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The Power of Redemption, the lesson from a gift card. So whether it’s procrastination or a factor of the age for which the gift card celebrated, I finally got around to redeeming a gift card that I had lying around for some time. And at that moment the Holy Spirit taught me something. You see that card had only potential power while it existed unredeemed. Oh sure the card had a monetary figure on it that to some in the world might have seemed big. However, until redemption, that value remained unrealized and the card’s purpose stayed unfulfilled. The Spirit showed me how that same concept applies to us. We are all created with value and purpose by our Heavenly Father. Yet until we are redeemed that value sits stagnant and that purpose unfulfilled. Plus, like a gift card can’t redeem itself, there’s no such thing as self-redemption in that we have no ability to redeem ourselves. We must understand there is only One true Redeemer and He is Jesus Christ. Here’s the major difference that we can’t miss, the gift card has no power in the process of redemption, it must sit there until someone gets around to acting on it. Jesus Christ stands by actively, eagerly waiting to redeem us instantly. It is we who must act. It is we who must not be tardy or ambivalent in asking for our freely given redemption. While our redemption is a free gift of grace from God, it most certainly had a supremely high cost. It costed Jesus Christ His life. Please don’t put off your redemption. The world may tell you, you have great worldly value in your possessions, your achievements, your wealth. The world may declare to you, you have no need of redemption. But, if you’re not redeemed by the precious Blood or our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, your true value remains untapped and your purpose is left dormant. Be redeemed simply by asking for it and if you are redeemed then live into that redemption with the purpose and value that our Heavenly Father so abundantly provides and become the gift of love to yourself and the rest of the world that God intended you to be.

Jesus Christ knows it’s not easy…..for us. Especially during this season of Lent, let us stop and truly contemplate that Jesus Christ left perfection and came down to us, for us. Christ came to be salvation because every last one of us needs a Savior. Christ not only died for us but He also taught us what it means to truly live. Now sometimes His teaching could be a bit nuanced but at other times it was completely crystal clear. Sooo? We are seeing our fallen nature on full display at this time. There is a war on. One country has invaded another with no justifiable reason and is reeking havoc and destruction on the innocent. Jesus would agree that praying for the Ukrainians is a right and powerful thing to do. However, if we stop there, if the prayer ended with the Ukrainians, Jesus could and probably would warn us, we weren’t listening. For Jesus knew we would have enemies. Understand, Jesus did not preach that we SHOULD have enemies, He didn’t supply us with a righteous enemies list. No, He knew in our fallen state, that enemies would come. And Jesus taught about what we should do when our enemies attack, how we should treat them (Oh this is so hard). Christ was clear; we should love our enemies, we should do good to those who hate us. Christ not only taught it, He lived it. Remember as He hung dying on the cross; Jesus did not just declare His forgiveness to those who were crucifying Him, He prayed to God: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”. Pray for the Russians? Watching their barbarism, find some sort of love for the Russians? Jesus you ask too much! Maybe I can mumble some meaningless stuff with a Russia thrown in, but can I mean it? Christ knows it’s hard. In fact He knows, on our own, it’s probably impossible. He doesn’t want us to try. Jesus implores us to abide in Him. It is by being in Him and calling upon His name that His strength will allow us to overcome our desire for revenge and hatred. To find the love of Christ we must first look to Christ. With Christ within us we can find the place where we can add the Russians to our prayers of hope, reconciliation, peace and yes even love. In the Blessed Name of Jesus Christ pray for Ukraine and yes, in the Blessed Name of Jesus Christ, pray for Russia.

