March 26, 2020 – Jesus Is Master of the Storm- Luke 8:22-25, Job 38:1-11

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One day he (Jesus) got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger.  And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” Luke 8:22-25 (ESV)

It’s a scary picture. Jesus is in the boat (sleeping) with His fisherman followers and a bad storm comes up on the lake.

It must have been a bad storm to send the fishermen, who are used to storms, into a panic.  So they woke Jesus in their panic, convinced that their death was eminent.

Jesus calmed the storm, and asked the disciples what happened to their faith.

Who is this man who can control the wind and water?

The disciples may have been familiar with God’s response to Job in Job 38.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? Job 38:1-11 (ESV)

The same God Who laid the foundation of the earth and set limits for the oceans is the same God who was napping in the disciples’ fishing boat.

We also wonder at times where Jesus is (or why is He “sleeping”) in our hours of greatest need. So many times we think that Jesus doesn’t care or doesn’t hear our prayers.

Yet the God Who created us, the God Who laid the foundation of the earth and set limits for the ocean is the same God Who redeemed us with His own body and shed His own blood.  This world will have trials, and plenty of them.  Even so, this world is not the end.

Jesus is in control of the storm. We are safe with Him even when the storm looks really bad.  Even when this life and this world end, we are safe with Him. Trust in Him.

 

 

March 24, 2020- Jesus, Friend of Hypocrites, Tax Collectors and Garden Variety Sinners- Psalm 78:36-39, Luke 7:31-35 and Mark 2:16-17

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But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.

Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.

Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.

He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again. Psalm 78:36-39 (ESV)

(Jesus said:) “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Luke 7:31-35 (ESV)

There are those who avoid participating in a church, citing that “the church is full of hypocrites.”  To that the answer should be, “there’s always room for one more.”

All of us are hypocrites, Christian or not, because all people are sinners.  We all fall short of what God demands of us.  We all “flatter God with our mouths” but don’t follow through with our lip service.  We don’t love God with our whole heart.  We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves.

This reality underscores our need for Jesus, the Suffering Servant, who the prophet Isaiah foretold, (Isaiah 53) who was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and who purchased our healing and redemption through His wounds.

All of us wayward sheep have gone astray and need Jesus- the Son of Man who came eating and drinking and befriending tax collectors and sinners and garden variety hypocrites like us.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17 (ESV)

Jesus is our greatest friend.  We can trust Him in all things.

 

March 23, 2020 Healing the Land? Trust Jesus- 2 Chronicles 7:11-22, Luke 7:1-10, 2 Timothy 2:11-13

Solomon

Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’
“But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 (ESV)

 

After he (Jesus) had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:1-10 (ESV)

2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse we often see taken out of its context. The first rule of studying the Bible and learning from God’s Word is that it’s all about context. The second is that Scripture is informed by Scripture. What is the context that surrounds this verse?

On first glance, God’s pronouncement in 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 when Solomon had completed building the temple that God had commanded him to build, appears to be a sort of cosmic quid pro quo. It almost appears that God is telling the people, If you are good little children and do what I say, then I will reward you. 

On closer reading one sees that it is God who does the choosing- God chooses the site of the Temple.  God chooses the way in which people return to Him- not through their own efforts, but by realizing that God is the one in control and that God is the one doing the healing, restoring and returning people and nations to Him.

Human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins (we learn that in Ephesians 2:1-10) and we can’t be good little children and do what God says apart from His grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even then we fail miserably, pointing out our desperate need for God’s grace in Christ. The history of the nation of Israel bears that out, documented in Scripture for all of us to learn. The history of humanity as a whole bears that out.

God doesn’t work on the quid pro quo system, thankfully for us, so what does this mean for us, and why is it errant theology to simply proclaim, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” without telling the rest of the story?

Yes, God hears our prayers, as imperfect and selfish as they can be at times. He answers our prayers, but not just with our short-term interests in mind. Sometimes the answer is no because He has a better plan for us, or because there are lessons He needs for us to learn.

The First Commandment teaches us that we should have no other gods beside God. Because we are by nature sinful and weak, we can’t will ourselves to follow God’s Law. We can’t even be aware of what God’s Law is -or the fact that we break it- apart from His grace.

