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December 10, 2018

I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  Luke 2:10

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  Philippians 4: 4[1]

Think back on a time when you experienced an irrepressible, unvarnished joy that welled up from deep within you.  You couldn’t help but smile, laugh, jump up and down, cry with joy, dance, or express your joy in other ways.  However you expressed that joy, it was evident to anyone around you that you were filled with great happiness.

That is how it is for those who truly believe that God came to earth as a baby and was placed in a crib, only to be nailed to a cross 33 years later to save us from ourselves.  The joy we have in Christ does not mean that we are never sad.  The Christian’s joy is a deep, abiding joy that goes beyond current circumstances.  It is a stream that flows within our souls and refreshes and revives us despite the difficulties we face.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit promised to all believers.

Absent clinical depression, the underlying joy of a true believer should be evident in his or her countenance.  I once heard a well-known theologian suggest that a joyless Christian is an oxymoron.  The angel announced to the shepherds: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  Good news indeed!   It was the best news that anyone would ever hear! The hope, the belief that God came to mankind and dwells among us today should bring a smile to your face whenever you read or hear it.

Paul isn’t suggesting that you be joyful—his words to the church at Philippi constitute a mandate: Rejoice!  If you are a believer, having a joyful spirit is the result of your assurance that God is there for you in this life, and that he will carry you into the next life where you will never have another concern or shed another tear. You either believe that God became a man or you don’t believe it.  Jesus left us with a lot of evidence that he was indeed, fully God and fully man—and that is the basis for our joy.  He loved us so much that he died for us and his Spirit lives in us today.

Paul was not living the high life when he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi about AD 61. After being arrested in Jerusalem in 57 AD, he initiated a legal proceeding by invoking his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid being tried in Jerusalem by the local religious authorities.  As legal proceedings have a tendency to do, his case dragged on for several years due to a series of unexpected events. For the first two years from AD 57 to AD 59, he was ensconced in a room in the palace at Caesarea.  After learning from Paul’s nephew that he had overheard a plot to kill Paul in Jerusalem, Roman soldiers rescued Paul from the religious authorities in Jerusalem and took him to the palace. He remained there in their protective custody for two years.  He was on his way to Rome for his hearing in AD 59, when he was shipwrecked and waylaid in Malta for several months.  He finally made it to Rome in AD 60, where he rented a house to await the hearing on his case, which was ultimately dismissed in AD 62, presumably for lack of evidence.  He received many visitors and wrote several letters during this first stay in Rome, including the letter to the church at Philippi.

Despite being arrested, narrowly escaping a murderous plot, being held for two years in protective custody, surviving a shipwreck and a poisonous snake bite, and waiting another two years for his case to be heard, Paul found reasons to rejoice, and so encourages us to live our lives joyfully.

The psalmist explains the basis for our joy: “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. You set aside all your wrath . . . I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faith servants . . . Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Excerpts, Psalm 85:1, 8, 10).

The prophet Zephaniah echoes the psalmist:  “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm . . . The Lord our God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3: 14-16, 17).  God sent Jesus to bear the burden of our sins, so that when we repent, we are forgiven and promised a place with him in heaven.

Jesus explained that while John the Baptist was a great man, those that come after John have a broader spiritual heritage because of what Jesus accomplished: “’I tell you,’ Jesus added, ‘John is greater than anyone who has ever lived. But the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John’” (Luke 7:28, Good News Translation).  We who have come after have a greater perspective of God’s plan for salvation. The generations following the resurrection came to understand that Jesus died for our sins, as promised by the prophets, and that is the basis for our underlying joyful spirit.

Life gives us many opportunities to be anxious, sad, apprehensive, and fearful –money problems, relationship problems, health problems, family problems, job problems—the list goes on.  But Paul tells us to rejoice always.  Our pastor suggested a few weeks ago that prayer is the bridge between worry and joy.  Joy is not the same thing as being happy. You are happy when good things happen.  Joy runs much deeper. If you are grounded in faith, and turn to the Lord in prayer, you will experience a quiet joy that transcends your personal circumstances at any given time. Even in the midst of difficult and painful circumstances, the believer maintains a joyful spirit, because he or she calls upon the Lord, and knows the outcome: whatever happens, you will ultimately spend eternity in a place of incomprehensible joy where you will never shed another tear or have another worry.

