The pan of oats was cooking on the stove. I would stir it repeatedly when I had a chance. I didn’t keep an eye on it throughout the whole process because I was busy doing other things. Washing dishes. Baking. Cleaning vegetables. So I wasn’t minding the oatmeal as thoroughly as I should have. But I would walk over and stir it as needed. I know that oats can easily stick to the pan if they’re not stirred constantly. And I wasn’t stirring constantly. I’ve cooked oatmeal many times, and I know what’s involved. But on this occasion I was trying to multitask, and the oatmeal didn’t have my undivided attention.
Later I smelled something burning and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I checked the vegetables roasting in the oven. No. They were fine. They weren’t burning. I was stirring the oats off and on, so they shouldn’t be burning. So I just ignored this scorched odor. When the oats were finished, I turned the burner off and set them aside to cool. I wasn’t just making one serving for my breakfast. I was making a batch of oatmeal to be eaten over several days. I like to batch cook for the week so my food is ready to heat up anytime I’m hungry. So on this particular day, I was cooking oatmeal for the week.
Once the oatmeal was cooled, I began dishing it into a storage container. That was when I noticed the burn on the bottom of the pan. The oatmeal had stuck to the bottom of the pan. Now there was a black char on the pan. That was what had caused the scorched odor.
I was able to preserve most of the oatmeal because it was only burned on the bottom. I knew the oatmeal I saved had some scorching running through it, but I saved it anyway. I thought it would be okay when I ate it over the next few days. I could pull out large clumps of burned oatmeal and eat the rest. It seemed a simple idea. But when I saw how burned the pan was, I knew I wouldn’t be able to clean it quickly or easily. I knew it would need to soak overnight. So that’s what I did. I put some cleaning solution in the pan and let it soak.
The next morning when I began cleaning the pan, not all of the burn came off. Some of it was still stuck on the pan. Some parts came clean pretty easily. But others not so much. I added more cleaning solution and water to start the soaking process all over again. Scraping wasn’t enough to remove all of the black soot from the bottom of the pan. And my goal was to get the pan as clean as possible. I wanted it to look as if it had never been burned. But I wasn’t sure if I had ruined the pan or not. Apparently only time will tell.
The batch of oatmeal isn’t all burned. Only the bottom portion of it is inedible. And only the bottom of the pan is scorched. Most of the oatmeal can still be eaten and enjoyed without the burnt taste. The pan can be used again once it is properly cleaned.
Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17
When we repent of our sins and choose to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the burnt oatmeal of sin is removed from our lives. We still have scorch marks on us that represent the sins of our past. It doesn’t mean our lives are ruined. It means that we live with the results of our former sins.
Sin can creep into our lives if we aren’t paying attention. We ignore the quiet nudging of the Holy Spirit to stop a certain activity. Or we don’t act on the Holy Spirit’s leading. We allow activities in our lives that we once hated. We become accustomed to using certain words in our conversations that were once forbidden. We become comfortable with situations that were once uncomfortable. And we call it good. We become willing to work around the burnt oatmeal that is building up in our lives. After all, we are good people. That’s what we tell ourselves.
Some of those scorch marks can be easily removed. The burned char can be cleaned away with the act of forgiveness, but the results of that char representing the sin that has long encased our hearts can be hard to remove. It could be bad habits. Or it could be jealousy or greed or lying or lust. It could be just blatant selfishness. Sometimes a lot of work goes into erasing or cleaning up the results of black charred sin. So some of the black char may remain forever. It may always be present in our lives because while God’s forgiveness takes away that burden of sin, some acts of sinfulness have consequences which reap long lasting effects. Those can’t be easily scrubbed away with cleaning solution and soaking. Sometimes the result of those sins are lifelong. And we have to deal with the consequences for all the days of our lives on this earth.
It’s a lesson for us. When we make foolish decisions. When we choose selfish ways. When we know that our actions go against God’s will. There are consequences that sometimes can’t be easily wiped away in our lives. Yes, God forgets those sins when he forgives us. And to him they are no more. But the consequences in our human lives can still remain. That’s what we need to consider. Not just the fact that we’re sinning. But the consequences of those sins. When we make choices in our life. That moment of enjoyment. That so called fun activity or behavior that misrepresents God or rejects God or distorts his will. Those have consequences. So we have to be prepared to live with the results of our sin. While we still have breath, we can be forgiven. But that doesn’t make life easy and perfect.
She poured the contents of the brownie mix into the bowl. As she stirred the ingredients, she could imagine the joy she would feel as she ate her favorite dessert. Oh. It looked so good. And the scent wafting from the oven was heavenly. She dreamt of that first bite. Her teeth would sink into the soft brownie and her taste buds would erupt with satisfaction. She had made sure to use a smaller pan so the brownies would be thick. It didn’t matter that a smaller pan made fewer brownies. What mattered was the satisfaction they brought when savoring each bite. So for the moment, thin brownies in a larger pan were no longer in vogue in her kitchen. And she was hoping the rest of the household would turn their backs on this batch of brownies. If only. Her name was written all over them.
So she ate the brownies. Oh. She’s never one to cut a dessert into small pieces. Big pieces are magical. In her mind. Small pieces require more to be eaten. And if she could say she only had two brownies, who cares if that really meant she ate the entire row. Who’s counting anyway? And does it really matter? If she’s happy, then life is good. At least, that’s what she tells herself.
Once the plate of brownies has been eaten, then what’s next? Another batch? Will happiness remain if she continues to eat brownie after brownie? Is that what brings true fulfillment? Is that what life is all about? Brownie happiness? Or is it really gluttony?
