Pulpit Ponderings

Many denominations do not observe the preparation times of Advent (for Christmas) or Lent (for Easter). Being brought up in Methodist and Disciples of Christ country churches, I do not ever remember these times of preparation. I truly think it is smart to emphasize the importance of Christmas and Easter by having a period of time before the events to prepare ourselves spiritually and discern disobedience of God. Since we begin the Lenten Season this month, I offer the following comments based on Philippians 2:3-8.

The Lenten season bares the skeletons of our disobedience in more ways than one; it Illuminates the one who was “obedient, even unto death on a cross” for our salvation. It also illuminates the less than stellar attitudes and behaviors we are prone to display in our daily lives.

 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” – Phil. 2: 3-8.

Figuratively speaking, of course, do you ever have problems with your children or grandchildren being disobedient? In all honesty, it seems none of us can get away from it in our house. You had a child or children and yet after they left the roost it’s a non-stop stream of grandkids for the last many years! And wouldn’t you know it; you’re down to the last one (knock on wood) who’ll be 4 years old in July and this could be the “light at the end of the tunnel of kid care”, when all of a sudden you get another one!!!  This one is younger than all the other grandkids. This one came along at only 10 weeks old – talk about robbing the cradle! And you even paid to take care of this one!!!

(Really, I’m truly speaking figuratively here) Just when you think you’re done with those loving little ones with a mind of their own and one that doesn’t recognize the word “NO!” –  you’ve bought into the “senior puppy love” syndrome and now have let’s say, not one, but two Standard Poodles to terrorize your golden years! Let’s call them “Cara” (black) and “Jerry” (red) – and are appropriately named – well, maybe “Dingbat” and “Doofus” might be more accurate – are a handful. After taking them to obedience school – the instructor re-wrote the text book for the course.

Yes, you grow to love them to death….and they have come close to that a time or two in their young lives of “criminal” behavior. Disobedience, it seems extends to the four-legged of God’s creation as well as the two-legged variety. It gets better with age, I suppose. But still it hangs around.

You’d think that after a lifetime of dealing with children whose primary responsibility in life is to have fun at any expense, especially yours, after having survived our own fits and bouts with disobedience (many of us I’m sure were legendary in our time!), that we would be models of perfect behavior; we would be the standard bearers for obedience. But sadly, that’s not the case. Oh, we’re much more adept at it today. We don’t plunge headlong into overt disobedience. We’re much more subtle about it. We’re adept at manipulating the system. After all, we’ve had years of practice.

Isn’t it interesting that some of our bad habits continue to this day? Of course, we don’t have to worry anymore about being “Grounded for Life,” or of being sent to our room, or of having to go without dinner or sit in a corner. We’ve matured. We are masters of our own destiny to some extent. Or at least we think we are. Yet, we are still prone to being disobedient. And, while the nature of our disobedience may be more easily covered up and overlooked in our mature state, it can and does at times lead us down a path that is not the road upon which our Lord would have us walk.

The Lenten season bares the skeletons of our disobedience in more ways than one:

  • It illuminates the one who was “obedient, even unto death on a cross” for our salvation.
  • It also illuminates the less than stellar attitudes and behaviors we are prone to display in our spiritual life.

In the deeply personal and private reflection of our own faithfulness, in the self-examination of our Christian attitude, and in the humbling and profoundly disturbing remembrance of the final days in the human life of our Savior, we come face to face both with how our Lord would have us be and how far we have to go to become that way.

We see in the haunting horror of those who walked with him, ate with him, who witnessed His miracles and His transfiguration, and who were taught by Him, the tenuous and tepid nature of the human spirit. In the face of uncertainty, in the fear of reprisal or even death, they crumbled in their faith, they drifted from their obedience, and turned from Him.

Lent is meant to be a time of personal exposition. It’s meant to cause us to rethink our priorities. It’s meant to allow us to fully appreciate Christ’s work in our life, to repent and seek His mercy on us in a way that acknowledges our true intentions and seeks His guidance and help in our spiritual renewal. It’s a time of obedience – real obedience to His Word. It’s a time for tender, compassionate, loving renewal in Christ. As Paul so passionately wrote to the Christians in Philippi, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, If any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” – Phil 2:1-2.

