Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Essence of Nard

In Mark 14, John Mark tells us the story of when Jesus visited Simon’s (a man He had healed of leprosy) home in Bethany. While He was there, His friend Mary (Lazarus’ sister) came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from nard and poured it over Jesus’ head. Why would Mary do such a thing?        

In Exodus 30, the Lord says that everything set apart for God was to be anointed. In that instance, this meant the tabernacle, the ark, the table and its instruments, the lampstand and utensils, the incense altar and main altar, and the washbasin. Aaron, the high priest, and his sons (also priests) were also to be anointed. The result was a holy place with holy furnishings, holy items of worship, and holy ministers set apart to be used by God for a special purpose.

Now, Jesus was certainly being used by God for a special purpose. In doing this, Mary is not only recognizing that God is using Jesus for divine purposes, she is declaring Him to be the Messiah. The word “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew, mashiach, and means “anointed one.” 

“Some of those” at the dinner were indignant and scolded Mary. John later tells us this was the treasurer Judas Iscariot, who says, “Why waste such expensive perfume? It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” (Mark 14:4-5) Not that Judas really cared. John reveals, “…he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself” (John 12:6).

This afternoon, I am not focusing on Judas’ dishonesty (though he certainly was dishonest) or Mary’s faith (though she was certainly faithful). I want to point out the essence of nard. You see, anointing was often done using olive oil. In fact, God tells the prophet Samuel to “…fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king” (1 Samuel 16:1) Samuel will go on to anoint the youngest son, David, as the next king of Israel. Olive oil is certainly less valuable than essence of nard, which was exorbitantly expensive. In today’s money, the amount of perfume that Mary poured over Jesus’ head would be worth $55,000! What?? Why would Mary do such a thing? Does even the dishonest treasurer, Judas, have a point here? Hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. 

I believe, Mary offered her essence of nard, because that was the most valuable thing she had to give. That is what I am focusing on today. Let’s face it. The truth is all of us have too much. I’ll bet you have a junk drawer filled with stuff at your home. As comedian George Carlin once said, “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” Hey, a yard sale is an admission that we have too much stuff. Of all the abundance of stuff, what should we give to the Lord? The junk in the drawer or the stuff we take out only on holidays? I don’t really have to answer that, right?

Surely, most of us are not able to offer $55,000, but that does not mean we cannot give our best to God. We can give Him the best of our love, our time, our attention, our service, our obedience, and, yes, our resources. Mary gave Jesus her best. How about you?

----------------------------------------------------- 

Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur

Did you know that the fat-tailed dwarf lemur of Madagascar hibernates in tree holes for seven months of the year? Hibernating bears are able to recycle their proteins and urine, allowing them to stop urinating for months and to avoid muscle atrophy. I mention this because, on one level, it feels like the church has been hibernating for the past sixteen months. Now that we seem to be looking at the light at the end of the Covid tunnel, it is time to begin ramping things up once again.

It can be difficult though, can’t it? I mean, when we purchased that treadmill or started that diet, we were full of motivation and enthusiasm. Is your treadmill now covered with clothing or boxes of stuff? When is the last time you stepped onto your scale? After we pause doing something for a time, we can easily lose our motivation and slip back into old habits. Similarly, so many of us stayed home from church for the past year, or just engaged on Sunday mornings whether it was in-person or online. The church’s ministries and outreach in many cases were “hibernating.” Waiting for the appropriate length of time to pass. It is harder to get back on the treadmill a second time than it was the first. Likewise, we can sometimes get comfortable in our hibernation from ministry.

It is time to begin coming out of our caves. There is still much to be done in our church families, wider communities, and beyond. We may have hibernated, but need did not. There are still people who need to hear the gospel. People who want to be enriched, encouraged, and equipped.

I mention this because Proverbs 11:14 says, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” Like nations, without wise leadership, ministries too will fail. People have to step up and serve. Unfortunately, too many Christians think the “other person” is going to do it. That is not always the case. I know. Truth be told, we don’t really want to clean off our treadmill, or get back on the diet, but that is the only way we will lose weight and get into shape. Similarly, there is much to be done to build God’s Kingdom. It will not build itself. Without leadership, ministries fail. 

