Many people are familiar with the well- known verse of Scripture: I can do all things through God who strengthens me. I have seen this verse on athlete’s equipment, on bumper stickers and billboards. It is often right in front of me and honestly, I believe it (almost always).
But…. if this Scripture is true (spoiler alert, it is!), why is it that I cannot seem to keep a New Year’s resolution. Try as I might, my firm commitment to lose weight by swearing off sweets turns into a good idea and finally to wishful thinking and waiting until next year. In talking with others, I find that the vast majority find themselves in the same boat in regard to these types of resolutions. The intentions are good, yet the ability to stay the course invariably goes away.
What is the answer? After all, God tells us we can do all things. But I have left the answer out: I can do all things, but only through God. I am sure that God wants me to watch what I eat so that I can worship God through ministry for years to come, but I need help to get there.
The problem is not with God, but with my stubbornness that continues to tell me I can do this or that thing on my own, thanks anyway, God. Personal history has revealed that in my own strength I will eventually wilt when confronted by ice cream or cookies.
So what is the answer? For me, I have to read that Philippians 4:13 in reverse: Through God’s strength, I can do everything. Reading it this way puts God first, exactly where God belongs in my heart and mind! Now I am better prepared to see God’s faithfulness toward me. And I am reminded that I need God to accomplish the good I set out to do!
Be encouraged my friends! Allow our human failing(s) to draw us ever nearer to the God who loves us all unconditionally.
Coming nearer to God will give us the opportunity to do everything God would have us do in 2022, so long as we stay aware of our need of God’s strength to do it.
The following is a sermon I wrote for seminary this semester to be shared with the church I am now serving at.
We are the Church
A Sermon based on Acts 2:37-47
Presented by Vicar Chuck Copps
Greetings my siblings in Christ. Please take a moment to look around at those gathered here today. Familiar faces for the most part, I can safely assume. Now please close your eyes and in your mind’s eye see the church. Thanks.
Hopefully the pictures in your mind of church consisted of many of the faces you looked at a moment ago, for that is the church. Let’s define church this way: It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel (Augsburg Confession; VII, p. 42, paragraph 1).
Now what if asked how you got here today? Motor vehicle would be one correct response. But for the purposes of our time together this morning, please consider another equally correct answer to that question:
We are brought to church, according to Luther’s Large Catechism, 3rd Article of the Creed (Book of Concord, p. 435) by the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit that leads us to the community of faith and places us in the lap of the church as he was fond of saying. The Holy Spirit then, working through the proclaimed Word of God and the sacraments, teaches us about God’s undying love as evidenced through the forgiveness of our sins. Presented with God’s love in this way, the Spirit pours into us the gift of faith by which we come to understand that God has redeemed and renewed us.
To sum up, the church is made up in and by the hearts of the faithful. To be clear, the church welcomes everyone in regardless of where they may be in their journey. There is no ‘heart monitor’ prior to coming through the doors!
Next let’s consider the example of the growing church we just heard about in our reading from the Book of Acts to see how we might deepen our own ideas about church, our place and purpose in it, and how our faith plays a role in all of this.
We, as the body of Christ, operate on a level playing field. There is no hierarchy of power. We as individuals are called to different vocations, and because of this we all bring something of value to the assembly. Of great blessing to this gathering of the faithful is Pastor Hannah. Because she is called to be our pastor, she is in a position of leadership and guidance for this assembly, not because she is a super-spiritual or an otherwise special recipient of God’s blessings. We are all the recipients of God’s grace as individuals but as a church we do not mediate this grace. Grace is a pure gift of God, given only by God to us through the means of the sacraments and proclaimed Word as the Holy Spirit works through them.
If this brief description of what the church, do these facts apply to the church we read about in Acts earlier? Here’s the short answer: Yes! Let’s review the activities of the Acts church to discover how this is true.
Those first members of that faith community had heard the Word of God proclaimed to them as Peter spoke. As they listened, the Holy Spirit moved in them in such a way that they received this gift, repented of their sins and were baptized and the church, as we defined above, was born! I am sure many of them then thought, “This is wonderful but what is next?
