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Keep Your Eye on the Ball

March 5, 2018

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2: 8-9

When you play any game involving a ball—whether it’s golf, tennis, baseball, soccer, basketball—you need to keep your eye of the ball. You won’t be able to hit a golf ball, tennis ball or baseball if your eyes are not focused firmly on the ball. Likewise, you won’t be able to kick a soccer ball down the field, or make a basket in a game of basketball if you don’t follow the ball closely while the game is being played. That’s what God was telling the Israelites when they strayed from God and began complaining about being in the desert. Keep your eye on the ball—on God.[1]

The Israelites forgot about the miracles that God had performed to free them from the Egyptians. They forgot about being rescued from slavery. They forgot about how God had parted the Red Sea for them to pass, and then drowned their pursuers. They forgot that Moses led them to safety and had ensured their survival. So God sent a plague of poisonous snakes to bring them back to the reality that God is their only hope. They begged Moses to ask God to remove the plague. “So Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21: 7b). Moses followed God’s instructions and made a bronze snake and put it on a pole for all to see. Keeping their eyes on the bronze snake healed them from snake bites.  But it wasn’t the statue that healed them. It was their faith in God—keeping their eye on him—that permitted them to live.

Last week we saw how Jesus reacted to the unbelief he encountered on the temple grounds when he saw the usurious practices of the temple money changers and merchants. In this week’s gospel, he is speaking to Nicodemus: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man [Jesus]. Just as Moses lifted the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3: 13-15).  Jesus was explaining that just as the Israelites were healed by their faith in God by looking up at the snake on the pole, so we are saved from our sin by looking up at Jesus on the cross. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Paul reminds us that it was by Jesus’ death on the cross—that we are made alive in Christ: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2: 4-9.

We should always be thankful for God’s goodness, his blessings of deliverance. As I was finalizing this piece on March 3, 2018, I received a call from our son Bobby, who was skiing in Mammoth, to let us know that he is ok.  The avalanche was close to where he was skiing, but he and his friend were unscathed.  They closed the mountain after the avalanche, but they are safe.  I thank God for their deliverance today from harm.  Psalm 107 was written to celebrate the return of the Israelites from their exile in Babylon: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever . . . Some wandered in the desert wastelands . . . they were hungry and thirsty and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107: 1, 4-6).

Keep your eyes on Jesus. God doesn’t promise a problem-free life, but he promises to be there for you. Keep your eyes fixed on the cross, remembering that Jesus loved you more than he loved his earthly life, that he died for you, and that he will deliver you from your distress.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday in Lent are Numbers 21: 4-9; Psalm 107: 1-9; Ephesians 2: 1-10; John 3: 14-21.

God’s Gifts: The Law and The Crucified Christ

February 26, 2018

“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1: 22-24).

When we travel outside of the United States, we always use credit cards that do not charge an extra fee on foreign purchases. There was no such thing in Jesus’ day. When pilgrims came to Jerusalem in droves for the three pilgrim festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), they were required to pay a temple tax and to purchase an animal sacrifice.[1] The currency with which these purchases were made could not bear an image of an earthly ruler, so the pilgrims had to use shekels, the Jewish currency. Because they needed Roman currency for purchases outside of the temple, the pilgrims generally did not have shekels upon arrival at the temple. The currency exchanges and merchants selling sacrificial animals were located on the temple grounds. So far, so good.

But because they had a monopoly over the exchange rate and the cost of the animals, the money changers charged exhorbitant fees to change the Roman money to shekels and the merchants charged outrageous prices for the animals. The practice of overcharging the pilgrims is what Jesus was protesting: “[I]n the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (John 2: 14-15).[2] The money changers and merchants were engaged in unfair practices, which in effect, amounted to stealing from the pilgrims, a violation of the 7th commandment. That was what Jesus was protesting. He was protecting the common folk from the unfair practices of the powerful.

God gave the commandments to Moses for the same reason—to protect the people. David emphasizes the importance of the law, using several terms to describe it and extolling its virtues: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold . . . “ (Psalm 19:7-10). David describes God’s commandments as perfect, trustworthy, wise, right, radiant, pure, eternal. God’s commandments give joy to the heart and light to the eyes. They are more precious than gold.

