August 3, 2017 Healthy Priorities or Vain Toil? Isaiah 55:1-2, Ecclesiastes 2:10-12, Matthew 6:31-33

vanity

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Isaiah 55:1-2 (NRSV)

 

Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:10-12 (NRSV)

 

(Jesus said): Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

Vanity has a similar meaning to futility. When we appeal to our vanity we are looking at either instant gratification or outward appearances. Both are temporary. Often we do things that don’t make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of it all just for appearance sake. We think less about what we really need and more about keeping up with the Joneses. We put a lot of time and effort and money into things and activities that don’t do much to edify ourselves or build anyone else up.

In Ecclesiastes Solomon warns about things done in excess and/or things done for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean that we should not strive to achieve, or that we should take up hair shirts and austerity as a lifestyle. God’s gifts are good.  There is nothing evil about achievement, gaining wealth, or material things in and of themselves.  Our stewardship and use of those resources is what matters.

Jesus tells us to strive first for the kingdom of God. That is where our fulfillment and joy and purpose originate.  Is that where our priorities in life lie?  Do our vocation and our leisure time activities glorify God?

God knows better than we do what we need. This shouldn’t be taken to say that we should just sit back and let provision fall from the sky, but that our first priority should be going after the things that God wants in our lives.  We run into trouble when we become obsessed with work or the pursuit of money or the pursuit of stuff instead of seeking a balanced life focused on God first.

There is no cost for us to come to God. We don’t have to put on a show either.  We are invited to come to Him exactly as we are. We can trust that as we reach out to Him He will provide us what we need.

Isn’t it a relief knowing that we can stop chasing after the wind?

June 2, 2017-1 Samuel 16:10-13 God’s Chosen, God’s Heroes

Viktor Vasnetsov God of hosts

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”  Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:10-13 (NRSV)

God’s choices are not necessarily our choices. Why would God choose the shepherd boy when He could have set any man as king over Israel?  It is true that David had a heart for God, and God sees beyond a person’s appearance or status.  The point could be argued that God created David in just the right time and place and circumstance for His purpose.

God puts us in just the right place and circumstances for His purpose also, although sometimes that’s not easy for us to see. It is especially hard to see God’s place and purpose for us when we are in the places we don’t want to be, such as in places of trial or hardship or mourning.

Sometimes our heroism is hidden, and only God sees it.  As Jesus taught:

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4 (NRSV)

The reason why God chose David for such a lofty purpose-David, the man who would be king, the earthly forefather of Jesus, was because of his heart for God.  David had a heart surrendered to God.  David wasn’t about being the one with the highest status or the person that other men would think highly of.  He valued God more than the world and all its distractions and riches.

God sees and knows our every sacrifice, our every tear, our every joy.  He invites us to share in the heroics of HIS story, every day.

JOY

March 23, 2017- The Threefold Cord- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 and Matthew 18:20

two or three

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other;  but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.  Again, if two lie together they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)

Sometimes when we study the Bible we make the mistake of thinking that the Old Testament was the “old law”- before Jesus- and that the New Testament is the “new law”- after Jesus. The truth is that both the New and Old Testaments are about Jesus, and that He is revealed throughout Scripture.  The truth about Jesus is that He has always been, is now, and always will be.

Human beings were not created to be alone, or even to operate in a simple “me-n-Jesus” relationship. It is a wonderful thing to know Jesus and an immeasurable blessing to trust in His salvation, but it is important to remember that most of His teachings focused on how His followers should engage the world around them. We were meant to live and operate in community with other human beings, as comforting (or disturbing!) as that truth is.

Martin Luther taught that Christian people – Jesus followers- were to be “little Christs” out in the world, and that our primary vocation and purpose is to be as Christ where ever we are and in whatever we do for a living. Sometimes it’s hard to see how our professions are part of our life in Christ, but God doesn’t compartmentalize our lives the way that we tend to.  There really is no abstract thing called a “spiritual life.” Our spirituality is part of everything that we are and everything we do.  God is with us in and through our entire lives- even the parts that we might want to keep separate to ourselves.

We experience the life of Christ most profoundly and tangibly in our relationships- our friendships, our marriages, our families. It is telling that Jesus says He is most present when two or three are gathered in His name- and He echoes the Teacher of Ecclesiastes (most likely King Solomon) who had pointed out centuries before that “the threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

When we as Jesus followers come together in His name, He is there with us in a powerful and profound way.

Do we know the presence of Christ in our relationships, and if not, why not?

How is Jesus with us in our workdays, and how is He present in the work that we do?

March 14, 2017- Doing Life God’s Way -Matthew 7:21-23

jennifer-pugh-praise-the-lord

(Jesus said): “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and in Your Name drive out demons, and in Your Name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from Me, you evildoers!’”  Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)

This is not an easy text, but a necessary one. Jesus never shies away from telling the truth, even when the truth is hard.  There will be a day in which every one of us will be called to account to God.  We will have to be honest with ourselves and with God about what we have done with our lives. Judgment is never something that any of us look forward to, especially because the human condition is such that we can never be justified by our own merit or good works.  The good news for us is that Jesus took the punishment that we deserve, and by HIS grace and mercy we are justified. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Jesus is not condemning anyone here, but what He is looking for is simple. Where are our hearts? Are we trying to make ourselves look good, or are we following Him?

We are not capable in our own strength and power to do the will of God. And God’s will for each of us is different.  We can’t all have the high profile roles of prophesy or driving out demons or performing miracles. We can’t all look good and mighty and popular as we serve God.  Sometimes we serve God most fully when we are in the midst of the most obscure, unpopular and unlovely- but necessary-tasks.

If everyone were doing just those glorious and splendid appearing things such as driving out demons, then who would be the truck drivers, or brick layers, or accountants?  Even doing the most mundane of tasks is doing the will of God, if those tasks are surrendered to and performed to the glory of God.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NRSV)

God gives all of us a purpose and a vocation.  He also gives us the opportunity to receive a new heart that is His home, a heart that longs to do His will.

The question Jesus gives us here is, are we doing life the way that God has made us to do life?