Going Fishing

Read Mark 1:16-20

Growing up, my father would take me fishing occasionally. I was never much of a fisherman because I did not like to put the worm on the hook, nor did I want to take the fish off the hook when I was fortunate enough to catch one. Where we would go fishing, the most frequently caught type of fish was a bullhead. Bullheads have whisker-like appendages that could “sting” you if you touched them. Due to this, I either wore gloves or made my dad take the fish off the hook. He would get tired of taking the fish off the hook so we would go home. As an adult, I can count the number of times I have gone fishing on one hand. While I enjoy the calming effect of being near the water, fishing is not how I want to spend the time by the water.

In the passage from Mark, we see and hear about fishing. We witness Jesus “fishing” for disciples and then we hear from Jesus that his disciples will be fishing for people. The four disciples mentioned here, who later would be part of the inner circle and became apostles, were fishermen by trade. Fishing was one of the prominent sources of income and sustenance  for many in the area. Net fishing was the way in which these four men practiced their trade. They were very aware of the best techniques to yield the highest number of fish in their nets. Jesus will teach them new techniques to bring people into the fellowship.

As disciples today, we are to also bring others into the fellowship. This is not to be done through manipulative or deceptive methods. Instead, it is to be done by following Jesus’s example. Jesus taught Simon, Andrew, James, John and the others by modeling for them the correct methods. Jesus began with love. First, and foremost, Jesus loved the ones he would invite. Then Jesus sought to understand the most pressing need(s) of the person. Jesus’s next step was doing all things possible to meet the need(s). Through this method, Jesus communicated that the person was valued and this was what led people to accept the invitation. Jesus did not force, attempt to coerce, or talk anyone into being a part of the fellowship. Instead, Jesus loved the person and demonstrated that through actions of compassion.

Let us “fish” for people using the techniques Jesus has taught. Even if we do not witness someone become a part of the fellowship, we will have extended the love of the Lord to one of God’s children. Cast the net wide because all are welcome. 

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.

Temptation

Read Matthew 4:1-11

All types of temptations confront us in life. When a person is on a diet, there seems to be endless opportunities to eat foods which are packed with unhealthy calories. If you are trying to conserve or save money, advertisements on social media surface attempting to entice you to buy something you want badly. When in college, the availability of credit cards tempted me to spend money which I did not have. Temptation comes in a variety of forms from a variety of sources. How a person responds to temptation has a strong impact on one’s ability to overcome the temptation.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s version of the gospel, we witness Jesus going to the arid area near the Jordan River. Prior to this passage we hear of Jesus being baptized by John. This is the starting point of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The transition from growing up while working with Joseph and his mobile ministry of healing and teaching is marked with these two stories. While in this barren area without resources of food and water, Jesus is tempted by the tempter, or devil. The three mentioned temptations are taking care of the physical needs of food and water, testing if the Father’s protection is real, and obtaining controlling power by worshiping someone other than God. Jesus’s response is always to rely on his understanding and following of God’s directions. This response allowed Jesus to overcome the temptation.

Each of us encounter the same types of temptations as presented here. There are times when we are tempted to place our perceived needs ahead of everything else. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands to satisfy our need instead of trusting in God to provide.

The temptation to want to challenge God to see if the promises are real can surface occasionally. We may make reckless choices and say to ourselves, “if God truly loves me, I will be kept safe.” The expectation that God will get us out of perilous situations is best illustrated with the moral story of the man who drowned in a flood because he kept refusing the help God was sending.

A hunger for power and authority along with all the earthly benefits associated with them can easily creep into our everyday life. We place people and objects in the center of our lives to obtain that power, authority and benefits. These items take the place of God who deserves to always be in the center of our lives.

Jesus again provides a way to respond when these, and other temptations, confront us. Relying on the directions of the Lord is the way to overcome temptation. We can obtain this direction by understanding and applying Scripture. The fellow believers and faith leaders which God places in our lives can assist in providing God’s direction for us. Being in communication with the Lord through the Spirit also opens this direction to us. Temptation will always come our way but if we seek God’s direction as our response when it does, we will overcome it.

What Is Needed

Read 1 Kings 19:1-9

Life can have moments of great discouragement. There can be times when a person perceives a great deal of effort is being exerted but little progress seems to be obtained. Some describe this as “beating my head against a wall.” The idea of giving up comes into the person’s mind. It may appear that there is no chance of success. The discouragement seems to take over a person’s thinking and will. Then a surprising and unexpected change occurs. A new energy emerges in the person. There is a renewed vigor to continue and move forward. A lot of effort may still be required yet a feeling of hope returns.

