ARE YOU PARTIAL?

What does it mean to show partiality? If you asked just about any parent of more than one child if they showed partiality to one of their children over the others they would tell you no they did not. But if you asked the children in most situations you learn they felt like their parents were partial to some over others. Quite often it is the case that the Father shows partiality toward one and the Mother to another. I suspect every person who has gone to school for more than three days in their life has been in a class where it was obvious that the teacher had a pet in the class that they showed great partiality toward. Sometimes it is a whole group of students who are given preferable treatment. One of the most common complaints at workplaces is that the boss or bosses show partiality toward some or some group in the business that upsets the ones who feel they are not in the elite group. Even in church, one of the huge problems that we face all the time is some people feeling strongly that they aren’t a part of the “IN CROWD”. They feel that some in the church can complain about just about anything and get the attention of the leaders and force some kind of action while others have equally strong feelings in the opposite direction but feel no one cares or pays any attention to their strong feelings. One thing is obviously true, the only people who enjoy another person showing partiality is the one who is being shown the partiality. If one isn’t in the select group they feel empty, left out and insignificant.

By the way, this isn’t a new problem. Back in I Timothy 5 Paul had been giving Timothy instruction on how to behave himself as the evangelist in the church at Ephesus. The discussion had started about the widows who were to be taken in and helped by the church if they were widows indeed or widows who didn’t have any other family to take care of them. Paul told families that if they had widows in the family they were to take care of their needs. But if one was a widow, over 60 who didn’t have family to help and they were godly ladies who had served well in the kingdom to bless the lives of others they were to be taken in and provided for. He turned from that discussion to say, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” Then in verse 19 he said, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep the instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

Obviously, Paul wanted Timothy to see the elders in the church as men with authority and who were trying to do the best for the church. He was to respect them as a whole enough to show extreme care about any accusations made against an elder. In all times there are those who are sitting ready at any time to accuse those who are striving to lead the church in the right way of having wrong attitudes and wrong motives in life. But it is vital for one working in the situation Timothy did, to not play favorites. You must treat everyone, even the elders, in the same way, respectfully and with consideration. Don’t allow people to come to you and gossip about an elder or pastor in the church. But there are times when even these leaders in the church are wrong and need to be corrected. So, Paul’s challenge is not to accept an accusation unless there were two or more witnesses that come to you saying that this person who serves as a leader is moving in the wrong direction and you know it to be true, you are to take the personal responsibility to go to the person to rebuke the sin.

Two things stand out in this segment of Paul’s teaching. One if that instead of rebuking the leader in the church as one would another member just between the two of you alone, you are to rebuke them before all, that others will get the warning as well. I don’t know if this means before everyone in the church or before all the elders. I tend to think it is before all the elders instead of just with you and the individual. Is this risky for the evangelist? Certainly it is and very difficult to do. Yet it is the way God planned for it to happen in the church to keep everyone on the right path. But, notice, it is imperative that such actions be taken without partiality or favoritism. If we are showing favorites among the elders or shepherds in the body, we are harming them and the church as a whole.

Notice how Paul draws this point to a head. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.” Partiality is a bad thing everywhere. But don’t rush to rebuke others. Take your time and see what comes out. Not everything comes out quickly and be careful not to look for things against someone you don’t like anyway.

I do wonder as I read through this if Timothy’s stomach problems weren’t tied to the whole thought of rebuking an elder who was involved in some sin. It would certainly bring turmoil and cause your stomach to get upset.

It is worth a lot in life to constantly check ourselves to make certain we aren’t showing partiality in life. Thank God he doesn’t respect any particular groups of people over others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did the same?

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THINGS ARE CHANGING

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things all around us change all the time? There is hardly an aspect of life that you can consider that isn’t different today from what it was like a year ago. I’m sure much of the change in our own time has been pushed forward by the Covid virus. But the reality is that things are constantly changing whether we have a pandemic or not. I noticed this morning as I passed a gas station that the price of a gallon of regular gas had jumped twenty cents since yesterday afternoon. Go to just about any store of just about any kind and you will be amazed at how different it is today from what it was a year ago. Go to church on Sunday and you will likely notice the amazing amount of change that has taken place since the last time you were there. I sometimes try to imagine what it would be like if our grandparents could come back from the grave long enough to just spend one day in our home, going to a store and going to church with us today how they would react. Can you even begin to imagine what it would be like for those disciples of Christ that lived in the first century and went to church in a place like Corinth or Ephesus, if they returned today and went with us to church one Sunday. Can you imagine the confusion that would fill their minds? Can you imagine how we would react if we went back 2,000 years and went to church one Sunday in Rome with the first century believers in Jesus? Can you imagine what it might be like if we could drop back in one Sunday fifty years from now to visit a church we had worshiped with in 2021? I suspect we would be as shocked as the Jews from Jerusalem 2,000 years ago would be if they dropped in on us this Sunday.

As you think of that whole scene, let me remind you of some verses from the Bible that should be important to all of us. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.” “I the Lord do not change.” “Wherefore we are receiving a kingdom that cannon be shaken so let us serve acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” “The word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than any double edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joins and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” When judgment Day comes, the standard of that judgment will be the word of God. Jesus told the people who heard him in John 12 that the very words he had spoken would judge them in the last day.

