The Question

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

1 Peter 1:1-12 (NIV)

Is it better to know something is going to happen in advance or accept situations as they occur without advance notice? If you are like I am, the answer to the question is… it depends. There are some items like the cost of repairs, the plans for a weekend, or the arrival date of guests which I want to know in advance. I do not wish to know when something which I cannot control is going to happen because I do not want the added worry. If we knew the negative impact of certain situations, we may never take the risks of stepping out of our front door. There clearly is an important balance which must exist in our lives regarding advance knowledge. Managing that balance is not always within our control.

Today’s passage comes at the start of a letter attributed to Peter. He is writing to a group of exiled Christ followers. But the concept of being exiled here is not necessarily one of being removed from one’s home country but more the sense that a follower of Christ is now like an alien resident in the world around them. Peter speaks of their suffering and grief. They likely were ridiculed for their beliefs and felt like outsiders. A picture of living a difficult life if you are a follower of Christ emerges here. Peter says that their journey through this is evidence of their belief in Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and the promised inheritance. Even though they had never seen Jesus, they believed. Peter assures them that the grace which comes to them was that of which the prophets had spoken.

My question at the start confronts me as I read this passage. Some think that if a person becomes a follower of Jesus, the person’s life will become easier. Peter makes it clear here that this is not the case. The suffering and grief did not go away for these followers. In fact, it seems to have increased. Now my original question  can be adjusted a little and applied to becoming a follower of Christ. If you knew in advance that there would continue to be suffering and grief after becoming a follower, would you still choose to follow Jesus? This is a question which you may have asked yourself before. The question may come up at various times in your life but nuanced a different way because of the current situation at the time. There is nothing wrong with asking the question because it gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ, his resurrection and our promised inheritance. Consider how you would respond to the question today.

Commonality

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:5-13 (NIV)

Over the years of my life, I have been fortunate to encounter individuals who are not a part of my tribe. For those who may not be familiar with the contemporary use of the word tribe, this word is now used to describe a group of individuals who hold things in common. What is held in common varies depending on the tribe; i.e., ethnic background, career, viewpoint on a subject, leisure activities, faith, etc. I have greatly enjoyed learning about tribes which are different from my own. Often I discover more similarities between my tribe and someone else’s than I ever find differences. There clearly are differences but not as many as the commonalities.

Paul writes to a group of Christ followers located in Rome. Some of these followers were Jews and some were Gentiles. All of them are also facing Jews who are not Christ followers. In the passage today, Paul is addressing the uneasiness the followers are having caused by the combining of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish tribe carries with them the history of being a persecuted group of God’s people, usually at the hands and mercy of Gentiles. In addition, the historical understanding of the Messiah was God would be sending the Messiah to save the Jews. The Gentile tribe carries with them the sense of constant rejection by the Jews and what they see as the arrogance of the Jews who declare they are God’s chosen ones. It is easy to see why there are significant differences between these two tribes of people that can lead to conflict. 

Paul has chosen to address this uneasy division among believers. He calls them all to have the mind and attitude of Christ. He challenges these followers to accept one another in the same manner Christ has accepted them. Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him display an embracing of both Jew and Gentile, continually breaking through the cultural norms to reach out to all. Then Paul uses words from Hebrew Scriptures to show that Jesus came to fulfill the promises God made to the Jews but also God’s plan to incorporate the Gentiles.

We live in a time when tribes of people are inclined to build walls to keep other tribes out. Instead of different views and experiences living in harmony, people would rather divide and conquer. Paul’s words speak loudly to us in the Christian faith. His words remind us that we have commonality in Christ. These words challenge us to adopt the mind and attitude of our Lord. A mind and attitude of acceptance without diminishing our differences. The church gives us a place to practice this so that we can learn to live it with tribes outside of the Christian tribe.

Fairness

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)

Many people in life want to be sure that life is fair. This seems like a principle everyone should be able to support. Some work hard to combat what they identify as unfair aspects in life. There are even individuals who not only seek fairness for themselves but also seek fairness for others in situations totally unrelated to their own lives. Sadly, even with all the efforts made to ensure fairness for all, life is still filled with unfairness. Part of the struggle is that what one person identifies as fair does not always match another person’s definition. Add to this that situations outside of human control can make for an unfair dynamic.