Elijah faced a great time of discouragement. He had been holding Ahab accountable as God instructed but Ahab was listening to the counsel of Jezebel, his wife, instead. Jezebel greatly disliked Elijah because he was a threat to her and her following of Baal. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and they were killed in the process. This angered Jezebel and she vowed to kill Elijah. Elijah fled in fear to the wilderness outside Beersheba. He is extremely discouraged and ready to quit. He even asks God to end his life before falling asleep. When Elijah is awakened, he finds food and drink provided to renew his energy. After falling asleep and waking a second time, he was encouraged to eat and drink more because the journey ahead would be long. Elijah was renewed and re-energized enough to travel to Horeb where he found shelter and rest.

Our journey can be a long one. We can become weary and discouraged. The idea of giving up can dominate our thoughts. During such a period, we would do well to remember Elijah’s story. When Elijah reached the point that he thought it would be better to die instead of continue, God provided what would be necessary for the journey to continue. God will always do the same for us. A certain person, a specific resource, a special message will arrive to join us on the journey. We will be fed, renewed and encouraged so with a new vigor we can journey on. When God perceives we have completed our journey, then rest will come and we will find blessing.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 6

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Our exploration of the Lord’s Prayer resumes. After having focused first upon God, the Father, Jesus then begins petitions for our human condition. The next phrase in the prayer is a complete sentence, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The petition begins by acknowledging the source of all we have, God. Making the request to be given something is an indication that the one making the request understands that what is received is a gift. We also see the corporate nature of this prayer. The word, “us,” points to the reality that the petition is not for a singular person but for the community as a whole.

The next words place a parameter around the request. Whether it is translated “this day” or “today,” the asking is for a one day’s supply. This reminds us of the story from the time in which the Hebrew people were in the wilderness and hungry. God provided them food, manna, but told them it was only for one day at a time. We are also reminded when Jesus taught his disciples not to worry about tomorrow but instead trust that God will provide each and every day.

The sentence ends with “our daily bread.” Again the corporate nature and the limited scope of the petition are obvious here. The word bread is intended to be broader than just the food substance which comes to mind. Bread was a staple meal item for most people in Jesus’s culture. Sometimes bread was the only item available to provide nutritional sustenance for a family. The use of this word would bring to the minds of the people an image of the basic needs to sustain life, food, shelter, clothing, safety and such.

The first human-focused petition Jesus lifts in this prayer reminds us that God is the source and giver of all our basic needs. We are also reminded to not only be focused on our individual needs but mindful of the needs of all within the community.

Do Not Worry

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:22-34 (NIV)

Life can easily become filled with plenty of worries. The older a person gets, the more there seems to worry about. Some worries are practical such as having shelter, food, and warmth. Other worries are about people like our spouse, our children, and our friends. We can be concerned about financial matters. Our jobs can cause us to worry, things like are we performing well enough, how secure is our position, or will our company survive an economic downtown. All of these worries can cause us to lie awake at night in our beds. Then we worry about being too sleepy to be productive the next day.

Jesus had something to say about worrying. He tells his disciples not to worry because God provides what we need. Worrying does not add anything to our lives Jesus says. Afterall, we cannot do much about these things. Instead of worrying, what we can do is place our focus on God and God’s kingdom. If we place our focus on God and follow God’s direction, Jesus tells us that God will provide a way for us to receive what we need.

The advice Jesus gives here has two elements which are important to hold on to as we interpret his words. The first is the difference between wants and needs. Most of the time we worry about what we want and not what we need. God knows what we need and promises to have that covered. The other important element to keep in mind is that Jesus is not advocating laziness. God is not going to just drop everything in our laps. God will provide the way for us to receive but we must be willing to make the effort to follow that way and obtain what is being provided.

Being Fair

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22 (NIV)

Imagine attending an event where there are many vendors who have booths set up in an attempt to sell you their product or services. You might be at a fair, a convention, or a festival. The booths are side by side in multiple rows. There seems to be a variety of products to choose from and some vendors are selling similar products or services. Each vendor tries to entice you to stop so they can convince you why you need what they are offering. The noise and the endless amount of sales pitches can be mind-boggling.

Jesus enters the courts of the temple and witnesses a scene like described above. Added to the vendor booths are booths where the Jews can exchange their Roman money for Jewish denarii. There is a practical side to all of this. First, the Jews were required to use the coin of the occupying government, Romans, for transactions outside the temple. Inside the temple and among Jews, they needed to use denarii for offerings and transactions since that is the money of the Jews. Being able to make exchanges both ways was the job of the money changer. In regard to the animals mentioned here, they were needed to make the required sacrifices as prescribed by Jewish law. Since some Jews had to travel a long distance to the temple, it was often more practical to not bring animals along but instead to purchase them when arriving at the temple. The issue which Jesus raises is the corruption and greed which prevailed among the vendors. The vendors were taking advantage of the people and their needs.

