A Divine Perspective of Time (2 Peter 3:8-13)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (New International Version)

We are invited, through today’s New Testament lesson, to see the moving of history as God sees it.

The Apostle Peter addressed two questions and concerns the people had about the Lord’s coming:

  1. Will this coming be worth the wait?
  2. What should I be doing in the meantime, now, while I wait?

The Christians, for whom Peter wrote his letter, were impatient. They saw time from a mere human perspective. The believers needed a bigger and fuller understanding of God’s purposes. We must come to grips with the reality that God’s timing is different than ours.

There are two words for “time” in the New Testament: chronos and kairos

Chronos is where we get our English word “chronological.” This is time measured by the clock. It’s the way much of our lives are governed.

Kairos is seasonal time. It’s not determined by the clock but is event oriented. 

God is not time-oriented in the same sense that we are. The Lord is not ruled and controlled by the clock but is above all time. God is event-oriented, which is why the Lord’s understanding of time is that a thousand years are like a day, and a day like a thousand years.

In other words, God measures time differently than most Westerners do. When the Bible says Christ is coming soon, it means there are no events left in the course of history except the Day of the Lord, the return of Jesus, to judge the living and the dead.

I admit to being a clock-oriented guy. I also confess that my wife and girls are not. They are much more event oriented than me. So, I suppose when it comes to time, they are the godly ones. After all, the seasons will continue to come and go but a clock will eventually die when its “time is up.”

I cannot begin to count how many hours of my life have been spent waiting on my wife and girls. I used to get frustrated and impatient because I thought they should be clock-oriented, like me.

Yet, over the years, I have learned to accept this reality. Now I take the time of waiting and read. I have read a lot of books over the years through my waiting. I used to want to time travel because of wasted time, but that is all in the past now.

A clock-oriented guy like me needs to grasp that God has all the time in the world. God serves no clock. Clocks are merely playthings for the Lord.

When God wants a hot time, he just puts a clock in the oven. I, however, tend to get antsy, impatient, and frustrated, believing that God must operate on my time schedule. Yet, what seems to me is divine tardiness, is really something else.

God seems slow in keeping divine promises. But the truth is, the Lord takes all the time in the world because of divine mercy. While I am beating my chest trying to get everyone on my time deadlines, God beats up the clock, just to kill time.

In the face of so much that is not right with the world, we might wonder why God is not just stepping in and taking care of all the evil and unjust situations on this earth.

But what we view as a lack of mercy is, in fact, sheer grace on God’s part – patiently waiting for all kinds of people to confess their guilt and shame and come to Jesus. God is waiting for that lost soul to make their way to forgiveness. You cannot bear your secrets with a clock around because time will tell.

Whereas I tend to think I am waiting on God, God is waiting for me, too.

What should I be doing in the meantime while I wait? We ought to be living holy and godly lives as we look forward to Christ’s coming and speed its coming. Yes, God is the One who is waiting on us. Do you know the time of the Second Coming? No, me neither; we have not met yet.

The holiness and peace of God’s people will influence the timing of the Christ’s return. When God upends our current situations, it’s time to get a new set of circumstances. Since God is an event-oriented God, the Lord has all the time in the world to wait on us to be the kind of people we need to be.

The fact that we are two-thousand years removed from the first Advent of Christ probably does not speak very well to the church in general. It will do no good to sit on our watches so that we can be on time. God is still waiting for a lot of folks to come to repentance, as well as the church to take up her mandate of making disciples.

God is gracious and does not bully us or strike us with lightning when we disobey. Rather, God is patient, wanting us to approach and receive mercy. The Lord is waiting for us to avail ourselves of divine help to live holy and godly lives.

Holiness simply means to be separated from evil and connected to God. Godliness means to live a worshipful and spiritually disciplined life.  Our Lord’s patience means deliverance from all that detaches us from Jesus so that we might rightly attach ourselves to him.

Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. They flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night, and when his buddies dropped him off at his driveway just after sun-up, there was a big banner across the garage—”Welcome Home!”  How did his wife know? No one had called her, and the crew themselves had not expected to leave so quickly.

