongoing process that is never completed on this side of heaven.  It is why Paul confessed, For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

God wants to bring us to deeper waters.  While such waters may seem mysterious and fearful at times, we can trust in God’s grace to teach us to swim.  God wants to move all us beyond where we are at this moment.  God has more to show us, more for us to experience, and more for us to learn.  We just have to trust in the currents of God’s Spirit flowing in and through us to bring us to where God wants us to be.

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Closet Choices

“What will I wear today” is one of the first questions that we ask ourselves in the morning.  We open our closets and examine our wardrobe and try to determine what we will wear.  Sometimes it is a quick decision while at other times we may struggle to decide.  We may try on a couple of outfits before we make our choice.  But at some point, we do have to choose what we will wear for the day.

What we wear also will communicate a message to those we come into contact with.  Italian fashion designer, Miuccia Prada, says it this way, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.”  That is, what we wear makes a statement whether we realize it or not.

In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul writes, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  (Galatians 3:27) According to Paul, when we enter into a relationship with Jesus, then there is a wardrobe change.  The old wardrobe is discarded, and we now clothe ourselves in Jesus Christ.  Jesus becomes our fashion statement to the world.  Jesus becomes our style of living in the world.

Well, Jesus was indeed a trendsetter who stood out from the other religious leaders of the day.  It is why people were drawn to him.  His life was dressed in a wardrobe that was attractive and inviting.  Jesus stepped out in a new style.  As his followers, we are called to emulate that style of living in our world.  Each day we must decide to clothe ourselves in the style of Jesus before stepping out into the world.  And the style of Jesus is one that will be evident to others.  In his letter to the Colossians, Paul would also write, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3: 12-14)

However, what is confusing to the world is when we claim to follow Jesus, but our lives are out of sync with the life that Jesus lived.  Rather, than demonstrating the qualities that Paul highlights: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love, we sometimes model the direct opposite. Mahatma Gandhi, in observing Christianity once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Whether it was Gandhi or our next-door neighbor, people are watching us as followers of Jesus in our how we live our lives.  The question for all us is, “do they see Jesus in me?”  Do they see Jesus in me at work, school, in social settings, on FACEBOOK, twitter, and the like?  Does our way of living demonstrate that we have indeed clothed ourselves in Christ Jesus?

As individuals, we can spend a lot of time and money on our clothing wardrobe.  We can stand at our closet doors in deep thought about what we will wear for today.  Maybe we should all spend some time reflecting more on how our living models the life of Christ Jesus in our daily walk.  When we clothe ourselves in Jesus, then the day we live will always be in style in the eyes of God and be attractive to those around us.

Image: What to wear tonight?

Word Games

Most people enjoy a good word game like crossword puzzles, word searches, jumbles, scrabble, and the like.  Such games are good intellectual stimulation, they can strengthen our vocabulary, and are simply fun to do.  Some people are good at them while others may struggle and take longer to complete.  Yet, like anything, the more time you spend doing the games, the better you become.

The Christian faith is built around words.  In the first chapter of John, the gospel writer says this about Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  (John1:1, 14) Jesus is described as God’s Word in flesh and bone.  Through Jesus, God’s Word is made known.

We know about Jesus through the written word, the Bible.  We call the scriptures, “God’s word.”  From the opening pages of the book of Genesis to the closing verses of the book of Revelation we read the story of God’s redemptive work in a fallen world.  In faith, we turn to the scriptures for guidance, instruction, and encouragement.  The Bible plays a central role in our Christian walk.

In the letter of James in the New Testament, the writer challenges us as Christians, however, not to play word games with the scriptures.  In James 1: 22-24, we read, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; or they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”  James sought to encourage the early Christians to live out God’s word in their daily lives.  It was easy then, as it is now, to read and listen to God’s word, but then not take the next step of making a it a guide for living in the world.  Reading and hearing God’s Word means little if it does not affect the way that we live our lives.  It is as James states, like looking in a mirror, walking away, and forgetting what we look like.  God’s Word must be transformative in the life of the believer.  We are not simply to be “hearers” but “doers” as well, otherwise we are simply playing word games.

What then does a “doer of the word” look like?  It would seem to me that a “doer of the written word” would look like Jesus, the Living Word.  A doer is one who seeks to model her life after the life of Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he tells them, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 15-17) As the living Word, Jesus calls us to a life of servanthood whereby we live out the written word by actively engaging the world in the way Jesus did with love, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, tenderness, faithfulness, generosity, patience, and the like.  Jesus has given us quite a vocabulary of words to put into practice.

Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer once wrote, “You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil, if you do not desire to live according to it.”  For Luther, we play games with God’s word when we fail to live lives that do not reflect Jesus Christ.  When we fail to use the vocabulary of Jesus, then God’s word becomes a lifeless relic for museums and library shelves but nothing more.  Yet, as the Living Word, Jesus becomes the foundation of our living, shaping us and molding us after his will, and leading us to “do” the kind of life that reflects him.

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We Interrupt this Program

You’re watching your favorite program on television when all of a sudden, the news interrupts your show with breaking news.  It usually begins with an announcement of some kind like “we interrupt this program for a special news alert.”  Something has happened that is of such importance that your regular program is interrupted.  Unfortunately, most often the news is not good.  Rarely do networks interrupt their scheduled program with good news.

Life is full of interruptions.  We find ourselves on cruise control as life is good when something suddenly happens that throws everything off course.  A sickness, death, a job loss, a family conflict, financial trouble, depression, and the like interrupt our lives and leave us wondering when things will return to normal.  These interruptions can heighten our anxiety, leave us fearful, weary, tired, and depleted.

In my lifetime, I cannot remember an interruption affecting so many people like the COVID-19 virus.  Life as we know was interrupted on a massive scale in March 2020 and we still find ourselves struggling in the currents of uncertainty.  Like a riptide that pulls a swimmer from the ocean shore and out to sea, we have had our lives pulled out from under us leaving some of us struggling to keep our heads above water.  We long for the security of the shore as we are pulled out into the waters of uncertainty.

Yet, life does not need a pandemic to be uncertain.  We all face situations when the present is unstable, and the future is worrisome.  We know what it is like to lie in bed at night and try to sleep while our anxieties are wide awake.  As people of faith, we sometimes feel guilty for feeling this way.  We wonder why we are not stronger and that we should have more faith.

The night before Jesus was crucified, we find him in the Garden of Gethsemane, alone and in prayer.  In Luke 22:44 we read, “In his anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground.”  Luke tells us that Jesus was in anguish with sweat dropping to the ground like blood.”  The dictionary defines anguish as excruciating or acute distress, suffering.  This is the Son of God, face to the ground struggling with what is before him.  If Jesus can feel like this, it would seem that we too can be honest about life when it is interrupted.  Uncertainty and fear are simply part of the human landscape.  Jesus once said, In this world, you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) Jesus didn’t proclaim an unrealistic picture of life.  Jesus knew that life would be interrupted and that there would be some difficult times.  Yet, Jesus also offered hope.  The rest of John 16:33 reads, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When life interrupts we have to remember to take heart and trust that God will bring us to a better day.  The prophet Isaiah would confess, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) God promises to stay with us even in the interruptions of life.  Regardless of what the news of the day is, we will never be alone.  God’s faithful presence will watch over us.  In many ways, in the coming of Jesus, God interrupted the bad news cycle of our world with good news.  Good news that offers us hope for today and tomorrow.  God’s divine interruption into our lives is ultimately what will make a difference in our lives.

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First Things First

Many people operate daily under a “to do” list.  That is, as they consider the day before them, they list the things that they want to accomplish.  Likewise, sometimes the “to do” list is prioritized based on what needs to be done first.  Somethings are more important than others and need to be taken care of as soon as possible.  Other things can wait even if for another day.  The important thing is to do the first things first.

For most church’s worship, there is a typical order of worship that the congregation follows.  Each church may be different from one another, yet each church often has its own “to do” list when it comes to worship.  The “to-do” list may include singing, prayer, reading scripture, litanies, special music, a sermon, communion, and the like.  Hence, the congregation usually develops an order of worship.  What will worship begin with and how will it end?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Gospel, Jesus teaches about doing first things first when it comes to worship.  In Matthew 5: 23-24 Jesus says, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”  According to Jesus, as we enter to worship the first thing, we should do is seek to reconcile with those whom we have had discord, division, and disagreement with.  If there is something broken in a relationship, then we should seek to make it right before we offer our worship to God.  Hence, as followers of Jesus, reconciliation should always come first.

In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes about how we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, our broken relationship with God is healed and made whole.  In Jesus, we are reunited with God in a new way.  As a result of our reconciliation with God, we must now become reconcilers ourselves.  Paul writes, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18) As Christians, the ministry of reconciliation should always be at the top of our “to do” list for the day.  Every day allows us to mend fences, tear down walls that separate, and forgive one another.  For when we bring unforgiveness with us to worship it will always impede our worship.  That’s why Jesus told us to leave our gift at the altar and go and make right that which is wrong.

So, whatever our “to do” list may be for today, let us not forget that God has called us to a ministry of reconciliation.  This should always be the first task of the day.  Reconciliation must be the first thing in our order of worship but also the order of our lives.