God’s laws outrank the knowledge of men. Paul warns that anyone who thinks highly of his or her intelligence has another thing coming: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of the age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1: 18-20, 25).

God’s commandments are eternal, and they are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago when God gave them to Moses. The commandments were given to ensure the well-being of God’s people, as a foundation for the laws of the nation of Israel, and to remind the people of their own sinfulness. The law does not save us, but it is a gift from God to protect us. It is the crucified Christ—God’s ultimate sacrificial gift to us–who saves us. As you work your way through Lent to the foot of the cross, remember that both are precious gifts from the God who loves you and wants only the best for you.

Remember that the crucified Christ is with you through the valleys of your life and will never abandon you. Call out to the one who has known earthly suffering and who is with you in your suffering and pain. He will carry you through the valleys and into the arms of your heavenly Father. You can count on it.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Animals who had traveled a long distance with the pilgrims were often rejected as imperfect, unworthy sacrifices.

[2] The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday in Lent are Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31; John 2: 13-25.

All Other Ground Is Sinking Sand

February 18, 2018

Don’t run from suffering, embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Mark 8: 34-38, The Message

As a society, we are obsessed with self-help. We are always looking for ways to abate our loneliness, pain, and feelings of despair and self-doubt. If you google “self-help books” you will get thousands of results. There are no shortage of books to tell you how to improve every aspect of your life—from advice on “personal growth” to advice to improve your psyche, your relationships, your opportunities for employment advancement, and you-name-it. Now we also have Ted talks and You Tube to teach us how to be better at countless endeavors.

But Lent is about repentance and denial to self.   As we reflect on Christ’s suffering for our sake, we should also reflect on Jesus’ words: “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self” (Mark 8: 35, The Message)?[1] Or in another translation: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8: 35, New International Version). Why would Jesus tell us that self-help is no help? It’s important to understand that he is not telling us to sit back and let God do everything for us in our lives. In fact, God is insistent that we work diligently and sacrifice as we work toward fulfilling his goals for our lives (e.g. Colossians 3:23; Psalm 90: 17; Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 12:24; Proverbs 14: 23; Genesis 2:3).

In this week’s passage from Mark, Jesus is telling us that we cannot save ourselves. It is God who provides our refuge from loneliness, pain, and feelings of despair and self-doubt. Only God can comfort us during our lives and offer us a life with him forever. We must lean on Christ, our rock.

Before we built our house in the 1980’s, we hired a geologist to test what was beneath the soil to determine if it would sufficiently support the house we wanted to build in our earthquake-prone area. We learned that bedrock is beneath the solid clay soil on our lot and would support the house.  Likewise, if Jesus is the foundation of our lives, we can survive any seismic life event.  Jesus’ words reminded me of the verse from the old hymn My Hope is Built on Nothing Less:[2]My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

As Jesus tells us, self-help is no help. Left to our own devices, we are on sinking sand. He tells us that by relying on him, the rock, we will save ourselves.  Martin Luther understood this first-hand when a price was put on his head by the emperor after the Diet of Worms. He feared God more than the powers that be.  Heavily influenced by St. Augustine, this Roman Catholic monk’s eyes were opened by Romans 1:17: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Like others before him and after him, he put his life on the line because he feared God more than the stake.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was another man who stood up to the challenge during World War II when many other clergymen were trying to appease Hitler. Luther and Bonhoeffer knew that they could not lean on their own understanding. They must be guided by God’s Word. They knew that even if they lost their lives on earth, they would gain eternal life. It is a choice that many people around the world must still make today.

Even after Jesus’ divinity was revealed to the disciples, they were faced with the decision of to whom and when the truth should be revealed. Jesus needed time to complete the work that he had been sent to do, and he needed time to prepare his disciples for what was to come. He needed time to give them the foundation that they would need to weather the storms ahead.

Peter had just confessed to him that “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8: 29),[3] but “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8: 30). And even though Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, neither he nor any of the disciples knew the full extent of what that meant. Peter wanted Jesus to be the conquering hero—the king—not the suffering servant described by Isaiah in Chapter 53.   Jesus needed time to further instruct them and to prepare them for the coming events that would change the course of history.

