sermon

All In & Humble

When I sit down to write a sermon, I begin by asking God what He wants me to know about Him, and what He wants you to know.

I read the collect – the theme upon which the readings center: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.”

“the proud who confide in their own strength”

King Nebuchadnezzar immediately came to mind.  The portion of his story told in Daniel chapter 4 is a perfect example of God resisting man’s pride and of man boasting of God’s mercy.

Nebuchadnezzar, as you might recall, was the king of Babylon.  He was at home in his palace, contented and prosperous.  But he had a bad dream.  The images that passed through his mind terrified him. 

So he summoned all the wise men of Babylon to come interpret it for him.  Magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, but they could not explain it. 

Finally, Daniel came.

King Nebuchadnezzar said, “Belteshazzar (aka Daniel), chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. 

These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven.  He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.

‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him…… so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’

That was my dream, Daniel, now tell me what it means, for none of the wise men can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”

Daniel was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. Neb said, “Do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” In other words, “Don’t be afraid to tell me.”

Daniel answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky… Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

“Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. The decree he issued is against you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven for seven years – until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and He gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

But old habits and old personality disorders die hard.

Twelve months later, as Neb was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven.

Immediately the terrifying dream was fulfilled. Neb was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

Seven years later, When Nebuchadnezzar finally raised his eyes toward heaven, his sanity was restored. He praised God, acknowledging that  “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.

Everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.

Sometimes God’s messages – His reprimands, warnings and promises – are for individuals, as in the case of Neb, and sometimes they are for nations.

It’s important to keep straight what promises are specifically for us and which ones aren’t.  It’s important to keep straight which ones are literal and which ones are metaphorical.

For instance, two weeks ago we heard these words from Isaiah:

“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong;”

And make your bones strong?” My ears perked up.

You mean all I have to do is stop pointing my finger and my osteoporosis will be healed?  Well Alright!

Except God wasn’t talking to me about my osteoporosis.

He was talking to Israel about the bones of their nation.

No doubt heeding Isaiah’s words will bring me blessings, but God didn’t make me any specific promises about my bone health.

How do I know heeding Isaiah’s words will bring me blessings?

Obedience always brings blessings.

God broke and reshaped Neb into a better, more useful vessel, and He promised to do the same for Israel – allowing them to suffer long years of slavery, wilderness wandering and even captivity if that’s what it took.  And it did.

Which brings us to Deuteronomy 30: After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel was about to finally cross into the promised land.  Moses – who wouldn’t be going with them – announced to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments I am giving you today by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.”

Thresholds.

Just as I can’t apply Isaiah’s words to the health and strength of my bones, I can’t apply Moses’s words to my personal longevity – plenty of obedient people die young.  Moses died relatively young.  He was only a hundred and twenty years old when he disappeared from the earth. Scripture says his eyes were not yet weak nor was his strength gone when he died. 120 was young back then – Methuselah, for example, lived 969 years.

Moses was talking to the people of Israel and not us when he announced God’s promises, but we can still apply his principles as we stand at our thresholds.

The threshold of a new school, a new school year, a new job or ministry, a new marriage, the threshold of parenthood.

If we obey God, He will bless us as we enter into the new thing He has put before us.

“But,” Moses continued, “if your heart turns away and you are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you (as a nation) shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. 

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

God wanted Israel to stop and think about the foundation and habits they were going to establish in the land He was giving them.

He wants us, as we stand at our particular thresholds, to consider the path we’re going to take – to choose honesty and integrity, loyalty, fidelity and charity so that we and our children, our spouses, co-workers, classmates, communities may live, loving the Lord, obeying Him, and holding fast to Him; for that means life to us and length of days.

There is a pleasant fiction circulating among some, a theology that says, “It’s all good.”

Our obedience/disobedience doesn’t really matter because God will redeem it all.

In the end, He will.

But, as He spoke through Moses, our choices do make a huge difference while we’re here on earth – a huge difference in our physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health.

The words He gave the writer of Psalm 1 concur:

“Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful! Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.”

Often I have prayed those words for my daughter, and now for her husband and his family, too – planted by streams of living water, with roots of faith that are deep and wide, that everything they do shall prosper.

“It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”

Our obedience, our love for God makes a difference.

Even Jesus used “ifs” and “thens.”

John 15:5 “If you remain in me and I in you, then you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 14:23 “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

I can’t think of anything better than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit making their home with me.

There’s a cause and effect. 

And a cost.

Luke 14:25-33

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and He turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…

…You must first sit down and count the cost, figure out whether you have what it takes to go the distance…

“…none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Our lectionary reading stops just short of the end of the chapter. Here’s what it left out:

“Salt is good,” Jesus continued, “but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

I googled, “How does salt lose its saltiness.”  I figured it’s important to know since Jesus warned against it.

Water.  It loses its saltiness when it is diluted in water.

Why did Jesus add that last bit?

Large crowds were following Him, marveling in His miracles, enjoying free bread and fish, talking about how great it is – you don’t have to do anything except show up at mealtimes and reap the benefits.

I imagine some in the crowd were promulgating a pleasant fiction that threatened to water down His gospel, take the tang right out of it.

So He set them straight.

Discipleship isn’t a free lunch, He explained.  It will cost you something.  Your behavior, your choices, your obedience and your disobedience will matter.

He wants us all in.  

Listen to this: Recorded in John 6,  Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will lift them up at the last day.”

On hearing it, many of His disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

I always strikes me that He didn’t run after them!  

He didn’t run after them to sugar-coat His message, make it more palatable, water it down to woo them back.

Instead He turned to the twelve who were all in (well, eleven who were all in because Judas) and asked, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”

Simon Peter answered, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

What about that hating your parents stuff?

Don’t do it.  Jesus was not being literal.

Hating your parents does not line up with the fifth commandment.

It doesn’t line up with what  Jesus said about loving one another.

But it does line up with what He said about money.

The love of money is the root of all evil.  Not money itself, the love of money.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

God doesn’t want us to hate money – He rewarded Solomon with a ton of it.  He gave a ton of it to His friend, Abraham, too.

And He doesn’t want us to hate our people.

It’s a matter of loyalty.

A matter of who/what you love more.

Following Jesus would have meant huge familial sacrifices back then.

Think about it.  Everyone who was anyone followed the Law.  To follow Jesus would have been treasonous.

It would be like a Catholic child leaving her parish to become a Protestant.

A former co-worker, who is a Messianic Jew, told me she knows many people who secretly believe Jesus is the Messiah but would never say so publicly or set foot in a church because they don’t want to lose their Jewish community.

For me, following Jesus might mean giving up weekly worship with my daughter and wonderful new son in law.

It might mean giving up the pleasure of preaching an occasional sermon.

Jesus said, [I’m paraphrasing] “If you’re going to follow me it’s going to cost you.”

But let’s do it anyway.

Because there is nothing as soul-satisfying as being His disciple. As having Him make His home with us.

Amen.

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Jesus, sermon

From Confusion to Clarity

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar (shin r) and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.’” 

“The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, ‘Come, let us go down, and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’

So the LORD scattered them over the face of all the earth, and they abandoned their building project. Therefore the city was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth.”

Who were these people and why would God foil their plans? 

Our first clue is back in Genesis 6, where we learn that the Lord regretted making man on earth.  He didn’t say He regretted making man, He said He regretted making man on earth – where His enemy lurked.

Man had become increasingly corrupt –  wicked is the word my Bible used – and so God wiped them all off the face of the earth.  All except Noah and his wife, their sons and their wives.

But sin is insidious and it survived the flood.

After Noah stepped foot on dry land, he worshipped and then he planted a vineyard. 

