Work and Rest

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S (Scripture): Psalm 127
1 Unless it is the Lord who builds the house,
the builders’ work is pointless.
Unless it is the Lord who protects the city,
the guard on duty is pointless.
2 It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late, eating the bread of hard labor
because God gives sleep to those he loves.

O (Observation): Pointless. That’s the common thread of this psalm. The people of God strive for so many things (building houses, protecting, overworking). The point the psalmist is making is that all of this labor is done in vain if not done “in the Lord.”

The Lord is the key to all of the work and rest that lies ahead for God’s people.

A (Application): I hope you hear the Word today, especially when it comes to work and rest. That is a HUGE issue for us in America in 2017.

I remember going to hear a speaker back while I was in college. His motivation was this: the person who works 60 hours per week will do more and make more money than the person who works 40 hours per week; and the person who works 80 hours per week will make more than the person who works 60 hours per week.

That never sat well with me. Now I have a clearer understanding of why it didn’t sit well: God gives sleep to those he loves.

Lots of other scriptures support the balance of work and rest, and today’s Word is of importance. Getting up too early or staying up too late (in order to be more productive) is silly, it’s pointless. You work at like 50% efficiency when you’re tired and need sleep. So sleep!

I understand we all have deadlines, but don’t let staying up late and getting up early be the norm. Don’t let that lifestyle be the default for your production in this world. You will cause damage to your life and your loved ones when you go down that path.

Embrace the sleep God gives you. Turn it all over to God. Rest your weary mind.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us in our work and our rest. Amen.

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Stepping out in Faith

S (Scripture): John 11:11 After Jesus said this [to the disciples], he added, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. But I am going there to awaken him.” 12 Then the disciples replied, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 (Now Jesus had been talking about his death, but they thought he had been talking about real sleep.)

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe…”

O (Observation):  Jesus is full of double-meanings in this Gospel text.   Lazarus has indeed died, but Jesus’ point is that he has only fallen asleep, because Jesus will resuscitate Lazarus’ body. 

What good will this do?  Isn’t it better for Jesus to just prevent Lazarus’ death?  Maybe…but perhaps  Jesus is going for something deeper, here.  Perhaps Jesus sees this opportunity to show folks that death is but for a little while…that we will all be raised one day. 

This course of action was not without danger.  Raising Lazarus from the dead scared enough of the Jewish leaders that it is likely the reason for Jesus’ eventual death … and resurrection.  

A (Application):  How many of us step outside of ourselves long enough to test our faith?   To test God?   I’m not saying I want to tempt God, but when God lays something on my heart, I try to follow through.  

In the past, I’ve reached out to the Muslim community of Murfreesboro, TN.   That has helped me to forge some great relationships across borders I hadn’t crossed before.  

My church and I have stepped out to be a part of the recognition and support of the gay and lesbian community in Murfreesboro by being present at the PrideFest a few months ago.  

And recently, God has spoken to me in terms of recognizing the difficulty of black and white race relations and to explore some conversations about recognizing personal and corporate sin and repentance and forgiveness. This has led to me engaging in conversations with a local politician in Murfreesboro about enacting change for the good of the community. 

This Christmas, our congregation will be working with a local after-school program to donate gifts and distribute them.   

Each of these steps takes time to develop the faith necessary to step out.  These steps take a community gathered together for a common mission and vision of caring for all people and sharing God’s love with them.   

These can be scary steps.  These steps can shake one’s faith…but God is already out there leading the way…and we are simply stepping in to be the hands of God.  

Let us boldly step out in faith… as reformers… as children of God. 

What is the scariest faith step you have ever taken?

P (Prayer): Lord, protect us as we wander into unchartered waters.  Amen.  

The Spoils Go to the Victor!… …and the followers

 S (Scripture): 1 Coronthians 15:50 Now this is what I am saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 15:51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – 15:52 in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 15:53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 15:54 Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen,
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 15:58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

O (Observation): Paul goes to great lengths to remind the church in Corinth to stay strong in the faith.  That even in death, we are only asleep, until the trumpet sounds.

Paul reminds them that Jesus has swallowed up death.  That even in the midst of the suffering and death in this world, Jesus has overcome that death. And so, the efforts we make on behalf of Christ (in this world) are not in vain. Even though we die, we will live.  Even though mortality seems to have the upper hand, it does not.

A (Application):  Knowing that my salvation and my future are secure, I sense my present life is impacted.  I am free to spend my days wondering how I will follow God’s call in my family life and in my professional life (which I am ever-more marrying the two together, thankfully).

God’s victory over sin and death is not insignificant.  This belief creates more than a “Jesus’ blood covers my sins” mentality.  Jesus’ victory over death means that God has turned the biggest negative in this world into a massive positive!   That’s how God works.

That’s how death and hate are reversed.  As I walk with my church community through times of suffering and death, we pray that Christ’s presence carries us into the next stage of life or death.

When we experience hate in this world, rather than combat hate with hate, if we simply let the hate slip by us, it has nothing to bump up against. Therefore, the hate will have no traction, no force to butt up against it.

In death, we see new life.  In hate, we respond with love.   Simple stuff, but really hard.

Where are you experiencing a death or hatred in your life?  How will God’s victory over death shape your response?

P (Prayer):  Lord, you have swallowed up death and hatred in this world.  Help us to see that these evils have no power over us.  That your victory is our gain. Amen.

Believing is Seeing

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S (Scripture): John 11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 11:15 and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 11:16 So Thomas (called Didymus) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go too, so that we may die with him.”

O (Observation): Over the span of their time with Jesus, the disciples are being stretched in their understanding of who Jesus is and what he is up to.

No one could be brought back to life, especially not after 4 days (after which it was believed the spirit could not rejoin the body). Yet Jesus’ plan is to do just that: resuscitate Lazarus. Earlier, Jesus refers to Lazarus’ death as a state of sleep (giving us readers hope for an awakening, not just for Laz, but for all of us). But to be clear, Jesus does declare (John 11:14) that Lazarus is indeed dead. Jesus is not happy about Lazarus’ death, but he is pleased that others will get to see the glory of God in bringing Lazarus back to life, so that others might believe in Jesus as the son of God.

John’s Gospel has Jesus talking about “believing” a lot. To go with believing, Jesus performs lots of signs and miracles (raising Lazarus from the dead being one of those signs). Jesus then connects the signs and miracles to helping people to believe that he is the son of God, so that those who believe might have eternal life (John 3:16).

A (Application): I heard a quote in a movie one time (Maybe “Santa Clause”?):

“Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing. “

I think this quote helps me to understand a little bit about what the disciples and those around Jesus were seeing firsthand. Seeing something is one thing. Seeing has to do with the head. Believing is another thing altogether. Believing has to do with the heart. Sometimes it takes believing something first before you can truly comprehend what you’re seeing. Sometimes without believing we can be blinded to things that are happening right in front of us.

In the disciple groups I lead, we take time to process “kairos” (that is, God-moments). We take time to do this as a group, so that we can allow others in the group to help shape our understanding of events, thoughts, feelings that are taking place in our lives. We don’t always “get it” when we see it for ourselves. Sometimes it takes others around us to remind us to “believe,” so that we can then truly “see” what is happening before our very eyes.

In the next reading or two, we will see the varied reactions of those who have seen Lazarus being raised from the dead. Some will see and still not believe. But those who believe in Jesus, will truly see the power of the Son of God in action.

P (Prayer): Lord, revealer of all, light to all, shine on our hearts. Help us to believe that Jesus raised up is our hope and our joy. Help us to believe, so that we can truly see. Amen.