I grew up in a family of three boys. As you can imagine we often had moments of messes and broken things. We wrestled on more than one occasion, and to be honest I am not sure how my brothers and I didn’t break more things. One day when I was probably 9 my older brother and I were playing with a large stuffed animal my younger brother brought home. We did our best WWF style moves and smashed around the family room. While doing this, one of us (I really can’t remember who) smashed into my moms lamp. You know the lamp. The one that was old and had a long family connection. As you can imagine the lamp was in many pieces. In fact so many pieces that we did what any boys do when they have broken something. We ran and hid. We pretended like we didn’t do it. Well mom came home and was upset. No amount of super glue could put it back together. She was disappointed in her boys and quite angry.
Then it happened. You know who came home next. It was Dad. Dad came in the room. He saw what happened and sat all three of us on the couch. I really thought I wasn’t going to make it to my next birthday. He looked at us and said boys this cant be fixed. He didn’t yell in fact he had a large amount of calm. I really was surprised because dad could fix anything. Even he couldn’t get out enough glue and fix it, it would never be right. Instead he did something shocking to us. He went to a special store to buy a new piece. It was quite expensive. For the time over $200 to fix and for our family it was a lot. As a parent I think about how I might have had my boys chip in and help pay for it, but he didn’t. He went and just paid for it himself and mad the lamp new.
As we begin Lent I was reminded of this story. Today is ash Wednesday. It is a day we have ashes put on our forehead to remind us we are dust and to dust we shall return. It is a day to remember the mess we have made of our lives. It has been a mess made from the beginning of time and we as God’s people continue to move and make a bigger and bigger mess. We are marked as people who are a mess. God didn’t leave us in this broken mess. He didn’t just take out some super glue to put us back together. He did something far better. He sent His Son Jesus to be with us and to pay our price. If you go to service today you will have ashes on your forehead to remind you of both these facts. You are broken beyond repair. You are Dust…and to Dust you shall return. The cross reminds us Jesus doesn’t leave us that way. He pays the price and makes us completely new. So on this Ash Wednesday as we consider our sin and brokenness may we be reminded that Jesus has paid through the cross to make us new.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush[b] your head, and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
20 Adam[c] named his wife Eve,[d] because she would become the mother of all the living.
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
I have a confession to make. I know many of you will be shocked by this, but I am a thief. Every year around this time, I go around my house and take all the Wise Men. I also take them from church if I see them and they can be removed. You might be thinking, “How can you do this? Steve, why would you do such a thing?” Well, let me tell you it is something I have done for the last 25 years and it has a purpose.
Many people don’t know or don’t remember that at the Nativity the Wise Men weren’t there that night. In fact, they did not arrive until Jesus was at least a year old. (Matthew 2:1-12) The only people who visited the young couple that night were the shepherds – the lowly people who were outside of town in the fields, watching their sheep. The Magi were important, but they didn’t come until later. So why steal them?
Well, I actually don’t steal them. I just move them. I move them around my house or around the church. I do it for two reasons. First, I want it to be more biblically accurate. Too often I think Christians may not fully know the story of Jesus. We take it for granted and teach our kids the wrong story. This can be a challenge for kids as they grow up, when they think they were lied to or tricked. Second and more importantly, the Wise Men came during Epiphany. The story of the Wise Men is about a group of people outside the promise of Abraham receiving the promise of Jesus. It is a story worth telling. We celebrate it in the Church 12 days after Christmas. So this year if you come to church and find the Wise Men missing, just know that I or someone else may be trying to teach a lesson.
(P.S. – This year at church, I convinced the pastors that I should be able to move the outside Wise Men around the campus before Epiphany. So if you are around St. John, drive by and see if you can find them. They will travel during all of Advent and make their way to the house on Epiphany.)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
Matthew 5:43-46 NIV
Have you prayed for your enemy? These are words I was convicted with this week. Life in ministry can be hard and sometimes it feels like enemies are all around. In days of stress and struggle it is easy to just be angry or irritated by many different things. These can be things you would normally brush off your back but now get bottled up and you eventually explode. It can be people you never met, people in the news, people your work with, people you are related to. We can have enemies in all corners of our lives. So are you praying for your enemies?
I have had people in my life that I have been frustrated with. I have people in my life that our relationship is broken and I have probably spent too much time being frustrated by their lack of change instead of reaching out to the one who can bring that change. Am i praying for them? You see one of the hardest things that we can do as Christians is pray for those who have hurt us. Pray for those who are hurting us. Pray for those who are hurt. Pray for those in power over us.
I was convicted to pray for my enemies. So here is what I am doing for the next week. I am going to pray for my enemies by name. I am going to pray for a softening heart. I am praying for wisdom for them and myself. I am praying for peace in our lives. I am praying for forgiveness. I am praying for repentance. I am praying for Gods mighty hand in all this. So join me as we pray for our enemies.
So we are just now starting to hear about the country opening back up to a more normal state of being. I imagine many of us are thinking about the things we cant wait to get back to. Hugging loved ones, going to the beach, playing group sports and most important of them all sitting at the bar talking about how amazing the Star-wars movies really are…ok maybe not that last one but you get the point. I have been online and seen a number of people posting about all the things they a can’t wait to do again.
Last week I was on the phone with a parent and she said something that made me think. She talked about with all the things wiped clean from her schedule what things was she doing now that she wants to keep after the quarantine has ended? So here is our question. What things are you going to keep? Is it going to be sitting with family for meals. Maybe checking in our your parents, friends or family. Maybe you have been better about going to worship every week, it was in your pj’s, but you have been consistent. Maybe it is getting more exercise by taking walks as a family. I know the dog would love for less than 7 a day but maybe keeping up with it as family on a daily basis is more doable now. We all have things we have changed over these past weeks maybe we can keep some of the good habits going.
For me it is going to be reading my bible. I also want to help my family make this a new habit as well. I want us to get in the word and talk about it on a weekly basis and really see what God has to say. So here is my challenge to all of you if you are looking for this as I am. Would you join us? I am going to be starting an online bible study for families on Thursday nights at 6:30pm. All you need is a bible and a computer/phone. It will be a time to get in the word. You can join us on a zoom call if you want or you can read with us and submit me some questions at a later point. The first 5 weeks are going to be on Galatians. We start Thursday April 30th. Lets start a new pattern in the word together as a family. You certainly don’t have to but do keep up going to Church at least, even if it is in your pj’s!