When the grapes were ripe he made wine, which he drank.  Perhaps on an empty stomach because he became so drunk that he passed out naked.

His youngest son, Ham, saw his father’s nakedness. 

Here’s where that insidious sin couldn’t resist itself. 

He went and told his two brothers – Shem and Japheth.

“Hey, come look, dad’s passed out naked!,” I’m guessing he said.

It was an honor your father and mother fail.

Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what Ham had done to him, he cursed him by cursing his son, Canaan.

These people, whose plans God foiled, were the descendants of Ham, Shem and Japheth – wheat mixed with weeds, some obedient and some disobedient.  A field polluted by pride – which is the only sin that keeps you out of heaven.

The location of the city is our second clue as to why God foiled their plan.

Except for Jerusalem, no other city is mentioned in the Bible more often than Babylon.  Scripture refers to it 290 times.   It represents the epitome of evil and rebellion against God. Throughout Scripture Babylon has been Satan’s headquarters and in the end it will again be the seat of his power.

Babylon is first mentioned in Genesis 10 (the chapter right after the nakedness scandal) as one of the cities in the region of Shinar. 

Chapter 10 tells us that Ham was the father of

Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.

Cush was the father of Nimrod, who was the first world ruler. The center of his kingdom was Babylon. 

Follow? He was the grandson of Ham – who carried sin onto dry land.

When I was in high school, Nimrod was the name the guy I dated gave to fools – as in, “He’s such a nimrod.”

The first time I read the name in Scripture, I thought he was a good guy.

Genesis 10:9 describes him this way: “Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth, was a mighty hunter before the Lord…”

I thought he was a mighty warrior for God.

But then I took a closer look at his name.  The name Nimrod comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “to rebel.” Therefore, “a mighty hunter before the Lord” means he was a mighty hunter “in God’s face”.

Not a good guy.

The hub and I were in the Upper Peninsula a few summers ago. As we drove through one of its small towns, we were stopped at a traffic light right in front of the town’s high school.  Emblazoned on the side of the school in HUGE letters was “Home of the Nimrods.” I’m guessing they didn’t do a thorough word study before they chose their team name.

So Babel, which became Babylon, was founded by a rebel.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…”

The people, led by Nimrod, wanted to make their own way to heaven. A way that didn’t involve The Way.  John 14:6

So God confused their language and they had to abandon their plan.  

It reminds me of when God blocked Adam’s access to the tree of life in Genesis 3, and said “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Rebels aren’t allowed in heaven.

But they will always try to find a back door in.

Rebels want to make a name for themselves…. Which is where our gospel reading comes in.

Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 

Jesus replied, “You still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. None of the words I speak to you are my own; they are the words of the Father who dwells in me and does his works.”

He went on to say “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” 

Did you catch that?  So the Father may be glorified.  Jesus didn’t desire to make a name for Himself, as those tower builders did, His desire was to make a name for His Father.

“If you love me,” He said, “you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you, and He will be in you.”

Just as Adam couldn’t eat from the tree of life and become immortal in his sinful state, the disciples could not become indwelled by the Holy Spirit and thereby receive eternal life in their sinful state.  They wouldn’t be indwelled until the atonement was complete and their sin was washed clean.

Jesus went on to explain that the Holy Spirit would teach them everything they needed when they need it and remind them of all that Jesus had said.

And remind Peter, He did.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, all of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in their native language. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”

Sneerers.

Peter’s first response kind of bugs me because the focus of his argument is off:

“Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, listen to me. These men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

I’ve had a bit of wine in my day.  On a couple of occasions, way back in college, I’ve even had too much wine.

And on neither of those occasions was I suddenly able to speak another language.

It’s not a matter of them not being drunk because it’s only 9 am.  It’s a matter of the fact that drunkenness does not make you suddenly bi-lingual.

Fortunately, his argument got better:

“What you are hearing,” he explained, “is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams…

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

And then his speech became truly inspired.

He laid out God’s whole plan for them.

He quoted David, whose history was very familiar to them.

He spoke of the resurrection:

“‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’

Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off.’

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

That right there is what it is all about.  Clarity for the purpose of salvation.

The Holy Spirit did just what Jesus said He would do:

He reminded Peter of everything Jesus taught.

He convicted the hearers of their sin.

He drew them to salvation in Jesus.

So what can we learn from this?

The Holy Spirit gives us clarity, recall, courage and the ability to lay it all out for people.

Peter, who was once afraid to admit he knew Jesus, now, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, had the courage to casually point out that his hearers had crucified Him.

Like Peter, all we have to do is casually mention the Truth and the Holy Spirit will provide the gentle-yet-effective conviction.  Which is good, because who besides the devil, wants to rub anyone’s nose in anything?

That was then, this is now.

So what was the catalyst for change? What turned the confusion of Genesis 11 into the eye-opening clarity of Acts 2?  What brought us from scattered to unified?

What caused God to shift from blocking the 

way to the tree of life at the very beginning of the Old Testament to leading us back to the tree of life at the very end of the New Testament?

You know the answer: Jesus.

Those who accept that He is The Way, will follow Him right down those golden streets, right past the flaming cherubim, right to the foot of the tree of life.

Those whose pride insists on finding its own way will see their plans foiled.

Our collect this morning is about spreading the gospel abroad.

Last night, while I was reading an e-book on health, I came across a story which gets to the heart of the gospel and today’s dichotomy pretty well: 

“A man was given a tour of both Heaven and Hell, so he could intelligently select his final destination. The Devil was given first chance, so he started the “prospect” with a tour of Hell. The first glance was a surprising one because all occupants were seated at a banquet table loaded with every food imaginable, including meat from every corner of the globe, fruits and vegetables and every delicacy known to man. With justification, the Devil pointed out that no one could ask for more. 

However, when the man looked carefully at the people he did not find a single smile. He heard no music nor did he see any indication of the gaiety generally associated with such a feast. The people at the table looked dull and listless and were literally skin and bones.

The tourist noticed that each person had a fork strapped to the left arm and a knife strapped to the right arm. Each had a four-foot handle which made it impossible to eat. So, with food of every kind right in front of them, they were starving.

Next stop was Heaven, where the tourist saw a scene identical in every respect – same foods, knives and forks with those four-foot handles. However, the inhabitants of Heaven were laughing, singing, and having a great time. They were well fed and in excellent health.

The tourist was puzzled for a moment. He wondered how conditions could be so similar and yet produce such different results. The people in Hell were starving and miserable, while the people in heaven were well-fed and happy. Then, he noticed the reason.

Each person in Hell had been trying to feed himself. A knife and fork with a four-foot handle made this impossible.

Each person in Heaven was feeding the one across the table from him and was being fed by the one sitting on the opposite side. By helping one another, they helped themselves.” (Zig Zigler, See You at the Top)

Though the topic of the e-booklet was physical wellness, I’ll apply Zig’s story to our spiritual wellness. 

We are all at a great banquet table and we are all seated across from Jesus.  

Pride insists on feeding itself, but humility says, “Feed us, Lord” and humility is well fed.

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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So that we might declare His praise.

The book of Isaiah is a microcosm of the Bible as a whole.  There are 66 books in the Bible, and there are 66 chapters in Isaiah.

That’s kind of cool.

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah can be compared to the 39 books of the OT, with their emphasis on the holiness and justice of God.

The last 27 chapters correspond to the 27 books of the NT.  They portray God’s glory, compassion and favor.

For 35 long, agonizing chapters, Isaiah prophesied condemnation and future captivity.  And then, after a 3 chapter parentheses (in which he told the story of King Hezekiah’s sin, sickness and stay of execution), Isaiah began to speak prophesies of comfort and hope.

Our reading this morning, is among the prophesies of hope.

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.