So, while there are worlds of things around us that change every day and many of them change more than once a day. We, personally, and as a group of people change all the time. If you don’t think so, get a picture from ten years ago and put it down beside one made this morning. Whether you want to admit it or not, it is obvious you and I change all the time. Even how we see things in life changes based on what is going on in our lives at any given time. I wonder how many times I have said something to the effect, “I will always believe that.” Or, “That is the way I will always see things.”

In a world of swift transition, it is vital that we keep clearly before us what is changing all the time and what doesn’t change and must not be changed if we are to be the people God calls us to be. There are tons of things that can change all the time and there be no harm or no foul. But there are also things that must not be changed if we are to be who God calls us to be. One of the reasons God told us the stories of the Old Testament was to try to get us to understand that while many things in life change with the circumstances that there are many others that must not be changed if we are to be God’s people.

I try to imagine what it must have been like for Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron when they came to burn their incense before the altar of God. They didn’t make a huge change. I am sure that if you had asked them they would have said it was a minor adjustment in how they burned the incense that God had commanded them to burn. Yet, God reacted to their disobedience with strong judgment that destroyed them with fire immediately. I imagine on that day when the Israelites were bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and David was so excited that he was dancing around in joy at the scene, when the oxen stubbled and Uzzah reached out to steady the ark, he would have said, he was just reacting naturally to save the ark of God. But God had given a strong command that no one but the Levite could carry that ark or touch it. Even though Uzzah’s motives were pure, his action was one of disobedience to God and it cost him his life. David was frustrated. But the next time they moved the ark, they made certain to carry it the way God commanded and everything went great. But those were Old Testament events. Surely God doesn’t act the same way in the New Testament times. He has changed hasn’t he? Well, consider Acts 5 and the story of Ananias and his wife lying about their gift to the church. When Peter confronted him about his lying to the Holy Spirit he fell dead immediately. Later when she came in and lied all over again she likewise fell dead on the spot. God took the whole matter of lying to the Holy Spirit of God very seriously then and I assure you, he still does.

It is vital to make a clear distinction between the things that are changeable and be willing and ready to change in those areas all the time. But be clear that God doesn’t change. Jesus doesn’t change. The Holy Spirit doesn’t change. the Bible or Word of God doesn’t change. Change what is alright to change and don’t fuss about it. But if it is one of God’s unchangeables leave it as it is. Don’t try to play God! You nor I are built for it.

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A Mother’s Day

I am thankful we set apart a day each year to celebrate mother’s. I’m glad that neither Mother’s or Father’s Day are used to get another day off from work. It seems to me that to celebrate either one by laying out of work would be totally missing the point. If there is anyone that doesn’t get a day off from their duties in life it is a mother. Can you imagine a mom refusing to feed her baby or change their diaper because it is their day off or that it is a holiday. A mother’s job just goes on. It changes from year to year as the children grow. But I’ve noticed that now that our children are all at least fifty years old, their mother hasn’t stopped being concerned about their welfare or what they are going to be doing next. In some ways, roles reverse as we get older and the child becomes the one taking care of the parent but it just seems to me that the mother’s heart never changes toward her children.

I’ve heard some say that they dislike Mother’s Day because they haven’t been able to have a child of their own even though they have tried or that because they aren’t married that they don’t appreciate having a Mother’s Day when they would like to be married and have children. But one thing is certain, we all have had a mother. Someone went through the birth pains to bring us into the world and sacrificed much of their life to provide for our needs. We may not think that our mother was a great one. But they did give birth to you rather than aborting you. You owe them something always. Most of us owe our mothers more than we could ever even begin to repay. My mother has been dead now for half of my life. But that hasn’t changed at all the feelings of appreciation for all the love and care she offered all the days of her life on this earth.

I think it is significant that in giving the Ten Commandments God didn’t say, “Honor your parents.” But said, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land the the Lord your God is giving you.’ God was so concerned about this point that he made the law that if one disrespected parents their punishment was severe and went as far as being executed if the disrespect went far enough. Jesus used the failure and the excuses among the religious leaders among the Jews, for not obeying the command to honor father and mother as an illustration of how they were rebelling against God and living like hypocrites in the world. They were fussing at Jesus and the apostles for eating without washing their hands, thus failing to follow their traditions. Jesus said that by their traditions they were rejecting the law of God. God said honor your father and mother but you declare that if one dedicates their money to the Lord and His work they aren’t obligated to take care of their parents any longer. He told them their whole worship was useless or vain because by their traditions they rejected the word of God. Paul in discussing the same point in I Timothy 5 said that if one didn’t provide for his own, especially those of his own family they denied the faith and became worse than an unbeliever.

How do you honor your mother? In many ways how we show honor depends on age, circumstances and what their needs may be. When we are children we honor parents by being obedient to them. In Ephesians 6:1-3 Paul commanded children who were old enough to be Christians to obey their parents and referred back to the command to honor father and mother as the first commandment with a promise. As we grow into adulthood ourselves and get married there is a real sense in which our loyalty is to change. We are to “leave father and mother and be joined to our wife and the two will become one flesh.” It isn’t so much about leaving them physically as it is a change in loyalty. Now we are joined to a mate and our primary loyalty is to them rather than parents. Yet our honor of the father and mother doesn’t stop. There will come a day for most of us when the mother or dad will leave this world in death and our ability to honor them in a way that blesses them won’t be there any more. But we can certainly honor their memory by how we speak of them and our living the way they taught us to live.

