January 24 – What’s the Roadblock?

Luke 18:18-43; Genesis 31; Psalm 24

Alex was a real entrepreneur! At the age of four, she started a lemonade stand. Alex has made a lot of money with her lemonade stand. Only Alex was a bit different from most lemonade stand entrepreneurs. Alex was diagnosed with neuroblastoma (a childhood cancer) at an early age. She decided that she wanted to use her lemonade stand to help others and gave the money she made to her hospital so that doctors could help other kids with cancer. Alex died at the age of eight, but Alex’s lemonade stand is still in operation to help other kids with cancer. Alex “got it” at the age of four. Many of us still don’t get it even as much older adults.

Here’s the key. Life isn’t about accumulation of wealth. Life is about helping others. Most of you have seen the rebuttal to the statement that “he who dies with the most toys, wins” and recognize that “he who dies with the most toys, dies.” You’ve probably heard the old saw that no one has a U-Haul on the back of their hearse. In light of that, perhaps we need to come up with another adage, “He who dies after giving away the most toys, wins.” Perhaps it’s a bit cumbersome, but I think it would fit in with the teachings of Jesus. “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” (Luke 18:22)

Every time I read this I’m shocked that Jesus didn’t understand the gospel. Ok, it may be a bit of hyperbole, but if you read the common literature and look at the “gospel” preachers on TV Jesus came to make us rich and help us have the nicest everything. Here, Jesus looked at a man who was wealthy, a man who, by his own admission, was one of God’s golden children who had kept all the commandments. This was verified, of course, by his great wealth. In the midst of that, he approached Jesus. Was he seeking to justify himself and look good in front of his friends or did he really sense something missing in his life? I don’t know. I think he was looking for some magic formula so that he would know that he was in good with God. According to the beliefs of his time, he should have been content: he kept the commandments and he was wealthy. Jesus spoke to his heart and pointed out the one thing that kept him from a relationship with God when He told the man, “Ya got too much money. Give it all away to the poor, and then follow me.” Confronted with the choice: “which is more valuable to you, your money or your relationship with God?” he chose unwisely and cast his lot with the cash.

Jesus didn’t make giving it all away a condition for all disciples. God’s people don’t take a vow of poverty so that they can be right with Him. What Jesus noted in this man was that he valued his riches above anything or anyone else. How often do we come to Jesus and say, “Lord, I’ll do anything to follow You,” and end up backing out of our commitment when we discover what it is that Jesus wants? He speaks to us at the point of our greatest desire, sees what we put before God, and calls us to give that up. When God calls us, He doesn’t negotiate a deal to get us into a relationship with Him; He wants a total commitment. He reminds us of anything we value more highly than God and calls on us to surrender that in our relationship with Him. If you secretly think, “Oh God, I’ll do anything but that,” get ready for the roller coaster ride. God’s question to you is very simple, “Do you trust Me enough to give that up and let Me take care of you?” Your answer will make all the difference.

Oh Lord, it’s so easy to put things in the way of my relationship with You. Thoughts, ideas, people, and possessions may all seem important. I often don’t realize that I’m putting them before You. Remove those things that block my relationship with You, gently please, and help me follow You each day.

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January 23 – A Tale of Two Prayers

Luke 18:1-17; Genesis 29:31-30:43; Psalm 23

You can divide society in many ways. I’ve seen people do that. They want to pit the rich against the poor; skin color against skin color; “my” primary language against “your” primary language; male against female and I could go on. It’s easy to put people in groups and attach a label to them. It makes it easier to be against them, or for them. If a person is one of “them” we can easily hate them no matter what other qualities they have, but if they are one of “us” then they are automatically part of the club and we love having them around. As I say that, though, I am reminded of some people who were followers of Christ that weren’t particularly pleasant to be around and some atheists that were perfectly delightful.

