2 Corinthians 5:16-21 MSG
“Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”
When we lived in Lancaster, PA, one of my favorite activities was going to the First Fridays event downtown. We always had a wonderful time. People from all walks of life gathered together and listened to great music. The diverse population came to enjoy the restaurants, antique stores, street performers and musicians. People came and enjoyed the event side by side. In many other places and on many other days people were judged and evaluated by their looks, occupation, economic status and racial background, but on First Friday people were people sharing this time together.
Today's Scripture reminds us that during the time of Jesus people were also judged just like us. The people of his hometown thought he couldn't be the Messiah or some great healer or teacher because he was just the kid from down the street -- Mary and Joseph's son. However, eventually people saw him for who he is -- our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
We are reminded that when we come together and unite as followers of Jesus Christ, we have Christ in common. In our relationship with Christ, we learn that we are also joined together with our fellow believers, for in Him our differences become less so. We are connected together through our ties as children of God. Being a child of God means the life is never as good as when we live into our calling and following God's path for our lives.
Watching people who couldn't get along join in conversation, reflection and singing bring joy to our face and to God's. God deeply seeks time with us in prayer, meditation and action. God also calls us to live together, sharing our brokenness and seeking forgiveness from God and each other. In such discussions as these does accountability yield unity. We wonder how life went on as long as it did with us living into our brokenness and expectations that are never fulfilled.
Still God reaches out to us heart to heart and calls us to live faithfully into God's blessings for friendship, fellowship, and forgiveness. Together these three show us how to love and be loved as we are united in Christ.
Prayer: Lord, remind us that you are our God and we love you. Help us to choose life over death, and peace over conflict. May our lives reflect your call to us and our faithful response.
2 Corinthians 5:6-15
"Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions. Sooner or later we’ll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad. That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That’s why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care. We’re not saying this to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that we’re on your side and not just nice to your face as so many people are. If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you. Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do."
- 2 Corinthians 5:9b-13 MSG
When I was in High School, I couldn’t stand my fellow female classmates. Not all of them, but a lot of them. So many would smile and be nice to your face but work actively behind your back to poke fun, belittle or hold grudges. There were many days I wished the girls would handle things like the guys, by duking it out, coming to a resolution and then remaining friends.
Our Scripture passage for today reminds us how far Paul would go for the believers at Corinth. Paul was willing to act crazy for God and yet be so serious about the Gospel for the sake of the people. He had given his whole life and risked much so that others could hear, believe in Jesus Christ and live as a follower and disciple of him.
There were times when it was hard to cheerfully please God. Paul was arrested and imprisoned more than once and yet he praised God just as much from prison as out of it. He sang songs of praise to God when he had enough food and when he lacked it, in jail and out of jail, when things were going well and when things were difficult.
Continually Paul thought about how well he was preparing the people for the days when Christ would return, when they would stand before the judgment seat of God and would need to account for their actions. We may wonder today what that would be like, just like Paul did.
Are we all in too? We are taught to love God and our neighbor and yet we find it can be difficult to love and be loved. There are days I wonder if this idea of preparing for the hour when we will approach the throne of grace as a moment we would prefer would never arrive. Still, we seek to hear on that day, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. May our days together prepare us for that day and remind us that God is calling for us to live into God’s will and be all in with our Lord and our God.
Prayer: O Lord our God, we thank you for your preparations and call to follow you. Help us to ready our hearts, minds and spirits go where you lead. May we respond in love and grace, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
With God's Eyes
2 Corinthians 4:1-2,16-18 MSG
“Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.....So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
When I was a little girl I hated wearing my glasses. I used to find all sorts of places to hide, lose or liberate them. I left them in a drawer when we were moving my aunt, up in trees, by the pool and anywhere I thought of to “lose” them. The problem was that without my glasses I couldn't see things clearly. As time progressed I began to understand how important seeing clearly really is. Whenever a new idea was pitched at work, school or in the church setting, I tried to discover a 3D picture. My brain sought as hard as possible to see a fuller picture of what was needed.
Developing a three dimensional picture or vision is just as important in our relationship with God. As we grow in our relationships with one another and God we begin to see how we sin and fall short. There are times we are willing to open our eyes and see the brokenness that God sees every day. However there are many times when we choose to not see the pride, greed, fear, and brokenness all around us. Choosing to see the struggles in the lives of others is the first step to seeing through God’s eyes.
The God we worship and serve is loving and faithful, always willing to be in the midst of success and challenge, struggle and joy. We may try to put our best image forward, but God always knows our heart and responds with love, fulfilling our innermost needs.