I’m not certain that there is anyone in the world that has a greater effect on their future of the world and of their own family than godly mothers. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 God reminded the people of the greatest command of all, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and might. He told them to keep these words in their heart. Then he tells them how to live it out in their family day after day. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” I know we need quiet time in life. I know a great and godly mom needs time to read the Bible and pray alone. But the future of the world hangs on how well mothers and dads live out the love for God and talk about it with their children all along and in all parts of life.

A friend of mine who died several years ago along with his wife and two daughters drove from North Little Rock to Clarendon, Arkansas every Sunday for over twenty years for him to preach the gospel and her to teach Bible classes. During a whole lot of that time they also drove down on Wednesday nights to have Bible classes with them. It was a distance of about 100 miles each way every week. I was talking with him and his wife and later with one of their daughters about those years and each of them said it was some of the greatest times of their life. They spent it talking about God and His will just about life and how to live in the world as a Christian. They made a massive difference in the life of the church in Clarendon, but I suspect an even greater difference in the lives of their daughters as they shared with them their devotion to the Lord.

Honor your mom Sunday, but also on every other day this week and this year and throughout your life. Great mom’s are a massive treasure that God has given us.

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HE KNOWS

I was reading this morning from Matthew 6 and noticed in the last half of the chapter how often Jesus made the point that God knows what we need before we ever ask or even think about it. Actually the point started back near the beginning of the chapter when He was talking about not doing our spiritual deeds before others to be seen by them and noted that when we give to ones in need, not to make some show of it or we already have all the reward we are going to receive. He turned to the topic of prayer and challenged us not to pray in ways to be seen by others and not to go on and on in our prayers thinking we will be heard for all the things we say, “For the Father knows what you need before you ask him.” It was out of this point that he told them to go into a private place and pray so that it is between you and God. From that came the challenge on what to pray about as a follower of Jesus.

“This, then is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Do you pray like you believe God already knows what you need before you ask? I’m afraid, too often I pray as though I think I need to inform God about what is going on in my life and among the people I love.

Think about how deep God’s knowledge of us and what is going on in our lives, really is. Over in Matthew 10:29-31 Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a Penney? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Do you remember the song that was popular many years ago, “My Jesus knows just what I need?” I think I know my wife, Linda quite well after we have been married for 56 years now, but I can tell you for certain I don’t know how many hairs she has in her head. I don’t even know how many come off into the shower when she washes her hair. If I can’t count those, then I am nothing to compare with God and his knowledge of us.

Jesus told us in Matthew 6:28ff. not to worry about clothes. He pointed to the flowers in the field and how beautiful they are, yet no-one sows them or tends them. Yet Solomon in all his glory wasn’t dressed like one of these. “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘what shall we eat?’, or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

God knows! God cares! And God acts in harmony with his knowledge and care for us. Why then is it so difficult for us to trust that he will take care of us in life? Why is worry a constant problem? Why, when we look back on life and see how God has moved and taken care of us down through the years, would we be worried that it might change tomorrow and we will be left alone? I have no doubt what Jesus would say to us in such a situation. He said it far too many times to the disciples who walked with him day after day and observed his amazing miracles. “O you of little faith! Why did you doubt?” If I think for a moment of our friend, Simon Peter, the rock, I am reminded of how he could go from an amazing act of faith like getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water and doing well with it as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but when he noticed the size of the waves and began looking at them, he sank like a rock. Jesus responded, “Why did you doubt?”

It is easy to say, “Trust God.” It is easy to claim, “I trust Jesus to take care of me.” It is easy to proclaim that we know the Holy Spirit is in us and helping us all the time. Yet in the middle of all such statements we too often live in worry and fear of what will happen next. God knows, God cares and God will take care of us. Our challenge is to “Seek first the kingdom and righteousness of God and all these things will be added to you. Don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrows will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34).

God, help us to really put our full trust in you and let our weight down in your arms of love.

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THIS IS YOUR HOUR

Isn’t it amazing how life changes from one day to the next? It is amazing that people can go from friendship to hatred for each other in a very short time. It is amazing that every time we think things are about to improve in the world and that we have made a turn in the right direction, that something happens to carry us down the wrong road so soon afterward. I look at the events of our own time and all the marching, mobs and destruction of businesses or of property of people who had noting in the world to do with the problems that we are angry about or the wrongs that we believe have been committed against us. I don’t know what the jury will decide in the case of the policemen that is charged with the murder of the man whom he kept his knee on his neck for too long. But I know this, there is something horribly wrong with people who are supposed to be leaders in the country or even among people, who shout that if the jury doesn’t rule in the way we are demanding we are going to destroy the city or burn down neighborhoods. There is a reason we send people to court to be tried. Rule by mob doesn’t work and leads to innocent people being hurt horribly. But what good is it to have a court or jury if we are going to demand, no matter what the evidence is that you see, you must rule the way we like or we are going to do all kinds of damage to the city? I don’t always agree with how the courts rule on anything. But I know that mob rule is not the answer. If we demand our way with one case, what happens when it is someone we like or even agree with that is being tried for something later? Do courts and juries make mistakes? Certainly, they are made up of humans. But, I had a million times more trust what a jury decides over what an angry mob decides. The fact there has been injustice in the world doesn’t ever justify our own injustice toward others.

