Enjoy the Feast

Read Luke 14:15-24

We have become a people of excuses. There always seems to be a ready excuse why we cannot do something. These excuses may appear reasonable and logical. Some situations are appropriately avoided due to safety concerns. Other times circumstances which are not within our control require us to decline an opportunity. Yet, more often than not, we make excuses so we can avoid situations we judge to be unpleasant or too demanding of us. We are more concerned about our comfort or convenience.

Jesus tells a story of excuses. He speaks about the host of a great banquet who invited a number of guests who the host deemed to be deserving of the invitation. When the banquet was ready, each guest had an excuse why they could not attend. With all the food prepared, the hall stood empty. The host  instructs his servants to go into the streets to invite the people to enter the hall and feast. When this did not fully fill the hall, the servants were sent into the countryside until the hall was completely occupied. Then the host declared that those who had received the initial invitation would not be able to enjoy the great food because their place had been taken.

In our lives we are given many opportunities to enjoy the “feast” of life. These opportunities come in the form of moments given to share with others. Sharing of time, resources, love and caring fill these opportunities. Sadly, we can be quick with excuses why we are unable to grasp these moments. The Lord has prepared a banquet of life from which we excuse ourselves. The individuals who accept the invitations find they are able to enjoy a wonderful selection of the finest life has to offer. Each moment feeds the soul in indescribable ways.

Do not excuse yourself from the banquet of life. Seize  the opportunities which the Lord provides you. Taste the sweetness  of each engagement you have with others. Those who decline will never know the great banquet others experience when they accept the invitation.

The Well

Read John 4:11-15

In our family there are stories of the many times my dad would run out of gas when driving the car. He seemed to like to wait until the last possible moment to put gas in the car. Probably he thought he could find it at a cheaper price at the next station. Mom enjoyed telling one particular story from when they had lived in California. They had decided to take my visiting grandparents up into the mountains to see the beauty. Before they went, grandpa told dad that he had better fill up the car with gas but dad said it was not necessary. As they passed gas stations along the way, grandpa would mention getting gas and dad would refuse. The car made the trip up the mountain but as they started the descent it ran out of gas. They had to coast down the mountain with the engine not running. Dad ran out of gas. The good news was there was a station at the bottom where they were able to fill the tank.

Like the car of my parents, we can run out of gas. Our spirits may be running on empty. We may be physically and emotionally exhausted. Jesus gave an invitation to the Samaritan woman which exists for us today — come to the well. The well of Jesus is full of living water which quenches the thirst of our souls. We can refill our dry lives with this water from the well. We can be renewed and restored. The well never runs empty. Just come to the well of Jesus.

Addressing Giants

Read 1 Samuel 17:1-11, 32-50

Life has the knack of throwing curve balls at us at times. There are things which spring upon us unexpectedly and we must decide how we are going to respond to them. Some people have the tendency to give more power and weight to these surprises than they deserve. This is what has led to the phrase, “making mountains out of mole hills.” However, there are times when difficulties are truly mountain-like. They become real giants in our lives which can hamper our forward progress. They can even threaten to overtake us.

Our passage today is a familiar story even outside religious circles. The story of the shepherd boy, David, challenging the great Philistinian warrior, Goliath, and beating him is told here. This story is quoted to illustrate that size does not guarantee or exclude victory. David had confidence that he could beat Goliath not because of his abilities or size but because the Lord would give him victory. This confidence was based upon his previous experiences as a shepherd boy overcoming a lion and a bear while protecting the sheep.

What or who are the giants in your life? How do you approach these giants? The story of David and Goliath emphasizes the importance of taking the Lord with you as you battle your life giants. The improbable victory obtained by David provides us the hope that we too can be victorious over the giants. Reliance on the Lord instead of anything which we may possess is the seed of our confidence. In partnership with God, we can achieve victories which alone would be elusive to us.

Abundance

Read Luke 12:13-21

In the musical, Hello Dolly, Dolly Levi teaches Horace Vandergelder a lesson about greed. Vandergelder was a wealthy businessman from Yonkers, NY. He paid his workers a minimal wage and hoarded his money. Dolly Levi was a widowed arranger of lives who set her sights on becoming the next Mrs. Vandergalder. Dolly’s famous line in regard to greed is, ” Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

Jesus had thoughts about greed as well. In the passage from Luke, Jesus warns about greed and then illustrates the warning through the use of a parable. When receiving an abundance, instead of hoarding it with the intention of using it on one’s self, the Lord indicates it is better to use it to provide life. Jesus’s story demonstrates the folly of storing up abundance for the future since no one but God knows what lies ahead.