So there might be many that are saying to God, asking God, pleading with God, demanding of God, even blaming God: “God, why don’t you stop this war!?” “Why aren’t you saving us?” It is an understandable request. But to all I would suggest that we take a step back, take a deep breath, look in the mirror and contemplate this. We are asking God to SAVE US FROM OURSELVES! We are quite accurately describing just who we are. We need to acknowledge that. What’s happening in Ukraine is not some asteroid crashing out of the sky or volcano belching destruction from the depths below. No, through hatred, anger, fear, covetousness, self-glory seeking, despotic tendencies and the list goes on, this is man-made as all wars are. “Oh that’s not me” you respond, that’s only him or her. Jesus Christ would ask us; have we never felt hatred in our hearts towards another? We may not have great armies at our disposal but have not ever lashed out in anger? Have we never blindly and unfairly judged another or sought out our own glory at the expense of another? The worldly motivations are the same. Here’s the thing, God listens and He will save. But we can’t miss this, our salvation starts with a humble request from our brokenness and not our demanding from some false sense of righteousness. It starts with confession, not command. In our humble confession and plea, Jesus Christ will come. And as Jesus lifted Peter up from the storm tossed sea when he was sinking, Jesus will lift us as well. We are sinking in the world tossed storm of lusts, envy, fear anger and hatred. Jesus will lift us, through His power, to a place where His grace reigns and our worldly tendencies are replaced by His overpowering love as long as we reach out to and focus on Him. The end of man’s inhumanity to man will not come from the works of man. The end of that begins with the humble, confessional ask to God.

It is hard. It is hard to watch and exponentially harder to experience the evil that is happening today. Evil exists. Evil hates. Evil destroys. In former, calmer days we might have come to doubt evil’s very existence and destructive power until it comes raging in. BUT evil never wins no matter how hard it tries. There is a Higher power who will always triumph. Today a man believes he is the highest power; bombing where he wants, destroying the innocent. We watch with frustration and may feel a sense of despair. Just like those who were at the site of the cross, despairing as they watched the evil Pharisees gloat about their evil actions against Jesus. As Jesus died, the Pharisees thought their power was supreme, they were sure they’d won. Three days later they found out just how wrong, how weak they really were. Today’s evil will be defeated too. Also, let’s not overlook the tremendous love that is bringing different peoples together; striving to serve with love, mercy and grace, the hurting and downtrodden. Again, this evil will lose. Yet going forward, in the calmer times ahead, let us not be lulled into some false sense of security that evil has disappeared or been banished by some human effort. Instead, let us cling to the Higher power, Jesus Christ, who will come again and bring a final end to evil for all time. Pray for the Ukrainians.

Which?

This food is enough

These clothes are enough

This place is enough

This relationship is enough

These things are enough

This God is enough

This day is enough

or

I want more. I need more. I want what you have. I need what you have. I will take some or all of what you have. And God quite literally knows: I don’t care.

Love, generosity, contentment, peace, life

or

Anger, hatred, frustration, violence, war, death

Which today?

The choice is yours and mine and no one else’s

I know that it can be easy to look at these dark images of the day and fret and be fearful. It is understandable and accurate to be saddened at how often we humans resort to violence and wholesale destruction especially targeting the weaker and more vulnerable among us. It is at times like these that God’s Word can be both instructing and reassuring. You see Moses and God’s people faced an enemy. In the minds of the people, that enemy was much more powerful; maybe the ultimate power, even greater than God’s power. They feared, lost their faith and failed to follow God. Because of that, they saw no victory. But, please, please don’t miss this, the victory came. A remnant of the people believed God, followed Him and God’s might won the victory for them. Today we truly have terrible weapons of destruction. Some are using them and threatening they will use ultimate weapons of mass destruction to achieve their world glory way. We can have peace knowing that no human power has ever been, is now or will ever be the ultimate power. God is the ultimate power. Let us then turn to Him in humble prayer for His power to reign and with it peace. Let us pray that His Spirit can bring about reconciliation when the hearts of men seek only divisive destruction. Please don’t lose faith in the One True Almighty Power and He, our Heavenly Father will bring us through this.