In the days of Jesus, the Jews had many ways to divide people also. One of the biggest ways was the division between the Pharisees and everyone else. That division grew stronger when you talked about #TeamPharisee vs. #TeamTaxCollector. When the discussion got going, even the common people tweeted about being for #TeamPharisee. No one wanted to support the tax collectors. Then Jesus spoke. “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” (Luke 18:11-13)

Most of the people listening to this parable probably identified with the Pharisee. Perhaps they were muttering under their breath about the audacity of a tax collector daring to go into the Temple to pray. “Don’t they have walls to keep people like that out?” must have been on the minds of a few people. As Jesus recounted the prayer of the Pharisee, they may have been a bit uncomfortable, even as the agreed with him. He wasn’t like most people. He was more holy. And the comments about his religious practices – so true. Who else fasted and gave like that? They heard the story of the Pharisee and probably thought that he was a great example of what someone who loves God would be like. Only Jesus told a story with a twist. As he described the tax collector’s prayer they may have been mollified by the fact that the tax collector knew he wasn’t worthy to look up to heaven. They agreed that he was a sinner, but couldn’t fathom the idea that God might have mercy on one like him. The twist came as Jesus said that the tax collector was the one who was justified before God.

Those of us who have grown up on the story will smile and laugh at the truth that Jesus presented. The ego of the Pharisee was contrasted with the humility of the tax collector. The result was that in this battle of Pharisee vs. Tax Collector, Jesus declared the tax collector the winner. And while we recognize this truth in this story, how often do we act like the Pharisee. Ever see someone in church and wonder why they were there? I see people post things that sound pious and I wonder how they dared to post it after I’ve seen the content of some of their other posts. We see the guy on the side of the road holding up a sign asking for help and we remind God that we never got ourselves into that position. We take pride and comfort in voting for the “right” person, whether they won or lost, and make fun of or attack those who voted for the “wrong” one. In fact, folks, none of those justify us before God. Jesus reminds us that the key for the tax collector was his humility. He recognized his need for God and prayed for His mercy not because he deserved it, but because He trusted God. Walk in humility today and recognize the value of others: even if they are “them.”

Oh Lord, I am also a sinner who needs Your mercy. Forgive my sin. Help me to show others Your love.

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January 22 – Before They Ask

Luke 17; Genesis 29:1-30; Psalm 22

“The Gospel is un-American” a friend of mine wrote recently. If you are a good American Christian, that might set your teeth on edge a bit. If you don’t live in the United States, it probably wouldn’t bother you. In fact, you might even be glad to see that someone in the States understood the problem. There is no doubt that the gospel flies in the face of some distinctly American beliefs. To those who preach that accumulation of wealth is an important part of the gospel, Jesus counsels you to sell all that you have and give to the poor. To those who have perfect health because “by His stripes we are healed,” Paul reminds us that he had a thorn in the flesh. To those who would look at their success as evidence of God’s blessings, Jesus reminds us that the meek shall inherit the earth. And perhaps the most un-American Christian value of all is a reminder that we are to forgive others.

How many times have you heard others say, “I don’t get mad, I get even?” When we are wronged, we seek revenge at the individual level or at the national level. We don’t want anyone to think that they can mess with us. We take that strong stance because we know that if we don’t, people and/or nations will think they can get away with doing wrong to us and they’ll continue to do so. We make angry hashtags or lash out on twitter. We find ways to pay back the person, often in court. This all in the context of being strong. This all in the context of not letting anyone attack us, or often, our faith. To those of us who get even, Jesus has a word. “So watch yourselves. ‘If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying “I repent,” you must forgive them.’” (Luke 17:3-4)

There is nothing wrong with telling someone else that they have sinned against you. Jesus tells us to rebuke them. This isn’t a bad thing. Some people don’t realize that they are sinning against another person. When people grow up in so many different cultures, you are bound to have some cultural differences on what constitutes “sinning” against another person. In America, it is considered commonplace and courteous to invite another person out for a beer, for example. Should you invite me out for a beer, you would be violating my beliefs. Without going into all the back story of my stand against alcohol, let me just say that it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask me out that way. If you were to do that, I might tell you that I don’t drink alcohol. We might agree to do something else together or you might ask someone else. Here’s the key. If you kept asking me, and I kept reminding you, and you kept apologizing – and then forgetting and asking me again, Jesus tells me to keep forgiving you. (And let me point out that not all followers of Christ have the same feelings about alcohol that I have.)

