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The Best Rewards Program

August 19, 2019

“God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children . . . At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.” (Excerpts, Hebrews 12: 7-11, The Message).

The store where our family purchased running shoes for years went out of business a few years ago.  They gave us a 10% discount every time we bought a pair of shoes—which paid off with all six of us being runners at the time. After they went out of business, I bought a pair of athletic shoes on-line—but I had a problem with them, so I went to a new shoe store last year.  I didn’t ask them then about a rewards program, but when I went back recently to buy a new pair, I signed up for their customer loyalty rewards program.  If I keep going back to the store, I will eventually accrue a discount on a pair of shoes.  It won’t pay off if I don’t go back.  Almost every business has a rewards program these days—and even small mom and pop shops give a discount or a free item to reward loyal customers.

God has the best rewards program ever.  But to reap the benefits of his plan, you need to keep going back.  It’s not one and done.  It’s not just showing up at his place on Christmas and Easter.   You need acknowledge your sinful nature and that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins.  If you acknowledge Jesus as Lord, you will be a loyal user of his program guide, the Bible, which points the way to his truth, resulting in the Spirit empowering you to express his characteristics to those around you, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  And you will talk to him regularly.

God’s plan is global.  You can use it wherever you go.  People all over the world have signed onto it.  Isaiah confirms that God’s loyal followers will bring in more believers. Isaiah related that the Lord said, “I know everything they’ve ever done or thought. I’m going to come and then gather everyone—all nations, all languages. They’ll come and see my glory. I’ll set up a station at the center. I’ll send the survivors of judgment all over the world: Spain and Africa, Turkey and Greece, and the far-off islands that have never heard of me, who know nothing of what I’ve done nor who I am. I’ll send them out as missionaries to preach my glory among the nations. They’ll return with all your long-lost brothers and sisters from all over the world. They’ll bring them back and offer them in living worship to God” (Isaiah 66: 18-20, The Message).[1]

It’s not always easy to participate in a rewards program.  You might have to go out of your way to a store, make a stop on a flight, or endure another inconvenience.  But if you deem it worthwhile, you will be a loyal follower.  Running or other forms of exercise are not easy either.  We don’t always feel like putting on the shoes and stepping out of our safe, warm, homes to pound the pavement, get on the bicycle, go to the exercise class, dive into the pool, or go to the gym.  But we realize that we benefit greatly by physical activity, so we do it.

In the same way, God wants us to understand that being a member of his program may be uncomfortable, inconvenient, or difficult at times, but it’s worth it: “God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children . . . At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. So don’t sit around on your hands! . . .  Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!” (Excerpts, Hebrews 12: 7-13, The Message).

Don’t drop out. Finish the race, and help others along the route. You will be happy that you did when you cross the finish line.

But you have a choice. You can choose to accept or to reject God’s rewards plan.  He gave us a free will.  We do not walk in lockstep with each other.   God doesn’t force himself on us. We are not required to join his plan.   The path to God is narrow, not because of God, but because of our free will—which we often exercise by rejecting God.  The path to God is not a well-worn path.  Many take the wide road—the road that is easy.  The narrow path is not that well-worn because few take it.

Few are willing to endure the discipline it takes to follow Jesus.  Luke reports, “Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’  He said to them,  ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from’” (Luke 13: 23-25).

Don’t conform to what everyone else is doing.  Take the path less trod—you will reap the greatest rewards when you reach your final destination, and the scenery along the way is breathtaking.

The psalmist sings that God beckons the entire earth to join him: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth” (Psalm 50: 1-2). God beckons all to join him, but few accept the invitation.

When you take the narrow path, God will recognize you and will welcome you into the program, into his family, with open arms. You will receive the priceless rewards that God showers on his family in this life and in the next.  Be a faithful follower of Jesus.  Follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Endure the difficulties in your path with grace and thankfulness.  Use the obstacles along the way as opportunities to move beyond your current circumstances to see the big picture. Run the race to the end.  When you cross the finish line, you will be eternally grateful that you ran a good race with the Holy Spirit by your side every step of the way.

Prayer: Lord, help me to stay the course.  Help me to stay on the path you have laid out for me, to overcome obstacles, and to endure the training necessary to cross the finish line, when I will fall into your arms and reap my eternal reward. Amen.

