Basics, Like Colors

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Linda’s foundational learning began at home, as it should. She learned colors, numbers, the alphabet, animals and their voices, along with the names of a few shapes—these happened as she was prepared for kindergarten. 

            Kindergarten prepared her for elementary school, which as you would hope, led to middle and high school. Eventually, at the age of 17, a joyous graduation party erupted at the time of commencement. The basics are accomplished! Calls for a celebration, no doubt about it.

            Linda remembers how her family supported her. She confesses she does not recall those earliest of lessons. Were they unimportant?

            Without those fundamental learnings Linda would not be the successful professional she is today. She remarked, “Each of us begin with the basics, otherwise there is just no progress.”

            One fundamental lesson taught by Jesus (the Master Educator), originates in the Torah. Perhaps you know the Torah is found within the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament, and it is the only Bible Jesus ever read. Please watch an emphatic progression in God’s foundational instruction for it is God saying, “Don’t miss this!”

            First, the words from the Torah found in Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This is a fundamental learning, given to God’s people in the long agoJesus would have heard these words during his childhood because it is an elementary truth.  

            Second, Jesus follows through in emphasizing God’s instruction, often giving us examples of  neighborliness by caring for those he meets. Jesus also emphasizes the message “love your neighbor as yourself,” as he repeats the old phrase recorded in the Torah. Jesus’ energizing words are found in Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31 and Luke 10:27.

            Finally, the progression leads to us, ensuring one of God’s elementary instructions moves forward in time. We know God speaks to the disciples of each generation when, through an Apostle the identical phrase appears in a letter of the New Testament. 

            Paul writes to the church(es) of Galatia (5:14) repeating the words of the Torah and the re-emphasis of Jesus when he calls disciples to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is an elementary lesson. It is foundational to who we are as God’s people. Today, what are we to do about the fundamental instruction during the months of a Corona virus pandemic?

Life Applications

  1. Glen Scrivener provides assistance in answering this precise question. He reviews church history by documenting the response of disciples in other days as they responded to similar health crises. Glen Scrivener, Responding to Pandemics: 4 Lessons from Church History, March 16, 2020

    https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-lessons-church-history

2. An elementary twenty-first century approach: One of my newest neighbors recently toured the subdivision giving out bars of anti-bacterial soap. A simple and profoundly generous act of neighborliness—kind of like giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ Name—Matthew 10:42.

Coping Resources for Reflection and Action

Scripture Resource Passage: 1 Peter 3:15

Delivering Hope—Across the world’s spectrum people are having spiritual conversations. Today’s tragedies, including the onset of a virulent virus, ought not be diminished. This is a time which invites disciples to listen well, and when asked, offer clear perspectives on spiritual values. Listening first, remains the emphatic rule for spiritual conversations—unsolicited advice—seldom welcome. 

In the current context you will be pleased to discover some of the following resources are filled with highly quotable “go-to” references, including ones acknowledged by our most spiritually secular people. 

  • From Duke University https://www.faithandleadership.com  The current landing page features: How Should Christian Leaders Respond to a pandemic? Articles across a wide range of themes with many insights of faith.
  • Expressing a bias for action-affirming faith in Christ the following article from Glen Scrivener recounts godly behavior resulting in strong witness for hope in Christ. For perspective he provides insights from disciples in earlier generations dealing with tragic health care crises: Glen Scrivener,  Responding to Pandemics: 4 Lessons from Church History, March 16, 2020 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-lessons-church-history
  • Often cited as a reliable source for understanding how the Christian faith developed and impacted society see, including times of immense health crises: Rodney Stark, The Rise of ChristianityHow the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. The book is available in paperback from online book sellers.
  • Esau McCaulley,The Christian Response to the Coronavirus: Stay Home, when loving your neighbor means keeping your distance.  The New York Times, March 14, 2020Dr. McCaulley is an assistant professor at Wheaton College. At the NYTimes website enter the author’s name.
  • https://www.ted.com presents a range of views of the current pandemic and interpretations entirely focused on scientific and humanitarian world-views. At the TED web site using search: enter the word pandemic for resources the editors have assembled. You will also notice the conspicuous absence of a decidedly Christian voice—welcome to our world. 

