THE OTHER SIX

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work… [Exodus 20:8-9 (ESV)]

naples botanic gardenUpon retirement, many people consider their productive years over. Having been a CEO in a major corporation, a friend’s father felt worthless without his corporate identity. Prior to retirement, he could call any number of powerful people and get a meeting simply because of his position but, without his title, he felt like a nonentity. His previous business triumphs couldn’t sustain him and he saw no victories in the future. Unfortunately, many seniors who found their identity in their career, corporate title or paycheck are at loose ends when retirement comes along. Some of my friends who were homemakers aren’t much different from those in the business world. It’s just that they found their identity in motherhood and their self-esteem in their children’s achievements. Now, with an empty nest and adult children living their own lives far away, they feel unnecessary. Like my friend’s father, they are looking back at who and what they’ve been rather than forward to who and what they can be.

A quick glance around the room at my noon women’s Bible study tells me that most of us qualify for senior discounts. When discussing keeping the fourth commandment, our pastor told us to read all of the words. While we should observe the Sabbath, she reminded us that those other six days of the week are meant for productive work. A few of the women attending are still employed and others are caregivers for ailing spouses or handicapped children. Like me, however, the majority of the sixty women present are happily unemployed and our time is our own. The pastor’s words clearly were meant for us.

Well into her 70s, this pastor lives her advice. After reaching the mandatory retirement age in this church, she stopped getting a paycheck but continued in her mission. She still teaches at least two Bible studies a week, oversees the women’s organization, conducts both the weekly preschool chapel and the Saturday evening worship services, and, during Lent, added a daily 7:00 AM communion service to her schedule. She did not give up her purpose when she stopped getting a paycheck!

Our work schedule after retirement doesn’t need to be as rigorous as this pastor’s, but it seems that God wants more for us than days in front of the TV, at the beach, shopping, Facebooking, or playing bridge, mah jongg, golf, bocce, or tennis. Yes, daily activities like cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, and making repairs qualify as “work” but the people I know who truly enjoy their golden years are the ones who regularly devote some part of their week to service and learning. One friend has parlayed her HR experience into a volunteer job helping seniors navigate insurance and another uses her love of animals as a zoo docent. A former teacher tutors the disadvantaged, a retired nurse does blood pressure screening, and a neighbor uses his marine skills as a boat driver for the Conservancy. Former CEOs help stock shelves at the food pantry, advise new businesses or build houses for Habitat.

God gave us the gift of the Sabbath but, before He gave us the Sabbath, He gave us the gift of work. No matter our age, let’s use those other six days both wisely and productively.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [Genesis 2:15 (NLT)]

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! [Psalm 90:17 (ESV)]

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WHOSE SIDE?

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” [Joshua 5:13-14 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawk

The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan River and were preparing to conquer Canaan when Joshua came upon an armed man. Joshua was a stranger in a foreign land and I wonder if he brandished his sword when asking, “Friend or foe?” Neither Canaanite nor Israelite, the man identified himself as the commander of the Lord’s army. As to whether he was friend or foe, he said his loyalty was to neither side. His allegiance was to God and the only side he was on was God’s! Recognizing him as a divine being, Joshua fell to the ground.

Jump ahead 500 years to King Asa of Judah. Under attack by the Ethiopians, Asa turned to God for guidance. Rather than ask God to be on his side, he prayed that Judah’s side was God’s. In spite of overwhelming odds, Judah’s army was victorious, not because God was on their side but because they were on God’s. Asa then committed his kingdom to seeking God with all their heart and soul. Unfortunately, twenty-one years later, the King forgot whose side he was on. He depleted his nation’s treasury by committing himself to an alliance with Ben-hadad of Aram. Although the alliance at first appeared to be a success, the prophet Hanani rebuked the king for violating his covenant to seek the Lord. His foolishness meant that Judah would continue to be at war for generations. Asa, so sure he was on the right side, never bothered to find out if he was on God’s side.

During the Civil War, one of Abraham Lincoln’s advisors commented that he was grateful God was on their side. The President replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Whether the dispute is ours or someone else’s, getting involved eventually means taking sides. It’s not a question of which side we’ll support. It’s a question of prayerfully determining which side is God’s and understanding there’s a good chance that God has a side all His own. Perhaps, we should take a lesson from Joshua and Asa before taking sides, drawing lines in the sand, making threats, burning bridges, creating alliances, waging battle, or committing ourselves to a cause. It’s not who’s on whose side that matters; it’s simply a matter of whether or not we’re on God’s!