Perhaps for you it isn’t an endless supply of brownies that satisfies. It could be swiping the credit card for new purchases. Whether the item is needed or not, just the zip of the card brings a flutter of happiness in that moment in time. Perhaps it’s the scratching of the penny on the lottery ticket. Scratch after scratch. How many lottery tickets are enough? Or it could be the downing of that drink each night. Glass after glass of the intoxicating liquid soothes the worries of the day. But does it? Tomorrow will come fresh with a splitting headache. Then where is the happiness from last night? Oh. It could be the viewing of those pornographic movies or erotic photos that stir some deep longing within. But is it truly satisfying? When does lust ever end for you?
It seems that the search for happiness is never quite fulfilled. Just one more brownie. One more drink. One more lottery ticket. One more exotic vacation. One more pair of shoes. But happiness is so fleeting. One day we’re happy. The next day we’re searching again. Does it ever end?
Sometimes too much of a good thing is just that. Too much. And too much of a bad thing is just that. It’s bad.
This past Thursday, we stuffed ourselves with a turkey feast and called ourselves thankful. Now we rush onto our Christmas shopping in order to make others happy. No longer do we differentiate between need and want. We just want our loved ones to be happy. So we buy their happiness in the name of Christ’s birth. Somehow it doesn’t translate. We’ve gotten our priorities so misplaced that we don’t know how to search for the true meaning of life. Yet we call ourselves blessed.
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11
God has planted eternity in each of our hearts, and we’re all searching for it. Oh. The Thanksgiving feast was a momentary pleasure. The Christmas indulgence will soon be forgotten. We’re searching for something far more eternal than what money can buy. We just don’t recognize it. We’re looking in all the wrong places. We’re wasting our time and we won’t admit it. We become quickly dissatisfied with the things we thought would make us happy. But we find out that those things, too, are meaningless.
And yet. God has made everything beautiful for its own time. There is a time for beauty. And joy. And fulfillment. There is a time where our deepest longings will be satisfied.
We don’t realize that what we’re really looking for has always been right in front of us. Oh. Sometimes it’s veiled. At times, it’s misrepresented. And at other times, it’s simply ignored. In our searching for fulfillment, we must search deep within. We must realize that our longings don’t come about because of boredom or abuse. They come because we’re made for fellowship with our heavenly Father. And those longings can be so deeply satisfied if we allow ourselves to fall in love with our Creator. The Maker of our souls.
These longings that will never be satisfied this side of heaven can lead us down a dreadful path. We search in all the wrong places. And leave less fulfilled than when we started. It sometimes seems a never ending search. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can find fulfillment in God alone. But we must be willing to pay the price of giving up first place in our lives to everything else. Only then will we be content.
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.
There they were. Sitting around the table. Thirteen of them. One was the leader. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The other twelve were hand picked by Jesus to share his message with the world. They were gathered to observe the Passover meal. And as he broke the bread, Jesus said it was given in remembrance of his body. They drank the wine together, for it was the last time Jesus would partake of it with them.
Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.” He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:17-19
After the meal, Jesus raised another toast and proclaimed the cup was the new covenant between God and his people. He confirmed that his blood would be spilled as a sacrifice for all people. Yet the disciples didn’t understand the veiled truth that Jesus was speaking. Oh. He often spoke in parables. Later he would offer explanations of the parables to his chosen twelve. But on this night. On this occasion, Jesus was preparing them for the suffering that lay ahead for him when he walked out the door.
Not everyone is ready for truth when it is spoken, so it is unclear. Truth, at times, is unclear because of unbelief, fear or misunderstanding.
Jesus went on to tell them that one of them sitting at the table would turn against him. This man would turn Jesus over to the authorities. And this act of betrayal would propel Jesus down a path of no return. Oh. He knew it would happen. He was, after all, God Incarnate. He was God in human form come to die a brutal death for the sins of all mankind. And this was the moment. And yet. As he sat there with the twelve, knowing that one would betray him, he offered the cup of wine to everyone. He didn’t share it with only the eleven who would remain faithful until death. He also offered it to the one who had already made arrangements to sell him out. Yet he didn’t speak the man’s name. And the remaining group was unaware of their friend’s impending betrayal. Nor the cost of it for all seated at that table. They had no idea what lay ahead for them even that very night.
But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing. Luke 22:21-23
As plans were being put in motion to celebrate the Passover meal, Jesus could have uninvited this one man. He could have offered the man a reason to excuse himself from the dinner. But he didn’t. This man. One of the twelve, chosen specifically by Jesus, would betray him with a kiss in front of the others. His fellow disciples. No one knew he was planning to abdicate his position. Imagine how the eleven felt seeing their brother betray the man they followed and believed. Yet here he was. Kissing Jesus on the cheek to show the authorities and soldiers who had come to make an arrest. He was a traitor and his closest group of friends suddenly saw him in a new light. And it wasn’t a pretty sight.
Sure. It’s obvious that Satan had planted the seed of betrayal in Judas’s heart. There’s no other way to explain it. Judas was the treasurer of the group. So he held all the money. Perhaps he had delved into the funds on different occasions to make his life easier. After all. They didn’t get a paycheck from Jesus. Their loyalty was on them. And a group of donors helped fund their travels. This was not a paying gig. In spite of the fact that Jesus knew in advance that he would be betrayed, he ate the last supper with his traitor. And he loved him still. He was willing to give his life for even back stabbers. Because some backstabbers do repent.
But this traitor. He was hiding in plain sight of the Savior of the world. Oh. Jesus hadn’t been crucified and risen from the dead yet. But Judas traveled with Jesus and the other eleven. He was a follower of the Way. He believed Jesus was the Messiah. But yet. His humanity was evident in the way he conducted business. He was known to pilfer money from the group’s funds. He helped himself to cash when he ran short. Oh. It must not have bothered him. And there’s no evidence that any of the group were aware of his theft. So no one ever confronted him on it.
