Fruit Worthy of Repentance

In Luke 3:8 John the Baptist admonishes us to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” That’s a fancy way of telling us we have to make a change in our lives if we want to be saved. Yes, God loves us as we are, if He didn’t why would He reach out to us at all? However, He knows we could be so much better – and if we are honest with ourselves, we know it too!

We encounter change in our world on a daily basis – the channels on our cable system have been rearranged, we have to insert the chip rather than swipe the card at the checkout, and there’s road construction on the way to work. Sometimes change is merely annoying, but often change is hard. Change we don’t have control over can be frustrating, but changing ourselves may be the most difficult thing we are called to do.

Changing our lives by saying “yes” to Christ means giving up control, something that seems almost impossible for humans. How can we let go of being in charge? In his teaching from Luke 3, John the Baptist gives us a glimpse of what Jesus will teach: share your gifts and be good to one another. How hard is that? We don’t always get it right, but we can practice every day until we do. God wants us all back as part of His beloved family, but we have to change our hearts and lives!

Gracious God, thank You for the chance to be redeemed, for loving us so much that You are willing to come after us to bring us back. Help us to change so that everyone may see Your love through us.

Roadbuilding

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord!’ Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!” Isaiah 40:3

I don’t really remember ever reading these words from the prophet Isaiah until my senior year in high school when I did the opening tenor solos for Handel’s “Messiah” and being surprised that they came from the Old Testament. I thought that only the New Testament talked about Jesus! Over the years I have found that there are many Old Testament references to the coming of God’s Chosen One. It’s interesting to note that this passage also tells us that we are responsible for being part of His coming, that we must prepare His way, and that it will require us to visit the deserts and wilderness places of this world.

This is both a wonderful opportunity and an awesome responsibility! Think about it – we have been called to be part of the roadcrew, helping to make God’s kingdom on earth a reality. Now, let’s not kid ourselves; God doesn’t need our help for anything! However, He graciously calls us to be part of what He is doing, to participate in the sharing of His Good News throughout our world.

God wanted to bring us back to Himself so much that He was willing to come to us in human form, to show us the path we must follow and teach us how to help build it for others. We read that the early church was known as the Way, showing us all this wonderful road to salvation from God!

Loving Lord, as we wait in joyful anticipation for Your coming among us, help us to continue on the Way, Your followers and by Your grace, partners in building the highway.

Being Prepared

How do you get ready for an important project or activity? Usually there is planning and research, followed by decisions and a timeline. A lot of time and effort go into preparing for a large scale or long term endeavor. Now I ask you, is there anything more large scale than salvation or long term than eternity? If we pay this much attention to our human business, why wouldn’t we work as hard for our spiritual business?

Perhaps we don’t plan for eternal life because we don’t understand it completely. Maybe we remember Jesus’ words “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). What we should remember is what He told us to do – love God and love one another. If we would only follow that commandment, many of our earthly difficulties would be resolved.

Part of our problem is that we want to follow our plan, when all that matters is God’s plan. We are so self-centered that we have a hard time realizing how much God loves us all, and how much He wants us to be part of that eternal plan. We don’t need to plan at all!

Loving Lord, thank You for making us part of Your plan, for including us in what You are doing in creation. Help us to pay more attention to the things You want for us than what we want for ourselves. Help us to be prepared for the coming of Your kingdom.

Restored

Do you remember a time when you wanted to mend a relationship, to reconnect with someone so that things could return to normal again? How difficult it is to fix things like that! Wouldn’t it be nice to have an instruction manual to tell us how to make that happen?

The good news is that in the Good News we have exactly that – a manual of instructions for our relationship with God and each other. We don’t have to guess how to forgive each other and restore our connections, there are lessons everywhere we look in Scripture. Jesus told us to forgive each other without keeping track of how often we do it, saying “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22), as if someone would really count that many and then stop forgiving. Jesus is the ultimate example of this, praying on the cross “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34) for those who crucified him.

It may be hard for us to understand such loving forgiveness, and Jesus gave us a more human example in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). When I was young I had trouble with that strange word and called him the Problem Son. Maybe I was more right than I realized! When he returned, the father forgave the wayward boy and restored their relationship. Jesus said that is the way God will welcome sinners who return to him. Perhaps more important to us though is the reaction of the older brother in this story. Are we as welcoming and forgiving as the father in this story, and our loving Father in heaven, or are we angry that sinners might be welcomed back into the family?

