28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 1 Kings 8:28
There was a line in the movie Field of Dreams; “They will come. They won’t even know why they are coming, but they will come, by the millions.” The stranger, the foreigner, the broken hearted, the oppressed, and the lost are searching for something. They used to come to church seeking it. They did not always know why they were coming. Not sure what they even hoped to find. Many were seeking a clear conscience and the proclamation of forgiveness; forgiveness for the bad decisions they made on their earthly journey. The broken relationships, the broken promises, the effects, and consequences of their sins. They are seeking someone to, as the movie points out, “ease their pain.” They are seeking something only God can give, forgiveness of their sins and a conscience free from blame, free from guilt, free from pain. They come seeking unconditional love and acceptance and they find that in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us of his unconditional love for all, “Yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
People are turning to God in their spiritual need. A clear conscience is hard to find these days. There is more than enough guilt to go around. While many groups claim to have answers: doctors, politicians and the like, their so-called solutions never work the pain remains. We have to put aside these social theories of causation for societal breakdown, and consider the load of sin and guilt which human hearts carry! Eventually, guilt has its way with people. Alienation from others, and self, and eventually from God.
The conscience speaks and the word of judgment against sin are heard. Even those far from God know that something is wrong!
As Paul writes in Romans, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”
People will come because the same law that torments our conscience when we sin, also torments the non-believer. The difference is we know about Christ’s forgiveness and they don’t. Our consciences are clear through the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. For the non-believer, the promise of forgiveness of their sins continues to torment them day and night. So they will come to find relief, the relief that comes only through God’s forgiveness connected to Christ’s death and resurrection.
So what is special about God’s forgiveness?
First, of all it has been won through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus for sin. It was verified by the empty tomb and the risen Lord. The beauty of the life of Christ is that he had a specific purpose to be the one that carried God’s forgiveness to a sin-soaked world. Human forgiveness may restore relationships. But only God’s forgiveness restores life!
Secondly, God offers this forgiveness to a guilt-ridden world. This is the Gospel proclaimed in our churches and received with thanksgiving. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (1 Cor. 5:19)
Who is this forgiveness for? Jews only? Members of the church only? Outwardly righteous and pious people only? So many people think so. The Gospel is for anyone hurting from sin and calling on God through the power of the Holy Spirit. God heals the alienation, he binds up the broken hearted, he eases the pain, and through Jesus Christ no one turning to Him is denied. As the Scripture says, “He is a light to the Gentiles, and for the glory to your people Israel”, we, like Solomon, pray, “O Lord, forgive.” And you know the neat thing is for Jesus’ sake, God does just that. Amen
Tuesday’s staff devotion examined the section of Scripture from Matthew 25. Jesus is having a dialogue about service.
The discussion that follows can be found in the Common English Translation:
37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
What is noticeable in this exchange is the reaction of the righteous when Jesus points out their good deeds. They appear completely unaware of their behavior. Christians, motivated by the love of God, do things every day that goes unnoticed. It is the nature of the righteous. It is the nature of God’s workers to serve in relative obscurity with little thanks or recognition, not giving much thought to the sacrifices they make. Would it be nice to have an end of the year celebration for volunteers, staff and other tireless workers? By all means! However, they will serve not for the promise of a party or the recognition, but because they love their God and they love His people. Service flows naturally out of the love of God that is welling up inside us. Servants are surprised and thankful when it gets attention. In the end it is about the privilege, Christians have been given to serve an amazing and awesome God.
I shared with the staff today, even though you probably do not hear this often, thank you for your service. We also discussed the reality that whether or not anybody in the church ever notices all the hard work and effort they put into their area of ministry, receive this acclamation, God knows. He notices.
The righteous are taken aback when Jesus acknowledges their service? “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’”
It happens during those times we care for the person in need God has placed our midst and without thinking, serve. The response of our Lord in Matthew 25 screams this point, “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”
Jesus has a word of thanks and encouragement for you today from Matthew 25:21, “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’” May God bless you and may God bless those who serve!
Pat on the Back
My mother, Elma Haney was a proud and very strong will woman. Strong-willed is a kind nice way of saying whatever was on her mind, she would share with you. Now if you asked for that option that was your own fault. There were plenty of times she would give you the advice you did not solicit. On a side note for those who know me, that is where I get it from. I would love to say that is something I am working on but that would be untrue. Therefore, I will own that flaw and blame it on my mother.
As the day arrives each year that we have set aside to remember and give thanks to the unique way God used the spirit and heart of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr I thought now is a fitting time to share some unsolicited thoughts, a few of the lessons my mother shared with me.
Now keep the opening description in mind, she was a strong-willed woman. Unfortunately, she grew up at a time in our society where being a strong-willed at that time colored woman, was not a trait that was encouraged by society in the deep south where she grew up. As a matter of fact, her outspoken nature could have gotten her in really deep trouble. We would often ask her, “How in the world did you survive in that context?” I just figured she like Mary kept those thoughts close to her heart. Unlike Mary when she got the chance never stop letting those bottled up thoughts out on any and everyone who would listen.
As I reflect back on her life and witness, though, I understand with greater clarity why the things she valued in life were so much a part of her character. 1) She valued that fact that as a known African American woman she accomplished a lot of firsts. The first president of the Telephone Company’s employee union, first African American Trustee of Trinity Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge just to name a few. It was her way of letting the world know that you may limit what you think I can do, but God does not. She would often say nothing is too big for God. 2) She demanded high achievements from her children and grandchildren. I never appreciated why until later in life. However, she knew how hard her road had been and did not want us to let any opportunity get away instead she would encourage us to take advantage of what God placed before us. Her motto was never settled for what was given to us, but strive to be the very best. And 3) She celebrated every accomplishment. Whether is was me making the Marching Band at Southern Lab, home of the Mighty Kittens (yea I know not the toughest mascot name) or finishing third in a reading contest. We celebrated every accomplishment and every achievement. And when her grandkids started college, got their first job, finished confirmation or just got a base hit in a little league baseball game, grandma was on the phone with a big way to go. She knew what Dr. King and others had worked so hard to achieve through the working of the Holy Spirit moving in the course of human history. God used this southern preacher to secure her freedom to be strong-will and opinionated. That now is passed down to her kids and grandkids so watch out the world.
Thank you, mom, for instilling your spirit, your heart for hurting people and your desire to cheer us to achieve great things. Your spirit lives on in us. To God be the Glory!
“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.”Joel Barker
What a powerful quote. As we approach the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr holiday I am reminded that if Dr. King had stopped with just having a dream about a better America but did not move that dream to action none of the changes that I am benefiting from today would have been possible. As Churches seek to discern God’s will for their ministry it may begin with a dream or a vision of what could be. However in order to see fruits from that dream or vision it requires hard work, action and a moving of the Holy Spirit to become a reality. What a privilege I have in my current vocation to come alongside dreamers and visionaries to see the amazing work of our Awesome God come to fruition. If God has placed on your heart a dream or a vision for ministry don’t just stop with the dream. Don’t let fear of failure or success derail you. Pray that the Holy Spirit will move you to act on the dream God has placed on your heart because it can have a kingdom impact.
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