We can’t humble ourselves and repent of our sinfulness without God in His grace and mercy, making us aware of our need to repent (to turn back to Him.) Anything that we do that could be considered a “good work” is only made good because of Jesus- because faith and trust in Him is the only good thing about any of us.

God doesn’t owe us anything. He is the Creator and Master of everything.

The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (ESV)

Because creation is fallen, until Jesus returns, we will have famines, wars, pandemics, and natural disasters. If anything, in this world, crisis is the status quo. It’s only in the end that by the grace of God in Christ that His people who have been baptized and crucified with Him (who trust in Him by the gift of faith) will come in to the fullness of His resurrection, to a world that will be completely healed and remade. God does this for us, not because we are good, but because God is good and keeps His word even when we don’t and can’t.

The centurion from Luke 7:1-10 understood that there was nothing good about him that would heal his servant. He did (by the grace of God) believe that Jesus could heal his servant. The servant wasn’t healed because the centurion built the synagogue and had a love for the Jewish people. The centurion’s good works were the result of his faith in the God of Israel. He was no more or no less deserving of God’s favor and healing than anyone else.

There will be a day when God does heal and remake every land and nation, but that day has not arrived yet. On this side of eternity, until Jesus returns we can count on what He warns us of in Matthew 24. Human governments cannot and will not ever create a utopia on earth.  We do, however, realize that God made good on His promise of keeping a man on David’s throne.  Jesus came to earth to break the curse of the Garden by dying our death in our place, to be our King forever.

We can and should pray for the healing of our nation and for relief for those who are hurting. We should work toward healing, and do what we are able to help those in need. Even as we do what we can by the grace of God, we remember that God is the One in control even when everything is out of control. He gives us the gift of faith so that we will take comfort in Him and trust Him.

We can trust that God does hear our prayers and that in His way and time, He will heal our land. It’s not our prayers that effect these changes, (though we are told and taught to pray) but the faithfulness of God. God is the “motive engine,” not us. Solomon understood that human beings are going to screw up and that we need to repent of our sins. Only God gives us the grace to realize our need for Him. The centurion had faith that was firmly placed on Jesus, yet it was Jesus who gave him the gift of that faith.
Lord, in these uncertain times, turn our hearts toward You. Give us saving faith and grant us Your peace. Teach us to love as You first loved us.

March 17, 2020 -Jesus, Our Rock of Refuge! Psalm 71:1-12

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In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!

Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.

My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day.

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.

For my enemies speak concerning me; those who watch for my life consult together and say, “God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.”

O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me. Psalm 71:1-12 (ESV)

Learning and praying the Psalms is a rich source of learning about God and His character, but even more importantly, they are a rich source of comfort and peace for us in times of crisis and trouble.

The most well known hymn of the Lutheran tradition, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” was written by Martin Luther.  Luther was not a popular man during his lifetime, because he challenged the status quo of the church.  Those who fight error and corruption within a system are seldom popular. Luther knew death threats, the outside influence of plague, and the personal agony of losing his own children, yet by the grace of God he was able to keep the faith and keep pointing others to Jesus and the truth of the written Word that has been given to us.

Jesus is our refuge, our fortress, our safe place. Nothing or no one else is a true refuge.  No one else can defend us and save us from the natural consequence of our rebellion and our inheritance from our first parents.  No one else gives us the gift of eternal life, bought and paid for in His own blood.

May we pray along with the Psalmist:  Jesus, thank You for purchasing me at the cost of Your own Body and Blood.  Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

March 16, 2020 When God’s Way Isn’t Our Way – Luke 4:16-30

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And he (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (see Isaiah 61)
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.  But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:16-30 (ESV)

There is a saying that no prophet is taken seriously in his hometown.  When Jesus went back to Nazareth, all that people there could see was, “Hey, this is Jesus- the carpenter’s son!” They couldn’t see beyond that guy they know.

The people of Nazareth had heard of all the signs and wonders Jesus worked in Capernaum and figured that He would do the same things for them. But Jesus gave them a reality check.

Not everyone Jesus encountered when He walked on earth in a physical body was healed of their diseases.  Some were, but Jesus’ healings here on earth were temporary, and meant to point us to the healing we have with Him when we cross over into eternal life.