Prayer:  Father, we thank and praise you for sending Jesus to live among us—to teach and guide us—and then to die for our sins.  During this Advent season, we look forward to celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah—our Savior.  We thank you for the great joy we experience when we come into your presence now, and look forward to rejoicing with you in our forever home.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the third Sunday in Advent are Psalm 85; Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 7: 18-35.


December 3, 2018

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

He was a wealthy and well-respected Chicago lawyer and an elder in his church when his substantial real estate portfolio was decimated.  His son died of scarlet fever at a young age.  Two years later, all of his remaining children—4 daughters—drowned on a holiday cruise to England.  Only his wife survived.  By most standards, he should have been an angry, embittered man—shaking his fist at the God he worshipped.  But instead, when he sailed over the part of the Atlantic where the girls died, he penned these words:

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,  when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Who can do that?  Who could write “it is well with my soul” after losing most of his wealth and five young children? A believing Christian, that’s who. A Christian whose sure hope and belief is in Jesus Christ.  His name was Horatio Spafford.  He left the practice of law and devoted himself to full-time ministry—eventually moving to Jerusalem, where he spread the gospel until the end of his life on earth.

As we discussed last week, our hope and belief that Jesus died for our sins and claimed victory over death is the basis for our faith.  Authentic faith results in a peace that Paul described as passing “all understanding”  (Philippians 4:7).  That was the peace that Spafford had.  He described an overwhelming flow of peace that “attendeth my way.” His soul was at peace in spite of the overwhelming waves of sorrow.   It was a peace that saturated his being.  He was so full of God’s living water—his love and grace– that he was able to withstand the fires that raged about him.  He had complete confidence that his children were in heaven with Jesus, and that he and his wife would be reunited with them one day. We sing  “O come, O come Emmanuel” during Advent.  Emmanuel means “God with us.” Spafford experienced God with him.  When we invite God into our lives, we take a huge step to achieving the peace that passes all understanding.

The problems that crop up in our everyday lives can become obstacles to a peaceful life.  The trials we endure often disrupt the peace in our lives.  In addition to the loss of cherished loved ones, other problems come between us and the tranquility we so yearn for—relationship conflicts, family feuds and other family problems, natural tragedies such as the fires and hurricanes that have recently ravaged our nation, job loss and disappointments, addictions of many kinds, and mental and physical health issues, to name a few.

But we will never have a completely problem or conflict-free life during our three score and ten or so years on earth.  Conflict is universal.  There has never been a time without problems or conflict since the world began. Trials and tribulations have always plagued humankind and will continue to do so.  The Bible, like any riveting book, is replete with tales of trials, disasters, and conflicts.  Luke describes one such clash when John the Baptist expressed his disapproval of Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife: “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all:  He locked John up in prison” Luke 3:19-20).[1]  Of course, we know that Herodias’ hatred of John ran deep; she later tricked Herod into ordering his death.

Jesus gives us the peace of soul and mind that comes with being his follower: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  God imparts his peace to us and encourages us to pass it on to others.   What is a Christian to do in the midst of conflict?  In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the crowd that peacemakers will be blessed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”(Matthew 5:9).

But how do we accomplish that?  How do we go about achieving peace when we are beset by trials or are in the midst of highly charged disagreements?  How do we become a peacemaker?   Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean that you give in to every demand on you by another person.  It just means that you learn to resolve your differences amicably and encourage cooperation and understanding between warring factions.  It begins with listening to each other.

The Holy Spirit is there to help you resolve conflict—to be an instrument of peace.  The Prayer of St. Francis begins, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred let me sow love.  Where there is injury, pardon.” God does not demand peace at all costs, nor is peace the absence of conflict.  Peacemakers live in the world and are in the midst of conflict from time to time.  We are simply called to make efforts to reconcile  ourselves to others and to help others reconcile with each other and with God. The psalmist wrote: “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind! . . . He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations—let not the rebellious rise up against him” (Excerpts, Psalm 66:5-7).  Be a peacemaker.

Paul reassured the church at Thessalonica that God who began a good work in them will carry it out: “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6).  When you join the family of God and strive to carry out his will for you to work for peace, he will help you through the tough days, hours, and months, when reconciliation seems to be a pipe dream.