This dilemma of unfairness appears in a story which Jesus tells in response to a question about forgiveness. Jesus is approached by Peter who wants to know how many times he should forgive another person. Peter wants to know what a fair expectation might be. Jesus gives a surprisingly high number of times and then tells a story. In the story, a man is forgiven a debt in full. After the debt is forgiven, he encounters another man who owes him a debt. Instead of forgiving the second man’s debt, he has him jailed. Bystanders witness both situations and determine the first man is being unfair so they report him to the one who had forgiven the original debt. This angers the forgiver so he reverses his decision and gives the man the same punishment he gave another. Jesus tells the listeners that so it will be with the Father.

Amazing how the understanding of what is fair can produce such different results. The first man owed a debt. What would be fair in this situation is that the debt be paid using any means available. The person due payment does not require what is fair but instead forgives the debt completely. Then an identical situation presents itself but this time it is the first  debtor who is owed the debt. Here is where the definition of fairness can be a challenge. As in the first account, it is fair to expect the debt to be paid using whatever means available. However, it can also be argued that what is fair in the second situation is altered because of the action of the man who forgave the original debt. The fair thing to do now is for the debt to also be forgiven in the second situation or at minimum more time to be allowed.

We owe a tremendous debt to God. It would be absolutely fair for God to demand payment. Scripture tells us that the wage of sin is death. Yet God does not demand payment but instead offers full and complete forgiveness. In order for us to be fair towards others when they sin against us, we must offer them full and complete forgiveness the same number of times God does for us.

Facing Battles

Now Gor′gias took five thousand infantry and a thousand picked cavalry, and this division moved out by night to fall upon the camp of the Jews and attack them suddenly. Men from the citadel were his guides. But Judas heard of it, and he and his mighty men moved out to attack the king’s force in Emma′us while the division was still absent from the camp. When Gor′gias entered the camp of Judas by night, he found no one there, so he looked for them in the hills, because he said, “These men are fleeing from us.”

At daybreak Judas appeared in the plain with three thousand men, but they did not have armor and swords such as they desired. And they saw the camp of the Gentiles, strong and fortified, with cavalry round about it; and these men were trained in war. But Judas said to the men who were with him, “Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. Remember how our fathers were saved at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them. 10 And now let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favor us and remember his covenant with our fathers and crush this army before us today. 11 Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.”

12 When the foreigners looked up and saw them coming against them, 13 they went forth from their camp to battle. Then the men with Judas blew their trumpets 14 and engaged in battle. The Gentiles were crushed and fled into the plain, 15 and all those in the rear fell by the sword. They pursued them to Gazar′a, and to the plains of Idume′a, and to Azo′tus and Jam′nia; and three thousand of them fell. 16 Then Judas and his force turned back from pursuing them, 17 and he said to the people, “Do not be greedy for plunder, for there is a battle before us; 18 Gor′gias and his force are near us in the hills. But stand now against our enemies and fight them, and afterward seize the plunder boldly.”

19 Just as Judas was finishing this speech, a detachment appeared, coming out of the hills. 20 They saw that their army[a] had been put to flight, and that the Jews[b] were burning the camp, for the smoke that was seen showed what had happened. 21 When they perceived this they were greatly frightened, and when they also saw the army of Judas drawn up in the plain for battle, 22 they all fled into the land of the Philistines. 23 Then Judas returned to plunder the camp, and they seized much gold and silver, and cloth dyed blue and sea purple, and great riches. 24 On their return they sang hymns and praises to Heaven, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever. 25 Thus Israel had a great deliverance that day.

1 Maccabees 4:1-25 (RSV)

Life is filled with many battles. There are physical battles, mental battles, and spiritual battles. At times, a combination of the different types of battles can be happening at simultaneously. These battles come in all shapes and sizes. Facing a battle can seem overwhelming and impossible. A defeatist attitude can creep into the mind when a battle seems daunting. The key to facing and going through the battle is knowing one does not go it alone.