These two verses are usually taught as one event – when God parted the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh’s army.  But the Septuagint reads differently:

For thus says the Lord, the one making a way in the sea
and a path in strong water;
The one leading chariots and horse and a mighty multitude.
They were gone to sleep, but they shall rise up;
They were extinguished as flax being extinguished.

According to the Septuagint, the Lord is the one leading the chariots and horse and a mighty multitude, they don’t belong to Pharaoh. And in the future they will rise again. So perhaps Isaiah is referring to separate events – giving  separate examples of how God has acted on their behalf in the past.

When Israel and Syria were at war back in Elisha’s day, the King of Syria endeavored to capture Elisha by sending his armies to Elisha’s hometown.  The armies surrounded the city by night.  Elisha’s servant awoke the next morning terrified and exclaimed, “On no! What should we do?”

Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

There are many stories in the OT of God winning battles for the Israelites with his mighty multitude.

But in the gloom of the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, God was no longer fighting their battles.  It was as if his armies had gone to sleep.

Now came the Lord’s assurance that He would once again arise and fight for them.

Not only would He deliver them from future captivity and protect them in battle…

“Behold I am about to do a new thing.”

Since this last 27 chapters of Isaiah are full of Messianic prophesies, that “new thing” on one level, is Jesus – a spiritual stream in the desert.

But the new thing would also be life lush with His presence.  He would once again be their God. Where they once languished in the consequences of their rebellion, they would now thrive.

Have you felt the winds of change blowing?  Have you ever perceived in your spirit that God was about to do a new thing in your life?  About to set your feet in a spacious place? Water the parched places and cause you to flourish?

Why does He do that?

The answer is in the final line of our passage: 

So that we might declare His praise.

That’s the line that jumped out at me as I prepared to preach.

It’s all about declaring His praise.

He acts on our behalf for His fame, not ours.

We bloom to show the skill of the Gardner, not to show off ourselves.

I used to ride my bike around Kensington Park regularly with Mr. Wright.

Not Mr. Right, Mr. W-r-i-g-h-t.

He was a biking buddy whom I barely knew.  But I liked riding with him because he pushed me to ride faster than I would on my own.

After one exhilarating ride, we caught our breath at a picnic table beside the lake.  He pulled snacks out of his bike bag and told me that right after he was baptized as a young man, someone prophesied all kinds of greatness over him.  And it kind of messed him up. Sent him chasing after fame. And now there he sat,15 years later, a math teacher at a prep school, eating apple wedges and cheese slices and telling his story.

“I kept waiting for greatness to happen,” he said, “discontented with ordinary life.  But now I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll always just be a math teacher.”

Just a math teacher? I thought, Isn’t there greatness in impacting the lives of students?

I read a social media post written by a young woman.  She wondered, “Why don’t they ever prophesy that you’ll be a great wife and mother? Why isn’t that enough?”

Beware prophesies of greatness.  They tickle itching ears. They reel us in and get us hooked.

They remind me of when Satan tempted Jesus by taking him to the peak of a very high mountain. He showed Jesus the nations of the world and all their glory. “I’ll give it all to you,” he said, “if you will only kneel and worship me.”

But Jesus wasn’t seeking personal glory, His mission was to glorify His Father.

Though the prospect of personal greatness is intoxicating, if it is your personal greatness that is being prophesied, and not God’s greatness, then the prophesy is false.

Our mission is to glory God.

He makes a way for us in the desert, He causes us to flourish for His praise.

Paul said, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: to mind your own business and work with your hands, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Lead a quiet life teaching math, rearing children, doing small things with great love.

Small things with great love brings us to our gospel reading.

It was six days before the Passover.  Since the raising of Lazarus, Jesus had been living quietly at Ephraim with His disciples. Now it was time for His public entry into Jerusalem. He would enter as both king and lamb, fulfilling both the prophecy of God’s promised King and the promised redemption pictured in the Passover celebration.

The crowds in Jerusalem for Passover were so great it was impossible to book enough rooms for Jesus and His entourage.  Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem to be appropriate for pilgrims’ lodging, so they headed there.

When Jesus and His disciples arrived in Bethany, His friends held a dinner for them.  After raising Lazarus from the dead the way He did,  Jesus was a celebrity, a local hero.  So of course they held a dinner in His honor.

Back when Lazarus died, in those moments before Jesus raised him, it was Martha who demonstrated unwavering trust in Jesus.

Now it was her sister Mary’s turn.  Mary had been the quiet, meditative sister, preferring to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him.  But now she dropped her reserve and unabashedly poured out her love.

Perhaps she felt the winds of change blowing, perhaps she realized His end was near, perhaps she sensed His grief.  The political tide was turning against Him and she wanted Him to know He had her support.

So she poured pure nard over His feet.

Matthew and Mark said she poured it first over His head, from an alabaster jar.  Then she let down her long hair that, in Jewish custom, would have always been bound in public.

She poured on his feet the most precious ointment possible as a token of honor and worship and then she lovingly and intimately dried His feet with her hair.

This vulnerable expression of love surely touched Jesus deeply.

This small thing done with great love.

The men around the table may have been uncomfortable as Mary knelt before Jesus and loosened her hair.  They may have been speechless. But as the fragrance filled the house,  Judas broke the silence.

“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” He demanded.

As if he cared about the poor.

Jesus didn’t call Judas out for embezzlement, as John did parenthetically, He called him out for harassment.

In Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, Jesus said, “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

It’s the only time Jesus ever used the word beautiful.  And He used it to describe an action.  Beautiful had nothing to do with how Mary looked, it had everything to do with how she loved.

According to John,  Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

It’s wonderful to care about global poverty and injustice, but don’t overlook the need right in front of you.

Jesus’s grief – His impending blood, sweat and tears – was the need right in front of them that day, and Mary seems to be the only one who perceived it.

We always have the poor with us.

When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah way back at the beginning of His ministry, when He proclaimed His mission, He didn’t say anything about alleviating poverty.  

He said He came to set prisoners and the oppressed free.  He came to restore the sight of the blind.  He came to proclaim good news to the poor – the good news that they have a Savior.

But He didn’t wave a wand and make everyone rich.  Even though His Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

Jesus was concerned with spiritual poverty.  That has always been the greatest need standing in front of Him.

Perhaps He isn’t concerned with physical poverty because it has purpose.

It keeps us reliant on God.     

I met a woman who suffered horrific things at the hands of her father.  So horrific that they left her emotionally disabled.  Her physician father was a member of a satanic cult. Horrific things were done.  Her mother finally left him and now they were living on a small disability check.  Money was very tight.  

The woman came to Bible study one morning rejoicing.  She and her mother had gone to buy groceries the day before.  They stood in the checkout line with a dilemma: If they bought the toilet paper they needed, they wouldn’t have enough to buy all the essential groceries they needed.  They put the toilet paper back. 

On the way home the woman spotted something laying on the shoulder of the road in front of them.  It was toilet paper!  They pulled over and scooped up their gift from God.

She came into Bible study rejoicing the next day as though she had received a million dollars.  Of course she did – it’s the same thrill whether God gifts you with a 4 pack of toilet paper or with a million bucks because the thrill isn’t in the value of the gift, it’s in the fact that God sees you. And cares.

When was the last time you had the thrill of knowing that God sees you?

Take a second and say thanks.

Gotthold Lessing said, “A single grateful thought toward heaven is the most complete prayer.”

Poverty also gives those who have been gifted an opportunity to express compassion and generosity.  A privilege that we will only have here on earth.

And the beauty of it is, everyone – no matter how physically poor – has been gifted with something to share.  We all have compassion to give, love to lavish. 

So what are we waiting for? Are we waiting until we get to heaven to exercise compassion and generosity?  By then it will be too late.  There’s no need for generosity and compassion there.