Our text gives the answer: They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. It should be easy to see the similarities between then and now. We have gathered to pray, to hear the teaching of the gospel, the sharing of the communion meal and fellowship. Of these features, it is safe to assume that the teaching uses different examples and analogies now than it did then, but the pure gospel is still proclaimed here as it was then. Likewise, our prayers our different and certainly the time of fellowship would have many differences. Can you imagine a fellowship time without coffee?
Please note, however, that the breaking of bread would essentially be the same. Both the early church and we remember what Christ has done for all humankind as we share the bread and wine at his table. We are aware, as the first church was, that Jesus is present in this meal and by partaking of it, our spirits are nourished and our souls comforted as we remember again what the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus as gained for us all.
Our text tells us that those who received God’s forgiveness that day were then baptized. Obviously, those mentioned in Acts were adults. Why do we baptize infants then? An excellent question that deserves to be answered.
In the Lutheran Church, we believe baptism to be a divine action by God. The use of water, with the proclaimed Word of God is how we receive the gift of faith. As with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the water is a material means by which the Holy Spirit imparts faith to us. We baptize infants then not only to have this gift poured into them early in life, but also a sign to the community of faith of God at work. As a person grows in faith, he or she becomes aware of their shortcomings. At the same time, that gift of faith poured into the person at Baptism continues to bring comfort as it brings to mind that we are renewed and redeemed by God.
This all sound good, but does it mean that we, as Lutherans, have the inside track to God? Of course not. Other churches and other denominations can be seen as ‘different flavors’, if you will. As long as the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are properly administered, the format of worship or the type of songs that are sung can vary significantly. The point to remember when looking at other Christian faith communities is this: Those things that are commanded by God are necessary for worship; traditions placed by humans, so long as they do not detract from what God decrees, are acceptable, though they be different from what we practice.
For example think about fasting. The giving up of food for a period of time may well be a valuable spiritual discipline for some, but the act itself has no bearing on our salvation. Hence, one church may practice fasting while another does not. Doing so does not make one community holier or closer to God, it is merely a practice that one group chooses to follow.
The preaching in the church today should be recognizable as similar to what was preached in the early church. Salvation is from God to us made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. As we gather to worship God, we are reminded of God’s grace as we hear the gospel explained. The early church eagerly sought this teaching and God blessed them by growing them in numbers. We would do well to anticipate God moving likewise in this gathering should we digest the gospel message as first church goers did.
Concluding thoughts: It is my hope that during this time together we have developed a deeper understanding of what the church truly is. Simply put, church is a state of mind, not a destination. Although a well-kept building and fine trimmed lawn is appealing to the eye, it is when the church is seen in the hearts of the faithful that God’s message of hope is spread.
As I’ve said, the church exists in each of our hearts, as it did in the hearts of those in the Acts church. God has put the same call in our hearts that was put into theirs all the centuries ago: We are sent into the world to proclaim and live out God’s justification of us through Jesus Christ.
As the Holy Spirit guided those folks in Acts to gather for worship, teaching and fellowship, so too are we to express God’s love to others as we do the same.
We can do this in confidence because we see the evidence of God’s love here in the Word and Sacrament. Through these God has initiated trust in our hearts. We know therefore, as the first church did, that salvation comes only from God. We play no active part, it is purely God’s gift to all. As the Holy Spirit works in us, both individually and as a church, we are transformed more and more into God’s likeness in order that we can better share this Good News with others, regardless of our personal vocation.
The passage we read from Acts Chapter 2 ended on a very encouraging note after describing the life and activities of that early church: And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (V. 47b NRSV)
As much as I would like to tell you that the same will happen here if we all truly embrace the idea that the church is made up within us. However, I’m just not privy to God’s plans.
I can make several informed opinions if we do though. First, God will bless us with increased faith as we more fully grasp what the church is to be and that we all have a part, or function, in its growth. I believe that we will grow in our trust of God as we take to heart the things that make up a vibrant church.
Although I cannot say that God will add to our numbers on a daily basis, I am confident in the Almighty’s plan to deepen the faith of all of us and that as we come to trust the promises of God with greater certainty, each of us will grow in our love of God and our willingness to share that love with all the world around us. Amen.
Just a quick scan of the Bible reveals that God has quite the record of providing real food on a miraculous scale to sustain the body. In the beginning of Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel you can read about one of those times as Jesus fed over 5,000 people from just 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread with leftovers that filled 12 baskets!