But let’s take forgiveness even farther. Let’s think about God’s forgiveness. It is amazing to me that God forgave me for every wrong thing that I did even before I was born. It was the death of Jesus on the cross that brought forgiveness to all people that would repent and turn to God. He forgives me even before I know enough to ask for forgiveness. The Holy Spirit brings my sins to mind so that I can ask for forgiveness when I do wrong. Even before I ask, though, God has forgiven me. What that means to me is that I need to have a forgiving spirit for wrongs done to me even before the other person realizes that they are wrong; even before they ask for forgiveness. Today, do an un-American, Christian thing and forgive those who wrong you even before they ask.

Lord, You have forgiven me even before I knew I did wrong. Help me to show that same mercy towards others who sin against me. Help me to forgive them even before they ask.

(Sorry this was so late. I had internet connection problems before church.)

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January 21 – Thinking About Money

Luke 16; Genesis 27:46-28:22; Psalm 21

When it comes to building or repairing things, I am the last person to call for help. The Christmas before I got married, my family gave me a set of screwdrivers because they knew that as the “man of the house” I might need to (try to) fix things around the house. They assured me that they had already registered the screwdrivers with the police as “dangerous weapons.” I point that out because I know some people that do repairs all the time. They have amazing toolboxes with some beautiful tools. I don’t know how to use most of those tools, of course, but I have often thought about how cool it would be to have a tool box like that. Were I to mention that to my wife, after she stopped laughing she would bring sense to the situation and ask me, “But where are you going to use them?” In short she would be reminding me that having a great toolbox was not a goal to achieve in life, I needed to think about what I wanted to do and get the right tools for that.

Jesus tells one of the strangest parables when He talks about a servant who knows he’s about to be fired. This servant figures out that he’ll need some help after he gets fired, so he manipulates some bills to get some of his master’s debtors to be willing to help him later. What’s strange about it is that the master commended the servant for acting shrewdly. Jesus also seemed to commend the fact that he was using the world’s wealth to create opportunities for himself. He also said that God’s people aren’t too good about handling money. I think the problem for most of us is that we see money as a goal, and not as a tool. If money is a goal, then it becomes our master. If money is our master, we have real problems. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

In the days of Jesus, wealth was considered a sign that a person was right with God. God, after all, wouldn’t let someone who was unrighteous gain lots of money. Jesus began shattering that idea by noting that the rain (blessings that brought crops) fell on the just and the unjust. His interactions with people like the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus reminded us that money was not the goal of a child of the light. Money is not a goal, it’s a tool to draw others to the mercy and grace of God. My pastor reminds the church often that Ministry is spelled “M-O-N-E-Y” because the things we do to minister cost money, for the most part. If we have wealth, our goal should not be to live a life of self-indulgence, it should be to find a way to use that wealth to honor God by caring for the needs of others.

I get a lot of offers to make money on the internet. Some of them are obviously scams. Others are legitimate businesses that friends are involved in. They will talk about all the money they make. They want me to make lots of money, too. With these businesses, the person helping you make money make money themselves. While I suspect some of these people use some of that money in ministry, we don’t hear about that, or see it. I would hope that they were following Jesus’ call to give in secret. How should we approach money? John Wesley said, “Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” He understood that money is a tool that God has given us to help others. So if you’re wealthy, you already have a stocked toolbox for ministry. And if you’re not sure whether or not you’re wealthy, compared to the rest of the world, if you are reading this, you’re probably in the top 1% of those with wealth. Use it for God.

Oh Lord, it’s so easy to become enamored with money and all the things I can do for myself with it. Give me the right attitude about money. Help me to use my wealth as a tool to show others Your love.

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January 20 – The Searching God

Luke 15; Genesis 27:1-45; Psalm 20

Field Trips. I think that most people outside the world of education think field trips are nothing but fun and games. They don’t realize the planning that must go into a field trip so that the field trip meets educational objectives. They don’t realize all the paperwork that must be done to arrange the location, the buses, get chaperones, take care of feeding the kids, etc. Even with all that, the trips can be great fun. Except every teacher has this one worry: the kid who wanders off. Teachers count and recount kids getting on the bus, while they’re on the bus, getting off the bus, at the location, getting back on the bus, and then on the bus again. There are some things for which a grade of 99% is not good enough. Imagine telling the principal of the school, “We did pretty good today. I only left one student behind so I returned 99% of the kids.” That doesn’t fly. Even as a joke. Principals do not think that line is funny.

