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Open Communication

“Then Moses said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” Leviticus 9:6

Holy God, it amazes me that you, in your infinite and powerful ways wants to talk to me.  That the God of the universe wants me to come to you each and every day with my needs and my fears.  Today I come to you with praise and thanksgiving that you love me so much.  Amen

I heard a description of an early  “church service” the other day.  The first half was open to anyone and featured scripture reading and the teaching of the gospel.  Then the pastor would call out, “the doors, the doors” and it was the message to those who were not baptized or confessed believers to leave.  The doors would then be closed and the second half of the service commenced.  This is when the holy gift of communicating with God began.  The church membership would have an “upper room” type meeting with breaking of bread and prayer to the Most Holy One.

What I like about this is that shows reverence to the second greatest blessing God bestowed on us (the first being Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins) – a loving, two-way path communicating with God.  A gift given to believers by Jesus and spurred on by the Holy Spirit that lives in the children of God.  I’m not suggesting only believers should pray, it’s just an acknowledgement of the seriousness of this gift we’ve been given.

In the Bible verse today, we see the seeds of God’s desire to communicate with us in the priestly ministry of the ancients.  God spoke through Moses on how to address Him through sacrifices and other holy activities.  He tells the priests in training that when they take these steps, they will see God’s glory revealed to them.  The same is true with the gift of prayer.  

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1

The disciples, just as in Moses’ day, desired to learn how to communicate with God.  How to open up the heavens so they could see the glory of the One Almighty.  And so Jesus taught them the prayer I mentioned yesterday, what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It starts with reverence, placing God in our hearts and minds rightly where He belongs.  It moves on to acknowledging God as the provider of all our needs and our submission to Him.  We then ask for forgiveness and to forgive others.  And finally for daily guidance.

The gift of prayer is God’s message to us that we are not believers of a god who is unable to do all things, or a god who can’t be trusted, or a god to whom we need to beg to hear us.  Before we pray we need to be fully informed of how we view Him.  If we don’t believe He is merciful then we might believe He will punish us if we bring our sins to Him.  Our prayers should always include a request for wisdom about Him so that when He answers our prayer – which He always does – we will understand the answer and see the glory in His ways.

Today, I want to leave you with this beautiful prayer from King David showing us how to glorify and praise God in all His magnificent ways.

Psalm 63

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
    and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
    my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
    they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
    and become food for jackals.
11 But the king will rejoice in God;
    all who swear by God will glory in him,
    while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
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I Will

So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. Matthew 1:19

We left off our study of new beginnings with a cliff hanger of sorts.  There sat Jonah on a hill wishing he were dead.  And God reminding Jonah that He cares for all people of the earth, especially the ones “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.”  Thank goodness for that because there are many days I feel and act like one of those foolish people!  If left to being helped out of my fiery pit by unloving, sleepy Christians, I would surely find myself in the depths of hell.  But for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  And those that submit themselves not only to their will but do so out of love.

So, we leave the Old Testament with many more stories of new beginnings than I have shared.  And with hope that Jonah finally grasped God’s message of works without love is empty and useless.  But here’s the thing about our guidebook for life, the Bible, God’s holy Word, there’s 1000s of connections back and forth between the ancient stories in the Old Testament and the newer history of the New Testament.  Which leads us to the first new beginning we encounter in the book of Matthew.  Another Noah.  Another servant of God who is the way maker for the world’s new beginning.  The connector from the old ways to the new.  A man who, like Noah, was considered “righteous” and faithful to God.  But first, let me share with you a modern story of another righteous man who helped shepherd in a new beginning for one small child.

Epworth’s Children’s Home received this first-hand account from a foster parent in 2017 about his experience in becoming a foster father:

“Our family has been fostering a boy since October 2017. Yesterday our foster child had a court hearing to determine what step to take as far as his custody goes. I haven’t shared a lot about the whole foster experience because I have been afraid, to be completely honest. Afraid because fostering has been a lot harder for me than I thought it would be. Not because the child is difficult – it has been hard because of my heart. Ever since he came into our home, I have been terrified of becoming too attached and having my heart broken when he would eventually leave our home. I have been terrified of giving him all of my love, my energy, my grace and my compassion. I was sitting in the courtroom listening to the different parties discussing and debating the best course of action for the child’s future, when I started shaking. I began to realize this is the moment! The moment I decide to completely expose my heart to the potential of pain, or keep my walls up. It was absolutely terrifying! I started hearing a small voice inside that I could no longer ignore, and it was telling me to fight for this child. I realized I was willing to do anything for him.

“My walls started to crumble around me. Then I heard the judge call my name. He wanted to know if I wanted to adopt this child. I wanted to scream “Yes! He is my son!”, but I think I said something a little less dramatic like, “Yes sir, we are working on becoming licensed for adoption for this child.” I then heard the judge say that he is ordering termination of parental rights and opening this case for adoption. The weight of this decision is not lost on me, but it was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had.”

But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20

Joseph was our Lord’s foster father.  As a devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he had every right to not only publicly shame Mary for her “adultery” but also to have her stoned to death!  Before the angel even spoke to him, however, love, kindness, compassion took over and he decided to quietly divorce her.  Think of how Jonah would’ve responded.  Surely God would’ve had to intervene to save Mary’s life from Jonah’s anger.

After Joseph obeyed God’s urging to complete his marriage vows to Mary, his troubles surely were not over. Like Noah, he would’ve faced public humiliation.  The knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy in the small village of Nazareth would have spread like a wildfire.  And yet he stayed the course.  He stayed faithful not only to Mary but to God.  He didn’t, by all accounts do it begrudgingly like Jonah.  He took up the mantle of “foster father” and protected his family, raised his son as his own.  His new beginning was as father to someone else’s son.  An earthly role model.  A shepherd, like Noah, for what was to be all of humanity’s new beginning.

Joseph and the unnamed servant girl who helped Naaman (2 Kings 5:3) also have a lot in common.  They were faithful.  They had a heart for God.  They stepped up to help when they could’ve taken a different path.  Their small steps were a gift to many.  And they both are but a few lines in our history.  Joseph’s last mention of him doesn’t even use his name.  Jesus is 12 years old, immersed in the teachings at the temple and his parents are frantically looking for him.  His mother chastises him and says, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” (Luke 2:48)  After that, Joseph fades away.  Most likely, he passes before Jesus begins his adult ministry.

And yet we remember him each Christmas for his shepherding, protecting, and faith.  We should all add a bit of thanks to Joseph each day we pray in Jesus’ name.  Because like so many faithful servants of Christ, He obeyed out of love.  He didn’t ask or require that “thanks.”  He didn’t harbor ill will for having to endure hardship.  He put his head down, his hands out and his heart lifted and said to God, “I will.”

I want to share with you the rest of the letter written to Epworth Children’s Home by the foster father:

“I will end with this. This is especially for you guys and fathers. If you feel God tugging at your heart to become a foster parent, listen! There will always be a reason to not become a foster parent, but if your main reason is that you are scared your heart will be broken, then you especially need to do it. Foster children need someone who will be heartbroken over them. They need someone who is going to stick by them when things get hard. They haven’t experienced that. They need someone to love them and be gentle with them when they come over and hit you in the face with a maraca and break your glasses (not that I have ever had that happen, that is completely hypothetical, of course!). They need someone who is going to be faithful to them and strong for them in their weakest moments. I am by no means perfect in any of those, but I am strong in my faith, and it provides me the love, strength and grace that I need. Fostering has made me more dependent on God, in everything, and that is good. Ultimately, I am a foster child who was adopted into His family, and I am fully loved.”

Amen.