Circumcision was an important symbol for Israel of the covenant relationship between themselves and God. Christian baptism has some correspondence to Jewish circumcision as a covenant God establishes with His people. It is an outward act that symbolizes a far deeper truth. The prophet Jeremiah had to bring difficult messages of God’s judgment because of the people’s sins. At one point he said, “even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”(9:26) The outward symbol of the covenant is important, but it is always a matter of whether one is faithful to God in the heart. Baptism is a wonderful gift of God’s grace. It gives salvation, life, and the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. But it is not a license to do anything we please and think we are still on the good side of God. Baptism is the beginning of our life with the Lord, but it is to continue daily with a heart that desires to know Him more fully, and to honor Him in life each day. Our best life, our greatest joy, is found in a life lived in our covenant with our Lord.
We are in the midst of a local election campaign for county commissioner and other offices. The very nature of our political campaigns is self promotion. Each person declares who he is, why he is the best person for the job, and what he or she is going to accomplish for the community. I know it is necessary for our democratic system, but it is one of the reasons I’ve never liked politics. And politics has worked its way of working into the church as well. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, “It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”(IIC.10:18) It is why the leaders we read about in the Bible were chosen with much prayer, and with God’s direction. Campaigns are already starting for national offices. In these we would also be wise to follow that same biblical practice of much prayer, and seeking God’s direction.
I mentioned yesterday about those unexpected meetings, and the complete changes of our planned schedule. We all experience these, and they can cause frustration. I was working on a message I wanted to share, was nearly complete, blocked out a section and accidentally hit the wrong key. Gone! All gone. Frustration, and perhaps a few words that shouldn’t have been said. But you have been there. My point, and a truth we hold on to in our faith, is that God is not absent from these things. We have the assurance from St. Paul “That in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”(Romans 8:28) We said, God doesn’t cause all things. He doesn’t cause my stupid mistakes, and my selfish choices, but in grace he can work me through them and use them for my good. And rather than frustration maybe we can look back a bit and see God’s hand in our lives. Oh, and that message I lost, I think the second try came out a bit better than what the first would have. In all things give thanks.
What is God doing today? We believe that God is not far off and remote. He is present. He is active. He cares about all that touches us. So, we ask again. What is God doing today? It’s probably not a question we are used to asking, but we should. God is an active part of our world. This is thinking beyond God being present when we worship on Sundays. It is not about God always doing “religious” things. How about that unexpected conversation with someone you only casually know, or perhaps have never met. Or that stumbling block that got in the way of the great plans you had for the day causing you to go in a completely different direction. I’m not saying that God orchestrates every event that happens. We do make choices and we do live in a broken world. But God knows that, and has chosen to be a part of it. He can work in all things. For Jesus sake He has called us His children. So we can go through our days with our eyes open to see His work, and joy in our hearts knowing that He is inviting us to come and share life with Him.
We have had the practice for some years of allowing children to share in Holy Communion. With the request of the parents after a child has completed the first or second grade, and parent and child has shared in instruction from the pastor for a few weeks, they are allowed to receive communion with their family. We believe this helps them grow in their faith, and in their bond to the fellowship of believers. We had the blessing yesterday, the Sunday of Pentecost, of having two of our children receive communion for the first time. It was a joy to include them in this bond at the altar of our Lord. Nothing we do is a “one time shot”, but an ongoing experience of growing together in our Lord. They will continue to learn as they share in their family, and as they participate regularly in the fellowship of believers. This is where we all must be. We are children in the Lord, daily doing those things that help us grow in our faith.
When you read the Bible – please note I said when not if – don’t be afraid to question the translators of a certain passage if there is something you want to understand better. Remember our Bibles are translations of the original biblical languages, and different translators will produce slightly different versions. That’s why it is good to read a couple of different versions if you have a question. There are also programs that let you look at the meaning of words in the biblical Hebrew and Greek. I ran into another example of what I’m talking about here in Psalm 95:7. Both versions I usually use translate the verse, “for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture…” Yet a margin note said the literal word for “pasture” is pasturing. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it does convey a different sense of what God is doing for us. It is not just that He has a pasture He created, but it is He who is pasturing us. He is the one feeding us. God is active for our good, and not just leaving us to graze for ourselves. The Bible is God’s holy word. Read it. Question what you don’t understand. Look at different versions. God is feeding you.
We hear in the news about an upcoming high level meeting between heads of state. But this is not as simple a process as one leader getting on a plane and flying to the other leader’s country. There are advance preparations for weeks or months before hand. The location, the number of participants, the protocol to be observed, even the type of food served and the setting of a room’s furniture are planned ahead of time. Some of it may seem silly, but as little is left to chance as possible. The advance people plan out all the details. But think about our own days. We certainly do not have such high level meetings, but we do have cares and responsibilities we must encounter. I’ve always found it a valid pray to ask our gracious Lord to go before me this day and guide me in each situation I will face. He is our “advance person”. I’ve also seen it a wonder and reason for thanks and praise to see the things He does in each day. Ask the Lord to go before you in this day.
We put new message up on our church sign. It was from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah (8:10). Some of the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon. They had started rebuilding the Temple, but it was a poor picture of the former Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians because of Israel’s rebellion. On this day of dedication many people wept, but Nehemiah their governor told them not to weep but rejoice in God’s grace that was being shown in this new day. He said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Yes, we sin. Yes, there are times we suffer the consequences of sin, but there is grace in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. There are new beginnings. We can be sorry about the past, but it does no good to continue being pulled down in guilt and bound from moving forward in the grace God provides. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
[tage Christianity, religion, forgiveness, joy]
Facing the death of a loved one is a painful experience. There is no way to sugar coat it. The separation from a loved one is hard at any age, one of the most painful of life’s experiences. Death is the result of sin that entered at the first rebellion of mankind from God and has corrupted the world ever since. But even at the time of that first rebellion God gave the promise of a Redeemer who would break the power of sin, death and the devil. It is by faith in that Redeemer, Jesus, the Christ, that we know – to use St. Paul’s words “we are convinced” – that death as painful as it is, is temporary. Even as Jesus said to Martha “he who lives and believe in me will live even if he dies.”(John 14:25) We still bear the pain of death, a reminder of the sin that so easily besets us, but we are comforted by the truth that even this great pain is not final, and we do rejoice in the truth that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:39).
In talking with some of His followers Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, … you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:31-32) Later on at His trial before Pilate He said, “…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Yet Pilate asked “What is truth?”(John 18:37-38) Pilate’s question seem to hang over our world. Truth today gets bent according to pre-established agendas. Real truth is set aside because it doesn’t conform to the program one is fostering. “If you hold to my teaching” Jesus said, “you will know the truth.” All truth, and I underline All, has its origin in God who created us and all that is. Whether science, or government, or affairs among people, all is guided and governed by the truth of God’s word. We set that aside to our own peril. We have the challenge to search and understand what is in the Bible, God’s Holy Word, and to seek to live it in the community where God has placed us. It is not always easy, but as Jesus said, in that is true freedom.