The Withering Hand

Standard

First Kings 13:1-6

Around 960 B.C. Jeroboam became the first king of Israel (Northern Kingdom). On one occasion when leaving Jerusalem, he encountered Ahijah, “the prophet” of the ancient sanctuary of Shiloh. Ahijah stripped off his new outer garment and tore it into twelve pieces, ten of which he gave to Jeroboam with the assurance that, on obedience to His laws, God would establish for him a kingdom and dynasty equal to that of David (vv. 29-39). Jeroboam probably began to form plots and conspiracies, for Solomon sought to take his life. He fled to Egypt, where he received the protection of Pharaoh Shishak. He remained there until the death of Solomon (v. 40), about 926 B.C.

Upon the accession of Rehoboam, Jeroboam appears to have headed a deputation that asked for a redress of grievances. The harsh answer of Rehoboam inevitably caused a revolution, and Jeroboam was called to be “king over all Israel” (12:1-20). The policy of Jeroboam was to bring about a religious as well as political disruption of the kingdom. He therefore sought to discourage the yearly pilgrimages to the Temple at Jerusalem. To this end, he established shrines at Dan and Bethel. He set up “two golden calves,” doubtless thought of, according to a widespread Semitic custom of viewing deities enthroned on the backs of animals, as representing Jehovah’s invisible presence and established a priesthood for his crown (1 Kings 12:26-33).

While he was officiating at the altar, a man of God appeared and prophesied the coming of King Josiah, who would one day burn the bones of its ministers upon that altar. Jeroboam attempted to arrest the man. When the arm that he stretched forth was dried up, in answer to the prayer of the man of God he was healed (13:1-10). Jeroboam continued his idolatrous practices, making “priests of the high places from among all the people” (13:33), and his rebellion soon brought about the extinction of his dynasty.

Martin Luther once said, Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works. Leonard Sweet said that his Gramma taught him five principles of good gardening. Don’t get rid of your seed corn. There’s no use watering last year’s crops. Feed the soil and the soil will feed you in return.
Rain is not something you should always come out of. God doesn’t settle all accounts in October.

They are principles of growing a soul which we chase away at the cost of a boomeranging stampede. Jesus tells a story of a farmer who went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil.
It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil.

God disciplines us because God loves us. How we react to that discipline determines our destiny.

On April 4, 1896, the literary digest recorded the actual account of a Mediterranean whale that demolished a harpoon boat and two men were lost. After the whale was captured one-and-a-half days later, one of the men, James Bartley, was found alive in the whale’s belly. He was swallowed alive with all his senses in conscious working order and transmitting every new feeling, sensation and experience to the central intelligence module in his brain. He was still able to see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and think. Sperm whales have no teeth so they must rely on the highly caustic, gastric fluids to dissolve their food. The intestinal liquids are composed of strong digestive chemicals which are corrosive, scalding, and burning to the flesh. These sour, bitter, and bleach-like juices singe the skin raw, scorch the eyes, dissolve the hair, and stimulate a burning that is relative to a raging furnace of fire. Hallucinations, delirium, and disorientation tormented his mind in the pitch-black, dreary, and lightless midnights that seemed like a thousand eternities in outer darkness.

Jonah too was swallowed by a whale in an act of discipline by God. To fuel the flame of affliction, Jonah found no sleep, rest, or repose for seventy-two jumpy, jittery, and hyper-anxious hours. There was no pause, intermission, recess, break, or calm. The ancient record declares, “Then Jonah prayed” (Jonah 2:1). When Jonah prayed, he submitted to the will of God and received the message that brought Nineveh to her knees.

Sometimes bad things happen for all the right reasons. A little boy is telling his Grandma how “everything” is going wrong. School, family problems, severe health problems, etc. Meanwhile, Grandma is baking a cake. She asks her grandson if he would like a snack, which of course he does. “Here, have some cooking oil.” “Yuck” says the boy. “How about a couple raw eggs? ”
“Gross, Grandma!” “Would you like some flour then? Or maybe baking soda?”
“Grandma, those are all yucky!” To which Grandma replies: “Yes, all those things seem bad all by themselves. But when they are put together in the right way, they make a wonderfully delicious cake!”

God works the same way. Many times we wonder why he would let us go through such bad and difficult times. But God knows that when He puts these things all in His order, they always work for good! We just have to trust Him and, eventually, they will all make something wonderful!”

When the Only Way Out is Through

Standard

Ephesians 2:1-10

Jell-O turns 121 this year and the story surrounding its inventor is truly ironic. In 1897, Pearl Wait wore several hats. He was a construction worker who dabbled in patent medicines and sold his ailment remedies door-to-door.
In the midst of his tinkering he hit upon the idea of mixing fruit flavoring with granulated gelatin. His wife named it “Jell-O” and Wait had one more product to peddle. Unfortunately, sales weren’t as strong as he’d hoped, so in 1899, Pearl Wait sold his Jell-O rights to Orator Woodward for $450. Woodward knew the value of marketing so within just eight brief years, Wait’s neighbor turned a $450 investment into a $1 million business. Today, not a single relative of Pearl Wait receives royalties from the 1.1 million boxes of Jell-O that are sold each day. Why? Because Wait just couldn’t wait.

