A Word on Aging …

A word about aging…

I had a full career as a writer from day one through my mid-40s.  As a military contractor, my employer had access to all the government networks that would eventually become the internet. I was literally in on the ground floor.

That gave me the resume to dare to apply for a job in web design. At the interview, one of the young entrepreneurs said, “but would you be comfortable working with people who are so much younger than you?”


With 22 years in ministry, I’m technically at retirement age.  To me, that would be a long, silly vacation without the funds to enjoy it. “Do you have plans for retirement?” No, I do not.

I was blessed to retire from writing to become a programmer – and yes, I worked for and with people a lot younger than I was. Then, I was blessed to retire from programming to become a pastor. If I ever retired again, I’d be a musician – though I can’t imagine making more music than I make for church.

I am not an old sage. I am surrounded by people more spiritual and committed than I am. They are 30 years younger, and 20 years older, and everything in between. They’ve done a lot of living, too, so I don’t presume to know more or less than they do. I know some things; they know others. We share. It all works out.

Ageism may be the last acceptable prejudice in our society. I’ve had the honor of watching a lot of people age. I don’t chuckle over jokes about hearing, speed, vision, grey hair, or baldness. They aren’t funny. I’m also an adamant supporter of the generations that have followed us. They have their share of deadbeats, but they are otherwise the most responsible, ethical, and intelligent people I’ve ever met.

Jesus’ ministry on Earth was over in his mid-30s. Abraham was called at age 75. Moses saw the burning bush at 40, but didn’t lead the Exodus until he was 80. Samuel was called in his early teens.

God will use whom God will use. God gives us wisdom, sometimes from the mouth of babes. God gives us joy and new beginnings; they shouldn’t be suspect just because they come later in life.

Am I old? Chronologically, getting there. Physically, oh yeah, with daily reminders that the body is a rental that has to go back to the Vendor one day. Mentally? That’s a tough one. Experience has its perks, and its baggage. At this point, I just have to trust that God’s tossed salad needs me here.

God can do something brand new with your life, and it can start at any age. God forgive me if I have elevated myself at someone’s expense just because they were younger or older. We don’t select the year of our birth; it’s as locked in as skin color and gender. We all live TODAY, and none of is guaranteed another day.

I will try to draw good things from the treasure of my heart. I will seek the face of God in every person I meet. I will accept God’s gifts as they share them. I will affirm their dreams and potential. And I will try to not to judge them by age, for by the standards I judge, I will be judged as well.

Next Stop: Epiphany

The next stop on our annual journey through the holidays is Epiphany, January 6. In western traditions, Epiphany marks the arrival of the Magi to visit Jesus. It also makes a convenient bookend on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

To reiterate my favorite aside, “We Three Kings from Orient Are” were not. The Magi were Zorastrian priests, astrologers and/or magicians from Iran, then known as Persia. There were probably more than three, and almost certainly not all men. Given the role of women in ancient Persia, they likely supplied the gold, frankincense, and myrrh in the first place.

(And, to settle an old joke, they actually did stop at Herod’s and asked for directions. Clearly, there were women in the camp!)

Sometimes, our traditions get in the way of our Epiphany. It’s a little thing, but if we think the three kings were just three rich male rulers, we can miss the bigger picture. Where the Bible is silent, we fill in the blanks. The Magi were complete outsiders, pagans and foreigners who were probably celebrating to have been invited to the event by the heavens themselves. God moved the very constellations of heaven to lead them to seek the Messiah.

The Middle East was afire with expectations of a Messiah. Religion and Government were on the lookout for a troublemaker who would use the Messiah’s mantle to lead a revolution. Jesus’ one-to-three-year public ministry would have been even shorter had He declared His identity openly.

From prison, John the Baptist sent disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you The One who is to come? Or should we look for another?” Jesus answered indirectly, but with evidence that comes with yet another Epiphany.

Luke 7 reveals that “in that same hour He cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind He gave sight.” Jesus said simply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Gospel is preached to the poor.”