Praying the Scriptures:  The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Isaiah 66:18-23;Psalm 50:1-15; Hebrews 12:4-24 (25-29); Luke 13:22-30.  Choose a word or phrase each day from one of the texts or from the following verses to pray during the coming week:

“God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children . . . At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.”  (Excerpts, Hebrews 12: 7-11, The Message).

 The Lord said, “I know everything they’ve ever done or thought. I’m going to come and then gather everyone—all nations, all languages. They’ll come and see my glory. I’ll set up a station at the center. I’ll send the survivors of judgment all over the world: Spain and Africa, Turkey and Greece, and the far-off islands that have never heard of me, who know nothing of what I’ve done nor who I am. I’ll send them out as missionaries to preach my glory among the nations. They’ll return with all your long-lost brothers and sisters from all over the world. They’ll bring them back and offer them in living worship to God” (Isaiah 66: 18-20, The Message).

“Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’” (Luke 13: 23-25).

The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth” (Psalm 50: 1-2).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Isaiah 66:18-2; Psalm 50:1-15 ; Hebrews 12:4-24 (25-29); Luke 13:22-30.

More Important Than the Weather

August 12, 2019

Then he turned to the crowd: ‘When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.’” (Luke 12: 54-56, The Message)

Weather is a big issue. We want to know what kind of weather to expect in the coming hours or days. We look up the weather forecast on our computers and mobile devices and watch or listen to the forecast on television or the radio.  We want to see the ten-day forecast.  Then we glance at the five-day more detailed forecast, and the hourly forecast.  Can I play golf on Tuesday or will it rain?  What time will it rain?  Do I have time to get a round in or not?  Should I wear a sweater, coat, or short sleeves tomorrow? Do I need an umbrella? What should I pack for a  trip up north, down south, or for the cruise?  What kind of weather will we encounter while camping, hiking, or walking around town?  Sometimes we pay more attention to the weather than to more important matters.

We have our favorite weather forecasters and go-to websites. Weather forecasting has been used for millennia to help prepare farmers for what is to come–so Jesus asked the crowd why they could not see what God is doing before their very eyes. Jesus was announcing an earth-shattering event that would be more important than this year’s crops, but the people weren’t paying attention: “Then he turned to the crowd: ‘When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.’”(Luke 12: 54-56, The Message).

While we often ignore the signs of God’s direction and guidance in our lives, many astrologers, psychics, and fortunetellers want us to believe that they have a crystal ball to see into the future to tell us what will happen.

People become preoccupied from time to time with various doomsday predictions made by so-called prophets who believe they know when the end of the world will come.  A few years ago, a gentleman used his allotted three minutes of public comment at every Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors weekly meeting to warn the Board and the public about the end of the world on a date certain.  The day came and went.  God told Jeremiah to warn the people about soothsayers who “speak visions from their own minds[1]: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes.  They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23: 16).

Some people with doomsday predictions have mental health challenges, but others have their own selfish reasons for making such predictions.  Jesus told us that no one knows the time when the Lord will come again: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But no one knows the day or the hour. No! Not even the angels in heaven know. The Son does not know. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24: 35,36).  We shouldn’t pay attention to anyone who says that they know the date of Jesus’ return. The psalmist reminds us that we should put our hope and trust in God’s Word “the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:16), not in the teachings of false prophets: “I have put my hope in your word. . . All your commands are trustworthy . . .” (Excerpts, Psalm 119: 81, 86).

And the author of Hebrews reminds us that it was by faith that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and others prevailed through great trials and were blessed: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. .  . By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future . . . By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff . . . By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt . . .By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict . . .By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. . . By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned” (Excerpts, Hebrews 11:17-29).

Our hope is contained in God’s Word. The Creator of the Universe speaks to us through his Word.  Think about that for a moment.  What is required for you to grow closer to God?  Spend time reading the Scriptures slowly—and meditating on a few words or phrases.  Think about what God is saying to you. He is talking to you through sacred Scripture.