Now is our chance to do small and beautiful things with great love.

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 9:23-24

Amen.

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Jesus, life, sermon

Job

The very beginning of Job chapter 1 tells us that  Job was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 

He had such a healthy fear of God that when his sons held family feasts to celebrate their birthdays, he would get up early the next morning and sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them – just in case one of them sinned and cursed God in their hearts.

That’s the kind of man he was – He sacrificed for his children – acted as their priest – every single time they feasted.

Meanwhile in heaven, the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan showed up. 

The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been surveying the earth.”

“Have you seen Job? There is no one on earth as blameless and upright as he.”

“Of course he’s blameless and upright,” Satan hissed, “You’ve given him nothing but protection and blessings. Take it all away and he will curse you to your face.”

“Go ahead then, take everything I’ve given him,” the Lord replied,  “but don’t lay a finger on his body.”

So when Job’s sons and daughters were gathered at the oldest brother’s house feasting and drinking wine, a messenger came to Job and cried, “All of your oxen and donkeys have been stolen and all of your ranch hands have been killed!”

Another messenger came: “Fire has fallen from heaven and burned up all your sheep and shepherds!’

A third messenger reported, “Raiders have made off with all your camels and all their caretakers have been killed!”

Yet another messenger hurried in with horrific news, “The roof of your son’s house has collapsed and all your sons and daughters are dead!”

Job tore his robe and shaved his head, fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

“In all this,” Scripture says,  “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Satan basically accused Job of loving God for His money.

But when the money was gone, when his children and his employees and his livestock –  all his wealth – were gone,  Job continued to praise.

You would think that Job’s praise would have shut the accuser up – proved that Job loved God for who He is and not for what He could give him.

Except the accuser doesn’t shut up.  We all have first hand knowledge of that.

Instead of shutting up, he showed up at another angelic staff meeting.

Again the Lord said to him, “Where have you come from?”

Again Satan answered, “I’ve been out surveying the earth.” 

Apparently that’s what he does.  Peter said he prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

“Did you see Job?,” the Lord asked,  “he still maintains his integrity, even though you incited me to ruin him for no reason.”

Integrity is an important word to this story.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”  The second definition is “the state of being whole and undivided.”  It’s to have all parts of your life integrated and consistent.  To be the same on the inside and the outside, in public and in private.

Even after all of his tragic losses, Job remained consistent and God was proud of him.

“Anyone can maintain their integrity after losing their stuff,” the accuser spat, “but strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

“Very well, take his health, too; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

And there was nothing for Job to do but sit among the ashes scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Remember the itchy misery of chicken pox?

Seeing him sitting there, his wife had had enough. “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

But Job was committed to God in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. 

He replied to his wife.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Again Scripture reports, “In all his suffering he did not sin in what he said.”

Four of Job’s friends heard what happened and went to comfort him.

When they saw him from a distance, they hardly recognized him; they began to weep, they tore their robes, sprinkled dust on their heads and got down in the ashes with him. 

For seven days and nights they sat with him and no one said a word because they saw how great his suffering was.

And then, after seven silent days,  Job opened his mouth and wondered why he had ever been born.

Once he broke the silence, his friend, Eliphaz, dared to speak.

“Think how you have instructed many,
how you have always strengthened and supported those who stumble
But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
Shouldn’t you be confident in your piety, 
shouldn’t your blameless ways be your hope?”

Eliphaz started well, with words we all want to hear in our distress – “You’re a good person, you don’t deserve this.”

My dad spoke those words to me over the phone when my first husband left. “You are a fine Christian woman, you don’t deserve this.”  And, bless his compassionate heart, he left it that.

But Eliphaz’s words of comfort quickly turned to condemnation.

“Or maybe you’re not so blameless… in my experience,” he continued, “you reap what you sow.”

“So even though it appears that you’re an upstanding citizen on the outside, there must be some hidden sin on the inside. 

Only the wicked suffer, after all, and you’re suffering, therefore you must be wicked.”

Then, to his faulty logic Eliphaz added a spiritual gut punch:

“A word was secretly brought to me,
my ears caught a whisper of it.
Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
when deep sleep falls on people,
fear and trembling seized me
and made all my bones shake.

A spirit glided past my face,
and the hair on my body stood on end.
It stopped,
but I could not tell what it was.

A form stood before my eyes,
and I heard a hushed voice:
‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?”

Eliphaz assumed that the presence that came into his room and gave him insight was God, but I don’t think it was.

Because God doesn’t accuse.  The accuser accuses.

And God doesn’t twist the truth.

The twister of truth twists the truth.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God, to be more pure than his Maker.  Job’s words and actions clearly showed that he knew his humble position.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.”

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

He sacrificed for his children after every party for crying out loud, you can’t get more aware of your need for atonement than that.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God yet here’s the snake in the dark shadows of Eliphaz’s bedroom hissing and twisting and accusing and planting seeds of condemnation.

You gotta’ feel for Job.  He has lost everything, he’s covered in itchy, oozy sores and now his “friend” is saying that he brought it all on himself.  Hinting that the problem might be his self-righteousness.

It’s ironic that the accuser would plant that particular prejudice against Job in Eliphaz’s mind when the whole reason he got booted from heaven was because he wanted to be above God.

When we point a finger at another, we’re pointing three back at ourselves.

Job replied, “Seriously?  That’s how you are going to respond to the magnitude of my suffering? Give me specific examples of my sin and self-righteousness and I’ll be quiet. But don’t make accusations without proof, my integrity is at stake.”

And then, because his friend got into his head, Job turned his attention to God.

“What is mankind that you make so much of us,
that you give us so much attention,(scrutinize us so closely)
and test us at every moment?

Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
If I have sinned, tell me what I have done,
you who see everything we do.”

For the next 3 chapters Job lamented his misery and wondered what he did wrong. Have you ever been there?  I have.  When my first husband left.

Eliphaz (with Satan’s help) played into Job’s fear of offending God, he exploited his fastidiousness, leaving  Job crushed under the weight of what he thinks is God’s condemning gaze.

But what Job and his friends don’t know is what transpired in heaven between God and Satan.

Job’s confusion and Eliphaz’s condemnation are all based on a lack of information.

That’s something we should remember when we are in the midst of a spiritual struggle – or a relationship struggle or a work situation:

When things don’t add up, there is more to the equation.

His second friend, Bildad spoke up.

“How long will you maintain your innocence when clearly you are lying?
God doesn’t pervert justice, therefore if you are suffering it must be warranted.

Case in point, your children.  Clearly they all sinned or they wouldn’t all be dead.

But if you will seek God earnestly and confess
And if you are pure and upright,
He will restore you to your prosperous state.”

OMG.  His children were all crushed under the roof of his eldest son’s house at a birthday party and this “friend” is saying it was because of their sin?

If I were Job, and if I weren’t weak with fever and grief, I might have grabbed Bildad’s neck.

Instead Job answered, 

“Indeed, I know that I should plead with God,
But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God? 

His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

Though I were innocent, I could not answer him;
I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.

If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty!
And if it is a matter of justice, who can challenge him?

Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me;
if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.”

Then Zophar, jumped on the condemnation bandwagon:

He, too, had been listening to Job with prejudiced ears. He too was offended by Job’s claim of innocence. 

What all three friends failed to hear is that when Job claimed to be innocent, he wasn’t claiming to be perfect or more righteous than God.

He was saying that he didn’t do anything to warrant complete devastation.

It’s like when some friends from my young marrieds Sunday school class called after my husband left wondering what I did.  Some were looking for scandal, some were looking for rhyme and reason – assurance that a random abandonment wouldn’t happen to them.