As Dolly Levi and Jesus indicate, abundance should be used for good. Many individuals who lived through the Great Depression and other  economic downturns became accustomed to building up reserves in case there is a repeat of circumstances. This is sound logic and does not go against Jesus’s teaching. However, if an abundance is received or accumulated beyond a reasonable safeguard, then the abundance must be utilized to benefit others in any multitude of ways. When someone chooses not to do this, they move into a lifestyle based on greed which is self-serving and not serving the Lord.

Following

I am currently on a brief trip but wanted to share this video for you to consider. There are times when Hollywood provides us something which can have a positive impact on our faith. The movie, Sister Act, is one such example. The combination of a meaningful storyline and the utilization of secular songs placed in a faith context is a positive result.

Consider what it means to follow the Lord as you listen and watch.

The Right Thing

Read Micah 6:6-8

A reality of life is that at some point, actually at many points, a person is going to wrong another person. This can happen unintentionally or may occur on purpose. After having done something which has wronged another, the question which shows remorse is how might the situation be corrected and/or made right? What is required to compensate for the wrong which has been committed? If it is a legal case, a judge or a jury may make this decision. More often than not, the situation is not a violation of the law so then it falls upon the parties involved to determine how to resolve the matter.

As we look at the passage from Micah, the question above is being asked in regard to a matter between God and the Israelites. God has brought a case against the people because they have continued to be unfaithful toward the Lord. They have worshipped false gods and failed to follow God’s teachings. In spite of all of God’s redeeming acts and daily provisions, the people refuse to listen and follow. Once called out for this wrong, the question of how to respond is posed. Should the people offer sacrifices to regain God’s favor? The response given is that the people have already been told and it has nothing to do with ritual sacrifices. It has to do with how they live their lives. The way to show faithfulness to the Lord is to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This is the way to rectify the wrong and return to faithfulness.

Not only do we regularly wrong other people, we consistently wrong the Lord. These words from the prophet encapsulate all the teachings from Moses and all the prophets. Our failure to do these three things is what is defined as sin. These life behaviors will keep us from wronging other people and wronging God.

Acting justly is demonstrated by looking out for the welfare of one another. By ensuring each other’s needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually, are met then we fulfill this requirement. Loving mercy is evident in our lives when we are quick to forgive instead of seek revenge. When we accept an individual’s failures as much as their successes, we are showing the compassion which mercy entails. Walking humbly with our God means recognizing the greatness of the Lord. Realizing the power of God is demonstrated in the love and grace of God is truly a humbling experience. Acknowledging we are not God and so we keep our attitudes and attempts to control in check is necessary to walk humbly. The walk is daily and without end which requires time and commitment.

Carrying a Burden

Read Psalm 32:1-5

Many of us carry burdens unnecessarily. There are times we are not even aware that we have accepted a burden; other times we willingly take it up. When these burdens are pointed out to us, we may even choose to continue carrying them instead of laying them down. There can be a strange comfort in holding on to our burden because it is familiar.

In the portion of today’s psalm, a burden is mentioned. This burden, familiar to all of us, is sin. The psalm begins by admitting what a blessing it is to be forgiven. The psalmist continues by saying that while carrying the burden, instead of confessing it, there were negative results which caused torment and weariness. The change took place when the sin was acknowledged out loud and no longer hidden. Forgiveness was given and the burden was removed.

Each of us have reasons why we choose to continuously carry our sin. Fear may drive us, the fear that the sin is unforgivable. We may decide that we deserve to have to carry this load. Our thought could be that if we keep the sin hidden, we can maintain the proper public image. All of these reasons are just excuses which prevent us from experiencing a full life. Carrying the burden of sin destroys our life from the inside out. Our health, self-image, spirit, and mental wellness are negatively impacted by the carrying of our sin.

Confession of our sin to the Lord, and when necessary to others, allows this burden to be laid down. Jesus reminds us endlessly that in him all sin can be forgiven. By laying this burden at the foot of the cross we can experience the fullness of life. We will see improvements in health, spirit and our minds.

Lay down your burden and receive the blessing of forgiveness.

A Time

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Time is an interesting aspect of life. How we measure time, use time, and experience time has occupied the minds of humanity. Many of us when we were younger had a parent, or other adult figure in our lives, tell us that as a person ages, time seems to speed up. While all of us know this is not possible because humans experience time in rigidly defined increments, the feeling that these increments move faster is real to us. We know that every living aspect of creation has determined periods when aspects of life occur. How we live, our activities, the way our bodies respond, and so on changes. Some things become possible and appropriate while others become impossible and inappropriate.

