Beyond Promises

2 Corinthians 8:11 (ESV)

So now finish doing [this work] as well

so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by

your completing it out of what you have.

Do you give willingly?

“There is a great difference between promise and performance.”[1] The difference between the two is straightforward. Just because I promise does not guarantee my appropriate performance will follow. For many examples, look into US politics. We’ve been time and time again witness to politicians whose promises did not match their performance. Turning to today’s passage, we are aware of another setting where the promise was not followed by adequate performance, the church in Corinth. The Corinthians had promised Titus, an associate of Apostle Paul, they would share in a special collection for the poor Christians of Judea. At the time of the writing of 2 Corinthians they had not kept their promise. Paul had confidence that with a little coaxing they would follow through, “now finish doing it.” I’ve got a good feeling we Christians throughout the history of the church have made promises God may still be waiting for us to follow through. We may also have made promises to each other with little performance to show for it. The good news is that there can still be time. The even better news is that God seems to never expect more than a performance to match “what you have.” In the excitement of the moment we may have over promised a time or two … or three. How about the ever-present keyboard setting in First Church, Anywhere, USA, that has yet to be paid off by pledges, made especially painful in that there is no longer anyone to regularly play it? I have seen the source of such empty pledges: guilt giving. It has been written, “Guilty feelings make it difficult to think straight.” Guilt can make us promise when we would have been better off waiting. Paul’s suggestion to the Corinthians, do not exceed “your readiness in desiring it.” In other words, give willingly. Prayerfully move beyond promises, while being aware of your willingness, completing your realistic promises out of “what you have.”  

“If you can’t do something willingly and joyfully, then don’t do it.” Peter O’Toole, British actor

www.twominutestoshare.com

Stephen L. Hodges © 2021


[1] Wiersbee, Warren, Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – New Testament

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Unity over Agreement


James 2:1 (ESV)
My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

Are you impartial?

James set a high expectation, Christians are to be impartial. If we just look at the variety of Christian denominations we can see evidence of our impartiality. There is an old poem noting our divisions, “You go to your church, and I’ll go to mine, but let’s walk along together.”[1] It’s a sweet, romantic sentiment, but it begs two questions: If the two live so close together to share a walk, and enjoy each other’s company, why are they going to different churches? Can they not agree on their doctrine? Just because we have choices for Christian churches does not diminish James forceful command, “Show no partiality.” I recent listened as a leader of my denomination lamented, “We have reversed the lesson of Acts 2 and seek agreement over unity.” The point is that we would rather divide than remain in the same space with someone with whom we cannot agree. We see it every day in U.S. politics, as if this makes it acceptable behavior. What is behind James point? “God shows no partiality.”[2] God loves, shows mercy, applies grace to all of us, to all creation, just as the sun shines on the evil and the good. Jesus taught, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” No one even picked up a stone; we are all sinful, with no right to judge one another. Are you impartial? Only you know. Our God is impartial; so, Christians are expected to be impartial. Let us place unity over agreement.  Let’s worship together, too.

“The sun and the moon shine on all without partiality.” Confucius

www.twominutestoshare.com Stephen L. Hodges © 2021


[1] “Your Church and Mine,” by Phillips H. Lord

[2] Romans 2:11 (ESV)

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The Spirit Life

Acts 10:44 (ESV)
“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.”

Has the Holy Spirit fallen upon you?

Some have called the event referenced in today’s verse, “The Gentile Pentecost.” This is not to be confused with the original Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. The Gentile Pentecost comes after Acts 2’s miraculous event, in which “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them,” and is called this because “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” In the recording of Act 2, the author makes sure to describe the gathering as “Jews and proselytes.” By Acts 10 the Holy Spirit is given to “all,” or everybody else, or as we have come to be called, Gentiles. Now I’ll emphasize the giving aspect of the event. The Holy Spirit is a gift. It is a gift we did nothing to earn it, to deserve it, to expect it. We cannot install the Holy Spirit, but we can put ourselves in the best attitude to receive the Spirit: engage with the Bible. It is fascinating to me that the scriptural text can bring about our awareness of the one and only Holy Spirit among us, within us. Taking note of the stark contrast between the black ink and the Holy Spirit, both are strongly connected. The Scripture leads us to the Spirit life.

“The gift of the Spirit is the most personal act of the Godhead. It is the gift of Himself to us.” Andrew Murray, from Experiencing the Holy Spirit

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One Day at a Time

John 12:27 (ESV)
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

Is your soul troubled?

Jesus had emotions. Jesus’ soul was troubled as he made his way to the cross. Jesus was showing his followers the impact of subjecting himself to the will of God. Jesus could just as well have said he was “stirred” or “agitated.” It works for me. I find it assuring that Jesus was feeling that way because I can get that way, too. No, I’m not headed to the cross, I don’t think. Billy Graham said, “The Christian life is not a constant high.” I’m comforted because I’ve wondered if I was getting it wrong. Being a Christian, following Christ, during the pandemic can be a low. Add to that, leading a group of Christians in Bible Study, or prayer, or worship, and I can be agitated at the least thing. That said I hear Jesus say, “But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” Jesus was following the will of God, on the road less travelled. You too may be following the will of God. These days you may be troubled over restrictions, infections, diminished attendance, and the longing for this to be over. You may be stirred by the continuing isolation. Consider this: Jesus walked to the cross one step at a time, with one foot in front of the other. Is your soul troubled? Perhaps it is. Your Christian walk may have “brought you to this hour.” Here’s the good news: You are not alone. Let’s take this walk together with Christ one step at a time, one day at a time.