Today’s passage from 1 Maccabees presents the Israelite army up against a much larger army of Gentiles. Having snuck away from their home camp after hearing about a sneak attack by a division of the Gentiles, the Israelites stand on the plain before the Gentile camp. At first light, the Israelites see how outnumbered they are for this battle. Judas, the leader, gives a pep talk. He recounts for the soldiers, God’s saving act for their ancestors at the Red Sea. He states that God is capable of doing the same for them. The Gentiles come out to meet the Israelites in battle. The Gentiles were crushed and fled, as did the returning division when they saw their camp burning. The Jews claim the plunder of silver, gold and fine linens. They return home singing a song of praise to heaven for their success.

Like the army of Israel, we can become afraid when facing the battles within our lives. The prospect of engaging in our battle and being able to stand afterwards can appear dim to us at times. We need to be reminded of the multitude of situations where the Father has saved those who preceded us and the number of times we have been saved. Through words of Scripture, believers who are in our lives, and reflections on our own journey, we can obtain the strength in the knowledge that God can make the impossible happen. Not all battles end in what we might define as success. But no battle which we face is absent of our Lord being at our side.

As A Child

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 18:1-9 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how a baby or young child can bring a group of adults to a complete stop? Quickly the child becomes the focus of everyone around. Maybe it is their sense of innocence which causes one to want to stop and watch them. It might be our need to recapture our own youth in their actions and how they respond to the world around them. The craving for the simple demonstrated through them may draw our attention. Whatever the reason, a child can lead us to pause in the midst of a busy life. An individual may even be caught smiling or releasing a chuckle.

Jesus was fond of using a child to communicate the type of behavior and viewpoint which is expected of his disciples. Jesus is asked who can be considered the greatest in heaven. Jesus does not directly answer the question but instead he places a child before them and says that unless a person adopts the ways of a child, the person will not even get to heaven. Before someone can strive to be the greatest, the individual must first be a part of heaven by having the eyes and attitudes of what in that society was considered the lowest, a child. Jesus follows this idea with a warning not to be a stumbling block to others and/or one’s self.

In many ways, what Jesus says here can be difficult for us to accept. We are taught from an early age how important it is to be the greatest in whatever we attempt in life. Part of this greatness comes from maturing. Another part comes from amassing knowledge. For some, accumulating wealth, status and prestige are also essential parts of success. Jesus turns this upside down. He lifts up innocence, humbleness, curiosity, acceptance and joy as found in the example of a child as the important pieces. Are these not qualities of a young child at play? When these qualities are present, there is an openness. This openness allows for the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to unfold before us. The stumbling blocks are when we try to diminish these qualities.

Your challenge, a challenge we all have before us, is as we mature and gain knowledge, we must never let go of the parts of our childhood which keep us open to the mystery of heaven.

Wonderment

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia[a] in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits[b] thick.[c] 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.[d] 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.

Revelation 21:9-21

One of my favorite places to go is the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. I especially enjoy being there after sunset because when the lights come on, everything seems even more magical. Cinderella’s castle, in the heart of the Magic Kingdom, sparkles in a magnificent way at night. I think one of the reasons for my enjoyment of the Magic Kingdom is when I am there at night, I am transported back to my childhood home where I watched The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night. The show began with Tinkerbell flying around a beautiful castle at night. That imagery comes alive for me when I stand on Main Street of the Magic Kingdom. I am in complete awe and great joy as I gaze on the beautiful, gold-accented, and sparkling castle under the lights.

This sense of awe is noticeable in the words of John as he relays his vision of the Holy City. The angel takes him to a vantage point where the city is fully displayed before him. John provides a detailed description of the city which allows us, the readers, to feel transported to the location of John and our mind’s eye is filled with the beauty described. The accuracy of the details in this vision here may be up for discussion, the emotional response which it elicits is fully intended. One cannot read John’s account without feeling awe. The described massiveness and beauty of the Holy City is almost overwhelming. When thinking about the eternal dwelling place of God, and each of us, having this imagery makes a person eager to arrive at the Holy City. I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that this is imagery intended to create a specific emotional response in the reader. This should not be seen as a factual description of the Holy City.