Robins relates, “When I walked into the house, my wife came running down the hall—she looked terrific—hair fixed, make-up on, and a crisp yellow dress. ‘How did you know?’ I asked.  ‘I didn’t,’ she answered through tears of joy. ‘Once I knew the war was over, I knew you’d be home one of these days. I knew you would try to surprise me, so I was ready every day.'”

In the history of redemption, the war has been won. There is only one event left on God’s calendar: The return of Jesus.

When a clock stops ticking, it just hangs around. That’s not what the Lord wants.

Throwing the watch across the room will not make time fly; Jesus will come when he comes. Meanwhile, our focus is on living holy and godly lives as we wait….

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

How To Handle Trouble (Psalm 94)

Lord, you are a God who punishes;
    reveal your anger!
You are the judge of us all;
    rise and give the proud what they deserve!
How much longer will the wicked be glad?
    How much longer, Lord?
How much longer will criminals be proud
    and boast about their crimes?

They crush your people, Lord;
    they oppress those who belong to you.
They kill widows and orphans,
    and murder the strangers who live in our land.
They say, “The Lord does not see us;
    the God of Israel does not notice.”

My people, how can you be such stupid fools?
    When will you ever learn?
God made our ears—can’t he hear?
    He made our eyes—can’t he see?
He scolds the nations—won’t he punish them?
    He is the teacher of us all—hasn’t he any knowledge?
The Lord knows what we think;
    he knows how senseless our reasoning is.

Lord, how happy are those you instruct,
    the ones to whom you teach your law!
You give them rest from days of trouble
    until a pit is dug to trap the wicked.
The Lord will not abandon his people;
    he will not desert those who belong to him.
Justice will again be found in the courts,
    and all righteous people will support it.

Who stood up for me against the wicked?
    Who took my side against the evildoers?
If the Lord had not helped me,
    I would have gone quickly to the land of silence.
I said, “I am falling”;
    but your constant love, O Lord, held me up.
Whenever I am anxious and worried,
    you comfort me and make me glad.

You have nothing to do with corrupt judges,
    who make injustice legal,
    who plot against good people
    and sentence the innocent to death.
But the Lord defends me;
    my God protects me.
He will punish them for their wickedness
    and destroy them for their sins;
    the Lord our God will destroy them. (Good News Translation)

Courageous, brave, bold, and strong – it seems most people do not characterize themselves this way, especially when they are in the throes of overwhelming circumstances.

Whenever one feels crushed under the weight of adverse situations caused by evil, it can be hard for them to see their resilience and strength.

I suppose it makes sense as to why we lose sight of this, because we can all readily recall times and events in which we wilted with fear; did not speak up; or were not assertive.

The many conversations we have in our heads for which will never take place, are testament to our supposed withdrawal in the face of adversity. We have far too many discussions with ourselves of how something should have gone; and too many brave retorts for someone whom we really have no intention of saying those words toward.

If this all sounds like the convoluted musings of a wimpy kid, that’s not far off the mark. When we get bullied, even as adults, it can be easy to wilt, or to take it, or to simply find a way to avoid the bully. With some folks, we even create elaborate internal reasons why it’s our fault someone is upset with us. In such times, bravery and courage seem a long way from our true selves.

Faced with a daunting task or an ornery person at work, home, or school, we may wonder if we really have the internal stuff to deal with it. We feel that maybe someone else would be better suited to handle the trouble. 

Yet, what if I told you that you are, indeed, brave, strong, and confident?

What if I insisted that courage resides within you, even if you yourself cannot see it right now?

And, what if I told you that bravery isn’t something you must go on a quest to find, but that it’s been in you all along? 

If you are already enough, then you only need to be aware of it, acknowledge it, and let it out.

You intuitively know I’m on to something here. After all, the most common exhortation and assurance in the entirety of Holy Scripture is to not be afraid because God is with us:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10, NIV)

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So, we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV)

In the great litany of fear, we face every day, spiritual confidence and personal bravery is not so much commanded by God, as it is a calling forth of something which is already within you.

Now, before you go thinking I’m some looney-tune, hear me out. From the beginning of the world, in God’s creative activity, the Lord did it all by calling forth creation from within himself. What I mean is this: God did not simply command everything into being; instead, he said, “Let there be…”  God let out what was already there in God’s very Being. It was almost as if God belched-out from the great depth of his Being and let out all this wondrous creation.

