A Little Can Take You A Long Way

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Mark 8:15 And [Jesus] cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

A typical bread recipe calls for one quarter ounce of yeast. It also can call for up to seven cups of flour. That is an incredible ratio of yeast to flour to provide rising. A little bit truly goes a long way.

That’s true for so many aspects of our existence. For some people, addiction can happen after the first use of certain substances like nicotine or harder drugs. A little bit goes a long way to influencing a person’s life and behavior. Pornography has the same effect and probably happens faster. Images impress themselves on the brain and the neuro pathways are rewired. Gossip can be addicting. Almost anything you can think of can become a problem from just a small taste.

Jesus warns sternly using two verbs that have different aspects of the word “see”. Look to it and see. Pay attention to what you see. Watch out. This is a dangerous road. The leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of the Herods are a slippery, enticing slope. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says that the leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. That is they say one thing in public and do another in private. It is a worthy warning as it is easy to fall into that trap with anything. The addictions that I mentioned above are examples of things done in the dark and not talked about in the light. That’s where they get their power. By remaining concealed, they control the addicted.

The leaven of the Herods would have been power and earthly gain. Clearly this hasn’t changed. A little bit of power goes to your head and earthly gain quickly becomes an obsession or a driver. Jesus warns that to give in to this is a bad thing. His disciples weren’t to be guided by earthly gain. Beware of the lure of materialism and power.

We know that a little goes a long way, in both good and bad ways. There was a song we used to sing in Sunday School, “Be careful little eyes what you see..” It had a ring of truth though it was probably a little scary and painted God out to be kind of like Santa. But it’s still a good warning for us. We need reminders every so often to be careful what we get ourselves into. Be careful which groups we join or what we allow to influence our thoughts and behaviors. My friends, watch out. The slopes are slippery in either direction.

Let’s pray,

Dear Jesus, help us to keep our eyes open and our senses tuned to the things that influence us. Strengthen our faith by Your Holy Spirit so that we wouldn’t give in to those things that negatively control our hearts. Let Your Word once again be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Amen.

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Share God’s Story

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Mark 5:18-19, As [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. And [Jesus] did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

This is the purest form of evangelism, in my opinion. Telling the story or telling your story. The man whom Jesus had freed from demon possession wanted to follow Jesus and be one of his disciples. It is a good and admirable thing to want to follow Jesus wherever he may go. But it was not to be for this fellow. He had a job that was much more important. He had a story to tell. He had his story to tell.

One problem with personal testimonies is that they quickly devolve into self-aggrandizing tales. Rather than focusing on the work of God, the story is all about the individual and God takes a back seat. This is especially dangerous when the person sharing the testimony doesn’t have a personal connection with the listeners. It is detached from the shared story. Not all testimonies suffer from this issue, but many do.

The story that the man would share would be about God, not about himself. Jesus says, “…tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Who is the subject of the story? The Lord is the actor here, not the man. The man is passive recipient of the mercies of God. The man didn’t send the demons out of himself. The man didn’t cure his own possession. It was all Jesus. He did it all for the man. That’s the story to be told. That’s the story to be shared.

Jesus sends the man back to his home and his friends. These are people who knew him before he was possessed and throughout his time in the mountains and caves. They knew who he was before the legion had overtaken him. It’s likely that many of his friends and family missed him and wanted to help him but couldn’t. These are the people who need to hear his story. They need the before and after picture. They’re the only ones who could truly appreciate the impact that God has had on the man. They share the story with him.

There is nothing wrong with sharing your story with perfect strangers. Some may hear it and take it to heart. But there’s something about sharing your story with those who know you best that changes things. We take the words of Jesus today and listen, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Share your story about all the things God has done for you and the forgiveness and salvation that he has given to you.

Let’s Pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for all that you have done for me and the mercy and grace that you have given to me. Help me to share the story in whatever way and with whomever you may desire. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Go About Your Business

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Mark 1:43-44 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Nothing to see here. Move along. Go about your business. Don’t make a big deal about things.

I honestly think Jesus did not want this man whom he had healed to say anything. Some might figure that Jesus knew the man would tell everyone and so it was a bit of reverse psychology. I don’t think that Jesus works that way. He didn’t want the man to make things more difficult by bringing unnecessary attention. He wanted the man to go about his business. Do the things that were customary and lawful.