We have to forgive each other in order to fully accept the forgiveness God gives us! We are called to repent and return as individuals, but we are also called to forgive each other as the people of God.

Merciful Lord, you forgive our sins and welcome us back as children of your kingdom. Help us to forgive and welcome those around us that we may all be brothers and sisters in Christ.

The last, the least and the lost

With all the problems we face in our world today, helping those in need sometimes seems an insurmountable task. There are natural disasters, people out of work and homeless – what does God expect us to do? As always, God expects us to do very best we can with the gifts He gives us.

Our issue is that we often look at a problem and say “I can’t solve that!” Solve it yourself? Not likely. But with God’s help, and by joining our brothers and sisters in Christ, all things are possible.

In the story from Matthew 14, there is a crowd of hungry people who have listened to Jesus teach all day. The disciples ask Him to send them away to buy food, but Jesus said “No, you give them something to eat” (Matt. 14:16) Like us, they probably shook their heads and said it was an impossible task. Jesus knew they couldn’t do it alone, but He wanted them to see that they were part of the solution, that part of the responsibility fell on them, not just divine intervention.

Thoughts and prayers have gotten bad press recently, sometimes deservedly so. We are called to think and pray and act! However, if I jumped in my car with just the clothes on my back and headed to California to help fight the fires, I certainly wouldn’t be very effective! Thinking and not acting is bad, but acting without thinking is no help either. God calls us to do both! As in the Gospel lesson, Jesus called on the disciples to look for a way to help and blessed their efforts.

Loving Lord, bless those who are suffering. Bless us to find ways to help and protect them. Let us all work together to save the last, the least and the lost. Amen.

God’s Holy Word

How could we possibly understand the mind of God?  He is so far above us, we have no way of comprehending!  Thankfully, God has reached out to us through scripture to teach us His way.  Without this wonderful gift, we would wander lost, unable to fully appreciate His love for us.  Paul writes in his letter to Timothy, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Did you read that word “proficient”?  That’s what God wants for His children, that we become knowledgeable in these lessons, to understand His love and care, and to share it with all our brothers and sisters.  The psalmist sings “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)  What a wonderful gift – God teaches us and calls us to be part of His work on earth, to spread the Good News everywhere!

In Jesus’ parable of the sower from Mark 4:1-20, we hear that the Gospel is like seed to be planted everywhere.  He warns that some seed will fall where it will not grow, but He also encourages us that some seed will bear fruit in abundance!  Let us be joyful sowers of God’s word, willing to go even to the barren and broken hearts to make them fertile fields for the Lord!

Gracious God, thank You for the gift of scripture to help us understand You better.  Please continue to teach and guide us that we may be proficient in serving You!

Small Things, Big Results

Image result for mustard bush

Luke 13:18–19 (LEB): Therefore he said, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his own garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the sky nested in its branches.”

Jesus uses parables to illustrate His teachings when we might not otherwise understand the lesson. He starts with something we are familiar with and then moves us to a new idea…or sometimes a very old idea that we have never grasped. This allows us to make a connection that we might otherwise miss, and then be able to share that lesson with others. The Parable of the Mustard Seed is an example of what it teaches – it is not a long story, but the lesson has large and lasting effects.

Jesus uses the way a seed is planted to show us the way God intends His kingdom to come. Many expected a mighty king who would lead them to victory over their perceived enemies, but that was not the plan. Jesus taught in this parable that God’s kingdom would grow from a group of faithful people working slowly but effectively day by day – the way a mustard plant grows from a tiny seed. This changes our thinking from conquest behind a military leader to cultivation that requires care over time, how God planned to save us all.

Today’s world is one of competition and contention, much like that of Jesus’ time. The lessons He taught are needed more than ever in a society that shouts at each other rather than listening, and threatens rather than comforts. We must remember that we are all made by God and are more alike than we are different.

Loving Lord, teach us to plant Your word everywhere we go, in everything we do, and to tend to our brothers and sisters. May our small actions using the gifts You give us help to bring Your kingdom for all of creation.

