16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)
18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)
Nearly fifteen years ago, I lay on a table in a hospital, as an angiogram was being done by my cardiologist. Above the table were a number of television monitors, all black and white, and the showed the progress of the camera as it was inserted into my thigh, and was run my leg into my heart. A bit disconcerting — and yet fascinating.
What was even mroe fascinating was the focus of Dr. Silver. His focus as he guided the devise was not on me, but on the cameras, his attention completed devoted and dedicated to task at hand, but yet, not on the work of his hands. It was on the monitors- as they showed him where he was going – and what he needed to see. It was a bit disconcerting – there he was – moving his hands, working on me.., but almost unaware that I was there.
As I contemplate the end of a very difficult year of ministry, (difficult because of a high level of trauma for the people in my congregation and those around me) and as I am praying this morning, and coming across these verses, I think our “success” as a congregation, and our focus has been much like my cardiologist Stephen’s. For indeed, this small church has grown very strong in its faith.. and people have persevered through things.. that are beyond challenging. For while we are working on things below, while we are struggling with the situations down here, the work requires our focus somewhere else – our focus is to be on Jesus Christ, on the love of God the Father, listening as they reveal the height and width, the depth and breadth of their love for us shown through Christ.
As we interact, as we dance in that love, as God leads us through life, the essential work we do requires that focus, even though our… mind tells us to look at what we are doing, to look at where our hands are moving. There is our challenge, to be in communication with God – to have our focal point on Him.
It is like the words of a priest…written in a book called, “The Forge”
“To think of Christ’s Death means to be invited to face up to our everyday tasks with complete sincerity, and to take the faith that we profess seriously. It has to be an opportunity to go deeper into the depths of God’s Love, so as to be able to show that Love to men with our words and deeds.” (1)
So look deep – deeply focus on the love of God – revealed to you – for you in Christ Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him as you endure each day… for it is then, that you do you best work, even though it seems you are not…focused on what you are doing.
May your next year be filled with His love, His mercy and many blessings. AMEN †
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2141-2144). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Dedicated Themselves,
2 Corinthians 8:1–9, 13–15
† In Jesus Name †
May God grant you the grace, the overwhelming grace that so transforms your life, that you will be like the Macedonian Christians, whose confidence in God caused them to minister others beyond their means…
Stories upon Stories…
Reading Paul’s words this week to the church in Corinth, names and stories of those like the Macedonians came to my mind.
Our good friends Michael and Jill Hook, who this day celebrate their 23rd anniversary as well, who spent years in the inner cities of Ecuador, at huge personal cost, in order to ensure people had the gospel. I can’t even remember all the health issues, including several miscarriages, car-jackings and robberies, their goal – to help people know the blessed peace that comes as God is revealed, and our confidence in His love grows deep and strong.
I think of deacons like Mark, and Vicars like my friend Teo – who serve churches that no one else takes the time for, and whose joy can never be found in a paycheck – for their sacrifices often financially exceed their paychecks, never mind their talents and time that they give so liberally.
I have some friends who are spending time bringing hope to families in Santa Ana – their church works with the rescue missions and brings nutritious meals – ready to eat – with food trucks – to those barely able to feed the rent. Others who give of their money and time to help the children of our preschool, and the people of this church in ways that would astound you, if you only knew the details…
Paul’s words describe them well,
“Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves, produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else. In fact they simply begged us to accept their gifts and so let them share the honours of supporting their brothers in Christ.
Paul desired that all who followed Christ would find themselves so completely dedicated to the Lord, and thereby find themselves sharing, being part of the koinonia, the community of Christ Jesus… for it testifies not just of their graciousness – but such dedication speaks of their confidence in God’s presence and love..
And therefore I share that desire for all you…
Why do people give?
There are a number of reasons why people give, whether it is putting money in a collection plate, or responding to a call for mercy, responding to a disaster, or to family or friends in need.
Some of us respond really well, even though we are motivated highly by guilt. There are those who won’t hesitate to get us to spend our time, our money, our treasure by loading on the guilt. It is not as much about what we are giving to – some who use guilt quite efficiently, or respond because of guilt – the actual recipients really need it.
Others give to impress, whether it is to impress their friends, or society, or maybe, because of some deep dark secret – they give to impress God. Think of the glitzy glamorous fundraisers, and again, it’s a question of the heart – not the recipient. Though some donate to honor others, some buy plaques on buildings and rooms to testify of their own goodness. Universities, Hospitals, even churches often depend on people’s vanity to gain needed funds. Again, the money us used well, yet why did they give?
Some don’t give – because of cynicism, or doubt, or simply because they can’t see a need outside of their own.
Then there are others, like the Macedonians , those that give and give, till their relatives think they are nuts. They give because they wanted to share in meeting the needs of others. These are people Paul describes as being completely dedicated to God, and they then find themselves dedicated to helping those who God would have them serve – no matter the cost, for they know something important…
There is a difference here, one that is the key…
These give… because they realize Chirst’s generosity and reflect it
I have often found, that those who give of time, talents and treasures to those in need – to support God’s work, are the ones who realize the least how much they are giving of their time and talents. You talk to them, and their answer is huh? I didn’t do nuthin pastor…
You see, dear friends, there is something else on their mind – the love and work of God. They don’t look to what they are giving up, they are realizing what Christ has given up – to be with them. That is what is so precious, that is why Paul was so joyous about the Macedonians.
To realize their trust in God was that deep – that so much of the focus of their life, that they subconsciously begin to imitate Him, as they imitate His sacrifice, as his magnificent concern for others! They know so well that He gave up the riches of heaven, to come and live with us… that the poverty He would take on, would mean… the incredible beyond belief of sharing life with Him. They look at the pain of a crucifix, and know joy, for they realize how great the Father’s love for us is.
Now, and presently, as we saw last week, in the midst of our own poverty or riches, in the midst of our own joy, what matters is that we know He is with us, that we trust in His promise that all works for good, that there is nothing we can risk, that He cannot provide a rescue.
That is why Paul wants them to pick up what they started… to finish the project, because it would require them to look beyond themselves, and place themselves in the hands of God, to know He will provide.
Been there, dealing with that myself, as I keep getting asked to consider a short term mission trip here or there for a week or two. For the third time – from three different groups in three different parts of the world now, My instinct is to say – it can’t be me… the challenges are too great, the costs too high. Then I look at the prayer list and see Pastor Bernie’s name, or Te’s, or Chris knowing the sacrifices he makes for his students, and for us, or Mark at Bellflower, and excuses fade away for me, as they must have for the church in Corinth, as they heard about the Macedonian’s magnificent concern, and desire to share in helping others… helping them live, helping them know Jesus.
There is no sacrifice we can make, that doesn’t lead us to depend on Christ, and that is a blessed thing.
It’s the relationship, knowing God our Father, knowing that He is all. For us,
It comes back to the relationship do we realize what we have been given ( go to the baptismal )– what we are given (pull the veil off the covered elements) Do we grasp the breadth and the depth and the height and width of God’s grace, His love, His peace?
I’ve said it a number of times – it’s not about the gift, or even the recipient, its that we trust God so much, when our confidence in His work is so well supported by His word, that sacrifice isn’t the issue… it’s looking forward to sharing the work with Him, with each other.
It’s about knowing the peace of God, which surrounds us, which protects us in Christ, which the world… so needs,,, and we realize how great God’s concern is that they are invited into it.. and we do that which only those who know how great God’s love is can do….