John knew the prophesies of Isaiah, who said the Messiah would preach to the poor, heal the sick, and even raise the dead. There are many great generals and leaders, but none has ever provided such convincing evidence of God’s endorsement. Just tell John what you’ve seen and heard; he’ll figure it out.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Some might ask, “Is Guyton Christian Church truly a Christ-Centered church?” All we have to do, like Jesus did, is point to the evidence:

Continue reading “Next Stop: Epiphany”

Let’s BE that downtown church!

You can see our steeple from the center of town. We own the corner, including the Disciples Post and the Slab. There will be a Sale on the Trail on October 22. Clearly, we have advantages the other churches do not have. It is not a stretch to say that in terms of location, we are THE church in downtown Guyton!

God has granted us this great location and visibility. We have unique musical talent, capable of performing completely unplugged, and at the drop of a hat. We have often taken that show on the road, playing at community events, showing up whenever we have an invitation and a place to sit.

On Oct. 22, I propose that we invite ourselves to the Slab, under a tent or tents, to present an unplugged Gospel concert during Sale on the Trail. I propose we set up picnic tables an serve up some of that great Moore Lemonade, close enough to hear the music without amplifiers.

That would be a prelude to a 4 o’clock event in The Depot, where we would share the Gospel in Word and song. The Oct. 23 service would be an especially musical service in the Sanctuary followed by a fellowship meal in the Christian Center.

Sounds like a lot of work. We have frequently turned down these opportunities because it’s too hot, or too much trouble. Usually, we abandon our corner for parked cars. This time, I say we rope off the Slab, strike up the band, and let hundreds of people passing by get a feeling for our hospitality, and our music.

When I got here, there was great excitement over new possibilities – then Covid hit. We have recovered, drawing roughly as many people Sunday mornings as we did before the pandemic – about 70 worshippers when both services are combined. We had one great revival, then another just before the lockdown. But before and after, it was too easy to ignore the crowds.

What would Jesus do? At festivals in Jerusalem, He would use the opportunity to preach and teach. He would feed people. And though He preferred to heal in private, He would not turn aside from those who needed Him.

There’s a festival in Guyton on Oct.22, and it’s on our doorstep. What will we do?

Let your imagination go wild. Maybe a mini-mall of vendors to draw people closer. A table with two elders and a big sign that says “Need Prayer?” Maybe we could mount a giant Chalice on the downtown side of the Christian Center, then say, “Right there! That’s our church!”

A lot of our musicians want an unplugged event. We can do that. Maybe you want to print flyers and hand them out. We can do that, too! What could we do if everyone who wants to grow the church showed up and pitched in? Sounds like a revival to me!

I’m presenting a broad outline of an event to showcase Guyton Christian Church. We’d draw musicians who want to play and people who want to listen – all of whom need to hear the Gospel. It’s good PR for our Gospel Jam and Bluegrass Service.

We have about seven weeks to get ready. That’s enough time, but it isn’t exactly long-range planning. If we all pitch in and apply our best talents, we can make it work. We could go farther, turning the Christian Center and the Depot into rest and cooling stations for the event. Think of the times we said, “What we should have done …” This time, I hope we can do what we “should have done” on so many previous opportunities.

Let’s go for a little “wow” factor: Wow, free lemonade? Shade to sit in? A free concert? Children’s activities? Wow, what a generous and loving church! Wow, that’s how a church SHOULD be! Wow, we might have found a church after all!

If we wanted, we could get on the phone a few days before and throw together a great bluegrass band from our ever-ready pool of talented members and friends. I’ve seen this church throw lavish fellowship meals and receptions with just two days’ notice. If that’s what we can do at the last minute, imagine what we can do with seven weeks’ lead time!

This is bigger than any one person or committee. What do you want the community to think of our church? How can we express that in an event? What can we do to inspire people to consider our church when they’re looking for a church? That’s a conversation for every group, every class, and every committee.

It’s easy to say we don’t have to do this. We don’t have to grow. We don’t have to change a thing. Still, I hear the growing concerns that we aren’t growing fast enough to replace those we lose. Not true, but perception is everything, so let’s have at it!

If you agree that we are not living up to our full potential as a church, then NOW is the time to do something about it!  God honors every honest effort, so fear not! If we draw even one new person to the Sunday morning service, we will call it a win. If not, we still win, because we served the Lord and tried to reach His people.