The Pharisees had issues with Jesus. He wasn’t part of their power structure. He made them look like fools. They wanted to trick Him and make Him lose His following. Who was it that followed Him? Tax Collectors and Sinners, that’s who! Jesus didn’t consort with the right people and they made sure that He knew that they knew that He was doing that. And so Jesus tells them a parable about a shepherd looking for his lost sheep. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4)

The Pharisees misunderstood God. They knew that God loved righteousness behavior. They believed, though, that God couldn’t love anyone else other than a Pharisee, because they couldn’t be righteous. And, if someone wasn’t righteous, they, like the Gentiles, were fit for nothing more than fuel to feed the fires of hell. It is to these people that Jesus tells a parable, hoping to show them the love of God. It’s amazing that even in the midst of all the Pharisees tried to do to Jesus that He gave them opportunities for redemption. Yet they refused to heed the words of Jesus. What an amazing picture of love Jesus gave them, too. A shepherd brought back 99 out of 100 sheep. It would have been easy to be satisfied with that. Perhaps the sheep had wondered away. Perhaps it had lost a battle with a wolf, or a lion, or a snake. Going after it could be dangerous, especially if predators were feeding upon it. The shepherd never hesitated as he searched for and found his lost sheep. This was truly a cause for celebration!

The point that was not lost on the Pharisees. They recognized that Jesus was showing them a picture of God that they didn’t like; a God who would search out those who had strayed away and be willing to sacrifice His own life to bring them back into His family. That is the God we follow. He did give up His life on the cross so that anyone could accept His forgiveness and grace. It’s easy to forget that anyone issue and start sliding into the ways of the Pharisees. We can pick out specific sins that are worse than others, and believe that God couldn’t love people like that. Usually when we do that, the sins we pick out are different from the ones we are involved with. Isn’t it amazing how God is always willing to forgive the sins that we are comfortable with, but not so willing to forgive the sins we aren’t comfortable with? Or is it, perhaps, that when it comes to forgiveness, we have made God in our own image? In the parable Jesus told, we don’t know if the sheep was a victim of circumstances or if it wasn’t present because of bad choices. What we know is that the shepherd risked his life to find it. Now, go searching for others.

Oh Lord, it’s easy to see why You forgive my sins. They aren’t so bad, right? Or maybe, I’m just used to them. Help me to see my own sin as You see it. Help me to abhor my own sin. Then help me to see the sins of others as You see them and show them the same mercy and grace You do.

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January 19 – Creation and Redemption

Luke 14:25-35; Genesis 26; Psalm 19

Some actors have played some parts for so long that people know them by their character’s name more than their real name. For actors, it’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they’ve had steady work on a series that people recognize and has been popular. On the other hand, it sometimes makes it difficult to get different parts during the run of the series and even after the series is over. They have that signature role and it’s hard to see them in any other role. Authors have that same problem. People know them for a particular genre and when they suggest the idea of writing a different genre, people are shocked that they would even attempt it. They wonder why an author would leave his or her signature role. It’s easy to get locked into a role or a genre if you are a creative person.

I can’t imagine God getting locked into one specific area of His creation, although many people will focus on one area of the creation. Often when we do that, we forget about how all creation works together for the purpose of glorifying God. The beauty of the land forms and waterways, the magnificence of the heavens beyond our planet, the power of the storm, the amazing diversity of plants and animals, the complexity of man all cry out to our world of the glory of God. Each of these has so many specific areas that would cause us to fall down in worship as we recognized God’s hand in each small and large part of creation. I’m sure that David must have been sitting, watching the sheep one night and as he looked at the amazing night time light show, was moved to write Psalm 19. The first verse sets the tone. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

I wonder how it is that anyone can view creation without recognizing the amazing power of God in creation. I look at the birds and see the smallest variations and the greatest differences of size and color, form and function. These did not come about by chance. I look into the night sky and see the stars, knowing that I am looking at planets as well, not that I can tell which is which in my limited knowledge, and can’t help but stand in awe of the amazing nature of creation. All the explanations offered as to the origin of our universe that leave God out can’t escape the fact that when you take things back to the beginning, the original stuff had to come from somewhere. The lack of belief in God is an amazing, but bad, leap of faith. It may be a greater leap of faith than believing in Him when you recognize the beauty of all of creation at all levels. Creation is God’s signature role. It is how most of us begin wondering about God and recognizing His existence.