This is the season of peace and goodwill.  Many people are suffering from personal losses of property or of loved ones. Many families and others will be in conflict during the holidays.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul encouraged us to do our best: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Paul understood that reconciliation is not always possible, but as a peacemaker, you are required to do your best to resolve differences.

Peacemaking is a divine activity; it requires the involvement of the Holy Spirit.   The Prince of Peace will lead you to a peace that passes all understanding in your own life, and will be with you as you help others through the challenges of their lives.

Prayer:  Father, saturate us with the assurance of your love and grace during this Advent season and beyond, so that we are able to fend off the many things that rob us of your peace—a peace that goes beyond our comprehension.  Send your Spirit to work through us as we seek to reconcile those in conflict around us and give us an extra measure of strength during this Advent season to help others in need.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Advent are Psalm 66:1-2; Malachi 3:1-7; Philippians 1:2-11; Luke 3: 1-20.


November 26, 2018

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust; I trust in you . . . No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame . . . Show me your ways Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my God and my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Excerpts, Psalm 25: 1-6).

This year the church year begins on December 2nd, the first Sunday in Advent.  Many churches across Christendom follow a lectionary that lists the Scripture texts to be read on the Sundays and other holy days during the year.  The lectionary is on a three-year schedule divided into three series.  Series A generally includes gospel readings from Matthew; Series B includes gospel readings from Mark; and Series C generally follows gospel readings from Luke—though readings from John’s gospel are scattered throughout the three-year series.   We begin in Series C this week; most of the Sunday gospel readings throughout the year will be from Luke’s gospel.  The lectionary used in this blog is the Revised Common Lectionary.

The four Sundays before Christmas make up the season of Advent.  It is a time of excitement and waiting.  We are excited about seeing friends and relatives from far and near.  We are looking forward to preparing and sharing our favorite holiday foods and listening to Christmas music as we decorate the tree.  We are excited about attending Christmas programs, luncheons, teas, and concerts and buying and receiving special gifts.  But most of all, we are waiting to celebrate the birth of the One who changed the history of the world– the One who came in hope, peace, joy, and love to save us from ourselves.

Because it is a season of hope, peace and goodwill, joy, and love, we often meditate on those Christian characteristics in tandem with the Scripture lessons during Advent.  We will follow that tradition this advent season.  David teaches us that our hope is in God, and the word Jeremiah received from God included promises of hope, peace, joy and love: “My hope is in you all day long (Psalm 25: 8); “I will heal my people and let them enjoy abundant peace and security” (Jeremiah 33: 6); “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor” (Jeremiah 33:9); “His love endures forever” (Jeremiah 33:11b).

The darkest days of the year are upon us.  Yet in the midst of the darkness we have hope.  Our hope is expressed in the person of Jesus Christ, who overcame death itself.  Hope is the foundational element of faith, and Jesus’ death and resurrection are the basis for that hope.  Jesus died to pay for our sins, and his resurrection is the hinge upon which the door of Christianity swings.  Our hope and belief in the resurrection of Jesus is no pie-in-the-sky hope.  It is not wishful thinking.  It is based on revelations recorded in sacred Scripture, historical knowledge, and upon our own personal relationships with the God of the universe.  Jesus’ resurrection is proof that we too will live with him forever after our time on earth has run out.  Our faith is based on that hope, on that belief.  Other hallmarks of a Christian, such as peace, joy, and love, emanate from faith.

For these reasons, we put our trust in God even as we face the dark days in our lives—setbacks, despair, and anxiety.  David tells us: “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust; I trust in you . . . No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame . . . Show me your ways Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my God and my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Excerpts, Psalm 25: 1-6).[1]

The word Jeremiah received from God confirmed that the country was a “desolate waste,”—but he brought them hope in God’s promise to restore it: “This is what the Lord says:You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted  . . . there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness” (Jeremiah 33: 10-11).

Our God is a God of restoration, renewal, revival, and refreshment.  Believe in God’s power and desire to restore you to wholeness.

The Jews in Jerusalem had great hope that Jesus was the conqueror who would release them from the chains of bondage that they had endured for so many centuries: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  (Luke 19:38).  They were correct that Jesus was their Messiah, but they did not yet understand that his kingdom is so much greater than any on earth.