Jesus had worked this mighty miracle as a setting for a plain talk on His true mission in the world. “I am the bread of life.” By saying it that way, ‘I am,” Jesus was identifying himself with God.
While it is true that Jesus spent much time ministering to people’s physical needs, the real purpose of His coming into the world was to save people’s souls.
Hearing this, the people began to lose interest. As long as there is free food, great; keep it coming. Be our King and feed us every day like the Israelites in the desert under Moses. Jesus’ first audience were thinking only of their own physical wants and needs. How many of us still do this too?
More than just another meal
Jesus addresses those grumbling as He points out that the manna, (in verses listed at the top) miracle that it was, did not provide the eternal ‘food’ that we all need. After all, their ancestors ate it and still died in the desert. Jesus is so much more than just another meal.
The first of the I am statements in John’s Gospel
Jesus, “I am the Bread of Life.” What does that say to you? The original audience had trouble processing that claim. What do you do with it?
Maybe before we examine that, a more basic question needs to be addressed first: Who is Jesus to you?
Is He: a cosmic talisman you call on when you are in trouble?
Some far-off or aloof deity/someone you choose to keep at arm’s length?
Is He your Savior (the A answer!). Yet the text today seems to be telling us that the Lord can be something in addition to Savior. Please remember that Jesus is salvation, plus or minus nothing.
Jesus: “I am the bread of life.” (twice) “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”
Is He the Bread of Life to you?
When Jesus says you will never hunger or thirst again, obviously He does not mean physically. Rather, Jesus is telling us all that believing in Him brings with it a satisfaction that cannot be removed or replaced. It has been said that we are all born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts that can only be filled perfectly by Jesus. That hole is what gets filled when you take the Bread of Life. Jesus brings to you the wholeness that only He can.
Remember, Jesus is not just another meal
Jesus does not want only to help us sustain life. No, rather He is offering all humanity eternal life! You, me and the whole world. This is God’s grace as it is poured out to us each day. John 10:10b records Jesus saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I have come that they may have live; and have it to the full.” Jesus has come to save and to have the life He offers to the full.
We then must use each day’s grace for the purpose God gives it; that it nourishes us spiritually. All we have to do is merely acknowledge our need and accept what the Lord is offering daily. God knows your needs. Do you trust Him to supply that which you need, even if you do not understand it or can explain it?
Christianity 101 tells us that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to its theology. Jesus, the very Son of God, came to earth and lived a sin-free life as He taught and demonstrated of the nearness of the Kingdom of God.
He ultimately revealed the depth of His love for all mankind when He willing went to an awful death by crucifixion. As He did, He supernaturally bore the weight of the entirety of the world’s sin on His person in order that ordinary folks like you and me could be saved for all eternity.
The Apostle Paul sums this all up for us in his letter to the Roman church: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NIV)
I would gladly welcome conversation on any of the above at any time, including questions, concerns and uncertainties. But let’s do that during another post. For today I want to focus on the physical cross itself that Jesus was crucified on. I believe that God is still calling us to Himself and that much of the invitation still lies in and around that wooden implement of death that God has wondrously turned into an invitation to life.
I have been giving some thought to the physical cross. I know that much of Christian art has depicted Jesus carrying an entire cross up Calvary’s hill. However, research seems to have shown that the Lord carried only the cross piece as the longer vertical pole would have been left in place for re-use.
Joseph Zias, an anthropologist with the Israel Department of Antiquities, and Eliezer Sekeles of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem state that, “One can reasonably assume that the scarcity of wood may have been expressed in the economics of crucifixion in that the crossbar as well as the upright would be used repeatedly.”
If they are correct, and I have no reason to doubt them on this, that means that the crossbar that Jesus carried and died on was used again, possibly many times.
I think it unlikely than any of those being put to death by crucifixion by the Romans of that time for treason, speaking against the government, rebellion or murder (the crimes most often punished by this means) knew of the previous carriers of their cross-piece. Word of who Jesus was and what He had done was still confined to a relatively few people at the outset. How sad to think that the very piece of wood that had held the Savior’s body was unknown to them.
