Monthly Archives: January 2019

God’s Expectations

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  (Luke 12:48)

Jesus is talking to his disciples about the importance of a servant being watchful and found doing what is expected of him when his master returns.  He says the more responsibility that is given to you, the more that will be expected of you.

This is about our accountability to God for the life, time, talents, responsibilities, and resources he has given to us.  As in the parable of the talents, the master’s servants were expected to multiply the money that was entrusted to their care, not simply preserve it.

God creates us in unique and infinite ways.  No two of us are the same.  He creates each of us with unique physical, intellectual and spiritual abilities and gifts “to work and take care” of the garden of his creation, and to love and serve him and one another in doing so. (Genesis 2:15)

I have a friend whose son has been a high school choral director.  He has a unique ability to get the best of music out of whatever musical group he is directing, either choral or orchestral.  He is now taking graduate work to hone the talents God has given him.  I have no doubt that someday he will be the conductor of a major philharmonic orchestra or choral group.

As a father of five adult children, it is blessing to see each of them use gifts that God has given them in addition to caring for their respective spouses and children.  To one has been given the gift of mercy and love which she uses to volunteer for numerous needs in her church and community.  To another has been given a way to teach history and make it come alive for her students.  To another has been given the compassion and understanding to oversee an inclusion program in a Catholic high school for students with intellectual disabilities.

To another, after working in software development for several years has discovered, along with his wife, their special gift to capture unique images of marriage in a new photography business.  To our youngest daughter born with Down syndrome, God has given the gifts of purity of heart and love, and a special memory for dates, for which she reminds us of the birthdays of every member of our family, including her thirteen nephews and nieces.

What’s important is not what gifts God has given to each of us, but that we are fully using the gifts he has entrusted to us for his purpose.

Being retired these last several years, God has given me the gift of time.  How am I using this gift?  When you are older, you have to fight the lie that you are limited in what you can do and that no one wants to listen to you anymore.  However, the needs for volunteers are almost endless.  So, I have chosen a few things that are an in keeping with my past experience in work and ministry.  As they say in the old western movies, I hope to die with my boots on.

Whatever our age, our goal should be to hear the words of the Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Mt. 25:21)

God’s Unexpected Consequences

We may recall the story of Joseph, the next youngest son of Jacob in the Old Testament.  Out of jealousy, his older brothers sold him into slavery to some merchants traveling to Egypt. The merchants sold him to Potiphar, the captain of the guard for Pharaoh. Potiphar put Joseph in jail based on the false accusations by Potiphar’s wife.  Later, Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret.  His chief cupbearer remembers that Joseph had correctly interpreted a dream for him while he was in prison.

Pharaoh had Joseph brought to him, and he was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams that Egypt would experience seven years of abundance and then seven years of famine.  As a result Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of governing all of Egypt.  Later, Jacob sent his older sons to Egypt to get grain; Joseph recognizes them, arranges for Jacob to be brought to Egypt and eventually discloses his identity to Jacob and Joseph’s brothers.  The brothers are fearful that Joseph will now take revenge on them for selling him into slavery, but Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

One of the great aspects of God’s love for us is that we can hope in him even in bad situations.  Like the story of Joseph being sold into slavery and imprisoned for several years, God can redeem bad things in order to serve his larger purpose and will. The following story is an example. 

Bob and Steve owned competitive insurance brokerages. Bob was practicing his Christian faith in all the areas of his life, including the workplace. Steve was not, which made competing against Steve challenging.

Both Bob and Steve were in their prime when Steve was convicted of a white-collar crime and sent to prison. Even though Steve was no longer a threat to Bob, he sensed the Lord asking him to visit Steve in prison.  Bob’s first reaction was, “No Way! Why should I be compassionate and forgiving to this man?” The Lord’s prompting continued though. So, Bob was obedient to the Lord’s request.

When Bob walked into the visitor’s area, Steve was shocked. Tears started to well up in his eyes. Steve couldn’t believe that someone he had attempted to take business from would want anything to do with him. Bob prayed with Steve, gave him a Bible and encouraged him to embrace an intimate relationship with Jesus.

When Steve was released from prison, Bob was there again to help him get back on his feet.  Steve’s mistake cost him his marriage, access to his children, two homes, all his possessions and the majority of his friends. As part of Bob’s continued commitment, he took Steve on a Christians in Commerce retreat. That retreat transformed Steve, introduced him to daily prayer, accountability with other Christian men and encouraged him to become the man God had created him to be.