Concerning our fear and bravery, God does not so much command us to be courageous but wants us to draw from the great reservoir within. The Lord has already created us strong, as creatures in the divine image. We just need to get in touch with what is already there. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” said Jesus to his disciples, because he knew his followers had it in them to walk in his way without fear. (John 14:6, NRSV)

“Let not your heart faint, and be not fearful,” said God to the prophet Jeremiah, in the face of a terrible destruction that was about to unfold against Jerusalem, because the Lord knew that Jeremiah could face what was going to happen. (Jeremiah 51:46, ESV)

Christians can act with boldness because Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation. He is the One which enables us to draw from the deep well of courage:

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testing we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)

I insist that you are brave, you are strong, and you are good. Those are not words meant to make you believe something which may or may not be true, as if I were trying to convince you to take some panacea to feel better.  No, I say it because it is true. 

You really can face the immense mountain in front of you and climb it. You can surmount the adversity you are in the middle of – not because of some words I say, but because you were created for courage.

So, how do you let out the bravery and let the boldness shine? 

You already know the answers to your own questions. You have all the knowledge you need to face your problems. So, the real question is:

Will you let your bravery come out to play, or will you keep it hidden beneath layers of insecurity?

It’s a whole lot easier to let me tell you what to do than to draw from what you already know, deep down, how to handle that troublesome something. 

I’m not going to give you a simple three-step process out of fear and into courage. That’s because you already have been endowed with the process. 

This certainly isn’t a sexy way to end a blog post, but it just might be the most effective and lasting.

The Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10)

By Sieger Koder (1925-2015)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.“

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (New International Version)

Lost people matter to God… a lot. They matter so much to the Lord that one lost soul who is found is the grounds for a big celestial party. 

Note a simple observation of today’s Gospel lesson: If there is rejoicing in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents, then it is God who is doing the rejoicing. The Lord is absolutely giddy with joy over a lost person being found.

Jesus told two short stories, each teaching the same thing, so that we will be absolutely sure to get it: A loving God has unbounded joy over lost people being found. These parables of Jesus give us a glimpse of God’s own heart. The Lord would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile that person to right relationships. 

The Lost Sheep by Jorge Cocco Santángelo

God would go dumpster diving and wade through stinky nasty garbage to find just one lost valuable person.

Restoring lost people is such a high priority to God that the Father sent the Son to this earth. Jesus paid the ultimate price of a cruel death on a cross to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.

I have not always been a devoted follower of Christ. I still remember what it felt like to be separated from God and estranged from the Church – it was lonely and awful, like being in a deep black hole with no way of getting out and no one around to help. 

But God mercifully sent people into my life to share good news with me and help me out of my prodigal way of life. I once was lost. But now I am found. When I turned from my path of destruction and embraced Jesus Christ, there was a big party in heaven.

God gathering wayward and lost persons is a gracious activity, seemingly free from criticism. But there was. The rightful Judge of the universe got judged by a group of spiritual simpletons. And because there were complaints leveled at Jesus for purposely going after the lost, it therefore needs to be asked: 

Where do we locate ourselves in these parables? 

The two stories were downright offensive to many of Christ’s original hearers. Those upset with Jesus were so inwardly focused that they believed ministry ought to revolve around them and their needs.

And, what’s more, the religious leaders were offended because they thought all the fuss about sinners would only highlight their sin. In other words, there ought to be no party and no rejoicing for people who have lived an ethically and morally dubious life.

Preaching grace is always offensive to people who work for their salvation. It is scandalous to such persons to hear that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. 

If we hear Christ’s parables and the concern for lost sinners who don’t know Jesus and say, “Well, all this talk about outreach is well and good, but what about us?  What about me? After all, I never went down a path of immorality or hurt anyone. I’m a good person. Where’s my party?” Then, we must locate ourselves as the lost persons in need of being found by God’s grace.

Consider for a moment the worst sinner you can think of – a person for whom you would label as being akin to the devil…. Now picture that person being found by God and becoming a follower of Christ….