You (yes, YOU, dear reader!) can do something to make this event a success. A bake sale, a cake walk, an animal display, a vegetable stand, a children’s activity, an art project … Send me an email (pastorjoeltucker@me.com) with your private ideas or concerns. Talk amongst yourselves and see how your circle of friends can work together to promote Guyton Christian Church.

Bluegrass Revival


Enjoy a free concert and get to know
the singers, pickers, preachers & cooks
at Guyton Christian Church


10/22. 4 pm. Guyton Depot
10/23. 11 am. Guyton Christian Church
 plus a host of activities
during the Sale on the Trail. 
All Y’all’s Welcome!

What’s With the Cane?

“Why is Pastor Joel walking with a cane?” Fair question. Here’s why:

  1. I like it. My favorite toy as a child was any nice, straight limb. With a staff, I was invincible, able to walk the roughest terrain or climb the steepest hill. With a cane, I still am.
  2. I enjoy standing. I have a lean-to with me whenever I have the cane. I can stop and talk to anyone for as long as they like. I can stoop to talk to a child, then quickly stand to address the parents. 
  3. I enjoy walking. Guyton, GA, is a pedestrian community. Its big attraction is a walking trail, and its downtown community is a great stroll — and, hopefully, fruitful territory for spreading the Gospel. With a cane, I can walk for hours without fatigue.
  4. I like music. With the cane, I can thump a wooden floor. I can recalibrate my stride, walk in 3/4 time, or put the accent on whatever beat fits the song. I know, the song is only in my head — but the cane adds variety to the percussion.
  5. OCD. I have a shepherd’s crook; Grampa’s rustic walking stick;  Dad’s dog-head cane; Dad-in-Law’s brass duck cane; and a new brass-knobbed cane. One to paint, one to treasure, one or two to give away. And, speaking of which …
  6. Ministry-by-Example. There are many people who should carry a cane but don’t. I know why. They are embarrassed. It is embarrassing to use a mobility aid, although it shouldn’t be. I’ve already had people take theirs out of hiding when they see it’s okay to use one. 
  7. Dogs. I love them, but sometimes I trip on their turf. If they’re off-leash, that turf might be the middle of the street. I would never, ever, intentionally harm any animal, especially dogs and cats. It is also my intention to never get bit — again. On a gentler note, my puppy is very responsive to a gentle nudge. A cane in the doorway keeps him from bolting when I open the door.
  8. Cool factor. I like how it looks in the long shadows of Southeast Georgia. I like spinning the baton. I like watching the brass and wood wear and fade with use. I guess the nerd/geek/fashion-clumsy factors should counteract all that, but you know me — clueless.
  9. Endurance. I walk farther, stand longer, move with more confidence, and avoid back strain. I feel so good that I usually don’t need a cane –because I carry a cane. But sometimes …
  10. Physical. Doctors say with blood pressure this low, I might live forever if I switch to a diet of salt and fat. Usually, I’m active enough to keep the blood supply flowing to my brain. It’s rare that I get lightheaded, but it’s great to have a support when I do. My back is a miracle, and I never followed up on that fusing vertebrate thing. My back feels great! A cane helps it stay that way. 

“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” I don’t deserve a handicap sticker, and I need the walk, anyway. I don’t welcome the attention, but part of ministry is getting people’s attention. It’s my conductor’s baton, my ringmaster’s cane, my shepherd’s crook, my drumstick — and, stealing from the series “House”, “Hold my metaphor.”

So, don’t worry. Pastor’s having fun and taking care of himself. It’s no sin for all y’all to do the same.

Salt is Good

MARK 9:38-50

And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us; and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.

But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for our part. 

For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in m e, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, ;than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.

Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it: Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.

One of the great debates is preaching trivia is what did Jesus mean by salt? The need for salt is ancient knowledge. In common terms, salt is a seasoning, a preservative, a medicine, a cleanser, and an essential element in most living organisms. It’s as fundamental to life as water, breath and bread.

The body is bread. Add salt, and it’s better. It becomes inviting, something you might even crave, like a cracker or a potato chip. Eat too much, and you’re going to need a deep drought of that living water. Salt makes food more appetizing. Salt makes you thirsty.

