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Turnaround

March 18, 2019

Tell them, ‘As sure as I am the living God, I take no pleasure from the death of the wicked. I want the wicked to change their ways and live. Turn your life around.’” (Ezekiel 33:11, The Message)

Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.” (Luke 13:5, The Message)

Troubled companies hire turnaround managers–experts who specialize in rescuing failing companies and turn them into productive, going concerns.  These experts identify the reasons a company is failing and implement a long-term plan to return the company to solvency.  God is the Master Turnaround Manager.  He knows how to turn floundering people and organizations into productive people and organizations, and gives us a roadmap in this week’s Scripture texts.[1]

We learn from the Old Testament reading that God appointed Ezekiel to be a watchman over the Israelites—to tell them where they were going wrong, and how to turn their lives around.  He was God’s turnaround representative, tasked to bring a message of hope to the Israelites. God instructs Ezekiel to “Tell them, ‘As sure as I am the living God, I take no pleasure from the death of the wicked. I want the wicked to change their ways and live. Turn your life around.’” (Ezekiel 33:11, The Message)

He promises that “if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is right and just they will live by doing so” (v. 19).  God offers his hand to us and pulls us out of the graves we are digging  for ourselves.  He shepherds us into eternal life with him.  Why?  Because he loves us.

Like any good turnaround manager, God is invested in you.  He desperately wants you to live a productive life under his guidance and to continue a joy-filled life after your time on earth is over.  The first order of business for a turnaround manager is to identify the problems that caused the company’s troubles.  Paul identifies some historical problems:  worshipping idols and false gods.  He describes God’s wrath against the Israelites who worshipped the golden calf in the desert (Exodus 32) and Baal (Numbers 25).  We don’t call our false gods Baal these days, but we are tempted to worship at the steps of celebrity, power, and wealth.  We are distracted by worldly pursuits, ambition, fame, and the endless pursuit of money so that we can buy more stuff.

When some feel the acute emptiness of their lives, they turn to self-help gurus, cults, or constant amusements to fill up the emptiness.  At times, it seems like we are too far away from the Master to turn back to him.  But like a good rep of the Master Turnaround Manager, Paul assures us that we can always rely on God: “When you are tempted, he [God] will provide a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).  God will never give up on you.  He will work to revive and resuscitate you until you take your last breath. There is no such thing as an irredeemable person in God’s eyes.  We are all his precious children who he wants to enjoy and be with forever.  If you turn toward him, he will take your hand and will lead you to spiritual health and life with him.

Jesus, the Master himself, is more direct in his turnaround advice–repent or perish: “Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die” (Luke 13:5, The Message).  He explains that every person on earth will eventually die—but our life does not need to end when our hearts beat for the last time.  God offers us a place with him forever—our forever home. Whether we “stay dead” or go on to live with Jesus after death depends on whether we are sorry for our bad behaviors, thoughts, habits, and activities and want to turn our lives around.

Another corporate turnaround method is to cut unproductive programs, policies, practices, products, etc. in the business.  Jesus demonstrates this technique in his parable of the fig tree.  He says that an activity that hasn’t produced results within a reasonable time should be eliminated.  Cut it out and try something new.  Replace it with something that will produce positive results.  Cut out the unproductive habits, behaviors, and activities that are bringing you, your family, or your church down.  You know what they are: laziness, gossip, idleness, slander, anger, impatience, pride, arrogance, addictions, etc.  The list is endless, but God shows us a way out of the downward spiral. He gives us hope.  He shows that if we turn to him, he will set us on a new course.

The psalmist asks the Lord for a revival: “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?  Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation” (Psalm 85: 6-7).  In verse 8 we are told that God “promises peace to his people, his faithful servants. ” He promises a good harvest to his faithful servants (v. 10-13). He will revive you. Turn to God and ask for his help. He is your personal turnaround coach. God rewards those who are faithful.

You can turn yourself around with God as your coach. Turn away from those things that are keeping you from using your God-given potential to be a productive member of his company. Ask him to take your hand and lead you away from the negative forces in your life.  You can turn your life around with his help.  If you are sorry for your mistakes, he will revive you and nudge you toward the path of eternal life.  Turn away from those things that separate you from God and become a Trinity Team player.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: “We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to correct our wanderings; and by the guiding radiance of thy compassion to bring us to the saving vision of thy truth.”               –Gothic Missal

[1]The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday in Lent are Psalm 85; Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13: 1-9. Another version of this blog was published on this website on February 28, 2016.