Jesus even admits, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few” (Luke 10:2). So, whether it is teaching Sunday school, helping with Youth Group, leading a Men’s or Women’s ministry, or going on a mission. We need to carve out time to serve the Lord no differently then we need to make time to walk on the treadmill. (Can you tell my treadmill needs to be cleaned off?) Yes, it does mean we have to come out of the warmth, security, and comfort of hibernation, but we had to at some point, right? I am here to say, “The time is now, friends.” I pray you are getting ready to reengage. Don’t be a fat-tailed dwarf lemur. Step out into the light and pick up where you left off. There is work to be done. It did not go away, and God is counting on us.                

----------------------------------------------------- 

Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

I Am in “The Club”

Renée and I were blessed this past weekend with being able to drive up to Maine and meet our brand new first grandson – Nova Michael Söderberg. It was so amazing to hold Nova in our arms. Kiss him on the head. Feed him. Rock him to sleep. Just watch him. I could spend hours simply looking at what a miracle God created.

Of course, I expected to be overjoyed seeing my grandson. That goes without saying. After all, Proverbs 17:6 says, “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged.” As one of the “aged,” I could not agree more. However, something else hit me that, for one reason or another, I did not expect. I love Proverbs 23:24 in The Message version of the Bible. It reads, “Parents rejoice when their children turn out well.” As I visited my son and daughter-in-law, do you know what hit me? Not that I am a grandfather, a “Papa”, but rather, that my son is a father. I always believed he would be a good one, but I was now witnessing it firsthand. It was playing out right before my eyes, and I could not have been prouder.

I was a young dad. I was twenty years-old when my oldest son Jeremy was born, twenty-two when Justin (Nova’s father) came along, and twenty-four when my youngest, Jared, arrived. I have no idea why I was in such a hurry, but I do not regret a minute of it. I was blessed growing up too. I had great parents. Nonetheless, no one can really be fully prepared or “trained” how to be a dad or mom. Not really. It is more an “on the job training” kind of a thing. I learned on the fly. I did the best I could, and, trust me, made more than my share mistakes. However, Proverbs 22:6 says, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” As I watched Justin with his newborn son, I began to feel a little better. You know what? Maybe I did okay. It is obvious Taylor’s parents did well, because she is a wonderful new mom. I really did not expect to be so moved watching my child as a new dad. It was truly awesome.

 

I have tons of pictures. Thank God, we no longer have to take photos with a camera, then bring the film cartridge to the drug store, and wait a few days for it to be developed before we can share them with everyone, huh? Hallelujah! No, I have a folder in my Dropbox account just slowly filling up. Nova is also now my screen saver on my cell phone. Yeah, I am enjoying doing all of the grandparent stuff now that I am in “the club.” Watch out for us. We will overwhelm you with photos, videos, and stories of how our grandchild is the best. It’s what grandparents do.

Even so, amidst all this excitement. More than anything else. I hope that as Justin gazes upon his new little guy, he might now have an idea of much I have loved him from the moment I held him in my arms back on May 15, 1986. Even more importantly, I pray that he realizes this is how much God loves us. God looks at each of us like I looked at Justin, and like Justin looks at Nova, and His heart is filled to overflowing. You do not have to be a father, mother, or grandparent to understand that God loves you, and wants to be with you – always. He does! That’s why He sent His Son into the world. He could not accept being eternally separated from us, so, God gave His one and only Son so that we would be forgiven of our sins and enjoy eternal life with Him in the kingdom of heaven. That is both true and truly awesome.                

----------------------------------------------------- 

Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Thank You!

This coming weekend is Memorial Day weekend. Many Americans will head to the beach, lake, backyard for a barbecue. We will be inundated with various sales pitches on television, radio, and the internet. I will never understand what recognizing those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives in defense of liberty has to do with getting a good deal on a new mattress or SUV. Then again, I also do not know what a chubby and plump, right jolly old elf has to do with the birth of the Christ Child, or a bunny with Jesus rising from the grave. We are a funny people. 