Would you attend the party to celebrate that person’s repentance, reconciliation, and recovery? 

If any of us feels justified in our hate, then we are the lost one in need of turning from our sin.

In leaving the ninety-nine sheep in the flock and going after the one sheep, God gave preferential attention to the lost….

Can you live with that? 

These parables of Jesus have significant meaning for church programs, budgets, and committees. By most estimations, only one-in-five lost people in America even knows one Christian. Statistics like that are what keep me up at night; it deeply saddens me. It drives me to prayer.

God’s unconditional mercy and amazing grace is what makes all the difference. 

If we lose the sense of awe and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ, then there will be no outreach. Finding lost people is not dependent on completing a class on evangelism or getting training in how to answer every question.

Outreach is fueled by passion and desire. Healthy Christians reproduce themselves. I assume you didn’t take a class on how to procreate – you just had the desire and the willingness; and then, you celebrated nine-months later, the birth of new life.

New life always needs to be celebrated because that’s what God does. Yet, the party cannot commence until the lost are found….

O God – blessed Father, Son, and Spirit – sanctify all believers everywhere with your abiding presence. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of the Gospel. Bring lost people to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep steadfast to the end. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you and straying from the flock. Increase in us your grace and love so that we may participate with you in finding the lost. Amen.

Luke 13:10-17 – Healing on the Sabbath

Jesus Healing the Bent-Over Woman by Glenda Skinner-Noble

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. (New International Version)

The way in which we interpret events says a lot about who we are and what we need. The story sounds different, depending upon which person(s) are viewing it….

The Crippled Woman

She had gotten used to looking at people out of the corner of her eye, by looking up and sideways.

After eighteen years, she could hardly remember any other way of seeing the world. On this particular Sabbath, there was a special excitement at the synagogue, where she regularly went to worship. A Galilean preacher and prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived in town and would be teaching there.

She and the others in town had heard reports about Jesus–how he talked about God’s reign arriving soon and how he healed sick people. She was not sure how many of the rumors to believe, but she was trying not to get her hopes up. Her life already had too many disappointments to count.

When she entered the synagogue, the place was abuzz. As Jesus began to teach, however, the room was hushed. Moments later, his words turned from teaching to invitation. He had caught her eye–no mean feat, given that he had to lean over and incline his head to do so. “Come here,” he said to her. She slowly made her way to the front of the assembly.

Jesus and the Bent-Over Woman by Marg Mowczko

What happened next amazed the whole congregation. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When this man, Jesus, spoke those words and put his hands on her broken, bent body, she felt power surge through her. Without hesitation, she straightened her once crooked back. She stood tall and praised her God . . .

The Synagogue Leader

He has come to the synagogue every Saturday. Each Sabbath day the synagogue leader stands and faithfully reads the Torah. On this particular Sabbath, a Galilean preacher is coming. Some say his is a prophet, even Messiah. The leader has seen his share of would-be messiahs come and go, claiming to speak for God. He doubts anything will come of this. Just another man.

But what is this? A synagogue full of people! And just as the leader thought this may just be good for the people, getting them to pay attention to the law and the prophets, this preacher calls a woman forward, and of all things, heals her!? This is not good. This is not how things are to be done!

In the Torah, the seventh day was set aside by God for Israel’s rest. Work is prohibited. Non-life-threatening illnesses and conditions can be treated on the other six days. The synagogue leader is not opposed to healing. In fact, he welcomes it. But at an appropriate time, on the right day. He says to himself, “This all must be done decently and in order. Who does Jesus think he is? We cannot have such insubordination amongst the people, and in the synagogue, of all places!”

And so, the synagogue leader is beside himself with both anger and fear that the Law will not be properly upheld, and that God will be displeased and take away their place of worship.

Coptic Church depiction of Jesus healing the crippled woman, 12th century

Jesus

Jesus comes, looking forward to being with the people in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He understands that since the Sabbath law commemorates and celebrates Israel’s liberation, it ought to be a day for enacting — not inhibiting — the present-day liberation of Israelites. Yes, it is a good day for a healing. Every day is a good day for healing.

