Where Were You

Have you ever been put in your place? Has a moment of brash talk ever resulted in someone “setting you straight”? It hurts, doesn’t it? I’ve been there and felt that. In hindsight, it was not so much a punishing experience as it was a learning experience. These moments of correction are painful, and often necessary. But we have to be open to their instruction … that’s the trick.

In today’s passage we find God giving Job the ultimate moment of instruction. Wowzers, this is a doozy. God begins by calling Job a “darkening counsel” and says that Job’s words lack knowledge:

Job 38 (Common English Bible)

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:

Who is this darkening counsel
    with words lacking knowledge?
Prepare yourself like a man;
    I will interrogate you, and you will respond to me.

Yikes. But as you read this next part, see how God describes all of his omnipotent power in a way that is reassuring, even as Job is being rebuked:

The establishing of order

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
    Tell me if you know.
Who set its measurements? Surely you know.
    Who stretched a measuring tape on it?
On what were its footings sunk;
    who laid its cornerstone,
    while the morning stars sang in unison
        and all the divine beings shouted?

Can you issue an order to the clouds
    so their abundant waters cover you?
35 Can you send lightning so that it goes
    and then says to you, “I’m here”?
36 Who put wisdom in remote places,
    or who gave understanding to a rooster?
37 Who is wise enough to count the clouds,
        and who can tilt heaven’s water containers
38     so that dust becomes mud
        and clods of dirt adhere?

If you needed to be reminded of who is in control, this is it. God sends lightning and wisdom alike. He counts the clouds, tilts heaven’s water containers, and gives understanding to the rooster. Can you do that?

Lion and raven

39 Can you hunt prey for the lion
    or fill the cravings of lion cubs?
40 They lie in their den,
    lie in ambush in their lair.
41 Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry to God,
    move about without food?

Job is a righteous man who experiences a humbling lesson. So should we. But rather than receive these words as a chastisement, as Job had to, may we embrace them as a beautiful reminder that God is God … and we are not.

Thanks be to God!

Smart Kitty Hawkers

Adopt the Attitude

Some days, attitude is everything.

When you are feeling low, taking on an attitude of hope can help you move forward.

When you’re feeling accomplished, remembering where your blessings come from can shift your attitude from pride to gratitude.

When you’re feeling joy, adopting an attitude of generosity can spread that joy outward.

When you’re feeling despair, remembering that you are NEVER alone can change your attitude toward your situation.

Paul talks a lot about attitude in the book of Philippians. In the fourth chapter, he encourages us to rejoice.

“Rejoice! Again, I say, rejoice!” (Verse 4)

That sounds like a lot of fluff until you remember that he was writing from prison. If his attitude can be one of happiness as he sits behind bars, we can take heart that our attitudes can rise above our circumstances as well.

In today’s passage, Paul lays out a tremendous challenge for us: adopt the attitude of Christ.

Philippians 2 (Common English Bible)

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
        he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        even death on a cross.

We have talked a lot about obedience during this Lent season: obedience to the call to pray; obedience to the call to give; obedience to the call to study scripture, meditate, confess our sins, and repent; and obedience to whatever it is God is calling us to do.

Paul’s challenge is simple. If the Son of God can be obedient to the point of emptying himself and taking on the form of a slave, we can change our attitudes. Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. Where is God calling you to humble yourself?

Therefore, God highly honored him
        and gave him a name above all names,
10     so that at the name of Jesus everyone
        in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11         and every tongue confess
            that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Soon the day will come when we will all be humbled. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ as Lord. Until then, adopt the attitude of Christ as you wait. This is the way the kingdom is built.

Every Knee Shall Bow by Bonnie Bennett

See Jesus? Be Like Jesus

In studying the term “abundant living” for an upcoming sermon, I came across the idea that one aspect of abundant living is walking in Jesus’ steps. In a kind of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” chain of thinking, I then turned to looking at scriptures that definitively explain what it means to be like Jesus. (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is a fabulous children’s book where a mouse gets a cookie, which means he needs a glass of milk, which means he has to use a chair to get a glass, which means….you get the idea.) In the plethora of cookie crumbs that I followed in that line of thinking, I came across this morsel of goodness from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:

Philippians 2 (The Message)

1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care

Holy Cow. Did you catch that? “If you have a heart, if you care…” Paul lays it on straight and THICK.

— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Being Jesus means not being obsessed with getting your own advantage. Imagine how the world would work if everyone behaved that way!

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process.

I’m terrible at math, but even I can see that equation: “Being like Christ” = “Being humble.”

He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Now let’s think about how this could apply to the way we treat people who look or think differently or will VOTE differently than us. Think about the person you MOST disagree with…maybe it’s your relative, a co-worker, a friend, or even your spouse. It might be someone with whom you have had many arguments or with whom you have exchanged NASTY posts on FaceBook.

You know who I’m referring to….the one who is the red to your blue or the liberal to your conservative. Now hold that person in your mind and listen again to what the scripture is telling you about how to treat him or her:

  1. Agree with each other.
  2. Love each other.
  3. Be deep-spirited friends with each other.
  4. Don’t push your way or your IDEAS in front of that person.

What should we do? Don’t try to talk your way to the top but let others go ahead of you. Step aside, FORGET YOURSELF, and lend a hand….even to that person you don’t like.