Paul, who endured much himself, brought hope to the church at Thessalonica: “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes . . .” (1 Thessalonians 3: 11-13a).   The Thessalonians were in need of encouragement.  The church had only been established two or three years before Paul wrote his first letter to them, about 51 A. D. They were being persecuted, and were frustrated that Jesus had not returned to rescue them.  Most first century Christians believed that Jesus would return during their lifetimes, and became discouraged with the passage of years.  Paul’s letters helped them mature in their faith.

Are you looking for hope?  Do you need encouragement?  Are the holidays a particularly difficult time for you?  Are you looking for comfort in the dark, bleak days ahead?  Come to Jesus.  Give him your pain, your problems, your anxieties, your concerns.  When everything else around you is crumbling, rely on your one sure hope and belief in Jesus Christ.  In the words of the prophet, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him” (Lamentations 3:25).  The evergreen tree is a symbol of our hope and belief that God offers us eternal life through his Son, Jesus.  Think about that as you decorate your tree and string the lights symbolizing the light of Christ.

Prayer:  Lord of all hopefulness, fill us with your Spirit of hope, peace, joy, and love today and throughout this Advent season. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture lessons for the First Sunday in Advent are Psalm 25:1-10; Jeremiah 33: 1-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 19: 28-40.

The Alpha and Omega

November 19, 2018

’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’” Revelation 1:8.

Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  Next Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year, so it is fitting that the Scripture texts this week refer to God as the beginning and the end:[1]“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” Revelation 1: 8.[2] We began the church year on November 28, 2017, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem to the cheers of crowds in the last week of his life leading to his death and resurrection, upon which our faith is based (See Saved!  At the end of the church year we are reminded that a day will come when he will return.

When we think of beginnings and endings in human terms we think of things that begin and end in our everyday lives—a book, a movie, a relationship, a job, a project, a case, a school term, a day, a year, a season, a life.  We come to the end of things when we run out of money, energy, gas, milk, and when our heart stops beating.  Speaking in God’s voice, Isaiah writes, “The earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies, but my salvation will last forever, and my righteousness will never fail” (Isaiah 51: 6b).  When God says that he is the Alpha and Omega, he means that he is God forever—always has been God, always will be—“from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2). God is saying that everything on earth and in the heavens started or will start with him, and somehow, it will all end with him.

There was never a time in history when God was not, nor will there ever be a time in the future when he is not.  He promises to the faithful that he will always be there for us—even after the curtain falls on human history.

John saw much the same end times or judgment vision that Daniel recorded seeing: “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.  His clothing was white as snow; the hair on his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze . . . the court was seated, and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:9; seealso Revelation 1:14-15). The psalmist echoes Daniel: “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength . . . your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity” (Psalm 93: 1-2).

God revealed himself to Daniel, to the psalmist, to John, to the apostles and to others long ago so that we might have a picture of who God is.  The picture recorded in Scripture over the millennia from these people is consistent, confirming that, “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

God never changes. He has ultimate power and authority over all things: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory majesty, power, and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” (Jude 24-25).

During this Thanksgiving week, we give God thanks that we can depend on him because his power and authority is eternal; he never changes. We are thankful that he catches us when we stumble or fall.  We are thankful that he has led us through another year of challenges.  We are thankful that he will carry us into the presence of our advocate, Jesus Christ, when our time on earth is over.  Even though we do not know the day or hour when Jesus will return, Jesus warned us to be vigilant: “But about that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13: 32-33).

We have come to the last Sunday of the church year, but it is not the end of the story.  God existed before he created the world, and he will continue to exist after the end of this world.  The good news for believers is that our story does not end when our time on earth comes to a close.   We will continue to live with the great I Am forever.  That’s a promise from the one who has always existed.

 Prayer:  Lord, we honor and praise you for who you are—the beginning and the end. We praise and honor you for creating us and all things in the world, and for being faithful through the ages. We honor and praise you for being everywhere at all times with us.  We thank you for being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  We thank you for guiding us as you have guided all believers throughout history.  Keep us on the right path as we stumble out of darkness and toward your light.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1][1]The Scripture texts for the last Sunday in the church year are Isaiah 51: 4-6; Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Jude 20-25; Revelation 1:4-8; Mark 13: 24-37.

