FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
As you are reading this today, my wife, Becky, and I are returning from a far away Lenten journey. We have just had the privilege to go to Greece (and a day in Turkey) to “Follow in the Footsteps of St. Paul.” How appropriate, I thought, because this weekly column is called “Footsteps to Follow”!
Since we announced our trip, many people have said that they have been to Greece or on a similar trip or would love to go on such a journey. In St. Paul’s day the travel conditions were a little different and passport security was run by the Romans, but one still has to prepare for the day and night of journeys. Because of this, I find it interesting that tomorrow in many of our churches we will hear a reading from Ephesians. Ephesians is one of those letters that most theologians believe was written in the “spirit of St.Paul, most likely by a disciple of his, and the letter seems to be more of a general one, even though it is addressed to the Ephesians. Ephesus is one of the places that we will be returning from, as it is our one stop in Turkey. As this epistle (letter) addresses a variety of topics of our life in Christ from the “cosmic” to “household relationships,” this particular reading is at the end of the section that is about the mission and community of the church.
So as one who still will be adjusting to the light and dark after traveling from a different part of the world, it struck me that many around our world tomorrow will hear, “Once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light. … Find out what is pleasing to the Lord. … Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.'” (Ephesians 5:8-14).
Lent is a time of lengthening days. As our days become longer we are getting more light to live in and less time for darkness (especially for us night owls). A powerful reality of living in the Northern Hemisphere which physically embodies our Lenten journey of following the incarnated one who will have be buried in a dark tomb while the light is lengthening. But he will not stay in that tomb; like a lily bulb he will come back to the light after being buried and will continue to be our light. We will celebrate these mysteries in a couple weeks from Palm Sunday through Easter Day. Yet, every Sunday, even during lent, is a “little Easter” that celebrates this mystery of our Christian faith.
So as we continue on our Lenten journey to the darkness of the grave, I hope you will have times to expose yourself to the light of Christ, to be open to the deepest center of your being. Both the places that are dark and those that are already full of light!
Please pray with me: “Gracious Father, whose blessed son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life and light to the world: evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
– Wagner-Pizza is the canon and provost of Trinity Episcopal Pro-Cathedral in Williamsport.
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah 43: 18-19
Some people suppose that looking at what has happened in the past is a good indicator of what might happen in the future. After all, the ancient Greek idea of history is that history repeats itself. History is a circle. Same stuff, different day (or is it same stuff, different year?). Much of what happens in church life and even family life is seasonal and tied to the everyday events that we experience year after year.
But I have been struck by the passage above in the book of Isaiah (the second part, from chapters 40-55, was written while the Israelites were in forced exile living 800 miles away from home in Babylon). The Persian ruler Cyrus is even called the Anointed One here, as he is the one who eventually will release the Jewish captives to go home. At a time when spirits are down (and whose spirits among us today haven’t been down this bitterly cold winter!) the people are called to face the future with hope. And during these Servant Songs in Isaiah (chapters 40-49), the prophet even gives us a further look forward, not only to his servant Israel returning to its homeland but to the road that will lead to the ultimate Servant and Anointed One, Jesus.
The Hebrew idea of history is not like the Greek notion; rather than a circle, it is like a geometric ray (if you can remember back that far to high school math!). History is directional – it is pointed forward, not looking back. There is a destination and goal in mind, and the Lord is the author of our destiny. We catch glimpses of it as it “springs up,” but it still remains mostly hidden as it unfolds over time. The future of our lives is unfolding and it is largely one that we could not have predicted several years ago. But I am also aware that our future lies squarely in the Lord’s hands. The message of the exile prophets, called to proclaim a word of hope during desperate times, is that God is a future oriented deity. God is always getting us to look forward, not backward in lament, or around us in despair. The Lord is concerned about opening up new possibilities for us, not on watching us dwell on the past, or brood about the present. Listen to the words of the prophet Jeremiah: ‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).
So while you are waiting for the calendar to quickly turn to days of warmth and spring, may you also keep your eyes open to watch and see the Lord doing a new thing in your midst. God wants us to focus on what God is doing now, not on what the Lord did in the past (“the former things”). Just as God was preparing a New Exodus from Babylon for the people of ancient Israel, God is preparing to deliver His people today. The Lord wants us to expand our vision to see that a new miraculous act of God lies ahead. Are you ready? Do you not perceive it?
– Manzinger is the pastor at The First Baptist Church of Williamsport, an American Baptist Church
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
In his book “Into Thin Air,” Jon Krakauer relates the hazards that plagued some climbers as they attempted to reach the summit of Mount Everest. One of the expedition leaders stayed at the peak too long and on his descent became in dire need of oxygen. He radioed the base camp and told them about his predicament. He mentioned that he had come across a cache of oxygen canisters left by the other climbers but that they were all empty. The climbers who already passed the canisters on their own descent knew they were not empty, but full. They pleaded with him on the radio to make use of them, but it was to no avail. Harris was starved for oxygen but he continued to argue that the canisters were empty.
