Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham! Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you. …….Do not lay a hand on the boy Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son……and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”  Genesis 22:1,2,18

“The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him.”  Matthew 4:1

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him…” Matthew 22:35

There are some who are reading this they may actually enjoy being tested.  Some enjoy it because they love the thrill of the challenge and thrive under pressure.  Some enjoy testing because they are supremely confident in the outcome and look forward to the reward and adulation of a high achieving score.  I fall into to neither of those categories or any other rationale that would find tests enjoyable.  In some instances I would say that I go as far as to get text anxiety.

There is a school of thought that says, we as Christians, will never face testing, at least not from God.  I can’t say that I am one that follows that particular theology.  I do believe that it is plainly written that God, Himself will not bring about temptations to sin.  Those temptations come from the enemy.  Yet temptation and tests are not the same thing.

It is not that I am speaking for God (heaven forbid); but simply referring to God’s own revealed Word in the bible.  It is plainly stated that God tested Abraham in Genesis.  It was Satan who tempted Jesus in the wilderness, but the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to face the test of temptation.  Then there are the worldly tests that we throw at each other and even sometimes at God, which is what a lawyer did to Christ.

Let’s look at the context of Abraham’s testing.  God had promised Abraham, he would be a father of nations.  God was leading Abraham to the promised land.  While, Abraham did not have an heir by his wife, he had prospered in many different ways.  Finally, in a miraculous event; Sarah, Abraham’s wife conceived and bore Abraham a son and heir when she was older than 90 years old; Isaac.  Thus now Abraham had all the blessings he had been promised by God and was exceedingly successful.  Plus, God still planned to keep His covenant with Abraham to be the father of the chosen people of Israel.  But, would Abraham stay true to the covenant?  God knew the hearts of men and knew that often, once exceedingly successful, men will turn from God to follow their own ways and seek their own glory.  Would Abraham turn?  God tested Abraham and Abraham passed.

It appears obvious that God, in His spiritual form can not be tempted.  Yet God did not stay in a purely spiritual form as He allowed Himself to be begotten of a mortal woman and be born of true flesh and blood as Jesus Christ; God’s Son.  Hence, God being flesh, experienced things like hunger, exhaustion, human emotions and yes, so that He could truly experience the human condition, temptation.  The only difference is Jesus Christ overcame all temptation which can not be said for any solely or souly human.  The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have an advocate who is not unfamiliar or has not been tempted.  What a grace filled plan that God would allow Himself to be in a situation where He would be tempted by Satan, just to have the human experience of it.

Finally in the third referenced test above; it is solely human in nature.  Humans test for many reasons; most of which are justifiable in nature, such as to measure a person’s understanding or level of mastery.  Yet we can also test for illegitimate, nefarious reasons, hoping and even planning for the test taker to fail so we can unleash a harsh judgmental punishment.  That is what the lawyer attempted to do to Jesus and was abruptly and completely silenced.

So we have the how’s and whys of testing; let’s talk briefly about taking the tests.  Again starting with Abraham, notice that he did not have the answer to the test within him.  He knew God promised him a child and Isaac was that child.  God had said that Abraham was going to be the father of a great nation but how could that be if Abraham had to sacrifice his only child?  Was this some clever riddle to be solved?  If so, Abraham possessed not the wits to solve it.  Even when Isaac pointed out, as they started their trek, that they had no animal for the sacrifice, Abraham’s only answer was “God will provide”. Not only was that the only answer it was the right answer as well.  Abraham didn’t try to bargain with God or runaway from God with Isaac, he didn’t try to substitute some other young man hoping God wouldn’t notice.  Abraham relied completely in God in faith and passed the test and was rewarded with the continuing covenant.

In Jesus’ case, remember He was God and human.  Jesus had the power of God and would often times use that power to overcome demons. Yet, to thwart the temptation of the devil, Jesus didn’t use His own words, but the words of His Father; “man does not live by bread alone”, “you shall worship God only” and “do not put the Lord your God to the test”. The great power in these replies is that we have access to those same exact words.  Those words weren’t just for Jesus but for all of us.  God, through His immeasurable grace, has given us the same tools that His Son used to defeat the devil.

However, we are not God on earth.  What that means is that, unlike Jesus Christ, we will fail a test or tests at some point.  All human beings are fallen except Christ.  So we fail, we don’t faithfully wait on God; we are not only tempted but give into the temptation and sin, now what?  Once we have failed we are open to and will rightly receive the full judgement and wrath from our Just Heavenly Father! Is that right?

Well maybe that is what would seem to be the right outcome to have.  Maybe that’s how we would want to handle other people’s failures for tests we implement.  Yet the one who was tested and did not fail, freely took upon Himself every single one of our failures.  Jesus Christ, takes upon Himself all our test failures and washes them away, erases them by the blood of His Perfect Sacrifice.  Grade book closed.

The enemy would have us believe we are tested because God hates us and wants to judge and condemn us.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  God wants us to learn.  God wants us to rely on Him and see how through faith in Him we can overcome any test.  The enemy wants us to believe that when we fail, we are separated from God for all time to come.  The risen Jesus Christ testifies to us that we are eternally cleansed and forgiven for all failures and He stands ready to bring us through any test we may face.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father help us to understand that it is in Your wisdom that we are tested to allow us to learn how to rely on You and Your Word in all tests.  Forgive us when we lack the faith to turn to You and try to pass the tests on our own or worse yet are perfectly content and/or relish in our failures.  We praise the name of our Savior, Your Son, Jesus Christ, that He freely takes upon Himself our sins, that our failures are wiped clean by the blood of His sacrifice.  That in the testing we may grow ever stronger and prosperous, living lives that bring glory and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

“She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse……… because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.'” Mark 5:26, 28

“Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him,……Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.'”  Luke 18:39-40, 42

“Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; ‘” John 11: 24,25

In my previous full time work, I’ve undertaken significant research and developed several programs concerning organizational and personal improvement.  There is considerable research in many arenas, including Dr. Peter Senge from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that has determined teams are the primary element for productive improvement and accurate decision making.  I have found that to be often  the case but the purpose of this post is not to delve into the reasons that might be the case.

The purpose of this post is, given the power of teams, to discuss the pros and cons, the impacts positive and negative, of our decisions about what teams we feel are our primary resource for living and how we approach them.  Of course, by its very nature a team requires more than one so we might often use the pronoun “we” in discussing our team.  I further submit that there are two broad types of we; the “w”e is the we made up only members of secular world with a secular outlook.  The other “we” is the “W”e which has as its primary member, Jesus Christ, plus one or more human members.

Now while I started out talking about my background in business the “w”e teams come from all over society:  man&wife, families, friends, clubs, churches, sports teams, business teams and many other types of gatherings.  It is not my intention, nor my belief to state that all these types of “w”e teams are evil or completely ineffective.  Yet my belief is that any and all “w”e teams by their very make up lack the power and the impact of the “W”e team and to the extent we rely solely or primarily on “w”e teams, we will find our plans and outcomes to be less than optimal.