Think of the time recorded in Luke 22 when Jesus had celebrated the last supper with the apostles. He had washed their feet, even knowing they would all forsake him, one would betray him and sell him to a mob for thirty pieces of silver and another would deny him three times. He instituted the Lord’s Supper with them and told of the coming kingdom. He challenged these same men to love each other in the same way he had loved them and said that would be how others would know they were really his disciples. After the supper, he went out with eleven of the twelve apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed earnestly to the Father about what was about to take place. He asked, if there was any way that he might not have to go through the cross. But there was no other way. Judas came, leading the mob, with swords and spears to arrest Jesus. Judas went up to Jesus and kissed him over and over again. Jesus asked, “Are you betraying me with a kiss?” Simon, who would would soon deny him, grabbed his sword and took a mighty swing cutting off the right ear of a man named Malchus. Jesus demanded he put his sword away saying that one who lived by the sword would die by the sword. He reminded Peter that if he wanted to do so, he could call down ten legions of angels to deliver him from that hour but if he did so what would happen to God’s promise of the savior?

Notice what happened then, “Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him. ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. BUT THIS IS YOUR HOUR – WHEN DARKNESS REIGNS.” (Luke 22:52-53).

God has all power and all authority. He could indeed have stepped in at the moment and stopped the whole process. But we would have been left without a savior who paid for our sins with his own blood. God instead chose to allow darkness to take the lead for the moment. He allowed the darkness to reign so that the light of salvation might shine bright as he went all the way to the cross to bear our sins in his own body on the tree. Darkness would have its day. But to their total surprise in only three days the very one they executed knowing full well his innocence, would be raised from the dead, triumphant over death, hell and the grave!

I wonder how long the dark hours of our time will last. How long will God allow Satan to have his way and evil to be called good, sin to be called a choice and rebellion seen as the way to set things right? I know that God holds the answer. He holds in his hands the power to overcome Satan and his rule in the world. He has given us one tool to use to change the world for the better. it is the gospel of Jesus that we are challenged to go and preach to the world. The sad reality is the followers of Jesus so often become carried away with their own ideas and plans and fail in the mission of sharing the good news with all people. No matter how dark the hour, We have good news to share. That Good News is the very power of God to Salvation for all who believe. Jesus paid the price for your salvation. Don’t let the temporary challenges of life move your attention from what matters for eternity to what matters today.

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ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION OF OURSELVES

I love being around two and three year old children when they are at the stage of asking a thousand questions a day. You can see their little minds at work, trying to take in as much information and understand as many things as is possible for them. Sadly, most of them won’t maintain that hunger for learning for long. As life moves on, we too often settle in with what we know and strive to build our whole world around the few things we can grasp. Far too often, many of the things we are certain about on which we build our lives are actually wrong and leads us to make horrible choices.

Two instances in Scripture come to mind in relation to this point. The first from the Old Testament book of Job. Job was a great, godly man who had prospered well and was admired all over the land. But of far greater significance is the fact God admired Job. When the angels came to visit God and give a report of what they had been doing, Satan came along. God asked him where he had been and he reported that he had been up and down and all around on the earth. Then God asked him if he had considered his servant Job. Satan declared that Job didn’t serve God for nothing. He challenged his integrity by saying that if God would stop protecting him and having a wall around him so that he couldn’t get to him, Job would curse God to his face. God accepted Satan’s wager and allowed him to attack Job, but not his body. In one day Job lost all his cattle, his sheep, his camels but by far the worst thing was that all ten of Job’s children were together in one house when a tornado struck the house and all of them were killed immediately. Job’s reaction was to rip his garments, fall before God in worship saying, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

When the angels came back to give their report to God, Satan was with them again and God asked him again about Job and noted how he had reacted to Satan’s attack with strong faith and had not denied him like Satan declared he would. But Satan wasn’t ready to admit his wrong judgment. He again challenged God declaring that, “Skin for skin. All a person has will he give in exchange for his life. Let me attack his body and he will curse you to your face.” God accepted the wager again. He allowed Satan to attack his body but not take his life. Satan struck him with boils from the top of his head to the sole of his feet. There was not anyway to find comfort. He sat in a pile of ashes, with a broken piece of pottery scraping the sores on his body. His wife seeing his agony asked him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Why don’t you curse God and die?”

Job’s three closest friends heard of his plight and came to visit and comfort him. For the first week they were great. They sat with him, saying nothing but feeling with his agony. But when Job cried out in agony, complaining of how God was mistreating him, his friends felt it was their place to defend God and attack Job. They were certain that God blesses us when we are doing right and he curses us when we are doing wrong. Since Job was suffering horribly, he must have committed some horrendous sin that God was punishing him for. No matter how many times Job defended himself, declaring he wasn’t guilty any sin that brought this on, they couldn’t accept it but just became stronger in their condemnation of him. Strangely, Job believed the same way they did, but he knew he hadn’t done anything to cause such suffering so his whole thinking was off. What is amazing is the friends even come up with sins they felt he must have committed that caused the problem. Later, Elihu will even declare that the ten children were doing something very wrong that led to them all being killed in the tornado. They’re mistaken views of God’s blessings and punishment led to their sinning horribly against their friend, Job.

