Like An Ocean

Read Ephesians 3:14-19

When I was a young boy growing up in the church, there was a song which we often sang during Sunday School opening gatherings, “Peace Like a River.” One of the verses in the song says, “I’ve got love like an ocean.” I would sometimes ponder what that amount of love might be like. I always came to the conclusion that it was love which was boundless. Even though at that age I had never actually been to an ocean, I had seen images on television so the idea that you could not see the other side of the ocean from the beach upon which you stood gave me the boundless image. The image of wave after wave hitting the beach and rocks also created for me the endless waves of love coming upon me.

At the conclusion of the part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which we read from today, Paul speaks about praying for them. In his prayer, Paul says that since the people are rooted and established in love, he asks that they be able to understand how wide, long, and deep Jesus’s love is for them. This love goes beyond their knowledge. He also indicates that this love is the full essence of God.

Reading what Paul tells the Ephesians brings to mind the images from my childhood Sunday School song. Taking hold of such a boundless love seems impossible. Realizing the vastness of this love brings an overwhelming sense of acceptance, security and great joy. Imaging Christ’s love lapping over one’s self over and over provides comfort and warmth.  May you come to the understanding of Christ’s love for you being like an ocean!

Positive Outcomes

Read Isaiah 48:17-19

As a parent, a person desires the absolute best for all her/his children. Much of the time a child lives in the home, the parent is using opportunities to teach and guide the young person. The hope is that as the child matures, the lessons taught will prepare them to make choices which will benefit them throughout their future. This does not always happen. When a child makes a choice  which results in a lasting negative outcome, the parent is disappointed. This disappointment is not in the child but in the missed opportunities for a more positive outcome. No parent wishes for a child to experience negative outcomes because the love a parent feels is great.

In the reading from Isaiah, we see God as a parent to the Israelites. God has a great love for all of God’s children, greater than even a human parent. Because of this love, God desires only positive outcomes for the Israelites. God has taught and guided them in ways which can bring about positive results. Yet the Israelites have chosen to ignore the teaching and take paths different from those to which God has guided them. In making these choices, the Israelites have experienced a lot of negative outcomes. God’s disappointment in these results is evident in the words recorded here.

This trend continues throughout human history. We have received the ongoing teaching from God through Scripture, trusted Christian leaders and teachers, and from within our own families. God has utilized these individuals in our lives to guide us and give us the tools which will help us achieve positive life outcomes. But like the Israelites to whom Isaiah speaks, we have at times ignored the teachings or rejected the guidance. Making this choice leads us to not receive the full measure of positive life experience. We may have times when we do not suffer greatly from these choices but we still fall short of what could be. Other times we experience great suffering because of the choices. When this happens, God feels disappointment because of what could have been for us.

From this passage we learn to follow the teachings and guidance of God so we can fully experience the greatness God has planned for us.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 10

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today we look at the last half of the final petition in the Lord’s Prayer. We saw this petition begin with a request to God for assistance in avoiding the temptation of sin. This petition ends with the phrase, “but deliver us from evil.”

This phrase is focused upon the evil in our world. Luke’s version of the prayer does not include this phrase. Both the NIV and NRSV versions of the Matthew passage end the phrase with “evil one” and not just “evil.” The Greek word which is translated here can be translated either way. Since choosing “evil” as the word is broader and more encompassing, our spoken version includes one word and not both.

The task with which we must grapple is a definition for evil. The dictionary provides this, “profound immorality and wickedness, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.” Many interpret evil as humans doing wrong toward others. Either definition leaves itself open to interpretation. The way to define evil is greatly dependent upon perspective and context. Over time, the application of the label can, and does, change in certain situations. Therefore, the best way to define evil is when there is a void of love. Whether it be action, words, behaviors, or situations, if love is not demonstrated in them then evil is an appropriate label.

This portion of Jesus’s petition is requesting that God deliver us from the environments and impact of evil; a request to be delivered from experiences which are absent of love.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 8

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer which we will look at is a continuation of the petition from yesterday. In this petition, the Lord is seeking from God forgiveness for sin. We know that Jesus is not in need of forgiveness but is providing a model prayer for his disciples who do need forgiveness.

