Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Change Can Come Quickly

Today is Wednesday. The Wednesday of what we have come to know as “Holy Week.” Now, the people of 1st century Jerusalem did not call it that. They did not know what was about to happen. We have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight. What were the people of Jerusalem doing today? They were going about their usual routine. They went to work. Smiths were making all sorts of implements out of iron, silver, or gold. It could be a plow for a farmer or a necklace for a lucky lady. Men tilled their fields. Carpenters made furniture. Stone masons built or repaired homes and protective walls. Women went to the market to purchase groceries and baked bread.

The first century family ate two daily meals, either in the home or in the field. The first meal which “broke their fast” was eaten in the late-morning, as a break in the workday. It could include some roasted grain, olives, figs or other fruit. There may also have been some bread dipped in olive oil or vinegar, or eaten with garlic, onions, or black radishes for flavor, as well as water or wine. In the Book of Ruth, we come across an example of a typical meal. “At mealtime Boaz called to [Ruth], ‘Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.’ So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over” (Ruth 2:14). The main meal of the day was the second meal. It was eaten in the evening. There would be bread that had been baked that day, as well as soup or a stew of vegetables or legumes. This was served in a common pot into which everyone dipped their bread. On occasion, there may be cheese and fruits (such as fresh figs and melon when in season), as well as dried fruits. To drink there was again, water, and wine, although milk could also accompany this meal. In this particular week, families were also preparing for the coming Passover Seder meal.   

I mention all of this to divert your attention a little. As I painted this picture, I will bet you forgot that two days from now, Jesus will be crucified. That was intentional. Just for a moment, you were not thinking about Holy Week. You were thinking about lunch maybe, but not crucifixion. These people certainly were not. 

They were unaware that Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, were plotting ways to assassinate Jesus and His good friend Lazarus (for having the audacity to be raised from the dead!). They could not have known Judas was recruited to betray Jesus. That He was going to be arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate to be condemned to death. They had no idea how quickly things were about to change.

That can happen in our lives too. In a quick moment, a driver runs a red light and slams into your car. The doctor gives you a diagnosis of cancer, or worse, your child. Planes fly into buildings. Bombs go off during a Marathon. A tornado. A flood. A mass shooting. Yes, life can change in a moment.

I say this not to create fear. Fear is not of God. As Paul tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). I do not want you worrying that a meteor may come crashing through the atmosphere and land on you today. That’s ridiculous. I am saying that things can change in a moment. Even Jesus’ return will be in an instant. In the blink of an eye everything will change. 

That’s why we need to be prepared. One cannot wait until they are moments away from death to be in a relationship with Jesus. It is important to do so now. While there is still time. If you know someone who is not, please share the good news of Jesus with them. Those of us who have been born again, who have confessed our sin and accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, have no reason to fear. We are the beneficiaries of what happened on Good Friday, and especially what took place on Easter Sunday. Our hearts are not troubled. We are saved! Jesus has already prepared a room for us in His Father’s home.

My friends. Enjoy this Wednesday. You have no need to worry. God loved the world so much, that He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Besides, as Jesus asked, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life” (Matthew 6:27)?       

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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, March 24, 2021

Linda's Gift

After the resurrection, before Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded His followers to “…go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). “And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). How does one make disciples? Jesus says we start with love. At the Last Supper He tells those gathered, “…I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35). 

It sounds pretty easy. Love each other. But love is more than just kind words. Love is action. Jesus makes clear, in Matthew 25, He wants us to help feed, clothe, visit, and care for the sick. This is why we call our Haiti Mission – M25. Jesus’ brother James emphasizes this when he reminds us, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:14-17).

Seeking to be obedient and put love into action, South Church began a partnership with a sister church in Camp Perrin, Haiti, back in 2010. Our mission is to help Pastor François, his wife, and staff reach out to their community with the message of hope, promise, and salvation found only in Jesus.  

We do this not by just telling them God loves them but showing them. Over the past ten years, we have helped reopen their school, and continue to provide monthly financial support for their teachers and principal. We added electric lights to their school and worship space. Then had to reconstruct their building from the ground up, after the devastating 2016 Hurricane Matthew swept through. We send missionaries on a regular basis, and while visiting Camp Perrin, they run children and community evangelism outreach programs, as well as provide food assistance and a health clinic.