The problem was that the lack of what he needed had so disoriented his mind that, though he was surrounded by something that would give him life, he continued to complain of its absence. The lack of oxygen had ravaged his capacity to recognize what was right in front of him.
This is a picture of the current society. There is an “avalanche” of people turning away from Christianity to other claims of life-satisfaction, or nothing at all but one’s own wits. It only leads to more emptiness inside. God has created in every one of us an emptiness that only can be filled with His Spirit. Even the most devout follower will experience leanness of soul at times, for we are sidetracked by our pride.
We are sidetracked by “the world, the flesh (ourselves) and the devil.” The deceiver offers us beautifully wrapped boxes with nothing but emptiness inside. The more we try to fill those boxes with what we have or what the world offers, the more empty we get.
How are these working out for you? – drugs, sex, endless entertainment, rejection of time-tested morals, politics, “looking out for No. 1,” working too much (or too little), dependence on someone else to fulfill you, a house full of things, fulfillment in and through your children, peace talks and treaties, technology, pop culture, promising programs for progress, movie and sports “stars,” yes, even churches and church leaders!
Friends, what oxygen is to the body, the Bread of Life is to the soul. Some of us are suffocating and starving, and we don’t even know it. Jesus is offering life to us while we run around trying to appease our appetites. We will never be filled and fulfilled until we take of the Bread and Water of Life, Jesus Christ.
– Cline is a retired United Methodist pastor in Williamsport.
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
Life is full of times when choices are to be made. Usually the age of abstract reasoning is considered to be 7. Learning takes place in the home, in schools, churches and anywhere else, through all one is exposed to. The mind works in amazing ways, categorizing it all, determining what to accept or not.
Within each person, God places a desire for Him – a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). In Psalm 19:1-4 is written, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth'” (Genesis 1:26). What a job description! A decision was made by Adam that changed history from the point it was made. Right away in Genesis 3:14-15, the consequences were set forth because of it. “And the Lord said unto the serpent, Because you have done this, you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
In Galatians 3:16-18 is written, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was 430 years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” The Law that was presented through Moses showed the need for a Savior.
God provided a master plan to have His Holy Spirit within all those who received the free gift by grace that Jesus made available by the price He paid on the cross and the stripes He bore (Eph. 2:8-9; Matt. 8:17; John 3:16-17).
Throughout time archaeologists, historians and those who study Biblical prophecies have found the Bible stands on truth. The biggest accomplishment is when lives are changed! “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). There is a life changing choice to believe and live one’s life based on His (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-20). What will your decision be?
– Balliet is Eastern Regional Director of John G. Lake Ministries in Williamsport.
FOOTSTEPS TO FOLLOW
In the ancient Mediterranean world, droughts and famines were common in a hot, dry climate. Right from the start, beginning in the book of Genesis, Jacob’s family ends up in Egypt looking for food. In an agriculturally based society, where Israel’s three major religious festivals focus on the harvest of food, an untimely drought could be disastrous. But as deadly as physical famine could be, the prophet Amos warns of a different kind of scarcity. He predicts a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). They will stagger and faint, searching from north to south, but they will not hear it, Amos says. Even though God pictures Israel as a full basket of summer fruit, they are too ripe for God’s taste. Israel delights more in the sabbath being over so they could get back to business; even their religious practices were a pretext for dishonesty and injustice.
God had given Israelites everything that they needed. Amos reminds them of how the Lord brought them out of Egypt, how God brought them safely through the wilderness. God gave them this land flowing with milk and honey. Regardless of how well the Lord treated Israel, they always wanted more. Regardless of how much God blessed them, they never were satisfied. They had a hunger that could not be satisfied. There is nothing wrong with being blessed by God financially, but then God and not money should be the end that is sought. If you are not seeking after God, then nothing else ever will satisfy.
This unsatisfied hunger began to change Israel. It changed the people’s relationship with God. They began to develop a negative attitude toward God. They once were a people who honored the Sabbath; now they could not wait for the worship service to be over. They once were a people who used holy days to give thanks to God. In today’s world, many people have changed holy days into holidays so that they can give themselves entertainment and enjoyment. An unsatisfied hunger also changes relationships, whereby people exchange caring for one another to using each other. An unsatisfied hunger will make people do strange things. They will search for love, knowing full well that the places they look and the people they seek out will not provide it.
There is only one way our spiritual hunger can be satisfied – hearing the words of God. Hunger for money and material things crowd out the open space for God to enter. Jesus says we cannot serve both God and money. Yet even the majority of Christians have made a habit of trying to get filled with the things of the world during the week and the things of God on Sunday. But there is no room within for both. “For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also” (Mt. 6:21). Jesus is clear that you can’t be hungry for God and money at the same time. As the preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick once said, prayer is what we desire the most.
We can turn this famine, this hunger, into a feast. Remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” In the places where things are broken, where we are desperate, searching, empty, and silent – this is where we will receive the blessing. This is where God’s word will feed us till we want no more.
– Manzinger is the pastor at The First Baptist Church of Williamsport, an American Baptist Church.