The other case is in the New Testament in John 9 when Jesus and the disciples met a man who had been born blind and the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus answered them that “Neither this man or his parents sinned.” Instead of pointing at him or his parents for blame, he said that they needed to do the works of God and he spit on the ground, made mud and rubbed it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam and he would be able to see. Sure enough the man went and washed and came back seeing.

Notice in both situations the friends and the disciples of Jesus wanted to focus on who was to blame. Who is guilty? In both cases they were totally wrong. To begin with Job was also wrong. He kept asking “Why me?” He knew he hadn’t done wrong so why was God bringing these things on him. When God did respond to Job, he never even hinted at the answer to that question. Instead he challenged Job to trust him.

We all both go through things in life and see things in the lives of others that can easily lead us to ask, “Who sinned?” Or, “What did they do wrong that led to this?” but when we ask that question, we are asking the wrong thing. Whether it is for us or our judgment of what is to be done for another, the right question is, “What now?” Assigning blame, finding fault and pointing fingers has been a hobby of people as long as time has gone on. It never bring about good. So, Let’s just STOP IT! No more shouting about whose fault it is, let’s look at the problems and ask “What now?” What can we do to help the hurting one? What can we do when we are the one who is hurting to start in a better direction and actually grow through the hurt and disappointment.

Remember both Job and the blind man came through their ordeal being hugely blessed by God.

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DON’T TELL ANYONE

Can you imagine a church that is doing great things to help people who are hurting or struggling in life telling the ones they help not to tell anyone about what has been done for them? Can you imagine a preacher telling a person he visited or helped not to tell anyone how he helped or encouraged them? We seem to have it drilled into us that if something is happening that is good we need to spread the word about it. If we have a great children’s ministry, then by all means shout the news to the whole world. If our youth ministry is really helping young people grow and develop in faith, surely we should advertise how well it is doing to the world so others can be brought in as well. You can just pick any area of work and our attitude is if it is good we should tell everyone about it.

Strangely, Jesus didn’t do that. Over and over again, as you read through the gospel accounts you see Jesus healing someone of some horrible disease and then telling them to not tell anyone about it. It goes against our thinking so much that some people have actually thought that Jesus was using reverse psychology knowing that if he told them not to tell it they would go out and tell all the more what had happened to them. I think the reason we do that is because it just doesn’t make sense to us that he would tell people not to tell others what has happened to them.

Take one example from Luke 5:12-16. “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus, reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said, ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Leprosy was worse than Covid-19. The law was that a person with leprosy was to stay away from anyone who didn’t have the disease. They had to do much more than wear masks and keep social distancing. Imagine having a disease that drove you from home, family, friends and even from the places of worship. You were required if anyone came close to you to yell, “Unclean, unclean!” Perhaps the reason the man fell with his face to the ground was to keep from being offensive to Jesus or to the people around him. But he couldn’t keep from pleading with Jesus that if was willing he could cure his whole body and drive the leprosy away. I can’t imaging how shocked he must have been when Jesus reached out and touched him. After all, one with leprosy was “untouchable”. Jesus didn’t allow fear of catching an awful disease from caring for the hurting person enough to touch him. I wonder how many people in our own time feel like they are untouchable and would give anything in the world to have someone reach out to touch them. But Jesus did more than touch him. He declared, “I am willing. Be clean!” I would love to have seen the man’s expression when Jesus touched him and said, “Be clean.” I would bet the shock on his face was massive.

Let me tell you, there is now and has always been a disease that is far worse, far more deadly and far more contagious than leprosy or Covid-19. It is the disease of SIN. And, here is the thing that should stand out to all of us. We all have it. It not only covers our body, it is in our heart and mind. It affects our soul and it will lead to the ultimate death of hell itself if we don’t find the cure for it. Jesus is willing and able to not only heal the leper, he is willing and able to touch you and me and to drive the sin away, washing us in his blood and making us as clean and pure as a newborn baby.

Imagine the man looking at his skin and seeing the raw flesh healthy again. The white areas look normal. The rotting flesh is now healthy. What would you do in such a situation? Likely you would begin shouting to anyone you saw what had happened, that you were clean, healed and Jesus did it. But Jesus wasn’t through with the man. He gave him two commands. First, don’t tell anyone. Second, go to the priest and follow the law on what is to be done when you are healed from leprosy. I sure understand why he would tell him to go to the priest and follow the law on the matter. It would be what opened the door for him to go home and live among his family and people again. But why Lord, do you want him not to tell anyone?