Jesus tells the story of ten virgins. Ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
(It is almost like saying that the Christian walk is a 50/50 preposition, half will finish and half will not.) The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The Christian journey is a long journey. It is a difficult journey, not easy. Jesus says (In both Matthew and Mark) All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. Showing not only the difficulty but the expectation. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: `Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “`No,’ they replied, `there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

There are many times that I have told God that it would have been much easier if He had sent His Son as soon as Adam and Eve sinned. Yet it has been a long journey for God’s people. We have found that we could not just follow our own consciences. We could not just be obedient to a government. We failed at keeping a personal covenant. We did not honor the Law. So, now we stand in the love of God’s grace.

Zech 9:12-13 Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Prisoners of hope? Sometimes I feel like a prisoner of hope. When life is good, it is nice to be alive and part of it, but what about when things are not good? Job was a happy man-rich, lots of children, good friends, until God started messing in his life. But Job was blind to the amount of pride in his life. Jonah was a happy man, probably wealthy, and very influential but not obedient until God put him into some difficulty.

You and I sometimes have difficulty understand how a loving God can watch His children go through difficult times. Why doesn’t God just bail everyone out of the trouble they find themselves in? It is not difficult for God to perform a miracle or two and solve the problem. But in the course of that intervention, what do we learn? The same lesson that a child learns when Mom and Dad are always bailing them out, nothing. The child learns about real life by living real life. I am sure that it is far more painful for God not to intervene into our lives.

I am mindful of the prayer: Give me the serenity to accept what can’t be changed, the courage to change what should be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. Acceptance is powerful in its own right. We are not some pawn trapped between the war of God and Satan. What Paul is telling us in our lesson is that God’s grace turns the experience of making it through into some real break through. God may not bail us out but God gives us a wonderfully refreshing, nourishing, replenishing breakthrough!

Going a little farther, Jesus fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Were You There To Find Out Who Is the Greatest?

Standard

Mark 9:33-37

The passage exposes a real male thing! I have noticed at the “Y” where I work out that there are mirrors on the wall all the way around the exercise equipment and weights. I could see the purpose was to make sure you have the proper form. But it is interesting to notice the guys who will watch themselves in the mirrors…flexing their muscles admiring their bodies.

“What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Nearly 200 years ago there were two Scottish brothers named John and David Livingstone. John set his mind on making money and becoming wealthy, and he did. But under his name in the “Encyclopedia Britannica” John Livingstone is listed simply as “the brother of David Livingstone.” And who was David Livingstone? While John had dedicated himself to making money, David had knelt and prayed. Surrendering himself to Christ, he resolved, “I will place no value on anything I have or possess unless it is in relationship to the Kingdom of God.” The inscription over his burial place in Westminster Abbey reads, “For thirty years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize.”

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” I discovered a political shocker a few years ago. It happened in Colorado.
Laurie Bower, a Democrat, withdrew from the state senate election on November 1… and endorsed her Republican opponent! “What gives,” you ask — me too. Here’s what I understand Ms. Bower said: “It is my personal opinion that he is in a better position to help the people of this district. So I put aside the partisan differences.” I searched for a reason. “Well,” I thought, “she just wanted to avoid a losing campaign; or she found something better to do than the state senate; or she was bought off; or a scandal was brewing.” Well, in the charged climate of modern public relations, you think about this stuff, don’t you? I was left in the final analysis with a simple explanation. Laurie Bower is genuinely interested in the people of her district. That seems too simple, too straightforward. But not too good to be true, it turns out. Think of it: a public official more interested in the people of her district than in her own personal advancement. It’s not a new idea, you know.

Archbishop Secker used to say, “God has three sorts of servants in the world:
some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are sons, who serve because they love.”

Some places have a surface well that you have to pump and then water starts coming. Those who live as slaves or respond out of fear live like this well. As long as you pumped, the water would come — but when you stopped, so would it. You also had to leave a little in a mason jar to prime the pump to get it going the next time. It was just a surface well. There are people like that, Christians who need to be primed, pumped, pleaded or begged to do anything.

Hirelings serve for wages. At Princeton Seminary an Ethics professor asked for volunteers for an extra assignment. At two o’clock, fifteen students gathered at Speer Library. There he divided the group of fifteen into three groups of five each. The first group of five was given an envelope telling them to proceed immediately across campus to Stewart Hall, that they had fifteen minutes to get there and if they didn’t arrive on time it would affect their grade. A minute or two later he handed out envelopes to five others. Their instructions again were to go over to Stewart Hall but they were given 45 minutes. After they departed he turned over the envelopes with instructions to the third group, the ‘Low Hurry’ group. They were given three hours to arrive at Stewart Hall. Not known to any of these students, the teacher had arranged with three students from the Princeton University Drama Department to meet them along the way, acting as people in great need. In front of Alexander Hall one of the drama students was going around covering his head with his hands and moaning out loud in great pain. As they passed by Miller Chapel on their way to Stewart Hall they’d find one fellow who was on the steps laying face down as if unconscious. And finally on the very steps of Stewart Hall the third drama student was acting out an epileptic seizure. It’s interesting that, of the first group, no one stopped, of the second, two of the five stopped, and of the third fivesome all five stopped.