We can take considerable encouragement not only from Paul’s words but from the vision he gives of the nature – the human nature of Christ. We can reflect on Christ’s very human being…. despite his divinity. We can feel comforted by the fact that HE knew how we felt, HE understood what we would go through in life. He went through it too. He made himself NOTHING so that we might have SOMETHING – eternal life.

There’s a lesson to be learned every day of the Lenten Season; in every step we take on the path to Jerusalem and the Cross.

  • There’s a valuable lesson about humility (Christ showed us how to be humble);
  • A lesson to be learned in prayer (Even our Lord prayed);
  • A lesson to be learned in being obedient (Even Christ deferred to God’s Will);
  • A lesson that we should never give up our FAITH, never give in to the temptation to be the masters of our own destiny.

We’ve come a long way since our incorrigible youthful indiscretions. We’ve done a lot of growing up in many ways. And in other ways we have so far still to go. “NO” is still a big part of our vocabulary and we let it filter into our spiritual life when we make decisions not to attend church, not to pray, not to find time to read His Word, not to look to Him for all our needs.

You know, despite all the heartburn and nerve-wracking years of raising kids, especially when they were disobedient or pretended not to understand what “no” meant, there is something special about the freedom and blessed innocence of being a child.

It’s hard for us to appreciate them today. We are so far removed from those days. We have so many responsibilities, so many people relying on us, so much work to do, so much money to make to pay all the bills, so much riding on our personal success. We tend to forget what it’s like to be a child. Even a puppy!

Perhaps that’s why Jesus loved little Children so much. Perhaps He was trying to tell us something about ourselves all those times. Maybe we should approach our Lord not as a grown-up – not as a responsible adult – not as a leader in the community or in our household – but just as a child – with a child’s capacity to love, to learn, to be in awe of everything around them.

I received the following story as one of those “dreaded” forwarded emails. I think it’s a fitting way to end a Wednesday Lenten message on Obedience from the eyes of a child.

“Story of God Lives Under the Bed”

“I envy Kevin. He thinks God lives under his bed. One night he was praying out loud in his bedroom, and I stopped to listen, ‘Are you there, God?’ he said. ‘Where are you? Oh, under the bed…’ I laughed & tiptoed to my room. My brother Kevin’s, unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world in which Kevin lives.

“He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled due to problem in labor. Apart from his size (he’s 6-foot-2) there are few ways in which he’s an adult. He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and always will. He’ll probably always believe God lives under his bed, Santa Claus fills the space under the Christmas tree and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them. I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life?

“Up before dawn each day, off to the workshop for the disabled, home to walk the dog & eat his favorite macaroni/cheese dinner, and later to bed. The only variation in the routine is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washer like a mother with her newborn child. He does not seem dissatisfied.

“He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work. He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner. He stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.

“And oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That day my Dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of the passengers. “That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go!” Kevin shouts as he claps his hands. His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

“And so, goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips. He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple. He will never know the entanglements of wealth of power. He doesn’t care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.

“His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he’s working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it. He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax. He’s not obsessed with his work or the work of others. His heart is pure. He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue.

“Free from pride, unconcerned with appearances, Kevin’s not afraid to cry when he’s hurt, angry or sorry. He’s always transparent, always sincere. He trusts God. Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an ‘educated’ person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion.

“In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith. It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions. It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap, I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities…when I do not trust them to God’s care.

“Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he’s spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God.

“And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed. And Kevin won’t be surprised at all!”

His Peace and Blessings to all of you, as you continue to believe, have hope, and do the work of the Lord.

God bless you, your families, and our church, always!

And a Christ-filled Year to All!

As Always, In His Grip …Shalom Aleichem (Peace Be Unto You) …

Until the Nets Are Full,

Your Most Obedient and Humble Servant,

Pastor Buddy