I mention this today, because of an amazing thing that happened here last week. Completely unexpectedly I received a letter in the mail from a Connecticut Probate Court. Linda Holbrook was never a member of South Church. She was a close friend of Rose Hubbard’s and enthusiastic supporter of M25. It seems, Linda has remembered us in her will. Some money will be coming designated to go to supporting our Haiti Mission. Now, I do not know if it will be $100 or $5,000, but the idea that a non-member believes in our efforts in Haiti so much is both humbling and a reminder of what God can do when He sees love in action. 

Our brothers and sisters in Camp Perrin desperately need fresh, clean, water. God bless Linda. Her gift might make that happen, as we hope to drill a well soon, or at the very least, begin the fundraising effort.

Remember today that you too are called to tell people about Jesus everywhere. How? Begin by putting your love into action. That’s all God needs to work with. He can do some pretty amazing things with it!           

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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, March 17, 2021

Dia Linn!

Jesus says in His Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:43-44) Who can do such a thing? 

Maewyn Succat was born in Britain in the late fourth century A.D. His father, Calphurnius, was a deacon from a Roman family of high social standing. His mother, Conchessa, was a close relative of the French soldier turned monk, turned bishop, Martin of Tours. Maewyn’s grandfather, Pontius, was also a member of the clergy. Surprisingly, however, Maewyn was not raised in a particularly religious home. 

When he was 16 years old, Maewyn was captured by pirates of Hibernia (known today as Ireland). They sold him into slavery, and he was taken to western Scotland. His master, Milchu, was a Druid high priest. His job was to tend sheep.

During his six years of captivity, Maewyn found Christ in a powerful way. He became deeply devoted and prayed constantly. Once, in a vision, he saw the children of pagan Ireland (the home of his original pirate captors) reaching out their hands to him, and he grew increasingly determined to convert the Irish to Christian faith.

Around A.D. 408, Maewyn, now known as Patrick, had a dream. In it, a voice promised him he would find his way home to Britain. Eager to see the dream materialize, Patrick escaped and convinced some sailors to let him board their ship.

Returning to Britain a free man, Patrick then traveled to France, where he studied and entered the priesthood. He was ordained a deacon around A.D. 418.

Fourteen years later, Patrick was ordained as a bishop and Pope Celestine I sent him back to Ireland (as in his vision) to spread the gospel to non-believers and provide support to the small community of Christians already living there.

Initially, Patrick met great resistance, but over time, along with other missionaries, he managed to spread Christian teachings far and wide through preaching, writing and performing countless baptisms. Patrick died around A.D. 461 in Saul, Ireland.

Patrick loved his enemies so much that he wanted, even his persecutors, to be welcomed in the Kingdom of Heaven. He trusted God would protect him when he returned to pagan Ireland. He preached the truth of the gospel to any and all who would listen at great risk to his own personal safety, and God blessed him with great success. Eventually, Maewyn Succat became the patron Saint of Ireland. We still celebrate St. Patrick today. Literally, today.

I pray that, like Patrick, I can love so greatly that I would eagerly share the message of salvation in Jesus Christ with even those who mock me, persecute me, lie about me, and say all sorts of evil things against me. Who knows how many might come to know Jesus if I do?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Dia linn! (That is Gaelic for “God bless you!”)                

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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, March 10, 2021

I Got My Shot!

Did you know that there are several accounts from the 1500’s that describe smallpox inoculation as practiced in China and India? Then in the late 1600’s, we hear of Emperor K’ang Hsi, who had survived smallpox as a child, having his children inoculated. The method involved grinding up smallpox scabs and blowing the matter into the nostril. Inoculation may also have been practiced by scratching matter from a smallpox sore into the skin. It is difficult to pinpoint when the practice began, but some sources claim it may have been as early 200 BC!

The Bible speaks of medicines as well. In Ezekiel, the prophet talks about fruit trees whose fruit are good for food, “…and the leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12). The prophet Isaiah instructed King Hezekiah’s servants to treat him by “[Making] an ointment from figs and spread it over the boil, and Hezekiah will recover” (Isaiah 38:21). Paul even tells his protégé Timothy, “Don’t drink only water. You ought to drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick so often” (1 Timothy 5:23).

I mention this because I went to get my Covid vaccine yesterday. I am amazed at the advances in medicine we have made over history. In the 21st century, things like knee replacement, hip replacement, heart bypass surgery, are commonplace today. Now there are always risks to surgery, but many complex medical procedures have almost become routine. My son recently had detached retinas in both eyes reattached. In the doctor’s office not a hospital and it only took about ten minutes for each eye – a week apart. Similarly, our Treasurer had cataract laser procedures done on both his eyes on two successive Mondays. We have had penicillin to fight infections since 1928. Today there are a range of antibiotics that are truly lifesavers. AIDS is no longer a death sentence. Polio was eradicated with a vaccine in 1952, as were measles, mumps and rubella. We have a vaccine today for shingles, the flu, pneumonia, and three now for Covid-19.

All of these medical advances were made possible by men and women who used their God-given gifts and talents to develop procedures, technology, therapeutics, and a wide range of medications.

Yes, God is a worker of miracles, but do not think miracles are always as dramatic as parting the Red Sea or walking on water. Sometimes God works miraculously by feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread the two fish, and sometimes He works through the leaves of a fruit tree or an ointment of figs. Even Jesus made a poultice to heal. When He encountered a blind man, the Bible says, “…he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes” (John 9:6). After the man washed it off, he could see!

The fact that diseases like polio, malaria, or leprosy are relatively non-existent in 21st century is a testimony to the power and blessings of God.

Please do not fear. I encourage you to get vaccinated as soon as you can. Remember to thank the medical professionals who take care of you, and God for all He continues to do for His children in this fallen world.                

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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, March 3, 2021

Lent

“Oh, my people, dress yourselves in burlap and sit among the ashes. Mourn and weep bitterly, as for the loss of an only son. For suddenly the destroying armies will be upon you” (Jeremiah 6:26)! “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes” (Daniel 9:3).

Why these verses? Well, a couple of weeks ago, back on February 17, the season of Lent began. Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Roman Catholics as well as some Protestant denominations. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. During Lent, participants may eat sparingly or give up a certain food (like sweets or alcohol) or a habit (like smoking or watching television). In lieu of sprinkling ashes on our heads, these are ways in which we can display our mourning, or repentance, over our sin.   

The Bible never mentions Ash Wednesday. Actually, it never mentions Lent either. Lent is a human invention of the Catholic church, but any Christian is certainly welcome to participate. I did a “Daniel Fast” a few years ago. The so-called “Daniel Fast” is based on Daniel 1 and Daniel 10. When Daniel, and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah (otherwise known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) were taken into king Nebuchadnezzar’s service, they were to be given food and wine from the king’s table while undergoing a three-year training program. “But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods” (Daniel 1:8). Babylonian food was surely not kosher. The official in charge of the training program was worried Daniel, and his friends would not be healthy enough to serve the king eating only those foods, and he was one who would ultimately pay for it. Daniel asked for a test. Could they eat only vegetables and drink water for ten days, and then evaluate how they were doing? The chief of staff agreed. At the end of the ten days, Daniel, and his friends looked healthier and better nourished than everyone else. As a result, they were allowed to continue eating as they wished. A modern-day Daniel Fast is a diet limited to vegetables, water, and any other foods that may have been available at the time. This means no artificial anything. By the way, there was no such thing as coffee in 7th century BC either! It was not easy to do.

Like Jeremiah, Daniel, and Mordecai (in the book of Ruth), Catholics decided to start observing a Lenten season to remind themselves of the value of repentance. As humans are want to do, however, over time, Lenten observances developed into more than they should have. Some people began to believe giving something up for Lent was a way to attain God’s blessing. That is not true or biblical. Yes, fasting can be a good thing, and God is certainly pleased when we repent of sins. There is also absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside some time to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, there are no brownie points to accrue. 

As a Christian, if you choose to observe Lent, feel free to do so. Remember, though, to focus on repenting of sin and consecrating oneself to God. Not on depriving yourself of chocolate thinking that you are earning some brownie points from the Lord. The truth is, God’s love for us could not be any greater than it already is, chocolate or no chocolate. Besides, Jesus said, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Matthew 3:8). That means, repenting of our sin is something we should do every day, not just during Lent.                                         

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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.