We’ve all heard the saying. Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer. But that only applies if we recognize the enemy. What if we don’t realize the enemy is in such close quarters? It isn’t even a fair fight. But not all fights are fair.
Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34
So why should we expect any different in our circle of friends? Why should we expect those closest to us to stand with us when we stand for truth? Why should we expect allegiance and support when we don’t know the other person’s heart? We see what they want us to see. And the reverse is also true. How can we support someone close to us when we disagree with them? How do we maintain that close relationship when it’s been fractured by disappointment and disbelief? When trust has been shattered, how do we move forward in the relationship?
Who sits at the table of fellowship with us? There may be ones at the table who have turned their allegiance to another. They may no longer be in a position of agreement on key issues. They may offer betrayal when least suspected. Are there any red flags? Or are we too blind to even consider we’re close to being betrayed? And then once the traitor has been exposed, what comes of the relationship?
As believers, we can expect to be fired upon by Satan. We need to know that he will use all his evil ways to lure us away from faith in Christ. When he successfully uses these same tricks on our loved ones, the fallout can be enormous. He will use his wiles against everything we stand for. And everything we hold dear. Even at the expense of relationships and close ties to others. Sometimes the relationships that are severed are the ones we thought would stand the test of time. And then when testing comes, cracks in the relationship appear. At times, there are permanent consequences. Are we ready for that? Do we know who is sitting at the table with us? Of course. It’s impossible for humans to know the full extent of someone else’s intents and purposes. So we must always be careful listeners and godly examples. We must always be fully dressed in the armor of God. We must be peacemakers even when being obedient to the Word of God causes division.
Oh. Jesus was God come to earth as man. So he knew the hearts of the men celebrating the Passover meal with him. He knew one would betray him. He knew another would deny knowing him, not once, but three times before the rooster crowed. And he knew that every man sitting there at the table would desert him that very night. Yet he chose to eat with them. He broke the bread and drank the wine with this group of disciples. Knowing all the while that in a few hours he would be standing alone. It’s easy to walk away from friends when they’ve hurt us. But Jesus knew his group of rugged disciples would turn away before they even committed the acts. And he still sat and served them. Knowing the hurt and aloneness he would face in his final hours. Would we do the same for those who will turn against us in our greatest moment of need?
Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against. ‘Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ Luke 12:51-53
Our property is a sloping wooded lot. The house is built into the hillside, which drops off sharply a few feet from the deck. And boy. Does it ever slope. We added a homemade wooden staircase to help us walk a ways down the hillside. Over the years it has slid further down the hill, so there’s nothing to hold onto as you slowly and carefully make your way down the slope. It’s treacherous, to say the least.
I recently bought a couple of trees for our property. The redbud has been planted near the deck to provide a bit of shade and beauty in the spring. But the other tree has been planted at the edge of the woods. I chose this tree for a couple of reasons. It doesn’t need a lot of sunlight in order to thrive. It won’t get extremely tall. And it will attract swallowtail butterflies. It’s great for the environment. It’s called a hop tree.
The owner of the small nursery where I bought the trees was giving me instructions on how and where to plant this hop tree. She said it would do very well if planted on the slope of the woods. So that’s what I set out to do. Plant this small helpless looking tree on the steep slope. After scoping out the exact location, I gingerly made my way to the spot where the tree would be planted. As I began digging the hole, I realized I could be in trouble if I didn’t have a sure footing underneath. My foot slipped and I reached out to grab hold of a small but firmly planted tree. It swayed, but it could hold my swaying. For a short while, at least.
I began to dig and realized there were many roots and rocks in this dirt. So I worked even harder to dig the hole as deep and twice as wide as the container holding the tree. As I slung the dirt aside with each shovelful, I hoped I would be able to reach it to cover the hole once the tree was securely in place. I was afraid to move from my position, because the terrain was so steep. This was hard work for a physically unfit person. But I kept at it. I had a plan and a purpose for this new tree.
As I was digging the hole, I felt that I needed to stand facing the woods at all times. Just moments before, I had seen a large buck with a full rack of antlers watching me. I know that in mating season deer can attack humans, so I wanted to be careful. So, not only was I digging a hole in a sloping terrain, I was on full alert for any sign of the deer.
This hop tree won’t grow too tall or too big. It’s not the type to do so. And that’s ok. It’s a tree that will grow and thrive under all the canopy trees in the woods. This tree will support the native ecosystem in its surroundings. It has a job to do, and the size of the tree doesn’t really matter. It will still do the work it is meant to do.
This hop tree is called an understory tree. Understory trees or brush grow under the crown of the huge trees in the forest. Some would say these trees don’t reach their full potential. Apparently, they don’t have to in order to survive. But they can still do much good for the forest. They have a job to do whether or not they are stunted in growth. Understory trees can grow and thrive in shady areas. They don’t need full sun in order to survive. Some birds will only nest in understory trees. They aren’t attracted to the taller, canopy trees. Each tree or shrub in the forest will help the forest to thrive. They all have a purpose.
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Colossians 3:23
Understory trees tell the story of the forest that’s not typically told. They’re wispy. They bend and move easily with the strong winds. They don’t grow to their full potential, but they live a full life regardless. They bounce back when pushed. They go with the flow. Their leaves turn colors in the fall just as the leaves of the canopy trees. They live under the canopy trees but above the forest floor. They’re a productive and essential part of the life of the forest.
The canopy trees are elegant and standoffish. They get everyone’s attention with their height. Their crown of leaves is beautiful. And the width of their trunks make them seem extra sturdy. But there’s no bend to them. They can snap and break under the pressure of heavy winds. They have massive strength, but they can easily topple when a huge gust blows in. They have no flexibility.