When I answered, “I didn’t do anything.” I didn’t mean I was perfect or blameless, I meant I didn’t do anything to warrant being abandoned – I didn’t have an affair, for example – as one of my callers had.  By Job’s friends’ logic her husband should have been gone, not mine.

Zophar said, “Do you really think you’re going to win this argument when it’s three against one and you are clearly wrong because you’re the one covered in sores?

I won’t sit back and listen to you mock God.
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’

Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you.”

Do you ever wish God would open His mouth and speak against someone when you are convinced that you are right and he/she is wrong?

Be careful with that because God did eventually open his mouth and speak against someone, but it wasn’t Job!

“Surely he recognizes deceivers,” Zophar continued,
“and when he sees evil, he takes note.

Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.”

“THERE IS NO SIN IN MY HAND!”

Job was sick of the pat, spiritual answers that didn’t apply to his situation. He was sick of judgment parading as concern.  He was sick of insult being heaped on his injury.

 He replied to Zophar,

“You are miserable comforters, all of you!”

Tell me something I don’t know, something that will actually help.

What’s your problem that you insist I admit to some grave sin?

“I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
But I wouldn’t, I would speak words of comfort and encouragement.”

They all knew that was true because that was the first thing Eliphaz said when the silence was broken – “you’ve always strengthened and lifted up the faltering.”

Yet on him they heaped condemnation – all because the accuser whispered in Eliphaz’s ear and took control of the narrative.  If Eliphaz hadn’t been the first to speak would the others have been so quick to pile on?

Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar went ‘round and around for 28 chapters.  It’s a long thread.

Job turned his thoughts to the good old days:

“when people listened to him expectantly,
waiting in silence for his counsel.
For his words to fall gently on their ears.

To the days when people were thrilled to receive his smile, when the light of his face was precious to them.

Back to the days when he dwelt as a king among his troops;
When he was like one who comforts mourners.”

When he was treated with respect.

“But now,” he said, “my skin grows black and peels;
my body burns with fever.”

And after lamenting for quite awhile more, the words of Job ended.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar’s words ended, too.  There was no point in arguing with Job since he was clearly right in his own eyes and not willing to repent.

Young Elihu, who had been silent up until now, was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had failed to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.  They could produce no solid evidence against him but they still convicted him – all because of their faulty understanding of his situation, their prejudices against him and their limited understanding of God.  

(If you give each friend’s arguments a close reading, you will see their particular prejudices and jealousies bubble to the surface.)

Elihu started by saying something similar to what Eliphaz said:

“God speaks in various ways,
though no one perceives it.

In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
and keep them from pride,”

Remember when Zophar claimed God gave him insight in his restless sleep?

This is different.  Here Elihu is saying God speaks to us about us in order to save us from sin.

He doesn’t whisper to us about the behavior of others so we can accuse and condemn.

In so doing, Elihu added salvation and redemption to the equation.

But then Elihu makes an arrogant statement, even as he accuses Job of thinking he’s perfect.

“Be assured that my words are not false;
one who has perfect knowledge is with you.”

Elihu is confident that he has perfect knowledge when he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about – implying that  Job’s problem is he won’t confess his sin and cry for mercy.

“God is wooing you from the jaws of distress.
But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked;
judgment and justice have taken hold of you.”

And then Elihu reveals his particular prejudice:

“Be careful that no one entices you by riches;
do not let a large bribe turn you aside.

Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?

Do not long for the night,
to drag people away from their homes.

Beware of turning to evil,
which you seem to prefer to affliction.” 

Elihu seems to assume that Job’s hidden sin has something to do with his wealth, with ill-gotten gain.  But if wealth were Job’s problem his story would not have ended as it does.

All this angst, all these accusations, all these prejudices surfaced because Satan couldn’t stand that a human would actually, sincerely want to please God.

It’s all the more maddening because Job was humble to begin with.  It wasn’t until he was forced defend himself against the accusations of his friends that he became puffed up.  And annoyed.

Elihu’s speech was closer to the truth about God than E’s, B’s or Z’s because he recognized God’s focus on redemption where they others were focused on judgment, but he was wrong about Job.  And he didn’t have perfect knowledge of the situation because he didn’t know the whole equation.

The only one who knew the truth about Job was God.

Job suffered because Satan accused God at an angelic gathering.  Just as Jesus suffered because Satan accused God at the base of a fruit tree.  It had nothing to do with Job.

When His disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Sometimes our suffering has nothing to do with us.

But in the midst of our suffering, when things don’t add up, we assume that God is angry with us.  We flail around trying to figure out why, beg Him to tell us what we did.  But if the answer isn’t obvious, then maybe we didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s interesting that when God finally spoke, He didn’t tell Job about the wager in heaven, He didn’t address Job’s suffering at all.  Instead He asked Job a series of questions all designed to help him understand mercy. 

To ask for mercy is to look up and beg, to be merciful is to stoop down and bestow kindness.

It’s a positional thing.

Job kept insisting that he had done nothing wrong but the need for mercy isn’t a matter of whether or not you’ve done something wrong, it’s simply a matter of humbly recognizing your size.

A carpenter ant looks up under the shadow of the sole of my shoe and begs for mercy, not because it did anything wrong, but because it is aware that it is small and I am big enough to squash it like a bug. (Actually, if it is in my house it did do something wrong, but if it’s outside, I won’t squash it, even though I can.)

Mercy is recognizing that God can do anything He wants, and trusting that what He wants is good.

God’s questions to Job also revealed Him as a powerful, genius Creator.

Job responded,

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this who obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember how at the beginning of the book God bragged about Job to Satan – called him upright and blameless?  God wasn’t nitpicking Job’s imperfections, as Job assumed, He was saying, “What about that Job, huh?” Like a proud Papa.

And now Job understood that God isn’t sitting in heaven judging, just waiting for us to mess up so He can pound the gavel.  He’s a Creator who sits in heaven and delights in His creation.  And who cares enough to stoop down in kindness and explain it to us.

After the Lord spoke to Job He said to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. Now go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 

See how God reiterated that Job’s friends were the ones who were wrong?  Perhaps because of Zophar’s wish that God would open his mouth and set  Job straight.

Notice something else here:  God doesn’t give the silent treatment, we don’t have to flail around wondering why He’s angry or if He’s angry.  He was angry with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar and He said so.  And He said why.  And then He offered them the way of restoration.  Throughout the Old Testament God’s people would anger Him, He would send prophets to point out their sin, they would repent and be blessed.

Nowadays He sends the Holy Spirit.

So stop flailing.

The best thing we can do for a suffering friend is to keep what we think we know to ourselves and simply ask God to tell the person what they need to know.  Because He is the only one who can truly nail it. 

After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. (Obviously his problem wasn’t his wealth.) All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

 I’d have a really hard time accepting the fair weather comfort and consolation – at my dinner table – of those who mocked me when I was down, but God was gracious enough to restore Job’s good will toward men.

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. In addition to his restored wealth, he also had seven sons and three daughters. 

Notice, the daughters are named and the sons are not.

Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

Did you catch that? 

Now that Job saw God clearly, he did what he hadn’t done before, he gave his daughters an inheritance along with his sons.

Seeing God clearly causes the traditions of men to yield to the heart of God.

After this,  Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 

And so Job died, old and full of years.

Job was seeing God with shiny new spiritual eyes and Bartimaeus wasn’t seeing a thing.

Our Gospel reading today tells us he was sitting along the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho when Jesus and His following went by.   When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Bartimaeus didn’t ask Jesus why he was blind, he asked for mercy. That was the lesson Job needed to learn:  Knowing why doesn’t make you see, the mercy of God does. 