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Tongue Tied

Sometimes things just come out wrong; that is, out of our mouths. We say the wrong thing or say something in the wrong way. Regardless, the words that flow from our mouths are heard by others in a negative light. I think most people can remember times in which they wished they had not said something. We’ve all had experiences in which we would like to take back our words.

We also realize that words can cause pain. The old saying of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” just does not stand the test of experience. We have all been hurt by the words of another just as we have hurt others with our words. Likewise, hurtful words can sometimes take a long time to heal. Richelle. E. Goodrich in her book, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, and Grumblings for Every Day of the Year writes:

“Silly words cause trills
because they’re ludicrous and funny.

Happy words paint endless smiles
and swallow troubles whole.

Thoughtful words are thus
because they make the day feel sunny.

But hurtful words are such
that pierce the heart and weigh the soul.”

Indeed, words matter. The words we choose to use and how we use them can impact others for both the good and the bad. Perhaps this was the thinking of the writer of Proverbs in the Old Testament where it is written, “To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble.” The writer contends that we must watch over our mouths and tongues as we seek to communicate with others, because there is power, both good and bad, in the spoken word.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul reminded these early Christians about using their words for the benefit of others. In Ephesians 4:29 Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” As a people of faith, our words should always be filtered by God’s grace. Do our words reflect the character and nature of our Lord? Words matter and when we season them in the Spirit of our Lord, they are more likely to build others up, encourage others, and communicate love.
So, let us choose wisely. Words soaked in grace and love which seek to bring healing, encouragement, peace, and kindness to the lives of others. When we allow God’s Spirit to watch over our mouths, then our mouths will bring forth the words of our Lord and in the way of our Lord.

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Do-Over

When I was a young boy there was an open lot across the street from my house.  As a result, it became a great place to play football with my friends.  We would often meet there after school to play.  When we played a game of football, we had to referee ourselves.  As a result, there were some times disagreements about particular plays.  Every side would argue their case and understanding of what happened.  When we couldn’t reach a decision, someone would call out “do-over.”  A “do-over” call meant that the previous play was forgotten, and everything would be done over.  It was a new start; a new chance to play.

When you read the Gospels, there are countless stories where Jesus encountered individuals who had come to a point in their lives where they felt stuck in situations that offered no hope for their futures.  Whether it was a man covered with the sores of leprosy, a woman sitting alone at a well, a dishonest tax collector hanging from a sycamore tree, or a woman about to be stoned to death by a mob, Jesus entered the scene and cried out “do-over.”  Jesus refused to let these individuals remain in their hopeless situations.  Jesus offered a second chance and a fresh start with a new future.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the apostle Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  In Jesus, God offers every person a chance to start over and begin anew.  In Jesus, no life ever reaches a point in which it is beyond redemption and renewal.  Every life can find a new beginning in Jesus.

Nowhere is this more seen than in the cross.  The cross of Jesus is God’s way of saying “do-over” to a world broken by sin, gripped in guilt, and bound for hell.  God, out of his great love for us, turns the pages of our past and creates a new beginning for all.  We can leave our painful past and find hope for a new beginning in Jesus.  Regardless of what our lives may look like in the present, God says, “do-over.”  It is a new start and a new chance at life.

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Our First Step

I don’t guess any of us remember our first step.  The moment as infants, when we stop crawling, stand up, and take a step.  At first, we may only take a couple of steps before we fall again.  But eventually, we get the hang of it and commence to walking wherever we go.  It is the first step of many over the course of our lives.  The average person takes around 7,500 steps/day. If this is maintained daily through the age of 80, you will have walked about 216,262,500 steps throughout your life.

As people of faith, each day we can choose what to do with our steps.  No one is controlling us, but we are free to decide which direction our day will go.  Our first step each morning is entirely up to us.  It would seem to me that the first step each day in our lives should be a step of gratitude.  When our feet hit the floor after a night of rest, the best way to begin the day is in thanksgiving to the God who has brought us safely through another night.  We are awake and alive and this is worthy of praise.

In Psalm 92:1 we read, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.”  The first step each day should be a step of gratitude.  Before the worries of the day begin to settle in or we face the problems we have to tackle, we should step out first in gratitude.  If we begin the day with gratitude, then it can become our frame of reference for the rest of the day.  Even though the day before us might be challenging or difficult, we can see it through a lens of gratitude and thanks.  Andrew Murry, the great Dutch Reformed missionary sent from Scotland to South Africa and the author many books on the Christian life, once wrote,  “Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.”  If our first step of the day is gratitude to God, then this spirit of gratitude can guide the steps that follow and remind us that even in our most difficult steps how blessed we are.