Sure. The forest needs the over achievers. The canopy trees show strength and endurance. They’ve lived many years and have reached their full potential. They provide all the shade and spectacle. It wouldn’t be a forest without the trees. But each tree has its own story to tell.
Later in the evening after the tree was planted, as we sat on the deck we heard a commotion in the woods. I stood to watch two bucks fighting. They were pushing and shoving each other, each trying to win dominance. We could hear their antlers clacking against each other. One buck was standing up for his territory, while the interloper was trying to claim it. It was very interesting to witness this natural act of wildlife. Eventually, they both ran off. Later, only one buck returned. The territory was his.
I’ve never been the brightest. I’ve never been the smartest. Or the fastest. But I’m consistent. I’m resilient. I’m aware of my surroundings. I’m self aware. I’m an introvert. I’m never the life of the party. But I live a good life. Compared to extroverts or geniuses, one might think I’m a failure in life. I don’t seek attention. I’m quiet. I keep to myself. I don’t want to manage people in a workplace. I don’t need to be the shining star. But I want to do my work well. I want to be thought of as a considerate, kind person. So I must act like one.
Have I reached my full potential? How does someone even calculate that?
Many people aren’t looking to be the life of the party. Or the spokesperson of the group. Some are content being the understory who makes sure the work runs smoothly. They see to it that there’s flexibility when things change suddenly. They make sure all the bases are covered. And they know what bases must be covered. Yet, they’re not necessarily the ones on stage receiving the applause or the trophy. But their job is needed, nonetheless. Never discount those who are quiet or dependable. They don’t cause a scene, but the scene would be so undone without them. Everyone has a part to play in this life. Not just those with a swagger or a loud voice.
Life has a way of placing us in unexpected and even unwanted situations. We can still work hard and thrive wherever we’re placed. As believers, our work is always for the Lord regardless of our title or duties. Whether the work seems menial or glorious, it’s necessary work. Someone must do it. And when placed in that situation, then it’s our work. Let’s do it with joy and thanksgiving. Everything lasts for a season.
Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. Ecclesiastes 5:18
He was young and rich. Possibly handsome, but we weren’t given that information. He was a ruler. But who knows what he ruled. He was most likely a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a tribunal, a Supreme Court of sorts in the land of Israel. All he did was ask a simple question of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ. This young man asked what he had to do to have eternal life. And Jesus responded with a seemingly effortless response.
Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’ ” Luke 18:18-20
The instructions Jesus gave him were simple. He’d been observing those commands his entire life. After all. He was a devout Jew. Whew. He thought. If that’s all I need to do, then life is a breeze. I’ve got it from here. But Jesus continued on letting the man know there was one thing left to do.
The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:21-22
This nameless young man was accustomed to putting others on trial for various reasons. And yet, by asking a simple question, he found himself in a trial where he had to define his heart’s intent. It was very unexpected for him. And the command was too much to ask. That’s what he thought.
So he walked away. The young man, who had a promising future as a member of the Sanhedrin, walked away from the free gift of eternal life. Oh. He realized it wasn’t so free after all. He would have to give up his material possessions. His wealth must be given to the poor. And he realized down deep in his heart that his possessions were more precious to him than anything else. His heart’s desires were put on full display in front of the only One who could save him from his sins. He walked away. He said no and refused the offer of an eternal lifetime.
But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. Luke 18:23
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalms 139:23-24
Sometimes we don’t know what’s in our hearts until Jesus commands us to act or speak in a way that isn’t easy for us. When we refuse to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, our heart issues are revealed. Oh. Perhaps not publicly. But our stubbornness and refusal to bow to God’s leading says it all. And that could be only in a one-on-one setting between myself and God. Or yourself and God. But not submitting to God lets us know that we have placed our will above God’s. In case we didn’t already know it, disobedience to God puts us in our place. Spiritually, of course. Because our private acts of disobedience may only be known to God and ourselves. It may never become public knowledge. It doesn’t have to become public in order for it to be sin in God’s eyes. Private sins are just as eternally incriminating as public sins.
Following Jesus may require us to give up something we really want to hold onto. It could be a career. Or a relationship. Or a vocabulary. Or an attitude. Or selfishness. It could be an addiction. Or stubbornness. It could be an unforgiving spirit. It could be a twenty-year old grudge. It could be a lifestyle. Or an identity. What we’re required to give up in order to be more like Jesus Christ is for our own good. It will draw us closer to the One who created us. And as believers, our one true goal is to be like Christ. We are his image bearers, after all. And as ones who have had their sins forgiven and erased from God’s memory, we are now called children of God.
Our life is no longer our own once we pledge to serve God. Oh. Some say it’s a sacrifice. But Jesus sacrificed his physical life so we could have eternal life. Perhaps the one thing we lack is loving God more than loving ourselves. What’s a little sacrifice on our part if it provides us freedom in Christ? Who are we to think that our lives on earth are of more importance than our eternal life with God? We have much to learn. And it may too late by the time we learn that lesson.
Let’s act now and repent of our sins while there is still time. God knows our hearts and our motives. He will forgive if we repent.
It had to start somewhere. Didn’t it? It starts small and then comes to a head at some unknown time in the future. That’s the way of all things. Small beginnings. Everything starts small. It continues to escalate. Sometimes for no good reason at all. And if all forces come together at the right time, momentum takes over and BOOM! We have a movement.
We see it in the news every day. And if we don’t watch the news, we read it online. Social media posts. Twitter. TikTok. Facebook. Instagram. And all those other platforms that are too many to name. People throwing shade at someone else. For many different reasons. The color of their hair is wrong. They’re the wrong size. They’re not loud enough. Or quiet enough. They said the wrong words. Or they didn’t say anything at all.