For example, in the first scripture reference above, I don’t necessarily believe that the “w”e team of doctors and others who had tried to help the woman had been evil and just trying to steal her money.  It is very possible that they tried to the extent of their limited medical education of the time to solve her problem.  However, even with their best efforts the “w”e team had failed.

Now to the extent that a crowd or other impromptu gathering can be a “w”e, then their intentions may not be the best for all the members.  In the second scripture example, there was a member of the group who was in need.  However, the way the man was trying to get his need met was an irritant to the rest of the group, the greater “w”e.  Maybe the man was always yelling out at inopportune times or had some other obnoxious, disruptive tendencies.  Whatever the reason was, the group decided when they saw the man’s initial call to Jesus was not responded to, instead of trying to help his plea reach Jesus, they instead, wanted to silence the man and end his irritating (at least to them) behavior.   Had that “w”e group gotten their way, the man would have stayed silent and more importantly blind.

Here’s the bottom line with “w”e groups; they are limited.  The “w”e groups have limited resources, limited intelligence, limited strength just to mention some of their limitations.  Thus to the extent we rely solely or primarily on these groups, our outcomes will necessarily be limited as well.

Then there is the “W”e groups.  In this case it is a group who not only includes, but places as it Highest Member, Jesus Christ.  The woman with the long term medical condition decided to forego anymore “w”e, earthly groups and instead, humbly act to bring Jesus into a group of He and her with the hopes or being healed.  The outcome of that “W”e team did not disappoint her.  Additionally, a “W”e team can have an impact on a “w”e team.  Jesus ended up hearing the blind man calling to Him and ordered the blind man be brought to Him.  Once Jesus got involved, the “w”e team that had been ostracizing man for calling out, changed their tune and told him to be of good cheer.  In the final example, Martha’s brother Lazarus has died.  As Martha ponders the “W”e team or group of Jesus, as the Messiah, Martha, Lazarus, she still doesn’t understand the full power of Jesus as Christ.  When Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again, Martha believes that Jesus is talking about an end time of a mass resurrection.  Yet Jesus instructs her that He is the resurrection for this and all time and proceeds to raise Lazarus from the grave.

The last example illustrates a key characteristic of the “W”e team versus the “w”e team.  In the “w”e team, all the team members maybe equals, peers, where they are free to feel they have an equivalent say or power.  In the “W”e team we will be sorely incorrect if we believe that the team members are equal.  The true power of the “W”e team comes from the fact that Jesus Christ is omnipotent, omniscient and only through His magnificent Grace, are we allowed to be part of the “W”e.  Yet that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility in being part of the “W”e.  First we have to believe in the He of the “W”e; in other words we have to believe in Jesus as Christ, the only Begotten Son of God.  As the lady and the blind man did; we have to approach or call out to Christ, to have a true desire to be on the “W”e team.  Finally the “W”e team shouldn’t be a haphazard membership sort of thing.  The “W”e team should be our primary resource.

One more thing, the “W”e team doesn’t just have to consist of two members

; Christ and you.  A husband and wife, a family, a church, even a work group, any or all of these can be “W”e teams.  All it takes is, regardless of the number of members, is that Christ is the head and the rest of the team is committed to serving Christ and each other.  Who puts in more of the effort?  Who is it who has taken all of our sins upon Him, died as a sacrifice in our place and rose again to be our Advocate with the Father?  As you read this may it be that in some sense we become a member of the “W”e team, plugging into His power, striving to bring about His plan and living a life that brings praise to Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise You that You would be so grace filled and merciful that You sent Your Son that we might be able to abide in Him and be a part of His team.  Forgive us when we disregard You and instead want to rely on our earthly teams.  Pour out Your Spirit that we might be strengthened to focus on being constantly on Your Team with its blessings and promise of ultimate victory.  That in living that life we would bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

“Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.  Or at least believe because of the work you have seen Me do. John 14:11

“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

Seeing is BELIEVING! I believe this to be true.  Yet too often we emphasize the seeing, believing that it is in the seeing that the true believing happens.  Sadly that is not always or even most often the case.

Yet before we get there; let’s quickly discuss the emphasis on seeing in our culture and how the visual permeates our society.  While it is true that a few people can always seem to make their written opinions command attention; especially through applications like Twitter.  The vast majority of written posts are barely read by those have clicked a follow button, let alone been seen by the masses.  Now, you take an ice bucket and dump it on your head, jump out of a moving car and start dancing along side it, be a societal figure known for rigidity but lip sync to some hot new song, wear a wookie mask and start laughing hysterically or find a cute kitten or puppy  scene and you capture it on VIDEO, you may very well find yourself being an instant media sensation.  Why?  Because we get to see it and seeing it means everything. Hey, and I admit, I love a cute, kitten, puppy, baby goat jumping around video as much as anyone.

Yet as fun as some of those things can be; it is the believing concerning what we are seeing or how what we are seeing is shaped by and in turn shapes our subsequent beliefs that is fundamentally important.  Yet today, in our Computer Generated Imagery, anyone with software can manipulate almost any image, Tom Hanks in the movie Forrest Gump receives a Congressional Medal of Honor from President Johnson and it looks real and we have deceased stars still acting in our movies after their death, kind of world; we often have to question just what it is we’re seeing.  For example, I was watching a commercial (for what I don’t remember…age thing) where two dogs flanked a little girl and they were doing something extraordinary but not physically impossible (not speaking words in English).  Now I could have been in awe of the trainer who was able to get the dogs to sit like that and cross their legs, oooorrrrrrrrr, I could just pass it off as really effective CGI.

However, once we can come to the readily accepted conclusion that what we’re seeing is a real happening; then seeing is believing?  I will grant that, yet the truth is that doesn’t mean that we will all believe the same thing from the same image.  Most watch the moon landings with awe and appreciation, where a few watch the exact same images and see fraud and forgery.  Very recently I’ve witnessed the reaction of people to body camera video from police officer involved shootings.  Remember these cameras were put in place to try to quell disputes over the actions of officers.  Yet I’ve watched people watch the exact same video and come to the passionately fervent conclusion that the officer was at fault and others that the person being detained was at fault.  They watched the SAME EXACT VIDEO.

What to take from this.  First, understand that the saying is not seeing is proving or seeing provides indisputable conclusions.  No seeing is believing and what we believe we see is what is going to lead to our conclusions……….and our actions.

Jesus Christ knew this well.  Jesus was not about being a showman, making a spectacle out of Himself or His actions.  Many of His miracles; the raising of the religious leader’s daughter, walking on water, healing the man at the tombs were witnessed by a very few.  Yet He did feed over 5,000 at one sitting and healed a man with a withered hand in the middle of the temple. Yet in the end, with so many having heard and many actually witnessing the miracles that Jesus performed, they still demanded a sign.  And in the end, they still shouted for Jesus to be crucified.

One has to wonder about the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were standing around mocking Jesus as He hung, dying in agony, on the cross.  They proclaimed that if Jesus would only save Himself and come down from the cross, then they would believe He was the Messiah.  I wonder, if Jesus had come down from the cross and confronted them; would the religious leaders bowed and cowered in penitent, sorrowful, repentance for their sins against Jesus?  Or would they have marched over to the Romans and derided and chastised them for screwing up the Crucifixion and allowing Jesus to escape?