The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. [2 Chronicles 15:2b (NLT)]

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. [2 Chronicles 16:9a (NLT)]

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DIVINE DISCIPLINE (Discipline – Part 1)

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” Hebrews 12:5-6 (NLT)]

lion - tanzaniaIn C.S. Lewis’ fantasy The Horse and His Boy, Aravis, a young noblewoman, is attacked by a lion. After her wounds are cleaned and dressed, she’s told that the cuts on her back are neither deep nor dangerous and no more serious than the cuts of a whip. Aravis later learns from Aslan, the lion who attacked her, that the gashes on her back, stripe for stripe, equal the stripes laid on the back of the maidservant she’d caused to be punished. At first, this seems more like the Old Testament retribution of “an eye for an eye” than something Lewis’ Christ-like character of Aslan would do. What if the maidservant had been hung or beheaded? What then?

I began thinking about God’s justice, judgment, mercy and correction and the difference between them. We have a God of justice and mercy and yet those two words seem totally incompatible. Justice is getting the deserved punishment for the crime and mercy is not getting it. Justice is about penalty and mercy is all about pardon and compassion.  Justice would be the judge finding us guilty of speeding through a school zone and his judgment would be a fine of $1000. Mercy would be the judge coming to the defendant’s table, getting out his checkbook and paying the fine for us. Justice is served because the penalty is paid—mercy is given because we weren’t the ones to pay the fine. That, however, doesn’t mean there might not be some much needed discipline to correct our behavior. The merciful judge might send us to traffic school or require us to do community service as a crossing guard at the school. Moreover,  he will not protect us from the consequences of our offense. The ticket may cause an insurance premium increase or even a license suspension. Nevertheless, we will have been treated mercifully.

Was what happened to Aravis justice or judgment for her past behavior or was it discipline and correction intended the future? While Aravis’ action was rash, it was defensible. She deceived and drugged the maidservant who was watching her so she could escape from a forced marriage to an evil man. Under those circumstances, Aravis’ receipt of those slashes seems like an injustice. It’s easy to miss that those cuts on her back were not because the servant had been whipped. Aravis wasn’t being punished for what her servant had endured. She was being disciplined for her wanton indifference to her maidservant’s fate. Earlier in the story, when asked about the fate of the girl, Aravis coolly replied that she’d be glad if the servant had been beaten. It was only after receiving similar wounds that the once spoiled and haughty Aravis realized her thoughtlessness and showed concern for the servant’s welfare and fate. Within the next few pages, she both apologizes to someone and shows concern for his welfare (something the unwounded Aravis would never have done). Aslan’s discipline helped her become a better version of herself.

Because it’s usually unpleasant, discipline can feel a lot like punishment. While it may look like divine retribution or payback, it isn’t. Its purpose isn’t to make things right; its purpose is to make us right—to turn us from rebellion to obedience. Divine discipline is disapproval, instruction, correction, and direction. As it did with Aravis, discipline causes us to change both our point of view and behavior; it is through discipline that we become the people God wants us to be.

But consider the joy of those corrected by God! Do not despise the discipline of the Almighty when you sin. For though he wounds, he also bandages. He strikes, but his hands also heal. [Job 5:17-18 (NLT)]

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SANCTIFIED

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV)]

This life, therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on our way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the end but it is the right road. At present, everything is being cleaned. [Martin Luther]

great blue heronI looked at my two sons and wondered when the tow-headed youngster’s hair darkened, his brother’s brown hair turned gray, and they both got those wrinkles around their eyes. At what point did the children who once thought Kraft mac n’ cheese to be high cuisine become gourmet cooks? When did my reckless boys become so sensible and wise? They matured into men so gradually that I wasn’t even aware of the changes as they happened.

When I look in the mirror each morning, I can’t see how I’m any different than I was the previous day but one look at my old photos tells me that, like my boys, I am not who I once was. Transformation, whether internal or external, is a gradual process; it seems almost impossible to spot as it’s happening. Nevertheless, it takes place.

When we accept Jesus, we are justified: set free by the blood of Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are spiritually reborn. Our work, however, has just begun because we still sin. Like babies who must learn to walk, we then begin the process of what is called sanctification and learn how to walk in the steps of Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we gradually transform from newborn Christians into mature ones. Growing in grace, we become obedient to God’s Word, understand His ways and, little by little, become more like Christ.

Although challenges are often accompanied by spiritual growth spurts, for the most part, we transform gradually and may not be conscious of it. If we look back, however, we’ll probably see the difference our growing faith in Jesus has made in the way we conduct our lives. Somewhere along the line, we developed enough patience to deal with our tiresome neighbor, wisdom to counsel a troubled friend, self-control to step away from an argument, or peace in the midst of turmoil. We’ll realize how the Holy Spirit has steadily produced bountiful fruit in our lives and matured us from baby Christians into adolescents and beyond. We’ve come a long way; yet, we have a long way to grow!