In the Gospel of Luke, there is a story in which Jesus heals ten lepers all at once.  They are elated at their healing and turn to go and share their healing with a priest so they can be officially declared clean.  One leper, however, returns to Jesus, falls at his feet, and give thanks for what the Lord had done for him.  We should follow this leper’s lead and offer God thanks each day with our first step.  We can give thanks for all the Lord has done for us. If we step out first in gratitude to God, then we know that they will be heading out in the right direction.

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Vacancy

When I was young, I can remember taking weekend trips to the mountains with my family.  These were not well-planned trips.  My parents just had an urge to go and off we went.  In seeking our hotel accommodations, I can remember my parents reading the vacancy signs that used to be outside of hotels.  These light up signs would either flash vacancy, that is, there were rooms available; or no vacancy, they were all filled.  The sign saved you the trouble of having to go in and ask at the counter.  Sometimes it took a while to find a hotel will rooms available.  There were simply not rooms enough to go around.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus spends time sharing with his disciples about his approaching departure.  Jesus knew that his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven were drawing close and that he would soon be leaving his followers.  They were uncertain what this meant for them.  How would they go on without their leader?  Would they ever see him again?

In John 14: 1-3 Jesus says to his worried disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  Jesus shared with his disciples that he would come again and take them to his Father’s house where there would be many rooms.  God’s house is expansive, and the rooms are unlimited for those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

Jesus said he would come again and take them there himself.  In coming again, Jesus could have meant his second coming to earth which the Bible teaches will occur at the end of time where God will gather his followers and lead them into God’s eternal Kingdom.  Or Jesus could have meant that he comes again at the moment of our death and ushers us into God’s eternity.  Regardless, Jesus is the one who brings us to the Father’s house with many rooms.

Trusting in Jesus with our living and our dying is the pathway to this eternal home where there will never be a “no vacancy” sign.  When we place our faith in Jesus, we have the assurance that when we arrive in God’s heaven that there will be a place for us.  A place where we will dwell with God and all those who have gone before us.  In Jesus, we are destined to an eternity with God.  We need not worry about our arrival, because Jesus will already have our room ready and waiting.  There will always be a vacancy sign to greet us and welcome us home.

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A Story of Tears

I wonder who it was that first shed a tear in the Bible?  Perhaps it was Adam and Eve after they had been banned from the Garden of Eden.  Did they weep over their fallen condition?  They had reason to cry.  Their paradise had been corrupted by their sin and they would no longer be able to return.  Regardless of when the first tear fell, the Bible is full of tears.

Esau wept when he realized that he had missed out on his father Isaac’s blessing.  Joseph wept when he was reunited with his brothers.  The people of Israel wept when their leader Moses died.  Ruth wept and clung to her mother-in-law, Naomi.  King David wept at the death of his son.  Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  Jesus wept when he saw the grief of Mary and Martha.  Peter, the disciple, wept after he betrayed Jesus.  And Mary Magdalene wept outside the tomb of Jesus.  Indeed, the Bible is full of stories of tears.

Our lives are also filled with tears.  Tears of pain, sorrow, anger, fear, anxiety, and grief fill the pages of our lives.  We have all wept over someone or some experience in our lives that has left us broken.  We know what it is like to have a heavy heart and to feel our eyes grow heavy under the weight of our tears.  We know the feel of tears streaming down our faces. We know what it is like to fall asleep with tears on our pillows.  Someone once said, “tears are how our hearts speak when our lips cannot describe how much we have been hurt.

In the book of Revelation, John records the visions he had of heaven.  John looked toward a future in which the sadness and hurt that we experience in this world will be no more.  In Revelation 21: 3-4 John writes, “‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  John envisions a future where they will be no more tears.  The stories of our tears of living in a broken world will be wiped away by the tender and healing hands of God’s grace.  God is preparing for all who place their faith in Jesus Christ, a future, and eternity without tears.  When all is said and done with the stories of our lives, it will be a tearless ending.

This is our hope as we live out our lives in this world.  In the present, God knows every tear that falls and is with us as a comforting presence.  There will be tears in this life, but we will never weep outside the boundaries of God’s grace.  And ultimately, we live today with a hope for tomorrow in a tearless eternity in the everlasting light and joy of our savior where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

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How Sweet the Sound

From the moment our alarm clocks go off in the morning and we begin a new day, we are surrounded by sounds.  The noises around us are many, changing, diverse, and constant.  From the sounds of the radio in our cars, the sounds of traffic, work, school, leisure, and the like, there is little in our lives that remain quiet.

Some noises we welcome, like the sound of our children laughing and playing together or chirping crickets on a cool evening.  Other sounds may make us cringe like blaring sirens, construction work, or the loudness of commercials on our televisions.  There are some sound we wish we could hear again but cannot, like the voices of loved ones or friends who are no longer with us.  Some sounds we would just assume never hear like gunshots in the streets or the screams of a person in severe pain.