“Take one day at a time. Today, after all, is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”
― Billy Graham, Hope for the Troubled Heart: Finding God in the Midst of Pain

www.twominutestoshare.com Stephen L. Hodges © 2021

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It’s Okay

Psalm 25:2 (ESV)
O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.

In whom do you trust?

The psalmist wrote these words of Psalm 25:2 encouraging the Israelites to trust God. The words were offered in hope to get God’s people to change their ways. After years of rebellion against God the Israelites were being offered a fresh start, a new life. With this in mind, I recently took note of a news reporter’s closing comment after rehashing the COVID-19 pandemic. On a Pittsburgh TV station, KDKA’s Nicole Ford closed with, “It’s okay to get excited about the future.” Ford encouraged us to make vacation plans for the summer, and to begin to plan those gatherings in the fall. This is easier said than done, Nicole. These days, to get excited about the future takes trust.  Ford like others see the infection and death rates due to COVID-19 beginning to slow. In my county, there are sequential days when there are no COVID-19 related deaths. We seem to have passed the worst. This is where trust enters. If we trust the numbers and the medical reports, then we may start planning the parties. I know I’m looking forward to again socializing. In fact, I’d like to walk into a store without being expected to wear a mask and heed social distancing. I think we can relate to the ancient Israelites, a people weary of being surrounded by their enemies. The psalmist was encouraging his people, Trust God. After the pandemic, after the masks are thrown away, after the directional decals are removed from the floors of our grocery and department stores, after the “No Mask; No Enter” labels are scraped from entry doors of our favorite restaurants, we still must trust. I feel the pandemic has changed us and made us doubters. We have become doubtful of scientist, doctors, and leaders. The doubts are permeating our entire being. More difficult than trusting the numbers and the masks to see us through, we are called to trust in God. In whom do you trust?  It has been said, “Sometimes, we don’t have to understand what God is doing … we just have to trust God.” With the closing words of the psalmist, “Redeem us out of all our troubles.” It’s okay to trust God.

“To trust God in the light is nothing, but trust him in the dark – that is faith.” Charles H. Spurgeon

www.twominutestoshare.com Stephen L. Hodges © 2021

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Destiny

Malachi 4:2 (ESV)
“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

What is your destiny?

“Surely the day is coming,” wrote the Prophet Malachi. It was time for the Judeans to return to Jerusalem. The First Temple had been destroyed, ransacked and burned. When the Judeans returned they did not know what they may find. Not all returned. But for those who returned to Jerusalem there was much work to be done. Despite that destiny, Malachi described the response to the people returning for the tasks, “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” Such imagery reminds me of a meme I saw on the Internet of a beagle running across a grassy field with mouth agape and ears folded back as the excited canine leaped about with abandon, and the caption read, “Live like someone left the gate open.” I believe that is our privilege. I see the ancient Judeans returning to Jerusalem with a task at hand while filled with the excitement of again worshipping our God on that special place, that hill, the Second Temple, on the Temple Mount. This year I believe many churches will return to in-person worship. Mine will return on February 14, 2021. The community of Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church has the opportunity to return to our unique sanctuary on our mount, our “Pleasant Hill.” Thankfully, our MPPC “temple” is still standing and well cared for by a small group of dedicated people. The personal question remains for each of us, wherever we may worship: What is your destiny? Destiny lies ahead for those who leave and those who return. The diminished group of Judeans climbing that hill long ago accepted their destiny to bring back to life their Temple. Our diminished groups of worshippers will climb our own hills, both literally and figuratively.  What is your destiny? Will you return or move on? Surely the day is coming. Destiny lies ahead for you.  

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” William Shakespeare

“You have a destiny, one that only you can complete.” Rick Warren

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No Proof Is Necessary

John 1:50 (ESV) 
50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

Why do you believe?

Many people in the United States have recently heard reference to “QAnon.” Relatively few know much about it. I’m going to take the liberty to generalize about QAnon to make a point. “QAnon” appears to stand for the original anonymous writer(s) with Q Level security clearance. QAnon is associated with a theory that there are despicable people in this country. QAnon theory then expects there is a person in this country charged to rid this country of these despicable people. Adherents to this theory believe they know this person and will go to great lengths to follow this person, respond to this person, even giving up their personal freedom for this person.  They believe in this person.  Now, do not confuse messiah with vindicator. The adherents to QAnon are not looking for a messiah, because they see themselves as the noble ones. They are looking for a vindicator, someone with the power and authority to defend their principles. I’ve taken your time to explain since I’m working to answer the question: Why do you believe? The American Psychological Association has written, humans are “predisposed to believe.”[1] Psychologists suggest 85% of all humans are predisposed to believe in something. I understand this to reflect our common need to give order to the chaos we experience. Therefore, our beliefs seem to be based on our experiences. The adherents to QAnon have had experiences that lead them to believe in a vindicator. I, on the other hand, need no vindicator, because my experiences have led me to believe in a messiah, the Son of God. I have seen the life-changing impact of Christ in my life; therefore, I put all my faith into one entity: God. I need not a vindicator; I have a messiah. Why? By the teaching of my messiah, Jesus Christ, these are not the last experiences of my life. Jesus celebrated the people who believe in him without experience. Christians are followers for whom no proof is necessary.   