It’s Not Ours

As the dominant life form on earth, we tend to have a pretty high opinion of ourselves and our acomplishments. Part of this is in line with God’s plan – Genesis 1:28 tells us God said “have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth”. Unfortunately, we have taken that to extremes, often applying it to each other in our struggle to control virtually everything. We forget a very basic fact – it’s not ours!

God created human beings to manage the earth for Him, not turn it into a private playground for our pleasure and profit. We are caretakers, tenants; not the owners and certainly not the creator! Our technology has enabled us to do almost anything, but we forget that the skills, intelligence and every natural resource we have are gifts from God, not something we have made ourselves. There’s an old joke about a scientist having a conversation with God:

Scientist:”We have gotten to the point with our science that we can create things just like you do.”

God: “Is that so? How about a creating contest then?” (God reaches down and picks up a handful of dirt)

The scientist looks around and also grabs a handful of dirt, only to have God knock it out of his hand.

God: “Sorry, you have to go make your own dirt out of nothing the way I did!”

Sound a little farfetched? Perhaps, but we need some perspective here – without God’s blessing of creation, nothing, including us, would exist! Today, let’s give the glory to God where it belongs and not lift ourselves so high. God values the things we learn and do in His creation, but it all belongs to Him.

Loving Lord, we thank You for everything…and that means everything. Without You we have nothing and are nothing. Help us to use Your gifts wisely to make a better world for all, and to share the love You send with everyone.

Better Than Who?

In Luke 18, Jesus tells of two men praying at the temple – one a Pharisee and one a tax collector. The lesson shows us that only by humbling ourselves can we be made right with God. It sounds so simple, but we find it so hard! Why do we have such difficulty admitting we’ve done wrong?

Early in our childhood, if we spilled or broke something, when asked we likely replied “I didn’t do it!” I tried this defense even when I was an only child, as if someone had come into our house specifically to get me in trouble. When God questions Adam and Eve about their actions, they attribute blame to everyone but themselves. It seems to be a very human trait.

We are so quick to divert responsibility from ourselves, rarely able to say we are in the wrong. But in the parable, Jesus says the Pharisee who claims he is righteous does not follow the most important commandment – to love God first. Instead, it’s about how good he is, how much better he is than the tax collector standing next to him. His prayer isn’t really thanking God, it’s all about himself!

We know deep in our hearts that we can’t save ourselves, that only submission to God’s will and accepting Jesus can do that; but we still insist on having our own way. Today, let us humble ourselves and let God have dominion in our lives, showing how we can be the vessel for His love here, rather than contestants in the “better than you” game.

Gracious God, we owe everything to you. Help us to see that nothing we do is through our own strength but only due to Your abiding love.

Light

In the summer of 2015, I was called to two

churches in far southwest Kansas. Coming from

Omaha, Nebraska, a relatively large urban center

to the rural farming and ranching community

where I live now was kind of a culture shock.

One of the biggest differences was how dark it

gets out in the country. We have streetlights in

town, but it can get pretty dark pretty quick the

farther out you get. Darkness is one of those

primal things – you can get over the childish fear

of just being in the dark, but most of us are never

truly comfortable not being able to see what’s

going on around us. Maybe it is an all too human

control thing, wanting mastery over our situation

and environment, but the darkness can often

confuse us and hide things that could potentially

harm us. Even if we’re not afraid of the dark

anymore, a healthy respect for it is certainly in

order.

The Creation story from Genesis tells us that God

spoke light into being to bring order to chaos. He

sent Jesus to be the light for all humankind, to

restore order to our world which had descended

into chaos once again due to our selfishness and

disobedience. Jesus told us that we are the light of

the world, called to bring the brightness of God’s

love to everyone, everywhere. In Acts, we see the

fire of the Holy Spirit illumine the disciples and

energize their ministry. God’s plan is for us to

work with Him, to be partners in that continuing

ministry. What a wonderful gift! What an

awesome responsibility!

Are you in a dark place? God can bring you into

His light if you call on Him. Are you ready to be

God’s light in the world? You may feel inadequate

in the face of all that requires. If so, you’re in good

company. Nearly everyone we hear God call in

scripture says they are not up to the challenge.

God provided comfort and capability for them, and

He will equip you as well!

Father of light, in You there is no darkness at all.

Help us to see that we can reflect Your light and

love in a world that is desperately seeking hope.

Show us Your plan for our lives and make us burn

brightly for You! Amen.