There’s humility in a request for mercy.  There’s no accusation of wrong-doing, there’s no demand for fairness, just a humble request from the powerless to the all-powerful.

Many sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Mercy can take many forms – the provision of a seeing eye dog, the invention of braille, friends to assist…

“I want to see!”

And see he did.

When you need mercy, speak up even when others tell you to pipe down.  Be specific about what you want God to do for you.

We could spend a bit of time on the Hebrews passage comparing  Job’s atoning sacrifices for his children party after party with  Jesus’s one sacrifice for every party past, present and future.  I could point out that Jesus is the Redeemer  Job longed for in chapter 19, and the Mediator he longed for in chapters 9, 25 and 33.  But I’d rather end with a personal story so I’ll answer Job’s question from earlier: “How can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?”

We don’t have to.  We have an eternal Mediator who lives to plead our case.

A Mediator who talks us through things and helps us make sense of it all.  He’s talked me through a few hard things.

Back when my first husband left me all those years ago and my so-called friends were breaking my heart – after much Job-like lamenting and Job-like confusion, God finally spoke and said, “You can choose to believe what your circumstances say about my love for you, or you can choose to believe what I say about my love for you.”

It was a defining moment.

Seventeen years later came another defining moment.  My daughter had just gone off to college when a sudden fall set off a string of strange neurological symptoms that baffled a string of doctors.  I sat on my sofa day after day trying to distract my fearful thoughts by watching movies as I waited to die.  It occurred to me that maybe God didn’t care about me as much as I thought He did.  Perhaps I had been foolish to think He cared about me at all.  I teetered between hope and despair until He finally reminded me of His defining moment.  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

Let that sink in:  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered “yes” once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

“Okay,” I thought a few weeks later as I was washing my tear-streaked face, “He loves us.  But does He love me?”  I had always felt special to Him because I loved Him so much, but maybe I wasn’t.

As I grabbed the hand towel He reminded me of the day He called my name.  He reminded me of the following night when He revealed Himself to me.  It was a glorious revealing.  He called me into His family knowing that I would let Him down, knowing that I would let myself and others down, knowing every bit of my past, present and future, He adopted me.  

“Why would I call you into a relationship with Me and show Myself to you, only to abandon you?,” He asked.

 I love it when He reasons with me.  

He reminded me of everything I love about His character, His plans, His stick-to-itiveness.  He wouldn’t adopt me as His child and then turn His back on me.  He isn’t a bad parent.  He finishes the good work He begins in us.  He accomplishes His purposes.  He isn’t lazy or distracted.

“But Christians sometimes die in their prime, when their ministries are thriving and there is still work to be done,” I countered.  “So there is no guarantee I will recover.”

“If you don’t recover, it won’t be because I don’t care or because I am not paying attention or because I am unable.  It will be because it is time to come home.  And if it is your time and my will, you will have peace.”

I thought of the palpable peace He gave my sister as she battled cancer and faced death.  I realized that it wasn’t God who was trying to kill me, it was the author of fear.  If there is fear, then God’s hand is not in it.  And since the presence of fear proved the strange illness was from the devil’s hand and not God’s, I was going to be okay because God is stronger.  God loves us.  God loves me.  I rested in that and I recovered.

Job’s defining moment came when he resolved, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” 

Peter’s defining moment came not with words, but with action.  After he denied Christ thrice, after he threw his best friend under the bus to save his own skin, he got back up and walked with Him.  Not as one who was just barely forgiven, but as one who was amazing. (See Acts 2:14-41)

Those are the moments the Holy Spirit illuminates when I am struggling.

If you are suffering and wondering what you did wrong, wondering whether God still cares or ever cared, I’m here to say, of course He cares.  Of course He loves you. If nothing makes sense ask Him what’s missing from the equation.

Our defining moments, as tough and heartbreaking and scary as they are, are designed to bring us to the place where we “come to know and believe the love God has for us.”  1 John 4:16a

Does God see you in your suffering?  Does He love you?  Remember your adoption day? That was the day He answered “Yes!”  Forever.

Beth Moore shared a sweet moment she had with God:

He said to her:  “Don’t say, ‘I love you’ to Me.  Say, ‘I love you, too.’  Because I am always saying it first.”

No matter what is going on in your life, He is always saying it first.  Amen.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

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Wisdom

David died and was buried in Jerusalem. 

So Solomon – not without drama (read the first chapter of 1 Kings) – sat on the throne; and his kingdom was firmly established. By firmly established the writer means he had killed all known threats to his reign.  (read chapter 2)

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; but he was not unpolluted by his people, who sacrificed and offered incense at the high places even though they weren’t supposed to.  They did it because the temple had not yet been built and they had no where else to worship.  

If you know the history of Israel, you know it was a chronic problem this failure to tear down the Ashera poles and altars in the high places …

Nonetheless, when Solomon went to Gibeon (the highest of the high places) to sacrifice, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I should give you.” 

Maybe it was the story of Aladdin or maybe it was because I grew up watching “I Dream of Jeannie,” but when I was a kid my sisters and I often supposed what we would wish for if we had 3 wishes.  Our first wishes were always for stuff, our second wishes were always for more stuff and our third wishes were always for 3 more wishes.

But Solomon was different.

He replied, “You have always been good to my dad because he yielded his heart to you; and you have kept him in your great and steadfast love; You’ve kept your promise to put one of his sons on his throne. And now you have made me king, though I am only a little child and I do not know how to go out or come in.   

Solomon was not literally a little child (like Josiah was when he took the throne at age 8), he was probably 20.  What he likely meant was that he was young and inexperienced and didn’t know a thing about governing.

“Therefore,” Solomon continued, “give me an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”

In his podcast last week, Scott Jones harkened this passage back to Genesis 3, and he wondered how God would have responded had A & E asked for knowledge instead of grabbing it, since He seems pleased with the request here.  

But this is different.

Solomon didn’t ask for knowledge of good and evil – that ship had sailed – he already knew all about evil.  He had likely seen the evil deeds inflicted upon his father by his brother Absalom; he had likely heard stories about the evil his father inflicted upon his mom’s first husband, Uriah. He didn’t ask for a knowledge of good and evil, he asked for the ability to discern between the two.

Knowledge = awareness of facts

Discernment = ability to judge them well

The second big difference has to do with motive.  Adam and Eve bit into forbidden knowledge because they wanted to be like God.  We all want to be like Jesus, but this was different, they wanted to be on a par with God.

Solomon wanted the ability to judge between good and evil so he could govern well. He knew he was out of his league with this kingship, he knew he had big shoes to fill and he wanted to make his dad proud.  He wanted to make the Lord proud, too.

So he asked for the one thing he knew he needed in order to do a good job.

James understood the importance of asking with the right motive. He wrote: “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

It wasn’t so much Solomon’s request for the ability to discern between good and evil that pleased God, it was the motive behind it.  He didn’t want wisdom so he could show off it off, he wanted it so he could do right by God’s people.

“Because you have asked this,” God replied, “and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, I will indeed give you a wise and discerning mind.”

Wiser than anyone’s before you and after you.

I remember laying in my trundle bed one Sunday night after hearing this story in church.  It must have been before I was six because we stopped going to church when I was six. My older sister asked me what I’d rather have – riches or wisdom.

“Wisdom,” I said, seemed like a no-brainer.

I was surprised when she said, “Not me, I’d rather have riches.”

Had she not listened to the end of the story?

To Solomon God said, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.

And.

 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, I will also lengthen your life.”

If you walk in my ways, if you keep my commandments…

If you continue to take me seriously.

When Solomon awoke he realized it had been a dream.

He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

It wasn’t long before the Lord gave him an opportunity to use his newly bestowed wisdom.

You probably know the story well.

