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November 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

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

The Alpha and Omega

November 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

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

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

Seeking Stardom

November 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

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

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

Christian Sacrifice

November 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

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

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

The One

October 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

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

Jesus O’Lantern

October 22, 2018

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15: 12)

In a few days witches, demons, ghosts, goblins and all manner of evil spirits will fill the land on All Hallows Eve.   A day later, we will recognize those who have gone before us on Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.  The Scripture verses this week describe forces of evil leading to murderous plots, but also remind us that Jesus is the light of the world who redeemed us from death.[1]  On Halloween we put candles in carved pumpkins–Jack O’Lanterns—and place them in dark places.  The Jack O’Lanterns illumine the paths of the likes of princesses, super heroes, Harry Potters, brides, pirates, ghosts, and goblins.  Christians are like Jack O’Lanterns: their faces glow with an inner light that illuminates dark places.  We receive our light from Jesus.  He is the lantern who lights our path every day of our lives.

In the 26th chapter of Jeremiah, we find that the prophet is the target of another assassination plot.  A few weeks ago, we recounted the plot of his hometown neighbors to kill him.  This time the plot was hatched after he told the people that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed: “This is what the Lord says: ‘If you do not listen to me and follow my law . . . and if you do not listen to the words of servants, the prophets . . . I will make this house like Shiloh” (Jeremiah 26: 4-6).  The tabernacle, previously located in Shiloh, was destroyed by the Philistines in 1050 B. C.  “I will make this house like Shiloh,” means that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. The priests and the people called for his death, and brought their request to the city officials.  After listening to Jeremiah, whose words echoed the prophet Micah, the officials decided to spare his life.  Jeremiah was speaking truth to the people to lead them out of darkness into the light, but they did not receive it well.  Yet Jeremiah continued to carry God’s torch.

Hundreds of years later, Paul picked up Jeremiah’s torch in warning us “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them”(Ephesians 5:11).  Paul admonishes us to walk away from the dark deeds and people of the world and toward redemption and holiness.  If you walk toward the cross, Jesus O’Lantern will illumine your path.

When Jesus walked the earth, he called himself the light of the world: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).  Jesus lit the way for us.  He showed us the path to the light.  His Word is a lantern that lights the path for us: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).  Jesus uses us to reflect the resplendent brilliance revealed in his Word to those around us.  Go light your world.

At this time of year we also remember the great reformer, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk at the University of Wittenberg, who posted his Ninety-Five Theses in Latin on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.  The church door was akin to a university bulletin board or blog—a place where people posted ideas to stimulate debate by scholars and theologians.  They were written in Latin–the language of scholars and theologians of the day.  Martin Luther called us to be “little Christs” in the world.  In The Freedom of a Christian(1520) he wrote, “[A]s our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians . . . “  Luther encouraged us to be little “Jesus O’Lanterns” to our neighbors in the world—to bring the Christ light to a dark world.  He encouraged us to light up our neighborhoods.

How did Jesus shine his light in dark places?  He ministered to the least of those in his society.  He dined with the scorned and disenfranchised.  He sat with the sick and the dying. He used his talents and powers for good.  He brought his disciples through frightening and dark times.  He reassured them in the midst of a dark, frightening storm. His death on the cross resulted in the redemption of a world mired in darkness.  He appeared to a frightened group of his followers, hiding behind locked doors on the Sunday after his death, and within a few weeks transformed them into bold preachers of the Word who carried the gospel to faraway lands.  His light shone through them to others. They lit up their world and they continue to light up our world through their contributions to sacred Scripture.

Martin Luther’s encouragement to be little Christs in the world comes directly from Scripture. The primary way that we shine our lights into the dark corners of our world is by loving others as Christ loves us: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15: 12).  When we love those around us as Christ loved us and as we love ourselves, our candles will not burn out or be extinguished by gusts of circumstantial winds.

The light that shines from Christ through us to others was given to us by the grace of God: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade”(1 Peter 1: 3-4).  May your face glow with an inner light that illuminates dark places.  May your face reflect the joy within you, filling the dark corners of your life.  May you be a beacon to others in a poorly lit world.

Go light your world.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Jeremiah 26:1-16; 1 Peter 1: 3-9; John 15: 12-21.

Choose LIFO

October 15, 2018

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:31

I took a course in law school called Accounting for Lawyers, which introduced me to the FILO and LIFO methods of accounting for business inventory.   FILO stands for First In, Last Out.  LIFO is an abbreviation for Last In, First Out.  These abbreviations occurred to me when Jesus said “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).  In deciding who will be chosen for eternal life, Jesus said that those using LIFO will be given priority.  He said that those who are the least among us—those lacking in wealth, influence, and power on earth will be the first in line for the kingdom of God. They will be the first stringers–not the bench warmers, when it really counts.  LIFO—last in, first out.  And vice versa—those who have put money, power, and prestige first during their lifetimes will be the left on the bench.

The Scripture texts for Sunday address the issue of wealth accumulation.  Solomon writes, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income . . .  As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?”(Ecclesiastes 5: 10-11).  Note  that Soloman says “Whoever loves money . . .”   He does not say that the accumulation of wealth is a bad thing—but that the love of money is bad.  Instead of hoarding money and possessions, many wealthy and powerful people use their money and influence to help those in need, and to benefit many laudable causes.

This is the same point that Jesus is making when he tells the disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10: 25). As we discussed last week in the case of the rich young man, riches per se are not a barrier to eternal life, but the love of money is an obstacle to a real relationship with God now and after the curtain has closed on our time on earth.

Both Solomon and Jesus emphasized how difficult it is for the wealthy to receive eternal life, because wealth is often a distraction from important kingdom work.  Scripture tells us that when a person is more excited about accumulating items than helping her fellow man, that is definitely a problem. Remember, it was Solomon who said three thousand years ago: “As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?” (Eccelesiastes 5: 10-11).

Accounting is not just for lawyers and business people.  The author of Hebrews reminds us that we cannot hide our true motivations from God, and that we will all be held to account for our thoughts, attitudes and actions or lack thereof.  No amount of church-going or pious public praying will mask your true feelings from God: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4: 13).

We will all be held to account. Which method will you choose—life affirming LIFO—or FILO—first in, last out?  Do you want to be among the first drafts or sitting on the bench waiting to see if you will be chosen?  If your wealth has been a barrier to an on-going relationship with the living God, you can turn that around.

But how do you choose LIFO if you have become distracted by acquiring material things and spending money on expensive nonessentials?  For one, you don’t let yourself get sucked into shopping for shopping’s sake.  There are better ways to spend your time and money.  Don’t get sucked into a mentality that you will never have enough designer clothes or money.  Don’t get lulled into thinking that more possessions will make you happier.  Don’t let your closet or possessions create a barrier between you and God.  Look around and find out where the need is and concentrate your efforts there.  You won’t have to go far.  LIFO lives by the motto of God first, then family, then others.  Even if you have enormous wealth, if you humble yourself before God, and treat others as you would like to be treated, then you are well on your way to choosing LIFO.

Give generously of your wealth, your time, your talents, and other resources to those in need around you in your home, community, and in the world at large.  Spend less time thinking about and listing your wants and desires and spend more time in the Word and in thinking about how you can help others.  Spend time with those who inspire and elevate your thoughts beyond your selfish wants.  Choose an eternity of love with the God of the universe over the accumulation of material goods.  You can’t take your possessions with you—they will only drag you down and away from the God who loves you more than any human ever could.  Choose LIFO.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan