Not Ashamed

Read Matthew 10:32-33

Jesus’s words here are difficult to hear. However, they make sense if we are honest. While it may be challenging to acknowledge Jesus and the relationship we have with him outside of our church buildings, it is only a challenge if we are ashamed or afraid. Being respectful of others does not have to mean denying our relationship with the Lord.

These verses reminded me of a song from my post. Listen to the words of this song, Consider how you acknowledge Jesus. Are there times and ways in which you act ashamed?

Gift Discernment

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

When a teenager is in high school, often they will experience taking some form of an aptitude test at least once. The purpose behind such a test is to assist the teenager in identifying what type of employment may best suit their personality, skills, and interests. With this information, the student can be guided in what subjects they should take while in high school. This also provides an opportunity for looking toward the future in regard to what post-secondary education or training would be helpful for the student to move toward them toward employment goals. The generally accepted view is that after identifying the personality, skills and interests, preparing for a future where these are easily applied is the best route. What this approach fails to take into account is the changes which can, and do, occur in those three areas as a person matures. Also, the changes in employment types and opportunities as society advances does not factor into this approach. However, a short-term plan can be established for the time being as long as taking other aptitude tests occurs frequently throughout the person’s life.

Paul speaks about a person’s aptitude in his letter to the Corinthians. He uses the words “spiritual gifts” instead of aptitude. Paul tells the people that everyone receives personalities, skills, and interests from the Spirit. These are intended to be used by the individual to serve others. Each person’s gifts are different from another but are expected to work in harmony with others to achieve the benefit of everyone.

You have been given your own unique personality, set of skills, and interests by the Spirit. Identifying those unique aspects is important so that you are able to exercise them for the good of all. This identification usually requires the assistance of others which is one of the purposes of active engagement in the fellowship of the Church. It is also very important to remember that discerning these items is not a one-time event but should be done frequently since changes occur. Each time after discernment, identifying how to apply these gifts for the good of others is the next step.

When did you last take inventory of what you received from the Spirit? Is it time to repeat this discernment? How are you using your gifts?

In Service

Read Matthew 25:34-46

In a few months we will be entering the Christmas season. The Christmas season means a return of wonderful movies and animated shows. Two of my favorite, must-see movies are A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge learns the importance of caring for others and taking care of the needs of others as one of his lessons. George Bailey discovers in It’s a Wonderful Life how much his decisions and actions have had a positive impact as he met the needs of others. Both movies provide an important message regarding how we are to demonstrate love and compassion for one another.

The reading for today comes in the midst of Jesus telling a parable about caring for others. Jesus presents a scene which can occur upon the return of the Son of Man. There is a division which happens. This division is between those who cared for others in their lives and those who chose not to reach out in compassion and love. The point made in this story is that even if we are not aware, the choices we make in regards to the needs of others have an eternal impact. Since God is love, and Jesus is the embodiment and example of this love, those who desire to follow Jesus must demonstrate this love in their lives. Jesus indicates here that failure to do so means a person cannot truly be in Christ.

The truth of Jesus’s parable was demonstrated in the Christmas movies mentioned at the start. Our choices about how we respond to the needs of others around us have impacts of which we may never be aware. These impacts change the lives of those in need but also change our very own life. The lasting nature of these choices make their importance even greater. Both Jesus and Paul tell us that only if love resides in and through us can we truly know the fullness of our God.

There are needs constantly around us. We must be open to seeing the needs of others. Then we must act on meeting those identified needs. This is not something relegated to a select few. No, this is the responsibility of each person who claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Attaching the Name

Read John 14:12-14

In the mid-19th century, comprehensive trademark laws began to emerge internationally. The concept behind trademarks laws is to protect names, labels and icons from being used by multiple people, organizations or companies. The originator of a label, name or icon desires to protect the trademark  from misuse and misrepresentation. The trademarks are intended for individuals to easily associate the person to the company, organization, product or service in their mind when it is seen. Understandably, if the trademark is used by someone else, confusion may occur at the very least or harm of the entity’s image may be the greatest damage. Attaching one’s trademark to something communicates ownership or, at a minimum, endorsement.

The passage from John’s gospel account speaks of attaching Jesus’s name to a prayer or request. Jesus is in a conversation with the twelve about his leaving but returning later to take them with him. Thomas is confused about knowing where Jesus is going so they can follow. Then when Jesus states  he is the way, the truth and the life, along with providing access to the Father, Philip asks to see the Father. Jesus tells them if they have seen him, they have seen the Father. This leads to the three verses we have just read.

Often these statements, and similar ones, by Jesus have caused people to conclude that anything we ask will occur if we attach the phrase, “in Jesus’s name.” When young children are taught to pray, they are taught to end each prayer with “in Jesus’s name. Amen.” This practice is directly related to conversations as we find in this John passage. Unfortunately, the perception that this is some magic incantation to make all desires come true exists in many minds. Cynics point out how often this does not work. Believers can become disillusioned when it appears to fail.