Two prostitutes came and stood before him.

They both lived in the same house.

They each had a son within 3 days of one another.

During the night one son died because his mother laid on him. 

The mother of the dead son switched the babies.

“Did not,” she said.

“Did so.”

And so they argued before the king.

“Bring me a sword,” he said.

So they brought him a sword. 

“Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

Then Solomon gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

Hooray.

Wisdom discerns between those who would destroy life and those who would protect it.   Wisdom discerns between selfishness and sacrifice.

And Wisdom sides with life.

Psalm 111:10 reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;”

Proverbs 9:10 says it, too:  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.   So what, exactly, is the fear of the Lord? 

Rudy is one of the hub’s favorite movies so we watch it from time to time.  You know Rudy?  True story of a young man whose dream was to play football for Notre Dame in spite of having no real athletic ability, size or academic talent.

He studied hard at a community college, prayed hard, kept applying to Notre Dame and kept getting rejected.

He finally asked his mentor, Father Cavenaugh, for help. He wanted to know what else he could do besides study and pray. He wanted to know the mind of God.

The priest’s response says it all; “Son, in 35 years of religious studies I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts:  There is a God and I’m not Him.”

That’s the fear of the Lord.

Realizing that, “I’m not Him,”

I’m not smarter than He is, I’m not kinder than He is, I’m not more compassionate than He is, I don’t care more than He does.

I don’t care nearly as much as He does.

Once we realize that – as Solomon did, we begin to depend on His intelligence, His goodness and His compassion and we ask for it in service to others.

The lectionary’s alternative OT text for today is Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You who are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

Okay first of all, wisdom is a woman.

I love how she has prepared a sacrifice and set out wine.  It ties in so well with our gospel.

“Come eat,” she says to the simple.

None of us has to has remain a fool because we are all invited to eat at Wisdom’s table.

But we must eat.  It’s not enough to just come and admire her beautiful china or read her beautifully crafted words, we must ingest what she has to offer.  We must chew and swallow and let it become part of our cells.

And we must be careful because folly is a woman, too.

Further down in Proverbs 9 it says,

Folly is an unruly woman who is simple and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
calling out to those who pass by,
who go straight on their way,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet;
food eaten in secret is delicious!”
But little do they know that the dead are there,
that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.

Welcome to the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Sounds like pornography – sounds like an addiction to anything.

Both wisdom and folly call to the those who have no sense but one serves up Christ and the other serves up contraband.

If you need help discerning between the two, do as James advised when he wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

We can confidently say that a prayer request for wisdom is one to which God will always reply, “Yes!” There’s no, “no” or “wait” when it comes to a request fro wisdom, it’s always “Yes, yes, yes!, Right now!”

Because Wisdom keeps us out of trouble. Which brings us to our epistle.

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Ephesians 5:15-20

When I was in college, my heart was broken by a young man who was not wise, who was not filled with the Spirit.  I’m talking debauchery.  

So my friend Sandy took me and my broken heart to the Peanut Barrel – some of you MSU alums might remember it – to get us drunk.  I wasn’t much of a drinker, but I do remember thinking, after a couple glasses of wine, “John who?”  And for one glorious moment I thought I had discovered the key to not feeling the hurt – just keep drinking wine. Every day, until time has healed the wound.

But then wisdom spoke up and said, “Yea, but then you’ll have to deal with a drinking problem.”

Dang it.  That’s wisdom for you, always calling us back to the high road.  Always keeping us from being a fool.

And wisdom is right, of course.  Psalms, hymns and gratitude are much better than wine at comforting a broken heart.

God has always given wisdom lavishly.  Even in the midst of their obstinance, God, through the mouth of Isaiah, promised the voice of wisdom to the ancient Israelites. 

 “Whether you turn to the right or to the left,” He said, “your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

Likewise, Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth.

In our gospel reading He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

If we tie the gospel reading to the OT texts, the bread He’s talking about here is wisdom.  

And the wisdom that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

“Man shall not live on bread alone,” Jesus said to the tempter after 40 days in the wilderness, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

When He said that He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 which says: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Manna was food for the body.

Jesus is food for the spirit.

I like how Thomas Nash put it in in his book entitled Worthy is the Lamb: “As the bread-like manna sustained ancient Israel en route to their earthly Promised Land, so too, Christ, the ‘true bread from heaven’  leads us to our eternal paradise … Thus Jesus became not only the perfect Passover Sacrifice for our sins, but also the perfect Passover meal to sustain us spiritually unto heaven.”

At the churches I’ve attended in the past, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated only once a month, but I like our weekly eucharist.  I need weekly sustenance for the long, hard journey to heaven.

I’ll end with a quote that Scott Jones shared on the podcast I mentioned earlier.  It’s taken from Dale Bruner’s commentary on the book of John.

“The sacraments are not a second way of salvation, they are simply Jesus’ one way of salvation scaled down, physicalized, individualized, simplified and concretized [in other words, they are object lessons]. From heart to hands, from soul to body, from group to individual, Jesus was eminently wise when he instituted the sacraments for His disciples.  He knew that we need not only spiritual things but also physical things in order to grasp Him more easily, to come to Him more specifically.”

As I listened to the quote, I thought of all of us, lined up in the aisle, our attention focused for the moment on receiving Christ.

I like the image I saw of us – young and old – simply participating in the weekly reminder that Jesus is our spiritual strength; the weekly reminder that salvation is a gift, placed in our hands, not taken.

“Come,’ wisdom says, “eat.”

Amen.

#SundaysSermon

Lectionary readings:

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

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Those Things That Are Right

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Sunday we asked God to grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right. Our Old Testament Scripture reading gave us the example of Joseph.

You’ve likely heard Joseph portrayed as a braggart and a tattle tale, perhaps in an effort to explain his brothers’ jealousy.  Perhaps some teach him that way in an effort to justify their own jealous tendencies.

Some say Joseph bragged about his dreams.

But Scripture doesn’t say he bragged about them, it merely states that he reported them. And just because your brothers are jealous doesn’t mean you made them jealous.

Remember Cain? He was so jealous of his brother, Abel, that he entertained murderous thoughts.

God found Cain stewing in his anger and asked, “What’s your problem? If you do what is right, I’ll bless you, too.  Sin is crouching at your door, don’t answer it.”

But he did answer it. When given the choice between yielding his heart, mind and behavior to God and being blessed, or stubbornly holding onto his anger, he took the anger and killed his brother.  Abel wasn’t killed because made Cain jealous.  Abel was killed because Cain wanted to do what he wanted to do and be blessed anyway. And he hated that God doesn’t work that way.

The assumptions we make about how Joseph reported his dreams are shaded by the bits of our personality we project onto him. When I read the account of his dreams, I don’t imagine Joseph bragging at all.

What do you do when you have a really wild, vivid dream? Do you report it to whoever is at the breakfast table?

I think that’s what Joseph was doing, just reporting a couple of weird, amazing dreams and naively believing his family would be amazed by them, too.

What about Joseph as a tattle tale?

There appeared to be just cause right there in our bulletin: “Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father.”

That’s how all the modern translations I’ve consulted tell it. But the Septuagint – the original translation of the OT from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek – tells a different story.

The Septuagint says it was the brothers who brought a bad report against Joseph. They were the tattlers. The exact wording: “And they brought against Joseph a bad fault to Israel, their father.”

“But,” Scripture continues, [in spite of the bad report] “Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age.” No reason other than he was born in his old age.

I keep hearing from friends who are becoming grandparents that grandkids are so much more enjoyable than kids. Perhaps because you can relax and enjoy children more when you are no longer striving for all the things for which youth strives.

In addition, Joseph as a braggart and snitch isn’t congruent with the character he displayed during the rest of his life.