There are times when we choose to not see the pain in the eyes of another, but God never chooses to leave or to be emotionally-absent. God is present in all ways, showing us the perfect peace of Jesus Christ.
During this Lenten season, we are reminded of God’s call to Christ to be present and respond always in love. May we feel encouraged that God is always reaching out to us in love and reminding us that God is faithful, loving, compassionate and always present in our lives.
Prayer: Lord, guide us on our journey, helping us to see you more clearly and respond in love. May all we do proclaim your peace. Open our hearts to see you and living as children of your Light and Hope. Amen.
Luke 13:1-9 MSG
About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Jesus responded, “Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die. And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.” Then he told them a story: “A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’ “The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’”
For centuries, people have thought that bad things happened because of sin. It was assumed that illness, birth defects, mental health issues, accidents and death happened because the person or their family must have done something. However, we learn in Scripture that this is not necessarily how God works.
The God we worship and serve is One who continues to reach out to us in love and seeks for us to join with God in God's plan for the world. God has set in motion a plan to bring us all back to a life of following God's way and working together to fulfill the Kingdom of God. This means that going our own way is not how our Almighty God seeks for us to live. Instead, we are encouraged to participate in producing good fruit for God.
In today's Scripture, this parable of Jesus speaks about an apple tree. This apple tree was unique in that it had a beautiful shape, many green and healthy leaves, a strong trunk and appeared by the testimony of others perfect for bearing good fruit. However no fruit came. The man got so frustrated that he was ready to be done with this tree forever.
We are like this tree. There are times when we are so focused upon what we think life is about that we do not focus on what is important to God. We do not take time to reflect upon how to best live and follow Jesus. When we never turn our hearts over to God we continue in the old way of living where what we want is most important.
However, we have been given a second chance too. God has asked us how important following God's will is to each of us. When we realize that changing our focus actually brings healing and peace in our lives, then we begin to understand what hope looks like and feels like for each one of us. Turning to God means we will choose God first in our lives. May this Lent be a time of seeing God with new eyes and responding in love. May we be fruit-bearers for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for showing us what following you looks like. Help us to see your call and respond in peace and love. May be continue to bear good fruit for and with abundance. Amen.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
"Remember our history, friends, and be warned....We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them. These are all warning markers--danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can."
- I Corinthians 10:1, 9-14 MSG
One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it is full of folks who have screwed up and made some really big mistakes, just like me. Some of the mistakes are much larger than I can imagine making. The decisions that were made weren't made overnight. Little steps over the line added up and then they moved far from where they would have ever gone-- far from where God wanted.
It seems that we can rationalize almost anything. We do it every day. Sometimes we even experience some folks that believe that they have no need for God, that all they need in life they can achieve on their own. This is what this passage warns us about. When this Scripture says to not be naive and self-confident, it is reminding us that when we trust more in ourselves than in God we will always get into trouble.
We all have times when life doesn't go our way, when we feel overwhelmed with the trials of life. In those times, if we remember that "our help comes in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:2 NRSV), we can begin moving toward the answers and help that we seek. However, if we do not remember to trust in God, we miss an excellent opportunity to begin moving toward resolution, health and wholeness through the power of God.
Cultivating God-confidence means that with God nothing is impossible. God makes the impossibilities in our lives' realities. No matter what life is dealing us on a particular day, God doesn't leave us alone to languish but is right there with us in the trenches, even when we dig them ourselves. That doesn't mean the we will not have consequences for our actions, but what it does mean that God will help us find our way through and be a peace again in our souls.
When we cultivate confidence that God is a God that will keep reaching out to us in love, then I believe it becomes much easier to keep trusting in God and following the plan God has in store for us. God has great blessings and wonderful opportunities waiting for us, but we need to say yes. We need to sign on as a follower of Jesus Christ, living a life of love and peace, justice and compassion, as we reach out to a hurting and broken world with the healing words and work of Jesus Christ. May this be a journey we are willing to sign on for and live into together.
Prayer: Almighty and Ever-Present God, thank you for sharing your abiding love with us. Help us to cultivate God-confidence in our lives as we trust you more deeply every day. May you help us to have the courage to follow you in times when it is easy and when it is difficult. Indeed, may your will be done in us and in our world. Amen.
Rev. Laura C. Kelsey, Author
Rev. Kelsey is proud to pastor the First Presbyterian Church of Pontiac, MI. Together with the faithful and loving worshipping community at FPC. she enjoys sharing God's Word with others, working to help folks experience God's love and discern their direction in life, and lovingly reach out to the greater Pontiac community.