My Name is Patrick. I am a Sinner.

March 11, 2019

The Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3: 21)

When our fourth child, a son, was born on St. Patrick’s Day, many people assumed that his name would be Patrick, and in fact, we received cards addressed to “Patrick” after Peter’s birth.  Even though we didn’t name him after St. Patrick, Patrick was a giant in the church, and is still an inspiration to us today. We think of him this week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day next Sunday, not only for that reason, but also because there are parallels between next Sunday’s Scripture texts and St. Patrick’s life.[1]

Like the prophet Jeremiah, Patrick was taken to a foreign land against his will. Like Jeremiah, Patrick spent many years preaching to unbelievers.  And like Jeremiah, his life was threatened from time to time because of it.  But both Patrick and Jeremiah were undeterred by the threats and continued to preach God’s Word.  Neither was successful by the world’s standards, but both were highly successful in God’s eyes because they listened for God’s voice and obeyed it, despite their personal setbacks and hardships.

Patrick begins his Confessio with these words: “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers . . . He [God] protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.  That is why I cannot be silent—nor would it be good to do so—about such great blessings, and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity.”

Abducted by Irish pirates from his home in Britain when he was almost sixteen, Patrick was taken to Ireland where he was sold as a slave.  Ireland was a pagan druid land in the fifth century. As a teenager, Patrick had not embraced the faith of his father, a deacon, or his grandfather, a priest—but he spent much of the next six years in prayer whilst tending his master’s sheep.  David, another giant of the faith, was also a shepherd in his youth.  Patrick’s prayers during his captivity must have echoed David’s prayer: “Answer me when I call you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4:1).

Patrick’s prayers were answered.  During his captivity in Ireland, he had a vision or a dream that he believed came from God, telling him to make his way to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. He walked 200 miles to the coast and boarded a ship for home.  After he returned to his family, he began his studies for the priesthood in Europe, and years later returned to the country of his captivity to evangelize that pagan country.

Like Jeremiah, there were threats against Patrick’s life.  Jeremiah records that as soon as he “finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, ‘You must die!’” (Jeremiah 26: 8).   After Patrick returned to Ireland his life was threatened. It happened during the druid springtime fire festival known as Beltrane.  The druid priests commanded that all fires in the land be extinguished under threat of death. The pagan priests would then light a fire from which other fires could be relit.  But on Easter Eve Patrick lit a huge bonfire that could be seen for miles.  The great bonfire symbolized the light that Christ brought to the world—in stark contrast to the darkness of the druid religion. The king was furious, and called for Patrick’s capture and death. He was not killed, but instead, like Jeremiah, lived to preach and evangelize for many more years.

Like Patrick, Jeremiah, Paul, and others, Jesus’ life was threatened many times before he was finally crucified on the cross.  One such time was when the “Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you’” (Luke 13: 31). And like Patrick, Jeremiah, Paul, and the others, Jesus was not deterred: “He [Jesus] replied, ‘Go tell that fox, I will keep driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow’” (Luke 13: 32).

Like Patrick, Paul also called himself the greatest of sinners and the least of believers, and he also traveled to foreign lands to preach the gospel to unbelievers. Paul warned the church at Philippi that they would encounter enemies of Christ: “As I have often told you before, and now tell you again, even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:18-21).

My name is Diane. I am a sinner, just like you.  We were lost, but now we are found.  We are weak, discouraged, distracted, distraught, depressed, and mired in self-pity  from time to time. We have walked in darkness, but Christ has lifted us up from the depths of darkness by his light—the Paschal candle. We may never be recognized as movers and shakers in the world’s eyes, but if we listen to God’s voice and obey him, we will be rewarded with the highest accolade that exists in the universe: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).

As we journey to the cross in the coming weeks, may we also take the Paschal light to the dark corners of our communities to illumine the path that leads others to Christ.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer:   “I arise today through the strength of heaven;  Light of the sun, splendor of fire . . . I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s hosts to save me.  Afar and near . . . Alone or in a multitude.  Christ shield me today . . . I arise today through the mighty strength of the Lord of creation.”

