“Then one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.”
When we give thanks to God, we are at the same time humbly confessing that God is God and we are not. Have you ever considered the gifts you have been given by God?” The people that God has placed in your life, the opportunities that just seem to happen, the little reminders of God’s presence even at the most difficult of times are just a few examples of our Lord’s loving presence in our lives. Our gratitude offered to God is our purest witness of faith and is the realization that we need God “every hour.” Take the time to consider even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant gifts you have been offered, and give God thanks. Every time we offer thanksgiving to God, we experience the joy of knowing our Lord is with us, through good times, bad times, uncertain times, and all the time. Thank you Jesus for the promise you have made to be with each of us, “even to the end of the age.” Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, our rock and our salvation.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
In the story of Martha and Mary, Martha did all the right things; she welcomed Jesus and went about completing all the tasks necessary to entertain a special guest. Martha had her list and stuck to it, after all, so much needed to be done. Are you a list-maker? Do you carve up each and every day with things to do? We all lead busy lives to be sure, not enough time in the day, is there? But we do have a choice in how we choose to live our lives; we can choose to be busy with things, or we can choose to draw closer to the One that truly offers something far more precious than even the culmination of the tasks we accumulate for ourselves can. When Jesus said, “I came so that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10) He offered us a gift. When Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened she was being offered the abundance that only a relationship with Jesus could offer. The abundance that is offered has nothing to do with completion of tasks or the accumulation of stuff, rather it has everything to do with a relationship that seeks nothing more than for us to know the grace, hope, and joy that is eternal. Have you ever tried to get to know somebody by never talking to them, or listening, or spending time with them? Relationships build only by spending time with another and learning more about them. So it is with Jesus; if you truly want to know God, take the time by hanging out with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Sometimes that means time in prayer, other times in study, and still other times just serving the people whom Jesus loves. Take some time with the Lord; you will be blessed beyond your wildest dreams. Choose wisely and follow the Lord; you will receive a gift that can never be taken away. Thank you Jesus.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I kept the faith.”
II Timothy 4:7
Every year about this time I ask myself, “how did they do it?” How did they endure all the trials and tribulations of life with incredible strength and enduring faith? How is it that their impact upon our lives was so powerful that we realize that what they were witnessing was intended to pass the most precious gift they could offer to us, their gift of faith. When I think of the saints, my mind does not go to names etched in stone rather to those lives who are forever emblazoned upon my soul. O the saints of our lives; they would have hardly considered themselves saints, in fact they would have denied being in such exclusive company. Yet God gave each of them a gift that they in turn shared with us. The saints rose to the challenges that life dealt, and the challenges we probably dealt to them! But they could do no less than love us even more. They fought the good fight armed with the tools of grace, love, and hope. It could not have been easy, surely it was not. Yet the witness they shared has become very much a part of how each of us are today. William How penned these words over 150 years ago and they continue to sing from the lips of Christians celebrating the amazing gift that God has offered; “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed.” How did they do it? They shared their faith with every step they took and with every breath and with every fiber of their being hoped beyond hope that others would come to know the incredible joy of faith that they lived every day. For all the saints, O Lord we give you thanks. For all the saints, O Lord who shared their lives and their witness with us, we give you thanks May the witness of the incredible people God has put in your path offer you hope and the faith to “fight the good fight” of faith and give the gift of faith to another. For all the saints; “they have fought the good fight, they finished the race, and kept the faith.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Peace is a wonderful thing, often fleeting but when true peace is found, there is joy. The peace that faith in Jesus Christ offers is one that is eternal, it does not ebb and flow nor does it change with the season or with cultural mores. To live in peace is to feel truly at one with the Lord and to witness the grace of God to the world. A peacemaker is one that not only lives a peaceful life but truly is called to make peace, to reach out the hand of Christian love and share the peace of Christ with another. A peacemaker takes seriously the call of St. Paul that “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) A peacemaker may not understand but is understanding of someone else’s journey. There is joy in making peace because it is the sharing of truly what it means to be a child of God. God’s intent for you is to come to know the peace that comes through truly knowing Jesus Christ; it is a peace that is nonjudgmental, grace-filled, hopeful, and world-transforming. Jesus said, “peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives so do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) Accept the peace of Christ into your life and know the blessing of actively seeking peace for others. Thank you Jesus for the privilege of living out the peace that you share.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
Have you ever thought about giving someone a gift? For months, you considered what the future recipient might need or what would make them happy. The day finally comes when you wrap up the gift and with a huge smile on your face, hand the person the gift that was precious to you only because you believed it would bring them joy. Mercy is all about sharing God’s love with someone else, not with any thought of receiving something in return but because it is very much what it means to be a redeemed child of God. There is nothing more soul-filling than to spread the joy of the presence of God to someone else. Blessed are the merciful because they have received a taste of God’s joy through Jesus Christ. The merciful are not naïve’ nor are they self-centered in offering the gift of mercy; they simply have a disposition of offering kindness, which at times seems to be in short supply. Consider the ministry of Jesus; the people he healed were not worthy to be healed by worldly standards and maybe up to the time of meeting Jesus may not have even been believers. Yet in the infinite love and mercy of God, they came to know the joy of faith, of knowing that God cares about them. When we show mercy, compassion, we acknowledge the presence of God in us and just can’t wait to share the gift with someone else. Mercy is not just an attitude, it acts and responds to the needs of others. Those who celebrate the joy of mercy with another will receive even more mercy and joy in knowing that someone else’s life is made just a bit easier. Thank you Jesus.