That is the secret to abundant living. When we empty ourselves of ourselves, it is then that we are most like Jesus.

Step Aside by Michelle Robertson

Leveling the Playing Field

It is always a shock when we learn that someone we have held in high esteem has committed a crime or egregious sin and has fallen from the pedestal we had put them on. I recently watched a movie that told the story of the head of a very popular news organization and how he fell from his high tower of power when his sexual exploitation of several female employees was revealed. It was an eye-opener.

Perhaps that says more about our tendency to erect pedestals than anything else. Society has a way of creating a hierarchy built on power, wealth, and social status. Sin has a way of knocking all of that down. The only safe pedestal to perch upon is the word of God.

In the twenty-first chapter of Matthew, Jesus had a conversation with the chief priests and elders of the people. They were at the top of the food chain in Israel and loved to flaunt their status. They had the audacity to question Jesus about his authority, as if their self-assigned societal authority gave them the right to question the Son of God.

As if!

See how handily Jesus knocks them off their man-made pedestals:

Matthew 21 (Common English Bible)

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’

29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.

30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.

31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first one.”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.

Whoa, Nellie. That was a deep cut. The prostitutes and the TAX COLLECTORS? Surely that rankled the chief priests. Jesus effectively mopped the floor with their over-blown pretensions and their misunderstanding of “greatness.”

To be the first, one must commit to being the last. To enter the kingdom of God, one must be humble. Securing eternal life requires changing our hearts, minds, and LIVES. Walking God’s righteous road is the way.

Look at the pedestal you are currently standing on. If you see privilege, position, wealth, status, or arrogance there, jump off and save yourself.

Walking The Righteous Path by Kathy Schumacher

Expiration Dates

My mother once told me a tip about buying dairy products in the grocery story. Never take the carton in the front. It is warmer and will expire sooner than the ones in the back. So reach behind and pull a colder one from the back.

Yesterday I bought a carton of Half and Half and pulled from the back. Indeed, the expiration date on the carton was later than the ones in the front. When I read the expiration date my first thought was, “Oh wow. That’s after the election.”

Funny how we think in those terms. How many of you are like me and just can’t wait for all of this to be OVER? This current season of disunity, hate speech, lies, attacks, and downright confusion cannot end quickly enough. And I am not such a Pollyanna that I think the election will miraculously cure the divisions that plague us, but at least the anxiety of waiting will be over. Both sides are promoting a platform based on fear and it can’t end soon enough. In my area, the local political ads are filled with slander and mud slinging and have reached the outrageous level. ENOUGH.

In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul addresses the subject of being united and agreeing with each other. He contends that those things are indicative of having the attitude of Christ:

Philippians 2 (Common English Bible)

 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 

This must be a taste of what heaven will be like. I am so jaded at this point that I can’t imagine we will achieve this on earth. How lovely it would be to share in the Spirit, have sympathy for our fellow human, share the same love, and be united. The humility required for God’s people to live in complete harmony is probably well beyond what we can achieve here.

What would it mean to watch out for what is better for others rather than to do things for selfish purposes? What change in your life would that require?

Paul gives the answer.

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
        he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        even death on a cross.

To be truly Christ-like we must be willing to empty ourselves of ourselves. We need to be humbled. We need to be obedient. We need to let God be God and realize that we are not in charge of everything.

Therefore, God highly honored him
        and gave him a name above all names,
10     so that at the name of Jesus everyone
        in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11         and every tongue confess
            that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The challenge for today is to practice humility. Find that one opportunity to put someone else’s need, opinion, agenda, or desire ahead of your own. Empty yourself and take on an attitude of Christ.

By the way, being Christlike in everything you think, say, and do has no expiration date.

Reflections of Heaven by Terry Wingenroth

Star Counter

Sometimes when my problems feel overwhelmingly big, I try to remember that there are much bigger things:

God’s love for me

God’s prevenient grace

God’s ability to carry my burden

God’s willingness to fix me

God’s creation around me

God’s warrior skills.

Living at the beach provides a constant reminder of how small we are. I stand at the edge of the ocean and watch its power. The waves follow one after the other, the sun sets, and the moon pulls the tide. I have nothing to do with that. Yet I live my life as though I am in control.

The ocean teaches me that it is a fool’s errand to think such things. The water moves on its own accord, set into motion by the God of creation. The beauty around me reminds me that every trial, every tragedy, every misstep, every betrayal, and every hardship we will ever know is smaller than the one who not only counts the stars, but KNOWS THEM BY NAME.

Psalm 147 (New King James Version)

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.

He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name.

Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite.
The Lord lifts up the humble;
He casts the wicked down to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises on the harp to our God,
Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

What does that say to you today? If he knows the name of every star, surely he knows yours. And the name of your enemy. And the name of your battle. And the names of your family. Listen, he even knows your cat’s name.

If knowing the names of the stars matters to God, how much more do you matter to him? His understanding is infinite. He is mighty in power. In the smallness of our mess, God steps in and binds up wounds and heals the brokenhearted.

Whatever you’ve got today, know this: God’s got you. Whatever is defeating you, remember that God has already won your battle. Whatever is making you feel hopeless, turn to God, who created the universe and is your HOPE.

So sing praise in your darkness, and lift high the name of the Lord in your brokenness. Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Photo courtesy of NASA/Hubble Space Telescope