The writer of Ecclesiastes states that there is a defined and appropriate time for everything. This passage goes through a series of contrasts in an attempt to support the central thought that a time exists for all things in creation. What is implied here but not specifically stated is the importance of understanding what season or period of time one is in as a way to choose appropriate actions. Also implied is realizing when an action or direction is not the right one at a specific time.

The rock band, The Byrds, appropriated these verses in a song entitled Turn, Turn, Turn. Listen to this song while you consider the following:

– What time are you currently in at this point in your life?

– Are you making decisions or setting direction according to what is right at this time?

– How do you choose which time to act upon?

Lean On

Read Proverbs 3:5-6

As some people become older, they can begin to have stability issues. Others have medical issues which impair their ability to walk or stand without some form of assistance. A variety of mobility aids have been developed and improved overtime. Canes, walkers, braces and other medical devices have provided individuals something to lean on and receive support as their own stability has been diminished. Due to these  forms of assistance, people have maintained some level of independence and safety.

Among the wisdom sayings attributed to King Solomon, we hear advice on seeking aid in our lives. This wisdom should be applied every day.

Trust in the Lord — As we go through life we are given opportunities to make decisions about where we place our trust. Politicians, religious leaders, companies, financial institutions, all call upon us to trust them. Many times we experience a breaking of that trust. We may come to the conclusion that we can only trust ourselves. But here we are told to trust in the Lord. The Lord’s track record is very strong. No one has ever experienced broken promises or unreliability where the Lord is concerned.

Do not rely on your own insight — Another translation of this portion of the verse is, “do not lean on your own understanding.” (ESV) The imagery in the second translation seems to be stronger. Whichever translation is used, the idea of not going on one’s own is communicated. Trusting our own perceptions and interpretations independent of others, especially the Lord is discouraged. Seeking the assistance of God brings stability and wisdom into our lives.

In all your ways acknowledge him — The Lord should be a part of every aspect and decision of  one’s life. Finding the hand of God daily active in one’s life provides assurance and direction. The guidance of the Lord causes one to stumble less and provides stronger possibilities of avoiding pitfalls.

He will make straight your paths — The Lord can clarify the way to go through life. Instead of wandering aimlessly as one goes from one decision to another, the path can be direct and with less hazards. Seeking the Lord’s guidance in making decisions will provide a clarity in purpose and vision.

May the wisdom of Solomon take root in each of our lives.

Dashed Misperceptions

Read Matthew 10:34-42

Our lives are filled with a lot of comforts and conveniences. Since the arrival of the industrial age, these comforts and conveniences have been on an exponential increase. With the coming of the technological age, the pace and impact of inventions have increased even more dramatically. Yet, we are always seeking more comfort and convenience. Our patience has lessened and our expectations have increased dramatically. Simply put, we want our lives to be easy. We desire the demands of life to decrease. We want it all without having to do much to obtain it. Our perception may be considered to be misaligned.

Jesus had to deal with misperceptions and expectations. His words in this passage may be a bitter pill for us to swallow just as they were for his disciples. The perception was that the Messiah would arrive and the people’s lives would be easier. The Messiah was to bring peace for the Jewish people. Their burden would be reduced. Jesus dashes those concepts in these words. He indicates that there will be conflict because people would argue and fight about Jesus and his teaching. People will fight over who Jesus is and what the Messiah is about. He goes on to say that he must become number one in the life of his followers, the most important relationship. Jesus states that his followers will suffer and sacrifice as they follow him. The burdens will increase. Those who welcome and provide for him and his followers will find they have received a reward. The reward will not be temporary but eternal. Jesus’s words were difficult to hear and even rejected by many.

We are not different from those first century believers. The misperception that following Jesus will make life easier still exists. The concept that all conflict and effort will disappear at the acceptance of the Lord is still taught. Jesus flatly says this is not true. The opposite is more likely. While this is not what we comfort-seekers desire to hear, this is necessary so we can move forward from this reality check. If we are to follow Jesus, we must place this understanding at the lead of our lives. We must be willing to speak the truth even when it may bring division. We must take on the burdens of following Jesus’s teachings and examples even if it causes us suffering and discomfort. Our sacrificing of an “easy” life is necessary to attain a meaningful life. In following and serving, we will discover a permanent reward instead of earth’s temporary reward of comfort and ease.