PRAYER & CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 36:5-9 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like the great deep; How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. For with you is the fountain of life;
In your light do we see light.
GRACE & ASSURANCE — Psalm 32
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
The picture you see above is the Harding Memorial, which contains the crypts of the 29th U.S. president, Warren G. Harding, and his wife Florence. It is in Marion, Ohio. His former home is also there and can be toured at certain times, along with a nearby museum. He was elected in 1920 with 60% of the popular vote, considered a landslide. Many historians believe his election was a reaction to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, and a desire to set the country on a different path.
He was a conservative Republican and enacted many policies popular at the time. Taxes were reduced and wartime restrictions were lifted on business. He championed less government intervention in business. He was also known as a supporter of equal rights for women and racial minorities. He chose to govern by choosing strong cabinet members who were experts in their fields. Unfortunately, some of those cabinet members turned out to be self-serving and committed to their own wealth and status rather than that of the country. A few of them committed crimes that eventually led to their conviction and imprisonment. Harding died from a heart attack on a west coast trip in 1923. His legacy was that he was a man with good intentions, ideas, and attitude. He was also a man who lacked the backbone to stand up to his “friends” and appointees, who took advantage of his easygoing and generally hands-off management style. Their scandals came to light after his death.
For me he stands as a reminder that even though we might have the best intentions, we are human and we sin. We might know how to follow God properly, but sometimes lack the strength to always follow the best course. God can and will forgive our weaknesses if we have accepted Christ. I would like to conclude this week by providing 3 quotes from Mr. Harding, followed by a Proverb that supports their message:
“Inherent rights are from God, and the tragedies of the world originate in their attempted denial.”
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)
“We must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation.”
“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” (Proverbs 11:14)
“I am not fit for this office and never should have been here.”
“The Lord mocks the mockers but is gracious to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34)
Lord, we know we are weak and sinful. Help us stay dedicated to your purpose of having us spend eternity with You through belief in Jesus as our savior. Help us to be effective examples and spokespeople for You. We will never be perfect, but Jesus is.
Revelation 4:11, 5:11-13 Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
Yet I am always with you;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
And my portion forever.
This past Sunday we shared in Paul’s message in Philippians 3 encouraging us to follow the correct examples of faith and behavior as believers. Paul reminds us of our ultimate reward at the very end of chapter 3 (“…the Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body”). He then begins chapter 4 with a “Therefore…”, which always prompts us to ask what that word is there for. I believe chapter 4 is one of Paul’s greatest chapters in any letter. Somehow, I happened to think of a chapter from another of Paul’s letters that seems to directly parallel his thoughts in chapters 3 and 4. It also begins with “Therefore”:
“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.” (Ephesians 4:1-4)
The consistency of the theme and language in these chapters is striking. Both Philippians 4 and Ephesians 4 are a call to believers for humility, gentleness, and unity in the faith. It is clear what Paul wants to teach believers—be unified in Christ and the Spirit, and work to strengthen each other. Believers have the same needs and should have the same focus in whatever place they happen to live. We have the same goal—to one day be united with Christ for eternity.
How can we become united? Paul tells us. Lead a life showing Christ’s traits by example. Be humble, gentle, and patient. Allow for each others’ faults. This recipe seems simple but can prove to be difficult for us to follow. We can sometimes be self-centered, rough, and impatient with others. It will take a consistent effort in trying to see our brothers and sisters in the same way that God sees us.
Along with Ephesians 4 a song I haven’t heard in a very long time came to mind. It was Amy Grant’s first very popular Christian song, from 1979. It reminds us how God sees us and proposes that we see others in the same way. Please listen to “My Father’s Eyes”:
from Psalm 90 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
GRACE & ASSURANCE — John 3:16-18
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned,
but whoever does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Most of us who are able work to support ourselves and our families. We hope to be able to retire one day, and to not have to devote the vast majority of our waking hours to work. Yet many who retire still work in some capacity at least part time. For some, their work is their life, and they have a difficult time giving up their jobs.