“But he said to them: ‘Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe'” John 20:25

“Then He said to Thomas: ‘Put your finger here; see may hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'” John 20:27

“Then Jesus told him: ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” John 20:29

SHOW ME THE DATA!! FOLLOW THE SCIENCE!! GIVE ME THE PROOF, THEN I WILL BELIEVE YOU!!!! These kinds of statements and many more like them are being bandied about, shouted at one another, used as a pretext for non-actions and the justification for other actions.

In a way it is not surprising in this instant Wiki-info world, where “facts” and data are just a few key strokes away, that the general public is less inclined to take declaratory statements at their face value. The fact that you’re reading this on some device means that you’ve also probably used that device to search for some recipe, some process like how to get your device working again or better, some aspect about that reoccurring pain in your body or some historical event you and someone are having a disagreement about. Why should I completely trust you if I can so easily look up the information myself. As a part of an “older” generation; it is not uncommon for us to look down on or speak disapprovingly of “younger” generations. However, I’m not so sure that our “higher” level of trust and respect of and for experts had as much to do with some virtue as it did the difficulty and time involved in researching all but the most obvious topics (i.e. needing a dictionary, encyclopedia or even library).

However, needing proof to accept and believe in something is not a new phenomena. Let’s take the disciple Thomas for example. Now understand that Thomas was not someone who had come to experience Jesus, briefly before Jesus’s death and resurrection. Thomas had been with Jesus throughout His ministry. Thomas had seen Jesus heal the sick, feed thousands, quiet the storm and even raise Lazarus from the grave. Thomas was the disciple who said to the rest of the disciples that they should accompany Jesus and die with Him when Jesus declared He was going to back to Judea (John 11:16)

Thomas had been through incredible times with Jesus and his brethren disciples. Thomas had been told by Mary, that Jesus had indeed risen from the grave and was alive, the third day after His crucifiction (although to be fair to Thomas, the other disciples didn’t believe Mary, at that time either). Now Thomas was confronted with testimony from 10 of his closest companions, that Jesus had risen from the dead; is not just some spirit but an actual, living in the flesh, being. And yet, Thomas did not believe them. Thomas needed proof. Testimony, no matter how credible; wasn’t going to cut it. For Thomas, seeing, touching was the only proof that would bring about his belief.

Now please Sisters and Brothers understand, this is not some sort of bad-Thomas, judgement story. As stated above, none of the disciples believed Mary, even after John and Peter found the tomb empty; until Jesus appeared in their midst (sans Thomas). Would Nathanial or James believed if either or both of them had also been missing? AND, I’m not so sure I’d been jumping up and down hallelujahing versus being mighty skeptical had I missed the glorious meeting.

Now let’s cut to the chase. It’s several thousand years later; dear Sisters and Brothers, is Jesus Christ alive today? Am I living, behaving, praising, praying and most importantly loving, as if Jesus Christ is as present here at this time as He was in Galilei? Jesus Christ declared that He would rise and indeed did rise from the grave. Through scripture we are told that Jesus Christ now resides at the Right Hand or Our Heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit is sent to us to testify to the current, vital life of Jesus Christ and the blessings that come from it. Do we believe? If we question, what proof do we need? What do I need to see, hear or touch?

I can hear you: “Come On! We’ve got wars every where we turn, pandemics, hatred, famines! From what I see, hear and experience, how can I be certain that if alive, that Jesus Christ’s being alive really maters?” Jesus Christ warned us; there would be manmade disasters (wars and such) and natural disasters. Yet Jesus also told us that; because of Him and His being alive, we can have peace in Him. Jesus declared as He has overcome the world, that should we believe and abide in Him, He will never forsake us and allow us to great things, even greater than He did.

I also hear you when you say and ask: ” I believe Jesus Christ lives. But, what am I supposed to say, supposed to do, to answer to others who don’t believe and require proof of God and Jesus? How do I prove it to them?” Jesus had/has an answer there too. He told us not to be afraid or worry about what we are to say when asked to defend our faith. Jesus told us the Holy Spirit will supply us with what to say. Additionally, Jesus made it clear; we’re not to be in the business of proving His existence. We are to live lives of love, proclaiming the risen Lord and that is enough.