“Blessed are those who are meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
There is strength in meekness, really? At first glance the words of Jesus have no relevance to the world in which we live. There is violence perpetrated on innocent people. There are those who feel they are “entitled” to abuse or humiliate those they say they love. Yet these words of Jesus, “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” offer a powerful message to those who feel powerless. The meek are not doormats nor voiceless. The meek live with the fact that their Lord is their rock and their shield. Those who are humble in spirit, the meek, lean on the “everlasting arms” of the grace of God that offers the grace and the power of God to be their guide. God does not condone violence of any kind against another rather God sets a standard of living that seeks to offer not just life, but life in abundance. The meek are strong and are of infinite value because their trust is in Jesus and Jesus alone. As the Psalmist writes, “do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will fade like grass, and wither like the green herb.” (Psalm 37:1) You are worthy because Christ is worthy, and you are strong because Christ loves you far too much to have it any other way. You are blessed and you are invited by Jesus to “come to me, all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) The blessing of meekness is the gift of faith in the One who “neither slumbers nor sleeps” for you and has gone to the ends of the earth to let you know that you are not alone and you are blessed, not powerless. Thank you Jesus.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
It seems as though our world has taken a turn for the worse; we have natural disasters to contend with as well as senseless violence robbing people of life, liberty, and peace. There is discord even in the midst of what would once have been simple conversations about world and national events; we mourn the loss of the ability to express personal opinion without fear of repercussion. We mourn the loss of civility and genuine love for one another. We mourn the loss of loved ones and the ravages of disease that have robbed us and those we love from truly enjoying life. How is it then that Jesus can say, “blessed” [happy] are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted?” Mourning in and of itself does not describe a person who by virtue of mourning will receive Christ, rather those who mourn celebrate a faith that knows that all is not right but through Jesus Christ, “every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain will be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:3-4) Blessed are those who know things are not how they should be because they know that their redeemer lives in Jesus the Christ and that only through Jesus Christ the world can be transformed. Only through Jesus Christ we can say with confidence that even those who have died in the Lord, our loved ones, are alive forevermore. Those who mourn take seriously the words of Jesus proclaiming, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:26) Those who mourn are blessed because even though they decry the current human condition, they cannot and will not resign themselves to the notion that the present reality is the final reality. There is more, much more. There is hope. There is power. Those in Christ who mourn acknowledge all is not right in the world but Jesus has the final word, and that is good, really good. Happy are those who mourn, because they have the comfort of knowing there is something more, something greater… Those who mourn, stand on the promises “that cannot fail.” Thank you Jesus.
“For this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
For the past few weeks every news outlet was fixated on the “eye of the storm,” where it will hit and the damage it could cause to people and property. It is as if nothing else was going on in the world except the “eye of the storm” and its consequences. Life can be like that sometimes; when disaster strikes, either natural disasters like hurricanes, or disasters that strike to the core such as illness, loss of a loved one, or economic uncertainty, everything else seems to just disappear around us. In the eye of the storm, nothing else matters but the storm. A life well-lived in joy is one that draws strength in seeing beyond the storm and understanding that our Lord will provide all that is needed to weather the storm, that the peace of God,” which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) The joy of the Lord celebrates the presence of God in the midst of the storm and sets our eyes hills of God’s never-failing grace, the one who promises to “keep you from all evil; he will keep your life…from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121) A life well-lived in joy is not giddy all the time but is confident that God will provide the strength, the hope, and all that is needed wherever the “eye of the storm” may hit. A life-well lived in joy knows and witnesses a faith that is contagious, especially to those caught up in roaring seas or shattered dreams. Joy is all about knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt the mighty hand of God will offer strength when ours grow weary and that,” although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9) A life well-lived in joy has “thank-you Jesus on their lips in good times and in bad, in uncertain times and tough times, and just all the time.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In an age of lightning-fast judgments and impatience with those whose ideas are very different than our own, these words of Jesus can be unsettling, if not counter-intuitive. The 2 greatest commandments sound good on paper, especially the first, but to love our neighbor is sometimes a bit of a challenge to be sure. When Jesus says to “love our neighbor,” he is not just talking about those who live near us, rather he is referring to everybody on earth for whom he died on the cross to save. A life well-lived in love is one that sees the good in all people and values them as children of God. It may not mean that we understand what they are doing or why, and certainly does not mean we need to approve of their actions in our minds, but it does mean that our judgment takes a back seat to God’s grace and mercy. While on a mission trip in Joplin, Missouri I happened upon a book in the library of the church who was hosting us with this opening statement; “be kind. Everybody is fighting a battle.” Loving our neighbor is understanding that someone’s reaction to us or the world around them may be about unseen struggles that are impacting their outlook on life. A life well-lived in love offers kindness and compassion towards all people and understands that everybody has challenges to one degree or another which impacts their worldview. We are called to share the love of God, which is nothing less than grace. There is also a blessing with a life well-lived in love; the freedom from the need to judge anybody and just enjoy the life that has been given by God. A life well-lived in love celebrates the blessing of those around them, offers grace instead of judgement, shares the peace of Christ in all circumstances, and seeks wisdom from the very heart of God. Thank you Jesus for the love you have poured into us by your Holy Spirit!