Others are being physically attacked. And being injured or killed. We see new examples almost daily of people being beaten and robbed on subways in large cities. Those standing around are too busy capturing the incident on their phones to risk their own lives by helping the innocent victim. Oh. They don’t want to get involved. Yet here they are. Recording the worst moment’s of someone’s life under attack by bullies. And no one calls for help except the one in need.
A young woman in Iran was jailed and then beaten. She later died. The reason? Too much of her hair was showing under her hijab. We can say. Oh. That’s just how her government does things. But basic human rights are another thing. Now thousands in her country are protesting. Risking their own lives to gain back some dignity and liberty. A young man in this country was arrested for defending himself. He ended someone else’s life in the fight for his own. Even though he was jailed, he eventually won his case in the court of law. But his name. And his fight will not be soon forgotten.
Sometimes it only takes one incident to get a crowd going. People have just had it with all the violence. And all the false narratives being thrown around. Many are fed up and they want meanies to stop being mean. All voices matter.
Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. Acts 8:1-3
Mistreatment of others isn’t anything new. We’ve seen it all the way back to Adam and Eve. One of their sons killed the other out of jealousy. And persecution has continued on from that day forward. Even after Jesus had returned to heaven, his followers were being tortured, imprisoned and killed for believing his message of truth. But all the threats and persecution didn’t stop them from telling his message. They continued sharing with others the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it got them into hot water. Still they didn’t let up. They knew they had a message to share. And they couldn’t keep quiet. Regardless of the cost.
A great wave of persecution began the day Stephen was martyred. Perhaps all it took to really crack down on followers of the Way was to kill one of their own. Perhaps they saw how easily they got away with it. So they continued with this wave of terror. Many knew it was wrong, but they stayed silent.
The killing of Stephen didn’t stop the believers from spreading the good news. They continued on with their mission. Even when they were under threat of imprisonment and death. The message of Jesus Christ could not be stopped. And it’s still moving forward today. There are millions of followers of Jesus around the globe. Many are being persecuted today. And their faith stands strong. Even in the face of uncertainty and possible imprisonment or death, they live their lives in obedience to biblical teaching.
Christians in China today are once again being told to stop meeting together. Even those in small home groups are told to shut it down. Students are advised to stop all church activities if they want to smoothly graduate. Their government strongly opposes Christians meeting together. But the believers continue meeting. Privately. Quietly. In the midst of threats and persecution, they continue to find ways to strengthen their faith by sharing with fellow believers. We must pray that they stand strong in their time of oppression.
Oh. They may not be able to shout out their message from the rooftops. But they can live their lives in such a way that they never go against the Word of God. It is possible. You know? Even in the midst of the deepest, darkest trials of life, our light can shine forth in this dark world.
It’s easy to have a comfortable faith when we aren’t challenged to defend it. But the stage is being set for harder times. We must prepare now for difficulties ahead. We don’t know if or when we’ll be commanded to stop attending church. Or sharing our faith. We don’t know when our livelihood or safety may be threatened because we stand for Jesus Christ. Let’s stand strong in our faith. Let’s defend the truth. At all costs.
I don’t always understand everything I read. I don’t know why. I know I’m not the smartest person who ever walked the earth. But I do have common sense. I also don’t remember everything I read or that I’m told. So I need to pay close attention when I’m hearing words that can make or break me. I need to know when I’m hearing constructive criticism or just plain negativity.
When I consider all the sermons I’ve heard in my lifetime, I should probably be a biblical scholar by now. When I remember that I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover more than once, I wish it all would have sunk in. When I hear Bible teachers and read authors teaching biblical truths, I want to place as much of the truth in my heart. But I’m human. There’s no way I can remember everything I’ve heard or learned. There’s no way I can be perfectly fluent in principles I don’t know.
But. I can choose what type of hearing I have when I hear truth spoken. I can choose to ignore it and go my own way. I can pretend to follow the truth, but then act the exact opposite when I think no one’s looking. I can claim to follow the truth, but then turn from it when I’m faced with what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. Or I can follow the truth I’ve been given and live a thriving, productive life. The choice is mine. Once the seed is planted in the soil of my heart, I must choose how to maintain it.
I think of the work that I do. I recall the training I received when I was new on the job. My boss gave me specific instructions on what to do and what not to do. And she told them that all mistakes were fixable. No need to panic. I know that in this job the buck doesn’t stop with me, but I help move the buck along. I need to heed the words of advice I’ve received. If I go rogue, then at some point I’ll find myself unemployed. I can’t close my ears to the truth of her instructions or I’ll be given the boot.
To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. Matthew 13:12
Some say truth is subjective. It changes with our moods or our feelings. But really. It doesn’t. The truth always stands strong. How can truth change just because my mood is cloudy today? Truth is solid. We can count on it to remain firm. We’re the ones who have moved the needle on truth. We move it to fit our circumstances. Our wishful thinking. We redefine truth so we can feel comfortable with our choices. And when we move truth to something it isn’t, we move our hearts further from God. We’ve then chosen to live a lie.
The longer we ignore or avoid the truth, the more it is distorted. And when truth becomes distorted, it’s hard to recognize at all. Or is it? Is the truth just staring us in the face, even though we’ve denied it? Do we recognize the truth and just glaze over because we deny it? Or. Do we really believe the lies that we’ve accepted as truth? When the truth pricks our conscience, we don’t want to hear it. Because then. We have to do something about it. Ignore it and go on our merry way. Or accept it and make a change. Truth demands action.
By continually ignoring truth, we harden our hearts to it. We no longer even seek it out. We accept whatever word is spoken without investigating the facts. It makes life more convenient and comfortable, as long as it pleases us. Because. As I said. Truth requires action. And the longer we tune out the word of truth, we forget what it is. Lord, help us.