We wonder why some widows are fed while others starve. We wonder why some people get well while others get worse and succumb to illnesses.  We don’t have good answers for who eats, who starves, who gets ill and dies or who gets ill and recovers. We can serve as the hands and heart of Jesus, but even as we serve, Jesus reminds us: For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. Mark 14:17 (ESV)  When Jesus says “you will not always have me,” he is referring to having Him physically walking with the disciples here on earth.  There will always be poor people, no matter how we work to mitigate their suffering.

We get angry with Jesus when we learn that he is not Santa Claus or the Bread King or the Miracle Healer.  We get into the age old arguments with Him, especially when we receive a tragic diagnosis, or lose a loved one in an untimely death.  It’s. Not. Fair.- we rail and scream. There is no shame in mourning the loss of health or wealth or stability, or of our loved ones, but all of those things are part of the human condition- the human condition that Jesus entered into with us.

The part that we forget is that as long as we live here on earth we are subject to the curse of the Fall.  We inherited the consequences of the Fall- the broken creation, our dying and decaying physical bodies, the sorrows of disappointment and loss.  Even Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead, ended up dying again eventually.  The feeding and the healing that Jesus did here on earth were temporary and meant to show us that there was far more to the feeding and healing that Jesus gives us freely and always.

Our physical bodies will decay and will die, unless Jesus comes back to earth first. Our salvation hope in Him is that we will be raised at the last day and that we will be restored to life with Him in bodies that do not die or decay.

The people of Nazareth got angry with Jesus and wanted to toss Him over a cliff when they discovered He wasn’t the Miracle Worker, Santa Claus or the Bread King.  It’s easy to reject Jesus when He doesn’t meet our expectations.  Yet in faith we need to learn – and sometimes we really don’t like the lessons in the school of hard knocks- that God is God, His will is done, was done and is going to be done, whether we agree with it or not.

There is good news in this.  Even though we do not understand. Even though we hurt. Even though (admit it) we might want to throw Jesus and the whole suffering struggle of this life over the cliff at times, we are still baptized and put to death with Christ. He is not going to let go of us.

Like Simon of Cyrene, we might have a cross beam thrust on our back when we never expected it. Unlike Simon, we have had fair warning, and more importantly we have a Savior who never leaves us, never forsakes us, and is with us in, through and with us no matter how bitter or painful our suffering is.  There is no valley of shadow that we walk through alone.

C.S. Lewis once said that a believer in Jesus must come to the conclusion that “It’s Christ or nothing.” The apostle Peter got it (even though at times he didn’t get it) when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (See John 6:50-69)

Lord, give us the grace to see that You are the Christ and that apart from You we are nothing and there is nothing.  Lord, give us the faith that clings to You when the answer is no, and when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Lord, help us see You as the one who brings liberty to the captives, who is the good news to the poor, the one who brings freedom to the oppressed.

March 12, 2020- On the Death of Precious Servants in Christ, and the Hope We Share- Philippians 2:17-18, Matthew 16:24-25, Romans 10:5-17

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Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18 (ESV)

Jesus never promised us “our best life now.” Jesus called us to take up our crosses and follow Him.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

Suffering and cross-carrying are part of this life. It is no small coincidence that all three of the Synoptic Gospel writers- Matthew, Mark and Luke- tell us of Simon of Cyrene, a man that was randomly plucked from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross to Calvary.  Simon was taken by surprise by the compulsion to carry the cross.

It certainly wasn’t Simon’s idea when he woke up that morning, that a Roman soldier would demand him to carry a heavy beam for a condemned man he did not know. For us who know Jesus, it should not be a surprise to us that Jesus enters into our suffering as we share in His.

One of the implications of sharing in the life of Christ is that even as we are baptized, even as through the preaching of the Word we are made new and brought into eternal life, we must also share the cup of suffering and daily drown the old Adam and his sinful ways. We still have to deal with the consequences of sin and death in this world. We still suffer. Our bodies still die.

There are people who are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” in our lives, who like the apostle Paul, sacrificially pour themselves out for the sake of their faith in Jesus. We thank God for them.

