A New Understanding

Read Acts 10:9-23a

Various cultures have different understandings of what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Everything from how a person enters a home to what foods are acceptable to eat. Government diplomats actually have training in regard to customs and behaviors prior to being stationed in foreign posts. This training is important so that the diplomat does not inadvertently offend citizens and government officials where they are sent. The rules and customs of a group of people have deep roots. Some of these are linked to history, some to religion and some due to practical reasons.

Peter was a rule abiding Jew. He prided himself on being faithful to the laws and customs of his Hebrew heritage. The Jews had strong dietary laws. Today we would view these laws as practical based upon what we now know in regards to food safety. In Peter’s time, the laws were linked to his faith since they were recorded in the laws which Moses handed down. When Peter had a vision in which he was instructed to eat foods forbidden by the Law, he naturally declined. The purpose of the vision was to communicate to Peter that rules and understandings can change as God reveals new information to us. This was an important message because soon Peter would be called upon to act in a manner considered wrong by Jewish standards. Peter would be asked to go to the home of an officer in the army which occupied Israel. If the vision had not opened Peter’s eyes to God working outside the rules and customs, he likely would not have gone and the good news would not have been shared.

The lesson for Peter is important in our lives as well. We easily become accustomed to our customs, habits and understandings. Our faith can be attached to what we have been taught when we were younger. What we must always keep in mind is that we believe in a living God. Our God is always at work in the lives of people. Our God is constantly revealing new understandings to us as we are better equipped to receive them. As we grow in our knowledge of the world, God gives us new insights. None of us follow all the dietary laws of Peter’s time because we have refrigeration and better ways to store and prepare food. Why would our other understandings of God, faith and the world around us also not change?

A Legacy

Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8

When a person dies, one of the tasks which family members must complete is writing an obituary for the person. Occasionally, individuals will write their own obituaries prior to their death but it often falls upon the family to complete this. The writing of the obituary may actually require two to be written; one to be published in newspapers and one to be included in the service since newspapers are charging so much that a shorter version makes it more practical. The goal of the obituary is to highlight important facts about the individual’s life, encapsulating their legacy. If you were to write your own obituary, what would it say?

The writer of today’s passage is giving a brief obituary. The person acknowledges an impending death. Verse seven is the legacy that is being left behind, a life hallmarked by completing what was being asked in the context of faith. The writer then concluded that due to this legacy there is a reward awaiting which will be supplied by the Lord. In addition, the author states that this reward is available not only to the one speaking but to all who do the same in faith.

The passage causes many questions to surface for anyone who hears or reads it. Ask yourself these:

– What fight are you called to fight by your faith?

– How would you describe your race?

– In what ways are you keeping the faith? Where are you struggling to do this?

– What do you hope to have included in your legacy?

The Word Love

Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Our world is filled with words. Every year the editors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary choose what words are added to the dictionary. The basis of making such a decision is the frequency of its usage by a lot of people. Words are understood by the context in which they are used. They are interpreted by what the hearer/reader brings to them. The strength of the word is found in how it lives out in real life situations. Words have a great value in communicating an idea or concept or understanding. However, experience says that actions have a much stronger impact on people than words.

Paul is communicating a very important understanding of a frequently used word in his day and in our own. The passage from his  letter to the people of Corinth is well known by believers and non-believers  alike due to its frequent reading at weddings. This usage of the passage is not wrong but tends to leave the impression that Paul is writing about romantic love or solely a relationship between spouses. This impression could not be any farther from the purpose Paul intended. Paul is writing to a church with strong divisions and frequent conflicts. This passage lifts up to them a central understanding of what it means to be believers in Christ.

Paul knows that love is the core of who God is and how God  is revealed in Jesus. This love is not romantic in nature nor is it an emotion. The love which Paul writes about is a way of living. In order to understand love, Paul is indicating that it must be witnessed in the actions and attitudes of life. Jesus expressed love not in words but in how he lived, responded to people, and viewed the world around him. This is exactly what Paul is expressing to the people of Corinth. Knowledge, spiritual gifts and insights are nice but if they lack the living out of love in life, they lose their value. Paul tells the people that the greatest of the only three items which have sustaining value, faith, hope and love, is love. This love is experienced and known through the actions and attitudes displayed in human relationships.