And so he began. He warned his disciples and the crowds that gathered around him “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it “ (Mark 8: 35, New International Version). He was telling them that they cannot help themselves—that they must listen to him and put their trust in him. He told them that if they want to save their souls, they must follow him. That was his message. The disciples didn’t turn to self-help manuals to learn how to teach others about the Kingdom of God. They turned to Jesus, the master teacher. They needed Jesus, just as we do.

He helped his followers understand that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8: 31).

The disciples didn’t know it at the time, but even the news of Jesus’ impending death was a message of hope. Paul explained years later that “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we gave gained access into this grace in which we know stand . . . we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5). We don’t always know how God will use the trials of our lives, but if we make him the foundation of our lives, he will use our experiences to further his purposes.

Despite the suffering we are called to endure during our lifetimes on account of the gospel and for other reasons, we have been reconciled through Christ and will live with him always. It is a message of hope that we are called to pass down: “Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it” (Psalm 22: 30-31).

Self-help is no help—it is sinking sand. Turn to the power source. Turn to the rock. Turn to God and persevere, because perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Lent are Genesis 17: 1-7; Genesis 17: 15-16; Psalm 22: 23-31; Romans 5: 1-11; Mark 8: 27-38.

[2] Edward Mote, 1797-1874

[3] The Son of Man was the name that Jesus most often called himself. It comes from Daniel 7:13, and means the Messiah.

Being Tested

February 11, 2018

Tests are never pleasant. Whether it’s a blood test, a MRI, a biopsy, a Medieval Literature test, a physical education test, or an achievement test, we would almost always prefer to be doing something else than taking the test. Anyone who has taken the bar exam, especially in states with low passage rates like California, has a story to tell of difficulties experienced during the course of studying for or taking the exam. And most of us have a recurrent nightmare after we get the news that we passed that it was all a mistake. But these experiences pale in comparison to the tests recounted in our Biblical texts this week.[1]

Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent, a time for reflection and sacrifice. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is February 14th this year—when we will also joyously celebrate the loves of our life on Valentine’s Day. We will send expressions of love to our spouse, partner, friends, and family members. As we rejoice in our love for those closest to us, it is almost impossible to understand the test that God put Abraham through when he asked him to sacrifice his beloved son: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22: 2).

I would have pulled a “Jonah”—put my son in my SUV and taken off in the opposite direction. I get that the passage is about God’s testing of Abraham’s faith, and his insistence that we trust and obey him, but the test he put Abraham through seems beyond the pale. I plan to sign up for Moses’ class on Genesis when I get to heaven, and I am hoping that Abraham and Isaac will be our special guests when we study Genesis 22, so that I can finally wrap my head around what was going through their minds. After all, God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of all nations a dozen or more years earlier when Abraham was 99 years old (Genesis 17: 1-7). How could that happen if Abraham sacrificed his beloved son? Did he think that God made a mistake? Apparently not, because he followed the instructions he received. One commentator suggests “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac from death. When God’s people act in faith, they never try to designate the method God will use to achieve the ends they believe he has promised.”[2]

But of course, God knows exactly how Abraham felt, because he sacrificed his only Son for us on the cross, and actually went through with it. But even before he died on the cross, Jesus was tested a number of times, including during his time in the wilderness just before he began his public ministry: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being temped by Satan.” (Mark 1: 12).

God shows us in these Scriptures that Jesus and Biblical heroes of faith were tested as we will be. We are tested during the course of our lives in many ways. We are challenged by the everyday stresses of our jobs and family life. We are tested by illnesses, accidents, and natural disasters. We are tested, tempted, and led astray by our own thoughts and by people we encounter. James tells us not to blame God for our temptations: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1: 13-14). We are constantly tested by difficult people and circumstances. Our faith is tried during periods of unemployment, marital discord, financial difficulties, and by long periods of physical or mental illness—our own, or that of a family member.

