Like most of you, hymns and worship songs mean a lot to me. At various times throughout the week, probably when I need their message, they pop into my mind. Sometimes other songs do too. I was reminded of a song this week that was one of those other songs from many years ago. I am sure in the past I have shared other songs by Keith Green. He was a popular Christian musician from a period about 40 years ago. He and his wife Melody wrote songs that seemed to dig to the heart of what believing in God, accepting Christ, and living for Him meant. Unfortunately he and two of his young children left their earthly lives in a plane crash when he was only 29. His wife carried on the ministry to the less fortunate that they had begun together.
The song that I would like to share speaks of the goal and attitude I would like to always bear in mind. I hope that it means the same for you. It also fits in precisely with the message of Philippians we have been studying. Please listen to “Make My Life a Prayer to You”:
As of the date I am writing this message, March 8, 2023, I am remembering my younger brother Jeff who passed from his earthly life 28 years ago today. In some ways we were alike. In other ways, very different. As young kids we were close. As we got older we drifted to our own groups of friends and didn’t hang around much together. When we reached our mid twenties I think we started to appreciate each other more. We both had an interest in photography. We were both involved in musical groups– me vocally, and Jeff as a bass and guitar player in a couple of bands (although he did sing harmony, he didn’t consider himself a singer). He had a great love of animals and had many pets, sometimes taking in one friends didn’t want any longer. Both of us loved to travel. The two years prior to his passing we took a vacation together in the summer. We went to Hawaii one year, and then to the Bahamas (Nassau/Paradise Island) the next. The year he died we were making plans to go to Aruba.
Jeff was a believer. He had struggles at different times with different aspects of life. He finally accepted that God would accept him the way he was–that he didn’t have to be perfect beforehand. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time with him when I had the chance. I wish I had gotten to know him better as an adult, and that we kept in touch better. I wish I had told him that I loved him more often. I believe he knows that I did love him, but I know I could have done much better.
This week’s encouragement is a bit different. We have family to love and people to appreciate for a period of time that is unknown to us. I would like to encourage you to make the most of your time with your family and loved ones. Get to know them and let them know that you love them. It is always tempting to think “I can do that tomorrow.” Sometimes you reach a point where you just can’t. Take advantage of the present.
I appreciate what Jeff taught me in life. I appreciate the experiences we shared–the laughter and the harder times. I appreciated having him to grow up with and be my brother. Hopefully my thoughts help you find renewed appreciation for your brothers, sisters, or others close to you.
I would like to share a song that I think of when I remember him. It helps remind me that where he is I will one day be, and that we will meet again.
Why do we need Jesus? I believe we all know that the basic answer to that is simply—sin. This week I read a psalm of David that teaches us the answer without fully knowing it himself.
“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.”
(Psalm 15, NIV)
David was living under the old covenant and was taught that the only way to please God was successfully living according to the Law. David is looking toward eternity here (“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?”). He answers according to his understanding in the next verse: “The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart;”.
I believe David’s answer was based on honest recognition of what God requires to be in His presence. He knew he needed to strive for that as a follower of God. The next few verses elaborate on behaviors that would be seen in a blameless, righteous, truthful person. I believe that without being able to realize it with his own knowledge, David pointed us to the reason we need Jesus. David could not live a life that was blameless, righteous, and truthful. Neither can we. Jesus was the only one who had a walk that was completely blameless, was truly righteous, and always spoke the truth from His heart. We have the benefit of knowing that God sent Him for us to meet the requirements that we simply cannot. Only because of His perfect life and sacrifice as a sinless offering will we be able to live with God in His tent on His holy mountain for eternity.
David was blessed as a king and leader for God. His heart was after God. We are blessed even more to see the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation. We are not perfect on our own, but Christ is more than perfect enough to stand for us!
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.
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”:
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!
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.
Many times I have heard people use the expression “The good die young.” It is often used to try to soften the effect of someone young passing away, but it is hogwash. Someone good might indeed die young. Our savior Jesus experienced His earthly death at a young age. No other human has ever been as good as He was. Noah died at the age of 950. It would be a stretch to call that young in any possible way. Yet Noah belonged to God and dedicated his life to serving Him and showing His glory. I believe Noah would be considered good. The choices we make in life can certainly affect how long we live, but the length of our earthly life doesn’t depend on our being “good” or “bad.”
I considered these thoughts because of a recent news item. Lucile Randon, known as Sister Andre, died on January 17, 2023 at the age of 118. She was recognized as the oldest living person on Earth. In 3 more weeks she would have reached 119. Sometimes at my current age I feel old and I am roughly half that age.
