How do you make sure that you remember important things? I am a person who is very grateful for technology serving as a memory aid. Alexa helps me keep track of my various shopping lists. Google Calendar syncs with all my electronic devices and laptop so that I remember appointments, birthdays, and anniversaries. Microsoft To Do is on all my electronic devices to assist me in remembering the various tasks which I have each day. While the system is not perfect, i.e., I have to remember to add things to these various platforms, I would be much less successful in remembering things without this technology.
God wants the Israelites to remember the commands, laws, and decrees which they have been given. Like the various methods I use to remember important details, God gives the Israelites a variety of ways to remember. God instructs the people to integrate these guides into every aspect of their lives. They are to talk about them, create visual reminders, and incorporate them into their daily activities.
As the Israelites were instructed to remember God’s guidance, so we too are instructed. The teachings passed down to us through the prophets, Scripture writers, Apostles, faith leaders, and especially Jesus, should infiltrate every aspect of our lives. We should talk regularly about these teachings with our family and fellow believers. We should think about them throughout our daily activities. We should place reminders where we see them on a regular basis. This is how we impress them upon our hearts as God instructed the Israelites to do.
Yesterday I provided my readers with a series of questions to respond to after reading this passage. I benefited from the responses which I received. My promise yesterday was that I would write a response today.
This passage allows us to be insiders to a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples prior to his death and resurrection. He is trying to prepare them for what will come soon and how they are to respond. This conversation provides a core for us as we strive to live life post Jesus’s death and resurrection as well.
As I look at this passage, I have two images which emerge for me. The first image is one of a package completely wrapped in a red cellophane. The second image is one of dough with red food coloring flowing completely through it. Both images involve the color red because it is the color that for me is connected with love. Love is the main point of what Jesus says here. A love which surrounds and is fully integrated in a person’s life.
A friend of Jesus is anyone who is surrounded by and infused with the love belonging to the Lord. Since this person lives all of life in Jesus’s love, this love flows naturally out to others. Jesus chose us to be the recipients, receptacles, and bearers of love. Because this love became a part of who we are, we naturally share it with others. While we continue to be imperfect in consistently sharing love, we see here that the Lord desires us to continue in the effort.
We also see Jesus makes a connection between joy and love. Joy and love are expressions and experiences of the soul. Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting and is a reaction to events around us. Love can be an emotion which is also fleeting but the love Jesus references here is lasting as described above. When thus love envelopes us and penetrates us, as Jesus’s love does, it enhances and partners with the joy of our soul.
All of who Jesus is and does finds its core in love. Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, that anyone who is a friend of the Lord has love as their core. When love is your core, your life expresses it and your joy is complete.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
(Matthew 28:20b, NIV)
The writer of Matthew’s gospel account ends with the words above. It is part of the scene during Jesus’s physical leaving. Jesus has just given all his followers their marching orders and he tells t hem this. This was a comfort at that time. Thesewords can be a comfort to each of us as well.
The difficulty can be to remember this promise when life brings on challenges. We can feel alone as we try to navigate the brokenness of our world and our lives. It is in the brokenness where we will find Jesus.
There are times when facing tomorrow can seem like a daunting task for many people. We live in a world which has experienced over two years of change and uncertainty through a global pandemic. Many times there have been glimmers of hope only to experience setbacks when new strains of the virus emerge. Our world began to breathe a sigh of relief as it appeared vaccines were able to manage the effects of the virus. Then in the midst of our sigh, one large nation begins an unprovoked, aggressive attack upon a smaller, neighboring nation. Now it is not a virus in nature killing innocent men, women and children but the weapons and tactics of humans used on fellow humans. Tomorrow can easily look rather bleak.
Yet even in the midst of all of this, Easter still came. In Easter, and during this Easter season, we are reminded that death no longer has a final say. Viruses, diseases, bombs, weapons, aggression, and violence no longer stand in control of today or tomorrow. No, Easter tells us that Christ is risen and because he lives we can face all of our tomorrows.
One of the more interesting post-resurrection stories is the one found in our reading today. Jesus had appeared to his closest disciples and they were all sharing in a meal. When the eating was done, while the cleaning up was underway, Jesus asks Peter about the love the disciple has for Jesus. In this interaction, there are a few lessons for us.
The first lesson is the connection Jesus makes between words and actions. After each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter to feed or tend Jesus’s sheep. Of course, Jesus is talking about the other followers, both present and future. What is obvious in Jesus’s words is the expectation not to just declare a love for the Lord but to show that love by caring for others. Our love for Jesus must be manifested in our acts of love toward others.
The second lesson here is one of grace. Jesus asks Peter three times to declare his love for the Lord. Three times Peter denied any relationship with the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Now in an act of grace and redemption, Peter is given the opportunity to not only acknowledge a relationship but to declare the depth of his love in the relationship. While Peter became frustrated by the repetition, Jesus knew the necessity to counter Peter’s previous actions. We learn of the efforts Jesus will make to offer us grace and redemption. Even when we do not see a necessity in what our Lord asks of us, our Lord knows what we need to overcome the guilt of our past.
The third lesson illustrated here is the need for us to give up control. Jesus tells Peter that there will come a time when someone else will make decisions for him. He indicated that Peter will need to surrender control. Jesus then says, “Follow me!” If we are going to follow Jesus, we must leave behind our previous, or “younger,” attitudes of being in charge of our destiny and choices. Following the Lord requires us to surrender control of our life to the Lord, go where the Lord takes us.