Our faith is not based on some pie-in-the-sky wish, but on the solid Word of God Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, who sent his Son to die for our sins.  Read the Word, and put your faith in Christ Jesus, not in a horoscope or fortuneteller.  A  weather forecaster makes his or her best guess based on the conditions of the atmosphere at a given place and time.  But God’s promises and assurances are rock solid. You can take them to the bank.

Prayer:  Father, we thank and praise you for speaking to us through your Word. Help us to pay more attention to your Word than to the weather or to other forecasters.  Help us to really listen to your words of wisdom, guidance, comfort, and hope.  Inspire us to hold your words close to us and let them sink into our souls, so that they become a part of us. Amen.

Praying the Scriptures:  The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Jeremiah 23:16-29; Psalm 119:81-88; Hebrews 11:17-31 (32-40), 12:1-3; Luke 12:49-53 (54-56).

Choose a word or phrase each day one of the texts or from the following verses to pray during the coming week:

Then he turned to the crowd: ‘When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now’” (Luke 12: 54-56, The Message).

“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes.  They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23: 16).

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice .  .  . By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future . . . By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff . . . By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt . . .By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict . . .By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. . . By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned” (Excerpts, Hebrews 11:17-29).

I have put my hope in your word. . . All your commands are trustworthy . . .” (Excerpts, Psalm 119: 81, 86).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Jeremiah 23:16-29; Psalm 119:81-88; Hebrews 11:17-31 (32-40), 12:1-3; Luke 12:49-53 (54-56).

Don’t Worry

August 5, 2019

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Next week’s Gospel lesson[1]reminded me of the song by Bobby McFerrin, sung by Bob Marley, “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.”  The first verse includes these sentences: “Don’t worry. Be happy.  In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double.”

Jesus said basically the same thing: “Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘And so I tell you not to worry about the food you need to stay alive or about the clothes you need for your body. . . Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it? . . . Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field . . . how much more he will clothe you—you of little faith” (Luke 12: 22, 25, 27-28).

Notice that Jesus did not say do nothing.  He expects us to use the intelligence and our other God-given gifts to solve problems. He is simply pointing out that worrying about something that is beyond our control is counter-productive.  Worrying doesn’t solve anything: “Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27).   Worrying is futile, fruitless, and faithless.  Jesus makes sure that the disciples understand that trusting God requires faith.  As long as we use the talents and resources that God has given us, he will provide. Keep praying and keep the faith.

God told Abram not to be afraid, that he would protect him and that he would have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky: “Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward . . . Look up at the sky and county the stars . . . So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15: 1, 5).  Don’t worry.  Keep praying and keep the faith.

The author of Hebrews names Abraham in a long list of Biblical figures who kept the faith in the face of adversity: “It was faith that made Abraham able to become a father, even though he was too old and Sarah herself could not have children. He trusted God to keep his promise. Though Abraham was practically dead, from this one man came as many descendants as there are stars in the sky, as many as the numberless grains of sand on the seashore” (Hebrews 11: 8-11, Good News Translation).  Abraham kept the faith and trusted God.

What is faith and how do we keep it?  Faith is having the confidence and assurance that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he will do: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).  We keep the faith by listening to what God says to us in his Word, and by talking to him regularly—praying.

The psalmist assures us that those who honor and trust God are on his radar 24/7.  He is our protector, and will see us through the difficulties we face in life.  His love never fails.  That assurance is the basis of our faith.  “[T]he eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love . . . We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.  May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you” (Psalm 33:18-22).

The Evil One seeks to keep you focused on your problems.  He is hoping to run you aground.  He is hoping that you will wallow in despair, wring your hands, and cast aside all hope.  Let’s face it.  We become anxious when problems remain unresolved for months or years.  We are frustrated by our own incompetence and the incompetence of others.  We are irritated by difficult people in our lives.  We despair that our ills will never be healed.  We are disappointed in our own failings.  We lose hope.  Change seems non-existent or incremental.  But God, your Father, has you in his sights, and he is not going to let you out of his sight.  You are his special child. He will never leave you.  He will watch over you.  He will get you through the tough times you are facing.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said that “the lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.”  When you allow yourself to be constantly distracted by your problems and challenges, you lose faith.  Don’t do that.  Keep praying. Use your God-given intelligence and talents.  Then turn all of your challenges over to God who wants you to prosper.  Don’t worry.  Keep the faith and the tide will turn.