There is another kind of well, an artesian well. When you want to get water out of that kind of well you just connect up to it and then it flows and flows when you turn on the spigot. People can be like that. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they are looking for places to minister and share. They are ready and waiting to reach out. The difference is that some want to serve, others want to be served. The one responding in love is the artesian well.

You have your gifts not so much for your own sake but for the sake of others.
You are like an apple tree which produces fruit not for its own consumption but for the consumption of others. Your gifts are given so you can bless others by ministering to them. If you have the gift of teaching, you have it so others in the Body will be taught. If you have the gift of hospitality, it is because others need the gracious welcome they receive from you. If even one gifted person fails to function, the Body of Christ is deprived of a ministry it needs to function well.

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you. Dale Carnegie

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the other ten disciples heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Were you there to find out that Jesus was the greatest of all?

Were You There When He Was Transfigured?

Standard

Mark 9:2-13

Some years ago, I stood beside a creek, where a little five-year-old friend was playing. Noticing a bunch of tadpoles, I scooped one up in my hand and showed it to him. “See this tadpole–it will turn into a frog.” He looked up at me with a wrinkled brow, shook his finger at me and repeated forcefully, “No, it won’t!” When I thought about what I’d described, it was pretty hard to believe! The process is called “metamorphosis” in biology, the changing of one natural form into another. It is the same Greek word used in the Gospels to describe the transfiguration. When it comes to understanding this, we are all spiritual five-year-olds.

Jesus had been in the area of Caesarea Philippi. After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

It is very difficult for us to understand God. But Jesus is God – somehow in our minds we like to separate the Son and the Father and make them two different persons. But Jesus is God!

There are several points that take place we do not want to miss. In the transformation, Jesus’ clothes get dazzling white. It shows the purity of God.
God is without sin. In Revelation, God is portrayed on the throne in dressed in white for power and justice. Then a cloud appears that covers Jesus and the two prophets. The cloud has always represented the presence of God. When Israel was wandering in the wilderness a cloud journeyed with them everywhere they went. The cloud shielded them from the heat during the day. It became a pillar of fire to warm them at night. When Solomon dedicates the Temple in Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord fills the temple with the presence of the cloud. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Two men who have unusual deaths. Moses who dies alone on top of a mountain overlooking the promised land. God buries Moses’ and then sends an angel to get his body. Elijah who does not die at all but is taken up in a chariot to Heaven. Elijah never tasted death.

An eleven year old young man named Landon stood in front of his mom one day and said, “I wish I could write a letter to Luke.” His mother could see the tears her son was holding back. Nine months earlier, Landon’s friend Luke had died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. Landon’s grief was deep, unreachable. His mother longed to ease his pain, though she could do nothing except hold him when he wept. She thought, maybe writing a letter was a good idea. She handed Landon paper and colored pencils. “Tell Luke how much you miss him and how much you love him. Tell him you haven’t forgotten him.”

Landon wrote the letter. A long one. The completed paper was a work of art. He wrote each line in a different color and carefully drew an elaborate border around the edge. It was a love letter …a message from earth to heaven. Landon folded the paper carefully, and together they asked God to give Luke its message. But somehow, that wasn’t enough. “What I really want to do is tie my letter to a balloon,” said Landon. “I know it can’t really get to heaven, but…” He left the sentence unfinished.

His mother drove him to the store. There, Landon chose a neon pink helium balloon to carry his letter. Then they drove up a steep butte at the edge of town. It was peaceful on top, offering an endless view of high desert and mountains. A gentle breeze was blowing, and when Landon released the balloon, it instantly danced away from his fingers. They watched it silently.
Up, up, up. It climbed quickly as if it knew the importance of the mission.
“I wish something would happen so I could know God got the letter,” Landon said. His mother wished something would happen, too, but her practical side spoke, assuring Landon God would give Luke the message regardless of what happened to the balloon. “I know, but I still wish I could see something…” Landon said.

The sky was covered with thick, heavy clouds, and the balloon grew smaller and smaller as they watched. Then suddenly, just as the balloon was leaving their vision, an opening appeared in the clouds. The balloon sailed through.
They stood there speechless. “Did you see that, Mom?” Landon whispered reverently. “God got my balloon.” And as they drove back down the butte, his mother knew the message had been delivered.

It is hard to imagine what Jesus looked like when He was transfigured, or changed in form. A display of God’s glory in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Sometimes our faith needs the “shot-in-the-arm.” A transfiguration can bring the needed courage that our faith calls for.

The Transfiguration concludes with God’s voice speaking from the cloud which marked God’s presence. The same words where spoken at Christ’s baptism and a continuing reminder of God’s presence with them. For there is coming a time when in the clouds we will see the Master!