Excerpts from “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” attributed to St. Patrick.

[1]The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Lent are Jeremiah 26: 8-15; Psalm 4; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13: 31-35.

Be a Jedi Christian

March 4, 2019

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4: 1-2)

 The Star Wars franchise has widespread appeal.  People from many cultures and generations are drawn to the conflict between good and evil.  We feel the pull to the dark side, and hope to be rescued by a Jedi soldier from the Force, wielding a lightsaber.

In his book, Wisdom of the Jedi Masters,[1] Dick Staub notes: “The light-versus-dark dualism of Jedi lore parallels teachings found in Christian scripture . . . John talked about ‘walking in the light’ as Jesus is in the light and warned against having anything to do with the works of ‘darkness.’ . . . Jedi Christians believe that over and above the opposing forces of light and darkness there is a Lord over all, including the Force. These Christians call this Lord of the Force God.”

Similarly, the gospel lesson[2]portrays a battle between the forces of light and dark.  “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit [“strong in the Force”] . . . was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4: 1-2). [3]  An epic spiritual battle between God and Satan occurred during those forty days.  Why did the Spirit lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted?  It showed us that Jesus was fully human.  But it also gave Jesus an opportunity to affirm the plan for his ministry.

We are entering the season of Lent—a season of reflection on Jesus’ life leading up to his death on the cross.  We reflect on the challenges he faced and how he responded to those challenges. He gave us some tools that we can use when we are put to the test.  His response to the first temptation was a scriptural reference to the forty years that the Israelites were forced to wander in the desert to “humble” and “test” them: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’” (Luke 4: 4, Deuteronomy 8:2,3).  Jesus responds with Scripture again to the second temptation:  “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Luke 4:8, Deuteronomy 6:13).  At that point, the devil changed tactics, quoting Scripture back to him: “’He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you carefully; they will lift up their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Luke 4:10,11; Psalm 91:11,12).  But the devil misused Psalm 91, which was written to show how God is our protector and refuge.  It was not written to encourage people to ask God to demonstrate his power.  Jesus responds again with Scripture:  “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Luke 4:12, Deuteronomy 6:16).

Reading Scripture is an oft-used method of staying the course and getting through times of trials.  In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom described how Scripture helped her and others survive the horrors of the years they spent in concentration camps.  Corrie’s family was arrested and thrown into different concentration camps during World War II after they were caught hiding Jews in their home and helping them escape from the Nazis in Holland.  Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were moved several times before they reached their final destination–Ravensbruck, Germany, the site of the infamous women’s extermination camp.  By what can only be described as the grace of God, they were able to pass through numerous checkpoints and inspections with their Bible. They maintained hope throughout their imprisonment through Bible readings and worship services.

Jesus was approached by the devil when he was most vulnerable.  He was alone in the desert, without people or resources to call upon.  We are also tempted when we are most vulnerable—when we are weak, tired, angry, ill, discouraged, depressed, lonely, or stressed.  Jesus demonstrates that it is not enough to know Scripture—even the devil was able to quote it—but that we must follow Scripture’s teachings.  He gave us an example of obedience in his resistance of the three temptations.  Paul lists the items of armor that we can don to fight our own spiritual battles and he reminds us not to forget that prayer is also a powerful tool in our battle against evil forces (Ephesians 6:18).

The Word of God is the only offensive weapon mentioned in the armory.  Staub observes, “The Jedi knight’s most important weapon was the elegant and powerful lightsaber, and the Christian counterpart’s most potent weapon is the word of God, which functions like a sword.  The writer of Hebrews said, ‘For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword . . .”[4]

Be a Jedi Christian. Use the armor and weapons at your disposal, including your lightsaber, the Word of God.  And may the Force [Spirit of God] be with you.

Prayer:  Father, help us in our struggles against evil forces that seek to discourage, demoralize, depress us, and dash our hope in you.  Teach us to use the powerful lightsaber, your Word, to fend off the darkness in our everyday lives, to keep the flame of faith alive in our souls, and to light our way on the path you have chosen for us.  Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]Staub, Wisdom of the Jedi Masters (2005) Jossey-Bass, pp. 4-5

[2]The texts for the First Sunday in Lent are Psalm 91: 1-13; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13; and Luke 4:1-13.  A substantially similar blog was published on this website on February 14, 2016 under the title “A Jedi Christian’s Weapons.”