Prayer: Lord, you have admonished us not to worry, but sometimes we become consumed with anxiety about our families, our work, our schoolwork, our church and other organizations, the state of the country, and our past and future. Rescue us from worry.  Shield us from those who seek to do us harm. Lift us from despair to hope.  Turn our eyes toward you. We know that you have plans to prosper us and that your love never fails.  Keep us focused on you, Lord.  Help us keep the faith.  Amen.

Praying the Scriptures:  Choose a word or phrase each day from the following verses to pray during the coming week:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘And so I tell you not to worry about the food you need to stay alive or about the clothes you need for your body. . . Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it? . . . Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field,  . . . how much more he will clothe you—you of little faith” (Luke 12: 22, 25, 27-28).

Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27).

Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward . . . Look up at the sky and county the stars . . . So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15: 1, 5)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1)

“[T]he eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love . . . We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you” (Psalm 33:18-22).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-16; Luke 12:22-34 (35-40).

The Creator’s Label

July 29, 2019

You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.” (Colossians 3: 9-10, The Message)

We are obsessed with labels. Some designers put them on the outside of their clothing or handbags so that the wearer can advertise the designer’s name.  When I was a teenager, a woman whose children I babysat gave me some expensive designer clothes that were a few years old.  I gave them away when I was finished wearing them, but I kept the labels.  As a joke, I sewed the labels into clothes I made myself over the years.  Fast-forward 20 years to a formal Christmas dinner we attended for my husband’s law firm.  One of Bob’s  partners offered to take my wrap, a floor-length black velvet hooded cape that I made.  He murmured his approval when he saw the (re-purposed) label sewn on the inside of the cape.  We are more impressed by a label from the House of So and So than by a “Handmade by Diane” label.

Clothes designed and made by well-known designers are often made with beautiful fabrics and exquisite workmanship.  But others are just fancy labels on mass- produced average quality clothing.  The Scripture texts for next Sunday encourage us to go for the best label from the house of the Designer—God.

Paul tells us to throw out the old ways with our old clothes and get a new wardrobe from the House of God, the Creator.  His is the best label: “You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.” (Colossians 3: 9-10, The Message).

God is timeless. When we clothe ourselves in his label, we reflect the fruits of the Spirit, which are timeless as well: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).  Notice that God does the heavy lifting.  He did the heavy lifting when he created the world and everything in it.  His Son did the heavy lifting when he died on the cross for our sins.  And the Spirit does the heavy lifting to give us the fruits of his labor—his work in us.

Someone said that he who dies with the most toys wins.  This assumes that material things have some value to us beyond the grave.  But in the Gospel text for this week, Jesus confirms the truth that he who dies with the most toys is still dead and has made a short-sighted decision to accumulate things to the exclusion of spending time with God: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop .  . . ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, . . . You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’ Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool!  Tonight, you will die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’ “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God” (Excerpts Luke 12:13 -21, The Message, emphasis added).

Solomon, sometimes referred to as the wisest man who ever lived, said that those who chase after material wealth are chasing after the wind—however, “To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God” (Ecclesiastes 2:26).

Put on the Creator’s label. Steep yourself in his Word.  Call him.  He answers calls 24/7 and he doesn’t screen his calls.  He doesn’t check your address or find out what kind of car you drive before answering your calls.  Your balance sheet is of no interest to him.  He doesn’t care if you buy your clothes at the Dior boutique in Paris, France or at a Walmart in Perris, California.

You can wear the Creator label forever if you believe that Jesus Christ died to save you from your sins. If you truly believe, you will want to be baptized and will listen to his words in the book he inspired many years ago—the Bible.  And you will talk to him regularly to praise and thank him, to seek forgiveness for your mistakes, and to ask him to help and guide you to do his will.

