When an immigrant desires to become a citizen of the United States, there is quite a process which the person must complete. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website lists the following:
Be at least 18 years of age at the time you file the application;
Have been a lawful permanent resident for the past three or five years (depending on which naturalization category you are applying under);
Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
Be able to read, write, and speak basic English;
Demonstrate good moral character;
Demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government;
Demonstrate a loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and
Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
This list causes one to wonder how many citizens by birth could make it through this process
In the passage from Philippians, Paul speaks of being citizens. He mentions that we are transformed to this citizenship through the power of Christ. Striving to follow the example of Jesus as witnessed in others is our responsibility as heavenly citizens.
Paul’s words speak valuable concepts to us. Being reminded that our citizenship is in heaven provides a proper perspective on our earthly one. With citizenship comes responsibility. This sense of responsibility should not be taken lightly. In both types of citizenship, our care for others is paramount. This is the example given to us by our Lord and is applicable in both arenas.
When difficult times surround us, it can be a challenge to maintain a sense of hope. The impossibilities appear stronger than the possibilities. Yet we have a faith which can provide us peace and hope. A hope which comes from perseverance and character is based on the love of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt, this hope is spoken about in a song, When You Believe. May Lucy and Martha Thomas’s singing of that song remind you of the hope which is possible in our Lord.
It was quite common in 18th century Europe and the American colonies to have town criers. These were individuals who would be employed by a city to make announcements and share vital news by shouting in the streets. The earliest recording of such individuals is found in an account in Britain around 1066. The sharing of information has changed a lot since town criers were city employees.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a form of a town crier in today’s passage. The news being shared is about peace and salvation. These items are being brought to the people by none other than the Lord. This never will be celebrated and witnessed by all the nations.
Today, we understand this passage as a foretelling of what Jesus Christ will do in Jerusalem. The salvation and peace which Jesus ushered in for all people is the good news, or gospel. It is now upon us that the title of town crier falls. We are to be the ones who are bringing good news to the world. Our message is one of peace and salvation which the Lord has brought into our lives.
The passage chosen for today is part of a letter which Paul has written. Paul had received word that many of the believers in Galatia had started striving to live according to the Hebrew laws. They were concerned about earning righteousness with God. Someone had convinced them of the necessity to adhere to the law. This portion of Paul’s letter is to address this problem and redviert the people.
Paul outlines the problem with the idea of striving to adhere to the ancient law. By focusing on required performance and behavior, the believers are disregarding the grace secured for them by Christ. The direction which they have been taking places the spotlight on them and their actions instead of on Christ’s actions. Any behaviors which they follow should be in response to the grace which they received through Christ, not because they are trying to follow the law.
Even today there are people who fall into the same trap which the believers in Galatia had fallen into. They were confused by leaders who tried to convince them that their righteousness was based on their fidelity to the law. Some church leaders today make similar statements. Paul’s words in his letter are apropos for anyone who follows this pattern. The grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient for us. Any attempts at earning righteousness discredits belief in Christ’s all-sufficient grace. Our lives should be lived as a response to this grace.
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.
As humans, the scope of our understanding is finite. It is true that with age we gain increased understanding. Yet even at the most advanced age, we are limited. Adults often tell children that right now something may not make sense but with time they will understand. The struggle is often having the patience to wait. This struggle is not only for children but for adults as well.
We witness Jesus telling the disciples that they will have to wait for understanding. In all likelihood this could be applied to all of Jesus’s ministry and teaching while he was alive. Many times the followers struggled to understand. This specific time was at the start of the feast before Passover. By the end of the night the disciples would be even more confused as Jesus is arrested in the Mount of Olives. At the moment in our passage, Jesus has taken the role of the lowliest servant and began to wash the feet of the disciples. Peter begins to protect with a question about Jesus washing his feet. Jesus responds to Peter, and the confusion of all the disciples, by acknowledging that this may not make sense now but with time it will.
As believers there are situations when we witness aspects of life and are confused. Where is the Lord in this situation? How does this connect to the Lord’s purpose? How should I understand this in light of my belief in Jesus Christ? As Peter and the disciples were told on that night, we receive the same instruction from the Lord. Right now we lack understanding but there will be a time when we will understand. The time may be during our earthly life, or it may not be until we have crossed into our spiritual existence. Our challenge is to be patient and trust the Lord to make sense of it all.