John Newton was an English clergyman and abolitionist who penned the words of one of the most well-known hymns, Amazing Grace.  Prior to his calling as a minister, Newton went to sea at a young age and worked on slave ships in the slave trade for several years.  He experienced and participated in the worst of humanity, human slavery.  He heard the cries of families being split apart as slaves were sold to different owners.  He heard the sounds of the auctioneer saying “sold” to the high bidders at slave auctions. He heard the sounds of whips tearing at the flesh on the backs of African men and women.  His life was filled with the sounds of hate, injustice, pain, and suffering.

But while on his boat in the midst of a storm at sea, God broke through the hardness of Newton’s heart and began a process of conversion; transforming Newton from a ruthless slave trader to an instrument of God’s love, mercy, and grace.  Eventually, it would be this transformation that would lead him to pen the words, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound.”  The sound of God’s grace had overpowered the other noises in his life and enabled him to hear clearly the wonders of God’s grace which can save us from our sin and rebirth us into a new life.  God’s amazing grace was the sweet sound that made all the difference in Newton’s life.

God’s grace is still the only sound that can offer true hope for our lives and for our world.  The daily noises that fill our lives can be overwhelming at times.  Yet, God’s grace is greater, and it is indeed amazing.  It changed the life of a slave trader and it can change our lives as well.  Grace, it is a sweet sound and the sound that makes all the difference in who we are and who we can become  So let us keep listening to for this amazing grace every day as the only sound that can truly bring the life we all long to live.

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A New Song

I’m not sure how it happens, but sometimes I wake up in the morning with a song stuck in my head.  Somehow, a song that I heard or know, rises up out of somewhere and I find myself singing it or humming it throughout the day.  And once a song is stuck in my head, it is hard to get out.  Even when I try to start thinking about a different song, the one stuck in my head overpowers it and I go back to singing and humming it again.

It seems to me that every life has a song that it lives by.  That is, our lives are daily shaped by the lyrics and melody that plays over and over within us.  This song affects the way we live.  It influences our thoughts and ultimately our behavior.  It also becomes the lens by which we see and understand ourselves.

The problem, however, is that the song we listen to sometimes carries with a negative message about who we are, who we can become, and how we think others see us.  Listen to it long enough and over time we believe the lyrics.  Our song may tell us we don’t matter, no one cares, we can’t change, or that we are no good.  It gets stuck in our head and we resign to live with it.

During the ministry of Jesus, he encountered different individuals who had lived their lives believing the old lyrics of an old song that had shaped their lives.  Whether it was tax collectors, a sinful woman, diseased persons, fishermen, children, or Samaritans, people in Jesus’ day, as in our day, felt they had no other lives to live than the one they had been told to live.

Jesus came offering a new song for people’s lives that was written not by human standards, but by God, who gives worth, value, and dignity to every life.  Jesus offers new lyrics for every person to live by and a melody that guides us in our living.  The song that Jesus gives us frees us from the constraining lyrics of the world and offers us a new song to live by which sets us free.

In Psalm 40:3 we read, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”  We don’t have to live by the song the world places within us, but God offers us an original piece written with God’s amazing grace.  As we receive this song into our lives and allow it to “get stuck in our heads and hearts”, then we discover who we are in the eyes of God and who God has called us to be.  As the old hymn lyrics remind us, “There’s within my hearts a melody….Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.”

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Good News

Good news.  It is hard to find in the media anymore.  Whether it is your local newspaper or television news channel or a national news program on cable, good news is rarely the topic of the day.  Rather, each day we are met with new headlines that remind us how broken our world is:  violence, prejudice, greed, abuse of power, hatred, anger, and injustice.  For most people, it can be overwhelming, if not downright depressing.  Add to the fact that the news now runs 24 hours a day on so many media formats, it is no wonder that we have become intoxicated with a steady stream of bad news.

In the Gospel of Luke, there is the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman who had suffered from a bleeding problem for 12 years.  She had sought help from doctors, but no one could heal her.  She had exhausted her financial resources.  For 12 years, all she had known was bad news.  With such a health problem, she would have been declared “unclean” and forced to live a life of isolation. We could understand if she just gave up and surrendered to the bad news and immersed herself in a sea of despair.

However, rather than surrender to despair, she immersed herself into a sea of people that had surrounded Jesus.  She believed if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, then it would be enough to heal her.  Swimming against the bad news currents in her life, she reached out and indeed touched Jesus’ clothing.  Luke tells us that “immediately her hemorrhage stopped.