[2]Isaiah recorded the same statement: “This is what the Lord says– . . . ‘I am the first and I am the last . . .” Isaiah 44:6.

Seeking Stardom

November 12, 2018

Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”(Daniel 12: 3)

Everyone in Los Angeles has stories of celebrity sightings in the course of going about their everyday lives.  We see stars in our neighborhoods, restaurants and markets, on the street, on the train, at the hairdresser, through our work, and elsewhere.  Father Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, tells one such story in his book Barking to the Choir.  He relates that Glenda, a tattooed felon gang member on parole was waiting tables in their Homegirl Café when Diane Keaton and a friend stopped by for lunch.  Glenda did not know who Diane Keaton was—but a few minutes later, said that she thought she recognized her from somewhere.  Keaton started to reply that she has a common face and gets comments like that all the time—when Glenda showed a spark of recognition, and said triumphantly, “No, wait, now I know . . . We were locked up together!”

There are many celebrities in LA, and many more would-be stars.  Some people come to LA hoping to snag a role on TV or on the Big Screen.  Few succeed. But they may be looking for stardom in the wrong places.  The Scripture texts for next Sunday explain that anyone can achieve stardom: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever”(Daniel 12: 3).[1]

We are assured a star, not on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but as beacons of light in our neighborhoods if we stay close to the Word and keep our eyes focused on Jesus. Paul explains that when we do so, our light will shine brightly:  “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure . . . Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16 a).

The psalmist assures us that we will not be abandoned when our time on earth is over: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will never abandon me to the realm of the dead . .  . You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Excerpts, Psalm 16: 9-11).  Jesus will lead us through this life and usher us to our place in heaven where our stars will shine brightly.  The stars of those who follow the path of life—the path leading to God—will shine forever.

Jesus did not promise us a rose garden life—in fact, he warned us that our lives will be difficult.  Even so, we are promised an eternal reward: “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13: 13). We do not earn our stars, as generals do.  We become a star in God’s kingdom by admitting our mistakes and asking for forgiveness.  When we do that, God who is gracious and good, will forgive our sins, so that we can shine our lights into the dark corners of the world.  Our stardom in Christ Jesus is not limited to 10, 20, 30, or 50 years.  It is not limited by time or space—we will shine in the heavens with God forever. That is the promise.  That is why we “ . . . hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10: 23).

Do you yearn to shine as bright as a star?  Look no further than the Guidebook to Stardom (aka the Bible).  If you don’t have the Guidebook, get thee to a bookstore or to Amazon now. Christ Jesus is our guiding star who leads us to stardom.  May your star rise and shine for all to see now and for eternity.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: “Be thou a bright flame before me, Be thou a guiding star above me, Be thou a smooth path before me, Be thou a kindly shepherd behind me, Today—tonight—and forever.”   –Saint Columba

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Daniel 12: 1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10: 11-25; Mark 13: 1-13.

Christian Sacrifice

November 5, 2018

But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9: 26b).

All parents make sacrifices for their children.  Parents sacrifice sleep, time, money, career advancement, freedom, social life, and other activities and forms of relaxation. Parenting has it ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its fun times and heartaches.  William Bennett said, “Real fatherhood means love and commitment and sacrifice and a willingness to share responsibility and not walking away from one’s children.”   The Scripture texts for next Sunday explain that sacrifice is a necessary element of authentic faith—real faith.[1]

Love is the element that motivates parents to willingly sacrifice for their children, just as God was motivated by love to sacrifice his Son for us.  God knows what sacrifice is about.  He made the ultimate sacrifice by sending his Son to die for our sins.  And his Son made the ultimate sacrifice by suffering and dying so that we may be absolved of our sins.  Jesus’ sacrifice took the place of the repeated animal sacrifices that had gone on before. He was the perfect sacrifice that did not have to be repeated: “But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himselfJust as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to the take away the sins of many. . . ” (Hebrews 9: 26b-28a).  But both the Father and the Son made the sacrifices they made so that humankind could reap eternal benefits.