Lutherans are good at keeping their excitement to themselves. Perhaps too good? We don’t normally get emotional or enthusiastic about much, especially those of us of German descent or Scandinavian heritage. We go about our business. In worship, after a beautiful soloist sings, we wait for a moment of silence and then move on to the next reading. It’s not wrong, just going about our business.

The man was healed. Like the ten lepers in Luke 17, Jesus gave the instructions as was lawful and fitting to the situation. But word got out and the excitement grew. It couldn’t be contained. Mark notes that Jesus was no longer able to openly go into a town. In other words, it made ministry difficult for Jesus. It may have been better for Jesus if the former lepers had just done what they were instructed to do. Go about your business.

Hind sight is 20/20, so they say. What do we learn from this reading? One thing we can see is that Jesus does mean what he says, even when we don’t follow directions. Another thing is that Jesus doesn’t take back the blessing he gave even when we don’t follow directions. Jesus knew what he was doing and knew that things wouldn’t be easy, but he did them anyway. In the same way, his work on the cross was never intended to be easy, but he doesn’t take back the blessing of forgiveness that comes from that work.

Let’s go about our business. Let’s move along. There is nothing more to see on the cross. Go and do what is fitting and right. Worship with whatever emotion you wish to express. Tell others about the great works that God has done in your life. Share the good news of salvation in Christ. Go about your business.

Let’s pray

We thank you, Jesus, for your healing work and your saving grace. Guide us in our day to day so that we may do what you instructed and give our praise to you. Amen.

Sunburn and Sonscreen

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Genesis 1:16 And God made the two great lights- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars.

So my family and I just returned from a visit to the sunshine state of Florida. It was a good time of family visiting and play. The encounter with the “greater light” that rules the day was another story. I love the sun, don’t get me wrong, but the sun is no friend of ours. We need the vitamin D and the warmth the sun provides, but too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Sun burn stings. It can do significant damage to our frail skin. That’s why we wear clothes. It’s not just about modesty but about safety. After spending a day on a boat out on the Gulf of Mexico, the greater light lit me up. Even with preventative measures, there wasn’t much to be done against the broiler that is the sun. Now, it is true that we knew what we were doing and knew the consequences of our actions and knew beforehand that no matter what we did, the greater light was going to have its way. Its all about recovery and hydration and aloe now.

I simply can’t imagine what it was like in the original, perfect creation to have a sun that heated the earth perfectly and gave just the right amount of warmth and light.

It’s no wonder that so many ancient cultures worshiped the sun as a god. The power that comes from it is unmatched. The good that it can do is amazing and the damage that can be done by it is frightening. But greater still is the power of the one who created the sun. God Himself is unmatched in power, goodness, and strength. He is still perfect and is unchanged by the corruption of sin that has affected all of creation, even the sun.

And He is our God. The maker of heaven and earth, the greater light and the lesser light. He is the one who loves His creation enough to sacrifice His only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from certain destruction.

Are you ready for all of the puns and word play that come with this?

The only protection from sin is Son screen… The sun is bright but the Son is brighter… You may have to reapply sunscreen, but Son screen only needs to be put on once (in baptism).

Let’s pray,

We thank you, Heavenly Father, for the sun and the Son. Amen.

Forgiveness Can’t Be Bought

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John 2:15…And making a whip of cords, [Jesus] drove them all out of the temple with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.

The joke of the used car salesman has a long history. “What will it take to get you to sign on the dotted line?” Bargaining, haggling, bartering, and wheeling-n-dealing are part and parcel to the process. Even before there was a system of money, there was a system of bartering and everything had a price. This translated into a transactional approach to God as well. Idols and other gods all needed to be appeased and pleased. Sacrifices were made, sometimes awful sacrifices. But the happiness of the gods had a price.

For the Israelite’s, God’s chosen people, everything had a price. In Leviticus, an elaborate sacrificial system was put in place to cover the cost of anything. From a pigeon to an ox, peace and sin had prices. This led to the false conclusion that forgiveness could be bought. Make no mistake. Sin indeed has a price tag. There is no earthly sacrifice that can pay for sin completely. Death is the payment that sin demands. In the first system, that death was the death of animals. In the completion of that system, that death was the death of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.