Jesus knew and knows that belief doesn’t come from seeing.  Too often we only see what we want to see; what fits neatly into our preconceived idea of the truth and all else is discarded.

There is something else of great importance that we should ponder from this.  What are we looking for?  What are we demanding to see?  Are we longing for some visual sign to strengthen our faith or solidify our belief?  We must see the error and danger in those type of demands.  First we must understand; we are in no position, have no right, as the created to demand any sort of proof or vision from our Creator.  We are not equals to God and our belief or lack thereof, has no bearing or impact on the success of God’s Perfect Plan.  It is by His Grace and Mercy that He goes to the lengths that He has, including the sacrifice of His only Begotten Son, to prove His love for us. Additionally what filters are we using to analyze the things we do see around us?  12 young soccer players and their coach survive for weeks in a flooded cave and are all rescued; a toddler dangles helplessly off a balcony and a man climbs four stories without any help to save the child, an airliner crashes and all 103 people on board survive.  Miracles? Hand of God? Luck? Fate?

The love in the eyes of your child, your spouse, mother, father, brother, friend; just a chemical reaction in the brain? Or is it the blessing of our Almighty Father?  Or what about that spectacular sunrise/sunset; simply meteorology or cosmic blessing?

Jesus Christ asks us to believe.  Believe in God the Father.  Believe also in Jesus Christ, His only Son.  Believe that the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father.  Believe Jesus Christ came to earth, died, was resurrected and lives today; all for love.  Jesus Christ asks us to use the phrase; Believing is Seeing.  Faithfully believing opens our eyes to see the blessings, mercy, peace and most importantly love; that our Heavenly Father wishes to show us, to have us see, each and every day.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim and praise You that You have seen fit to show Yourself to us.  That through Your Son Jesus Christ, You want us to witness and then be testifiers to the unending mercy and love You have for us.  Pour out Your Holy Spirit that we would truly see Dear Father.  We also confess that we often do not look to You through eyes of faithful belief but through eyes of worldly skepticism and doubt.  Forgive us Dear Father when we are blind to you and do not allow us to be led astray.  Pour out Your Light that we may truly see You and follow You in the path that leads to praise and glory to Your Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“For it as when a man, going into another country, called his servants and delivered unto them his goods.  And he that received five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: lo, I have gained five other talents.  His Lord said unto him:  Well done my good and faithful servant:  thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things, enter into thou the joy of thy lord.”  Matthew 25:  14-19

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”  Matthew 7:11

I probably watch too much television these days but I find a prevalence of several different types of commercials:  medicine adds, car adds, lawyer adds and one more type.  This last type deals with savings and breaks down into several types.  Some are for investment companies whose main pitch is a pitch concerning fear that at some time in the future, especially during retirement, if you don’t go with them, you’ll run out of money.  Another frequent saving commercial is from banks who discuss saving for college, cars, homes etc.  Either way, the idea is we have our hard earned money which we’ve earned based on our talents and how to keep as much as possible. On many occasions I have stressed that I am not a biblical scholar, so likewise, for this particular discussion, I am also not a professional or especially skilled financial planner and appropriate financial planning or giving, even monetary giving to the church is not the focus of this post.

This post is actually broader than the aspect of how we save or give money.  The focus of this post is Jesus Christ’s illustration of our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom and Its impact on our lives.  The focus of this post deals with our intentions as we use the things God has entrusted us with.  So let’s get started.

There are many different biblical translations and some translations are very definitive here saying that the lord or master gave the servants bags of silver or gold and/or specifically use the term “money”. I am drawn to the word “talent”.  Now it is factually accurate that a “talent” was a rather large sum of money during Jesus’ time and it is very probable, that in the understanding of the day, hearers of this parable believed Jesus using talent in the vernacular of the day to refer to money.  Yet we’ve seen Jesus use certain specific items to reflect broader concepts as when He used “seeds” to illustrate the Word of God in the parable of the sower (See Matthew 13 1-23).  So here I believe it is appropriate to see talents as greater than just money and to, indeed, see them as the talents that God so richly blesses us with; for example, speaking, writing, preaching, teaching, leading, stewardship, healing, etc., just to name a few.

Let us now have a clear understanding about these “talents”; they come for God Almighty.  Notice at the start of this parable, when the master calls his servants to him; they have no talents.  The talents are the master’s and he supplies them to the servants. One aspect of this concept is when the master supplies the talents they are not going to be talents for cheating, lying, stealing, being an adulterer or the like. Again in stressing that these are God’s talents is to understand that these are not things that we have either acquired or would have acquired on our own.  These are God’s talents which He has been gracious enough to share with us; with the following expectation.

Now let us focus on the relationship of the giver to the receiver. In the parable, the person who is the giver is the Lord, the master of the establishment and the property.  That means he is in charge and has authority.  The receivers are not peers, they’re not family members, they are servants.  They understand that their duty is in service of the master/lord.  With service being a verb, in this case, there is an expectation that something will be done with the given talents to serve the master/lord. This was not a: “I’ve got more important things to do or the heck with the master’s talents, I’m going to focus on what I think is important”, kind of relationship.  The master was to be served.

So next notice what happens upon the master’s return.  The servants come forward to give their accounting of what they’ve done with the talents.  Notice the first two servants; they’ve basically doubled the master’s talents, his money.  They’ve invested the money, worked in someways to increase it; then they give it all back to him.  They don’t tell the master I’ve made an additional 4.5 talents (keeping .5 talent for myself) for you or I made 5 talents and with a reasonable return I’m giving you 9 talents.  No, it was the master’s talents to begin with, so the only thing to do was to give the master all the talents, original and gain, back upon his return.  Even the punished servant who did nothing with the talent given to him by the master at least gave him the one talent back.

Okay, Doug, great for a parable but come on, what am I expected to do after hearing it? Is this some sort of guilt trip about coughing up more dough or joining a Sunday school class?  No, not really; I hope that this post would have an empowering, reflective and peace adding aspect to it.

First, our Heavenly Father, Creator of all that is, including you and I, omnipotent and omniscient, has seen fit to share some of His divine essence with you and I in the form of talents.  These talents are meant to bring glory to Him, to spread His Kingdom far and wide and to be a true blessing to those who receive the talents as well as those who are recipients of the outcome of those who practice their God given talents. And please understand this, God knows you and I so well that He knows just what talent will fit with you and I and will give us all we need to succeed beyond what we can imagine in practicing that talent.  Jesus Christ declares that when we are in alignment and abiding in Him, we will use our talents to do even greater things than Jesus did because of God’s power in us.

Thus let us reflect on the daily activities we engage in.  First, do we feel that we are moved in our spirit to do a particular thing; do we seem to be given multiple opportunities in a certain way to bring glory to God, to help people around us and bring increase to our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom? Do we ignore that movement? Do we avoid those opportunities?  Are we hesitant to use those talents out of a fear of failure or they will lead us somewhere we do not feel comfortable with? Are we burying those talents in the ground, purposefully focusing on what we deem as important or necessary?

