But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.
(1 Corinthians 15:10a)
On a yearly basis, we celebrate Easter and then, fifty days later, we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. As crucial and vital as those two dates on the Christian calendar are, we quickly move on from Resurrection Sunday and return to our “business as usual” mindset. In some Christian traditions, the Church celebrates a season called Eastertide, fifty days of celebration and feast following Easter, the high point of the Church calendar. During Eastertide, the Church celebrates the many encounters that the resurrected Christ had with many persons. Paul recollects that Jesus appeared to Cephas. He appeared to the twelve. He appeared to 500 sisters and brothers. He appears to His half-brother James. He appeared to the apostles, to men and women. And finally, Paul says Jesus appeared to the least of the apostles: Paul himself. Paul is writing to the Corinthian community where leaders have questioned his apostleship and authority, and rightly so.
Perhaps you have never heard of the fifty days of celebration after Easter. I want to invite you to linger gently in the wave of Eastertide, and what it means to us. As we linger there: Jesus appears.
He appeared to the faithful and the fearful. He appeared to the bold and the betrayers. He appeared to blood family and spiritual family. He appeared to one and He appeared to 500. He appears and He appeals: “Believe that I am risen indeed.” Jesus walks through walls in the Gospels, cooks breakfast fish for His friends and is always the first to take the initiative to restore sight to His traumatized friends.
You and I are also invited to linger here: By the grace of God… His grace towards you and me… but the grace of God.
Grace appeared. The least of the apostles believes he is unfit to be an apostle. But by God’s grace, Paul appears struck by grace, this gritty grace that does not let a murderous religious fanatic continue with threats. If it is good news to Paul, it’s good grace for me. The grace of God is greater. The grace of God is gritty. Grace-giving and grace-receiving are part of the tough fibers that hold a community together. This particular community in the church at Corinth needs a leader that has received that gritty grace that won’t let him go.
This is a grace that is still resurrecting you and me today. Reflect on a time when you received God’s unmerited grace and how that experience felt for you. And linger there, in the presence of His gritty grace. Because it is by His grace that we are saved, are being saved and will be saved.
God of all grace, You shower us with Your grace. May we awake each day with the new manna of grace to receive and extend. May Your grace land on our souls like fresh dew of the morning. May we take ahold of Your gritty grace so that it would rub off on the stranger and the friend we meet each day.
And may we wear grace on our face. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 4:10-12
… you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Our work can be an expression of love for God and for others. For example, some teachers experience their teaching as a way of loving their students. But there is work which is done at computer screens and crunching numbers. It can be harder to see such work as a way to love people, even if we know the ultimate value of their work. Your daily work seems far removed from love.
No matter whether the connection between love and your job is obvious or not, there is a way for you to express love as you work. No matter what you’re doing for a living, or what you’re doing for which you are not paid, you can express love through your work.
I learned this lesson from two of the most influential pastors in my life. The first was Lloyd Ogilvie, the former pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Pastor Lloyd was a professional who expected a high quality of work from his team. But whenever he had a one-on-one conversation at work, he would always begin by asking how they were doing. He really showed care because he would often ask about specific things shared in an earlier conversation. People knew that Lloyd cared for them personally and that made a world of difference to them.
For many years, I served under and worked with Pastor Felix Liu. I experienced with Pastor Felix something very much like I read about Pastor Lloyd. Like Pastor Lloyd, Pastor Felix would always begin by checking in with me personally, before getting down to the business of vision, mission, strategy, etc. He’d ask how I was doing and how my family was doing. Usually, he’d be quite specific: “How is Andrea? How is your mom?” I knew that Pastor Felix cared for me as a person and not simply an employee. This made such a difference to me, both in my work and in my personal life. I observed Pastor Felix as he showed personal concern for all members of his team.
I have learned and tried to follow in the footsteps of Pastor Felix, showing personal interest in and care for people with whom I work. Sometimes those conversations are long because I want to check in personally with them. Doing so gives me an opportunity to express love for them. It also helps me to know how to pray for them each morning, which is another way to show love. This way of caring for people with is particularly important during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions upon millions of workers throughout the world do almost all of their digitally, through email, Zoom, and phone calls. You may work closely with others, but rarely be with your colleagues in person. Yet, you can feel personally connected to them because you take time to check in. Make this a regular practice in work with one-on-ones.
Even your boss is a get-right-down-to-business person, you can still treat your boss in a loving way, offering respect, appropriate concern, and support. You can pray also daily for your boss. With others, you may have more freedom to act lovingly. We are called to love in imitation of God, who loved us sacrificially through Christ Eph. 5:1). Our call to love isn’t limited to personal relationships, to family, friendship, and church. Rather, we have the opportunity and responsibility to love others in all parts of life, including our daily work. Even as we seek to work with excellence and to be highly productive, we can love those with whom we work, treating them as God has treated us.
In every part of life, Lord, may I imitate the love You have shown me in Christ. Amen.