Just as much as God is Creator, He is also a Redeemer. This one is hard for people to understand. We seem to think that we need to be good enough to be able to see God in this way. As Redeemer God recognizes our mistakes and failures in life; He recognizes how we have fallen away from Him. This is called sin. He takes that sin and forgives it through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus, His only son, on the cross. He takes our sin and throws it as far away as east is from the west. He doesn’t do this because we make ourselves good enough; if we could do that He wouldn’t need to redeem us. No, He does that out of His unfailing love for each one of us. If your natural inclination is to deny that possibility because of something you’ve done; realize that He knows, and understands. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. His unfailing love still reaches out to you and calls you into a relationship with Him.

Lord God, thank You for the death of Jesus on the cross. Thank You that He paid the penalty for my sin and gives me power to overcome that sin. Remind me of Your presence and redemption through all creation and help me to show Your love to others.

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January 18 – Oh Lord, It’s Hard To Be Humble

Luke 14:1-24; Genesis 25; Psalm 18

The story is told about an incident with Booker T Washington not long after he took over the presidency of the Tuskegee Institute. He was walking in a wealthier neighborhood. A lady saw him and, not recognizing him, assumed he might need to make some money, so she asked him if he wanted to make a couple of bucks chopping wood. He had no appointments, so he helped her out. When he carried the wood into the house, the woman’s daughter recognized him and let her mother know who had chopped her wood. She was highly embarrassed and went to apologize the next day. He smiled and told her he was happy to help a friend. His humble attitude so moved her that she began to support his work and she, and her friends, ended up donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.

How easy it would have been for Mr. Washington to take umbrage at the fact that he was asked to chop wood. He could have confronted the lady by asking her if she knew who he was. Instead, he acted with humility and the end result was great things for him and for the institution that he ran. In our day, many people live by the axiom that “he who toots his own horn gets it tooted.” The most interesting side of humility is that we can’t acknowledge that we have it, or we don’t have it. If we acknowledge it in others, then we run the risk of giving them a sense of pride about their humility. Still, humility is a virtue that we can only practice without knowing that we’re doing so. Jesus, after giving an example of seating arrangements at a wedding, finished the example with this: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

In the story Jesus told before the statement I quoted, someone came into a feast and found the most important place to sit and plopped down. The host had to come up to them and say, “Sorry, I meant for someone else to have this seat. There are still a few chairs at the last table.” People like that think of no one but themselves. When they realize that they’re supposed to be humble, or at least act that way, they say negative things about themselves, because, after all, humility is telling other people how bad you are. The truth is that usually, they’re searching for compliments. They want other people tell them that they’re not really that bad. These are people who keep drawing the attention back to themselves. They are like little children who jump up and down waving, “Hey! Look at me! Notice me!” True humility doesn’t come from bad-mouthing ourselves; it comes from recognizing who we are in God’s presence.

From a Christian perspective, truly humble people focus on God and His activities in the world. What’s important is what God is doing, not what they are doing. In general, though, people who humble themselves tends to take an interest in other people. They don’t want to talk about themselves, they want to encourage others. They want to hear the stories that others have. They may answer questions about themselves, but they quickly switch the discussion back to other topics. The key to understanding humility is that when humility is truly being practices, the focus is never on the humble person. Think about it: do you want to be around the person that makes you think that they are the greatest person in the world, or do you want to be around the person who makes you feel like you’re the greatest person in the world. It’s a fine line to live a humble lifestyle – and if you’re truly living it, you won’t realize it.

Oh Lord, it is so hard to be humble because my favorite subject is usually me. Help me to think of others. Help me to see myself as You see me and then show others Your love and let them see themselves as You see them.