Another reflection on our daily activities centers around our returns to God on the basis of the talents He has so richly blessed us with.  As we utilize our talents, do we do so with the intent of returning 100% to our Heavenly Father? To illustrate what I mean by that question; let’s take me as an writer.  Now some might have a strong argument that my writing “skills” such as they are,  might not be a talent from God but for the sake of argument let’s say that they are.  I could use those skills to write blogs, stories and in any other way I can to further His Kingdom and bring glory to His name.  Now I could do that every time I write, with that focus in mind.  However, I could say that I want to win more recognition for myself and get financial rewards so I’m going to write things which might even be Kingdom denying but worldly successful but I’ll only do some of the time.  Let’s say I’ll use my God given talents 90% of the time for God’s purposes and 10% for my own purposes; that’s fair isn’t it? Perhaps from a worldly perspective.  Yet when we realize that Jesus Christ took all of our sins, not 50%, 75% or 99.9% but all of our sins upon Himself for our salvation and then sacrificed Himself for us; we realize that God is and has always been all in 100% of the time for us.  As His servants should we be anythings less?

There are two primary reasons, that we might not want to give 100% to God.  One is we see the talents we’re using as “our” talents and as such we are entitled to receiving a portion of the glory for utilizing them.  The second reason we might want to hold back some is out of fear.  Will God really take care of me if my sole and soul focus is on Him?  Doesn’t it make sense for me to focus part of my talents and my gain purely on myself so that I can be sure about my Return on Investment? I certainly don’t want to be left with looking like a fool with nothing to show for utilizing these talents with God as my focus.

Jesus Christ, through His teachings, His healing actions and His sacrifice tries to tell and show us of the wonderful, all need fulfilling, all powerful, based only on love blessings our Heavenly Father longs to shower upon us.  Even in this parable, we see the rewards as immediate and overwhelming.  First the Lord praises the servant, then the Lord rewards the servant with immediate increase being set over many things and finally the servant is beckoned in to receive the joy of the Lord.  Is there any greater return on our investment of His talents than that?

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise You and thank You that, through Your Grace, You have seen fit to share Your talents with us.  Through the Holy Spirit, guide and focus us that these talents would be revealed to us as well as Your plan for how we are to utilize these talents.  Forgive us when we either; utilize these talents not in accordance with Your plan or neglect to utilize our God given talents at all.  In the utilizing of our God given talents in accordance with Your plan, we ask that You would bless not only us but those whom we serve in Your name.  That in the receiving and using of our God given talents we would bring glory, honor and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. God spoke to Cain: ‘Why this tantrum? Why this sulking?'”  Genesis 4:5,6

“Their plan was to turn west into Asia province but the Holy Spirit blocked their route. So they went to Mysia and tried to Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them go there. ….we walked from there to Philippi…..was to be a prayer meeting…we talked with them….As she listened…she believed!”  Acts 16: 6, 8, 12-14

The above two experiences are centuries apart.  One happened reasonably shortly after creation, the other reasonably shortly after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The first involved Cain, one of Adam’s sons and the other, the apostle Paul.  Yet in both cases, the Will of God, thwarted the plans of men, without a significant amount of explanation.  The reactions of the two men were exceedingly different, impacting not only their lives but the lives of those around them.

Let’s start with Cain.  Besides being one of Adam’s sons, we know precious little about Cain at this point in scripture.  The bible tells us that Cain was the older of the two sons.  As one would expect for that time, both made their livings so to speak, “off the land”.  Seemingly, both also intended to honor God; for both decided to bring their offerings before God.  Abel brought produce from his farm and scripture also tells us that Cain brought an offering from his first born animal, choice cuts of meat.  God liked Abel’s offering but did not approve of Cain’s offering.

I want to pause for a moment here, because here’s where I think we, like Cain can stumble.  Scripture does not tell us why God did not approve of Cain’s offering.  We are generations before Moses received very detailed instructions on the mountain concerning proper sacrifices.  I’ve heard many reasons put forth as to why Cain missed the mark.  Seemingly, without that understanding, we seem to feel that Cain was unfairly treated and had every right to get mad.  However, dear Sisters and Brothers, we’re talking about God, the Creator of all things, having perfect Knowledge and a perfect Plan. Is it really His responsibility to, are we His creation, owed an explanation from Him?

Here’s a vital point that I think gets glossed over, too often left out and rarely stressed enough.  The story seems to go, after the disapproval, Cain goes out, gets in a fight with his brother and then kills him; only to have his sin uncovered subsequently by God after that famous utterance by Cain “am I my brother’s keeper?”.  We get the sense that Cain was left all alone in his despair, which then boiled over in his lashing out at the injustice and smiting his brother.  But please, please, please do not overlook the intervening action from God between the offering’s disapproval and the committing of murder.  God saw that Cain was troubled.  Instead of turning His back on Cain, or banishing him right there and then; God came to Cain to try and help him.  God let Cain know that this offering was not a one and you’re done failure.  God advised Cain that he could improve and if he set his sights on improving, on doing well, then Cain would be accepted just like his brother had been.  God also warned Cain that his anger was dangerous in that it could lead to sin, which of course it tragically ended up doing.

Then there is the Apostle Paul.  One gets the sense in reading many of the letters that Paul wrote as well as his actions, detailed in the Book of Acts, that Paul was a determined individual; that in today’s vernacular we’d say he had a “strong personality”.  When Paul felt strongly about something, he did not mince words about saying exactly how he felt.  Similarly, Paul was not afraid to confront those he disagreed with including the likes of Peter, the one who Christ named the rock. Both in the letters and in Acts we learn that there were places that Paul definitely wanted to travel to; Asia for one and desperately in fact, Rome for another.  Paul mentions that he has plans and those plans, several times, get thwarted.  Paul also leaves no doubt as to who he blames for his plans not happening; the Spirit; whether that be the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ, it is a divine Spirit that prevents him. There are times in Paul’s letters where it is easy to read a sense of frustration, exasperation or even desperation at being stopped at that particular time.

Here’s the thing dear Sisters and Brothers; Paul could have become angry, he could have sulked, he could have stopped and said:  “That’s it, no Rome, no more preaching from me!”.  But Paul didn’t do that.  Instead, Paul accepted, however reluctantly so, the blocking from God and moved to where he was led.  In one case, Paul received a message from God in a dream about where to go, although again, it was not where Paul had said he wanted to go; but he went.  And because Paul went, so many knew faith communities were started, Paul received so many blessings traveling the path, God chose for him to travel.

What does that mean for us today? Think of what the world is telling us today; the worldly mantra:  I can be anything, do anything I want as long as I want it bad enough and will work tirelessly to get it.  Look at how many “I”s are in that statement. Maybe there’s some passing nod at God because some would suggest that God is the one that puts the specific “anything” in my heart so I’m okay in my single minded pursuit. Yet make no mistake, our Heavenly Father is the Creator, He has a plan, a perfect plan. My “anything” no matter how much I want it, strive for it, live for it; does not trump His plan.  So let’s say that my “anything”, that I’m striving for is aligned with His plan; is my timing aligned with His timing; is my “anything” for His glory, am I willing to implement my “anything” based on His plan?