If you follow God’s direction, you will be stamped with his label—the Creator’s label. It’s the best label in the universe. When you wear his label, you will receive all that you need from the Creator himself.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the creator of all things bright and beautiful, kind and loving, tall and majestic, fragrant and lovely, wide and deep, good and wonderful, peaceful and joyful—we thank you and praise you for your wondrous creation and more. We thank and praise you for loving us, for comforting us, for healing us, for giving us people to love and people who love us, and for guiding us. We thank and praise you for taking all of our old rags and burning them when you died on the cross for us.  We thank and praise you for offering us new, beautifully designed and made clothes to wear in our new life with you.  We thank and praise you for who you are—our best friend, Father, Son, Spirit, Savior, Anchor, Advocate, Comforter, Prince of Peace, Healer, Redeemer, the Alpha and the Omega, Creator. Amen

Praying the Scriptures:  Choose a word or phrase each day from the following verses to pray during the coming week.

To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:26)

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”   (Psalm 100)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.  Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.” (Colossians 3: 1-3, The Message)

“You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.”  (Colossians 3: 9-11, The Message)

Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12-18-21)

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

 

 

Everyday Mercy

July 22, 2019

Abraham confronted him, ‘Are you serious? Are you planning on getting rid of the good people right along with the bad?’ . . . He wouldn’t quit, ‘Don’t get angry, Master—this is the last time. What if you only come up with ten?’ ‘For the sake of only ten, I won’t destroy the city.’”(Genesis 18: 23, 32, The Message).

During my 38 years of practicing law, I have been in many situations where mercy or the lack thereof was on full display.  This happens in all professions, but my experience is in the law.  Some lawyers and judges feel the need to dominate the conversation that gives no quarter to anyone else daring to venture an opinion. But I also know many lawyers and judges who use their power and authority to patiently teach, to gently seek the truth, and to show compassion on the less knowledgeable or less articulate.

What does it mean to show mercy? What does mercy look like?  To show mercy is to forgive or to show compassion to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  Next week’s Scripture texts provide examples of God’s mercy on his people. These Scriptures encourage us to fall on God’s mercy and they encourage us to show mercy in our dealings with others.[1]

Abraham had the temerity to confront God to ask him whether he was going to destroy the good people of Sodom along with those who had turned against God.   God knew all of the answers before Abraham asked, but he graciously allowed Abraham to pursue justice and mercy.  God shows mercy in agreeing to spare the entire city if just ten good people can be found: ‘For the sake of only ten, I won’t destroy the city.’” (Genesis 18: 23, 32, The Message).

Our words, actions, and countenance reflect what’s in our hearts. We all “fly off the handle” at real or imagined slights from time to time. But when it becomes a habit, it reflects a lack of self-control and an inability to act mercifully:  “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).  It takes a strong person to show mercy when confronted with inflammatory actions or words.

David throws himself on God’s mercy time and time again.  Like us, David made his share of mistakes—some of them whoppers. But he knew that if he fell on God’s mercy when he messed up or was in trouble, he would not be abandoned: “Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands” (Psalm 138: 6-8).

Paul reminds us of the compassion and mercy that God showed to us in sending Jesus to be our savior: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2: 13-14).  Our sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus.  He paid the ultimate price to cancel our debts.

We fall on our knees in prayer before God knowing that we do not deserve to have our debts cancelled. Prayer is communication with God—whether the prayer is one that escapes our lips spontaneously, was written recently, or is one of the time-honored ancient prayers that resonate deeply within our souls.  The sincerity of the prayer and the state of our hearts when we pray is what matters to God, not whether the prayer was written by someone else.

We pray an ancient prayer authored by Jesus when we pray the “Our Father” or Lord’s Prayer.   In teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus included a petition in that prayer, that God forgive our sins as we forgive others: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11: 4). This tells us that God will forgive us to the extent that we forgive others.  That can be a frightening thought if we hold onto grudges and refuse to forgive others.  But God will show mercy and will forgive us as we forgive others.  That is about the biggest incentive one can imagine to encourage us to show mercy to our neighbors.

Mercy gives others the benefit of the doubt, and doesn’t immediately shut down those who have made a mistake or with whom one disagrees. Mercy is hospitable and welcoming, even though it may disrupt one’s schedule.  Mercy gives up power to teach and guide others. Mercy tries to help others succeed. Mercy gives up resources to help others. Mercy offers kind and encouraging words to others. Mercy reflects an open and loving heart.

Ask yourself as you move throughout your day if you are showing mercy.