[3]Since Jesus was alone in the desert, scholars assume that Jesus recounted the event to the disciples when he returned, who passed it onto Paul, then to Luke.

[4]Staub, Wisdom of the Jedi Masters, p. 144, Hebrews 4:12.

 

Been to the Mountaintop

February 25, 2019

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land . . . Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’” (Excerpts, Deuteronomy 34: 1-4)

On April 3, 1968, less than 24 hours before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. told striking sanitation workers in Memphis, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead . . . But it doesn’t really matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I’ve seen the Promised Land . . . we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of great faith and great vision.  His reference to Moses’ mountaintop view of the Promised Land was not accidental: “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land . . . Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants’” (Excerpts, Deuteronomy 34: 1-4). The Scriptures reinforce our strong sense of God’s presence in the mountains. The psalmist sings, “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain” (Psalm 99: 9).[1]

I have always loved the mountains.[2]  The crisp, cool, unpolluted air, clear blue mountain lakes, the scent of towering pine trees, the lookout views, the night skies populated with bright, clearly visible stars, the awesome grandeur of the mountains and craggy peaks, geological wonders –what’s not to love?  I even loved scrambling up the rocky hills in the backyard of the desert community where we lived when I was a child.  The view from the top was worth the climb; you could see for miles.  My father used to say, “This is God’s Country,” when we traveled through mountains on our many car trips across the country.  I get that.  We feel closer to God in the mountains. The mountains bridge the gap between heaven and earth.

The transfiguration of Jesus occurred when he took three of his disciples (Peter, James, and John) with him up to a mountain to pray.  Some scholars think that the mountain was Mt. Hermon, near where Jesus had been teaching in Caesarea Philippi. Peter, James, and John had the epitome of all mountain top experiences.  As he was praying, Jesus was transformed into a bright shining light:  “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus” (Luke 9: 29-30). If there was any doubt left in their minds whether Jesus was God, it was put to rest when God confirmed what Peter had declared to Jesus in Capernaum, “You are the Son of God” (Luke 4:41).  God’s voice boomed from the clouds: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9: 35).

No wonder they didn’t want to leave!  Peter offered to set up camp.  He wanted to stay there with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  Who wouldn’t?  That’s what happens when we encounter God on the mountain; we don’t want to leave.  And yet leave we must. Jesus’ work on earth was not done, and neither was the disciples’.  If you are reading this now, you also still have work to do.  Staying on the mountaintop keeps us from ministering to others; we become self-centered.  We need to retreat on occasion, but only so that we can return to the world to move forward on the path that God has laid before us. When we are blessed with a mountaintop experience that connects us in an intimate way to God, we need to remember that we were given that experience to use to minister to the sick, the discouraged, the needy, the lonely, and the broken-hearted—to bring God’s love to a broken world.

So go to the mountaintop. But don’t forget that you are needed at home.  Martin Luther King, Jr. came down from the mountaintop to minister one last time to the broken-hearted.  Go and do likewise.

Prayer: Father, we seek to grow close to you, to see you, and to spend time with you on the mountaintop so that we may be strengthened and refreshed in our faith journey.  Help us inspire others to turn to you that they also may be blessed with a glimpse of you and of the Promised Land, our eternal home with you. Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture readings for the Transfiguration of Our Lord are Psalm 99; Deuteronomy 34:1-13; Hebrews 3: 1-6; Luke 9:28-36.

[2]A similar version of this blog entitled “A Mountaintop Experience” was published on this website on February 7, 2016.

 

The Elephant in the Room

February 18, 2019

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6: 27-28. 37-38).

The “elephant in the room” is a phrase used to refer to an obvious problem that no one wants to talk about.  In churches and faith circles around the world, sin is the elephant in the room.  It is a subject to be skirted around—quickly mentioned in passing, if at all.  But sin is front and center in the Scripture texts for next Sunday.

Sin was the underlying cause of Joseph’s brothers’ jealousy of him.  They were so jealous of him and of their father’s love for him that they got together to find a way to exclude him from the family.  After attacking Joseph and throwing him into a well, they decided to sell him as a slave.  They sold him for 20 shekels of silver to merchants who took him to Egypt (Genesis 37: 28).