It is somewhat staggering to read of the things that she related as influences in her life. She spoke of learning a new word, “electricity,” when electric lights came to her school in the early 1900’s. She said that the day she felt happiest was Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I, and she was able to be reunited with her soldier brother. She lived through the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic in 1918 as a teenager. She was baptized at age 26, and dedicated herself to service as a nun in the Catholic Church with the Daughters of Charity 15 years later. She was assigned to work at a hospital in Vichy (occupied) France during World War II and worked there 31 years. She spent much of her life serving orphans and the elderly. She kept working in active service to others to the age of 108. She lived at a nursing home in Toulon, France, and became the oldest person to recover from COVID in 2021. Until her death she was recognized for trying to positively influence her neighbors.
When asked about the reason for her longevity she replied “Only the good Lord knows.” She believed that continuing to work helped keep her going. She also ate chocolate and drank a glass of wine daily. I think there is some benefit from blending enjoyment in life with fulfilling work. She echoed Paul’s belief that she would be better off in Heaven (“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:23-24)). As she aged she lost her eyesight, and had trouble hearing. Her body became weaker, but her mind and spirit kept her trying to benefit those around her. In one of her last interviews she said “People should help each other and love each other instead of hating. If we all shared that, things would be a lot better.”
I don’t know if I will die this year or if I will live to be 100. To borrow Sister Andre’s line, “Only the good Lord knows.” It is a bit overwhelming to think about living to 100. In any case her life serves as both an example and a challenge. I can only hope to be as faithful and as useful to God and His service when I am at an advanced age. Our society seems to make us feel that we become less valuable as we get older. Is it possible that in God’s sight we become even more valuable?
I can sense a question coming: “Joel, why do we see a picture of the left rear fin of a 1957 Buick Special? It isn’t particularly encouraging.” It is a reminder of a memorable time for many (although before my memory). Our country and economy were generally strong. Family and church life maintained primary importance with many people. Many even loved the bold, flashy styling of cars like this Buick.
This picture wasn’t included for any of these reasons. If you look closely in the chrome on the fin, bumper, and trim, you can see reflections of me (or at least parts of me). “Oh yeah Joel, now that you mention it, I CAN see you. At least your distorted head and some of your body and arms. Well, it doesn’t look totally like you, but I see at least a partial resemblance.”
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-12, CSB)
I believe I am generally a patient person. But there are times I find myself thinking, “Why can’t I pray more effectively?” “Why can’t I explain things better?” “Why don’t I listen as well as I should?” “Why am I not a more consistent example of Christ?” I believe Paul considered some of the same lines of thought for the benefit of all believers. In the passage above Paul mentions abilities and qualities that help us to mature. The intended meaning of the word “perfect” there is not “flawless” as we tend to understand it as modern Americans. The idea of the word (telos) in Greek is “completion,” “finish,” “end,” or “goal.” The lifetime sanctification we experience as believers leads us from being children in faith to mature adults, ready to meet Christ when He returns.
Our ultimate goal is reaching the point when the most obvious, shining characteristic we show is God’s love. It takes time—a lifetime, in fact. Our dedication to faith and hope in Christ will help us reach the finality of our development in God’s love. It may not be at the pace that we would like, but it will be at the pace God knows we need. Don’t forget the Spirit’s help. One day we won’t be an imperfect reflection, but a clear image of His love and nature!
Recently I read an article discussing our fascination with New Year’s day. It contained a quote I don’t remember reading before:
“I wish for those I love this New Year an opportunity to earn sufficient, to have that which they need for their own and to give that which they desire to others, to bring in to the lives of those about them some measure of joy, to know the satisfaction of work well done, of recreation earned and therefore savored, to end the year a little wiser, a little kinder and therefore a little happier.” (Eleanor Roosevelt, in a column from “My Day” on January 1, 1937)
I wonder how acquainted she was with The Scripture because her thoughts parallel Biblical teachings. Ecclesiastes came to my mind immediately:
“This is what I observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)
Intertwined in her words is the message of Jesus in Matthew 7:9-12:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
I think sometimes I miss the gifts of God in my present because I am either dwelling in my past or yearning for my future. I am reminded of a quote by Allen Saunders (often incorrectly attributed to John Lennon, who later used it in a song): “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” Sometimes our past offers motivation—we either want to repeat something that worked well for us, or change something that didn’t. Our future, especially as believers, means an eternal future in God’s presence. It is hard to not look forward to that. Our present is our life. Every day we live for God’s glory, learning and maturing a little bit each day along the way. That development shows that we belong to Christ, and that the Spirit lives in us. The development and display of who we belong to serves to reach others for Christ whether we realize it or not. Every day matters. When Christ returns, all of our days will help prepare us to meet Him as mature servants.
Lord, help us to receive comfort and strength from remembering our past. Help us to receive comfort and strength from looking to our future, knowing that our eternity lies with You. Let that comfort and strength serve us each day in our present, so that we can be your agents here on Earth, letting the world see You. Amen!