Each time I walk into the Magic Kingdom, the same memories and feelings flood over me. Whenever you read this portion of John’s vision, a similar experience can occur for you. Do not get caught up in the accuracy of the details. Instead, experience the wonderment and joy which these words can provide you. Let the anticipation sweep over you. Be secure in the knowledge that these words cannot fully capture what awaits us in the full presence of the Lord.

Pieces of the Picture

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13 (NIV)

Jigsaw puzzles have always been an enjoyable pastime in my family. My father used to spend hours putting puzzles together on our dining room table. He passed his love of working on puzzles on to me. Recently, my oldest son has also begun putting puzzles together. There is something satisfying about the process of working on jigsaw puzzles. Taking the time to look at each of the pieces in order to see how the piece might fit with the others helps to slow life down a bit. When you put the final pieces into the whole, you gain a sense of accomplishment. Each time I work on a puzzle, I am amazed how the final picture turns out after combining hundreds or thousands of pieces.

In the passage which we read today, we see the putting together of pieces to give a picture of Jesus. Jesus decides to reveal the picture to three of his closest disciples. When Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain, they see the light of glory encompassing Jesus. This provides a piece of the picture. Jesus is more than a teacher, healer, and compassionate person, there is something divine here. Then they see Moses and Elijah standing beside Jesus. Why Moses and Elijah? They are two pieces of the picture of Jesus. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the Law and the prophets point us, and the Jews, to the Messiah. Next the disciples hear a voice which indicates, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The voice, attributed to the Father, provides another piece of the picture. The voice affirms Jesus as God’s Son. Combining these pieces and understanding how they fit together gives us a picture of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle takes time and patience, constructing our picture of Jesus is the same. Scripture provides us with pieces which we must examine and determine how they fit together. When we are able to witness the picture coming together, excitement quickly fills us. We can also share the picture with others and encourage them to put together the pieces for themselves.

Final Words

49 Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons: “Arrogance and scorn have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger. 50 Now, my children, show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors.

51 “Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in their generations; and you will receive great honor and an everlasting name. 52 Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? 53 Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment, and became lord of Egypt. 54 Phinehas our ancestor, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood. 55 Joshua, because he fulfilled the command, became a judge in Israel. 56 Caleb, because he testified in the assembly, received an inheritance in the land. 57 David, because he was merciful, inherited the throne of the kingdom forever. 58 Elijah, because of great zeal for the law, was taken up into heaven. 59 Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved from the flame. 60 Daniel, because of his innocence, was delivered from the mouth of the lions.

61 “And so observe, from generation to generation, that none of those who put their trust in him will lack strength. 62 Do not fear the words of sinners, for their splendor will turn into dung and worms. 63 Today they will be exalted, but tomorrow they will not be found, because they will have returned to the dust, and their plans will have perished. 64 My children, be courageous and grow strong in the law, for by it you will gain honor.

65 “Here is your brother Simeon who, I know, is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father. 66 Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. 67 You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. 68 Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.”

69 Then he blessed them, and was gathered to his ancestors. 70 He died in the one hundred forty-sixth year and was buried in the tomb of his ancestors at Modein. And all Israel mourned for him with great lamentation.

1 Maccabees 2:49-70

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to say to those who you will leave behind? Some individuals have this awareness. They may not know for sure the exact day or time but maybe because of a medical diagnosis they become aware of their soon approaching death. There are some individuals who would not know this type of information. Death is an aspect of life which so many people want to ignore or hide away. Yet even in death, we are given opportunities. A person of faith does not fear death for we know it is not an end but a transition. However, a person of faith still has a concern for those who remain after their death. So out of concern, what would you wish to say to those who remain?

