The Return

Read Luke 15:11-32

There is a saying which gets spoken often that goes like this, “There is no going back home.” In many situations, this saying is applicable. A desire to return to some point in our lives has crept into almost everyone’s thoughts. We can become nostalgic for a different time in our lives which our memories fool us into thinking was easier and problem-free. However, if we are to honestly to recall exactly what our views were at the specific time, we would have to admit that even then we longed for something else, something better and problem-free. So to some degree, the saying is true that we cannot go back, even if we could, it would not be the same. We really would not want it to be the same.

There is an exception of sorts to what I just presented to you. The exception has to do with reconciliation and restored relations. Jesus presents this exception in the form of a story about a father and his two sons. The story’s focus character is the man’s youngest son who longs for something better. The son takes his future inheritance and hits the road in search of adventure, only to find himself destitute and longing to go back home. When he finally gets the courage to return, the son fully reconciles with his father and the relationship is completely restored.

Jesus tells this story to give us understanding into the promise of reconciliation and restoration offered by God. With the Father, we are more than able to go back home. Not only is the ability made possible by the Lord, it is greatly desired by God. The chance to reconcile our relation with God is one of the greatest signs of love given to us. This opportunity is available as many times as we need it.

The other son in Jesus’s story also provides an important lesson for us. Even though the father was ready to, and did, reconcile with his youngest son, the older brother responded the opposite way. How many times do we reject the offer of reconciliation from others? Jesus communicated here the need for us to always work for reconciliation with one another.

A Lesson and Hope

Read Luke 23:39-43

Many famous leaders and celebrities become concerned about the legacy which they leave after their time in the public spotlight is over or they have died. There is a part of each one of us desiring to be remembered. One of the reasons we erect grave markers is to ensure we are not forgotten. Monuments and memorials of every shape and size are scattered throughout our land, our schools, our churches, and our institutions. We expend a large amount of time and money to remember.

A very poignant moment in Luke’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion is when there is a conversation involving two criminals and Jesus. As the three men hang on crosses, one of them  appears to be belligerent and mocks Jesus. The other criminal has a much different view of the situation. He sees Jesut as innocent  and undeserving of this cruel punishment. He sees Jesus as who others claim him to be. The man rebukes the other criminal, acknowledges his own guilt, and then makes a request to Jesus. He asks Jesus to remember him. The man wished to be remembered by the King of Kings, who he recognizes even as he hangs in agony. Jesus not only promises the man that he will remember him but promises that the man will be with Jesus in the kingdom.

Throughout the gospel recordings of Jesus’s ministry, we encounter Jesus promising the disciples that he would prepare a place for them, they would one day join him where he is, and he would always be with them. The criminal who hung on a cross beside Jesus is unknown to us until we meet him in this passage. There is no mention by Jesus or the man or Luke that this man had been a disciple of Jesus. Yet he receives the same promise that Jesus had made to his followers.

The criminal provides us a lesson and a hope. Observing what the request was from the criminal is important. He did not ask to be released from his punishment. He did not ask for some type of a miracle. The man asked to be remembered. A request that is not unfamiliar to us. Jesus’s response to the man provides us hope. We have not spent years physically walking with Jesus. We have not stood in front of the Lord declaring our commitment to him. We have come to know Jesus at what may be determined as the end of our world understanding. Yet the promise Jesus made to the Apostles, the disciples, and this man on a cross is our promise as well. Jesus promised not to only remember us but that we will be with him in the kingdom as well.

Believing

Read John 20:24-29

People accept information in different ways. For some individuals, if a trusted friend or relative tells them something, they accept what is shared as truth. Other people need to see some type of physical evidence before they trust new information. In between are what may be referred to as “situational acceptors.” These individuals examine the situation, i.e., the person who is sharing, the circumstances surrounding the information, and the impact of the information upon them, before deciding if physical proof is necessary.

In the passage from John’s gospel account, we encounter Thomas who is definitely a physical evidence acceptor. Jesus had just appeared to the Apostles for one of the first times since his resurrection. Thomas was away doing something at the time of the appearance. When Thomas returns, the others tell Thomas that Jesus is alive and they have seen him. The information seems illogical to Thomas. Even though he has spent almost three years with the disciples, he was not willing to accept their verbal declaration of Jesus being alive. After all, he had watched him die on a cross. Thomas demands physical evidence that who they claim to have seen was truly Jesus and that he was indeed resurrected. Jesus appears again and provides Thomas with the physical evidence which he needs. Then Jesus refers to you and me.

What type of person are you when it comes to believing information? Are you like Thomas who demanded the physical evidence before accepting? Maybe you are a situational acceptor. Jesus says to us that it is great if you come to believe after seeing but it is even better to believe without seeing. Belief in Jeans requires us to go beyond the evidence and to see with the heart, or spirit. Belief in Jesus must be within our very spirit; it must be deeper than just a factual knowledge.