Slaves didn’t live long, and Joseph’s brothers never expected to see him again.  They betrayed and abandoned him for their own selfish reasons. God had other plans for Joseph—which weren’t immediately apparent.  After he was sold into slavery and brought to Egypt, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. Because of his great faith, he not only survived the attempt on his life, slavery, slander, false accusations, and imprisonment– but he thrived.  He remained faithful to the God of his father.  His integrity, abilities, and talents shone through, and he became a rising star in Egypt, second in power only to the Pharaoh.

The Scripture texts for next Sunday emphasize that God is in control, despite man’s evil and sinful plans to leave God in the dust. Like Joseph, we may go through many trying and difficult times.  We may be slandered, attacked, falsely accused, and ostracized through no fault of our own, but the God that we worship is faithful and just—and we must follow his forgiving and merciful example.[1] This is a theme running throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

It is unhealthy to carry the baggage of resentment for past injustices and resultant anger against people, situations, or institutions. Yet, we find ourselves hanging onto anger and becoming more and more bitter.  Sometimes, we can’t let it go; we play the same broken “poor me” record over and over, and just dig ourselves into a hole.

Joseph had every excuse to hold onto resentment and anger for the injustices that he experienced at the hands of his brothers and others.  But if he had, he would not have achieved what he did.  He would have become an embittered man caught in a cycle of anger; he would have suffered even more.  Instead, he turned to God for faith to see him through and he was ultimately vindicated.  When Joseph’s brothers realized who he was, they “were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.”  The elephant in the room was the brothers’ sin.  It weighed heavily on them.

 Unlike his brothers, Joseph turned the difficulties and hurts he suffered at their hands and at the hands of others over to God:“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . it was not you who sent me here, but God’” (Genesis 45: 3-5; 8 a). Joseph told them that it was God’s will that he be sold into slavery.  He took the blame that they were due, and explained that it was God’s will for him to go through all that he had, so that God could put him at that place at that time.

Joseph later told his brothers “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .” (Genesis 50: 20).   David had many “Joseph moments,” but he lived to sing God’s praises: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being praise his holy name. . . who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103: 1, 4-5).

God is in control and nothing is wasted in his economy.  He works everything that happens to us—every negative and every positive thing—into his plan for those who believe.  Joseph truly believed what Paul would later write to the church in Rome: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”(Romans 8:28).  It isn’t just the happy, good things that God uses to bring about his purposes—it is everything.

Jesus preached “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6: 27-28. 37-38).  Jesus has your best interests at heart; he knows that you will not prosper when you hold onto old resentments.  He cannot use you when you are consumed by anger. You cannot reach the full potential that God has planned for you until you stop judging and condemning others.  You need to forgive just as you want to be forgiven.  Jesus will use you when your heart is open to him and forgiving of others.

If you are consumed with bitterness and animosity against family members or others, let it go.  It is weighing you down.  Fall on your knees to ask for God’s help in removing these burdens.  Follow Joseph’s example, and Paul’s advice in letting go and realizing that God will use everything that has happened to you for good—nothing will go to waste.  He will use it all.  Jesus doesn’t expect you to be a doormat.  He doesn’t expect you to keep exposing yourself to abuse. You can remove yourself from an abusive situation while still forgiving the abuser.  You can set an example of forgiveness as Joseph did.

The best sermon is the sermon preached not with words, but by a welcoming, forgiving, and loving spirit. Some people mistake a forgiving spirit for weakness.  But it is only the strong who have the strength to forgive and to go on. When you let God take over in your life, you will be amazed at how he uses all circumstances to bless you as you move on.  God will bless you with “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over . . . ” (Luke 6: 38).

Paul explains that we fight the good fight—we continue to forgive others and to work for good because we know that Christ Jesus died for our sins, and that we will one day be resurrected with him: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive   (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22).

Imagine that you are in the wilderness and have been carrying around a heavy backpack that has been weighing you down; it feels like you are carrying an elephant.  You have walked many miles with this backpack, and you have many more miles to go before you can take it off.  Your supplies and energy have diminished. You are becoming weaker and weaker.  You fall to the ground and into an exhausted sleep.