Each of us needs to hear Paul’s teaching here frequently. We need to realize that as wonderful as words are in communicating, the communication through actions and attitudes is all which has lasting value. If we are going to be faithful in following the Lord and demonstrating who God is, we need to live in a manner where love is witnessed, love as defined here.

Not Ashamed

Read Matthew 10:32-33

Jesus’s words here are difficult to hear. However, they make sense if we are honest. While it may be challenging to acknowledge Jesus and the relationship we have with him outside of our church buildings, it is only a challenge if we are ashamed or afraid. Being respectful of others does not have to mean denying our relationship with the Lord.

These verses reminded me of a song from my post. Listen to the words of this song, Consider how you acknowledge Jesus. Are there times and ways in which you act ashamed?

Gift Discernment

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

When a teenager is in high school, often they will experience taking some form of an aptitude test at least once. The purpose behind such a test is to assist the teenager in identifying what type of employment may best suit their personality, skills, and interests. With this information, the student can be guided in what subjects they should take while in high school. This also provides an opportunity for looking toward the future in regard to what post-secondary education or training would be helpful for the student to move toward them toward employment goals. The generally accepted view is that after identifying the personality, skills and interests, preparing for a future where these are easily applied is the best route. What this approach fails to take into account is the changes which can, and do, occur in those three areas as a person matures. Also, the changes in employment types and opportunities as society advances does not factor into this approach. However, a short-term plan can be established for the time being as long as taking other aptitude tests occurs frequently throughout the person’s life.

Paul speaks about a person’s aptitude in his letter to the Corinthians. He uses the words “spiritual gifts” instead of aptitude. Paul tells the people that everyone receives personalities, skills, and interests from the Spirit. These are intended to be used by the individual to serve others. Each person’s gifts are different from another but are expected to work in harmony with others to achieve the benefit of everyone.

You have been given your own unique personality, set of skills, and interests by the Spirit. Identifying those unique aspects is important so that you are able to exercise them for the good of all. This identification usually requires the assistance of others which is one of the purposes of active engagement in the fellowship of the Church. It is also very important to remember that discerning these items is not a one-time event but should be done frequently since changes occur. Each time after discernment, identifying how to apply these gifts for the good of others is the next step.

When did you last take inventory of what you received from the Spirit? Is it time to repeat this discernment? How are you using your gifts?

Not Alone

Read Psalm 36:5-9

Everyone of us have days when troubles seem to abound and solutions appear unattainable. Dreams and hopes can be shattered without any warning. Expectations may go unfulfilled. These are the difficult times in life. No one is exempt from these occurrences, even though others may not perceive them.

It is during these times that it is important to remember how vast God’s love is for each of us. We benefit by recalling the promises of companionship, support and guidance that the Lord has made to us. We are not alone in these times. God’s faithfulness endures forever for each person. Our cries for help are heard by our Lord and we are led by the hand through the darkness. We lay out our hurts, our grief, our hopelessness before the Lord and we are understood. When we  are weary, we receive support. When we are lost, we are led.

The psalmist reminds us of this. The song, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, also speaks to us when these times come into our lives.

In Service

Read Matthew 25:34-46

In a few months we will be entering the Christmas season. The Christmas season means a return of wonderful movies and animated shows. Two of my favorite, must-see movies are A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge learns the importance of caring for others and taking care of the needs of others as one of his lessons. George Bailey discovers in It’s a Wonderful Life how much his decisions and actions have had a positive impact as he met the needs of others. Both movies provide an important message regarding how we are to demonstrate love and compassion for one another.

The reading for today comes in the midst of Jesus telling a parable about caring for others. Jesus presents a scene which can occur upon the return of the Son of Man. There is a division which happens. This division is between those who cared for others in their lives and those who chose not to reach out in compassion and love. The point made in this story is that even if we are not aware, the choices we make in regards to the needs of others have an eternal impact. Since God is love, and Jesus is the embodiment and example of this love, those who desire to follow Jesus must demonstrate this love in their lives. Jesus indicates here that failure to do so means a person cannot truly be in Christ.

The truth of Jesus’s parable was demonstrated in the Christmas movies mentioned at the start. Our choices about how we respond to the needs of others around us have impacts of which we may never be aware. These impacts change the lives of those in need but also change our very own life. The lasting nature of these choices make their importance even greater. Both Jesus and Paul tell us that only if love resides in and through us can we truly know the fullness of our God.