Steve died earlier this month of cancer, with his former wife and children at his side. He had repaid all those who lost money through his prior actions. He regained his personal and business integrity, was president of the local chapter of Christians in Commerce, and became a powerful witness for Jesus Christ and his redeeming acts of love.

God took a bad situation and led Bob to forgiveness and Steve to new life – consequences that neither of them would have anticipated.

When We Don’t Understand

Sometimes we are confronted with circumstances we do not understand, but have to live with or accept them on faith.

Mary and Joseph had that experience when they lost track of Jesus’ whereabouts as they were returning to Nazareth from Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.  Jesus, who was twelve years old, stayed behind in Jerusalem while Joseph and Mary thought he was in their company with other relatives.

They returned to Jerusalem, frantically looking for Jesus for three days.  They finally found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.  When Mary asked, “Son, why have you treated us like this,” noting that they had been searching for him, Jesus responded, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luke reports, “They did not understand what he was saying to them.” (Luke 2:41-52)

We might ask why they didn’t understand what the boy Jesus was saying to them.  Both Mary and Joseph were told by angels that what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit, and Mary was told that the child would be called the Son of God.  Elizabeth asked, “Why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  The Shepherds told them that angels had said the child would be the Messiah.  They saw the Magi worship their baby and give him gifts.  They saw Simeon take the child in his arms and declare that he had now seen the salvation of the Lord.

Perhaps it was because it had been twelve years since all of these things had happened and Jesus had just become another normal young Jewish boy growing up in their midst.   

Last June I booked a cruise for my wife and me that would have begun this week.  Since our daughter Emily is disabled, one of our other daughters who live in North Carolina agreed to leave her family for two weeks and come to assist with Emily while we were gone.  After booking the cruise, I started to get an uneasy feeling about it.

About a month later, a couple of things happened that added to my uneasiness.  The cruise line changed our flight arrangements and advised that certain tours that we selected were no longer available.  I began to pray, asking the Lord whether we should continue with our plans.  I didn’t understand why I had these negative feelings, but after further prayer and discernment, I decided to cancel the cruise.

Last week the father-in-law of our daughter who was going to look after Emily died.  His burial is today.   Furthermore, her husband who was going to look after their children while our daughter was looking after Emily has to leave tomorrow for a business trip to London.  We might have been able to manage all of this, but it would have been very difficult for our daughter and her family.  It would have also created considerable anxiety for them and us.

My wife and I believe that the Holy Spirit was prompting me not to proceed with our planned cruise.  I didn’t understand the reasons, but I acted on the prompting, and my daughter, her husband and their family were able to celebrate the life of his father without an obligation to us hanging over their heads.  As an added bonus, I was able to fly to Colorado and attend the funeral of my son-in-law’s father – a man cherished and loved by his family and friends.

A New Year’s Hope

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

We have just celebrated God becoming one of us in the birth of Jesus, one of the greatest acts of humility and love in all of history.

Yet in the world around us one year comes to a close and a new one begins full of conflict and strife, much like they have for centuries.  Wars continue in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.  Incidents of terror and mass shootings take place in our own country and abroad.  The church is rocked with a sexual abuse scandal.  Identity politics and political agendas are tearing apart the very fabric of our nation’s traditions and moral values.

The first chapter of John’s Gospel offers both a realistic context for what we have just celebrated and a hope that can carry us through the new year.  We will not read about it in the news media.  Speaking of Jesus, John says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”  Not a single governmental or spiritual leader in Israel took note of Jesus’ birth.  Only a few lowly shepherds were his herald.  In fact Israel’s king actually wanted to kill Jesus, not unlike some authoritarian regimes in our day.

“He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him.”  Even before Jesus was born, he was rejected by the innkeeper who had no room for him.  As Jesus later revealed his presence and identity, the religious leaders of his day also rejected him and even sought his death.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

This is our hope for the coming year!  When we open the door of our heart to Jesus and invite him in, he says, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.”  “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  “If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 15: 4; John 14:6, 23)

When we let Jesus and the Father make their home in us, we experience the world around us with a different perspective.  An inner peace is possible even though there is a lack of peace externally.  Jesus says:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” (John 14:27)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Mt. 11:28-29)

“In the world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

A blessed New Year to all!