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary.  For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”  Anon


[1] A reason to believe (apa.org)

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A Humbling Thought

Mark 1:7 (ESV)
And [John the Baptist] preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”

Could you be so humble?

The peaceful transition of power takes humility. John the Baptist had his fervent disciples. John had authority and success. John was the prophet’s prophet. Prophets of the Old Testament predicted the coming of this prophesying messenger to “proclaim the coming of the Lord.” Imagine John’s feeling of significance. John was the baptizer, ushering people to repent and be cleansed of their sin. God had bestowed upon John this much-needed work of change. That said John knew well his life plan. John was to prepare the way of the Lord and then humbly step aside. This was a divinely arranged transfer of power. Not all transfers of power go well. This week we have witnessed an ugly transition of power when President Trump refused to “prepare the way” for President-elect Biden, inciting his disciples and followers to overturn the election. On January 6, what ensued was the overtaking and desecration of the U.S. Capitol by “Trumpist” as Congress met within the building to ceremonially receive the outcome of the vote by the Electoral College, proclaiming Joe Biden our president-elect. By no means do I see Biden as a “messiah.” I do see one man’s inability to take the decision of the people and humbly prepare the way for his successor. Imagine if John the Baptist had done the same and challenged Jesus’ ministry. Imagine if John had incited his followers to march to the Temple and undermine Jesus’ ministry. Much like this week, the good news is the outcome would not have changed. John the Baptist would still have been set aside as Jesus went to work for our salvation. John the Baptist is an exceptional example of the peaceful transition of power. If you were in his place, could you be so humble? To relinquish such authority may be a challenge. It is often missed that the authority we receive has been bestowed upon us by a higher authority. I truly believe our power and success is not ours to cling to; human power and success are fleeting.  As my brother and mentor told me upon my installation at my first church, “God is already preparing your replacement.” A humbling thought that began my ministry. A humbling thought for any leader. A humbling thought for President-elect Biden, too.

 “It gets quiet when you realize someone’s forgotten you and even quieter when you see you’ve been replaced.” Anonymous   

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Wait! There’s More

2 Peter 3:13 (ESV)
But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Are you waiting?

The new heavens and a new earth are definitely not here. Peter writes of a coming time. A foretelling of the character of this time is that “righteousness” will dwell in the “new heavens and a new earth.” A simple understanding is that in the new heavens and a new earth there will no longer be sin. As we remember, early in the Bible when Adam and Eve fell into sin the ground was cursed (Genesis 3:17). Creation is still cursed or corrupted and sin went rampant. Envisioned in Revelation, there is a coming day when the corruption of creation is no more and sin will vanish. Then we will realize a longed for, ubiquitous, all-encompassing peace. In the meantime we wait. Now what? John Ortberg wrote, “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.”  During this wait we can begin to disconnect from the concerns of this life. Imagine the energy we waste as we worry about tomorrow. Consider the activities and routines we promote in the feeble attempt to stay young. Now, imagine our lifestyle if we simply counted on God. We are encouraged to trust God even when the Lord’s answer is, “Wait.” Are you waiting? You’re not alone. I am, too. Wait, There’s more! The new heavens and a new earth are coming.

“There is no place for faith if we expect God to fulfill immediately what he promises.” John Calvin   

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Faithfully Waiting

Isaiah 64:4 (ESV)

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.  

Are you waiting?

It seems we’re all waiting for something these days. I imagine most of us are waiting for the end of the pandemic. A good number of folks who are waiting for the end of the pandemic must be waiting for a vaccine, too. Sadly, the SARS-cov-2 virus will have taken many more lives before the general public gets the vaccine. As we wait for the defender the feeling of helplessness can creep into our psyche, our inner self. The background to today’s verse is that the people of God were waiting for God. They felt God was up in heaven watching as a spectator. In keeping with that perspective Isaiah wrote, “O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?” I can hear in these words the helpless cry, “Look what you made us do!” From my perspective God does not make us do anything. That may be a big challenge of following Christ: Jesus does not make us follow. That said, a common thread throughout the entire Bible is that we are encouraged to wait for God’s action. That takes faith. Like our faith in medical scientist working toward bringing an end to the pandemic leading us to wait patiently, waiting on God takes faith. When our faith runs it’s course we begin to turn away from science (pandemic) and God. Are you waiting? What are you waiting for? If you’re waiting on God, please, have a little faith. God’s timing is perfect. Trust God!

“Trust in God’s timing. It’s better to wait a while and have things fall into place, than to rush and have things fall apart.” Adam Cappa, American contemporary Christian rock singer-songwriter born and raised in Richmond, Indiana

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