What's Really Important?



In the back of our lot was an old tree. It held the remnants of past platforms among the branches. I discovered it was a plum tree only after building a treehouse in it. To build this playhouse a lot of dead wood had to be cleared out of the tree.  Most of the dead wood was twigs and small branches and the task was more tedious than difficult. The dead wood impacted the tree by keeping it from doing what it was meant to do, namely bear plums.  

Building this treehouse forced me to remove dead wood but we undergo experiences that cause us to take stock of our lives. And these events may well offer us the chance to ax the excess—rid our lives of the dead wood.
I know some of you have had a doctor mention 'cancer' and you were forced to make changes and even move your life in new directions.  Your company goes belly-up, there are layoffs, a child, friend or other person makes horrible choices.
Perhaps the issue is a pandemic that threatens our health, jobs, social life and even our spiritual health. Let me say that COVID-19 is more of an opportunity than it is a hindrance to the Gospel—if we ax the excess and seek God’s direction at this time.
This week I read of a preacher in Louisiana who not only gathered for worship but also had members shake hands because as he said, "We are raising up Revivalists not Pansies (Palmer)". Pope Francis told Catholics that if you can’t make it to confession “you can go to God directly, be specific about their sins, request pardon and experience God’s loving forgiveness (Wooden)."
I am impressed with Ed Stetzer, in the most recent issue of Christianity Today who wrote: "THIS is not the crisis. And it is not. This is the calm before the storm, and we pastor, and church leaders need a change in mentality (Stetzer and Laxton)." I've posted links to his articles at the bottom of Kenton's website on the COVID-19 & Kenton page
The crisis, for those who know Christ, is not making use of our world situation to reevaluate our lives and direction. To miss out tearing the ‘dead wood’, the excess from our lives. As a pastor, let me tell you that one is overwhelmed with calls to help, mission opportunities, books to read, ministries of which to be a part, and a million other things. I can’t help but resonate with Stetzer’s comment "that the coronavirus crisis will be the most significant historical event of our lifetime. It will be bigger than 9/11(Stetzer and Laxton)."
Daniel and his friends chose to ax the excess in their lives in order to live for God. It begins with a simple choice to not eat the food which King Nebuchadnezzar offered to his slaves. He might well have gone along with things, after all, he was a slave. He didn’t know if the food was kosher or if it had been offered to an idol. Besides, he knew how cruel Babylon could be, as he witnessed Jerusalem destroyed.  The first three years of these men’s training occur in chapter 1

Why not eat?

They chose not to eat the food in order to combat Babylon’s desire to acclimate them into their new home. The food, their training, and even the names they were given were designed to destroy their dedication to YHWH and change their loyalty and lifestyle. They gave them a Babylonian education, Babylonian names, and a Babylonian lifestyle but they didn’t bite.
When I order my soft drinks with no ice so it doesn't get watered down. That was the threat for Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. All four of these men had names that reminded them of YWHW. Two of them contained ‘yah and the other to ‘el a shortened version of Elohim. Nebuchadnezzar meant for their future to be with Babylon. So, Daniel--"God is my judge" becomes the treasure of Bel" a Babylonian god. 'The Lord is gracious' which is Hananiah's given name becomes "Command of Aku" (moon god). Mishael or 'Who is like God' finds his new identity links him to the same moon god Aku as it means "Who is what Aku." and Azariah meaning 'The Lord helps' becomes 'servant of Nego (god of art and vegetation).
If you haven’t noticed our world desires to water down if not destroy our faith. The world forces upon us new names that correspond to their reality and not God's. We are tattooed with names like judgmental, angry, haters, stupid, simple-minded, bigots and many others. 
Our world seeks to train, teach, or indoctrinate us into their vision of reality. Thus, we are seen as idiots and against science when we question one or another discovery or breakthrough. The change in our lifestyle the world demands is so great it would be impossible to list the changes we are expected to approve of and make.
Remember the names God has given you. We are in Christ’s, child of God, heirs of the kingdom, a peculiar people, God's own and more. Keep on challenging the world’s teaching and hold fast to God’s word. Don’t be a jerk but seek out the truth in good sources. One of the worst things we can do, sadly we do it too often, is to act in such a way that we reinforce the world's judgment of us.

The Opportunity

COVID-19 offers the people of God is a great opportunity to share our hope with a world that grows apathetic and/or desperate. Christians like the unsaved find they are stuck at home, not working, and living unsettled lives. For us, such uncertainty are not something to dread but something to celebrate for we know who is in charge of all that is happening. The opportunity before us allows us to demonstrate to a frightened and uncertain world the love of God and the kindness of Christ.
This happens, not with the latest and greatest program, gadgets, or apps but with a humble willingness to serve and love like Jesus did. What keeps us from that? One thing is to make mandatory what we already were doing--“social distancing”.
Stay away from people we don’t know. Don’t meet our neighbors. Don’t talk to strangers. Please hear this: "Social distancing is necessary. Relational distancing is not (Stetzer).” Axing the excess gives us the time and focus to seek out Look for relational opportunities. We can check on our neighbors. We can ask those with whom we come across how we can pray for them. Have you considered that the lack of people who are out and about is God’s way of giving us a chance to meet new people? Build a bridge to the world, communities, groups who care for others, stand in stark contrast in a world, communities, leaders, and other fear mongers who are busy digging a moat around our society.
The apostle Paul ran into this question among those Christians who lived in Corinth. Two times in his first letter he tells those churches that even though things may be allowable they still may not be the best choice.
In your Adult journal on page 57 there are suggestions as to how you might “Axe the Excess”. Take a stab at unplugging in some area of your life this week, if you have any of your life plugged in anymore. See if it doesn’t make a difference. Sometimes we’re so involved in things that we don’t even see the danger clearly.