I was convicted by a radio preacher the other day. He said that God has no use for our worldly displays. He probably would not appreciate my propensity for music and theatrics. But I remember that bread, water, air, and salt are very worldly elements. Jesus used real food on two occasions to feed the multitudes real, worldly food. Jesus preached about the Spirit, but he illustrated that through common, worldly things.

Salt. I can sprinkle it on so-so food and make it worth eating. I can add a lot and make a small dish go further as a garnish or a condiment. It has value all by itself, but especially in combination with food. 

“For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” So everyone will have trials and troubles. What about the sacrifice? Jesus was the last a sacrifice. He was salted with a little bit of worldly goodness. He had a sense of humor. He had compassion for the less fortunate. Everyone is salted with fire, but the sacrifice is salted with something else. The sacrifice is salted with the best of life.

I tend to think of salt as a sprinkling of compassion, forgiveness, and hospitality. Maybe it’s just a touch of whatever we’re missing to be more inviting. 

They will know we are Christians by our love. How do we win souls into the Kingdom of God? Well, everybody needs a little salt, even if they don’t need too much. Some need more than others.

Salt is good — but can you taste it? Has it lost its saltiness? How are you going to season salt? We know it still has saltiness if it still satisfies hunger and encourages thirst, like salt.

“Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” In the end, I truly don’t know what salt is. Symbolically, Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt because she turned her eyes away from salvation and back toward her dying world. She wanted more physical, and got it all.

We need just a little, but it’s a vital ingredient. Exactly what it is eludes me. You figure it out. What makes the Body of Christ more savory? What makes people thirsty for the Word, or for Christian Fellowship? Find that, and you’ve found salt.

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You Can Unfriend

When you browse your newsfeed
and you need cat videos
And no one, no nobody knows the truth.
Look for that ellipses (…), and click on “unfollow”
And right away your newsfeed is less uncouth.

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.

When a friend you thought was loving
Delights to gore your ox.
And nothing they say makes a lick of sense,
If you’re always shoving
Your feelings in a box,
Cause what they say is racist, and rude, and tense,

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.

Now ain’t it good to know you can unfriend
When people can be so cold?
They’ll tag you, and they’ll drag you
Into their fight if you let them
Ah, but don’t you let them.

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.
Ah, darling, you can unfriend.
Ain’t it good to know, ain’t it good to know
You can unfriend.

The First Sign

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

— John 2:1-11

The book of John uses seven signs to demonstrate the Deity of Jesus. The first is the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The others were the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum (John4:46-54), the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-5), feeding the 5,000 (John 6:5-14), walking on water (John 6:16-24), healing the man blind from birth (John 9:1-7), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). The first 11 chapters of John are sometimes referred to as the Book of Signs.

The story of changing water into wine and raising Lazarus are only in the book of John. The rest of the miracles are similar to stories in the other Gospels. But these are in the book of John for very specific reasons. Some think it’s a map of the new creation, with seven miracles in tandem with the seven days of creation.

In this first miracle, Jesus converts the water in six vessels used in ceremonial washing. The word tells us they hold 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus made 120 to 180 gallons of wine, and the host of the feast tells us it is better than the wine served first. The host and the guests didn’t know where the wine had come from, but the disciples and the servants knew. The implication is that Jesus did it so that His disciples would believe.

In a Christian wedding ceremony, the preacher usually mentions that Jesus’ presence at a wedding in Cana is His endorsement of marriage. I think that’s true. Later, Jesus would say that even if it’s good not to marry, living as a bachelor isn’t for everyone. Jesus not only attended this wedding, but He blessed this wedding with the wine. Wine is an ancient symbol of God’s bounty, blessing and joy, and we certainly recognize Jesus as the source of new wine. So this story shows that in Jesus, God is generous; God is not opposed to human joy and fellowship; and God is not against marriage. This is all good news for us.

Some thinkers also see this miracle as a hat tip to pagan beliefs. Bacchus was the Roman god of agriculture, fertility, and wine, a very important god to Roman pagans. By turning water into wine, Jesus proved Himself to be superior to Bacchus.

Wine certainly had a different significance in Jesus’ day. It was medicinal, ceremonial, and practical. But it would be very convenient to me if Jesus had avoided drinking wine, instead of making it and using it in religious ceremonies.