There are many reasons why a prayer request appears to go unfulfilled. The issue may be that God knows the request will not benefit the petitioner in the long run. Maybe the requestcould bring a negative impact on the well-being of another. Or the problem with the fulfillment could be the motivation behind the request.  The timing of the request may not be right and it may be fulfilled later or throughout a period of time. Truly, only God understands why some requests are not granted immediately after they are made.

A valuable measuring stick in regard to requests a person might make of the Lord is to ask what it means to attach Jesus’s name to the request. Is what I am asking for in alignment with how Jesus lived his life? Does this request fit in the teachings Jesus shared? Are my intentions behind the request in agreement with the love and service heart Jesus demonstrated? Would Jesus be proud to have his name connected to this request? These questions will help a person determine if the request should be made. The answers may also provide some insight into why some requests are not fulfilled.

Humble Beginnings

Read Exodus 2:1-10

The birth of a newborn is an absolutely amazing experience. The lives of the parents change dramatically. In many situations the birth signals a new beginning with an endless amount of possibilities. One, or both, of the parents may wonder what is in store for this new life. Maybe this child will become President of the United States or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Perhaps this new one will be the scientist who discovers a cure for cancer or the physician who perfects a spinal cord regeneration surgery. This baby might become the person who writes the box office success which remains on Broadway for fifty years or the painter who created a masterpiece that hangs in the Louvre one day. The possibilities are endless no matter the circumstances of the beginnings.

Our passage for today comes from Exodus and tells the story of a child’s beginnings. The Israelites were living in Egypt after having fled famine in their native land. The opportunity came from the unfortunate selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers. (But that is another story to tell.) Over time the leadership of Egypt changed and the Israelites became servants and workers for the Egyptians. They were considered by the Egyptians to be second class. Social rules were established to keep a separation between the two groups of people. Into this, a baby boy is born. His Hebrew mother saw a bleak future for him so she arranged a plan to have Pharaoh’s daughter find him. The plan worked brilliantly and Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the boy. She gives him the name Moses.

From one of the humblest beginnings, a powerful servant leader of God’s people emerges. Moses’s story is truly amazing as he rises and falls in stature, only to rise again. The story of Moses’s start serves as a reminder to us that no matter the circumstance of our birth or the events of our lives, we are capable of having a meaningful impact on the lives of others. We may not become the leader of a nation which we deliver out of captivity but we still can be a part of changing the direction of someone’s life. We may be the one who inspires someone else to alter the course of a nation. The possibilities are endless and timeless.

No matter how your life began or what events have shaped you, remember what you do today can be the most world  altering act for others. In God, there is always greatness in each one of us. Today may be the day in which you change history. Seek what the Lord has planned for you today whether you feel worthy or not.  Moses’s mother did.

Cry For Help

Read Psalm 143

Life is not always easy. There are periods when everything seems to be going smoothly; work, relationships, health, finances, and leisure time seem to be in sync and have positive outlooks. Then there are events which impact one or more of these and life can seem topsy turvy. All of us experience some level of this during the pandemic. During these times of challenge it may appear that we are all alone, having to face whatever situation on our own. We may even feel God has abandoned us. Hope may be fading for us.

This description of a life situation is exactly how the author of Psalm 143 is feeling. In a period of desperation and fading hope the author writes this song to be sung to the Lord. It is a plea, a prayer. The request is simple. The song calls on the Lord for hope. A desire to be led out of the current, difficult times is placed before God. There is urgency in the plea. The individual acknowledges the loss of hope and the crushing of the spirit. Yet, clearly there still exists confidence in the Lord.

This psalm is one which each of us could probably sing at different points in our lives. We may experience times of desperation. Our view may be that we are facing challenges alone. While we still believe in God, God can seem to be so distant from us. Hope can be fading in our lives. The weight of our situation is overwhelming and brings us to the point where our spirit feels crushed under it. However, we are not alone. The Spirit of the Lord is always present with us. Our prayers and cries for help are heard. We are being led to something better even though we are unable to see it at the present time. Our confidence does not rest in us but in the hope from our Lord.

Choose the Narrow

Read Matthew 7:13-14

Recently I took a long can trip across four states. There were times when I was driving on a narrow, two-lane road, and other times I was driving on an interstate highway with four lanes in each direction. I always preferred the wider road because I was able to maneuver through the traffic more easily. The narrow roads were difficult to navigate when encountering drivers who chose to go at a slower speed. Given a choice, I will always opt for the wider, multiple lane route.

Jesus speaks of narrow and wider paths in his teaching recorded in Matthew. The Lord says that we should always choose the narrow gate and road. This path may be more of a challenge to find and navigate but it will lead to life. The broader option, which more people end up taking, leads to destruction.

Unlike the choice which I make driving an automobile, in life we are told the ideal is the narrow. The narrow may lead to us having to slow down when we are attempting to race forward. We will need to be more alert for the edges and the hazards in our way. Yet our life will be enriched with greater views as we journey on the narrow path and through the narrow gates. Two-lane roads often provide scenic experiences and because we travel at a slower speed, we are able to see more of the details around us. The same can be said in regard to the road of life.