Conversely, how wonderful is it that we live on the other side of the event of the Cross of Jesus! Because He took the place of all sinners (that’s you and me again!) and willingly paid the price for all of our transgressions, we can know that our forever home has been secured with Him.
Yet as we celebrate this greatest news ever presented to human beings, let us not forget how it came to be. In other words, let us not lose sight of the significance of that cross-piece that Jesus carried. We have the opportunity to know why His Passion had to play out as it did.
As you contemplate that awesome truth again today, I ask that you also remember those who have no knowledge of what Jesus did (and is doing). Many are trudging through life carrying a burden that can only be relieved by the One who cares for us all. Please, if given the opportunity today, won’t you share the incredible story of God’s love for all as it is represented in the Cross?
Each of the last five summers I have gone back to work at the “other college” in Syracuse, New York. As I have mentioned here before, I left full-time employment there in September of 2016 so that I could devote my full attention to our ministry. It continues to be a blessing and a joy to take up my paint brush and roller for the summer months as I help the maintenance crew get the dorms ready for the new school year.
The friends I made while working there are for the most part still employed by the college. It is a relatively small crew made up of about 30 workers. Having worked with them for over 12 years, they were all aware as to my reason for leaving. Though they may not have completely understood my motivation for moving on, to a person they have respected it.
I make that last statement based on their reaction these days when I walk in on or are part of a conversation that is laced, shall we say, with colorful language. “Oh, sorry, I did not mean for you to hear that” is the common apology I hear when this happens. My normal response is something like, “That’s ok, I have heard all those words before.”
I was prompted the other day to respond differently to a ‘blue streak’ I walked in on. As I entered a new suite of rooms to begin painting, I found one of the maintenance crew struggling mightily to put a bedframe back together. Before I could offer any help he let out with a string of profanity that told me this was a problem that had him completely frustrated. He ended his tirade with a loud “Jesus Christ!”
I saw the embarrassment on his face when he realized I had heard everything he had said. Rather than merely laugh this one off, I felt prompted to respond in a different way.
Speaking first, I said, “You know, that last name you used does not really belong with the rest of what you said.” Smiling kindly at his reddened face, I went on, “Jesus Christ is the Son of God and I have found that He loves me all the time, even when my mouth is running way ahead of my mind.”
“I know,” my co-worker said in a much softer tone. “He just has never seemed real to me, even when I heard those stories as a kid in church.” There was a brief silence. Then he added, “I don’t see much evidence of any Son of God in my life.”
I would love to tell you that at this the choir of heaven started to sing or that this man fell on his knees in sudden joy. But none of that happened. I simply assured him that I had been in that very place he was in and that I knew all about confusion and doubt.
I then left him with this assurance: “Neither I nor God are here to condemn you for your language or for anything else. But please let me leave you this one suggestion. The next time you feel your anger taking off, think of Jesus first, and not as simply a swear word. Ask Him to make Himself more real to you, that you might be interested in getting to know who He really is.”
That’s where we left it. But I don’t believe the Lord has. My prayer for my co-worker and all those baffled by confusion and doubt is that they allow for the possibility of Jesus Christ being more than a cuss word and in so doing, crack open enough of their heart to find out that He is so much more!
Some time ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I had a job in a men’s clothing store. In those days, long before mega-malls and Amazon, a small local shop made its success by giving excellent customer service. In a store like that one, this meant measuring arm lengths, inseams and waistlines accurately. A fair amount of training went into learning this process. Once mastered, I could confidently suggest styles and cuts that would best fit each individual customer.
As I understand it, God’s armor is not a ‘one size fits all’ choice. Rather, experience has shown me that the Almighty tailors His armor to fit perfectly to each individual.
The Apostle Paul gives us some detail on this in his instruction about donning the armor of God. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10-11 NIV).
Before putting it on, we are to establish in our hearts and minds the awesomeness of our God. To stand against the devil, we must stand in the Almighty’s power. In this power, He offers us each the armor that is described in this passage. It is God’s power, but it is tailored made to fit us each individually. As evidence of this, I have seen many godly people who have put on the armor of God, and each of them, though fully covered, manifests different aspects of the armor. This tells me that it is God who has ‘taken our measurements’ in order to have the perfect fit available.
