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.
From the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, a television series starring Peter Graves, Barbara Bain and Greg Morris entertained many Americans…Mission: Impossible. IMDb describes the show as, “An elite covert operations unit carries out highly sensitive missions subject to official denial in the event of failure, death or capture.” In 1996, Tom Cruise produced and starred in the first of six movies based on the television show. There are two more movies in the series scheduled to be released in the coming years. The reason for the title is the idea that what this covert unit is asked to do is seemingly impossible. Yet, the unit always accomplishes its objective, albeit with some significant hurdles and setbacks along the way.
Today we encounter “mission impossible” in our reading from Scripture. A rich man seeks to ensure he has done, and is doing, the correct things to spend eternity in the presence of God. Jesus tells him to do the obvious, follow God’s commandments. When the man assures Jesus that he has checked off that box since he was young, Jesus gives him his mission impossible–give up his wealth for charity. The man declined to accept the mission. Jesus then points out that to achieve eternity in the presence of God, one must surrender to the possibility of God.
Our reaction to Jesus’s teaching here is much like the reactions of the rich man and the disciples. We feel defeated and wonder why we should not just give up. The demand Jesus seems to be making goes beyond our capabilities. Even Jesus acknowledges this impossibility. So what are we left at this point?
The rich man and the disciples are missing what Jesus is trying to teach here. They feel defeated because they are relying on their own abilities. Jesus is saying we must surrender ourselves and our abilities to God. We are not the ones who are to complete the mission, in fact, we cannot. The mission is God’s mission and has already been completed in Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus says, “It is finished,” as he dies on the cross. He is actually declaring, “Mission accomplished.”
The innocence of a young child is something which brings pure joy into the world. The way in which a child is so accepting and trusting is definitely refreshing. A child has not been impacted by negativity, human failure, disappointment and prejudices as have older youth and adults. An adult might call the child naive yet many adults crave that naivety in their own lives.
The attitude of a child is what Jesus puts before the disciples and us in our passage for today. The children were being brought to Jesus to receive his blessing. Apparently some of the disciples found the children to be disruptive and a nuisance so they blocked them from approaching Jesus. Upon witnessing this, Jesus instructs the disciples to let the children come to him. He then informs all that these children possess the kingdom of God. Jesus says not only do they possess the kingdom but they are the example each person should follow if the kingdom of God is what is desired.
Like the disciples, we may be shocked and a bit confused about Jesus’s words here. Experiencing what we have in life, how can we possibly have the attitude of a child? What does such an attitude even look like? First, we need to have an attitude of wonderment. When we look at creation and life, we should experience awe, curiosity, and joy. Second, we need an attitude of acceptance. We should encounter and experience each person as he/she is and not how we think they should be. Third, we must love with abandonment. Our love should not be conditional upon what we receive, or a set of criteria which we create. We love because everyone is a child of God who has received God’s love just as we have and do. Finally, we must believe even though it does not make sense at times. A child believes without the need to justify or explain.
What other aspects should be included in the attitude like a child? How can you follow Jesus’s instruction here? Do you need to make any changes? Spend some time observing a young child, then learn and follow.
You are probably familiar with the saying, “It is not what you know but who you know that matters.” In truth this is not entirely true but there is some reality to the saying. A person may have a vast amount of content knowledge but is unable to demonstrate their knowledge without a personal connection which leads to the opportunity. This is why a wise person cultivates a network of personal and professional relationships. Having a person who can introduce you to others with authority and resources has the potential to bring about benefits.
In today’s passage, Jesus is offering a prayer as he prepares to start the path toward his death and resurrection. We enter the second half of his prayer. He had been praying on behalf of his disciples, asking the Father to protect them. Jesus then prays for those who believe in him through the message which the disciples share, for us. He prays that we may be introduced to the Father through him as the disciples introduce him to us. Through this introduction, all believers will be of one knowledge and know the love of the Father and Son.