Most likely because Jesus knew that while it was important to heal those who were sick, that wasn’t his main purpose for coming into this world. His primary mission was about preaching the gospel to the world, training disciples and apostles for the work they would do after his death on the cross. But if the message got out that he was a healer of all kinds of sicknesses and diseases, people would be coming in huge crowds to be healed. A secondary mission would become so massive that the primary mission of preaching and teaching the gospel, making and training disciples, would be lost on the wayside. So, he pleaded over and over again for those whom he healed to remain quiet about it. But, they never did. Their excitement for what had been done for them overwhelmed them and they had to tell someone. Plus they knew tons of others who had the same illness they had and longed for them to have this healing as well. Sure enough the result was that crowds came to hear him and to be healed. Notice what happened with Jesus as a result. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” He tended to go into the small towns and villages sharing the message where the word hadn’t spread so much. Excited people telling what great things had happened to them resulted in Jesus having to stay away from crowded areas to be able to fulfill his mission and have time with the Father in prayer.

I wonder how often today God’s people get pulled away from the primary work God has called us to do by the spread of the message that we are doing some great work in an area that may not ever lead to one hearing the good news of Jesus. It is extremely difficult for us to be in the place of praise for good works we are doing and still have Jesus as the one being glorified for HIs life and ministry. Jesus loved to heal the sick. But his greatest interest was in bringing them to faith in him so they could be healed from the disease of sin. Our mission as the church is to do good and help the needy. But the primary function of the church is to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel of Christ. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned.”

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WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

There were lots of people who were devoted to Jesus during those last days of his ministry on this earth. Many had been blind before Jesus came but now they could see. Many had been lepers and locked away from the crowds of people, but now their skin is as clean and healthy as a new babies’ skin. Many had been unable to walk but now they could run, leap and walk without pain. Many had been deaf, who could now hear. But deeper than that, many had been enslaved to the devil, so much so that his demons possessed them, but now the demons have been cast out and they can freely decide who they will live their lives for. Many are now devoted disciples who were in hopeless situations before they met Jesus and he spoke to them the words of life. But it wasn’t some crowd that rushed out to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid, after his crucifixion. But, thank God, there were a handful of women, whose lives Jesus had changed completely, who arose early on Sunday morning to make their way to the tomb. They were going to anoint his body for a proper burial. The one leading this group of women was a woman named Mary Magdalene. Jesus had cast demons out of her and turned her whole life around. When others ran away, she stood with a few at the foot of the cross to observe his death and to hear his seven cries from the cross. Now, Sabbath had passed. She and her little band of women were on their way to the tomb and talking among themselves they wondered, “Who can we get to move the stone for us?” There was a heavy stone rolled against the entrance to the tomb after the body was placed inside. It was typically scotched with stones until time to be rolled into place and it then fell into a groove that made it extremely difficult for anyone to move it away from the entrance to the tomb. The women were sure they couldn’t move the stone.

What a shock when they arrived and saw the stone was rolled away from the entrance. Mary ran to tell Simon Peter and John what they had found. Peter and John both ran to the tomb, but John was younger and probably in better shape, outran Peter. John stood outside the tomb and bent over to look inside at the strips of linen lying there but he didn’t go inside. Peter arrived and went straight into the tomb. You get the feeling he didn’t slow down much as he ran right on into the tomb to get a close look at the inside. John then went inside as well. The strips of linen were lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. John looked around and believed even though he still didn’t understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.

Which one would best illustrate what you would have done if you had been there. Would you have been like the other disciples and stayed in town thinking how useless to go to the tomb since he was dead now? Would you have been more like Mary who came early to anoint the body and when you saw the stone rolled away, ran to tell someone else what you saw? Would you have been like John to run to the tomb and then stood outside to peek into the space to see what was there? Would you have been like Peter and just ran right on in without missing a beat? Different people have different personalities and react to all kinds of situations in very different ways. It is hard to know which you would have been. Most of us would likely know better if we asked someone else who knows us well and knows our personality which we would have done. It is interesting to me that it was John who stood outside gazing into the tomb who came to real faith when he stepped inside and looked around.

Notice that Mary continued to stand outside the tomb when the others had all gone away. She was crying and bent over to gaze into the tomb. She had to have been amazed to see two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” Notice, she still had no thought that Jesus might have been raised from the dead. Instead she said, “They have taken my Lord, away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” We naturally come up with explanations for things we don’t understand. So, her explanation was that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but didn’t realize it was him. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Suddenly she looked closely to see it was Jesus standing beside her. She cried in Aramaic, “Rabboni” (which means “Teacher”). Obviously at this point she threw her arms around Jesus and was clinging to him like she would never turn him loose again. He said to her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Jesus spent the next month and a half with the disciples getting them ready to take on the mission of spreading the gospel to the entire world. His decree was, “As the Father has sent me into the world, I am sending you.” There were things about his resurrected body that were just like the old one since he still had the scars from the nails and the spear in his side . But there were many things different. This body was able to walk through the doors without opening them, even when they were locked. He could travel from one place to another in a moment’s time. When he told Mary not to cling to him it wasn’t because there was something mysterious about his body that she couldn’t hold on to. He was saying that she didn’t need to cling to him, since it would be a little while before he left this world to go back to the Father in glory.