Finally, something to consider. Jesus Christ did come to Thomas. When Jesus came to Thomas, He didn’t curse Thomas or cast him away for his unbelief. Hardly, instead Jesus, in mercy, allowed the proof that Thomas needed. And Thomas did end up believing and serving.

Jesus Christ is alive. Let it be that you and I Dear Sisters and Brothers find ourselves among those who Jesus declared blessed; that we do truly believe in the earthly life, death, resurrection and continued life of Jesus Christ, even though we have yet to see Him. And in that blessing, live lives that bring praise and glory to the Name of Our Heavenly Father.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we understand that we live in a world where now most everything is open to debate and requests for proof to believe are everywhere, even proof of Your existence and that of Your Son Jesus Christ. Forgive us Merciful Father when we too find ourselves questioning our faith and Your relevance/power in this world. Through Your Holy Spirit, Dear Father, fill us, strengthen us, calm us; allow us to abide in Your Living Son, that there we might find that certain confident faith. Through Jesus Christ, let us be beacons of Your light, hope and love that will show others the path that leads to belief and life in You. We thank You, Creator God for Your patient mercy with us, Your creation, that You would fill us with Your steadfast love which is all the proof that will ever be needed. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

This is an apolitical or universally political post; it applies to all. If you read in some leaning toward one position/candidate; that is your perception, not my intent. I write this today so we might contemplate our reaction ahead of next week’s (or how ever long it takes) results. First, there is only One Savior and that doesn’t change next week. Jesus is clear in Mark 10:18, there is only one who is good and that is God. The winner next week never has been, isn’t nor will ever become a or your savior. DO NOT put that expectation/responsibility/faith on them. Additionally, how should we respond to the other side whether we win or not; take up arms, plan our revenge? In some other post we can consider the wisdom of, but what if you see the opposing side as your enemy. Jesus, our true Savior, our Ultimate Commander; warns us, there is only one appropriate response. LOVE! Really? Yes, Jesus teaches us; we are to love our enemies. Can we be ready to do that? Finally, your side loses. You look out and perhaps find yourself despondent, fearful and depressed. Why? Next week God will be on His throne just as He is today. Both and Old Testament are crystal clear; evil doesn’t win. Evil will never be triumphant. So if you’ve put your faith in anything/one other than God; stop and return your faith to the One and Only One who truly deserves it. Take a deep breath; pray for peace and may the Spirit of God and His peace and joy guide and sustain you through this time. Also, if you haven’t done so, vote.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” John 14:12

….but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ , walk. Acts 3:6

“He must become greater, I must become less.” John 3:30

Boy, I don’t know that it can be argued; Jesus did some great things while here on earth. I mean He, healed the sick, fed the thousands with a few meager loaves and two fish, completely quieted a ranging storm, walked on water and, and. How did John end His gospel? “…Jesus did many other things…if everyone written down….the whole world would not have room for the books…” (John 21:25)

Of course we might say or think to ourselves: “Sure He did great things He was and is God”. Soooo it might surprise us when Jesus says that we can do greater things than He did. Now we might be forgiven for thinking this might only apply to the disciples. After all, they spent so much time in direct contact with the Messiah. Forgiven or not, we would be in error, for Jesus proclaims that anyone can accomplish these greater things.

Well, I’m definitely a part of anyone, I do believe in Christ so look out here comes the great things I’m going to do; which, oh by the way, will obviously make me great as well! Fame, maybe a little fortune as well will be coming my way, with these great things I will accomplish. This is a ministry I can get behind. I’m great and I do great!!!!