Life Application “…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Easter, Together

Taking Our Stand Where Hope Can Be Found

Jo-lynne’s life is real. She lives at a specific address. Her fingerprints are unique. Her needs are as wide as creation’s expanse. Her calls to God resound throughout Heaven’s court. We, as God’s people have an opportunity to respond. We have the opportunity this Resurrection season to make a difference. Haddon Robinson once observed, “Your neighbor is everyone whose need you see whose need God has equipped you to meet.” Jo-lynne, we see you.

Strength in numbers—we affirm the positive outcomes purposeful groups of God’s people can accomplish, together. This Easter season, whether it is you (from necessity) in solo practice, possibly with a few friends, or perhaps the greater work of a congregation, we take our stand where hope can be found—on Resurrection ground. The tomb is empty! He is risen as He said. Now, together let’s find her!

Scripture Resource Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV) Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Making a Difference, Sharing Hope 

Identifying Jo-lynne When You See Her

  1. Is Jo-lynne a child from another nation?www.worldvision.org
  2. Is Jo-lynne a child with special needs?
  3. Facebook Room at the Table—a Foster and Adoption Care group who maintain a resource closet 
  4. Darren and Stacey Gagnon, who live in Winona Lake, Indiana lead  www.lostsparrows.org
  5. Is Jo-lynne a single parent in your country?
  6. Is Jo-lynne suffering from substance abuse?
  7. Is Jo-lynne in need of employment?
  8. Is Jo-lynne hungry?
  9. Is Jo-lynne homeless?      www.fellowshipmissions.net
  10. Is Jo-lynne thirsty?
  11. Is Jo-lynne is need of clothing?
  12. Is Jo-lynne in prison?        www.prisonfellowship.org
  13. Is Jo-lynne pregnant?
  14. Is Jo-lynne a military veteran?     www.samaritanspurse.org

Search: What We Do for Operation Heal Our Patriots

15. Is Jo-lynne in need of encouragement?

Encouraging Jo-lynne specifically to her needs On Resurrection Day 2020, as the world appropriately focuses on a virus we also ask: Where, when and how can each of us continue blessing Jo-lynne? 

Resurrection Day truths certifying hope through Jesus Christ

            Hope has content  Acts 23:1-6; 24:10-16

            Hope has a basis   1 Timothy 1:1; Colossians 1:27    

            Hope is a gift 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17                      

            Hope has substance Colossians 1:21-23

            Hope is a companion to knowledge  Ephesians 1:18                  

            Hope is the common experience for disciples   Ephesians 4:4                        

            Prayer of Commitment O God, thank you for the wonder of Resurrection Day. All your promises are made true in the Christ and for Him we are grateful. May your Spirit continue to reveal the tomb emptyfor no stone of heaven, or earth is capable of blocking Him Who is life.

            We long to celebrate the wonder of Resurrection Day with your people. This is an Easter most odd for many of us. Please bless us in our time of unexplored emotional and social distancing. May the disciples who previously lived in such times inform our decisions and moods.

            We affirm our belief in Christ proclaiming that in him, all things are new. We offer you our hearts in a search for Jo-lynne. We offer our actions as testimonies of faith. As You will in Heaven may it be so on Earth. 

            Please accept our strength and unity of purpose as we affirm, “He is Risen as he said.” Amen.

With thanks to Lauren Dangle as lyrics of her song “O,Lord” provided the phrase “I will take my stand where hope can be found;” and Ernst Hoffman for his article “Hope, Expectation.” In Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol 2. Edited by Colin Brown, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing), 4thprinting 1979.

Silence in Times of Turmoil?

Scripture Resource Passage: Esther 4            

            Dynamic timing draws disciples into decisive decisions, leading to spiritually direct determinations. Desperate occasions also demand deliberate development as disciples’ discern God’s leading. 

