What is your armor for the season this year? What have you done to prep for the summer months? What have you done to take stock of your past year—fiscally, academically, and more, during a slower season? Will your armor be new running clothes? Will you take that armor and strengthen your heart and body by running? Is the armor a reliable car that takes deliveries to the local food bank? Will you use it to strengthen your sense of responsibility to others and your sense of community? Will your armor be a journal or prayer book? Will you use that armor to stay close to God and to enhance your spirituality? Whatever accessories you choose to add to your full Armor of God, I hope you maintain them as valuable additions.
I’ve mentioned before that, when the seasons change, a lot of dynamics change. Sometimes our family gets more demanding. Sometimes we don’t have as much work or financial resources as we want or need. Other times, people feel a renewed sense of self with the advent of more sunshine or a renewed feeling of hope for the rest of the year, regardless of the events of the first six months. We all need to be mindful of our goals for the year. Often, this is the time of year to handle such things. When the sun is shining, the nice weather can provide us ample opportunities for home improvement, travel, connecting with others, and getting ourselves in shape, to name a few initiatives. We can use this marked change in many of our environments to make a big change in ourselves. We can relish the sense of renewal we may feel and maintain whatever new sense of self, strength, or spirituality we may be experiencing.
However, from time to time, what we need to remind ourselves of is the tendency to rest too much can cause us to become complacent. We must be careful not to allow the entire summer to pass us by without making a single improvement. I am going to challenge you to create a simple list of initiatives. I want us all to pick FIVE things that we need to improve or do more frequently and FIVE things that we need to begin scaling back or stopping in our behaviors and daily activities. For example, we might add big initiatives to the list, such as reaching out to estranged family or looking into finishing a college degree. Or we might add smaller things to the list, such as going to the dentist more often or beginning to eat healthier foods. It should be interesting to see how the lists correlate or cross in some ways. Take the challenge and check back to see what awaits in the next post. It is a new season, and it is time to live stronger every day.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Nobody likes to be reminded they aren’t perfect. And yet, we all know that’s the case.
When I spoke a few weeks back about Moses’ struggles with speech in Exodus 4:10-12, I mentioned that God gave us our imperfections to humble us and to show us that we must trust in Him to allow us to achieve what we have to achieve even without every gift.
That is an important lesson for us to absorb. None of us have all the gifts needed to achieve anything, and yet, we are all capable of great achievement because God is there to make up the difference. God expands us and fills in where our very noticeable cracks are. We are imperfect, but through God, we can still accomplish anything.
God has designed us with these imperfections partly to remind us of His presence. If you were perfect, how often do you think you would be thanking God for what you have? More likely, you’d be demanding more. Our imperfection draws us to God. Our imperfections leads us towards the one, true perfection.
But there is another purpose in our imperfection, and that can be seen in the verses from 1 Corinthians 12 above. An important key to our imperfection is that we are more perfect together. Each of us has our weaknesses. We know them in ourselves, we see them in others. But we all, also, have our strengths. God’s gifts are spread through the whole of humanity, so that our search for greater perfection leads not just to Him but to our friends, our family, our neighbors, and strangers as well.
This is part of the glory of church: its ability to increase my faith and your faith by putting our faiths together. Likewise, my gifts shared with your gifts allow us to achieve even greater things. Moses may have led his people out of Egypt, but he needed Aaron and Zipporah and Joshua and many others by his side to lead them to the Promised Land.
Imperfection means we need each other. It means we have to rely on God and community to get beyond our shortfalls. As Paul says, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
With Easter just behind us, it also behooves us to remember that only one man has ever been born perfect. Jesus Christ was the only man ever able to save humanity on His own, to face down the devil on His own, to lead humanity all on His own; and even He chose to make His way in a community, to live amongst people, and to bring people closer together.
We would do well to heed that lesson and appreciate more the gifts others bring to us. We are better for having others along with us. No matter our successes or our failures, God wants us to share it all with family, friends, and community.
Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
I want to take a moment to return to one of my previous sermons. Back on the first Sunday of March, I preached about the confirmations God has offered all of us in our pasts which allow us to recognize the promise He has put in front of us. Or, as I put it then: God removes the “what ifs” in your life to confirm His strength to create your “what’s next.”
At the time, I focused on the story of Moses in Exodus 4:1-9, in which God shows Moses signs to confirm His ability to guide Moses to achieving the most incredible liberation for his people. Moses knew his people would be skeptical, and that made him skeptical as well, but God was there to show just what can be achieved when He is behind you.
Here, I’d like to move beyond Moses and further examine this idea by considering perhaps the greatest example of early confirmation leading to great promise. I want to consider the amount of trust required of the apostles to believe in the promise of the resurrection.