Luke goes on to tell us that Jesus immediately knew someone had touched him in an act of faith because he sensed the power that flowed out of him.  The woman realized that she could no longer hide behind the crowd of people.   Coming forward to Jesus she confessed what she had done and how she had been healed.  Jesus responds to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48) Twelve years of bad news had given way to the good news.  The hope for her bad news life would only be found in the good news of Jesus.

In our bad news world, the only real hope for all of us is the good news of Jesus Christ.  Only Christ can transform a broken world and bring peace as he did to this woman.  In Mark 1:1 we read his introduction to Jesus:  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  This is the headline news for all of us.  In Jesus, God has stepped into our broken world with the good news of hope and new life.  In Jesus, we now have an eternal source of good news to draw forth life, hope, peace, and joy.  It doesn’t mean that all the bad news in our lives will suddenly disappear.  It does, however, give us a new frame of reference to understand our world and our lives.  We do not have to surrender to despair, but like the woman, we can work against the current of bad news with the power and passion of the Gospel.

And we do this, by living out Jesus’ example of loving others, offering compassion and kindness to all, and allowing God to use us as conduits of his mercy and grace.  It is a high calling that demands we not give in to the bad news but rather to seek to transform it into something good.  Don’t stop watching the news but remember that ultimately it is the good news of our Lord that tells us who we are and who we can be.  The only one who can promise us the good life will not be found at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  If we believe that is our ultimate hope, then the bad news will continue to be the headlines.

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When the Saints Go Marching In

For many of us, when we hear the word “saints” we think of those figures of long ago who lived memorable lives for God, accomplished great things, were mighty prayer warriors, and people of great faith.  We usually see these saints in pictures in old books or paintings on walls.  Usually, in these pictures, they have a glow around them or even a halo over their heads.

In reality, a saint is anyone who has said yes to Christ Jesus and seeks to follow him.  The word saint originates from the Greek word meaning “holy” or “set apart.”  The New Testament uses the word saint or saints 67 times. In every instance, the reference is to all believers. Never is the word used of a special group of believers who serve God better than others. Scripture is clear that all Christians are saints.

For almost 30 years as a pastor of a local church, I have encountered living saints among the body of the church.  I’ve seen these saints share and sacrifice themselves in so many wonderful ways.  I’ve seen them change dirty diapers in the nursery, add numbers in the teller’s room, clean pots in the kitchen, hand out bulletins in the sanctuary, serve meals to the homeless, and write notes and cards to homebound members.  These individuals have shown me what authentic Christian love looks like.  They have also demonstrated to me the kind of humility that Jesus called us to have.

These saints also live knowing that God is not finished with them yet.  A true saint always knows there is room to grow more into Christ-likeness every day.  As someone once said, “saints are not born, they are made along the way.”  Becoming a saint is not an overnight experience.  It takes sacrifice, dedication, and living in faith, even in the most difficult times of life.  The saints I have met along the way have faced adversity, sorrow, pain, and suffering, but continued to trust in God.  Through it all, they continue to radiate a joy that has inspired me in my Christian walk.

The saints of God don’t simply walk the golden streets of heaven, but they can walk in and out of our lives every day.  They have something to teach us that they have learned along the way.  I am a better follower of Christ because of such individuals.  Even though some of these earthly saints have joined the congregation of heaven, I think of them every day and I give thanks to God for their continued presence in my life.  When the saints go marching in, I want to be a part of that number.  These saints are special people and I cherish every moment with them.

Let us give thanks to God for the saints in our lives.  May we listen, watch, and learn from them as they follow Jesus in their own lives.  Then let us realize that people are looking at us as we follow Jesus.  May we be a saint for them and pass on the loving glow that has been shared with us.  As Paul said, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)

All-Saints

 

Check Engine

The dreaded check engine light.  It is such a small little light, but when the check engine symbol lights ups in your car, then something is not working right.  A sensor in your vehicle has determined that something is not functioning as it should.  The light could mean anything from a transmission problem to a loose gas cap.  Yet, the lighted symbol can create anxiety for the owner as they do not know what is wrong.  And if it is something major, then you know that it can be costly to fix.  However, I think most folks are thankful to have an alert to catch the problem early before more damage to your engine may be done.  If something is wrong, then it is good to know as soon as possible.

What would it be like if we had a check heart light that came on in our lives, when something was not quite right in our relationship with God?  As a person of faith, I realize that there are times in my life in which my walk with God is not what it is supposed to be.  The life that Jesus called me to live often falls way short.  Even as I claim my allegiance to Christ, I still find myself entangled in my sin and stumbling through life.  My Christian walk is anything but Christian and my faith falters.

In Psalm 139, the psalmist prays that God will examine his life in light of his commitment and relationship to God.  The psalmist prays in verses 23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.  