Jesus is raised from the dead. He conquered death. He has power over death so that one of these days, He will return to this world in all the power of God, along with all his holy angels. There will be a shout, the trumpet of God will sound and suddenly, the dead in Christ will be raised to meet him in the air and forever be with the Lord. Those who live for him and are still alive at the time will be changed in a moment’s time and transformed so they too will be raised to be with the Lord forever more. The rest of the dead will also be raised at that point, but not to salvation, not to eternal life, not to the glory of heaven, but to eternal ruin in hell.

Jesus’ tomb is still empty. He reigns instead at the right hand of God in glory. Don’t you think it is time for you too to look into the empty tomb and believe? All the power of hell can’t hold Jesus in the tomb and neither can it hold you. Jesus became the first fruits of those who sleep. What a day, glorious day, that will be, when Jesus the resurrected Lord and Savior comes again.

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WE DON’T LOSE HEART

With the NCAA basketball tournament underway for this year, it is a tremendous time to focus on not losing heart. One of the greatest life lessons to learn is probably learned best in sports. It is so often the case that at the beginning of a game when the talent is high and the expectations are in the clouds, everyone is full of energy. They feel as though they could play all night long and still have strength left to plan the next round. But, it is pretty common as the game wears on and each team has made multiple runs for the lead in the game, to see the energy level beginning to fade. Hope seems to be draining like water from a leaky bucket. The actions of one team or the other become routine rather than inspired. The heart is dying and the end of the game can’t get here soon enough. Often, the other team is still charging up and down the court as though they haven’t lost any energy since the beginning. Their heart is still fully into the game. If you are pulling for the team that has lost heart, you know that something must change quickly or your team has no hope to win the game. It is normally at such a time that the coach calls a time out and does everything in their power to restore the hearts of his team into the game. Different coaches use all kinds of different means of trying to restore heart to their players. Some scream at the players and hope to resurrect their fire by shaming their team. Others strive to rebuild the fire with faith in the players. The coach reminds them that he believes in them and knows they can summon the reserves of energy that are left and make a final run for the game.

In so many ways, this illustrates life. In the game of life it is easy to have those runs when everything seems to fall into place and even the shots that at other times would have felt impossible fall into the basket. But there are also those times when you feel like you have used every ounce of energy you had in reserve and the tank is empty. You continue to take one step after another but you left your heart several steps behind and the sense of hopelessness is invading your mind more and more. Nothing is more difficult or discouraging in life than to face whatever is coming without our hearts in it. Let’s face it, you can lose heart in every aspect of life.

You often see the loss of heart in marriages that were once thriving. The couple that married with so much hope, joy, and love that you thought they were destined for a life full of meaning and purpose forever. But years pass. The twinkle in the eyes dims. The sense of excitement just to see the partner and to be together at the end or beginning of the day has died down. Now the love life feels routine. How can a couple keep from losing heart in their marriage? How can parents who start down the road of parenting with so much excitement about what this bundle of Joy will mean in their lives turn into parents who lose all heart as their children grow up and aren’t at all what they always dreamed they would be?

Who hasn’t taken a new job at some point with tons of enthusiasm about what it will be like, only to look back after a few years and think that it hasn’t turned out to be anything like what we dreamed of it being? How can a person keep from losing heart in life? Focus with me on two statements from the pen of the apostle Paul on how not to lose heart in life. Both these statements are found in 2 Corinthians 4.

The first is found in 2 Corinthians 4:1. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Notice the beginning of the sentence ties it to what he had been saying back in chapter three. Since he begins with “therefore” it is vital we look back to see what the basis is of the point made. Back in chapter three, Paul had described how God had given us the New Covenant and had made him a competent minister of the New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life (Verse 6). Unlike the Old Covenant that produces death this new covenant gives us life and when we behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, in the New Covenant, we are being transformed into the very same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of God. Having this ministry of the New Covenant to share with others, Paul declared, kept him from losing heart in life.

It shouts the message to us that having a sense of mission or purpose that is so great that it molds our whole lives and the lives of others to follow the teaching keeps us from becoming discouraged and losing heart in life. We may serve God in a multitude of ways in life. But the truth is, God calls each of us to a work of ministry in his body. There are many list of ministries one might have in Romans 12; I Corinthians 12 and I Peter 4. Each describes how we have different spiritual gifts from the Lord and are to use them as our ministry for him. Just knowing I have a job or ministry or calling from God on how to serve him in the world keeps us from losing heart in life. His mission for us is life-changing. We become means of His for blessing the world for good.

The other text is found in verses 16-18 of 2 Corinthians 4. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” There may not be a more disheartening time in life than when we grow older and all the things we have been good at, seem to be beyond our reach now. Our body begins to grow old, decay and so many of the things we used to do capably, become out of reach for us. It is easy when we feel we aren’t needed or useful in the world anymore to lose heart in life and want to give up. Having a sense of mission or purpose gives us heart. But even when we aren’t able to do the things we once did, God tells us we don’t need to lose heart, because we having something waiting for us in the future that far surpasses any blessing we have in this life. As the body decay’s the inward person is being renewed day by day. We won’t find that fountain of youth for the body in this life. But, I want to tell you that for the soul or inward man, we can find that fountain any time we are ready to look for it.