Or you may be tested by your success. That is a test you would welcome, you say?  But as the old adage says, be careful what you wish for. Many successful people pull away from God, because they don’t think they need him or because their resources lead them to temptations they can’t resist which ultimately prove to be their downfall. They don’t think that they will ever need a refuge—that their money or power is all that they need—that it will insulate them from everything.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Success, like tragedy, can test the strength of your faith.  You need to hold onto the Father’s hand during good times and bad during your life, and trust him to keep you on the path that he has planned for you. Even King David asked God to search him and point out his shortcomings, to test him, so that he could repent and follow God’s guidance: “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life” (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message). Your power, acquisition of art, estates, cars, jewels, and other expressions of material wealth will not influence the God who can give you blessed assurance of his love that will never die.

David also writes “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust . . . Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in your all day long.” (Psalm 25: 1, 4-5).   David knew better than most that whatever your circumstance in life—whether you are a lowly shepherd boy or a mighty king with untold riches, God is your only hope and salvation.

When you are in the midst of trials, turn to the one who can bring you through safely—the one you can depend on now and forever: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows” James 1: 17.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Lent are Genesis 22:1-8; Psalm 25: 1-10; James 1: 12-18; Mark 1: 9-15.

[2] Gangel and Bramer, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis (2002), Holman Reference, p. 198.

Transformed by God’s Light

February 5, 2018

God shines forth.” Psalm 50: 2

When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant.” (Exodus 34:30)

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

I recently read an account written by a medical doctor of her near death experience. Her story, like countless other first-hand accounts of heaven, described the brilliant radiance of heaven. The surround light and radiance of God is the subject of the Scripture texts this week.[1]

Long before the gospel accounts of Peter, James, and John’s experience with Jesus’ transfiguration, Old Testament heroes of faith and prophets reflected heaven’s light in their experiences. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai carrying the stone tablets with the law, he didn’t realize that “his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant.” (Exodus 34:29-30). And Elijah, like Christ after his Resurrection, was taken up to heaven and appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration: “As they [Elijah and Elisha] were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” (2 Kings 2:11)

When Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to the mountain and became transfigured there into a gleaming figure, he met with Elijah and Moses: “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking to Jesus.” (Mark 9: 2-9)

All of these events occurred on earth and were witnessed and recorded. The miracle of the Transfiguration is unique in that it happened to Jesus.   These events give us a glimpse of heaven. We are privileged to peek behind the curtain to see what lies beyond. These accounts provide visuals of the transforming power of God’s light. But the wonderful truth is that we do not need to wait until we see Jesus face-to-face to experience God’s radiance. It is available to us on a daily basis through our interaction with the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever spoken to someone whose countenance reflected a Christ-like radiance? The Holy Spirit shines through pure hearts to reflect God’s love and joy to those around such a person. You can see it in the person’s eyes, mouth, and body language—which is warm, understanding, and welcoming instead of cold, judgmental, and distant. When we are transformed by the light of the Holy Spirit, we are like a light shining in the darkness.   We get to that place when we maintain on-going conversations with God, and invite the Holy Spirit into every part of our being. There is no room for ill-will and a judgmental attitude when the Holy Spirit inhabits your soul. Dr. Bill Creasy says that if the Holy Spirit lives in you, you can be assured that he will not be roommates with a demon—he will “kick his butt out!”

Bitterness, anger, animosity, hostility, and hatred cannot take hold when God fills every cell of your body.  Ask him to send his Spirit to shine his light from within so that you are transformed from the inside out.  Ask God for the light that shines from within so that you can reflect “God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6b).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Transfiguration Sunday are 2 Kings 2: 1-12; Exodus 34: 29-35; Psalm 50; 2 Corinthians 3: 12-18; 2 Corinthians 4: 1-6; Mark 9: 2-9.

The Apple of His Eye

January 29, 2018

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40: 31).

It is said that the first Apple computers were built in the late 1970’s in Steve Job’s parent’s garage on Crist Drive in Los Altos, California. The Northern California home is a designated historic site. Great accomplishments often have modest beginnings.

Jesus Christ, God’s only son and the apple of his eye, also had a modest start.  He was born in Bethlehem to ordinary people, and raised in Nazareth, a Roman outpost. The Romans divided Israel into three sections: Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Galilee, in the north, consisted of about 250 towns in an area about 60 miles long and 30 miles wide. Most of Jesus’ ministry occurred in this small area. Mark reports that after Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” (Mark 1:38-39).[1] It was from those modest beginnings, in a short three-year period, that a revolution was born that rocked the world—a revolution far beyond the computer revolution that began in the 1970’s in Silicon Valley.