As in all good bible study, the truth lies in the fact that ‘Scripture proves Scripture.’ For our purpose today, consider the young boy David as he prepares to do battle with Goliath. After convincing everyone that he is God’s chosen one to fight, King Saul offers the lad his personal armor for protection.
Earlier in the narrative, when Saul is anointed King, he is described as being a head taller than the rest (1 Samuel 9:2). It becomes obvious to all that the armor of a full grown man is not going to be any help to David. David says, “I cannot go in these, because I am not used to them.” So he took them off (1 Samuel 17:39 NIV).
In other words David is saying, these were not made for me, I must go in the strength that the Lord provides. You know the rest of the story; David, carrying only a slingshot, slays the giant Goliath.
We too must go in the power God supplies. He offers us His full armor. We in turn must figuratively put it on each day as we go out into the world. This armor, as described by Paul, will protect our body and our mind. God thus provides us protection in all areas of our life and then gives us the only weapon we need in our defense, His word.
May we all, Dear Reader, recognize that God has made and provided the perfect fit for each one of us. As we put on the full armor of God each day, let us go out and proclaim His goodness in all we do, knowing that we have a tailor made suit of armor at our disposal.
Most of us have favorites. Be they in the world of movies, sports or music, we have certain personalities, teams and songs that we count as personal favorites.
I have a question for you today that I hope begins a conversation: Who is your favorite bible personality and why. I have found that depending on the season of life I am in or in what portion of the Scriptures I’m reading, my fave personality can change. That is ok, for God’s Word tells us that it is ‘living and active’ (Hebrews 4:12). With that being true, it stands to reason that this living document with reveal different things at different times to us.
With that being said, I was re-reading about one of my personal favorites just the other day, Philip. Philip is a prime example of a person with a servants heart who remains humble in the service to others, regardless of the fact that he gains a fair amount of notoriety as he does so.
We are first introduced to Philip in Chapter 6 in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The number of converts to Christianity has been expanding rapidly; so fast that some of the basic needs of these folks were not being met. The original Apostles wisely discern that they need more help, particularly in the distribution of food to widows and orphans. They select 7 people with the qualifications of being ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.’ (Acts 6:3) Philip is one of the 7 that are selected to help in this regard.
Soon after this, persecution breaks out against the growing movement of Christ followers. Many are scattered to other regions, including Philip. He ends up in Samaria where he preaches the Good News of salvation through Christ. With the power of the Holy Spirit, Philip performs miracles that display God’s power. He is very popular among the people and many come to faith there.
With this background, allow me now to share 4 reasons Philip is a favorite of mine.
First: He was obedient to God. As I said, Philip was experiencing great success for the Kingdom of God in Samaria. Yet in Chapter 8 he has an encounter with an angel who gives him instructions to leave that ministry and go down a road toward Jerusalem. No other clarification is given. Philip simply listens and obeys. He did not allow his ego to cloud his judgment. This, in my opinion, is a wonderful example of obedience and trust.
Second: Philip is prepared. Like I said, he didn’t know what was ahead, but we soon find out that he was prepared to meet any challenge that might come. On the road, the bible tells us that Philip meets an official from Ethiopia who is stopped in his chariot, reading from the Scriptures. Feeling the prompting of the Spirit, Philip (in another act of obedience), goes to meet this man and then asks him if he understood what he had been reading.
The official answers that he cannot unless someone explains it to him. Philip starts with the passage the official had been reading (from Isaiah), and explains how this is the message of salvation found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is obvious to me that Philip had himself spent time studying, reading and applying the Scriptures. When the question of explaining something came up, Philip was prepared to give the answer.
Now, we do not have to be biblical scholars to be prepared like Philip. But we do need to be familiar with what the bible teaches so that we too can express the truth found in it.
Third: Philip was willing to adapt to the situation as it developed. The Ethiopian official, after having the Scripture explained to him, wanted to express his joy in coming to this knowledge of Jesus by being baptized. There was water nearby and Philip honored the man’s request by baptizing him right then and there.
Again, we might not be called to such a radical act, but then again you never now. May our trust in God be evidenced by our willingness to perform whatever task the Spirit lays out for us.