Haven’t you met some older people in life that never seemed to get old in their mind or thinking? The body became feeble but their mind and heart seemed to stay young, alert and alive every day. If you search for their secret you will find they have a since of purpose, ministry and mission. And you will find they look forward to the future with glee since they know that this life isn’t all there is. Instead there is a life beyond the grave that is far, far better than anything we have ever known down here. When this tent is dissolved or destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, waiting for us in glory and it excites us to anticipate an eternal home in heaven.

Don’t lose heart! Something better lies ahead!

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STANDING FOR JUSTICE

What comes to your mind when you think of the word “justice”? It is certainly a word that gets thrown around a ton in our day. it is pretty common to see groups of people marching in the streets of some city with signs that cry out for justice. But it is just as obvious that different people have very different things in mind when they talk about justice. The word itself does carry some different meanings. It can mean to be fair. It is often used in the Bible interchangeably with the word, “Righteous”. So the idea of being just may mean to do what is right and what we know is right or it may mean to treat others fairly. God called on the nation of Israel in their treatment of foreigners who lived among them to treat them with justice, remembering that they too had been strangers in another land. Think of Isaiah 1:16-18 as a good example of justice. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do good; see justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord; though your sins are like scales, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Did you notice in God’s plea to the people to seek justice he tied it to correcting oppression, bringing justice to the fatherless, and pleading the cause of the widow? It sounds in many ways like James 1:27 when we are told that pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” So, justice, before God involves compassion, caring, and serving those who are oppressed or hurting in the world.

Compare this with another picture of justice from the lips of Jesus. In Matthew 23:23-24, he was talking to the religious leaders of that day. He had pronounced on them several “Woe’s” for their lifestyle. As one of the woes, He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” I suspect that these religious leaders felt it was a matter of justice for them to be so dedicated about their giving to God and the temple that they paid a tenth of even the herbs they grew in their garden. In their mind, such giving was of supreme importance and made the people of God able to care for those in need. But what was really going on with them is that their religious duties such as tithing had taken the place of godly living among the people. Their putting money in the treasury had become the substitute for them getting their own hands dirty by helping the fatherless, the widows.

Notice the things tied with justice here in Matthew 23 along with Micah 6:6-8. “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Notice many other translations have to “Love mercy.” Justice will lead to fair, right behavior. It leads to compassion and mercy for those who are oppressed or struggling in life. it is tied to faithfulness to God. Think of the fact, “The just shall live by faith.”

God is certainly our standard in matters of justice as well as everything else. He does what is right all the time. God’s justice leads to the punishment of evil and evil-doers. It will result in people going to eternal hell who reject the way of God and faith in Him. But God’s justice never contradicts or even fails to go along with His grace, mercy, and love. God is just, but he is ready to forgive and give us a fresh start in life no matter how much we fail him. Remember the story in John 8 of the religious leaders in Jerusalem coming to Jesus early one morning, dragging a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. They threw this woman before the Lord demanding what they felt was justice. They declared that Moses in his law required that one caught in adultery be stoned to death. So, their question to Jesus was, “What do you say?” The question is in present tense meaning they asked it over and over again. Jesus certainly could have stood and asked them where the man was, who had been caught in adultery with her, but he didn’t. Instead, he stooped to write on the ground. Imagine as they kept shouting, “What do you say?” Finally, he stands tall and looks directly at them, and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw his stone.” Suddenly the conscience of the leaders hit home. From the oldest to the youngest they began dropping their rocks and walking away until it was just Jesus and the woman. He looked at her and said, “Where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one Lord.” Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Did Jesus give justice to the woman? Did he offer justice to the crowd shouting for her death? Were they wanting justice when they brought her to the Lord? Our thoughts of justice tend to run straight down the road of doing what is right and fair, usually softened by our own prejudices. But, God’s sense of justice always runs alongside mercy and faith. In Luke 10:23 it was also tied to love. We need to be people who stand for justice, but let’s be careful that our viewpoint isn’t from the standpoint of being judge and jury but from the standpoint of being a fellow traveler in life who struggles with sin the same as the other person does. When I remember how awesome God’s grace is to forgive my sins, it should lead me to be ready to offer such mercy and forgiveness to others quickly.

In Matthew 18 Jesus taught us to confront a believer who sinned and try to bring them back to salvation. He pointed out that we should be ready to forgive over and over again. When Peter sought a limit he asked if we were to forgive up to seven times and Jesus responded, not seven times but seventy times seven. He told a story to illustrate his point. A ruler had a man who owed him a huge amount of money, way up in the multi-millions of dollars. When the loan became due the man couldn’t pay it but pleaded for more time. The ruler forgave the whole debt and gave the man a fresh start. But he went out and found a man who owed him a very small amount compared to what he owed his master. He grabbed the man and demanded he pay him back. The man pleaded for mercy and time but he was unwilling to give more time and had the man and his family thrown into jail. The fellow servants of the man who had acted this way came to tell the ruler what had happened. They pointed out how the ruler forgave him the huge debt but he refused to forgive a small debt to a fellow servant. The ruler was angry and called the man in and delivered him to the tormenters because he had failed to offer the same mercy to a fellow servant the master gave him. The point is that God forgives us the massive debt we can never repay. How dare we refuse to forgive other people who have done so little against us compared with our sin against God?

Walk in justice, but make certain it is justice like God gives to us.

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