Jesus offers a prayer on our behalf that emphasizes it is who you know which makes a difference. We come to know Jesus through the message of the prophets, apostles, and modern disciples, Through Scripture and the sharing of the message, we are introduced to Jesus. Jesus is the greatest revelation of the Father. Having come to know Jesus, we are given the opportunity to know God. We then introduce Jesus to others by our words and actions.
Have you ever tried to corral sheep? I had a friend who had a small flock of sheep. One day I assisted him in attempting to move the sheep from a small pasture into a building so they would be ready for the shearers. The task was a monumental one. Each time we would get a majority of the sheep headed in the correct direction, one or two of them would break away to go their own direction. When you tried to bring those back to the flock, the flock would scatter because your attention was in another direction. Quickly I understood the value of one or two sheep dogs.
The writer of Isaiah clearly understood the nature of sheep. He uses the imagery of scattering sheep to describe the state of our being. We have gone astray and the Servant has paid the price for our going our own way. This passage is part of a whole section usually entitled the Suffering Servant portion of Scripture. Many biblical interpreters link what is described here with the experience of Jesus Christ.
The realization that out of great love forus, Jesus was willing to endure suffering and even death to ensure we are brought back to God’s flock is humbling. Our desire to go our own way is a strong one. We frequently convince ourselves that we know what is best for us. Instead of being guided by the Spirit into the safety of the Lord’s way, we break out in a different direction, endangering ourselves and potentially others. Jesus brings us back through his suffering and obedience to God. He shows us the way home.
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.
Recently I ran across a meme on Facebook which summarized one of my core beliefs. The meme stated: “When people bring up your past, tell them ‘Jesus dropped the charges.'” This is a helpful way to look at grace and the saving actions of our Lord.
In the letter we refer to as 1 Timothy, we see the idea of Jesus being the sole mediator between us and God. Humanity existed, and still exists, in a state of bondage to sin. God is purely holy so is incompatible with sin. In our sinful state, it is not possible for us to be in full relationship with God due to this incompatibility. Here is where Jesus enters the scenario and through his righteousness, removes the barrier of sin from our relationship with God. Jesus mediates on our behalf and provides us victory over sin’s hold upon us.
I find it helpful to imagine a courtroom scene. Each of us stands before God to be judged on our worthiness to be eternally in relationship and the presence of God. The Great Tempter prepares to argue why we are unworthy. As the first words of the charges are read, Jesus steps in front of us and says, “Father, I know this person and chose to carry any charges which may be recorded myself. The price has been satisfied and all charges should be dropped.” The Father responds, “Charges paid in full. All charges against this person are dropped.”
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.
Some years ago, I was given a gift from a dear friend which still hangs on my wall today. It is a wall hanging which reads, “Faith makes things possible…not easy.” We tend to be people who desire aspects of life to be easy. Many of the inventions from the 1920s to the present were designed to make our lives easier. Prior to that time, people labored in difficult situations and often at the mercy of creation to acquire those things which sustain life.
When it comes to our belief in Christ, we want following the Lord to be easy. The hope is that if we believe in Jesus Christ, our lives and our discipleship will require limited effort at most. We will follow Christ’s teachings and minister according to his example but hope it will not be too demanding. However, when we examine what Jesus tells his disciples, we find that a life of ease and ministering without sacrifice is never promised. (See Luke 9:23 and Matthew 19:23-30) The walk with Jesus is not an easy one. Like everyone in life, followers of Jesus will experience highs and lows, successes and failures.
The words on my wall hanging puts everything in perspective for us. Faith, as Jesus describes in our passage, makes all things possible, not easy. We will experience all types of obstacles which challenge our faith. There will be times when we struggle to understand why we cannot accomplish what we desire or what we think the Lord desires from us. These are exactly the moments when we rely less on ourselves and more on our belief in God. Jesus reminds us that there exist situations when for us it is impossible but with God all things are possible. Faith means seeing the possible in and through our Lord. Faith gives us a power beyond ourselves.
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.