Imagine that you awaken the next morning and that your backpack with your meager supplies has disappeared.  But you are next to a stream of clean water to drink and abundant berries to eat.  You don’t need the backpack!  You eat and drink until you are satisfied. Your strength returns and you follow the stream to civilization.  That is what it is like when you leave your burden at the cross of Jesus Christ.  Imagine freedom from the hunger gnawing at your heart.  Imagine freedom from a need to fill the hole in your heart.  Imagine freedom from fear.  Imagine freedom from guilt. Imagine freedom from anger and anxiety.  Your freedom lies in Jesus Christ, your savior. Imagine it. Then live it.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: “Lord, I rejoice that nothing can come between me and your love, even when I feel alone or in difficulty, when in sickness or am troubled. Even if attacked or afraid, no abyss of mine is so deep that your love is not deeper still.  Lord, you have experienced many hells of this world but descended so that you can lift us up.  Be always near.”–Corrie Ten Boom

[1]The Scripture texts for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany are Genesis 45: 3-15; Psalm 103: 1-13; 1 Corinthians 15: 21-26, 30-42; Luke 6: 27-38.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

February 11, 2019

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” (1Corinthians 15: 9-10a).

A blessing is a prayer asking for God’s favor and protection.  When I married a man of Irish descent almost four decades ago, I learned a bit about Irish blessings.  One of Bob’s favorites, and perhaps the best-known Irish blessing is this one:

May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Blessings are second nature to the Irish, but the truth is that we all seek God’s blessing. We all want to be loved, cherished, protected, at peace. We ask God to bless our food, our families, our church, our friends.  We ask God to bless us with love, peace, happiness, work, children, good health, and a happy home.  The theme running through all four Scripture texts for next Sunday is how God blesses his children.[1]

Jeremiah preached that blessings flow from an abiding trust in the Lord.  When you trust in the Lord, you connect to a deep well of living water that never goes dry: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17: 7-8).  Jeremiah’s ministry spanned about 41 years from about 627 to 586 B.C.

The first chapter of the book of Psalms is estimated to have been written about 444 B.C.—over a hundred years after the end of Jeremiah’s ministry—but the author echoes Jeremiah’s words: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, . . . That person is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers . . . For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (Excerpts, Psalms 1: 1-3, 6).   The psalmist confirms that those who trust in the Lord will continue to be refreshed and renewed throughout their lives—in sad as well as in happy times.  The well of God’s love and the source of his strength never runs dry—it continues to renew and strengthen us as long as we dip our buckets into the well of living water.

Jesus confronted the problem of suffering head-on when he preached to “a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases” (Luke 6: 17-18).   He told them that they may be poor, hungry, weeping, hated, and insulted during their lives on earth, but God will bless them in heaven where they will be filled with love and laughter: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6: 20-23).

And Paul summed up the greatest blessing that we have received from God: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . ..” and that he appeared to Peter, to the disciples, to more than 500 people, to James, to all the apostles, and finally to Paul (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8).  None of us have done anything to deserve God’s blessings in this life or the blessing of salvation.  It is by God’s great love for us and by his grace that he extends his blessings to us.  Paul, the most learned apostle, who wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament, wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Corinthians 15: 9-10).

Like Paul, we have all sinned.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God.  We are all in need of his redemptive grace and love.  And we are all assured of his abundant blessings when we put our trust in God.  And God expects us to pass the blessings we have received onto others.  Father Tim, the Episcopalian priest-protagonist in the Mitford novels by Jan Karon, prays every morning when he arrives at the office: “Father, make me a blessing to someone today, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”  We read in Proverbs 11:25b: “He that watereth shall be watered also himself” (King James Version).  You are blessed to be a blessing when you give of yourself to others for the joy of giving.  You don’t need to find the cure for cancer or write the great American novel to be a blessing to others.  You can experience the joy of being a blessing by doing little things with love, grace, and good humor.

God’s well of living water never runs dry.  He is always there for us.  He will continue to love and strengthen us as long as we continue to drink from the well.  His blessings will continue to flow to us throughout our lives on earth and through eternity.  That is the promise of his blessing to all believers—not just to the Irish:  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6: 24-26).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: God to enfold me, God to surround me, God in my speaking, God in my thinking.  God in my sleeping, God in my waking, God in my watching, God in my hoping.  God in my life, God in my lips, God in my soul, God in my heart. –Gaelic Grace

[1]The Scripture texts for the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany are Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Luke 6: 17-26.