But know this. There is still time to turn a hardened heart back to God. Today. There is still time. We can repent and bow our knee to God Almighty. Let’s not wait. Time is running short. Let’s accept the truth of our sin and run back to God who is waiting with open arms.
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Hebrews 3:12-14
Boy. He sure has waited a long time for his moment in history. And it has finally arrived. I wonder if he’s excited about it, or if he’s overwhelmed. Of course. His waiting ended because he lost his mother. That’s why his time has come. But he’s waited an entire lifetime. And he certainly has. Seventy odd years. Makes you wonder how long his reign will be. Certainly not as long as his dear mum’s. But that’s OK. It’s not for everyone to break records that don’t need broken. He has plenty of time to do what he was trained for. His moment has finally arrived. I hope he’s up for the challenge.
Some say his time has come and gone. Perhaps he should abdicate and pass the crown to his firstborn. Basically skip a generation. He’s already an old man. And what can an old man accomplish? That’s the question on a lot of young minds as they see older folks in the path of the young who are pushing to succeed.
So. He’s not as popular as his mum. Or his first wife. Or his firstborn son and family. After all. He did do them dirty. And everyone knows that dirty laundry stinks. So let’s chuck the Charles. They say.
Looks like that won’t happen. He has been installed as the king of England. Even the national anthem has changed to honor him. And the changing of the guard is now the king’s guard. No longer the queen’s. Oh. The necessary changes that must occur when life hits unexpectedly. But was it unexpected? I mean. After all. She was ninety six. We did know this day would come sooner or later. And here we are.
But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Joel 2:32
There’s another man whose time had come. Oh. He didn’t have to wait seventy odd years. His years of waiting were only thirty. And like the new king of England, this king was being prepared for the role his entire life. No. He didn’t receive a red box of news everyday like the monarch of England does. And he didn’t have a public coronation. His death, however, was on public display. But for this moment, let’s consider not his death but his life.
There was a stir at the time of his birth. Angels sang and shepherds bowed to him. An infant who was helpless already had people immediately bowing to him. At eight days old, old prophets who saw him in the temple were prompted to proclaim the Messiah had been born. There was no formal publication announcing the birth of the Messiah. A star in the east guided wise men to worship and acknowledge this quiet event. Throughout his early years, he was learning Scripture in the synagogue. He observed the Jewish laws. He knew who he was even when others questioned it. He was about his Father’s business, and his mother pondered these things in her heart.
He didn’t need any earthly prodding to start his ministry. His was a natural role. And he undertook it with humility and dignity. There were those who opposed him. And oh. How they opposed him. We saw that in his death. But during his three short years of ministry, he faced opposition on every turn. He was called a liar. When he cast out demons, the Pharisees said he did it by the power of Satan. Oh. How wrong they were. He knew it. And they knew it. They lived in fear of his power. They lived in the shadow of truth.
Some dared to call him the Messiah. Others dared not speak those words aloud. But crowds swarmed him when they heard he was in their neighborhood. His words were powerful and effective. A simple yet profound message. One not easily forgotten. His message was different from anything they had ever heard. And then the miracles. Sick and lame people were brought for miles for him to heal. And he healed all who were brought to him. Others he healed from a distance.
Sure. His earthly reign was a short one. Only three years. But his life and teachings still survive today. He hasn’t been forgotten. He won’t be forgotten. Oh. There are those who try to stifle his teachings. They try to silence others who share his message. But a light on a hill will always shine bright in the darkness.
Oh. There’s no comparison between these two kings. That’s not the point. The point is that we can’t get our priorities mixed up. We know which king will be faithful to us through the end of time. And really. There is no end of time. Our earthly time will end, but eternity is forever. So we must choose to live each day as if it’s our last on this earth. King Jesus will be with those who call him Lord in eternity. King Charles must choose for himself who will be Lord of his life. The same goes for each of us. Do you choose Jesus as your Lord and Savior?
God spoke through Malachi to the people of Israel. He reminds them of his never ending love. And they say. Really?? How have you loved us? Most likely, the people are remembering the many, many years of hardship they have faced. Wars. Defeat. Famine. Loss. Taken exile to a foreign country by an enemy king. What they seemed to have selectively forgotten is that these troubles of were their own doing. Their ancestors had walked away from following God’s commands. They did as they pleased. They stopped obeying God. And this current generation was acting exactly like their ancestors. Disobedient to God.
As God reminded them of their sins, they responded with questions they wanted answered. Their hearts had been hardened to the truth, so God answered their questions and reminded them of how they were dishonoring him.
How have you loved us? In a mocking tone, they asked if God really loved them. In a moment of desperation, someone spoke the quiet words out loud. They didn’t see proof of God’s love, because all they saw was their lives in chaos. After years of being held captive in a foreign country, their families had been allowed to return home. Although they had been living in their ancestry homeland for many years, they were back to their old tricks. Doing their own thing. Giving less than their best to God. And he was calling them out on it. They didn’t feel loved by the One who loved them more than anyone ever could. God reminded them that they were his chosen people. He chose the Jewish nation over all other nations who were at his disposal. He loved them with an undying love. They didn’t feel secure in his love, because they had abandoned him.
How have we ever shown contempt for your name? Actions speak louder than words. It’s true. Israel’s priests were treating God with contempt, and they didn’t even realize it. They didn’t realize they were offending God by giving imperfect offerings to him. They did their work out of duty, not authentic allegiance to God. God knows the difference, in case anyone has forgotten. They weren’t giving of their best when only the best was acceptable. They were just going through the motions and expecting God’s blessings.