The psalmist prays that God will check his life to see if there is anything in his life that is not pleasing to God.  Maybe there is some sin, a spirit of unforgiveness, a grudge, a prejudice, or ill-will towards another that has settled into the heart. And if there is something wrong, the psalmist prays for God to help him fix the issue and live life in a new way; a way that glorifies God and professes faith in God.

As Christians, we should daily examine our lives and our commitment to Christ to see if there are places in our lives that need God’s touch of grace.  Is there something under the hood of our hearts that needs to be fixed, adjusted, or removed all together?  If we do not acknowledge there is something wrong, then we limit the work of God’s grace and forgiveness.  Yet, when we honestly examine our lives, identify our sin, and ask for forgiveness, then God can make right that which is wrong.  In 1 John 1: 8-9 we read, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Honesty before God is the best policy when it comes to a healthy Christian walk.  Examining our lives daily is the best way to keep our lives in tune with the life of Christ Jesus.

When we allow God’s grace to do its work, then we will believing the best life possible.  God’s grace can fix that which broken and restore that which has faltered.  And when God’s grace settles into our hearts, then God can lead us in the way everlasting.

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Weight Limit

 

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Have you ever entered into an elevator with a lot of people and then noticed the maximum weight limit sign on the elevator?  You start looking at the people around you, sizing up their weight, and then trying to figure if you are close to the weight limit.  We probably don’t have to worry.  A typical elevator can carry between 2100-2500 lbs.

Sometimes, however, we do grow anxious about how much we can carry in our lives when it comes to our concerns, problems, uncertainties, and fears.  Life has a way of bearing down upon us, leaving us overwhelmed, beyond burdened, and weary of the weight of it all.

Many of us are tired.  Tired of living with the weight of the world upon our shoulders.  The stress of living in a broken world, that spares none us, has left up wondering how much more we can take.  The heavy weight upon our shoulders only mimics the heaviness of our hearts. Someone once said, “When the heart is down and the soul is heavy, the eyes can only speak the language of tears.” We have all done our share of crying.

In 1 Peter 5:7, we read, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  Peter and the early Christians knew a lot about the weight of the world on their shoulders.  The early Christians lived under constant persecution, where suffering, pain, and death were day to day realities for them and their families.  They had a lot to worry about when it came to burdens.  Peter, however, called the people to remember that they could place all the weight of worry and anxiety upon the Lord because the Lord cared for them.

The apostle Paul also sought to encourage the early Christians as they struggled with the weight of the world upon their lives.  In his letter to the Church at Corinth Paul writes, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-9) Life can be heavy at times. However, we can cast it away, let it go, and let God lift us up where we belong.

Times have changed, but the burdens of this life are still heavy at times.  Yet, we do not need to carry them alone.  Rather, we can cast them upon the Lord, trust in the sufficiency of his grace, the strength of his power, and the tenderness of his love.  God never promised that life would be easy, carefree, and without a burden.  God did promise, however, that we could place the weight of the world upon him.  Indeed, God’s shoulders are the only ones that can carry it all.

 

 

Slip Sliding Away

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Most every person has taken a fall at some point in their lives.  We’ve tripped over something, lost our footing, or slipped on a slippery surface.  Sometimes we catch ourselves, sometimes someone else catches us, and sometimes we fall.  A slip and a fall tend to follow a similar pattern.  First, there is that moment of fear when you realize you are slipping.  It shocks you because it is so sudden, and you were not expecting it.  Second, your body reacts, and you reach out to grab something to try and break your fall.  Third, if you can’t reach anything you try to prepare for the impact of the fall.  All this takes place in a matter of seconds, so there is not much time to think about the slip and the fall.

But it doesn’t take a physical fall to feel as though our lives are slipping and we are about to fall.  Situations arise, often catching us off guard, and suddenly we feel as though the world has been pulled out from under our feet.  Life which felt secure and steady now feels uncertain and shifting.  At these moments we are often struck by fear at it seems we are about to lose control.  Our confidence wavers and we fear that we might not be able to hold it all together.  It can be during these moments that we feel helpless and hopeless.

When we read the book of Psalms, we witness the honest faith of individuals who often found themselves in difficult situations.  The psalms tell stories of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair.  Yet, the psalms also speak about courage, peace, hope, and joy.  Indeed, the psalms speak the truthful reality of what it means to live in a broken world where slips and falls occur and where joy and hope can be found.  In Psalm 94: 18, the writer confesses:

When I thought, ‘My foot is slipping’,
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

This particular individual felt as though they were about to slip and to fall.  Whatever they were facing, it felt as though they were about to be knocked off their feet.  Yet, at that moment the psalmist’s faith confessed: “your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.”  The psalmist confesses, that God’s steadfast love sustained him at the moment.  God’s love held him up.  In gratitude, the psalmists realizes the saving power of God’s love.