Mediator

Read 1 Timothy 2:3-6

Recently I ran across a meme on Facebook which summarized one of my core beliefs. The meme stated: “When people bring up your past, tell them ‘Jesus dropped the charges.'” This is a helpful way to look at grace and the saving actions of our Lord.

In the letter we refer to as 1 Timothy, we see the idea of Jesus being the sole mediator between us and God. Humanity existed, and still exists, in a state of bondage to sin. God is purely holy so is incompatible with sin. In our sinful state, it is not possible for us to be in full relationship with God due to this incompatibility. Here is where Jesus enters the scenario and through his righteousness, removes the barrier of sin from our relationship with God. Jesus mediates on our behalf and provides us victory over sin’s hold upon us.

I find it helpful to imagine a courtroom  scene. Each of us stands before God to be judged on our worthiness to be eternally in relationship and the presence of God. The Great Tempter prepares to argue why we are unworthy. As the first words of the charges are read, Jesus steps in front of us and says, “Father, I know this person and chose to carry any charges which may be recorded myself. The price has been satisfied and all charges should be dropped.” The Father responds, “Charges paid in full. All charges against this person are dropped.”

Praise be to the Lord!

Mortality and Sin

Read Genesis 3:19

Today Christians in all parts of the world attend services for Ash Wednesday. This day marks the start of the Lenten season in the Western Church. On this day we remember our mortality and the cause of death, sin. It is a day of reflection, solemnity, and humility. As part of the worship service, the person has ashes placed on their forehead or hand in the shape of a cross to serve as a visual reminder of our sin and death, but also the rescue found in the cross. When the imposition of the ashes takes place, the worship leader often says, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

When you read the verse for today from Genesis, you see the source of the phrase used on this day. This verse is part of the story of humanity’s choice to ignore God as a first step of disobedience  which we refer to as sin. God is explaining to the first humans the consequences of this choice. One of the consequences is death. God indicates we were from the earth and to the earth we will return. Our mortality is the consequence.

While this is an important day to acknowledge our mortality and our sin which has brought it into the human experience, that is not the last word. As I said, today marks the first day of a forty (Sundays are not included in the count.) day journey to the Easter celebration. The Easter celebration reminds us that Christ claimed victory over death and the cause of it, sin. Jesus’s obedience overcame our disobedience. This is why the cross is placed on us as a sign of victory even in the midst of our humble repentance today.

A Different Peace

Read John 14:25-27

In light of recent events in our world, Russia’s attack and invasion of Ukraine, I went to Scripture for guidance. The desire of most people throughout the world is to live a life in peace and fulfillment. While we have different understandings of what those words mean or look like, the general desire is to have what we need to survive without concern for our safety. This seems to be something which should be easily attainable. The problem is that human sin is a part of life. Greed, deception, hatred, and selfishness inject themselves into daily living. These sins lead to actions which do not ensure the peace and safety of all people.

The passage which I was drawn to today is a portion of a conversation which Jesus is having with his closest disciples. In John’s version of the gospel, Jesus is always trying to prepare his disciples for his death. He seeks to assure them and provide them comfort. Here Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit. He also tells them that he will leave them a peace far different than the world’s peace. This peace is enduring unlike the fleeting peace we experience in our lives. This peace is not just an absence of conflict and physical violence  but a calmness of spirit even in the midst of conflict and violence. The peace which Jesus provides, and the Holy Spirit reminds us about, is one which overcomes worry and fear.

While world leaders attempt to bring the latest eruption of violence and death under control, we are mindful that our Lord overcomes all violence and death. We are offered a peace of spirit and reassurance that transcends our earthly experience. It is wise, and our duty, to continue to pray for Ukraine’s people in the midst of these events. We also pray for the overcoming of human sin and its impact upon us and all people. Even as we pray, we know that what the world offers is fleeting but what the Lord offes is eternal. The peace which Jesus gives to us provides us comfort and reassurance because it reminds us that he has already overcome the sin of this world.

Give A Blessing

Read Numbers 6:22-27

In most of the southern states of our country, you can often hear a phrase, “bless your heart.” This phrase can also be used in reference to a third person, “bless his/her heart.” When used, the phrase can be a sincere blessing but sometimes it can be a sarcastic way to express displeasure or unkind thoughts toward another person. Placing a blessing or curse upon another individual has been common among all human civilizations.

Our reading for today comes from a set of instructions which God is giving to Moses. We read here God telling Moses a blessing which the priests, Aaron and his sons, are to use with the Israelites. God indicates that by the use of this prescribed blessing, the leaders will be in essence placing the Spirit of God on the people.