There are some weeks when Friday arrives and a person can be mentally and/or physically exhausted. This is the reason that T.G.I.F. (thank goodness it’s Friday) came into existence. In some situations, this level of exhaustion can be brought on in a single day. Whether it is one day or a series of days, this type of exhaustion can lead to irritability, mistakes, depression, or all the above. At this point we have to search outside ourselves for the strength to move forward.
The Hebrew people clearly were feeling this way when Isaiah was writing the words for today. A sense of exhaustion and abandonment prevail in the thoughts of the people. They feel God is not even paying attention to their plight. In response, Isaiah says that God never faces exhaustion and is very aware of what is happening. It is God who is the source of revitalization and strength when human power fails. The weariness and stumbling of people of all ages can be overcome by the Lord. The energy provided by God will cause those who believe to soar and go forward unfailingly.
Next time you are drained, feeling as though you are unable to take one more step forward, turn to the Lord. Take some time to spend in the presence of your inexhaustible God. The Lord is very aware of what you are experiencing. The One who loves you desires to restore you. You will find renewal which will allow you to soar once again.
As we go through life we are influenced by many people. The amount and manner in which we are influenced depends on many factors. If the influence creates positives or negatives in our lives is based on perspective. A challenge before all of us is to seek out those people who are a beneficial influence and avoid the people who influence us in negative ways. Evaluating the positive and negative influences is a crucial aspect of life choices.
Jesus was continuously engaged in a tug-of-war dynamic with the Pharisees. Being the keepers of the Law for the Jewish people, the Pharisees were prone to interpret and debate in most interactions. They considered themselves to be the gatekeepers of the Hebrews. They had just asked Jesus to produce a sign that would convince them the claims made about him were true. He not-so-politely refuses their request. Jesus there turns to his disciples to caution them against the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. The disciples misunderstand his point and think he is talking about the bread which they are lacking.
Jesus is talking not about bread but about influence. He is saying that the disciples should not be influenced by the legalistic focus of the Pharisees. He also connects Herod to this warning as a way to also speak against ruling out of fear and force. Jesus views both ways of interpreting life and interacting with others as bad approaches. Jesus presented, as an example, a different influence operating out of grace, forgiveness, compassion and love.
The caution which Jesus places before the disciple is still very real for us today. Are we going to let individuals who live by the letter of the Law instead of the spirit of it be those who influence our world view? Are we going to follow the influence of those who dominate by the use of fear and force because of their own fear of losing power? Or are we going to be influenced by and follow the example of Jesus who lived the meaning of love and forgiveness? Be careful what and who you choose to let influence your life.
The school which I attended throughout elementary, junior high and high school did not have a wrestling program. I was introduced to wrestling while in college. My college had a nationally ranked wrestling team and one of the team members lived on my floor in the dormitory. My floormates and I would go to the meets to support our friend. This is how I would learn the basics of wrestling and its scoring system. Later in life I would continue to have times when wrestling would play a role in my life as a fan and supporter of specific team members. While I never have became a fan of WWE, I have enjoyed going to junior high, high school, and collegiate meets.
Today we hear about a wrestling match recorded in Scripture. Jacob, his family, and his entire entourage are going to visit his brother Esau. Jacob is going to attempt to reconcile with his brother after having deceitfully taken their father’s blessing from his brother. Jacob is understandably nervous about how Esau will respond when the brothers see each other. So as they prepare to cross the river into Esau’s land, he sends everyone ahead of him in order to be alone to prepare for the encounter mentally and spiritually. Jacob may have hoped to get a good night of sleep so that he would be on the top of his game the next day. This would not be the case. Instead, he spent the night wrestling with God. Able to only obtain God’s blessing in lieu of God’s name (discussing the importance of this will have to wait for another time), Jacob awoke having been physically changed as well.
Each one of us have experienced wrestling matches in our lives. Some of the wrestling has been with our own thoughts, plans and emotions. At other times, we have wrestled with God. Like Jacob, when we wrestle with God, we are changed. It is not possible to wrestle with the Lord and come out of it the same as we went into it. The good news is that once again like Jacob, when the wrestling is done, we find we have received a blessing. Wrestling with God is not easy but beneficial.
Anyone who observes the situations in our world right now, comes to the realization that we are in a broken world. The world is broken because we, who live in the world, are broken. We search for answers, solutions and leaders who will cure the brokenness. However, the one who is capable of eliminating broken lives in a broken world has already come and is actively engaged in the work of healing.
Casting Crowns captured this sentiment in their song, Healer. Listen and ponder what this means for you and for our world.
Goals in life are those things which encourage us to move forward. By establishing goals, we have an understanding of the areas in which we need to work. Goals give us direction to our forward motion which is unavoidable. Once we obtain a goal, we set another so we act on the momentum achieved with the obtaining of the first goal. Until we successfully meet our goal, we continue in our striving.
Paul writes to the Philippians in regard to obtaining a goal. The goal which he has set for himself is to know Christ and become like Christ in suffering, death, and resurrection. Upon self-evaluation, Paul declares that he has not arrived at his goal but continues to press toward it. He also states that in this effort, he does not look backward but strives toward what is ahead.
The goal which Paul lays out for himself should be a goal of every believer. Each of us should set a goal of knowing and being as Christ. This effort is one which will consume all the years of our lives. There will be movement toward and setbacks from our obtaining of this goal. Paul encourages us to not look at our past and setbacks but instead to keep our eyes on what lies ahead for us on our quest. Looking back only mires us in the negatives of our past which will hamper our movement forward.