No one can pretend Luke 12:49-52 isn’t a difficult Gospel lesson. If you follow Jesus through the Gospels, sooner or later in each we come to a moment when the same Jesus who comforts little children and speaks of searching for lost lambs also preaches and prophesies about danger, suffering, persecution, and sorrow.
In Luke 12, such prophecies and warnings abound – from the reminder that what we have “whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (12:3), to the parable of the rich fool whose life is demanded of him on the very night be builds bigger barns (12:20), to the story of the unfaithful servants which cautions us that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (12:48), to the final accusation that no one knows how to interpret the present time (12:56) or what to do about it (12:57). And, of course, there is today’s passage, in which Jesus states He brings not peace but division, even among our own households and families.
Yet, interestingly, these warnings alternate with reassurances. Even the hairs of our head are numbered (12:7); the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say in times of persecution (12:12); we should not worry about what to eat or what to wear (12:22); it is the “Father has been pleased” to give us the kingdom (12:32); our Master will return (12:38). How do we reconcile these two messages? How can the same Christ who comforts be the one who brings division?
I think the key is Jesus’s statement in Luke 12:29-34, especially 12:31 and 12:34, which I’ve italicized here:
And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If we do not put the kingdom first, then we run the risk of being hypocrites who do things behind closed doors we would not want spoken of openly; of being rich fools who think our own wealth can save us; of being so negligent in stewarding what has been given to us that we miss the signs of where God is at work.
To be sure, the treasures of this world can be used to advance the Kingdom. But only if we know who is in charge as we use them, and only if we trust Him. And choosing whether or not to trust Jesus and value other people, as the warnings in this passage make clear, has eternal stakes. In his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis once wrote:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
We must be alert for our Master’s return. We must treat others as beloved children of God. We must place our treasure, and our trust, in Him. Our hearts will follow.
“How can I trust God when I’m suffering?” Scripture is one way the Lord encourages us to trust in Him even when our lives are hard. I want to point to another source of encouragement, the most important one of all: Jesus. More than anything else, or anyone else, Jesus helps us to remain faithful even when our lives are filled with pain. When we are hurting, Jesus understands. He was, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). Thus, Jesus can sympathize with us in a profound way. As it says in Hebrews 4:14, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of suffering. God sees it. God feels compassion. God shares our pain, even as he shared our humanness in Jesus. God is with us when we suffer. Jesus makes this clear.
It's true that sometimes people abandon their faith because of the pain of life. Yet, it’s also true that sometimes our suffering helps us to know God more truly and trust God more fully. When we suffer, we can enter more deeply into a relationship with Jesus, the man of sorrows. Jesus suffered, not only to be able to have compassion for us, but also to bring about the ultimate end of suffering. Because of His death, the power of sin and death has been broken. Ultimately, God will triumph. God’s kingdom will pervade all creation. Sorrow and suffering will pass away.
We find this hope in many places of Scripture, but perhaps most compellingly in the eighth chapter of Romans. Here, the Apostle Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). Yet we share with creation the hope that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Such hope keeps us going even in suffering. But hope is not the only thing God supplies to help us persevere. Paul explains, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). God’s own Spirit helps us to pray, even praying through us in hard times.
Even when life seems impossibly difficult, God is with us. God is on our side. As it says in Romans 8:31, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Not only is God for us, but also God loves us with an abiding love. Here’s how Paul concludes his discussion of suffering, hope, and faith: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). No matter how painful and confusing our lives might be, God loves for us will never let us go. Thus, we can affirm God’s faithfulness even in the midst of suffering. Suffering helps us to know Jesus better and opens our hearts to receive God’s love in a deeper and truer way.
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children.” (Ephesians 5:1)
When we have been saved by Jesus Christ, we can, if we choose, become passive Christians who sit back and feel secure in our own salvation, and let other Christians spread the Gospel of Jesus. But to do so is wrong. Instead, we are commanded to become disciples of Jesus Christ who has saved us, and to do otherwise is a sin of omission with terrible consequences.
When Jesus addressed His disciples, He warned them that each one must “take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Our Lord’s message was clear: in order to follow Him, His disciples must deny themselves and, instead, trust Him completely. Nothing has changed since then.
If we are to be disciples of Jesus, we must trust Him and place Him at the very center of our beings. Jesus never comes “next”. He is always first. The wonderful paradox is that it is only by sacrificing ourselves to Him that we gain eternal salvation.
Jesus walks with you. Are you walking with Him? Hopefully, you will choose to walk with Him today and every day of your life. Jesus loved you so much that He endured unspeakable humiliation and suffering for you. How will you respond to Christ’s sacrifice? Will you take up your cross and follow Him, or will you choose another path? When you place your hopes firmly at the foot of the cross, when you place Jesus firmly at the center of your life, you will be blessed.
Do you seek to fulfill God’s purpose for your life? Do you seek spiritual abundance? Would you like to partake in “the peace that passes all understanding”? Then follow Jesus. Follow Him by picking up your cross today and every day that you live. Then, you will quickly discover that Christ’s love has the power to change everything, including you.
“Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals, but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasm.”—Eugene Peterson
Jesus in me loves you & so do I,