Fourth: Philip was consistent. Acts Chapter 8 tells us that after he baptized the Ethiopian official, Philip was suddenly and supernaturally taken from that place and placed in another town. Philip, not resting on his laurels, begins to preach the Good News there and everywhere has he traveled to Caesarea. Philip knew the call God had put on his heart, and he consistently walked it out wherever he was.
There you have my favorite, at least for today, from God’s Word. How about you, Most Precious Reader? Would you share with us one or more of your favorites that you have in the bible and why their story has impressed you? Thanks.
According to the most recent statistics from hospicenews.com, the average length of time a person was under hospice care in the United States was 77.9 days during 2018. That is just a tick over 2 and a half months. I have always had an affinity for numbers, as I find they help me in my expectations and plans.
This is well and good for most of the mundane activities and sports that I enjoy. However, I have found that God pays little attention to the conclusions that we draw from our statistical findings.
Never up to this point in ministry have the words of St. Peter rung more true to me: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)
This tells me that it is God who created time for us. He is outside of its restrictions and constrictions. But we, like all living things, need the passing of minutes, days, weeks, etc. to help us mark time for the things of this life. In His infinite wisdom God set time in motion the way He has for our benefit. He works to a far different schedule than us, hence the helpful description of time passing by Peter as mentioned above.
I mention all this as a little background as I now tell you about Mrs. M. She was one of the first patients I had as a Pastoral Care Provider for our local hospice organization. When we first met, she had been given the prediction from her doctor that she had 2 to 4 months to live, well within the established length of time for most hospice patients.
The thing is, this was going to be an great example of God not heeding our statistical knowledge. I was invited into Mrs. M’s home in March of 2018! I just received word late last evening that she had been called home to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her expected 2.5 months of hospice care turned into just over 3 more years of life!
And please understand, she was not merely checking the days off as they went by. In those early months after I first met her, she was still mobile and enjoying many of the things in life. She spent time with her large and extended family members, went shopping and got out to play her beloved bingo as well.
But most importantly, Mrs. M. spent much of that time deepening her relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an honor for me to be a part of this.
To be clear, in my role as Pastor in hospice, my primary focus is to provide spiritual care for the patient and any family member that chooses to join. I am not to be overtly Christian in my approach, but rather simply listen with care and provide support in ways that are appropriate to each situation.
That is not to say I cannot share faith, but that I cannot lead with it. However, there are not restrictions placed on me should the patient have questions, thoughts or concerns about Christianity.
Mrs. M. made this abundantly simple for me. At our first meeting, after introductions around, she asked me, “What happens to me when I die?” Talk about an open door to expressing and sharing the love of Christ! As I began to explain what the Bible teaches us of our need for a Savior, I learned that she had trusted Jesus for her salvation by accepting His forgiveness for her sins some years ago. Like many folks, however, her knowledge of the possibilities of what that relationship with Jesus could mean to her in the here and now was limited.
From that point on, our once or twice meetings per week were mostly spent on exploring the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Scriptures. What I was so honored and humbled to see was how Mrs. M. lived out these truths. As her many visitors stopped into chat when I was there, she never missed the opportunity to invite them to join us in discussion and prayer. The love, compassion and care she lavished on these folks, regardless of how she was feeling on any given day, continues to inspire me to be my best for God when I am given the chance to.
Watching God bless Mrs. M. in so many ways is one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me. As a matter of fact, after 12 months, the hospice agency re-evaluated her condition and released her from their care. She remains the only graduate of hospice this side of eternity I have ever known!
This ending with hospice did not cut our relationship short, thankfully. By this time, my wife Betsy and I were in there home on Sunday evenings leading bible studies and worship. As time went on, more and more family and neighbors were invited to join Sunday Night Church, as she lovingly called it. Again, the abundance of God’s blessing is incredible.
I have learned so much from her over these past 3 years with the single most important one being to follow the instruction of God: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.
I conclude these thoughts today by asking for your help in carrying the love of God forward as my dear Mrs. M. did without reservation. Please take the time today to let someone know how much you care for them. It does not need to be anything special, maybe just a call or a walk across to street to check in on a neighbor. Or perhaps there is a family member you are in tension with. With the love of God in your heart and mind, be the one to set the those issues aside long enough to simply let them know that you care about them.