We all know that their faith wasn’t always strong. Doubts undeniably crept in, particularly in the darkest hours before Christ returned. Peter denied Him three times, and the others fled and hid when the going got tough. And yet, when He rose again, all (save Thomas) believed in Him immediately.
We often pass over that point in the story. Of course they believed, we think, God was standing right in front of them, offering them salvation. But if we honestly put ourselves in their places, I think we’ll discover a number of us would be more skeptical. So, what made the difference?
The answer, as we saw with Moses, is confirmation. How many miracles had the apostles witnessed? They had seen Christ heal the sick, feed the hungry, bring sight to the blind. God had confirmed His Son over and over to them. He had already changed their lives—and many lives around them—dramatically and repeatedly. He had already saved them. And they had witnessed Him saving others.
All of that gave them enough faith to carry them through witnessing Christ “being mocked and flogged and crucified” and allowed them to see Him with eyes open.
Ask yourself, how many times did you come back from a place you were told you couldn’t come back from? How many illnesses have you and your loved ones overcome? How many jobs have you found when it looked like there weren’t any jobs to get? How many lucky turns and lucky escapes have you been a part of when it looked like you were heading for a dead end?
How many crosses has God removed from your back?
I want you to look back at those moments in your own life and remind yourself just how God has confirmed His favor and love in you over and over. Just as the apostles were ready to accept the resurrection and how that would change their lives, we all have to be ready for the call God makes to each of us. He’s brought you to this moment for a purpose; remember to be bold and trust in where He is taking you next.
Exodus 3:13-14 (NIV)
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Let me ask you something. How are you and God doing? What have your stretched circumstances done to the condition of your faith? When faced with your current situation, are you wondering about His relevance in your life?
I know that collectively, we are going through some difficult times right now. Individually, you are all going through something too. Maybe you’re enduring one of the toughest circumstances you’ve ever had to battle. Perhaps now you find yourself questioning God like Moses did. You’re doubting your relevance to God, and you’re doubting His relevance in your life. You know exactly who He is, but His absence, His lack of intervention during this struggle, is making you question everything.
You’re thinking, He used to help me. Why is He ignoring me now? We can all name a time when God intervened in our lives and blew our minds with His power. So why isn’t He stepping in now? You’re suspicious of God’s actions or lack thereof, even though you know He knows what’s best.
You’re being pushed and pulled this way and that way, and the circumstance has been so bad for so long that you wonder if you’ve lost your relevance. Even good news falls on deaf ears. You’re questioning if anything will help you or bring your life meaning again.
Gripping circumstances will do that to us, won’t they? They’ll make us believe so little, we find ourselves allowing our problems to define or confine God when we all know He is transcendent to our circumstances.
And what I have to say to you is this:
I am that I am!
Whether you’re suffering or soaring, God has eternal relevance. He will be present and take action in your life when He needs to. Understand this: nothing that happens from cradle to grave goes without passing through God’s providence. Every encounter, every battle, every step you take—whether painful or promising—He’s using this to make you His disciple. Maybe you think He’s taking too long. You can complain all you want, but God will still take you where you need to go, when you need to go. He is above human cognition; just when you think you have Him figured out, He will prove to you that you don’t even have an inkling of an idea as to what He has going on.
God exists above your circumstances. Don’t give your unfortunate circumstances the power to influence your faith. Let your faith shape your circumstances.
There are two months in the early part of every year when we are reminded of God’s deep and abiding love for us.
The first is February when we celebrate Black History Month and the second is March when we enter the 40 days of Lent.
What do these two months teach us? How can they change our lives? How can they deepen our understanding and bring us closer to God?
Let’s begin with Black History Month as it just came to a close.
This month was bittersweet as it is every year.
We rejoiced and celebrated so many of our blessings. We celebrated our accomplishments. We recounted our victories to our children and grandchildren. We were reminded of our journey, like so many of the great Biblical journeys in Scripture. It was a month of hope. We thanked those whose love shines like a beacon lighting our way forward.
But it was also a month of remembrance. We remembered our history. We remembered the sacrifices that were made. We remembered our heroes who loved us, fought for us and who died in the hope of a better life for all of us who came after.
Joy and sorrow. These are the two sides of our coin. And what do we learn from our history? We learn one of Christ’s greatest teachings. We learn that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV).
And then we have Lent.
Most of us think that Lent is about giving something up through fasting and abstinence. Denying ourselves some of the treats we love in order to honor Christ and His 40 day fast before His crucifixion. We think of emptying ourselves of temptations.
But Lent is also a time to fill ourselves up with scripture and prayer.
Lent is a time to think about the lessons of love which God teaches us. As we read in Joel 2:13 (NIV), “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity…”
And so these two months, Black History Month and the month of Lent both reinforce the greatest commandment of the New Testament that of all God’s gifts, the greatest is love.
Let’s make sure we don’t just think of love for two months but for the entire year.