Prayer:  Lord, help me to show mercy to those I meet in my everyday life—at home, at school, at work, at church, and in the community.  Move me to pray for those I am tempted to criticize.  Move me to speak words of encouragement instead of judgment.  Move me to forgive instead of condemning another.  Move me to offer to help instead of remaining silent in the face of another’s needs.  Help me show mercy and to contribute to another’s healing.  And give me the trust and strength I need to fall into your merciful arms.  Have mercy on me, O Lord. Amen

Praying the Scriptures:  Choose a word or phrase each day from the following verses to pray during the coming week.

A gentle answer turns away wrath,but a harsh word stirs up anger”(Proverbs 15:1).

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11: 4).

“‘For the sake of only ten, I won’t destroy the city.’”(Genesis 18: 32, The Message).

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands” (Psalm 138: 6-8).

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2: 13-14).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

 [1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Genesis 18:(17-19) 20-33; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19); Luke 11:1-13.

 

Pay Attention

July 15, 2019

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple.” (Colossians 1:26-27, The Message)

According to a 2016 University of Nebraska-Lincoln study, college students spend a lot of time during class playing with their smart phones and other digital devices on activities unrelated to the class.   The students admitted that they don’t pay attention, miss information being taught, and that their grades may suffer.

I’m not sure how teachers deal with this problem today, but when I was in school, if a teacher saw that he or she was losing the attention of the class, the teacher would say, “Pay attention, class!” or “Write this down!” That was a sure tip off that we would be tested on the material being covered.

Being distracted is a major problem these days not only in the classroom, but also on the road, on the job, and at home.  Some states have passed laws against texting while driving after noting the increase in accidents caused by texting drivers.  Workplace distractions are a drain on worker productivity. Not paying attention to loved ones at home can result in undetected illnesses, substance abuse, and many relationship problems.

Clearly, we need to focus. We need to pay attention to what is happening in the moment.  The Scripture texts for next Sunday emphasize the importance of paying attention to the moment.[1]  The Old Testament text is similar to the Gospel text because in each story there is a key character who was paying attention to what was important, and one who was not paying attention.

In the Genesis account, “God appeared to Abraham . . . while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was the hottest part of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them . .  . He said, ‘Master, if it please you, stop for a while with your servant. I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path’” (Genesis 18: 1-5). The text recounts that God appeared to Abraham; we learn as the story progresses that the visitors were the Lord and two angels[2].  Presumably, Abraham did not know that, but extended the hospitality to them that was expected in that culture.

Abraham was paying attention to the needs of the travelers.  He surmised that they were probably hot and tired and in need of rest and refreshment. But Sarah wasn’t paying attention when the lesson on hospitality was taught.  Because she was well past normal child-bearing age, she disrespected the men by laughing at them when one promised that she would bear a child within the year.  The Lord said “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).  Sarah could have at least kept her opinion to herself.  As the author of Hebrews pointed out, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:1).  And what is more important than spending time with God?

That was the point made by Jesus during the dinner party at Martha and Mary’s home. Martha was slaving away in the kitchen preparing the meal and got teed off because her sister was relaxing and chatting with Jesus and wasn’t helping her.  Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha, . . . you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41).  It isn’t that Martha’s work was unimportant, it’s just that spending time with the Lord was more important during the time that he was in their home.  Part of the art of hospitality is spending time with your guests.  In order to do that, a host may need to spend hours before the guests arrive to prepare for them– cleaning the house, setting the table, and preparing foods to heat or serve at mealtime.  Jesus was pointing out that we need to prioritize—to pay attention to what is important in the moment.

Paul asked the church at Colossae to pay attention to the significance of what had happened with the appearance of Christ and the resurrection so that they didn’t miss it: “This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. . . God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple.” (Colossians 1:26-27, The Message). The resurrection was for everyone—God is for everyone—not just the Jews. The mystery has been solved! Pay attention!

David knew what was important when he wrote: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

These Scriptures teach us the importance of paying attention to our Christian responsibility of hospitality and paying attention to the Word.  Don’t scoff at God’s claims to transform your life.  He can do more in your life than you ever imagined.  We never know whom God will send to meet us on the road we are on—someone we can help, or someone who can help us.  Spending time with God should be priority #1 for Christians, as Jesus pointed out to Martha.  We don’t have to travel miles to find Jesus.  He sent his Spirit to be with us and in us. Pay attention–it’s that simple.

