(Sorry about the previous posting. I sent the message before I was ready.)
Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. This is a day we set aside to remember those who serve in our armed service, and especially those who have given their lives to maintain our freedom. We set aside a number of days throughout the year to remember special events in our history. For example the Jews set up a number of stone monuments at places of importance as they left slavery in Egypt. Fathers would tell their children what God did in those place for the good of His people. Christians have the cross as a constant reminder of the redeeming sacrifice our God has made on our behalf. We live near Washington, D.C. a place filled with monuments of our past. Our nation sets aside a number days throughout the year for remembrance – if they don’t become replace by car sales and store bargains. What is the point? It is covered by the simple phrase – lest they forget. Our history is important. The past actions of our Lord, and those of our ancestors, are important for understanding who we are. They give us direction and commitment for our present days. They remind us of the cost that has been paid for us to live life today, thus keeping us from being arrogant and self satisfied. Days of remembrance are important – lest we forget.
Research and technology do a great deal to protect those in our armed services. We’ve made body armor, vehicles to withstand road side bombs, and all manner of high tech equipment. This is all necessary for the safety of our troops, as best as we can protect them. There is an even greater protection that we all need for our daily lives. It’s called “the full armor of God”. We really are in a daily spiritual warfare, battling things that would pull us away from the values that honor our Lord. We are told in Ephesians to, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (6:14-17) Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation – these are very real strengths we possess from the grace of God. They must not be neglected. We have only one offensive weapon – the Word of God. That above all must be with us daily. Together, this is a protection greater than anything our technologies can make.
It is almost time for the Super Bowl. People have their favorite teams they root for. I’m always interested to watch the fans at these events. Fans will do the most outrageous things to support their team. Painted faces, strange wigs, and other head gear, hold up signs, and wave banners, all manner of jumping, arm waving, and shouting. The excitement over a good play pours out of the crowd. I wonder why we can’t get that excited about the things of the Lord. We don’t have to paint our faces and put on funny hats, but when we realize all that the Lord has done for each of us, it should bring a thrill to our hearts, an expressions of praise to our lips. “Oh! but we are in church. We have to be dignified.” Jesus got excited. When the disciples came back from their mission to the towns of Israel reporting all that had happened. The text says, “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit,” prayed… The word translated “full of joy” really means “jumped for joy”. He saw his people beginning to take hold of God’s truth, and was excited. We do things “decently and in order” in church, but raise your hands once in a while in praise. When you have a chance to pray aloud, let the expressions of your heart glorify God. No football fan should have anything on us. We have the greatest God of all!
July 4th is Independence Day in the U.S. Our Declaration 242 years ago stated that we have “inalienable rights” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For political purposes this sounds wonderful, and it has worked in our democratic system for a lot of years. But that is really not a definition of true freedom. There are millions of free people in our country that are in bondage, to addictions, to finances, to any number of other things mentally and physically. True free is something quite apart from the ability to do whatever we want. Jesus said,”If you hold to my teaching,…Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:31-32) True freedom is living in conformity to God’s will. It is in knowing and yielding to the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. One who is living in Christ is free regardless of his or her outward circumstances. Political freedom is nice, and we seek to preserve it, but freedom in Christ is paramount. For without that we really are in bondage no matter what our outward condition.
Jesus preached “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Many of his parables began “the Kingdom of God is like…”. What is this Kingdom He is talking about? We believe there is an eternal Kingdom. We speak of going to heaven when we die. But there is another aspect of the Kingdom that is important now. Because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus paying the penalty for our sins we have been brought into God’s Kingdom now. It is a growing reality in our hearts. Paul wrote, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,…”(Colossians 1:13) The Kingdom is not out there in the sweet by and by. We are agents of God’s Kingdom today sharing the truth and grace of that Kingdom in daily words and actions. Just as Jesus and the disciples shared the Good News throughout Israel, so you and I, with the presence of Jesus, share the Good News in our part of the world.
The Psalmist has written “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”(119:15) An important part of our devotional life is to meditate, to ponder, to think deeply about the ways of the Lord, and what it means for us. One verse, even a half of a verse can occupy many minutes, even over repeated days. I was looking this morning at the second half of Romans 6:13. “…present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” What does that mean in daily practice? The beginning of the chapter discussed our dying and rising with Christ through our baptism. It then goes on to speak of how we are to understand ourselves as those in Christ Jesus who have been freed from the law. How do we present ourselves to God, and our members as instruments of righteousness? I leave that for you to meditate upon.
Some people talk about the “after Christmas blues”. Everything builds up to the celebration of the day, and then it is over. But it isn’t really over. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”.(13:8) All of the decorations, gifts, and gatherings were fun, but they quickly pass into memories, and a few digital pictures. It is like that new car we wanted, or some fancy gadget. Once we have it the appeal wears off, and soon needs to be replaced by something newer. This is not so with the gift we received in the manger. Life in Jesus Christ should and can grow deeper with every new day of grace. God’s grace in Jesus Christ is a treasure that can never be exhausted, can never grow old. So, we may feel some let down after the Christmas celebration, but always be reminded that “the reason for the season” will never let you down.
We are at a lake in western Maryland on vacation. It is a very beautiful place of blue waters and treed hills, good weather and enjoyable activities. We take vacations to be freed from regular schedules and normal demands of life at home. In other words a time of peace and rest. This is good. We all need it. Even Jesus would take His disciples for a time apart to rest. Yet there is something deeper we need to find for every day of life and not just for the week or two in the summer. Jesus said to the disciples, “ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27) This is a depth of inner peace that come with knowing we are loved and in a right relationship with our God. In Jesus Christ we stand in righteousness before our Lord, and know we have a blessed life that has no end. This doesn’t make light of the present trials we face, but looks with assurance to the good that is beyond the trials. Vacations come to an end, but the peace of our Lord never ends.
Last week I commented on the value of the Psalms, and suggested you try to write your own. I still think it’s a good exercise in expressing the thought of your heart to the Lord. There seems to be a modern internet counterpart to writing psalms. It the blog. People can get a free web site, and write about whatever is on their minds. The vast majority certainly has nothing to do with the Lord. One comment I ran across seems to express the tone of many. “The important things is that it’s your life and as long as you are happy, then that’s all that matters.” There is nothing wrong with personal happiness. We all desire it, but it’s not the reality of much of life in this world. People seek it by all manner of diversions, most of which are short lived. God wants us happy as well, but happiness is not the goal of life. No earthly life will be happy throughout its whole sojourn. It is why we are called to a life of peace, joy (different from happiness), and strength in a relationship with Christ, first and above all. The happiness we have is a byproduct of that relationship, and not something we try to manufacture by many diversions.
My wife has a stuffed doll of Clarabell the clown. Only you who were around in the 50’s will remember that Clarabell was on the Howdy Doody children’s TV program that ran for many years. He was always pulling stunts, getting into the midst of supposedly serious situations, and generally making people roar with laughter. We need Clarabells in life. He is there to provide a good reminder for us not to take our life too seriously. I was balancing our check book the other evening – a depressing task! Along with many other aspects of daily life, we can get really down about the things that come to us. Clarabell is certainly not a religious figure, but he is helpful in reminding us that God is eternal, beyond the trials of this moment. Even more, God is joy, and wants us to share that joy. Paul wrote, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him. (Romans15:13) So, remember Clarabell today, or whatever other clown you know, and laugh. God is good and the joy of life.