No Worries

Read Matthew 6.25-34

Don and Marge had lived in their home just outside St. Louis for 33 years. When the 1993 flood struck, the waters covered their land. A neighbor with a pontoon boat picked them up, along with a few items they were able to carry.

With their life savings, they put a down payment on an old home on higher ground. Ladies from church helped Marge fix up the interior. An Amish family helped Don build a pole barn. As he was sharpening his tools, Don told me this:

“People have been very good to us. Funny thing, it seems like the people who have the least have helped us the most.”

Often, the more we have, the less we are led to give. The more we cling to things we own, as if they were our own, the more we worry about losing them. This worry gets in the way of leading the abundant life God offers us in the Spirit of Christ. Life is about so much more than the things we have. God provides all we need and expects us to share what we have — our time, our talent, our money — with those in need.

The Power of Christ

Read John 18.33-37

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world…”  (John 18.36a)

Tom was a man who had been married three times. He professed adherence to Scriptural standards and claimed to be a Christian. But when I met with him I saw clearly one fatal flaw. He understood his role as “head of the household,” and “master of his wife,” to mean he could exercise power in whatever way he chose. To do whatever seemed right in his own eyes. This perversion of Scripture could have been corrected if he had looked more closely at the way Jesus exercised leadership — as a servant leader who gave his life for the good of his beloved.

The power of God in Christ is different than the powers of the world. It is not power that intimidates others into submission. It is not power that pushes people around, abuses privileges, establishes itself and then feeds off others. The power of God in Christ does not seek to overpower us. It is the power to serve, to inspire, to love. This power gives us strength.  builds us up. It is empowering. 

Hungry for a Blessing

Read Deuteronomy 8.7-18

Thanksgiving begins with hunger.

We usually don’t think of it this way, but it’s true.

Usually, we think of Thanksgiving in terms of abundance. We celebrate on this special day the goodness of God for the bountiful earth that brings forth fruit and vegetable in their season. We count our blessings as the table is piled high with turkey and all the trimmings, family and friends; food and football mingle together like giblets and gravy. It is the abundance of life – the good harvest, the horn of plenty that we think of and celebrate at Thanksgiving.

And yet, Thanksgiving begins with hunger, not with blessings. This was true as the Pilgrims gathered at Plymouth. They had only planted three crops in the spring of 1621: English peas, barely, and maize. However, as one person recorded, “our peas were not worth gathering-the sun had parched them and the barely was described as “indifferent”. Nothing much to have it. The only crop that made it was the twenty acres of maize which the natives had taught them to plant using herring as fertilizer. This maize, or corn, was not the abundant ears we’ve come to know and love.  Instead, this maize was probably about 2 or 3 inches long with kernels of varying quality. Imagine preparing for a feast with only corn about the size of those little Chinese corn things you get at salad bars and you’ve just about pictured how it was when the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans over for the Thanksgiving feast that first winter. Some feast, huh?

Still, they gathered together and gave thanks. The Pilgrims knew what it was like to face hunger – to be physically hungry. When I say, though, that Thanksgiving begins with hunger I mean more than physical hunger. I’m also talking about the kind of hunger Jesus mentions when he says, “Blessed are those who hunger…who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Thanksgiving begins as we become aware of the hunger within us, the restlessness that pushes us forward in faith and life. It is out of this hunger that we come together to worship, to serve God and creation. It is this hunger for righteousness, for right relationships with God, with each other, and with ourselves, that motivates us to give thanks for what we have even as we hunger for more.

Without this hunger, God’s blessing becomes irrelevant. If we are not aware of the hunger inside us, we are not likely to come to the table of God’s grace. Instead, we become self-satisfied, complacent. We become like the man stuffed from a huge Thanksgiving meal who plops down in an easy chair, turns on a football game and tunes out all that’s going on around him.  It  is not bounty, but hunger that moves us to experience God’s blessing in a life of thanksgiving.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is cautioning the people Israel not to lose sight of where it is they come from. As you enter the land flowing with milk and honey, as you begin to experience the abundance of life, don’t forget how you got there. Don’t forget the God who delivered you from bondage, who carried you through the wilderness, and brought you to this land promised to your ancestors. Don’t lose sight of the hunger or who has satisfied your hunger when you become full.