Finally, what is my reaction going to be to God implementing His Will in my life?  If, at the moment it is different than what I had planned; so I get angry, go off sulking and do something sinful in response; the results will be disastrous both for me and those around me.  If, on the other hand, through humble, faithful prayer and study, I submit myself to God’s perfect plan, that I may have no idea where it’s leading; then I may reap untold blessings and yes even bounty that I never conceived would come my way.  Let us ask for help through the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ to have the appropriate response.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we freely accept and declare that You are the Creator of all things, including us and have a perfect plan for all things.  We are so grateful that in Your Mercy and Grace, You have seen fit to provide us with tools, such as Your Word and prayer to allow us to align our will to Your Will.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we stubbornly attempt to impose our will or reject the imposition of Your Will into our life or plan.  Through the Holy Spirit, teach us to be humbly obedient to the path You have chosen for us, knowing that it will be filled with Your love and blessings. That in living a life aligned to Your Plan for us, it will be a life of praise and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

“Give me an understanding heart that I can govern Your people well and know the difference between right and wrong.”  1 Kings 3:9

“The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you.”  John 14:25

“For the Lord gives wisdom, from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6

I have stated before and this post is not meant to in any way shape or form be anti-science, anti-academic, or anti-intellectual.  Science and medicine and those who are well versed in those topics and subjects have done great personal feats for me and I give thanks to God for them.  This post has more to do with our mindset as we pursue greater intellectual knowledge and how we think about the process of attaining it as well as how we feel about ourselves once we’ve attained it.

Prizing education and academic learning is nothing new and seemingly today the demand for it, those seeking to obtain it, the costs associated with attaining it and the thoughts about those who don’t have it are ever more in the forefront of our societal consciousness.  Academic institutions, especially those for profit and their marketing are a significant presence in all of our media today.  The having of a degree, several degrees, advanced degree or degrees is more frequently a requirement or at least preferred characteristic that many employers are seeking out for their organizations.

While none of those current societal trends are troubling or secular in themselves, I believe we have to be very careful about how we see ourselves both in the process of attaining “higher” education and once the degree or certification has been obtained.  For the way that it is too often portrayed is that the attaining of higher level of learning is a testament to our own talents, desires, “work ethic” or vision.  Also, once we’ve attained the higher degree, we are somehow more worthy, entitled to some greater reward for our efforts, should be sought out and listened to more.  In a word we are “better”; not only better than we were before attaining the degree but also “better” than those who don’t have our level of learning.  It is all too easy for our pride to swell through the process and attainment of higher education.

Let’s take a look at this for a moment starting with the process of attaining higher learning.  Isn’t the process a testament to my desire for self improvement an accolade to my diligence and self motivation, proof of my desire for self fulfillment? As I take my classes, isn’t this a compliment concerning my tenacity?  Aren’t the grades I receive, truly and solely, “my grades” worthy of acknowledgement and glorification?  Here are some self-reflection questions I might need to ask and answer to validate those opinions.  At what point during my development in the womb did I decide and take steps to insure that my brain would function in such a way to allow me the understanding and capacity to seek this higher learning? As an infant or a toddler, what plan did I conceive and implement that allowed me to have sufficient prerequisite learning to continue into an advance state? Let me review my complete plan of all the parents, educators, administrators, mentors and many others that I perfectly put in place that led to my successfully being able to further my education.

Upon completion of this increased education, I am entitled to some or much personal glory, perhaps depending on the level I’ve achieved.  I am deserving; deserving of higher pay, greater promotions, more plush offices.  I deserve to not only be sought out for my opinion, also listened to with less questioning and my opinion should always be given greater weight than those lessors who have not achieved the education that I have.

Yes these are the fruits of “my” singular labor.  Woe to those who are not willing to give me my dues.

Solomon, known biblically and in even general lexicon (i.e. many speak of “The wisdom of Solomon) as one of the wisest living persons knew about the need for wisdom/learning and his lack of it.  His Father David was one of the greatest kings of Israel and upon his death, wanted Solomon (as was God’s plan as well) to reign after him.  The challenge was that Solomon was very young.  He knew he didn’t have the knowledge to satisfactorily govern such a vast and powerful kingdom.  So when God asked Solomon what he wanted from God, Solomon could have asked for riches, a long life, many excellent wives and children; Solomon asked for a wise heart.  He asked for knowledge to lead God’s people well, knowing good from evil.  God was very pleased with Solomon’s request and granted it to him.

Jesus Christ had been extremely diligent in teaching His disciples.  Yet at the last supper, He knew that His disciples still lacked the critical understanding that they would need to carry Christ’s message into the world.  So Jesus promised to send a “Friend”, a “Helper”, the Holy Spirit who would provide all the necessary knowledge and insight needed to carry forth the Gospel of Christ.  Jesus went on to say the Holy Spirit was not just for the disciples but for all who would come to Christ and, through Him, seek the wisdom of the Father.  The world, otherwise could never receive the Holy Spirit because they would not believe that Christ asked for Him to be sent.

Thus it would seem that, while we may indeed know, understand and desire the attainment for a greater knowledge, a higher degree, the fulfillment of that desire is more of a gift of Grace from God, than it is solely a result of our own efforts. I do not contend that it does not take effort, yet that effort builds on God given talents.  Even to have the opportunity is a blessing from God. It may take some humility to come to that understanding but it will align us more accurately with He who provided us the talents in the first place and Whose plan our gaining in wisdom is fulfilling.

Also, having attained some greater learning/education, we need to understand that it is not about being served as a reward for that attainment but finding a way to serve with the gained knowledge.  We need to remember what Christ stated that to one who has much given, much is required.

So, if we are so led, let us go and learn.  Let us strive and achieve.  Always being mindful of as well as thankful for, the blessing and gift that there is in the opportunity for and acquiring of, greater knowledge.  Let us give glory to the Name of Him where all glory, honor and knowledge resides, living a life of loving, sharing and serving to our Heavenly Father.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we affirm and declare that all knowledge and wisdom resides in You.  We are so very thankful that in Your Mercy, You have seen fit to share some of Your knowledge and wisdom with us.  We pray, as Solomon did, that You would guide us to use that wisdom and knowledge in Your service as a blessing to this world.  We also ask Your forgiveness when we see the achievement and wisdom in a prideful way, seeking our own glory.  Guide us we pray and allow us to use the wisdom You so freely provide in a way that will be praise to Your most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“O Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, …..how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Luke 13:34

“A certain man was preparing a banquet, at the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come for everything is now ready’. But they all alike began to make excuses….” Luke 14: 16-18

“Martha, Martha”, the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her”. Luke 10:41,42

I HAD NO CHOICE!!!!  That is a phrase that seems to gain more and more traction in today’s world.  There are several reasons for it.  One of the reasons revolves around the two edge sword that is science and scientific discoveries.  Now understand this, having lost two parents and several other relatives to cancer in the past, the fact that the Lord has allowed medical science to progress in that my wife is now cancer free for many years is a true blessing to behold.  We are constantly finding out new and wonderful things about the creation that is a human being and the wonderful processes at work within us.  Yet at the same time, those discoveries can be misconstrued and taken out of a greater; mental, physical and spiritual context allowing for certain behaviors and/or human challenges to be dismissed as “I was born this way”.  Yes it appears to be true that genes are foundational physiological building blocks that definitely impact biological processes.  Though now, we often seem to rush to find a genetic reason for something including do I eat too much, drink too much, can’t control my anger and so many more.  And if some genetic connection can be found, then the answer is all too often; then I’m not responsible because I’m not responsible for my genetic makeup.  The genes made me do it.