I am not one who has done a lot of sailing or spent much time on a boat. A pontoon or speed boat on a lake is the majority of my experience. I also spent one afternoon during college on a sailboat with a friend. Despite my level of inexperience, I do understand the purpose of and the value for an anchor on a boat.
Anchors are important not only for individuals on boats but also for times in life. While life’s anchors are not physical in nature, they serve the same purpose of keeping one steadfast as the waves of life batters us.
The most reliable life anchor any of us can have is found in our Lord. Ray Boltz wrote a song about the value of this life anchor.
The temperatures are rising outside as we transition from spring into summer. The increase in temperatures have drawn my thoughts toward heat and fire. My thoughts have also been focusing on the upcoming celebration of Pentecost in the Church. In the telling of events which occurred at Pentecost shortly after Jesus returning to the spiritual realms, we see the portrayal of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire on the shoulders of the disciples. Fire plays an important role throughout many Scripture accounts.
Today’s focus passage comes at the end of one of Luke’s stories about the appearances of Jesus post-resurrection. This story is often referred to at the “walk to Emmaus” because two disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus as they walk to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They discuss with Jesus the events of his death without recognizing him. He explains to them how the Hebrew Scriptures indicated these things had to happen. It was not until they reached Emmaus and were breaking bread with the Lord that they realized who they had been talking with during this time. This is where we join the story today.
The idea of their hearts burning within them drew my attention. Having the Lord open the Scriptures to them created this sensation. Clearly a glow or an overpowering sensation overcame the core of their being. This sensation is spiritual and not physical. It is unique and very specific. Imagine a fire burning within a person’s spirit.
This passage links well with all the occurrences of fire throughout the Bible. Whether it be the call of Moses at the “burning bush,” the galvanizing of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faith in the furnace, or the telling of tongues of fire on disciple shoulders, the link between the Spirit and fire is clear. What these two disciples experienced as they listened to Jesus was the Spirit changing their hearts and perspectives.
Have you felt the burning of the Spirit in your being? I have had such a sensation at times in my life. The transforming by the Spirit is the basis. Each sensation is different and unique because the reason or need for transformation is different. The reason may be an altering of perspective such as in today’s story. Or maybe the need is to take our words and/or actions from the ordinary to the spiritual. Or possibly the situation calls for a cleansing of ourselves. Whatever the case, we come away recalling the sensation and being transformed. Be open to the sensation and transformation of the Spirit.
This week has made many of us feel as if we have been battered by a storm. The senseless killing of children in Texas which came so closely after the horrific murders of people in Buffalo, make us filled with questions, sadness, and anxiety. These events are a continuing trend in our nation. Add to this the exhaustion brought upon us by the pandemic and months of war in Ukraine. All of these situations combine to make us feel like we are in the midst of a never ending storm. How can we continue to stand?
Jesus has an answer to that question. He tells the crowd listening to him that they are to be like the wise person who built a house on rock. The rock on which we are to build our house is Jesus Christ and his teachings. Jesus taught that love is the answer to combat evil and sin. If we build our lives on the love found in Jesus’s words, we will overcome the sin within us and in the world around us.
Go to the teachings of Jesus and listen. Read the two chapters preceding this one in Matthew’s gospel. Then strive everyday to build your life upon Jesus’s words found in these three chapters.
Advice on how to live life seems to come from a variety of sources on a regular basis. Advertisers are always telling us what to eat, what to wear, where to live, how to spend our time, and just about every other detail you can imagine. We receive advice from family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even strangers on the internet. Advice is easily given but often goes unheeded. Some advice falls under the category of “easier said than done.”
The writing which we read today in Scripture definitely is intended to be advice for believers to follow within the faith community. This advice seems to easily fit in the category mentioned above. It makes sense and on the surface appears to be easily followed. However, the truth, which everyone knows, is that this advice is much more difficult to put into practice than it is to hear it. As difficult as practicing this may be, and as frequently as we fail to consistently live it out, we are to continue to strive to follow it. By following this advice, we are living into the example of Jesus Christ.
Reread this passage. You may even choose to write it down and place it where you see it every morning. Then commit yourself to putting it into practice every day whether you are always successful or not.