Thanksgiving can be a time when our hunger is satisfied, around the kitchen table as well as around the table of grace. God satisfies the hunger of those crave God’s blessing of right relationships. Humorist Garrison Keillor writes a story of a Thanksgiving gathering in his family.

Thanksgiving begins with the hunger for righteousness, for right relationships, with God, with each other, and with yourself. Thanksgiving does not begin with abundance, with a horn of plenty, but with hunger, desire, for a cup of salvation poured out for the world; a broken loaf shared with all. A hunger for Christ, who satisfies, who alone nourishes us with the bread of heaven and satisfies our thirst with the cup of salvation.

Be Strong and Courageous

Read Ruth 3

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. (Ruth 3.7)

Throughout the Bible there is the recurring message: “Be strong and courageous… for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1.7) Ruth demonstrates just this sort of strength in leaving behind her homeland to provide for her mother-in-law. She shows great courage by going to Boaz at the threshing floor, risking a social scandal, yet trusting that God will be with her even there.

Karen was a widow at 35. She had three children, scarce income, and not much business acumen. She had very little, but she had a lot of faith. With some help from her brother, she fixed up her home and started a childcare. By the time her own children went to school, she was ready to expand, so she rented space at a local church. When I came to know her, the childcare had become not only a nursery, but preschool, and after-school center which had a building of its own and employed a dozen teachers. Karen earned enough to put all three of her children through college.

Often God calls us to take risks, to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. We are to be strong and courageous, confident in the Spirit of Christ that God will be with us wherever we go.

 

Losing Much; Gaining More

Read Job 42

After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. (Job 42.10)

Sometimes we have to lose a part of ourselves in order to gain something greater. We have to lose our lives to gain them back, even better than before. When we take the risk of losing life, we can embrace the new life God alone offers us in Jesus Christ. 

Vernon is a man who found great enjoyment in his work. He was not exceptionally skilled, but he was dependable. Suddenly, his company asked him to take early retirement. He accepted, thinking he had no choice. Now Vernon stays at home, watching episodes of “reality TV,” wondering what to do. He’s afraid to get another job. He avoids seeing his former co-workers. He feels left out and alone.

Job’s blessing comes at a cost. When the Lord restored his fortunes with twice as much as he had before, Job faced twice as much the risk to lose it all again. He could have become overwhelmed by this prospect, stayed at home to watch “Judge Judy,” not going out to embrace the new life God had given him. But he doesn’t. He receives God’s abundant blessing and shares this blessing with others.

Big Enough for Bitterness

Read Job 23

God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me.
Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,
    by the thick darkness that covers my face.  (Job 23.16-17)

Though Job’s suffering is great, he continues to call on God. His call becomes a bitter complaint before God who seems no where to be found. Job doesn’t hide his anger, his frustration from God, nor does he hide his awe, his great respect for God’s power. He calls on God to rescue him from the darkness of suffering.

Andy was an accomplished teacher. He inspired generations of young men and women to explore great literature. His passion for the written word was infectious. He also cared deeply for his students.

When he retired, life seemed to escape him. Within months, he died.

His widow, Wanda, was terribly grief-stricken. She struggled desperately to find some meaning in her loss. She blamed Andy’s students, for sapping so much of his time and energy. She blamed his colleagues, who never seemed to be there for him. She particularly blamed his principal, who had loaded him up with so much responsibility.

Wanda became bitter in her blaming. This bitterness caused her to forfeit her faith. Rather than lift her complaint to the Lord, as Job does, she became consumed by anger at the world and all those within it.

When we become bitter from suffering, we can turn to the One big enough to handle it who will replace our grief with joy.

Keeping Faith

Read Job 1.20-21

Job is a man who has it all, loses everything, yet still keeps faith in God. One troubling question arising from this story has been echoed throughout the ages: “If God is all-loving, and all-powerful, how could He let such tragic suffering come to His people?”

Ted was an account executive at the peak of his career. He was a devoted husband, a faithful father of four, and a deacon in his church.Without warning, a blood clot dislodged from his heart and he suffered an aneurysm. His family and friends sat in stunned silence beside him as he faced the prospect of death or a life severely disabled.

In time, Ted recovered some of his functioning. He required more rest, but was still there for his family. He took a less stressful position in his company. He remained a deacon, though cut back his visitation schedule. Most importantly, Ted kept his faith. When asked how he could still believe in a God who would let this happen, he replied with quiet confidence,”The Lord has given me life, not just once but twice. The best I can do is have faith.”