However, there are more than just genetic aspects of the “I had no choice” rationale. In the socioeconomic realm, we so often see this reason use to excuse either committing or being a victim of egregious behavior.  To get, keep, get promoted in my job, I was required to endure the actions of or perhaps I was forced to commit certain actions of (fill in the blank with some horrific action or behavior). In today’s society, it is one thing when a child understandably claims that they were powerless to thwart or escape the actions of an adult who was responsible for them.  However, it is different for a fully functional adult to make the same claim as often as we do.

Then there are the process reasons for not making a decision like:  No one ever asked me or I didn’t have a chance to make an input or the every popular, Everyone else was doing it so i was forced to go along.

Jesus, during His ministry is constantly talking about first making and then the ramifications of making certain decisions.  Jesus talks about the decision to enter through the narrow door that leads to salvation versus the wide door that leads to destruction.  He cries out in sorrow as He laments how often He has tried to gather His chosen people together, to protect and guide them, like a hen does for her chicks, but it was not the wind or some outside force that drove the chicks, the people from Jesus; it was their own decision not to be led by Him.  Jesus tells a story that is analogous to great feast in the Kingdom of Heaven when He tells of the man who was throwing a great banquet and first invited all His friends and those He truly felt worthy to attend.  The day of banquet came and imagine the anticipation the man had to see his banquet hall filled with appreciative, joy filled guests.  Then the decisions started happening.  We don’t know why the invited guests started making excuses: “Nope got to go see some land”, “Unh, unh, I got to go see my new ox”, “OOOO bad timing, I just got married; sorry can’t make it”.  However, one by one, all the invited guests decided not to come and made excuses as to why.  The consequences of those decisions?  The chosen invitees were never going to be let in or be invited again.

Jesus Christ knows how the world can skew our conceptions and distort our reality to cause us to make unwise decisions.  Jesus Christ, the true Son of God had come to the house of Martha and Mary; and He was not alone.  Scripture tells us that at least the disciples were with Him and perhaps more.  The world of that day (as well as today) required certain behaviors from the host; something to eat and drink and the inevitable cleaning that comes after that.  Jesus was speaking, again the Son of God was speaking and scripture tells us that Mary is sitting listening.  Martha is diligently trying to fulfill the requirements of a hostess but without the help of her sister and Martha is upset.  Perhaps in Martha’s eyes, Mary had chosen to be lazy.  Jesus, patiently, gracefully and softly corrects Martha and her perception.  The Son of God doesn’t visit your house every day, and when He takes the time to speak, listening to Him, focusing on Him is the correct decision to make; regardless of how the world would think otherwise.

So again, Dear Sisters and Brothers, it is clear that our Heavenly Father, in His infinite wisdom has given us the ability to choose.  Perhaps in some ways had it been our decision we would have left off that capability from our creation in that it allowed us to decide to partake of the fruit that led to our initial fallen nature and all the wars and evils we have partaken in since then.  Yet having choice allows us to have faith, allows us to choose love, mercy and forgiveness.  Jesus Christ is calling upon us to choose.  Although even in that call, Jesus Christ is not leaving us to our own meager devices in attempting to choose the righteous path.  For Jesus Christ has articulated His Father’s plan that They would grant the Holy Spirit come and instruct and lead us to the decisions that will lead us to redemption and salvation.  However, we do not dare cede these careful decisions to the world and its ways.  We dare not try to excuse ourselves from deciding because we feel forced to go a different path.

Thus as Joshua proclaimed let us also decide; as for me and my house, we will serve the lord.  Let us be wise as Mary to sit at the feet of the Lord.  Let us not decide to refuse the invitation of our Heavenly Father to attend His eternal banquet feast.  Let us come to the protecting wing of Jesus Christ allowing ourselves to be gathered in to Him, living lives of glory, honor and praise in and to the name of our Father in Heaven.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we freely proclaim that You have given us the faculties and the responsibilities to make choices.  Yet we also humbly confess that too often we turn from the resources that You provide and rely on our own means that lead to poor and disastrous decisions.  Hear us and forgive us when we call out to You when we stray that You, in Your loving mercy, would gather us back together in You.  Pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us to guide us in the way, making the decisions that will align us to Your Most Perfect Will and bring everlasting Glory to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am He’, said Jesus, ‘And you will see the Son of Man, sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven'”. Mark 14:62

“But I tell you the truth it is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7

And when I turned  I saw among the lamp stands was someone like the Son of Man…When I saw Him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said ‘ Do not be afraid, I am the First One and The Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever'”.  Revelation 1: 12, 17,18

We have a crucial question that we must ask ourselves: Is Jesus Christ a figure to us?

So let me explain what I mean by a figure and why that question is so important to every aspect of our life; physical, mental and especially spiritual.  In this case I’m speaking of a figure as personage of importance.  We have many figures around us and some are non-individualistic representations of persons or people; for example, the Pope could refer to the current person in that position or the position in general.  We obviously have individual historic figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandi and Mother Teresa for examples. I could go on citing examples of different types of figures but I think you get the drift.

So why is it important for us to consider whether we are placing Jesus Christ in the category of figure, even if it’s a separate category above all the rest?  Because rarely do I ever enter into a relationship with “a figure”.  In truth, I didn’t have a relationship with the parental figure classified as my father; I had the relationship with Henry A. Huggins. I may know the name of, certain characteristics and happenings about, view the person of our President of the United States, but that really in no way shape or form would constitute a relationship.  If we carry that line of thinking further into the aspect of historical figures, it is impossible to be in a relationship with George Washington, Harriet Tubman or Plato for example.  Thus we must be certain that we don’t see Jesus Christ as simply a figure.  That we don’t categorize Jesus Christ as some, albeit great, aspect of history and/or the Son of God as simply a title, devoid of a very much alive, personally relevant to every aspect of our life, real, individual Being?

Now as it applies to being in a relationship with Jesus Christ, our very nature causes challenges there as well.  For one, we are not God come to earth as Jesus Christ was.  We were created by God, who then breathed His breath of life into us.  Being created of this earth makes us corporeal in nature.  That is we tend to experience things through the physicality of our human senses versus the revelations of our spirit.  In fact there would be some who would discount that there is even such a thing as a “spirit”.  Yet it is in fact that spiritual realm where we encounter the Living Risen Jesus Christ.  That is not to say that Jesus Christ has no power over, or impact on the physical world, He most certainly does.  Yet His ability to be present with us in all circumstances and at all times is based on His ability as spiritual being.  As I type this please understand, it is not like I completely understand the Spiritual aspect and working of Christ for it is far above my ability to comprehend.