Here we are given a warning and a call to action. The warning comes in how Jesus responds to the vendors. If we are providing necessary services in or out of the community of faith, we must avoid the temptation of allowing greed to enter our transactions with others. Attempts to get ahead or benefit beyond our own needs are not acceptable in the eyes of our Lord. The call to action is in the example Jesus sets here. When we witness greed, corruption, and injustice, we must speak up. We cannot be silent witnesses. We must engage in change. Our call and authority to act is found in the One who allowed the temple to be torn down and raised again in three days.

I Need It

Two highly misunderstood words in the English language are… need and want. Many individuals tend to treat them as if they are synonyms, which they are not. They may be closely related, but they represent different ideas.

need – a requirement, necessary duty, or obligation (dictionary.com)

want – something desired, demanded (dictionary.com)

This difference may appear subtle at first but is an important difference when we are considering promises which have been made.

When looking at life, a need is something which is required for a person to support a healthy life. Items which should be considered needs are healthy food, safe water, adequate shelter, clothing which protects from weather conditions, and access to life-sustaining health care. Each of these are required for a person to live life.

A want is something which enhances a person’s life. Wants are very personal in nature. Included in the list might be a specific type of car, electronic equipment, enhanced communication devices, memberships to venues, tickets to sporting events, elaborate food choices, high fashioned clothing, and multi-roomed dwellings. This list could go on endlessly based on the desires of a person.

Jesus tells us that the Father knows what we need and will provide for those needs.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-35, NIV

Jesus also told us to ask for whatever we need.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11, NIV

Here is the reason that it is so vital for us to differentiate between wants and needs. People are prone to interpret these passages in a way which gives them an understanding that God is like Santa Clause. All we have to do is give God our list and God will provide everything which is on the list. When this does not happen, then they cry foul. They doubt God, they doubt Jesus’ words, and they doubt the promises they have been told.

The true issue is wants versus needs. Jesus meant for us to understand that God will provide for our needs. Items found in the list above. Sometimes God chooses other humans to deliver those needs to us. The promise has never been that God will provide all of our wants. One reason God chooses not to provide all our wants is because some of those can be harmful to ourselves and/or others.

God clearly knows the difference between wants and needs. We need to take some time learning the difference ourselves. When we do, it will clear up a lot of confusion and frustration on our part.

Purpose of the Church – Part 3

If you have been following my posts about the purpose of the Church, you know that I have identified what I view the Church as not being and what I view the Church as being. (If you have missed them, here are the links: Purpose of the Church – Part 1 & Purpose of the Church – Part 2.) Today, I will share my final post dedicated to this specific topic.

At the end of Part 2, I quoted a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Here it is again:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

I indicated that the Church has the responsibility to look after the welfare of all people. But how do we live out being this Church? There are 7.7 billion people and a finite amount of resources. What aspects of an individual’s welfare should we be addressing? What do we do about those who do not even believe in God? How about people who are not Christian, do we have a responsibility to them? The Church exists for those who are members, does it not? Questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen of excuses.

Like a multitude of aspects of life, we tend to complicate that which is truly very simple. We spend so much time identifying the hurdles to whatever we may be called to do that we miss the opportunities which are right before our eyes. We think only within what we know and not what could be.

I believe that living as the Church means living where we are now. By that, I mean that we address what is around us and not what is out of our realm of touch. A friend of mine used to always do a benediction which included a line that reminded all the hearers that we are where we now are for a reason. If each of us who claimed to be part of the Church took a good look around ourselves, we would find individuals who have needs which we are uniquely qualified to meet. This does not require us to develop some new talent or skill, we already have been given that talent or skill to address that specific need. We may need to strengthen the talent or skill, or learn how to apply it better to the situation before us. Yet the core is already present within us.

Imagine if each participant in the Church applied themselves each day. The impact we could have in our community and neighboring communities could be tremendous. If this happened in every place and each day throughout the world where people claim to be a part of the Church, the Church would have a global impact which exceeds any of the world’s NGO’s today. The multiplied effect of individuals practicing this simple guidance could change the course of human existence.

Another positive reality of the Church living out its purpose is that when two or more individuals join together to follow this plan, their efforts are even stronger. This is why the Church exists as a community of people on a journey of faith together. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) I believe that Jesus was not only talking about being together in worship or in a class, Jesus was talking about gathering to live as the Church. We support and strengthen one another as each of us lives out our purpose within the Church. The Church gains its purpose from the ones who join together in looking out for the welfare of all people.

If this is truly the attitude which we take as the Church, then all the excuses mentioned above drift away. The resources needed have already been provided. The belief system of the one in need has no bearing on our actions. The ones who claim to be members of the Church are having their needs met as they join in fellowship and work with each other.