At my age, I prefer the face and body I had twenty years ago to the one I have now. On the other hand, I prefer the woman I am today to the woman of decades past. While I don’t look forward to seeing more wrinkles in the mirror, I do look forward to the changes the Holy Spirit makes as I continue the process of sanctification. I’m not who and what I used to be but I’m still nowhere close to the woman God wants me to be.

Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” [John Newton]

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. [1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)]

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  [Philippians 3:12 (NIV)]

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THE EMPTY TOMB

You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! [Mark 16:6 (NLT)]

empty tomb - north naples churchYesterday I mentioned the wooden cross and rustic nail on my desk that serve as reminders of the terrible price Jesus paid for our salvation. Although early Christian symbols included a dove, ship, lyre, anchor, and fish, the cross has become the universal symbol for Christianity. While Coca-Cola’s logo, Nike’s swish and McDonald’s golden arches may come close, I doubt there is any so recognizable sign in the world. Nevertheless, a gruesome instrument of Roman torture seems an odd symbol for a faith that preaches such things as reconciliation, sacrifice, forgiveness, hope, love, and peace. While I’d never wear a miniature gallows, guillotine, or electric chair on a chain around my neck, I do wear a cross. Although it symbolizes everything that happened to Jesus on that dark Friday two thousand years ago, the cross would be meaningless if the tomb had not been empty Sunday morning.

As we walked out of worship service on Easter morning, we came upon a large replica of a stone tomb. The boulder that had covered its opening since Friday was rolled away and it was empty except for some linen cloth resting on a ledge. Like the women who came early that first Easter morning (and Peter and John who arrived later), a few curious children entered the tomb. No angel was there to reassure them, but they didn’t need one. They’d come from Sunday school and know the Easter story well. At worship services, they’ve joined their parents in saying: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” Rather than frighten them, that dark empty tomb reassured them of Jesus’s continual presence in their lives.

Jesus’s death upon the cross is important but it is His rising from the dead that demonstrates triumph over evil, sin, hate, and death. It is the empty tomb that allows us to say these words in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ…[who] was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again… I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Out of curiosity, I searched the stock of several Christian supply stores using the word “tomb.” There were plenty of books, choral collections, CDs, and songs with “tomb” in the title, some Easter stickers depicting an empty tomb, and even a “Raiders of the Empty Tomb” kit, but there were no empty tomb t-shirts, paper weights, jewelry, or wall décor. Apparently, there is no danger of an empty tomb replacing the cross as the universal symbol of Christianity. Nevertheless, when we see a cross, let us never forget that the story of God’s love for us did not end at Golgotha. It didn’t even end with the empty tomb three days later. The story of God’s presence, grace and love continues today.

Christians do not believe in the empty tomb, but in the living Christ. [Karl Barth]

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. [1 Corinthians 15:21-23 (NLT)]

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GONE IN A FLASH – EASTER MONDAY

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. [Hebrews 9:27-28 (NLT)]

Zermatt - Switzerland - crossAfter warning us not to put them in our pockets and accidentally take them home (or put them in the dryer if we did), small pieces of paper were given to everyone in attendance at last week’s Good Friday service. Following the sermon, we were asked to write a sin (or sins) for which we repent on the papers, come forward, and nail them to a cross resting on the steps before the altar. Listening to the hammering echoing in the sanctuary, I thought of what it must have sounded like two thousand years ago when Jesus and the others were hammered to their crosses: the loud pounding of the hammers, the commotion of the crowd, the mockery of the soldiers, and the cries of agony from the men as those blunt tipped nails pierced their bodies.

Those slips of paper were made of nitrocellulose; often used by magicians, they are commonly known as flash papers. Once we’d nailed our papers to the cross, the pastor ignited them and they instantly disappeared in a brilliant display of fire. Nothing, neither smoke nor ash, was left of them. What a powerful illustration of the way Jesus’s blood, shed on the cross as those nails were hammered into Him, made our sins disappear forever.

Next to the small olive wood cross on my desk, I now have a three-inch square-cut nail, a souvenir from Good Friday’s service. The cross, with its distinctive grain, artistic shape, and smooth finish, is so beautiful that it’s easy to forget it represents an instrument of torture. The dark rustic nail beside it will better remind me of the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Paying the price for our sins, His death brought us back into fellowship with God the Father. After the joy of Resurrection Sunday, however, it’s easy to forget the magnitude of that sacrifice until Lent rolls around next year. Let us never forget the miracle of forgiveness that occurred when a suffering bleeding and totally sinless Jesus endured torture and death for the forgiveness of our sins.

He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. [Martin Luther]

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. [1 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. [Ephesians 2:18 (NLT)]

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