As God’s adopted children, we are the apple of his eye as well. God protects us as we protect our children. He gives us hope: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak . . . but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40: 31). The psalmist confirms that the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147: 3). God loves the tired, the brokenhearted, the disenfranchised, the weak, the hurting, the fearful, the lonely, the ill, the bedridden, the frustrated, the humiliated, the frightened, the despairing, and the injured. That’s you and me. He doesn’t promise us a life without pain, but he promises to shore us up if we turn to him, and to give us the strength to carry on.

God doesn’t guarantee that you will found a Fortune 500 company, find the cure for cancer, or be Time magazine’s Person of the Year, but nothing is wasted in his economy, including your efforts. You may never know the influence you have had on others during your lifetime.  God knows, and he will guide you in directions where your special abilities and talents can be used.

But Paul points out that what we do in God’s name requires self-discipline: “Do you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize.   Everyone who competes goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly. . .” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-26).  Don’t drift aimlessly from day-to-day. Pay attention to where God is leading you through your study of the Word, as you discover the gifts you have been given, through your own diligent research and study, and through your interaction with others. God will bind up your wounds; he will heal you, and will give you the strength to carry on. And he won’t give up on you. He will stay with you and carry you over the finish line.

Keep your eye on “the crown that will last forever,” and the dividends will surpass those paid by Apple, Inc.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany are Isaiah 40: 21-31; Psalm 147: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 9: 16-27; Mark 1: 29-39.

The Master Teacher

January 22, 2018

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Mark 1:22

Listening to a teacher who really knows a subject is a delight. A master teacher knows the material inside and out, welcomes questions, and is rarely stumped. He or she not only knows the basics of the subject, but also its history, relationship to other subjects, and the ramifications and implications of various aspects of the subject on the world at large. Such a teacher has complete mastery over the material. A master teacher is also an exceptional communicator.

Jesus was such a teacher.[1] In fact, he was the Master Teacher. Being fully divine, he was present at creation. He knows God the Father and Spirit as intimately as he knows himself.  As part of the Godhead, he created Scripture.  He inspired and was present when every word of Scripture was written by its human scriveners.  His communication skills were out-of-this-world.  So is it any surprise that the people were amazed at his teaching? “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1: 21-22).  The Scripture lessons this week emphasize the superiority of God’s knowledge and wisdom, and what it means to us and how we live our lives. [2] The strength of Scripture is its authority. Jesus was credible because he spoke with authority. He spoke with complete mastery of his subject—the kingdom of God.

In his speech to the Sanhedrin before he was stoned to death, Stephen confirmed that Moses was referring to the Messiah when he wrote “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 7:37). This Jesus was the Messiah to whom the Israelites were instructed to listen.  The psalmist continues to praise the Lord’s knowledge, authority, and wisdom and encourages us to revere God and to follow the Master Teacher: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding” (Psalm 111: 10).  Follow the words of the Master Teacher as revealed in Scripture, and you can’t go wrong.  The wisdom that comes from the Lord is not imparted in textbooks or taught by professors.  It is revealed in his Word and through his Spirit within us.

In fact, Paul warns about an emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge to the exclusion of love: “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God . . . There is no God but one . . . for us there is but one God, the Father, from who all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8: 1-3, excerpts 4-6).  This is one of many times when Jesus emphasized love over knowledge.  Jesus tells us that loving your neighbor as yourself is the second most important commandment (Matthew 22:39). The “wisdom from above” does not displace love: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

God’s wisdom encourages love for our fellow man.  His wisdom encourages us to love and take care of each other. Mother Teresa wrote: “Keep the joy of loving Jesus in your heart and share this joy with all you meet, especially your family.”

Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Jesus was called rabbi, which is derived from the Hebrew word that means “master” or “great one.”

[2] The Scripture lessons for the Fourth Week After Epiphany are Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8; and Mark 1:21-28.