            These are truths operative in the twenty-first century even as they were in the days of Esther, Mordecai, Haman and King Xerxes. Make no mistake, Esther’s story is a temptation story. Disciples may be tempted to run in fear or hide from a decisive moment. Reading the book walks you into the middle of urgent moments demanding a response. Sound familiar? Did they choose social distancing?

            Mordecai and Esther could have been passively aggressive and nearly frozen in place. They could have retreated into, “Let’s pray about this and we’ll get back to you in a month or two.”

            Instead, seizing the opportunity as a moment of truth, they accepted the challenge. Temptation has no victory in their story. The redeemer’s, the ones who look most like Jesus, are Esther and Mordecai. Breathe a sigh of victory. They were faithful. 

            Mordecai sent word to Esther of Haman’s pending plan (Esther 4:6-9). Esther understood the message and apparently immediately accepted the charge, vibrantly calling for three days of fasting and prayer. They chose to respond in faith during a time of temptation (Esther 4:10-17).

            When your temptation for silence arrives there may be a few hours or days to review your decision. At other times you may be called upon to replicate the reaction time of a batter facing a high-hard-heater from a world class pitcher. The batter asks, “Right now—to swing or not to swing?” 

“…from [the pitcher’s] release of the pitch until it gets to the plate, [it takes] a 95-mile-an-hour fastball…around 425-450 milliseconds [to arrive]. Now, on the other side, it takes 150 milliseconds on average for a Major League Baseball player to get their bat around. So we’re really…[talking] tens of milliseconds here in terms of…[when] you have to decide on whether this is a pitch to hit or not.” How A Baseball Batter’s Brain Reacts To A Fast Pitch, September 3, 2016, NPR Radio.

            During times of temptation, sometimes referred to as moments of truth, you may have time to review your values, then process the spiritual principles involved. Calling for three days of fasting and prayer is not foolish. On the other hand, you may need to mimic the baseball player who in milliseconds is called upon to swing, or not swing. God told Esther through Mordecai, “…who knows but that you may have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b NIV). Thankfully Esther and Mordecai hit temptation’s silence out of the park.

Life Applications

  1. Is there significance that three days of fasting and prayer were requested by Esther?
  2. Are the days of Covid-19 a time to speak or to be silent? Either way, pray and follow through with a disciple’s discernment.

The Shepherd’s Voice

Scripture Resource Passage: John 10:1-21

            “I can hear my Dad like I was ten years old,” Robert explained. Dad would always say, “Listen to the voice of Jesus, Robert. Listen to the voice.”

            Attending university as a first year student Robert encountered direct opposition to his faith. Thankfully, during his early teen years Robert had been consistently counseled to expect such challenges. Now, while he occasionally participated in a campus-ministry-small-group, at other times he was confronted with direct disregard and dismissal of his childhood training in the Faith. 

            Today’s Scripture passage focuses on an episode of confrontation and is recorded by our brother John (10:1-21). According to the Gospel the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is being challenged in direct disregard.

            The account is an authentic record documenting the voices of deception put forth by ill-intentioned and sophisticated spiritual hoaxes in the first century. On the university campus Robert was experiencing similar challenges

            The historical event(s) documented in John 10 report direct opposition to Jesus as Messiah. Designated religious leaders rejected him and his voice. In the timeline of the New Testament they will soon begin calling for his death.

            Yet Scripture is more than a historical record designed to increase awareness of events in the long ago. Scripture is meant to equip, prepare and encourage God’s people for life; and by life we mean both biological fullness and spiritually walking in the richness of the Kingdom of God (John 10:10).

            Robert, and all twenty-first century apprentices of Jesus should expect vocal, systemic opposition, deception and disregard for the Faith. However, let’s not provide the Opposition more attention than is necessary. Awareness of opposition? Yes. Absolutely. However, a mere focus on false teachers does not accrue long term benefits in our discipleship.

            How much better to focus on the One Who twice emphasizes (John 10: 11 & 14) in this emphatic poetic setting of instruction, “I am the good shepherd.” Friends, we walk with the Shepherd of our souls. We listen for the sound of his voice. Yes, we hear the voice of the Opposition; but more importantly we are always listening for the Shepherd’s voice. 