How have we defiled the sacrifices? The Israelites knew that when they brought their sacrifices to the temple, they were to bring their best offering. Not second best. Not blemished offerings. Perhaps they had forgotten or just chose to overlook this important fact, but God wanted their full allegiance and obedience. When they brought their sacrifices, God required spotless lambs without blemish. They were to bring the best of their livestock, but they were bringing animals unfit for sacrifice to an Almighty God.
God saw their acts of self righteousness and called them out for it. You’re not giving of your best to me, but yet you want my best. You want my blessings and my mercy and my grace, and yet you halfheartedly bring your sacrifices to me. God reminded them that their earthly rulers wouldn’t accept blemished offerings, so why should he. Yet they begged him for mercy as they brought crippled, stolen and sick animals to sacrifice. Why do they expect God to show them any mercy when they bring tarnished offerings?
How have we wearied you? The Israelites had a warped sense of right and wrong. They lived as though those who did evil were good in God’s eyes. They believed that God approved of wrongdoing. Oh. How self righteous they were. Trying to twist truth for lies. Trying to rewrite definitions of good and evil. And they tried God’s patience with this way of thinking and living. He was tired of the games they were playing.
How can we return when we have never gone away? God reminded the Israelites that they were the ones who had left him. He had not left them. Yet they thought they hadn’t walked away from him. How could they think that? Their years of exile and hardship happened because they disobeyed God. And they didn’t know how to return to him. They thought they had never left him. Unbelievable. Their hearts were so evil that they didn’t know right from wrong. God called them to repentance, and they didn’t believe they needed to repent.
When did we ever cheat you? The Israelites were robbing God, and they didn’t even realize it. They were stealing right from under his nose by withholding their tithes and offerings. And they thought nothing of it. They were required by Jewish law to give their first and best gifts to support the priests in their work. The Levite priests didn’t own land, so they had no way to provide food for their families. The other tribes were to provide out of their abundance for the priests, and yet they weren’t. They were holding back what rightfully belonged to God, and they didn’t even think twice about it.
What have we said against you? The Israelites would speak against God, and once again they weren’t aware they were doing it. How could they be so blind? Their hearts had turned so far from God that they no longer knew when they were sinning against him. They said it was useless to serve God. But they still wanted his favor. They were unwilling to humble themselves in service to God. They had forgotten that the reward for serving God was far greater than the cost. So they chose their own way, and God was calling them on it.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. Malachi 4:1-2
The Israelites had most likely been back home for one hundred years after their seventy years of exile in Babylon. One hundred years of sliding back into their old ways of disobeying God. Oh. People. How easy it is to forget God’s love when you’re focused only on yourselves. On self love. How easy it is to forget God’s goodness when you think being good is good enough. How easy it is to block out God’s voice when we hear him speaking words we don’t want to hear. To shrug off the touch of God’s nudge when he’s moving us in a direction we don’t want to go.
And then God offered mercy to those who feared him and honored his name.
God had shown the Israelites in so many different ways how wide and deep his love was for them. But they forgot. They forgot all the miracles and rescues and provision and forgiveness he had given to them each time they turned away and then crawled back in repentance. They had once again turned their heads and their hearts to their own leanings. And they weren’t leaning toward God. They were once again leaning in direct opposition to God’s commands. God never stopped loving them or showing proof of his love. They just weren’t looking for it, so over time they were blinded and their hearts were hardened against God.
And what they forgot was brought to their attention by God. Oh. He never misses a thing. He called them out on their bad behavior.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name! “But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’ Malachi 1:6
Time and time again, the Jewish people expected good things from God, yet they’re not obeying him. Again. They’re giving of themselves halfheartedly. John writes in Revelation3:15-16 that you either hot or cold. If you’re lukewarm, God will reject you. God requires our best. When we give him only half of our allegiance, it’s basically no allegiance. When we write our own rules and live our own lives, and do our own thing without regard for God’s will and God’s commands, we’re disobeying him. We’re saying our ways are better than God’s ways.
The Israelites lived their lives as if they were better than God. They did what they wanted. They gave the sacrifices they wanted to give, not what God required. They did things their way not God’s way, because God’s way demanded too much of them. For many years later, the Jewish nation was still doing this to God. They were still giving their half best, or even less than half. And their lives were miserable.
I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! Revelation 3:15-16
Here we are today doing the same thing. We say we love God, yet we live in ways that dishonor his name. Without a second thought, we live for ourselves. We’re not loyal to God. But we expect all his mercy and grace when we’re in desperate need of a miracle. We’ve left God behind. And we wonder why our world is in such a state of disarray. We wonder why groups are working to destroy nations with high inflation, food shortages, unnecessary wars, and manmade disasters. We don’t even consider that we act spitefully against God. We don’t realize that we have wearied God to the point of exhaustion. We don’t understand that God’s patience won’t last forever. The clock is ticking, and Jesus will return whether we’re ready or not. Whether we believe or not. There is a price to pay for our selfishness and pride.
We’ve forsaken God. We’ve run as far from God’s love as we can get. But yet. He still loves us. When we ask how God can love us when we’re going through intense suffering, we’ve forgotten that he’s right there with us in that suffering. We forget that he knows all about our pain. We don’t understand that we’ve robbed God. When we fail to give him our tithes and offerings. When we offer him less than our best. When we ignore the needs of others, we are ignoring God’s commands.
We expect God to treat us well. To treat us as if we are his prized possession. And we are just that to him. We are his prized possession. We just don’t act like it. Yet we continue to do what pleases ourselves instead of what pleases God. We prize ourselves more than we prize God.
Those who have accepted him as Lord and Savior of their life are children of God. Only children of God will have eternal life with him. It’s not too late to turn to God in repentance. It’s not too late to ask forgiveness of our sins. To fall on our knees and bow in submission to God Almighty. Let’s not wait another day. While it is still today, there is time for repentance. Shall we pray.