Memorial Day is significantly different from Veteran’s Day or Armed Forces Day. Veteran’s Day is a celebration of those who have served our nation. Armed Forces Day is meant to recognize those who are currently serving. Memorial Day is more solemn. On this day, we remember those gave the ultimate sacrifice. I include Veterans who served and have now gone on to their reward. Nonetheless, it is a day to contemplate, to remember their sacrifice. 

Did you know the average age of a serviceman in WW II? Twenty-six years old. Their lives had hardly begun, and yet, they left all that they knew in order to defend freedom all over the world. Those who served in Vietnam were an average of nineteen years old. Nineteen! They cannot even legally drink in America yet, but they can fight for America. Do you know someone who is nineteen? Maybe a son or daughter. Can you imagine them crawling through jungles in Southeast Asia? 

Jesus said to the disciples at the Last Supper, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). That’s what Jesus did for us, and that is what more than 1.3 million Americans have done to defend us since the American Revolution. In Jesus’ case, how do we thank Him? Romans 12:1 says, “…give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable.” We are to live lives in a way that glorifies and honors Him. How do we thank American soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines? We only ask for one day (not a lifetime). One day. So, on top of getting a great deal on a new car or flat-screen TV, pause and thank God for those who gave their lives. Pray for the families who were never able to celebrate weddings and grandchildren, because their loved ones never came home.

I will always be humbled by those who willingly put themselves in the line of fire so that I would not have to – those who served and are serving. Thank you, Lord, for raising up such men and women. However, this weekend, I want to especially recognize those who laid down their lives for this nation that I also love. 

----------------------------------------------------- 

Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

                    

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Welcome Nova!

Yesterday was a very special day in the Söderberg family. My middle son Justin and his wife Taylor welcomed their first son – my first grandchild – into this world. Renée and I are pretty ecstatic! His name is Nova Michael Söderberg. 

I am now officially a “Papa” and Renée a “Gram.” I am immediately thought of Psalm 139. With my apologies to David, I have “modified” his psalm for this occasion.            

You [God] made all the delicate, inner parts of [Nova’s] body

and knit [him] together in [his] mother’s womb.

Thank you for making [him] so wonderfully complex!

Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it.

You [God] watched [Nova] as [he] was being formed in utter seclusion,

as [he] was woven together in the dark of the womb.

You saw [him] before [he] was born.

Every day of [his] life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about [Nova], O God.

They cannot be numbered!

I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!” (Psalm 139:13-28)

I know God has a plan and a purpose for Nova. Just as He has for me, Renée, Justin, Taylor, and you. Will he be a doctor, lawyer, artist, brew master, mechanic, soldier, chef, teacher, pastor, President? God will reveal His plan over time. Right now, like the rest of us, He is just so excited to welcome Nova into the world He created.

I do not know what Nova’s future will hold, but I know who holds his future. The one who created him. The one who knit him together in his mother’s womb. God knew him before He formed him in his mother’s womb. I look forward to Nova meeting his Papa this weekend. Over time, I want him to learn how much I love him. How much his parents love him. How much the God who created him, loves him. I want so much for him, but right now, along with the LORD, I just want to celebrate!

Is this a fallen world, full of fallen people? Sure, but, a newborn baby, is a reason for hope. The name Nova is of Greek origin and means “New,” or “the newcomer,” and like all the babies who were “new” yesterday, he too is a reason to hope for the future.

As the American three-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Dr. Carl Sandburg once wrote, “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.” I could not agree more. So, welcome my little “Super Nova.” May God bless you and use you mightily for His purposes. And I pray that we all see hope in the faces of our children.             

----------------------------------------------------- 

Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

In Between

Someone forwarded me one of those emails that circles around the world wide web the other day, and one part that really stuck out for me was, “You are loved when you are born. You will be loved when you die. In between, You have to manage!”