The phrase for today places a caveat on the request for forgiveness. This caveat is “as we forgive our debtors.”

Most often this is interpreted to mean that God should forgive our sin in the same manner which we forgive others. This interpretation creates a problem. The problem is that this would place God in a situation dependent upon our actions and behaviors. God is not dependent upon humans in any way and does not respond as humans respond. Evidence of this is found in places throughout Scripture. In the story of Jonah God is prepared to forgive Nineveh which angers Jonah because he wants Nineveh punished. God shows Jonah that God’s choice to forgive or not to forgive is not linked to Jonah’s choices. (Jonah 3:10-4:11) God also declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”(Isaiah 55:8) Stephen reminds us of God’s independence from human actions when he says, “However, the Most High does not live in houser made by human hands.”(Acts 7:48)

If we do not interpret this phrase to be a link between our actions and God’s actions, we must look at it differently. Jesus appears to be expressing the importance of our forgiveness of others. One possible translation of the Greek word translated here “as” is “because.” The sense maybe that Jesus is telling us our reason for forgiving others is that we have been forgiven by God. This interpretation is supported by other Scripture. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) Luke’s version of this prayer also lends support. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4).

In including this phrase in the prayer, Jesus calls upon us to remember that by requesting and accepting God’s forgiveness, we are to extend forgiveness to others in gratitude.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 7

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Continuing our look at the Lord’s Prayer we come to the phrase, “And forgive our debts,” The last word in this phrase is different depending on if you are reading it in Matthew or  Luke and how it is translated. The most common English translations for this word are debts, trespasses and sins. Later in this devotion we will discuss the impact of which word is chosen on how we understand the petition. 

The first significant word in this phrase is “forgive.” We are asking God to no longer hold our offenses against us. We seek to have the consequences of our sins cancelled. The psalmist expressed this desire when he wrote, “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” (Psalm 25:7) We know that if God forgives our sin, God also forgets our sin. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)

As mentioned above, the final word in this phrase is translated a few different ways. If we translate it as “debts” then we are given the image of a transactional aspect to this forgiveness. We owe God something because we have sinned. Instead of making the required payment, we ask God to wipe away the amount due. If we choose the translation which results in the word “trespasses” then we understand our sins to be an offensive action against God. Our third option of using the word “sin” in this phrase seems to be the most straightforward option. This word clearly describes what we wish to be forgiven.

Choosing to use sins at the end of the phrase requires us to have a definition of sin. Sin is generally understood to be a violation of God’s law. Jesus gave us a concise statement concerning the law of God when he answered what is the greatest commandment. Jesus answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.” (Matthew 27:37,39) God’s law is summed up in the word love. Sin is any action which does not represent love.

Jesus’s second petition in the prayer related to humanity is a request that God forgives (and forgets) the times when we have failed to love.

Entitled

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

There appears to be a pervasive altitude of entitlement in the world today. This attitude manifests itself in a common phrase such as, “I deserve (fill in the blank) because…” For a long time people lived according to the idiom, “earn your keep.” This idiom was first commonly said in the 1800s and was in reference to working for room and board which was common on farms. The understanding of earning what one received was prevalent even to the point of going too far at times. Whether one deserves or has earned something depends a lot upon perception.

Paul understands the concept of being deserving or undeserving when he writes to the Romans. As sinners, people who have not lived out God’s love, what is deserved is punishment. According to the covenant which God first established with humans, and then continuously renewed, the punishment for sin is death and full separation from God. Paul points out that humanity did not receive what was deserved because at exactly the right time Christ died for us so we may live. God’s love overpowered what was deserved and instead of death, we received life.

It is great to not receive what is entitled to us or even what we have earned through our actions. We have been given a great gift, grace, in Christ’s death and resurrection. The love of God remains present even when we do not live it in the world. Instead of waiting for us to stop breaking God’s love (sinning), God gave us the gift. Thank you  God for not giving me what I deserve!