Prayer: Lord, teach us to pay attention to what is important.  Help us to drop the unimportant trivia from our lives so that we have time to spend with you. Illuminate the words of Holy Scripture for us so that we can understand where you are leading us.  Amen

Praying the Scriptures:  Choose a word or phrase each day from the Scriptures quoted above to pray during the coming week.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Genesis 18:1-10a (10b-14); Psalm 27:(1-6) 7-14; Colossians 1:21-29; Luke 10:38-42.

[2]F.F. Bruce, Bible Commentary(1979) Zondervan, p. 128.

Living Above Your Circumstances

July 8, 2019

“As you learn more and more how God works . . .  you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” (Colossians 1: 9-12, The Message).

 One of the first rules set down by financial advisors is a mandate to live within your means. Don’t spend more than you make.  When you live beyond your means, you incur debt and your financial fortunes can spiral downward.  That works for budgets.

But loving God requires wild extravagance.  When you learn to live above and beyond the gritty reality of your life, you discover a world of peace and joy through reliance on God.  In Paul’s words, “It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating” (Colossians 1: 9-14, The Message).[1]

When you put your faith in the God of the universe, he pulls you out of “the dead-end alleys and dark dungeons.”  He wants you to take part in everything “bright and beautiful.”  He wants you to live above your circumstances.  He wants you to live extravagantly, embraced by his love.  When you are able to live above your circumstances, you are no longer a slave to your circumstances—you are no longer ensnared by your everyday problems.  When you turn your problems over to the Lord of All, you are free to concentrate on what God has in store for you.

How do you live beyond your circumstances?  By loving and trusting God first, and second, by loving your neighbor as yourself.  When you trust the Holy Spirit to lead you to safety, you are free to follow his path and to love and help others.  Loving your neighbor as yourself is part of the moral law established by God over three thousand years ago:  “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18).  The moral law still applies today.  It is timeless.  But you can only love others when you turn your attention from your own problems—when you live above your circumstances—and look to your neighbor.

One of the key Old Testament laws prohibited a farmer from harvesting the edges of his field. That portion of the harvest was to be left to the poor, so that they could come and work the edges of the fields to feed their families: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God”  (Leviticus 19: 9-10).  It was an early welfare system, stemming from the requirement to love your neighbor.

David continues the theme of loving and helping the weak or poor: “Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble . . . Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever” (Psalm 41: 1, 12).  God will lift you above your circumstances when you put your trust in him; he will enable you to help the poor and the weak, and he will bless you for it.

The Gospel lesson also carries the theme of living above your circumstances.  A  scholar asked Jesus what he needed to do to get eternal life.  Jesus replied with his own query, asking  the man what his understanding of the Scriptures was in answer to his question. The man correctly identified the key requirements to assure life beyond the grave: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10: 27).

As the conversation continued, the scholar asked Jesus “ And who is my neighbor? “  Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, and asked the man who the neighbor was to the person robbed.  Of course, the Samaritan was a mortal enemy of the Jews, but again, the man’s response was spot on: “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.”  The others who passed by the injured man could not look beyond their own prejudices and fears to help him. They were slaves to their circumstances.  When you are a slave to your own situation and challenges, you cannot love God and others extravagantly.

In order to “go and do likewise,” we must live above and beyond our circumstances–the problems and challenges of our everyday lives. We must turn those challenges over to God, asking for his guidance and help.  That will free us up to look to our neighbor’s needs.   Jesus taught that we live beyond our circumstances when we put aside our prejudices, differences, and  disagreements and show mercy to our neighbors.  Live above your circumstances.  And then, go and do likewise.

Prayer: Lord, help me to look beyond my own circumstances to recognize my neighbor’s needs. Help me walk in my neighbors’ shoes so that I can understand and appreciate their challenges.  Open my eyes to the needs around me—to those who are struggling, depressed, discouraged, hurting, hungry, and in need of medical assistance and shelter. Amen

Praying the Scriptures:  Choose a word or phrase each day from the Scriptures quoted above to pray during the coming week.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Levitcus (18:1-5) 19:9-18; Psalm 41;  Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37.