It is true. Everyone loves a newborn baby. We hug and kiss and cradle them. We speak words of love and encouragement to them. “Who’s a beautiful boy? You are a pretty girl! What a wonderful smile you have!” and so on. The same happens after we die. I have yet to do a funeral where the deceased is not made out to be Mother Teresa. “She was always there for you. He gave you the shirt off his back.”

Yes, arriving and leaving, we are lauded and applauded. Not always so much in between though. In between those two moments, we are often criticized, condemned, judged, and disparaged. I wonder why that is? Do you find it interesting that the two times we seem to be universally loved are the two times we have no control – when we are born and when we die. The rest of the time is up to us. We have control over how we live our lives - our “in between.”  

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus offers us some wisdom on how to live our “in between.” He reminds us, “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much” (Luke 6:32-35)! 

We are all familiar with the verse, “You reap what you sow.” That comes from the KJV of Galatians 6:7, and actually reads, “…whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  The NLT puts it this way, “You will always harvest what you plant” (Galatians 6:7). Yes, the harvest during our “in-between” depends upon what we plant. We have control over our “in between” and we should plant seeds of love, mercy, and forgiveness. And, the Bible reminds us, “Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

The apostle Paul encourages us to live lives that give glory to God. “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). So, during our “in between,” let us live as Christ lived. Love as Christ loved. When we do, we give glory to God. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the nicest things ever said about me to be spoken only at my funeral. I would like my “in between” to give glory to God as well. That is up to us. As I said, we have no say in when we are born or when we die. Our “in between” is the only thing under our control. And Jesus told us, “The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38).         

----------------------------------------------------- 

Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

General Ignacio Zaragoza

Today is May 05. In Spanish, “Cinco de Mayo.” It is an annual celebration commemorating the Mexican Army’s victory (under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza) over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862. How many of us knew that, huh? I’ll bet virtually nobody. Nonetheless, it does not stop Americans from having a big celebration. Am I right?  In fact, Cinco de Mayo, is actually more popularly celebrated in the United States than in Mexico. Americans. We do love a party.

We do the same with St. Patrick. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland but in America. Records show that on March 17, 1600, in a Spanish colony in what is now St. Augustine, Florida, a St. Patrick’s Day celebration was organized by the Spanish Colony’s Irish vicar Ricardo Artur. The following year, they held the first St. Patrick’s Day parade on this continent. It took Ireland three hundred years to catch up. The first St Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland was not held until 1903! Again, we Americans do love to celebrate.

I mention this, because my son Jeremy’s favorite Bible verse is Psalm 150.  

“Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness! Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp! Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes! Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:1-6)

This sounds like a celebration if ever there was one! Blasting ram’s horns, loud clanging cymbals. The worshipers are joyful, excited, inspired. Why so jubilant? Think about it. The Bible begins by presenting us with two roads: the way to life and the way to death. If we choose God’s way (the way to life), yes, we will still face blessings and troubles, joy and grief, successes and failures. However, we also read that through it all, God is at our side, guiding, encouraging, comforting, and caring. 

As time passes, we see more and more clearly that God’s road is the right road. Knowing this should motivate us to praise Him. Praise Him for leading us in the right direction. Praise Him for assuring us of a place in the perfect world He has in store for those who have faithfully followed him. Praise Him for sending His Son to secure a room in our Father’s home. 

Look, I’m sure General Ignacio Zaragoza was a good guy, and the victory over the French was important. Just as was Patrick’s work converting pagans in Ireland in the fifth century. I do not diminish their accomplishments at all. However, Christ free us from eternal damnation. Forgave our sins. Does that not merit celebration too? It does. This is why, I don’t think worship should be too quiet or reserved. How can celebrate with green beer and Corona’s on St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, and not Praise God with similar energy and enthusiasm? On Sundays, blast your ram’s horn! Praise God in His sanctuary, and on every day in between! Why? God loves us! He saved us! His is so worthy of our praise!       

----------------------------------------------------- 

Remember to email your praises and petitions to southchurchprayer@gmail.com. We lift them up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 4:00 pm on Facebook Live.