Joseph was seventeen when his dad sent him to Shechem to check on the health and safety of his brothers. Some 17-year-olds would say, “No way! I’m not going. They hate me!” But not Joseph. He said. “Okay, (Septuagint: I’m ready).”

Being hated by your siblings is a long, lonely road to walk, and Joseph walked it, all the way to Shechem.

When he finally arrived his brothers weren’t there. At that point, some teenagers would shrug their shoulders, return home and say, “They weren’t there.” But not Joseph, he went the extra mile – the extra 20 or 30 miles to be more accurate – to Dothan.

That’s what always doing the right thing looks like – going the extra mile, even when you’re hated. Even when you’re really tired of being hated.

The rest of Joseph’s story reminds me of a book from my childhood. Remember it? The one with the guy in a parachute on the cover?: “Fortunately Ned was invited to a surprise party…” “Unfortunately the party was 1,000 miles away.”

Unfortunately going the extra mile got Joseph sold into slavery.
Fortunately “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered and the Lord gave him success in everything he did.”

That phrase recurs several times throughout Joseph’s story. “The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in everything he did…” Perhaps that is the key to always doing what’s right. Having the Lord with you, talking you through it.

But what came first, the chicken or the egg? Did Joseph always do what was right because the Lord was with him or was the Lord with him because he always did what was right?

Scripture tells us that God chose David to be the second King of Israel, because, as he said to Samuel, “He will do whatever I tell him to do.” Perhaps God chose Joseph because he was the same sort of man – one who could be counted on to do the right thing – to yield his heart, mind, and attitude to God.

So Joseph found favor in his master’s eyes and became his trusted attendant. But either Joseph was really hot or Mrs. Potiphar was really horny, either way, she pursued him relentlessly and when he wouldn’t acquiesce to her request, she accused him of rape and he wound up in prison.

Some people would be angry and bitter about now. But not Joseph. How do I know he wasn’t bitter and angry? He reached out to others, even in his own need.

The Lord was with Joseph in prison and Joseph was put in charge of all the other prisoners. One morning he noticed a couple of the new guys looking dejected. He sat down and asked them what was wrong. They had both had disturbing dreams the night before. Joseph said, “I’m pretty good with dreams, let’s hear ‘em.” After hearing the dreams he told the first guy that his dream meant he would be restored to his position as cupbearer to the king within three days. The cupbearer was thrilled and relieved. Joseph said, “When you get out of here mention to Pharaoh that I don’t belong here.” The cupbearer said he would.

But, he didn’t and Joseph languished in prison another two years.

Two more years of faithfully performing the duties placed in front of him. Two more years with his dreams on hold.

You can dwell on all the bad things that have happened to you – sold into slavery when you were just trying to help; exercising sexual integrity and being falsely accused anyway; helping someone who doesn’t help you back. You can rehearse all the injustices and conclude that God doesn’t care, or you can look for all the ways He helped you in the midst of it all and be grateful.

You know the rest of the story. Pharaoh had a dream that no one understood, the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph, Joseph interpreted the dream and even offered a brilliant plan to deal with the impending famine. He was made second in command of all of Egypt, was reunited with his dad, wrestled with prospect of reconciling with his brothers and in the end did the right thing.

And, if you know the whole story, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were greatly blessed.

What lessons can we glean about always doing right as we watch Joseph’s life unfurl?

  • Go the extra mile, even when people hate you. Be good for goodness’ sake.
  • Do your job well, even when you thought sheaves were going to bow down to you and you’re someone’s slave instead; give it your all even when you thought your life was going to be greater than it’s turning out to be.
  •  Take a compassionate interest in others, help them even in the midst of your own need.
  • Let God be with you, even when you are languishing for two more years. Let Him still be with you. Listen to Him, yield your heart and attitude and thoughts to Him.
  • Consistently do the right thing and your children will be blessed with a great legacy.
  • Trust that what the haters mean for evil God means for good. God always means for our good.

In order to trust you have to think right.

Which brings us to Sunday’s gospel reading (from Matthew 14).

Mark and John gave a slightly different account, but Matthew told us that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side of the lake.

He made them get into the boat. That’s an important detail.

After He dismissed the crowds, He went up the mountain by Himself to pray.

By the time He finished praying, the boat was quite far from land. The disciples had been battling wind and waves all night and they were probably exhausted by the time Jesus caught up with them. So when they saw Him approach – walking on the sea – they were terrified. Not because the waves were battering their boat – some of them were seasoned fisherman, they knew how to handle wind and waves. They were terrified because they thought they saw a ghost.

How do you think right when you’ve been up all night battling strong winds and now you think you see a ghost?

You look at the facts:
Fact 1: Jesus made us get in the boat. It wasn’t our idea.
Fact 2: Jesus sent us to the other side of the lake. He didn’t, as Beth Moore so brilliantly pointed out, send us to the bottom of the lake.

Conclusion: So what if it’s a ghost? The second Jesus sent us ahead to the other side of the lake our arrival was guaranteed.

Same right thinking applies when you are Peter, endeavoring to do what only God can do.

What God invited you to do.

Peter got out of the boat and started walking toward Him. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink.

Peter had complete confidence in Jesus’s invitation until he saw the strong winds.

Reminds me of the first time I water skied: I grabbed the rope, the boat pulled me right up and I was skiing and having a really good time slipping in and out of the wake. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be doing so well on my very first attempt, and with that thought I let go of the rope.

People can’t walk on water.

But when Jesus is the One doing the inviting, we can. So what if the wind is strong? His will is stronger. When He invites you to “Come,” He will get you there.

Or do you think He plays cruel tricks? Invites us and then lets us sink or swim?

When my first husband left me I spent many moons in a battered boat trying desperately to figure out what I had done to deserve abandonment. I rowed hard against a sea of accusations because Job wasn’t the only one who had bad friends. I evaluated my imperfections against the, in some cases, greater imperfections of my non-abandoned friends trying to make sense of it all. I felt like my life was doomed.

And then God climbed into the boat and reminded me of the facts.

He reminded me of that Sunday morning in April when I was getting ready for church, I was being baptized that day. And as I zipped myself into my floral dress, a thought floated through the air, “He’s going to propose today.”

He, I figured, was my boyfriend, who was also being baptized that morning. We had only been dating 4 months and we hadn’t talked at all about marriage so I just let the thought float right on by. I finished dressing and then practiced the Scripture verse I had chosen to recite before the dunking.

And sure enough, sitting on a sofa together in the pastor’s office – dry clothes back on, hair dried – waiting for the rest of the service to end, he did indeed propose.

And there were the facts: God knew that the marriage would end even as He floated that thought to me on that April morning. Perhaps that’s why He whispered it, So I’d remember that He was well aware that I was getting into the boat.

And even though He knew it wasn’t seaworthy, He didn’t try to stop me. He loves me and He didn’t try to stop me.

It’s not like I was rebelliously getting into a lemon of a boat. He was a christian, I was a Christian, his parents were happily married. I did my due diligence.

I hadn’t made a fatal mistake. I hadn’t married outside of His will. I wasn’t doomed. God knew and He allowed. He loved me and He still allowed. And if me getting into what He knew would turn out to be an unreliable boat was okay with Him, then from now on, it would be okay with me. I still couldn’t say the d word but I would trust that God meant it for good.

Praise God for always meaning it for good,
for speaking truth to our battered souls,
for taking the oars from our flailing hands,
for urging us on as we walk the lonely road,
for directing our thoughts as we languish for two more years.

Praise God for giving us the spirit to think right and do always those things that are right, even when life is habitually hard, that we, who cannot exist without Him, may be enabled to live according to His will.

Amen.

#unfurl

 

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