Also, besides the spiritual aspect of being in relationship with Christ, another challenge that we have is that we are time-linear beings.  That is to say we see things in a progression of time, there was something that happened, there is something happening now, and there will be something that happens later; the past, present and future.  John, tells us that Christ existed from the beginning.  However, we see the physical person of Christ as being a person who lived on this earth for approximately 33 years, some roughly two thousand years ago.  Because Christ became corporeal, we have challenges not relegating His existence to the time He was here on earth.

One additional challenge we have currently is also how we’re redefining our concepts of relationships.  With social media I can have “friends” who, I’ve not only never physically met, but who I only have contact with based upon the scantest and highly filtered information they allow to be “posted”.  Based on 147 characters, I have thousands of “followers” who can’t really have a clear idea of what they’re “following” based on barely enough input to build two sentences; let alone a developed dossier.

So Jesus Christ wanted, then for His disciples and followers, as well as for us today and all who will come to Him in the future, to truly understand, He is alive.  He was very clear to both those who believed and loved Him as well as those who rejected and hatted Him, that no matter what the earthly outcome of His life seemed to be, i.e. the crucifixion, that He was going to continue to live and not just live, but sit at the right hand of His Father in Heaven. Jesus Christ tried to make clear to His disciples that His returning to heaven was a blessing to them for He would then send the Holy Spirit to them to make all things clear.  We see how loving Jesus Christ continues to be in His loving comfort to John in the Revelation.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Jesus Christ is not only very much alive, in every sense of the word, this very moment; He also wants to have a living, constant, intimate relationship with you and I.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus wants to reveal His endless love and mercy for us, bringing salvation to us as He leads us to throne of His Father in Heaven. As Christ spoke longingly wanting to gather and protect the people of Israel like a hen does for her chicks; in the same way, Christ wants to gather and protect us, to be in a daily, deep, loving relationship with us.

To overcome the challenges we have in entering into that relationship there a several things we can so.  First, pray.  Pray diligently and constantly.  Pray with purpose to Christ, understanding no one willingly prays to someone or something that is dead.  No we pray to one whom we truly believe is alive and able to hear our petitions.  Second, study the word of Jesus Christ.  In the gospels, Jesus, blessedly gives us such wonderful insight into the unique individual that Jesus is.  This intimate knowledge of the thoughts and personality of Jesus Christ allows us a personage to grasp hold of and bond to.  Let us strive to move past any static, impersonal figure of Jesus, to be in a personal, constant, loving and relying on relationship with the real, living for now and evermore, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are awestruck with amazement that You would send Your Son, Jesus Christ, to live, die and be raised for us and our salvation.  We’re equally amazed and thankful that Jesus Christ longs to be in a loving personal relationship with us where He reveals Your true nature.  Forgive our limitations that cause us to see Jesus Christ as some figure of the past with little relevancy to what is happening in our lives today.  Send the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and teach us about the blessings of and how to come into a full relationship with Jesus Christ.  That through that relationship in Christ we might live lives that bare much fruit and bring glory and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“I am the vine you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

“When Saul saw the Philistine Army he was afraid…….’Find me a woman who is a medium so I may go and inquire of her'”  1 Samuel 28:5,6

“If you want something done right, you’ll have to do it yourself.”

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”

“God helps them who help themselves.”

All popular sayings extolling the virtues of self reliance.  I felt the urging of the Spirit to choose the title that’s written although I believe that will turn some away from going any further and perhaps might spark disagreement with others that venture further.  As I have stated, before I claim no extraordinary scholarship in the Word so upon finishing this post if you have a different view, I would sincerely urge you to leave a comment with your view.

Yet it seems to me that we are in a world that increasingly celebrates and I would dare to use the word glorifies the self and its accomplishments.  It seems that the level of my success depends greatly on my level of self respect and self confidence. My ultimate goal is to achieve my dream.  I am told that I can achieve anything as long as I believe and yes work hard enough. I can and should rely on my judgement in all things and if I don’t understand or don’t agree, then I am perfectly right to disregard it and go my own way.

Yet here’s the problem; over and over again in both the Old and New Testament, we are taught about those people, often educated, sometimes wealthy people, pillars of society, deciding to go their own way either neglecting to consult God or rejecting His counsel, always with disastrous consequences.

Jesus Christ especially wants to stress this to His disciples as they were eating the last supper and soon Jesus would be taken from them.  As they transitioned from a Jesus in the flesh on earth, to Jesus Christ, resurrected and risen to heaven, sitting on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, Jesus wanted them to understand that they had to stay in Jesus Christ to accomplish any and everything.  Jesus Christ was clear to them and it still applies to us today:  …apart from Me you can do NOTHING!  Jesus makes no exception for strong effort or good thinking or generous behavior or anything.  When in Christ we can do great works, even greater than when Christ was on this earth; but anything we do, any effort exerted not in Christ will amount to nothing; PERIOD!

Take King Saul, now please understand this was not the Saul, who would become Paul of the New Testament.  This is King Saul who was from the smallest tribe of Israel, initially a humble man, selected by God to be the first king of Israel, although God was not happy with the nation’s request to have an earthly king.  King Saul had already shown his proclivity to be self reliant when he became impatient and offered sacrifices before battle which only the prophet Samuel and the Levite’s were allowed to do. Now an enemy the Philistines are at Israel’s door and King Saul is trying to get an answer from God about should they go into battle.  When an answer doesn’t seem to be coming, King Saul relies on his own judgement to go out and find a woman fortune teller to get his answer.

The interesting aspect of King Saul was he did not start out relying on himself.  He started out going to ask, then listening to and even following the direction of God through the Prophet Samuel.  It was during times of crises, like impending battle or later when he wrongly believed that David was trying to take his kingship away, that he forsook the counsel of God and instead, relied on his own judgement.  After all God had made him King hadn’t he?

Dear Sisters and Brothers, King Saul is a cautionary tale for all of us.  At what point or in what circumstances are we willing to forgo the counsel of God, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, what activities do we feel Jesus Christ has no part in and it is in our best interest to rely on our self, our intellect, our power?

I can hear some now saying; that’s the problem with that thought process and the faith in general; Jesus Christ doesn’t want to be in my golf game, or with me as I watch TV and/or will go to a party with me; so I guess I have to give that all up!  Not at all.  Remember that Jesus attended weddings and even supplied wine.  Jesus, that I can find, never gave a commandment against recreation.  It is possible to participate in those activities and be in Christ.  How?  First by seeing those activities as a blessing from Christ.  To walk out in His creation on a golf course (and the way I play I see a lot of His creation in a lot of out of way places on the course).  You can also fellowship and support someone in need while playing.  In every activity you can ask yourself, is there and how can Jesus Christ use this with me?

Though understand this; just because you mention Jesus Christ in something doesn’t mean you are in Him during the actual action.  Going to a party and getting so drunk that you attempt to sleep with another person’s spouse, will never be something that is done in Jesus Christ.  Deciding to cheat or steal something at work will never be something that can be achieved in Jesus Christ.