Radical Love

In a world where there are so many expectations and requirements to be accepted and loved, it is good to be reminded that we fully receive love and acceptance from our Lord. The love which we are given comes in a radical way with no strings.

1. How do you experience God’s love?

2. What prevents you from receiving God’s love?

3. How does this truth impact your life?

Having to Choose

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Joshua 24:14-18 (NIV)

Our lives are filled with choices for us to make. Some of these choices are fairly mundane such as what clothes to wear each day, what we are going to eat for breakfast, or what movie we are going to see at the theater. Other choices can have a significant and lasting impact upon our lives like what we are going to do after high school, who we are going to marry, or what job opportunity we are going to accept. Millions of choices are presented to us each day. Which option we choose can alter our experiences, our perspectives, and/or very lives.

Throughout the Bible we encounter stories of people having to make choices. The story today involves the Israelites and Joshua. Joshua is talking with the Israelites about the covenant which they have with God. He recalls for them how the Lord has brought them to where they are now. He recounts God’s saving actions and the leaders God has sent to them. Then Joshua tells them that they have a choice to make as they live in the new land which the Lord has provided. The people must choose if they care going to serve God or some form of another god. The people commit to serving God.

In truth, Joshua’s question is placed before us each and every day. When we start our day, and potentially many times throughout the day, we are called upon to choose who we are going to serve. This fundamental decision will impact each choice we make after it. If we choose to serve the Lord, the one who loves and redeems us by grace, then our words, actions, and interactions with others will come out of an attitude of love and grace. When this is not our guiding force, we know that we have chosen to serve another.

Hear again Joshua’s words: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” How do you respond?

Life and Death

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Romans 6:1-10 (NIV)

Almost thirty years ago, Disney released an animated movie entitled The Lion King. A major theme of this movie revolved around the concept of the circle of life. Mufasa, the Lion King at the time, is speaking to his son and future king, Simba. Mufasa tells Simba, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” There is even a major song in the movie by the name Circle of Life. Nature has a way of taking death and using it to bring forth life, from death comes life.

The passage for today takes life and death in a different direction. We are told first that we are to no longer sin because we are now dead to sin through the power of Christ. Sin has brought death into the would but Christ overcame death and sin from his death on the cross. In baptism we are joined to Christ so we share in his triumphant death and resurrected life. Sin cannot have power over us anymore.

The challenge placed before us is how to refrain from sinning and live as ones who are dead to sin. There is no magic formula or a guidebook to give us steps to achieve this. Working toward this goal requires continuous effort on a daily basis. Failure will be a part of this journey. Grace as given by the Lord will allow us to move through our failure. No matter how we do, the continued effort will allow us to improve. God’s love will never abandon us in our successes and failures.

Owing Much

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 (NIV)

The New York Federal Reserve’s Center for Microeconomic Data reported that at the end of the fourth quarter in 2020 household debt rose to $14.56 trillion. The United States National Debt is currently over $128 trillion. We have become a people who live on credit and accumulate debt easily. Most of our debt is due to mortgages, car loans, medical expenses, student loans and credit cards.  There is not one of us who would refuse any debt relief given to us. If a creditor were to fully forgive our debt, our gratitude would be overwhelming.

In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of debt relief. A woman who had lived a sinful life comes to Jesus while he is at the home of a Pharisee. Without words, she stood behind him and cried. Then she used those tears to wet his feet. Taking her hair she dried them. Finally, she took a jar of expensive perfume and anointed them. The guests in attendance were critical of Jesus for allowing her actions. Jesus replied to them by asking Simon a question regarding debt relief. The point of his interaction with Simon was to show that one whose larger debt is forgiven will show more gratitude than the one with the smaller debt. The woman with more sin than the pious guests believed Jesus could forgive her sins. She showed greater gratitude than the ones who felt they had less sin and who did not believe Jesus could forgive even those.

This story causes us to pause. Do you identify with the woman or with the other guests? What do you do to express gratitude to the Lord for being forgiven? Do you believe the Lord can forgive sins or do you hold on to them? Here we are taught that the greater we understand our sin and the need for forgiveness, the more we are willing to offer in response to the sin being forgiven.