Yet there are those times when we do fall and hit the ground.  As a people of faith, we know that even with faith, sometimes life knocks us down.  Yet, the same God who seeks to keep us from falling also comes to us when we do fall to lift us.  In Psalm 145: 14 we read:

The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

God comes to us in our fallen state, assures us of his presence, heals our brokenness, and seeks to help us stand.  God is not only with us in the fall, but God is with us when we hit the ground.  God knows that we live in a slippery world, that life can trip us up and we can fall.  Yet, whether we are walking tall, falling fast, or find ourselves in the dust, God will be with us.  Our faith doesn’t promise us that we will never slip and fall.  Our faith, however, promises that God will be with us regardless.  As God promised to Joshua, God promises to us in Joshua 1:9:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

 

 

You Are What You Eat

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Most people are familiar with the phrase “you are what you eat.”  It is usually said as a reminder that the food we eat will affect our physical bodies.  The first mention of the phrase “you are what you eat” came from the 1826 work The Physiology of Taste, in which French author Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”  And while I still love a good cheeseburger, I do know that it is not wise to eat one a day as a regular part of my diet.  Many of us realize that we should eat better.  Having the discipline to do so, however, is another thing.  When I see the golden arches of McDonald’s, I find myself craving an order of fries.  So, there is some truth in the phrase, “you are what you eat.”

In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, the prophet seeks to call the people back to their covenant with God.  The people of Israel had a way of forgetting God as the centerpiece of their lives, and often wandered away and sought and worshiped other gods.  They knew that their spiritual health needed God as the main entree, but they often went for spiritual junk food.  Thus, Jeremiah similarly reminded the people, “you are what you eat.”  In Jeremiah 2: 5 we read these words, ” they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves.”  Jeremiah realized that when something other than God became the center of the people’s lives, then their lives would be formed and shaped by whatever that was.  Indeed, what we value most in life, often determines the kind of life that we live.  For Jeremiah, a devotion to something worthless leads to worthless living.

Chronologically, we are a long way away from the day of Jeremiah, but our devotions have not changed too much.  We still tend to seek meaning, purpose, and joy from things that cannot ultimately provide it.  We still seek out other gods to give us our identity, value, and direction whether it be wealth and possessions, sexual pleasures, power, and prestige, or whatever we make room for on the throne of our hearts.  Jesus would speak this same truth in Matthew 6: 19-21,

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

While we should all be concerned about the health of our physical hearts and how the food we eat affects them, we should also spend some time examining the spiritual diet of our lives and what is that we consume the most in our lives?  Whatever we treasure most in our hearts will shape our hearts.  Whatever shapes our hearts will determine the kind of lives that we live.

I would be dishonest to say that I always get it right.  It doesn’t take too long daily to find something else sliding into the place where God should be in my life.  Like the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day, I am prone to wander after worthless things.  It is only by God’s grace in Jesus that I can find my way back to the One that can ultimately give me the life we all hunger for.

 

 

Make It Count

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There are 365 days in our calendar year.  Many of these days pass by without much fanfare.  We might call them ordinary days.  They are the days we go to work or school, pay the bills, grocery shop, change the oil in the car, and watch our favorite TV show.  Then there are those days that we highlight on our calendars:  The day we leave for vacation, our coming wedding day, Christmas, Birthdays, and the like.  For many of these highlighted days, we even count the days till they arrive.  How many more days before the “big” days arrive?  Sometimes we can hardly wait to get to that special day for whatever reason makes it special to us.

In Psalm 90, the writer ponders the human frailty of life in light of the eternal nature of God.  In doing so the psalmist confesses, “You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed in the evening it fades and withers. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Psalm 91: 5-6, 10).  The psalmist concludes that our lives pass by quickly and should not be taken for granted.  Hence, in verse 10 we read, “so teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”  

The psalmist’s advice for living:  “count your days and make them count.”  In light of our faith, every day should be seen as special and worthy of our attention.  Each day we are allowed to live our lives in such a way that we glorify God.  Each day we can choose how to live our lives.  Our writer suggests that when we count our days, then we gain a wise heart.  That is, when we see each day as a gift of God, then we will live each day in gratitude and thanksgiving by making wise choices with the time that we have been given.  A wise heart will understand that life is a gift to be lived to its fullest and shared in love with others.  A wise heart will count its blessings and then share those blessings with others.

We only get one shot at this thing called life.  There are no do-overs and we cannot turn the clock back and relive the days that have already passed.  We can only live in the moment that we are in.  Not even tomorrow is promised to us.  Hence, we need to make each day count by loving God and by loving others.  For when all is said and done with the days of our lives, these are the only things that matter.  So, let us count our days and let us make our days count.