Louise Kobs recently retired as a school crossing guard for the Levittown School District on Long Island at the age of 91. She began the job with the Nassau County Police Department at 50 and worked at it for over 40 years. In all those years, she reportedly never missed a day due to sickness or any other reason. She says that she kept going because she loved the children. “Those were my children. I loved them all. I watched them grow up.” (www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/91-year-old-new-york-crossing-guard-retires-41-years-life-feels-complete). She saw many kids grow up, become parents, and then have their own kids for her to watch. She followed, “I didn’t want to disappoint them…They looked forward to seeing me when they turned the corner.” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said, “We should all take a little lesson [from her] about the importance of our jobs and what they mean to other people and not just ourselves.” He especially recognized her commitment to her job, and her love for the community. “I’ve had great cops I’ve worked with, and I’ve had great civilians that I’ve worked with, but she by far surpasses most because of her dedication.”
The article did not mention Louise’s faith. Her attitude toward her job and its value to others certainly demonstrates the attitude that I believe Scripture indicates we should have.
“Slaves, obey you earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9)
In our current day we are not slaves. However, we do serve employers who expect good service and our best effort. How can we meet expectations? Think like Louise Kobs. She took ownership of her job and realized that she had a real impact on people when she worked. Some might think their job doesn’t matter much to God unless they are a minister or church employee of some type. Wrong. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”
Louise may not have known how much she was appreciated for the job that she did until she retired. I fear that many of us work long hours and wonder why—that no matter how much we do or how hard we work, nobody seems to notice or care. God does!
PRAYER & CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 103:1-5
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
GRACE & ASSURANCE — Psalm 103:11-12
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
On the day of this message, February 1, my mind returns to this date in 2015. At roughly 6 a.m. I was awakened by a call from a nurse at the extended care facility where my father was living. He had passed from his earthly life sometime during the night. He had a variety of ailments that brought him pain. He had battled prostate cancer and its treatments for about 8 years. He experienced weakness in his bones and in his spine, where the cancer had spread. He suffered from a surgically repaired hip that had been broken, that didn’t allow him freedom of movement and the ability to get himself around. His kidneys stopped working a couple of times, which required hospitalization. He had arterial problems that restricted blood flow from his heart. Through all of these issues he remained thankful to God and praised Him. Those who worked with him at the facility always reported his positive attitude and faith to me.
He was living in North Olmsted, and I was living in the Columbus area through the week. I would come up on weekends and spend time visiting with him. I couldn’t really do anything on my own to help him physically (except let the medical personnel help him), so I prayed. I prayed for his healing. I wanted his kidneys to be healed. I asked for his hip to be healed so that he could move about normally under his own power. I asked for the pain in his back to disappear. I prayed that he would have the strength to keep up with the therapy prescribed for him. I prayed that his faith and positive attitude would remain strong.
Some of those prayers were answered in the way that I would have liked. His faith and attitude were strong. He did have some relief from pain and suffering at times. But his overriding physical problems did not disappear. He was never able to return to live at home like I hoped he could one day. During his final few months of life, there were a few moments when I sat by the side of his bed, with him in an almost unconscious sleeping state. On a few occasions I heard him praying in a barely audible voice, “Lord, please take me home.” I knew he really wanted to be released from his earthly trouble. He wanted to meet Jesus and be reunited with my mom, my brother, and many other loved ones who had passed on before him.
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
My dad and I had conflicting prayers regarding his situation. I believe both of us lived according to God’s general will, that is following Christ’s guidance and teaching, and trusting in Him. Yet God’s specific will in that particular occasion was not yet apparent. It became apparent when Dad was able to go home to meet Jesus. His prayers for that outcome were answered, while mine for prolonged life for him were not. Does that mean that God loved my dad more than me? Of course not—just that my dad’s prayers aligned with God’s specific will in that situation.
On the Mount of Olives before His arrest, Jesus prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He lived a life more in accordance with His Father’s will than any of us ever could hope to do. He also knew that God’s purpose for Him would take precedence over His own desires and will.
My thoughts this week arose from two events: remembering my father’s passing, and the wonderful report James gave us yesterday about the birth of Harrison and Olivia’s daughter Melania. God’s will through the successful birth brought joy to all who prayed for this little girl. If the birth had not been successful, it would have been more difficult for all to find joy. But the source and reason for our ultimate joy would have remained—God knows best. It is easy to feel joy when God’s will aligns with our will, and our prayers are answered accordingly. It is more difficult to feel joy when we realize that our will for a certain outcome did not match His.
Lord, thank you for knowing us and knowing what we need physically and spiritually. Help us to be thankful for our prayers that you answer positively. Help us to be just as thankful when you answer negatively, because your judgment for our needs is perfect while ours is imperfect. Above all, help us to keep praying and seeking your guidance.