Some of you know that the church I last served had a very active recovery ministry, addressing drug and alcohol addiction. That tends to cloud my view of wine and all the references to wine in the New Testament. The Temperance Movement to outlaw alcohol started in the churches. Preaching would be easier for me if Jesus had avoided wine. And you know what that means? That means that compared to Jesus, I’m a stick in the mud. Sometimes I think I can be holier than Jesus. Sometimes I think misery, loneliness and seriousness are more holy than happiness and celebration. So maybe I have something to learn from this, the first of Jesus’ miracles in the gospel of John. Maybe we all can learn something from this.

Have you ever heard of a church or sect that practiced shunning? You know, a church where if someone falls from the faith, gets divorced, or gets in trouble, everybody avoids that person? Jesus wasn’t like that. The Jews in Jesus’ day shunned Samaritans, single women, and the lame. Jesus didn’t shun anybody. If that’s true, then how can we call it Christian to shun people? Jesus welcomed everyone from the woman at the well to the thief on the cross. That’s the example we’re called to follow. But some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Have you ever heard of churches that wouldn’t have fellowship dinners because they thought it was unholy? I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. Jesus was always sitting at the table with His disciples and tax collectors. After preaching all day, Jesus served dinner on the grounds for 5,000 people, and He didn’t check anyone’s membership card. I don’t think Jesus would call that unholy – but some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Of course you know, that doesn’t make sense. We can’t hope to be as holy as Jesus. So when it looks like Jesus is doing something we would avoid, something like healing lepers or talking theology with loose Samaritan women, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is. When we worry about Paul eating with Gentiles or disciples who eat without washing their hands or Jesus letting a strange woman wash his feet with her hair, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is.

Jesus was not about fasting and suffering and shunning people. Jesus celebrated life and fellowship. Jesus enjoyed a good feast. Jesus was generous in blessing others – and Jesus wants us to be generous, too.

Do you know that Jesus told His Disciples to be perfect? He did! But His definition of perfect I different from ours. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

It is not possible to be holier than Jesus, but we need to see what Jesus meant by holiness. Jesus wants us to be perfect, but we need to see what Jesus calls perfect. Jesus says perfect is impartial, loving and generous to others no matter what. Jesus was perfect. God was perfect. And Jesus wants us to be perfect, too. Love the unloveable, bless those who curse, and pray for those who use you. That’s the first sign that we are Christians.

The Devil’s Foothold

Eleven worshippers were killed on the Sabbath at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. A few days earlier, two shoppers were shot in Jeffersontown, KY, after the gunman failed to enter a black church, where 70 worshippers had been gathered a half hour earlier. The gunmen were obviously unstable and very, very angry.

It is always wrong to kill because of someone’s race, nationality, religion, or opinions. As with the first murder, when Cain killed his brother Abel, murder begins with anger. Anger is a natural human emotion, but one that our faith requires us to reign in and control. Like the LORD told Cain, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7b)

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 when he says, “’In your anger do not sin.’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26)

The problem with anger is that it gives the devil a foothold. That’s why Jesus equates anger with murder. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22a)

Anger is like smoking. Each little puff seems harmless enough, but each one weakens us and brings us closer to sickness and death. Each little angry word or thought seems like no big deal, but if they build up, they bring us closer and closer to making bad decisions, harming others, or destroying friendships.

But what about those people and groups who seem to deserve our wrath? The Bible is clear on taking revenge. Paul sums it up in Romans 12:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Some people do not live by these words, so it is even more important that we keep them in mind. One person’s anger inspires another, and before you know it, friends break up, marriages fail, churches split, or some unstable person goes on a rampage. But if we’re quick to listen and slow to speak, we won’t be making things worse.

In these days of heated rhetoric and divergent opinions, let’s remember what God’s Word says about anger, and pray that Jesus will help us be patient and forgiving.

Hard Hearts & Stiff Necks

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.”

Mark 10:1-11

My message today is not about divorce. It takes two to get married but only one to get divorced. I would not be surprised to learn that there are divorced people in our church, just like in all other churches. Statistics show that at least one in three marriages will end in divorce. We presume nothing about these break-ups. If a spouse is abusive, divorce might be the only reasonable option. The legal and social implications of divorce are far different today.