As Jesus enters the synagogue, it is full of people, charged with the atmosphere of anticipation. During the service, Jesus sees a woman. Although he rightly discerns that the synagogue leader and some of the congregants will not be happy about this, he calls her forward, intent on freeing her from her satanic bondage. And also knowing that placing his hands upon this woman will appear scandalous, he does it anyway.

Sure enough, the synagogue leader is livid. The leader feels the need to correct Jesus. Yet, Jesus unmoved by this, calmly retorts, without budging an inch, that given the custom of providing water for thirsty livestock on the Sabbath, it is surely appropriate to heal a long-suffering Israelite on the Sabbath.

In none of this does Jesus abolish the Sabbath commandment. Rather he follows it faithfully. Jesus enters an ongoing Jewish debate about how to interpret the Sabbath law, locating himself at the less stringent end of the opinion spectrum.

Jesus is determined to uphold the spirit of the Law, to practice compassion, to do what leads to human betterment. He is doing God’s will. He is allowing the Sabbath to serve this old woman, rather than letting the woman serve the Sabbath as a bent over crippled person.

The People

They come, as they do each Sabbath, to gather and listen to Torah read, to pray to God, and to strengthen one another in their common faith. Yes, the synagogue leader can be a bit tedious. The synagogue service can be a bit boring. But he is a good man doing good work.

Today, however, is different. Jesus, the one they have heard so much about, is there. And what a synagogue service it is! Jesus teaches us, and with authority! But, to our astonishment, he calls one of our women forward. And he touches her! Then heals her! This is the woman who has been tortured with such crippling pain and bent over all the time!

Oh, my, the synagogue leader is upset! We are so full of joy for our healed sister, yet also confused. This is a good thing that Jesus did – God’s kingdom breaking into this world. Yet, here is the synagogue leader and Jesus debating Torah. Does freedom from Satan only come on six days, not seven? Surely, God is especially honored on such a holy day as the Sabbath to do such important work. But work, it is. And Jesus did it. Is this really a good thing, or not?

Syrian Church depiction of Jesus and the crippled woman, 6th century

Conclusion

This is a story about the role and function of our religious traditions, our claims about what could and should be practiced, when and where it ought to take place, and who is allowed within the walls of our faith communities. Special religious practices may become hindrances to including folks. We must be diligent to recognize what theological ideas we hold dear that disallow full participation from others.

Jesus was no Sabbath breaker. He operated well within Jewish tradition of the day. At the same time Christ is also not one to allow the tradition to exclude people from access to the community and the potential for their healing. Even though the synagogue leader and some others disagreed, many in the crowd agreed.

Today’s story is about the community and addresses questions such as, “What kind of community do we want to be?” “Do our religious traditions help us to become that kind of community or do they hinder it?” “If we want to be a healing community, how can we make that happen?”

O God the Father, whose will for us and for all your people is health and salvation, O God the Son, who came that we might have life and have it in abundance, O God the Holy Spirit, whose indwelling makes our bodies the temples of your presence, have mercy on us.

O Triune God, we pray you to hear us, and that you will grant your grace to all who stand in need of healing of both of body and spirit, and lead them to look with confidence in you;

That you will grant patience and perseverance to all who are disabled by injury or illness, and increase their courage;

That you will grant peace to all who are troubled by confusion or pain, and set their minds at rest;

That you will grant relief from suffering to all sick children, and give them a sure sense of your tender love and care;

That you will grant rest to all whose increasing years bring weariness, distress, or loneliness, and give them the abiding comfort of your presence;

That you will grant confidence to all about to undergo surgery or difficult procedures, and keep them free from fear;

That you will grant purpose to the church as it seeks to carry on Christ’s ministry of healing to suffering humanity, and keep it always true to the gospel of Christ;

That you will grant skill and compassion to doctors, nurses, technicians, aides, and all who are called to  practice medical arts, and make strong their dedication to help others;

That you will grant to all people the peace of quiet sleep and the joy of resting in your everlasting arms, that we may rejoice in your care while we are on earth, and in the world to come, have eternal life.

O God, who in Jesus Christ called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; enable us always to declare your wonderful deeds, thank you for your steadfast love, and praise your with heart, soul, mind, and strength, now and forever. Amen.