Hmm, who’s great? Let’s look at the example of Peter in Acts. Peter and the disciples had received the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus Christ, and started to preach about Jesus as Savior. Many were believing but many were still skeptical. One day, just outside the temple, in the midst of a large crowd of people, Peter encounters a lame beggar. The man asks Peter and John for money. This would be the perfect time to make a spectacle. It could have been “show time” where Peter puts on a performance proclaiming the greatness of Peter’s power and how great he had become. Yet Peter does not fall for that trap. First Peter declares, he is just as humble in worldly wealth as the beggar, he has no gold or silver to give the man. But Peter has been given a great power and as it has been given to Peter, Peter will in turn give to the man. Peter declares, that in the Name of Jesus Christ, the man is healed and can walk again. The end result is that the man leaps to his feet walks and jumps in the temple and who does he praise for his healing? The man doesn’t praise Peter, the man praises God.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, Peter was following the example of Jesus Christ. For Jesus many times declared He was not doing things of His own accord but through the Plan and Will of His Father in Heaven. Even as God, Christ was not about bringing glory to Himself, but humbled Himself to bring glory to the Father.

Thus, we too must remember, it is not about being known as great that is the goal here. Yes, we want to heal, to feed, to bring peace; I think, personally it would be cool to walk on water, but any and all of these things we do by the power of Jesus Christ is to bring glory and praise to our Heavenly Father.

The paradox is this, as we might do ever greater things; we desire that our own credit, glory, greatness would be ever diminishing so that the Father is glorified in us. It is similar to John the Baptist. When Jesus came and started His ministry, which was far superior to John’s, John’s influence and ministry waned as Jesus’s following and ministry grew. John was not chagrined or chastened by this; but praised and proclaimed this as the good and proper process as well.

In having this conversation with a wise person, they pointed out to me that, in terms of Peter and the healing, Peter did need to act. Peter did not just sit back and state, if Jesus wants him healed, then Jesus will do it. No, Peter came to the lame man, as a man and called upon the power of Jesus Christ through Peter, to heal him. If this were a sentence, Peter might be the subject. Yet when Peter states “I give you”, it’s as if the “I” is a lower case i with an all caps JESUS CHRIST(my teacher wife would not be pleased with my grammar). You see Peter would not use a capital I, in conjunction with Christ for that would be making them both in some way equal. Peter sees no equality with Christ and neither should we, even if we are being allowed to use His power to do great things. Christ’s power in and through us does not make us equal to Christ.

So, abiding in Christ which is the only way His power can be manifested in us, let us go out and do great things. Let us be bold in our thoughts, words and faith; so that we may do even greater things. Yet let us not strive to be known as great by the great gifts we are given. Instead let us strive to be humble bringing glory and praise to our Heavenly Father through our great deeds who is never stingy in showering us with His blessings and sharing His glory.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, who are we that You would see fit to share Your power with us that we might do great things? We thank You that as Your Son has returned to You, Your plan for our salvation has granted us the power to do even greater things than He did. Forgive us, we pray most Merciful Father, when we strive to bring glory to ourselves, to be known as great, by the power You have granted to us. Pour out Your Spirit upon us, that we might remember to be humble in Your presence and in carrying out Your plan. That in the works we do in Your Name, we would strive to be a blessing to others while bringing praise to Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

“to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4: 22-24

Finally, Brothers and Sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

Jesus Christ was unambiguous in His reply.  This question was being posed by, in the day and time when Jesus walked the earth, a learned man, a man considered wise and perhaps holy; a scribe.  This question came at the height of Jesus’s popularity during His time on earth.  He had come humbly but triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  The crowds had cheered Him and the leadership had jeered Him.  The religious leadership had been peppering Jesus with question after question trying to trick or confuse Him.  Jesus confounded them at every turn. In Matthew it was an evil question meant to hopefully trap Jesus in some faulty answer.  In Mark the scribe asked the question to Jesus after hearing Him clearly outwit a gathering of religious leaders.  Either way, Jesus was and His message for us today is very clear. Which is the greatest commandment?

Now, for a moment, it might add some clarity to understand the scope of the question.  Was the scribe talking about which of the 10 Commandments, given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai?  Was the scribe asking concerning the greatest commandment of the roughly 613 commandments which were passed down, derived through the 10 Commandments? There were a tremendous amount of commandments to choose from.  Which one or two would Jesus choose?