I might use this scripture to counsel a married couple that wants to stay together. I would never use this scripture to condemn a divorced individual. Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and was living with a man out of wedlock, and even then he did not condemn her.

Pharisees were legalists, and they often used scripture to condemn other people. Every time they did in Jesus’ presence, he turned the tables to correct their understanding of God’s Law.

So what does this scripture say about the Law? Jesus is unequivocal: To divorce one wife and marry another is an act of adultery. That means the Law of God handed down by Moses way back in the book of Exodus is a permit to commit adultery. In Malachi 2:16 God says, “I hate divorce.” – but God’s law makes legal divorce possible. What does this say about God and God’s law?

It says that God is loving and forgiving. It says that the human heart is hard and stubborn, but God won’t let that separate him from his creation. The law of Moses that permits divorce is an act of compassion on the part of God, because nobody is served by being trapped in an abusive partnership.

The scripture is a little different in Matthew 19. There, the Pharisees ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Because Moses didn’t say you had to have a reason; he just said you had to put it in writing. (Matt. 19:3)

The ending in Matthew is different, too. In Matthew 19:10, “The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” We know from scripture that Peter was married before he became a disciple, but this passage makes me wonder if some of the disciples had been previously divorced. It certainly implies that some were not yet married.

When Jesus taught scripture, it was usually to condemn the way others were abusing it. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” (Matt. 5:38) That was also in the Law: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. People were using that to extract their revenge, and even today we use it to justify our actions. But the law doesn’t say you have to extract revenge. It is really putting a limit on revenge – you can’t take two eyes for one, or two teeth for one.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Matt. 5:43) That’s in the law, too. But Jesus is saying that we should not only love neighbors and friends, but also strangers and enemies. He is asking us to hold ourselves to a standard even higher than the Law.

The question for us is not about divorce, or neighbors, or even revenge. The question is about a hard heart. In Mark 8, Jesus told the disciples to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod (8:14). They thought he was talking about bread, and he said, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (17)

In the book of Acts, Stephen said, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”

The book of Romans quotes Isaiah to say of those whose hearts were hardened, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”

With a hard heart and a stiff neck, we need miracles to believe and laws to keep us in line. The terms “hard heart” and “stiff neck” are used to describe people who refuse to listen, people think we know it all and we don’t need to learn more.

Paul’s first letter to Timothy goes beyond calling it a hard heart. Paul calls it, a conscience seared as with a hot iron: “The Spirit clearly says that in latter times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” That seared conscience is making its own laws, apparently to make up for a hard heart. People with soft hearts do the right thing out of love for God and for others. Paul says, and Jesus seems to agree, that the Law was written for hard hearted people who don’t believe. Believers are held in line not by the law, but by the Love of God.

Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 when it says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion. … So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:15,19)

Jesus holds us to a higher standard than the Law of Moses. But Jesus also gives us a better way to please God than just following the Law. Jesus gives us a reason to believe. Jesus shows us that God loves and forgives. Jesus tells us to love and forgive. Jesus gave his all to reunite us with God. We should give our all to be reunited with God.

Jesus replaced the Law with faith, hate with love, and discipline with passion. As Paul said in Romans 13:9-10, “The commandments … are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

It’s an odd truth, but it’s one we should remember, and one for which we thank God. You don’t have to know the law to fulfill the law. All you have to know is that Jesus commanded us to love one another. That is the fulfillment of the law.

2018 Sonnet 79

Mirror, mirror looking good in that frame
Of cast iron, aluminum, wood, plastic –
Doesn’t matter how you’re wrapped, all the same,
Every mirror I see looks fantastic!

Mirror, mirror on a wall, in a stand,
On a door, where you are doesn’t matter.
Mirror, sweet mirror, I’m your biggest fan!
Be secure, for sure. Don’t fall and shatter.

Mirror, mirror, strangely, some don’t like you.
They see you but they don’t like what they see.
I don’t get it! No one waits in my que.
Envy dampens their curiosity!

Like Narcissus falls for his reflection,
I just have a thing for my perfection.