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January 17 – Wildfires and Friendship Bread

Luke 13:18-35; Genesis 24; Psalm 17

Every year we see the news. Forest fires have broken out in various parts of the country. We see pictures of hellish infernos and horrific damage. Houses and wildlife are destroyed. Firefighters from all over the country fly in to help. Planes and helicopters are brought in to dump water on the fires. The news coverage often shows firefighters, exhausted from twenty straight hours fighting the fire, collapsing in a safe area, hoping to gain a couple hours of sleep before heading back to work. Once the fire is out, the investigation starts. Some fires start naturally when lightning strikes. All too often, though, the investigation reveals that the fire was started by a campfire that wasn’t fully put out or by a cigarette butt that had been tossed aside carelessly.

There is a practice among some who bake bread of baking “friendship bread.” To make friendship bread, you get a little pinch of dough from a friend and you use it as an ingredient to create your bread. The yeast from that lump begins working on your dough, and after a while, you are able to break off a few lumps of dough yourself to share with others and then bake the rest of the dough into some delicious bread. There are some examples of friendship bread that has been spread around for years, affecting numerous people. What both examples have in common is that small things have great impacts. For a fire, it was a cigarette butt. For the bread, it was a small pinch of dough. This is why Jesus used this idea when He talked about the Kingdom of God. “Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’” (Luke 13:20-21)

Yeast, or leaven, in the Bible is usually a bad thing. The Passover is also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. When Jews prepare for the Passover celebration, they work hard on getting the leaven out of the house. Leaven, in truth, is often used as a metaphor for sin. So it’s surprising that Jesus uses leaven as an example of how the Kingdom of God spreads. But there is a lot of truth. Remember that the gospel spread beginning with one man – Jesus. He chose twelve disciples. Other men and women gathered around. The number of followers grew as they heard His words and saw the changed lives of the disciples. Then, Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. After that, the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus and the Kingdom of God spread like…dare I say…wildfire. From that small beginning, the number of people who claim to follow Jesus Christ spread all over the world.

The amazing thing about this “leaven” of the Kingdom of God is that nothing can be done to stop it. As hard as governments try to repress it, the Kingdom grows as people see the lives and hear the words of Christians – sometimes as they are being executed. The Church grows in the midst of persecution and even though governments or groups like ISIS may temporarily ban it from the areas of their control, people still learn about and turn to Jesus as their Savior and follow Him. Most governments don’t like Christians because we realize our only true allegiance is to God. We love our country and support our government – but if there is a conflict between government regulations/law and our faith, we will put our lives on the line to be obedient to God. The call of Jesus to every Christian is to be leaven, sharing the good news of Jesus with others. The call to those who don’t know Jesus is to hear and accept the message of the Kingdom of God and live in the love of God.

Oh Lord, let me be leaven sharing the Kingdom of God through my daily life. Let Your love spread like a wildfire through a world that needs a message of hope and love. Use me to spread Your love.

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January 16 – And They All Died

Luke 13:1-17; Genesis 23; Psalm 16

There’s an old joke about a man interviewing to work with the railroad company. He’s given a situation where two trains are on the same track, going straight at each other. They asked him how he would handle the situation. “I’d switch the tracks for one of the trains,” was his first response. “Good, but now you discover that the switch is broken and you can’t do that.” “Then I would radio both engineers and tell them to stop.” “Your radio isn’t working.” “I’d turn on the stop lights along the track.” “The lights are out.” “I’d get out and flag the trains.” “They don’t see you.” The candidate paused and then said, “I’d call my sister.” The interview committee was stumped. They had never heard this answer before. After a pause, one of the members said, “What good would that do?” “Nothing,” the man replied. “But she loves a good train wreck.”

Disasters draw us like moths to a flame. Why is the traffic slowed down? There’s an accident on the other side of the freeway. Why is traffic stopped? It’s a major accident and everyone’s slowing down to look at it. Disaster movies always seem to be popular. Writing advice from some places says to put your main character through disaster after disaster. Some people asked Jesus about some Galileans that Pilate had put to death. It was a disaster for them and their families. Jesus responded that they weren’t any worse than some asking the question, and then He gave another example. “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

When flooding hits an area, or an earthquake rocks the land, it is sad, but some people will automatically bring out the judgment card. “This was God’s judgment against those people. They were sinners!” I don’t need to mention the names of people who say things like that. I think Jesus would ask those people this question: “Were they any worse sinners than you?” While people who make those comments might try to justify themselves, Jesus would remind them that unless they repented, they would face something worse: they would die without God. They might think that they were spokesmen for God, in pronouncing their judgment, but such comments show their ignorance of God, not how close they are to Him.