Heavenly Father, we’ve fallen so far from your grace by our selfish acts. We’ve ignored your tender loving kindness far too long, yet we demand that you treat us well. We think only of ourselves in this life and not in our eternal life. As we bow in humble repentance, we ask you will hear our prayer. Forgive us of our sins. Shower us with your continual love as we seek to serve you first. Help us to cast aside our sinful ways and serve you only, as you are the only God. Heal our hurts and restore us to your good graces. Remove our arrogance and fill us with humility that only seeks your favor, and not the favor of others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Daniel and three of his friends were taken captive when the Babylonian army invaded Jerusalem. They were among many young men of the royal family and other noble families who were forced to serve in the Babylonian king’s court. Yet they were foreigners. They spoke another language. They worshipped a different God. They followed different customs. They observed Jewish holidays. They ate a restricted diet. Yet God allowed them to be placed, exiles though they were, in a precarious situation.
Early on in their new roles, these four young men faced challenges. Their Jewish names were replaced with Babylonian names. Yet they chose to continue to follow the customs of their Jewish heritage instead of abandoning it for the sake of fitting in to a new environment. Instead of hiding their dietary customs, they chose to speak up and ask for a different food allotment. And it was granted for a period of testing. Of course. God was with them during the test, and they passed with flying colors. Their act of bravery, unbeknownst to the king, gave them favor with the chief of staff, the king and most definitely with God. They dared to speak up without knowing the outcome. With this test diet, they outperformed all the other trainees. And as they continued in their training, their wisdom and knowledge far surpassed anyone else’s. They remained true to their faith, yet they were given choice positions in the king’s service.
Later, the king built a gold statue for everyone to bow to in worship. Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refused to bow. They served the one true living God and would bow to no other. Someone reported this act of defiant bravery, and they were thrown into a hot burning furnace. Yet they survived the fire. In fact, an angel of the Lord joined them in the fire. Although the king acknowledged the presence of the living God, he didn’t declare his allegiance to God.
By the time Daniel was an old man, a new king had risen to power. Daniel had had great success in his career, and his coworkers were jealous. He was being promoted again, and he would serve over the entire Babylonian empire. Those green with envy were determined to bring him down. Oh. They knew his track record on the job was spotless, and there was nothing to criticize. They decided to fight him where it hurts. His faith. They knew his Jewish faith was the one thing that set him apart, so they set up a challenge. A diversion of sorts. They challenged the king to create a law that required everyone to bow down to him only for thirty days. Worship of other gods was forbidden, or the offender would be thrown into the lion’s den. Of course. Daniel continued to pray at his open window three times a day. Nothing changed for Daniel. But then they came for him. And he was thrown in with the lions. But God wasn’t finished with Daniel just yet, so Daniel’s life was spared. When Daniel was removed from the den the next morning, there was no sign of a struggle at all. The lions’ mouths had been shut by God.
For the full story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, read Daniel 1-6.
Then there was Esther. The Jewish girl who was thrust into the harem of an ungodly king who was looking for a new queen. The current queen had refused to play his games and publicly humiliate herself. In her refusal, she humiliated the king. So he was on the hunt for a new queen. The audition: Give up your virginity to the king.
After four years of deflowering young women, the king still hadn’t found one he fancied. But then. Esther’s name was called. It was her night. And if she pleased the king, she would be crowned the new queen. In her humble act of selflessness, she won the king’s heart. Esther was now the queen. But the king didn’t know that his new wife was of Jewish descent. And when a mortal enemy of the Jews wrote a proclamation that all Jews were to be annihilated, the king gave his written permission. The law could not be changed. So Esther’s uncle went into action and let her know that her time had come to defend her people. And boy. Did she defend her people. Through God’s help, the enemy of the Jews was killed. And on the day the Jews were to be killed, they were allowed to defend themselves. No Jew was harmed on that day. Esther’s brave act of courage and selflessness saved the chosen people of God.
For Esther’s full story, read the book of Esther.
If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? Esther 4:14
We as believers must be willing to face the consequences of living truthfully. Of living biblical lives not only in private, but also in public. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. Do we trust our heavenly Father even when life is tough? When life calls for us to declare our faith publicly, will we stand? Or will we be silent and look the other way?
We don’t know what the cost might be, but we must be willing to pay it. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den. And he survived. God spared his life. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace. And an angel of God joined them in the fire. They survived without a burn on their bodies. Not a hair on their head was singed. Esther was forced to give up her virginity to the king not knowing if he would choose her to be the queen. God used her impossible situation to eventually save her Jewish people.
These brave people didn’t flaunt their faith in public. They quietly lived their lives in obedience to God. They acted publicly on their faith at times when a tough decision was required. Esther kept her Jewish faith quiet for a long time, never letting her husband know of her heritage. She spoke up when her life and the lives of all Jewish people was at stake. She didn’t make a scene. She trusted that God would pave the way as she spoke and acted in faith.
We may think these kinds of situations will never come our way. Hopefully, they won’t. But other situations will arise. We are at a crossroads in this country, and we have no idea what lies ahead for us. We may be commanded by those in authority to bow to their gods and their demands. We too may have to choose who will will serve. Will we bow only to God? Or will we dip the knee to a smaller, lesser fake god who can’t save us, let alone hear us?
Being faithful to living biblical truth doesn’t mean you won’t be burned in the fire. Or that you won’t be eaten by lions. Or be forced to give up a sacred piece of yourself. But being faithful at all costs will reap eternal benefits. And that is our ultimate goal. Regardless of how difficult life may get, God is in those days with us.
Life is difficult. You can’t do life without God. Take your pain, jump into his lap. Let him cradle you through it. Let him be your mighty warrior. Expect beauty out of ashes. There are God stories in each of our days.