It is clear that Jesus Christ does not want any aspect of our existence to be a part from Him.  He does not want us to have our efforts amount to nothing.  Jesus Christ knows that the enemy is always trying to drive a wedge between Christ and ourselves, starting in the garden; trying to convince us the appropriateness and reward there is if we will do our own thing.  The truly grace filled amazing thing, is that Jesus Christ wants us in Him right now; just as we are.  Christ does not demand that we become perfect and then and only then can we join into Him.  Christ knows that if perfection is required first; none of us will ever be able to abide in Him.  No, Jesus Christ promises us that the more we are able to be in Him the closerto perfection He will empower us to be.  What we need to be is in constant prayer, as well as not neglecting the Word, so we will grow ever closer, our constant striving will to be ever more often, in Jesus Christ.  That through the power of the Holy Spirit, leading us in the pathways of being in Jesus Christ, we will achieve lives that are a true blessing to ourselves and others as well as bringing praise to the name of our Heavenly Father.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father. we are eternally thankful that You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to us and that He not only allows us but beckons us to live our lives in Him.  Grant us through the Holy Spirit, to resist the temptation of the evil one, to rely on ourselves, turning from You and Christ and traveling down the path to our self destruction.  As we strive to live ever closer to a complete life in Jesus Christ, allow us to bare fruit that will be a blessing to both ourselves and others.  That all the world might see the wisdom and value in being in Jesus Christ and bring praise to our Father in Heaven.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“but the people there did not welcome Him……When the disciples, James and John saw this, they asked:  ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’  But Jesus turned and rebuked them.”  Luke 9:53-55

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.”  Luke 6:27

When the subject of change and handling change is discussed; two generations that are often brought up are the “Baby-boomers” and the generation immediately preceding them; some call them the “Traditionalists”.  What you often here discussed are such changes as; they went from horse and buggy to the jet age or they didn’t have indoor plumbing but lived long enough to see a man land on the moon.  For the Baby-boomers it is often an aspect of; they started out with black and white TV and now their streaming videos on the mobile phone.  Yet almost everywhere I hear this discussion take place, the examples that are utilized are primarily technological in nature.  Much less often are the sociological changes brought forward or if they are; it is not with the same sort of wistful, appreciative tone or nature.  You don’t as often hear examples like; they saw black and white kids get to go to school together in their life time, or they saw the definition of marriage expand to include gay couples.

Yet I think it is the social changes that have at least as profound if not a greater impact on a person’s sense of identity and the lens through which they grapple with the fundamental truths and judgments about their life and the world around them.  One reason for this, is that people may resist new technology, may; even at times fear it and the impact that it has; yet the rarely make fundamental value judgments about it. To the extent that a new technology is “good” normally has to do with the ease with which one learns to use it and how much convenience it adds.  Even when we “hate” a new gadget or the change that it brings; we don’t often equate it with an evil intent.  For example, with the nascent advent of driver less cars, there are many mixed emotions, but even with those who are adamantly opposed to that technology, I have not heard it describe about being evil.

The same can not be said for social changes.  History has shown us that as many of the significant social change processes have unfolded (at least in the United States), there is a significant amount of the population who judge the changes as evilly destructive.  Our country was going to end if we let the races intermingle in school and worse yet in marriage.  Giving women the right to vote, was going to destroy our social fabric and  there’s still an argument about whether, somehow, the woman’s right movement has destroyed the sanctity of the home.  While we’re at it we could bring up “globalism”, the LGBT movement, sports players “taking a knee”, legalized drugs and many more social changes, some would say progressions, other would characterize as upheavals, in our society.

It is not the intent of this post, nor do I have the wisdom to judge the righteousness or lack there of these movements.  What I did want to discuss is what should be our response to these and other social changes, especially if we disagree, sometimes vehemently disagree (which I in some cases do).

You see, Dear Sisters and Brothers; Jesus was a social movement in and of Himself in His time.  The way He preached His Father’s message of His Kingdom of Heaven seemed radically different for those who were hearing it.  Without a doubt the reactions to Jesus’ message were wide ranging.  Some heard Him enthusiastically, some wanted to throw Him off a cliff.  Yet Jesus was very consistent in His response and His message of response to His detractors and those who wanted Him silenced.

Did you ever hear or see written that Jesus told His followers to hate those who were against Him?  Did Jesus call out for His followers to destroy off the face of the earth those who are sinners or those who won’t except Jesus’ message?  Did the commands of condemn, massacre, despise, ridicule into submission, or other similar condemnations spew forth from Jesus as worthy acts for His followers to commit on unbelievers?

Oh by the way, the wanted to; the disciples that is.  Jesus was heading for Jerusalem for the last time and, as was His custom, He wanted to preach in some villages along the way.  Predictably, some villages would not receive Him.  Oh boy, the disciples, especially John and James were ready.  They had been with Jesus long enough to have some insight into His power.  And not only Jesus power, but the power that Jesus granted to His disciples because they were His followers.  Not listen to Jesus, not even let Jesus, the Son of God into your village; oh Jesus we’re ready for this one, John and James are thinking.  Let us at them Jesus, let us call fire down and burn them up for the insolence and insult.  One can just imagine the glean in their eyes over the thought of the just retribution.  They must have forgotten the earlier sermon where Jesus completely turns the concept of revenge and just retribution on its head when He tells them to “love their enemies”, to “do good to those who hate you”.  Jesus not only does not allow them to call fire down but rebukes them for wanting to do that in the first place.

Jump ahead a few centuries.  We’re in a place where we sometimes feel and it quite literally is in some places and times that Christianity is under attack.  We see some of the social changes and we turn to the bible and say; wait a second, this says we shouldn’t be doing that.  We find our blood pressure rising as we see Christian symbols being removed and scorned in many different places and situations.  Then we start hearing the cries, perhaps we start saying the prayers; Jesus Christ, smite these evildoers and blasphemers; these sinners and sweep them from our sight! Maybe we watch for and secretly wish for the Holy lightning bolt that will leave these offenders just smoking holes in the ground.

One can get the picture that we’re standing there with faces twisted in righteous indignation, saying to Jesus Christ; let us at them, give us great power to unleash, what do you want us to do them!?  We’re hoping for some permission to unleash the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah down on “them”.

“Love them!”, comes the answer from Jesus Christ.  “Ah, excuse me?” comes our incredulous reply.  “Yes, if you truly love Me, you will love them as I love them,” Jesus Christ admonishes us.  Then it happens, now I understand.  You see we’re all sinners.  Jesus Christ came to save all of us.  Jesus Christ loves all of us.  That there would be many who reject the message and love of Christ and hate His followers is irrelevant.  The goal of being saved by Jesus Christ, is to in turn live and love like Jesus Christ.  However, we can’t pull this off on our own.  The only way to love, truly love, unequivocally love, even with unrequited love, is to abide in the One who loves us in perfect way.  We must accept the unchanging love of Jesus Christ if we are to remain steadfast and be able to give His love in this constantly changing times.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we cry out to you in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ in these uncertain and turbulently changing times. We ask that You would pour out a spirit of forgiveness and agape love that as Jesus Christ loved all, even His enemies, we would find the strength to do so as well.  Help us to return mercy for maliciousness, forgiveness for wrongdoing and love for hate.  That this world may witness through us; the loving salvation You intended for all to have who will call upon the name of Your Son Jesus Christ.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

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