We still slip into that old idea that we can somehow bargain with God or barter with Him. But forgiveness can’t be bought. We have nothing to bargain with and God does not haggle. Jesus drove out the money changers and those who sold the animals for the sacrifices, perhaps not as much out of anger but maybe in the sense that they weren’t needed anymore. After all, Jesus was there. He was there to fulfill everything and pay every price. The pigeons, sheep, and oxen weren’t necessary. So, they might as well leave.

Frankly, I am thankful that forgiveness can’t be bought. I know I don’t have two pennies to rub together when it comes to that. Jesus Christ has paid that price for me. He bought my forgiveness by being crucified, dying, shedding his own blood, and taking my place. Jesus did that not just for my sins but for the sins of the whole world, of all time and in all places. Forgiveness can’t be bought because forgiveness has already been purchased by Jesus.

Let’s pray.

Dear Jesus, thank you for paying the price for my forgiveness. As you have paid that price for all people, may all people realize the price you paid for them. To you we pray, amen.

Flowing Water

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Zechariah 13:1 “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”

Can you wash your hands in stagnant pond water? Not particularly well, I think. Do you go to a puddle outside to rinse your laundry? Not a chance, you say. Would you kneel down and drink from the melted snow in the driveway? Only if you were a dog. The problem with these sources of water is that they are not flowing, moving, or being refreshed. They simply sit there and collect and then dry up.

In Genesis, chapter 7, we read of the great flood that God used to scour the earth. It wasn’t a gentle drizzle. In fact, it says that the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of heaven were opened. To me, that says that a whole lot of flowing water poured out and shot up from the earth. It was a fountain, flowing water, for cleansing.

When we tell our kids to wash their hands, we expect them to use running water. You need the movement to sweep away the dirt. When we wash our clothes, the washing machine or the river if you live in underdeveloped areas moves the dirt away with flowing water. When we drink, the water is the freshest if it has recently been flowing, not just sitting out. To get things clean and refreshed, we need moving water.

Jesus said in John chapter 7, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus is that fountain that Zechariah prophesied. He is the one, the fountain, the flowing water that cleanses from sin and uncleanness. It was water that flowed from his side as he hung on the cross. It was his blood that flowed to wash away our sin. Today, baptism is that fountain, the water that flows that washes us clean.

Heavenly Father, thanks for the flowing water, the fountain and source of all goodness, Jesus Christ, your Son. May your Holy Spirit remind me daily of the washing away of my sins. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Eat to Your Health

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Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Food and water are essential to life. All of life needs some form of nutrition and hydration. I don’t know how many billions of dollars are tied up in the diet/water/food business, but I’m sure the number wouldn’t surprise you. Every time you turn around there is a new way to eat. Diet programs are a dime a dozen. Keto, paleo, or burrito diets can be helpful, but they can also become all consuming. And the judgement that comes from different ways of eating is shocking. Whether vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous, there is someone who judges another by what they eat.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is not talking about diets but he is talking about judgement over dietary restrictions. Eating food that was once offered to idols? Eating certain foods that were once declared ‘unclean’? Drinking wine? Not drinking wine? The arguments that Paul faced weren’t about weight loss or about health concerns. They were about spiritual matters. The crazy thing is that these arguments still happen today.

Who is the better Christian? The one who drinks or the one who doesn’t? The one who eats with non-church people or the one who only spends time with church people? The vegan or the hunter? The one who eats beef on Friday or the one who only eats fish on Friday? These are real arguments out there.

Paul is encouraging his listeners to see past this stuff. If meat is a problem and it’s going to destroy someone’s faith, then don’t eat it. The kingdom of God isn’t about this earthly food. You can be just as good a Christian eating or not eating, drinking or not drinking. All of it is God’s anyway. All of us belong to Him as well.

Eat to your health. But remember that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. God provides both.

Let’s pray,

Heavenly Father, you are the provider of all things for the good of your creation. Thank you for providing what we need each day and what is necessary for eternity. Through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we pray, amen.