            Today’s Life Application is meant to stimulate your remembrance of past events and to encourage strategies for continuing as an apprentice of Jesus. We listen for the Master’s voice.

Life Application 

  1. As you recall a time when you heard Christ’s voice, did the spiritual connection come from reading the Bible, moments of quiet prayer, a connection through song, a gathering of the called, the careful counsel of a friend, or an experience during which you knew His presence?
  2. What will help you continuing to hear the Shepherd’s authentic voice?
  3. As a resource: Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson, Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice,(United States of America, NAVPRESS), n.d.

Praying

Scripture Resource passage: Matthew 6:19-13 NIV

Our Father, your name is holy. We acknowledge you are sovereign. Yours is the Name we thank for life itself and it is to you we turn in these hours. Please do not abandon us to the grave for no one learns of you or praises you from that abode.

Almighty God, the whole earth cries out to you. The ones who know your name and those who have regarded you as a stranger—each are calling out.

We look to your Spirit’s presence in these hours. We seek solace and a path to overcome a killer who silently walks among us. 

 “‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
 on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
 as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
 but deliver us from the evil one.’”

In the Name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

A Strategy for Fearful Times

March 13, 2020

Scripture Resource Passage: 1 Peter 4:7-11

            Joanna chose a wise strategy in the ongoing project of clarifying her business’ purpose and focus. The statement affirms: “The Non-profit Assistance Center supports community groups who provide for individuals with special needs in Northwest Indiana.” 

            Crafting a purpose statement for your life’s business significantly impacts both short and long term goals. The Apostle Peter provides what might be a disciple’s vision statement in today’s passage (I Peter 4:7-11). This is wisdom is for all disciples.  Peter writes, “The end of all things is near.” Living each day with the end of all things in mind (with due attention at the time of this writing, to an apparent world-wide virulent virus) can help disciples. 

            While attending a business seminar in Chicago Joanna was encouraged. The speaker quoted management superstar Peter Drucker. The speaker dramatically emphasized Drucker’s insight. “The effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. It should fit on a T-shirt. It [the mission statement] must be clear, and it must inspire.” 

            Joanna recently explained, “We’re not to the level of a T-shirt quote but we’re headed in the right direction.”

            God’s intention through Peter in speaking about the end of all things helped the early disciples in forming their daily lives. Peter added specific emphases to his vision statement providing solid life-applications. 

  1. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 
  2. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 
  3. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  
  4. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 
  5. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. 
  6. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

            While Joanna’s business is fictitious the Apostle Peter is an authoritative emissary of God. If we believe God chooses to return the Christ tomorrow afternoon at three o’clock, our lives might be lived differently. If we believe the end is at hand, we might give more love to others as Christ teaches us. As you well know, the words of Jesus and his apostolic writers instruct us to love others with great intensity (Matthew 22:36-40).

Life Application Chose one emphasis a day. Then form that day’s life around the theme. Be sure to use your first-day Sabbath as a time of reflection.

The Restraint of God

Resource Scripture Passage: John 2:13-25  

            Emphasize the anger? Did I miss the active sustaining Divine kindness?

            Hearing lessons and sermons throughout my life, today’s passage (John 2:13-25) does not arrive like a foreign visitor. However, I now see something I had not seen before. Wondering if you will see it as well—the restraint of God. Today’s passage is commonly emphasized as an event manifesting the anger of Jesus. However, I find the passage enriches my understanding of God’s grace, mercy and elegant restraint.

            Make no mistake, the individuals mentioned in John’s account encounter Jesus lashing out in anger and exasperation. However, when Jesus engages the errant people they are blessed with the restraint of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Divine restraint is not weakness. It is the manifestation of mercy and grace. 

            Though Scripture records Jesus crafted a whip, there is no record of anyone or anything being struck. Jesus, beloved son, only begotten of the Father, He Who could have called ten thousand angels, simply knocks over tables. Money bounces and clatters onto the floor.

