The Greatest Gift

Read Mark 12:38-44

October 31 is Reformation Day. What does this mean? This is the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the front door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This is the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Reformation.

Every 500 years, or so, the Church goes through a process of “reforming” to bring itself back to the essential core truths of the Christian faith. When Luther nailed the Theses, he was giving 95 reasons why and where the Catholic Church had gone wrong in her teaching and way of life in the world.

Every so often God raises up a people to lead the way to bring His Church back to Jesus Christ. It is amazing how far, and how fast, God’s people can veer off His path. Many want to place sole blame on the clergy and leaders, but the reality is we all (lay people included) need to be reminded, and led, back to Jesus. IF we don’t we’ll impose our fallen humanity on the Church and the Church will be shaped more like the culture rather than the surrounding culture being shaped by the teaching of the Church.

At this point, we should all say, “OUCH!” Why? Because it is up to us to stay close to the teachings of Jesus through his life, the scriptures, the early church, early church fathers, the Holy Spirit today. The time of reformation is to remind God’s people the Church is not about them. The Church is about Him…it’s all about Jesus…It’s Jesus’ church.

This is also a time to remember we don’t “go to church,” WE ARE THE CHURCH.

So when we read a passage like what we have today, It’s important to make sure we are interpreting it correctly.

Jesus is being harsh with the religious people, the leadership, for how they are acting and imposing undo rules and standard among the people. This was actually creating a hardship on the people. In other words, the people were being bled dry.

Jesus noticed the leaders were not held to the same standards as everyone else. The leaders (we can also think of world leaders not just church leaders) liked to dress up and reserve the best seats and positions of honor for themselves.

Because of this, those people will have already have their reward (earthly riches) here on earth. Jesus even goes on to say they will receive severe, harsh punishment for how they treated others, especially the poor. “Those of you familiar with Dante’s The Inferno will recall the hellish punishment Dante imagined would come to hypocrites: for all eternity they would wear the most gorgeous of flowing robes, looking ever-so-lovely on the outside.  But those robes would be lined with lead, making the very act of standing up straight an abiding agony.  Such would indeed be a fit punishment for those who spent their lives harboring ugliness and selfishness on the inside even as they exuded nothing but superior piety on the outside.

This brings us to our first question we need to ask ourselves…

What standards have been placed on leadership? You? Have you placed on others? Can you live up to the standards?

It’s always important to be able to walk the talk. Leadership, really anyone, should never ask of anyone anything they are not willing to do themselves. Unfortunately, we still live in a dog eat dog world so we still live with the mentality it is okay to do whatever needs to be done. In other words, the ends justify the means.

But Jesus is constantly asking us to look at things differently. He is calling us to reform and reshape our minds and lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is asking his people to pay attention to what’s really going on. Don’t just take other people’s words for what’s being done. Actually take time to look beyond outward appearances and learn the motives.

When the reformation started, Martin Luther was simply trying to bring the Church back to her roots. He did not intend to begin a new denomination, the Lutheran Church. Luther took time to study and pay attention to the theology and the people and the leaders. After many days of prayer, of fasting, of study, the Spirit spoke to, and through, Luther to post the Theses (complaints) against the Church.

Much of this had to do with “payments” the people were required to make. (Notice the similarities to the widow in this passage. History is circular unless someone comes along and points our errors and makes changes.)

It was easy for the rich to make the payments. But what about the poor? What about those who cannot live on their own? Remember the words of James, in his letter, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:26-27 NIV)

We should always be asking what God is calling the church to do, that no one else can do, and continue to join God in the work he is doing in this world.

When the poor, the working poor, the destitute, the least/last/lost, come through our doors, let’s continue to make them feel welcome. No matter how much they can give or contribute.

This brings us to our next question…

What do you pay attention to when people give? 

In other words, is there any part of you that feels like someone should give more? Do we ever feel like people are giving too much?

Look at the passage again. Jesus pays attention to the crowd and hones in on this widow. Widows were supposed to be taken care of by the community. They needed help because they did not have a husband to care for and provide for them (that’s how their society was set up). 

So when Jesus saw her put in the coins, think about how Jesus would have sounded. How would he have felt? Jesus could have spoken in a soft, sad, voice because the widow gave all she had to live on. She would not have been able to buy even a piece of bread.

Jesus commends her, yet also knows the toll this contribution will have on the livelihood of the widow. There is a big hint Jesus doesn’t like what’s going on. Notice he doesn’t stop her. He observes. Jesus then makes an observation about giving that is still important to us today.

He commends the widow on her obedience to giving.

Our final question today is…

Do you live a life of obedience to God? Know God will provide your every need? Can you be cheerfully obedient?