While we mourn deaths in a disaster, as we should, the truth is that every one of those people would eventually die. In fact, the death rate is still 100%. Whether our death is due to a disaster or we live a long life and die in our sleep, we will all die and face the judgment of God. Jesus reminded His listeners that the key was that we needed to repent. We needed to turn away from our own thoughts and our own way of doing things and align our thoughts and deeds with God’s ways. Disasters are not God’s judgment on any group of people. If they were, I could imagine some places that “need” disasters. I’d wonder why God didn’t get “them.” (I, of course, not needing one.) Disasters do give God’s people a chance to minister to those who survive by showing them His love, mercy and grace. The message of Jesus during a time of disaster is still the same: whatever may have happened, you still need to repent and get right with God. It’s not how or when we die that’s important; it’s who rules in our heart when we do.

Lord, I know that someday death will come to me. Until that time, let me stay in tune with You. Help me to turn away from my own thoughts and ways every day, and align myself with Your love and grace. Help me to share the message of mercy and grace with others because of Your love for them.

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January 15 – Being Ready

Luke 12:32-59; Genesis 22; Psalm 15

Thieves are an inconsiderate lot. They come to visit you when you’re not home. They destroy things coming in the house. Then they take party favors that you hadn’t planned on giving out. When you get home to see the door kicked in you might think something like, “well, if they had told me they were coming, I might have been able to be there to welcome them.” (And if you think those thieves are bad, wait ‘til you deal with the insurance company – personal experience.) Obviously a ludicrous picture of a serious situation there. Thieves want to catch you unawares. The key to preventing break-ins is to be ready at all times and have the house prepared for those times you are away.

Jesus talked to His disciples about the need to be ready for the Lord at all times. He began by talking about servants being ready for the master to return from a wedding banquet. In our highly ordered, scheduled world, we would have an idea when such a feast might be finished. Back in those days, they not only didn’t have digital watches to time things down to the exact minute, their sundials didn’t work at night. So, servants needed to be ready at any time. None of this locking the door and going to bed for them. They didn’t know when the master would return, so they had to be watchful and ready. Then, Jesus described His return in a most interesting way. “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.” (Luke 12:39)

If you’ve ever returned home to discover that your house had been robbed, you can understand the dismay of seeing a window broken, or a missing door and then going through the house after the police get there. You are grateful that just stuff was stolen, but there is a true feeling of violation. For a long while, every time you leave, you worry about the house. Every time you come home, there is anxiety as you wonder if you’ll see that door kicked in again. It’s almost a cruel comparison to describe the second coming of Jesus in these terms. Jesus does that to shock His listeners into the understanding of the need to be ready for Him at any time. Contrary to certain people, there is no event set up on Facebook for “The Return of Jesus.” There is no Twitter campaign to build publicity so that people will be ready for Jesus. There is, however, an army of Christians whose job it is to warn people that He’s coming again, and that it is possible to be ready for His return.

We get ready ourselves by establishing our relationship with Christ. There is nothing we can do to become good enough to “join the party” when Jesus comes back. All we can do is depend on His mercy and grace. We accept His forgiveness and seek strength from Him to become the people He wants us to be. We help others get ready by sharing His love, mercy, and grace with them. We plead with them to come to the knowledge of God so that they, too, might be ready. There is nothing more terrifying for me than the idea that in the final judgment, people will look at me and ask, “why didn’t you tell me?” And so I implore you now, my friend, join the Family of God by turning to Jesus. Accept the mercy and grace He has for you. Trust Him to work in you to become the person of God that He wants you to be.

Lord God, I don’t know when You will be coming back, just that You are. Help me to be ready. Help me to share Your love with others so that they might also be ready. I pray as those in the early church prayed: Maranatha – come quickly Lord Jesus.

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