A Job Offer You Can’t Refuse

February 4, 2019

Here am I. Send me.” (Isaiah 6: 8b). “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12).

When you are offered a job, you have two choices:  accept or decline.  You may negotiate before you accept or decline, but in the end, you either take the job or don’t take the job.  A lot of considerations go into a decision to accept a job.  As we saw last week with Jeremiah, you might have second thoughts about whether you can do the job.  Or you might be concerned about who you will be working with, or if you will have to re-locate.  You may also wonder if you will be able to work well with the boss.  Will he or she shepherd you along, or leave you without support and guidance?  Do you respect and trust the boss?  Will you be able to depend on him or her? We see many people wrestling with job offers in sacred Scripture.  This week’s Scripture texts describe two job offers and the reactions to those offers.[1]

About 740 B.C., Isaiah had an incredible vision: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the rain of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim . . . and they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory’” (Excerpts Isaiah 6: 1-3). Overcome by the presence of the Almighty God, his all consuming majesty and holiness, Isaiah was struck with his own unworthiness.  But as soon as he confessed that he was unworthy, something astounding happened: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’” (Isaiah 6: 6-7).  Whoosh! The slate was wiped clean in a flash!

Having dealt with Isaiah’s guilt and insecurities, Isaiah heard God asking, “Now, who should I send to tell the people the truth about me?” Isaiah, overcome by the moment, and unburdened by his guilt, accepted the challenge and said: “Here am I.  Send me!” (Isaiah 6: 8b).  That whole series of events was undoubtedly the most over-the-top prelude to a job offer in the history of the world.  Can you imagine how pumped up Isaiah was at that moment?

Then the Lord described his duties.  He was to go out and tell the people the truth about him, but he should be prepared for no one to understand or believe him because he would be preaching to people with hardened hearts.  The job description brought Isaiah back down from the mountaintop.  Still, he kept his word and was imbued by God with great spiritual gifts. It is believed that he stayed in the same job for over 60 years.

Centuries later, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, approached Peter with a job offer.  He didn’t approach him out of the blue.  Jesus had been living in Peter’s home and he had known Jesus for at least a year.  But it was at that time that Peter, a fisherman, realized that Jesus was divine after he miraculously filled their fishing nets with fish following a night of having caught nothing.  Peter had the same reaction that Isaiah had when he was face-to-face with the divine—he confessed his unworthiness to be in his presence: “He fell at Jesus knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5: 8).  But instead of leaving him, Jesus made Peter an offer he couldn’t refuse—to join him in his quest to win the hearts and minds of God’s beloved people—to become a fisherman of men.

In his letters to the new churches, Paul explains that when we accept the gift of redemption–of salvation–we are given spiritual gifts that help us follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Traditionally, there are seven spiritual gifts: wisdom that opens our minds and attracts us to the holy; an understanding of Scripture and God’s will; counsel or a type of spiritual intuition about the things of God; fortitude or endurance to run the race, to stay the course; knowledge to see things from God’s perspective; piety or reverence and reliance on God; and fear or awe of God, and his holiness and glory.    These are the tools with which God equips us to do the jobs that he offers to us.  In next Sunday’s epistle, Paul tells the church in Corinth (and us): “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church” (1 Corinthians 14: 12). Paul is talking here about building up the community of believers–the church.

As a believer you have been gifted by the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts.  These are the tools at your disposal to use in your service to God.  You have been given a job offer: to help build up the body of believers.   Use the spiritual gifts that you have received through God’s grace and abundant love for you.

Will you accept? Will you say “yes” to God’s offer? How is the boss, you ask?  He is the best boss ever . . . and ever . . . and ever. . .

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: “Grant me, O Lord, to know what is worth knowing, to love what is worth loving, to praise what delights you most, to value what is precious in your sight, to hate what is offensive to you.  Do not let me judge by what I see, nor pass sentence according to what I hear, but to judge rightly between things that differ, and above all to search out and do what pleases you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” –Thomas a Kempis

[1]The Scripture texts for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany are Isaiah 6: 1-13; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 14: 12-20; Luke 5:1-11.