Many of these dear saints of God do not see their life is one of sacrifice, but one of joy. We benefit from the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them that radiates from them just as light gives off heat.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:5-17 (ESV)

By faith we trust Jesus. We can’t trust in how well we follow the rules, because we don’t, and we can’t. The Ten Commandments are God’s Laws. If we are honest about how well we follow God’s Laws, (see Exodus 20,) we understand that we break every single one of them on a daily basis. We cannot trust in ourselves or what we do. We trust Jesus and by faith we know that He took God’s punishment for our sins in our place.

Our life here in the now, but not yet world contains a lot of suffering. But it also contains the grace of God in Christ. It also contains people with “beautiful feet” who preach and live out the Good News of Christ. People who are precious to us because they share that saving message.

It’s easy to get angry with God for taking those we love away, or to be sad because one who is precious to us is no longer there.

This life is not the end, though. God has plans for us that are so much more than we can hope for or imagine. Those of us who trust in Christ will see Him and be with Him in just a little while.

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at that awesome day- All Praise to Thee, Thy God This Night – Thomas Tallis

Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

The saints that have gone before us are glad. They are rejoicing. We will be with Jesus- and with everyone we love- soon.

February 17, 2020- Fasting, Joyful Giving, and Freedom- Isaiah 58:6-14, Matthew 6, Mark 12:41:44

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“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:6-14 (ESV)

Spiritual disciplines such as fasting, whether it be from food or from activities or the use of certain things such as TV or technology can be helpful for us to refocus ourselves on Bible study, prayer and service to others. During the season of Lent, which is beginning soon, some people choose to give up a vice such as smoking or alcohol or chocolate or of buying a $5.00 latte every morning. There is nothing wrong with making such sacrifices in the proper context- if one is stopping smoking and donating their smokes money to the food pantry, or taking the time they normally would have used to watch banal reality TV shows to go pay a visit to the shut-ins at the nursing home, those can be fine spiritual disciplines.

However, God knows the real intent behind our actions, and we being sinners who sin, nothing we do is out of a pure motive. Even our most noble actions are tainted with sin- the idolatry of ourselves, and the love of being recognized for what we do.

Jesus had a lot to say about the Pharisees who did their good deeds out in the open for all to see, and gave out of their abundance, again, for all to see. In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us, But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The monks in the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” didn’t gain anything by chanting in Latin and banging themselves on the head with boards. Their “holiness” that was supposed to be displayed by self-injury didn’t benefit anyone, and if anything, it only made them look silly.

If we decide to engage in a fast from something for a time, or to engage in something charitable that we normally don’t do, it should be meaningful and helpful for our own spiritual growth and for the benefit of others. And if we toot our own horns for all to see how “good” we are, that ego stroking we get from others is a rather shallow reward. It is better to give in secret and in ways not everyone can see, as Jesus teaches. He sees everything, especially the gifts given to others from our poverty, and the kindnesses shown when no one else is watching.

Jesus is not talking as much about the fruits of our actions (although it is true that where there is faith there will also be works, just as where there is light, there is also heat) as He is the condition of our hearts. Apart from Him there is nothing good in us- the self-serving motive takes over and we are all about ourselves.

And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41:44 (ESV)

In Jesus’ eyes the widow who gave all she had, the two coins, was giving in the way that Jesus wants us to give- sacrificially and without counting the cost ahead of time.

This passage from Mark’s gospel has been misused to guilt people into greater financial contributions to the church. Giving to our church is important, but like giving in any other area, our gifts must come as part of a joyful response to the love and care God has given us first.

Jesus has set us free from the penalty our sin deserves. He did not count the cost of our redemption and salvation. Our response is what flows from a grateful and contrite heart. We love because Jesus loved us first.

Jesus gives us the gift of the Sabbath- the gift of His word and how it brings life as He works in and through us. We get to read the Bible. We get to worship. We get to love others as Jesus loves us.

Lord, help us to be honest with You and confess that we are sinners and that we deserve nothing, even though You offer us everything. You gave Your life on the cross so we can have life forever with You. Create in us clean hearts, free to be loved by You and to share that love and share Your gifts freely and joyfully with others. Help us to be kind. Help us to forgive. Help us to be more like You.