Paul tells us that God wants us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).  The author of Kings gives us an example of how God wants us to sacrifice for others.   Elijah went to Sidon and saw a widow near the town gate and asked her for a piece of bread and water to drink. But she only had a handful of flour and a bit of olive oil to make a last meal for herself and her son.  Elijah told her “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land’” (1 Kings 17: 13-14). The widow, in faith, sacrificed much of what was to be her family’s last meal to give some to Elijah—and reaped long-lasting benefits.  The jar of flour and jug of oil remained filled.   She was repaid in spades for her faith. The psalmist sings: “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry” (Psalm 146: 7).

Jesus compares phony and ostentatious displays of wealth and power to the sacrificial offering of a poor widow who gave “two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.” Jesus said that the widow’s offering was much more valuable than the offerings made by the wealthy: “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.   They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12: 43-44).

Next week is an appropriate time to think about sacrifice as we honor those who have given up years of their lives to serve our country in the United States Armed Forces.   Whatever you do—raising children, getting an education, serving your country, helping others, honing your professional skills—requires sacrifice on your part to do it right.  You may be required to give up time spent on hobbies, recreation, and activities you enjoy to care for others, to study, to work, to provide services, and to follow the path that God has laid out for you.  Just as God, the Father, and Jesus made the ultimate sacrifices for us—so we are called to sacrifice if we want to have an authentic faith.  We are called to give generously of our time, our possessions, our talents and other resources as an outpouring of our love for our families, the church, and fellow man.

Lent isn’t the only time to give something up.  Christians should offer themselves up daily to God to use for his purposes. What will you sacrifice this week for your family or for others who are in need of your unique talents and skill set?  What will you give up to spread the Word or to help others?

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer:  “Show me today, O Lord, the one to whom I am to give a cup of cold water in your name.”  F.B. Meyer

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are 1 Kings 17: 8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9: 24-28; Mark 12: 38-44.

The One

October 29, 2018

Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5; Mark 12: 29-30).

The One is an expensive one-person two-pound backpack tent that promises to shelter a person from the elements, keeping “you snug as a bug in a weatherproof ripstop rug.”  I don’t know about you, but I often find myself in need of a safe and secure shelter—a place to hunker down during the life’s storms.

The One that I depend on to provide refuge and shelter is the one true God.  Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6: 4-5, when he told the people gathered to hear him that the most important commandment is “Here, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12: 29-30).[1]

The belief in one God was a novel concept when Moses wrote Deuteronomy over 3,000 years ago. At that time and place people often worshipped multiple gods.  God wanted to prepare his people for their entry into a land where many gods were worshipped, which is why he told Moses to instruct the people that they were to worship the only one true God—The One—with all of their heart, soul, and mind.

The psalmist extols the virtues of staying true to The One:  “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.  Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart” (Psalm 119: 1-2).

The book of Hebrews was written to the Jewish Christians who were struggling with the new faith. Some were slipping back to the old ways.   They needed to be reminded of the one true God, and of Christ’s authenticity and superiority.  We, like the fledgling Christians, slip back into godless routines from time to time. We worship at the altar of celebrities, sports, work, or unhealthy habits.  We get so wound up in our lives that we forget to pray.  We forget to praise and give thanks to the One.  Like the early Christians we need to be reminded of the basics: “Christ came with this new agreement so that all who are invited may come and have forever all the wonders God has promised them. For Christ died to rescue them from the penalty of the sinsthey had committed while still under that old system” (Hebrews 9:15, The Living Bible). The one true God sent his Son to die for us and to rescue us from ourselves.

It is through God’s grace by sending his Son to die for our sins that removes us from the penalty for our mistakes.  We cannot save ourselves.  God loves us so much that he sent his Son rescue us. Being loved by God and saved to be with him forever is a free gift from God; we need only receive it.  Seek shelter and refuge in the One—the one God who loves and watches over you.  Open your heart to the One who will protect, shelter, and shepherd you through life’s challenges, disappointments, difficulties, and heartbreaks.

“Common Collect: Lord Almighty, Come and scatter the darkness of our hearts by the light of your presence; that we may know you, the Light of the world, and the one true God, blessed this night and for evermore.  Amen”.  A Late Evening Office, Book of Common Prayer, The Church of Ireland.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 119:1-8; Hebrews 9: 11-22; Mark 12: 28-37.