Which road will you choose?

What Is Important

Read 1 John 2:15-17

There are some who make the statement that we live in a “throw away” world. The meaning of this statement is that as consumers, we purchase items not expecting them to last very long but instead expecting to replace the item in a few short years. Companies promote this idea by advertising new models and always making changes which make previous models obsolete. A prime example of this is the cellular phone which has a new model debuting at least annually. This is a significant change over the last fifty years. Prior to the 1980s, and especially for a generation who had lived through the Great Depression, a person took care of their possessions and tried to make everything last as long as possible. Yet even before this shift, the reality was (and is) nothing lasts forever.

The writer of our letter today makes a differentiation between the things of this world and the things of the Father. In these words we are told to not focus upon and cherish the aspects of earthly lives because these items do not last. Our time and energy should be directed towards living as God presents to us. The God-focused aspects of life are eternal. All which derives from a temporal focus has a limited existence.

The writer is not intending to dissuade us from living productive and useful lives in our earthly state. God’s intention is for us to live a full life, enjoying the fruits of our labor and the blessings which we are given along the way. 

The writer is intending to tell us that perspective and priorities are important.The eternal aspects of life such as love, compassion, belonging, mercy and grace, must always rank higher in importance than those aspects which will eventually be gone.

We live in a “throw away” world. What we know and experience from these earthly moments have a shelf life. The eternal aspects from God should not be thrown away but instead be the most important parts of our lives.

In Secret

Read Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

When I was in college, a donor gave a large sum of money to the institution which I was attending. With this money, the college would be able to build a partially underground building to house the school of business, a new dining hall with snack bar, a new technology center with mainframe computers, a new bookstore, a new information center, a new auditorium, new classrooms, new student organization offices and a new mail center. In addition to the new building, there would be money available to improve some of the existing facilities. The catch with the donation was that the donor wished to remain anonymous (this catch would be removed about five years later when the donor was revealed to be Harold Walter Siebens). There was much speculation about the source of the donation of such a large gift. The donor was adamant that he wished to do something good without hype and focus upon him. The focus should be on the students, faculty and education was the desire. An act of doing something beneficial not for the glory but because it was right seemed to be the donor’s thought.

Jesus is teaching the crowd in the passage which we read from Matthew. Three of his teachings focus on faith acts done in secret. Giving, praying and fasting are the actions which Jesus focuses upon here. He uses contrasts to communicate what behaviors the Father desires to be associated with what was seen as righteous or acts demonstrating faith. In all three examples the public exhibition of carrying out each action is presented as the undesirable method of completion. The contrast, and preferred method, is these acts are done in private with only the Father being aware of their completion.

Just as Mr. Siebens desired initially to act in secret, Jesus tells us that when we are acting as part of our faith, we should do so anonymously. The reason for this is due to the importance of the focus. If we make a fanfare or a great show or a visual demonstration of our actions, then the focus is on us as an individual. Giving to others, praying to God and practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting are all intended to place the focus on God. Jesus is teaching here that it should not be all about us but should be about the God in whom we believe. This proper focus is what truly makes these actions acts of faith.

As One

Read Psalm 133

In the 1970s if a person attended church camp or some church youth event, you stood a good chance to sing “Kum ba yah.” The song is an African American spiritual with an origin which is difficult to establish. The earliest version of the written music is from the 1920s. Translated from the Gullah, the song title is “Come By Here” in English. Today this song is seen as an example of a feeling of unity and goodwill. It is associated with the idea of harmony and warm fuzzies. Frequently it is used in a mocking manner. The view is that this unity and harmony is not real but an attempt to present a false image.

The passage chosen for today is also a song from the Hebrew hymnal. Psalm 133 is a song which would likely be sung by pilgrims on their journey to the Temple. This is a song of unity. The words communicate how pleasing it is to God when the people live united. Blessings come upon the people who live in harmony with one another. As they journeyed together,  this would be a binding song, all heading to the same place for the same purpose. 

Unity is a word which is frequently misused and misunderstood. This leads to a sense of falseness when the word is employed. Much of the reason for this sense is due to the misconception that unity is a synonym of uniformity. When perceived this way, achieving such a state seems unrealistic and in many ways undesirable. These two words definitely are not synonyms. Uniformity is not pleasing to the Lord or what Psalm 133 is speaking of.

God created diversity in all of creation, most definitely among humans. This diversity is what created a beautiful weaving of the world. Also, diversity is what makes an efficient and effective meshing of all creation. Since diverse components are what was the Creator’s plan, uniformity is in resistance to the plan.

What does please the Lord is when the diverse aspects of creation live and work together in united ways. Including and valuing each unique component of creation is the desire. The Latin phrase found on most U.S. coins and in various government buildings, “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one), is the concept of this unity. The idea is that our differences do not divide us but we are meshed as one like a jigsaw puzzle to create a whole picture. 

Let us cherish our diversity while we acknowledge our unity. This form of living and working as one is the true unity which pleases God and blesses each of us.