There are needs constantly around us. We must be open to seeing the needs of others. Then we must act on meeting those identified needs. This is not something relegated to a select few. No, this is the responsibility of each person who claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Attaching the Name

Read John 14:12-14

In the mid-19th century, comprehensive trademark laws began to emerge internationally. The concept behind trademarks laws is to protect names, labels and icons from being used by multiple people, organizations or companies. The originator of a label, name or icon desires to protect the trademark  from misuse and misrepresentation. The trademarks are intended for individuals to easily associate the person to the company, organization, product or service in their mind when it is seen. Understandably, if the trademark is used by someone else, confusion may occur at the very least or harm of the entity’s image may be the greatest damage. Attaching one’s trademark to something communicates ownership or, at a minimum, endorsement.

The passage from John’s gospel account speaks of attaching Jesus’s name to a prayer or request. Jesus is in a conversation with the twelve about his leaving but returning later to take them with him. Thomas is confused about knowing where Jesus is going so they can follow. Then when Jesus states  he is the way, the truth and the life, along with providing access to the Father, Philip asks to see the Father. Jesus tells them if they have seen him, they have seen the Father. This leads to the three verses we have just read.

Often these statements, and similar ones, by Jesus have caused people to conclude that anything we ask will occur if we attach the phrase, “in Jesus’s name.” When young children are taught to pray, they are taught to end each prayer with “in Jesus’s name. Amen.” This practice is directly related to conversations as we find in this John passage. Unfortunately, the perception that this is some magic incantation to make all desires come true exists in many minds. Cynics point out how often this does not work. Believers can become disillusioned when it appears to fail.

There are many reasons why a prayer request appears to go unfulfilled. The issue may be that God knows the request will not benefit the petitioner in the long run. Maybe the requestcould bring a negative impact on the well-being of another. Or the problem with the fulfillment could be the motivation behind the request.  The timing of the request may not be right and it may be fulfilled later or throughout a period of time. Truly, only God understands why some requests are not granted immediately after they are made.

A valuable measuring stick in regard to requests a person might make of the Lord is to ask what it means to attach Jesus’s name to the request. Is what I am asking for in alignment with how Jesus lived his life? Does this request fit in the teachings Jesus shared? Are my intentions behind the request in agreement with the love and service heart Jesus demonstrated? Would Jesus be proud to have his name connected to this request? These questions will help a person determine if the request should be made. The answers may also provide some insight into why some requests are not fulfilled.

Humble Beginnings

Read Exodus 2:1-10

The birth of a newborn is an absolutely amazing experience. The lives of the parents change dramatically. In many situations the birth signals a new beginning with an endless amount of possibilities. One, or both, of the parents may wonder what is in store for this new life. Maybe this child will become President of the United States or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Perhaps this new one will be the scientist who discovers a cure for cancer or the physician who perfects a spinal cord regeneration surgery. This baby might become the person who writes the box office success which remains on Broadway for fifty years or the painter who created a masterpiece that hangs in the Louvre one day. The possibilities are endless no matter the circumstances of the beginnings.

Our passage for today comes from Exodus and tells the story of a child’s beginnings. The Israelites were living in Egypt after having fled famine in their native land. The opportunity came from the unfortunate selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers. (But that is another story to tell.) Over time the leadership of Egypt changed and the Israelites became servants and workers for the Egyptians. They were considered by the Egyptians to be second class. Social rules were established to keep a separation between the two groups of people. Into this, a baby boy is born. His Hebrew mother saw a bleak future for him so she arranged a plan to have Pharaoh’s daughter find him. The plan worked brilliantly and Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the boy. She gives him the name Moses.

From one of the humblest beginnings, a powerful servant leader of God’s people emerges. Moses’s story is truly amazing as he rises and falls in stature, only to rise again. The story of Moses’s start serves as a reminder to us that no matter the circumstance of our birth or the events of our lives, we are capable of having a meaningful impact on the lives of others. We may not become the leader of a nation which we deliver out of captivity but we still can be a part of changing the direction of someone’s life. We may be the one who inspires someone else to alter the course of a nation. The possibilities are endless and timeless.

No matter how your life began or what events have shaped you, remember what you do today can be the most world  altering act for others. In God, there is always greatness in each one of us. Today may be the day in which you change history. Seek what the Lord has planned for you today whether you feel worthy or not.  Moses’s mother did.