Understand this, neither the question nor the answer were new.  Loving God with all that you have; heart, body, soul and mind was the first commandment that Moses gave to the people in Deuteronomy when the people of Israel thought they were about to cross over into the promised land.  Moses was explaining, how it was that they would be able to stay in the favor of God Almighty if they lived by these precious precepts and did not turn away from them or forget them. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, a man answered a question posed by Jesus by quoting these two same commandments.  The man went on to ask Jesus:  “Who is my neighbor?” , and Jesus proceeded to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan.

They lived in a fractured world back in the time of Jesus’s walk on this earth.  Jew and gentile, Pharisee and Sadducee, freeman and slave, Roman and the rest of the world; were only some of divisions which existed in the land of that time.

Now fast forward some 2020 years later.  Ho Boy, do we have divisions.  As this blog is read around the world, I would mention just some in my country; conservatives and liberals, migrants and native citizens, man and woman, gender specific and gender flexible, and..and…and. We have a lot of division in our country and our world.  So here’s the challenge; not so much that those differences exist, but the way we treat those who believe differently; as wrong, as evil, as hated, that drives differences into divisions, which destroys groups as small as families and as large as nations.

Notice, neither in the Old Testament or with Jesus, Himself, was it declared, you will love those who believe like you do, who look or act like you do or who vote like you do.  Jesus Christ makes it clear, both in His teaching and His living, talking with a Samaritan – a woman no less – or healing a Roman Centurion’s servant, that neighbor has a very broad and universal meeting.  A neighbor can be a person who has lived next to you for 30 years or a stranger standing next to you in a shopping line.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Jesus makes it clear, love; love toward our neighbor, whomever they might be should be our default position.  There is only one greater commandment; to Love our Heavenly Father. Why? The power of love.  As we love our neighbor, we’re not likely trying to harm them.  Our blood pressure or anger doesn’t go through the roof as we love our neighbor.  A loving neighbor carries no brick, no molatov cocktail, no semi-automatic weapon to use against their neighbor. Love is the Power of God.  Loving like Him allows us to share in that power.

Okay, okay, you say, then I’m going to go out and do it.  Today I’m going to start loving all my neighbors, just you wait.  In some cases it may be tough love, maybe, I’m going to be loving them while I smack some sense into them but I can do this, I’m going to love them.

If we’re going to have a shot at this at all, we have to understand a few things.  First to become this way takes a transformation.  The world and those of the world will never be able to find it within themselves to love thy neighbor as Jesus describes.  As Jesus explained to Nicodemus it takes being born again.  It takes taking off the old self and putting on the new self.  The only way to truly accomplish that is to be in Christ Jesus.

Abiding in Christ, experiencing Christ’s love and His power to change us allows us then, to exemplify Christ in our love for our neighbor. As written in Ephesians, only by putting on the whole armor of God can we combat the evil of this world to see clearly a better, more loving path forward.

Each day we’re likely to come in contact with many neighbors.  Some of those neighbors will be in person, some virtually.  Some will be neighbors we’ve known for decades, some will be strangers who cross our paths. Let us not look to world power; the power of distrusting and hating those neighbors who seem different, wanting for and maybe taking part in their destruction.  Instead let us embrace the Power of God Almighty and His second most important commandment to love that neighbor, even if the love is not returned.  Knowing that the Power of God and His love can never be defeated and by loving in Him we bring praise to His Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim that You are God and along, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, the only True God.  Thus You are right and just to have commandments.  We thank you Most Merciful Father that Your greatest commandments are to love; first You, then our neighbors as ourselves.  Forgive us when we neglect these commandments or try and narrow our definition of neighbor to exclude those we decide are not worth our love.  Pour out Your Spirit on us that we might resist the worldly definition of love and neighbor to, instead accept Your definition and the power that goes along with that definition.  Allow us to be beacons of Your love to all our neighbors that we might be peacemakers and healers to this world and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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