It’s always easy to give when we have enough. But when we are struggling financially, what is the first thing to go? Giving. And not just giving to the Church, but giving in the community. We’ll take back our time even because we need more time to make ends meat, etc. 

But this is a time for a spiritual gut check. How obedient, and willing to give to God, when it creates a hardship on you? Now, I am not calling us to give and leave nothing for us. I am asking us to pay attention to what it is we really trust in.

Luther had no idea what would happen when he posted the 95 Theses. He knew his career, as a monk was over. But he still did what mattered because he knew God would provide for his every need. God does the same for us. 

Why does all this matter?

The life of Christ is all about living in such a way the world knows how much you and I love God (and people) by how much we give and give back. It’s not about “keeping up appearances” with others, it is all about living a life of joy trusting that God will do what he will do and will provide what’s needed.

This week. Praise God for how He is working and moving in the world and in and through you. Praise God for the way He is providing for your every need. Find ways to serve (give time). Ask God if we are giving sacrificial (financially) so we trust in His provision and presence in our lives.

Finally, praise God every day for the gift of His love and guidance to bring us back to the core truths of the Christian faith. Praise God for reminding us who Jesus is because we all need to see and know who we are being recreated and reformed into.

God is providing for you. You and I are blessed so we can be a blessing to others. Know this and live this always. Why? Because the greatest gift we can give the world is a life of pure obedience to God through Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Peace Beyond Understanding

Click here to read Acts 27.

You know the feeling. You have had days where nothing seems to go right. Weeks. Months. Year(s). It is hard to see anything past what is going on right before us. We’ll hear people say things like, just change your mindset and be more positive. But the truth is that is not what changes our minds so we experience peace.

Paul, the prisoner who is part of the shipwreck, writes in Philippians 4:6-7 to be anxious about nothing, present your requests to God, you will experience a peace beyond understanding (paraphrase). This same person wrote this when he was imprisoned earlier.

Imagine that. Peace in the midst of chaos. A peace beyond understanding. Have you ever felt this before? This is more than a simple feeling. This peace is something that seems to overtake you and helps you be able to function in the midst of the chaos around you.

This is what I believe is happening to Paul. He is imprisoned; but he is on a voyage to Rome and the ship he is on gets destroyed. He has to be the voice of reason and help the soldiers do the right thing because of faith not because of fear. We see what happens when people react from fear (soldiers) and also from faith (Paul).

So now the question remains, how do we get this kind of faith, this kind of peace? Paul did not do anything. Well, he did do one thing, he prayed and stayed connected to Jesus Christ. This kind of peace and discernment only came from God. God is the one who encouraged Paul and gave him the wisdom about what needed to be done to help protect and save the people he traveled with.

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of Christ. As you go about your day, your week, remember the only source of true peace comes straight from Jesus Christ. Keeping Jesus Christ at the forefront of your mind, of your heart, gives you the ability to remain outwardly and inwardly calm when everything else around you seems to be falling apart.

This is a great way to think about the Christian life of faith. It is through faith we believe God’s presence is here and is real. It is through faith we believe the promises of God will stand firm and last eternally. It is though faith we believe we can do all that Christ calls us to. This faith is also a gift from God (Romans 12).

I invite you to take some time today and thank God for His presence. Seek him throughout your day because he is guiding you and is forming you to be a vessel to share his love and his grace. Everything around us does not have to be perfect; but we should remember we have a perfect God that is all around us and within us.

Cookie Cutters?

Romans 12:4 “We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us had the same function, same mindset, same gifts and talents as each other? Wouldn’t that make life easier? I know we say (and hopefully tease), “If only [insert name or group] would think (or act) just like me, then everything would be right.” After all, I am the one that is always right, correct?

Sometimes I believe we slip into the mindset and attitudes that it would be so much better if everyone else acted and thought just like we do. One of the beauties of the creativeness of God is how much diversity is out there for us to enjoy. Let’s be honest, we like diversity and can get a little bored of the same thing over and over. We like to make choices.

We are not all “cut out of the same mold.” We are all created individually with specific gifts, talents, interests, preferences, etc. This is one of the beautiful parts of our world – how much diversity there is. Yes, we all have differing gifts and talents. Yes, we live in different communities and countries. But I believe this shows the creativity of God.

What this tells me is that we are all part of the same “body.” I also think of this as community of faith or universal church. The body of Christ is the church here on earth. Each part of the body has different functions, and this is what makes the body work.

The challenge I think we have today is to think about the diversity there is around us and how we are really all (hopefully) working toward the same goal. There are people we do not agree with; but this is an opportunity to be thankful and praise God for their gifts and talents being used to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. You and I have a great part to play, even though we may have different functions.

God should be praised daily for the diversity.