The passage from 1 Maccabees, an apocryphal book of the Bible for all Christians except the Roman Catholics, is a recording of the words of Matthias to his sons as he prepares to die. Matthias was a Jewish priest who fled Jerusalem with his family and other faithful Jews. They had left Jerusalem because it had been captured by the Gentile King Antiochus. The king wanted all of his new subjects to abandon their faith and rituals in order to adopt his own. Matthias led those who chose to ignore the king’s decree to Modein and later into the hills to avoid being executed for noncompliance . As Matthias prepares to die, he reminds his sons of the characteristics of their ancestors who became great in their faith tradition. He instructs them to emulate these ancestors. Then he continues by telling them who to rely upon as they continue in their leading of the faithful. Matthias encouraged them to resist the Gentiles and remain faithful.

Matthias provides us with an example of what we should say to those who will remain when we die. We should recall to them the ancestors of our faith. Lifting up the characteristics which have made them noticed as being faithful. Then we should continue by telling them who can be relied upon in their lives. Those who will assist them in their own faith journey and those who will protect them in life. By doing this, we express our love and concern for those who will remain in this portion of life. Since few of us actually know the exact time and date of our death it would be wise to make this an ongoing conversation regularly.  What would you want to say?

The Power of Music

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 (NIV)

Music is a very powerful communication tool in life. Through the notes, and in some cases the words, a message can be delivered which goes deeper into a person’s psyche than just by using words. Music brings all the senses to life and can trigger thoughts and emotions in powerful ways. A song can unlock feelings which may have been forgotten. Memories can flood a person’s mind when notes and lyrics are heard. There are many recorded instances of Alzheimer’s patients who are able to recall every note and word of a song when the rest of their memory is locked away. Songs and hymns have calmed many restless souls and minds. Music can provide comfort during a time of distress. Music has great power.

Today’s passage comes at the end of a collection of songs included in the Bible. The Book of Psalms is an ancient hymnal. Each psalm communicates the thoughts and feelings of the people of God at different times in their history. The psalm shared here is one of great praise. It calls the people to use loud instruments and dance along with their voices to offer praise to God for God’s acts of power and display of greatness. The song calls on all of creation to use every breath to praise the Lord. Imagery of praise in the throne room of God easily comes to mind from these words.

On this day when people traditionally gather in worship of God, this psalm communicates one way to worship. Through the psalmist’s words, we are called into energized and boisterous praise. Remembering the greatness of God excites us into heartfelt worship of the Lord. The psalmist tells us to use loud instruments and dancing to worship our God.

May you worship your Lord with the energy, enthusiasm, and celebration displayed in this psalm.

Correct Focus

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Matthew 16:21-28 (NIV)

Have you ever used an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera? When I was in high school, I was part of both the newspaper and yearbook staff. This required me to be trained in using a 35mm camera to take pictures. If you have used one of these, you know that it is important to turn the ring on your lens in order to bring the subject into focus. Most people today use cameras, or their smartphones, which automatically focus the picture for you. Some even allow you either before or after you take the picture to use a filter which blurs the background so the subject stands out in the picture. Focus is the point in our Bible passage for today.

Jesus talks about his upcoming persecution and death at the start of the passage. Peter takes him aside and tells him to stop this kind of talk. We do not know if Peter is more concerned about Jesus losing his momentum talking about his death,, or if he does not want to think about the pain Jesus’s death will cause Peter. Jesus says that Peter is focused on human concerns and not on the purpose which centers Jesus’s mission. Then Jesus speaks to his disciples regarding discipleship. If one chooses to follow Jesus, they must let go of their own earthly concerns and image of life. The focus must be on the priorities of the Lord which impact their spiritual life.

Where we focus impacts how we understand life and influences the priorities which we set. If our focus is on the comforts of life then our time, energy and commitment will be directed toward obtaining and maintaining those comforts. Being more concerned about building our empire on earth than the wellbeing of our spiritual self leads us to focus on our earthly life. Jesus encourages us to be willing to release our earthly goals when they come into conflict with the spiritual goals which Jesus has shown us to be important. We are challenged in this passage to allow the background of life to blur so that we can remain focused on the vision which Jesus presents for our eternal future.