Thank you and may you be inspired by Mrs. M. as I have been.
Thanksgiving in the United States is considered the traditional kick-off of the holiday season. How much of a season of good cheer it turns out to be is yet to be seen, however.
2020 has certainly been a year like no other. In this country we have seen civil unrest, Mother Nature at her worst, political upheaval and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amidst all the pain, suffering and uncertainty of the future, some might find it hard to be thankful at this time in history. I would not be one of them, however. My heart certainly goes out to those who have lost so much to wildfires and hurricanes. It breaks for those who have lost loved ones to sickness.
I whole-heartedly believe that true thanksgiving must spring from our hearts regardless of current circumstance. I can best accomplish this when I stay focused on the One who always deserves my humble gratitude, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I will be preaching a Thanksgiving sermon from Luke 17:11-19. I have given this message the title: Giving Thanks in a Socially Distanced World. This passage of Scriptures relates the account of Jesus healing 10 who were afflicted with leprosy. I hope that as you consider these verses, you too will be able to give proper thanks and praise more readily to our Lord.
I admit I had never used, thought of or even considered the term ‘social distancing’ before March of this year. Social distancing is now the norm. Keeping a minimum of 6 feet or more from others is considered the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19 down. It is not a new idea, however. Those 10 lepers seeking healing from Jesus used it as well: They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12b-13 NIV)
Like us, you could say that the ten lepers were not having a good year either. Their condition was not only debilitating physically, but it made them outcasts from all people, family and friends included.
The lepers were living/existing away from their families. The family unit was very tight back then. Their absence would have been keenly felt, affecting the lives of the rest of that group. These 10 had an incurable disease and depending on its severity, a death sentence. Those family members would have had little to no hope of seeing their loved one again.
This certainly helps explain the joy they must have felt when they were cured. The desire to let their loved ones know they we healed and back with them would have been very strong; strong enough to prevent them from even thinking about going back to thank the One who had healed them.
However, in our currently socially distanced condition, we can learn the most about giving thanks from the one who came back to Jesus. Gratitude, in my opinion, is an action word. Merely saying I’m grateful without a heart and /or actions to back it up is a bit shallow. The man who went back to Jesus modeled the action of gratitude. He changed direction, putting the giving of thanks above anything else he may have initially wanted to do. He thanked the Lord before going off on his new lease on life.
Practically speaking, how might you and I display the action of gratitude in a socially distanced world? Here is one suggestion: Take the time today to call someone you know that is alone. Let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything they need and express a willingness to fulfill that need if you are able.
As I think of it, truly giving thanks in a socially distanced world depends little on our current circumstances. Rather, the driving force of daily thanksgiving is God Himself. Merely scanning the Scriptures reveals many things to be grateful on a daily basis because of who God is and what He does.
Think of it as a fill-in-the-blank exercise: God I thank you for: ______________
Here are a few examples:
God I thank you for: saving me through your Son Jesus Christ
God I thank you for: your faithful love
God I thank you for: the fact I can pray to you.
Please notice that this list includes not one item having to do with things or possessions. Rather it is all about who God is and what He has done, is doing and will do. I firmly believe that the more we keep the eyes of our hearts open to see what God is doing in and around us, the more grateful for Him we become.
This is not to say we shouldn’t be grateful for the material blessings in our lives. We should be grateful to God for the gifts He bestows on us. I merely remind you to not lose sight that the material things, as wonderful as they may be, will one day be gone. Only God is constant. He is forever loving us, leading us, calling us to Him. Let nothing separate you/me from giving thanks to Him!
The 10 lepers kept their distance, yet still called out to the Lord. You and I have no restrictions to God’s availability. The only barriers to us knowing Him more intimately are put there by ourselves.
God does not demand that we thank Him. We can assume the other 9 lepers remained healed even though they did not come back to say thanks to Jesus. But the one who did return received an even greater blessing. He got to look into the eyes of Jesus. The Lord then blessed him abundantly by revealing what faith in Him can do. I believe this man’s healing went beyond his surface condition and reached his heart with the peace that only God can give.
So run to His embrace. Know the depth of His love for you. As you do, you will find freedom to live a thanksgiving life every day that no social distance can keep you from.