            What is finally clear to me, pleading to be seen is Christ’s restraint. This is the One Who breathed into Earth’s soil the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). This is the One Who set the Pleiades and Orion into place (Amos 5:8). This is the One Who is before all things and will be after all things—Alpha and Omega (Revelation 22:13).  His identity extends through eternity. Our brother Paul explains, “For by him were all things created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:15-16).

            Yet, manifesting the restraint of God, Jesus only turns over tables. Animals are scattered, voices raised and a public disturbance occurs. He could have done so much more including calling upon Father and Spirit for any number of plagues, punishments and pestilences to occur (see Exodus 7 for part of thatstory).

            Thankfully, God’s grace and mercy are manifest through Jesus. He corrected the individuals and the religious system of His day, delivering God’s pruning discipline (Psalm 94:12). Jesus did not call down destruction upon them. Friends, I am entirely, completely and without reservation in personal need of the restraint of God. 

            God’s restraint manifests itself as I am disciplined by Christ (John 15:1-8). Jesus turns over my tables, scatters my resources and lovingly raises a voice of anger at my behavior. 

            Without God’s personal and Christ-provided restraint, I, a member of the broken sinful race of humanity would be subject to the punishment of God. However, with Jesus—the crucified, resurrected and ascended Christ—I am humbly aware that I do not receive that which I deserve (Romans 8:1). Instead I (like the money changers and animal sellers of old), receive grace and mercy in the form of God’s restraint with an opportunity to accept God’s correcting discipline (Hebrews 12:6).

Life Application Questions

  1. Are you aware of times in your life when you should have received the anger of Jesus but instead received grace and mercy?
  2. If you answered yes to the first question, how do your personal experiences with God impact your treatment of others?
  3. As a result of reflecting on today’s passage what have you learned about God?

Alone and Lonely;Waiting for God

Resource Scripture passage: John 5:1-16 

            Walking into the waiting room Bill looked for empty chairs. Shaking his head, he chose a corner section buffered with empty seats around him. The latest medical information was awful. Could he feel more alone right now than at any other time in his life? 

            He quietly sat on a slick plastic seat while waiting for his family to arrive. It was a sacred silence of fear. There were no pools of water in the waiting room. No one was talking about sin. No one looked like they had recently seen a miracle. However, beneath the quietness of sorrow an intense conversation with God was taking place in Bill’s soul.

            On the other side of the hospital’s holding pen for family members, a family was speaking in a Spanish-sounding language. A few family members were taking care of small children. Others were engaged with cell phones. 

            In another corner, pillows and small quilts covered three individuals one of whom was softly snoring. This small group appeared to be asleep after a night of waiting. 

            Our brother John describes a similar scene of waiting and intensely wanting a miracle (John 5:1-16). A superstitious and unfounded rumor of that day resulted in afflicted people waiting for “the troubled waters,” (KJV translation of John 5:4). 

            A man waits alongside this certain pool of water. Suddenly, without invitation, rather unexpected and unknown to most people the Son Man, Maker of Heaven and Earth appears accomplishing what God alone could provide—a non-magical, non-sleight of hand, truly world class, grade A miracle.  The invalid of thirty-eight years picks up the mat on which he spent his days and walks around the water. 

            However, other sick, injured and distressed people were gathered around thatpool. Their expectations of healing apparently remaining unmet. Additionally, in years to come other individuals, suffering from lameness, would hear about the encounter with Jesus hoping to have identical results. 

            Bill and many others look for more than “troubled waters.” One Biblical writer asks: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1 ESV).  The questions continued throughout the first century and now the twenty-first. We look for a conversation with Jesus who heals our diseases and infirmities while forgiving our sins. We tire of living a lonely life enduring illnesses and sin.

Life Application 

1.     Do you recall times when you were not aware of God’s presence? 

2.    Jesus presents a high-level caution which is recorded at the end of the encounter at Bethsaida’s pool—the caution to “stop sinning” (John 5:14). Do you have an explanation of why the exhortation occurs in this story?

3.    As a resource: Joey Mullins, Hezekiah’s Maple; One Man’s Journey with Cancer and Hope,(New York, NY: Page Publishing, Inc.,) 2015.