Our interactions with people can be extremely varied. Some of them may be formal in nature while others may be exactly the opposite. Circumstance and the type of relationship dictate how we interact. Imagine what impact may occur in regard to our interactions if we verbally or mentally bless each person  who we have contact with during our day. If we utilize the blessing found in the passage each time, we would in essence be placing God’s Spirit upon the other person. Having done this, we may alter the manner in which we treat and speak to the individual.

I challenge you to attempt to make this a practice. The blessing God gave Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons is an easy one to memorize. Use it either out loud or just in your mind as you engage with others throughout your day. See if it changes the direction of those interpersonal situations.

Do Not Stop

Read Acts 5:27-32

One of the challenging lessons for parents to teach their children is not to succumb to peer pressure. This is a lesson which must be learned because throughout our entire life we will encounter people who try to pressure us into a variety of actions and situations. There are also times when we pressure ourselves to conform to the desires and priorities of others. A person needs to learn to stand for their own convictions and beliefs while being open to learning from the perceptions of others and possibly adjusting when appropriate.

The followers of Jesus are trying to understand what it means to continue to follow even though Jesus is no longer physically present. Meanwhile, The Jewish leadership is trying to eliminate any further following of Jesus. The leaders in Jerusalem had instructed the apostles to cease doing acts in Jesus’s name or share his teachings with others. Yet the apostles continued to do as Jesus had told them to do. In today’s passage the apostles are brought before the leadership to answer for their disobedience. The apostles tell the leaders that they cannot and will not succumb to the pressure of the leadership. They declare that they must do what Jesus, who spoke God’s instructions, told them. The Holy Spirit has affirmed this to them.

We are to be like the apostles in what we read here. There are people who tell us to not speak of Jesus. We are told to no longer share the stories of Jesus and how Jesus has worked in our lives. Some mock us when we attribute the works of compassion, mercy and grace which we perform in the name of the Lord. Our faith, beliefs, and understandings of the Lord should be kept private so we make no one uncomfortable is what we are told. The apostles tell us in this passage not to let peer pressure stop us from doing as God instructs. We are to have the courage to stand by our convictions and beliefs. Let us pray that we will follow the example of the apostles. 

Tell The News

Read Romans 10:10-15

As a person ages, it becomes important to make the effort to learn about all the new discoveries, tools, and culture in the world around. We all know of individuals who choose not to learn about computers, social networking, and/or other new technologies. Often, their excuse is that they are too old to learn. This excuse is so far from the truth. No matter what one’s age may be, there is always the capacity to learn. Instead, the person has consciously made the choice not to learn or engage. This choice limits their interaction with the world and people around them. If they had never been introduced to these new ways, then the choice was never afforded them but once they have been introduced, the choice is fully their own.

In the letter to the Roman believers, we read of a similar situation. The writer is speaking of being justified through belief in Christ’s salvific actions. The promise put forward is all have the potential to be saved from our own sinful ways if one will call on the Lord for salvation. Then the writer puts forth a challenge. Through a series of questions, an importance is placed upon the need for all to have the opportunity to hear of Christ’s saving action so they may believe in it. The challenge is for believers to tell this good news to others.

As believers in Christ today, we are given the same challenge which the Roman believers received in the first century. There are people who have heard nothing about Jesus’s saving actions. There are people who have been given misinformation which causes them to have incorrect perceptions. We are the ones who have been sent by Jesus (see Matthew 28:18-20). Our feet are those beautiful feet of which Scripture speaks. Each, in our own way, share how Jesus’s actions have had an impact. Then we inform those with whom we share the news that Jesus’s actions were  for them as well. Whether we use words, life examples, stories, our actions, or a combination of any and all these, we share.

Accept the challenge!

So Good

There are times in a person’s life when memories from our childhood can come flooding back into the mind. Certain experiences or events can trigger those memories. Recently, some events in my life created one of those instances. I was reflecting upon how certain situations fell into place. I had a need for the Lord to intercede in my life and the lives of some individuals who I deeply love. Naturally, this prompted me to engage in a sustained period of frequent and diligent prayer. I turned to family and trusted prayer warriors in my life. While I firmly believe that the Lord always works faithfully in the lives of God’s children, I could have never foreseen the great show of faithfulness which I recently experienced. This led me to remember a song from my childhood.

Growing up in a small, rural community, I had the blessing of being nurtured into the Christian faith by loving people in a small church. Every Sunday morning, children, youth, teachers and the pastor would gather in a basement room for the Sunday School opening. We would sing songs, hear a passage from Scripture, and say a prayer before splitting into our classes by age. One song which we sang frequently is, God is So Good. I would also later sing this song at church camp.

As I considered the Lord’s recent guidance and blessings in my life, the words of this song flooded my mind.

God truly is good and has been extremely good to me. I love God so!