The Testing

Matthew 25 tells a parable of preparedness and reckless living. Some of these women were sold on seeking, searching, and staring out into the darkness waiting for God. The others were busy with ‘things.’ Scripture doesn’t tell us what they were doing but that whatever it was wasted the oil they were to use for the bridegroom.
Stay aware of the world around you and the problems and opportunities it offers you. Here is how one lady was brought up short in the midst of our pandemic by her children.
Sheletta Brundidge, a comic, podcaster, and fellow follower of Jesus, posted a video of her six-year-old daughter, Cameron, helping her seven-year-old brother Brandon deal with his fear over the corona virus. She took his hands and had him pray after her, 2 Timothy 1:7 " for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control"
Sheletta explains how fear leads to 'dead wood' as she writes,
"While the world is stocking up on toilet paper and mayonnaise, jars of pickles and bottled water, she realized - at 6 years old - that it was only [Brandon's] faith that was going to get him through this," she says. "Just from the mouth of a child to another child, it transformed the way I looked at it. We don't have to be afraid of this. There's been worse. We just have to rely on our faith, take the precautions we need to take and continue to live our lives (Forster)."
Jesus uses some shocking stories to get His point across. Who are those we need to be involved with—our neighbors? The great commandment is to love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. When asked about this, Jesus tells the Jewish attorney about a Samaritan who binds up a beaten Jew and takes care of him. Caring for the vulnerable, the "least of these" (Matthew 25).
Later in Matthew 25 Jesus give us the criteria whereby we are judged. “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 24:40.
As you recall God’s word you may find a lot of things pulling you this and that way. What is it that captures your attention, imagination, and heart? In the Line of Fire, Clint Eastwood is asked, “What do you see in the dark when the demons come (Petersen and Maguire).” Maybe we can rephrase it as “What do you see in God’s light when the Spirit comes. When you sense that pursue it.
Axing the excess is not easy and it is never over. But if we consistently test our hearts by recalling Jesus’ teaching, “Where your treasure there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21).” Take stock of what you treasure and humbly realize that all too often it is something or someone other than the Lord.
Don’t let the world water down your trust in Christ. Seek God’s place of fire and transformation in the very midst of this COVID-19. And remain rooted in God’s promises and love. Let’s pray

Works Cited

  •  Forsberg, Alyssa. "Girl Helps Brother Recite Bible Verse On Fear To Help During Coronavirus & We All Need To Hear It." GodUpdates.com. 2020. Web. 26 Mar. 2020.
  • Palmer, Ewan. "Conservative Pastor Says His Church 'Will Never Close' Because Of Coronavirus: 'We're Raising Up Revivalists, not Pansies'." Newsweek 2020: Print.
  • Petersen, Wolfgang, and Jeff Maguire. In the Line of Fire. USA: Columbia Pictures & Castle Rock Entertainment, 1993. DVD.
  • Stetzer, Ed. "Removing The Coronavirus Mask." USAToday.com. 2020. Web. 25 Mar. 2020.
  • Stetzer, Ed, and Josh Laxton. "This is Not The Crisis, But it is Just a Few Weeks Away." Christianity Today 2020. Web. 25 Mar. 2020.
  • "Why Did Nebuchadnezzar Change Daniel’s Name to Belteshazzar?." GotQuestions.org. Web. 26 Mar. 2020.
  • Wooden, Cindy. "If You Can’t Go to Confession, Take Your Sorrow Directly to God, Pope Says." Cruxnow.com. 2020. Web. 25 Mar. 2020



Bibliography

  • Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Coming Crisis. 2020. Web. 24 Mar. 2020.
  • Carroll, Nicole. "The Backstory: Coronavirus Facts Don't Incite Panic. Just the Opposite. Facts Fight Fear." USAToday.com. 2020. Web. 25 Mar. 2020.
  • Forsberg, Alyssa. "Girl Helps Brother Recite Bible Verse On Fear To Help During Coronavirus & We All Need To Hear It." GodUpdates.com. 2020. Web. 26 Mar. 2020.
  • Palmer, Ewan. "Conservative Pastor Says His Church 'Will Never Close' Because Of Coronavirus: 'We're Raising Up Revivalists, not Pansies'." Newsweek 2020: Print.
  • Petersen, Wolfgang, and Jeff Maguire. In the Line of Fire. USA: Columbia Pictures & Castle Rock Entertainment, 1993. DVD.
  • Stetzer, Ed. "Removing The Coronavirus Mask." USAToday.com. 2020. Web. 25 Mar. 2020.
  • Stetzer, Ed, and Josh Laxton. "This is Not The Crisis, But it is Just a Few Weeks Away." Christianity Today 2020. Web. 25 Mar. 2020.
  • "Why Did Nebuchadnezzar Change Daniel’s Name to Belteshazzar?." GotQuestions.org. Web. 26 Mar. 2020.
  • Wooden, Cindy. "If You Can’t Go to Confession, Take Your Sorrow Directly to God, Pope Says." Cruxnow.com. 2020. Web. 25 Mar. 2020
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