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“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

“But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord”  Jonah 1:3

“Now the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah….Jonah prayed to the Lord God…..So the Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Johan onto dry land”.  Jonah 1:17, 2:1, 2:10

Why Jonah?  Why you?  Why me?  Who knows that mind of God?

I have no idea: why Jonah?  Yet it is clear in scripture, God chose Jonah.  Here’s what else is clear; God was not going to be denied.  Jonah tried to deny God.  It is important that we understand that Jonah knew that he had a calling from God.  Jonah had no ambiguity about whether God wanted him to go to Nineveh; but, even with that calling, Jonah was bound and determined he was not going to go.

Why was Jonah so set against doing God’s Will?  Why did he try to run from God?  Later in this scripture we get a sense of what Jonah’s mindset was.  You see at this point in time; Jonah was not about God.  Jonah was not about the Ninevehites.  Jonah was about Jonah.  God had told Jonah to go and preach Nineveh’s destruction because of their sin.  Jonah was going to go put his name out there predicting the fall of Nineveh.  But we learn that Jonah had his doubts.  For he went and preached God, the sins of Nineveh and their coming destruction.  And what did the Ninevehites do because of that preaching?  They repented.  Starting with their king who took off his kingly robes and sat in ashes and sackcloth, the entire city repented.  So God forgave them of their sins and was merciful and did not destroy the city.  Here’s the interesting thing; God’s mercy really made Jonah angry.  It seems that Jonah was more intent on having the words of destruction happen that he preached then, seeing the Ninevehites hear God and be saved.  Jonah felt he looked foolish.  Now back to the beginning of the story.  Jonah knew that this was a possibility; so he ran.  He ran from God.

Have you ever felt that you’ve run away from God before; or maybe today your trying to.  I know I have.  I know that there have been times and even today where God is calling me to a task.  The challenge is that the task God is calling me to accomplish requires a significant change; and that change the world would look at as risky if not just plain foolish.  So I run. It’s not as if I get on a boat and physically try to flee as Jonah did.  For me it is more as if I try to ignore in my heart and soul what God is calling for me to do.  I try to go on in the worldly way, trying to fool myself into thinking this is the prudent and wise way to be.  Yet like for Jonah, there are storms in my soul.  My entire being, physical, mental, emotional is stressed as if trying to survive a major tempest.  Understand, God has not forgotten, nor forsaken me.  Actually it is just the opposite.  Why He has chosen me, I can not say.  However, He is not about to be denied.  I am the one in denial if I think I can thwart His plans.

So I feel that I am in need of a fish.  To be whisked away by a God sent messenger, without the ability to resist to find myself thrust out, arriving in the place where God intended; at times would seem like such a blessing.  Yet in reading the story of Jonah, I’m not so sure.  Because even though Our Heavenly Father was very merciful with Jonah, Jonah never still really bought in.  At the end of that gospel story, Jonah is still bitterly depressed, sitting in the desert.

Contrast that Dear Sisters and Brothers with Abraham.  He was called by God to do a very risky thing.  However, Abraham did not run from God, he ran to God.  Abraham bought into the word of God and the world could not overcome the Word or Abraham.

Here’s the thing; you, like I, may feel that you are in need of a fish from God.  You may be trying to flee from God and feeling the effects of trying to hide from Him.  You may be wishing, crying out for help, thinking that it might be nice for God to send some sort of deliverance, some sort of vehicle, like Jonah’s fish to miraculously transport you to God’s destination.  Well truth in fact is that we already have a fish, or at least He who is often shown as the sign of a fish to rely on; and that He is Jesus Christ.  For Jesus Christ did not run from God’s plan.  He did not rebel at the thought of coming down to earth.  He did not shy away from dying for our sins and in a similar fashion as Jonah, after three days Jesus Christ returned to be our salvation.

There are many in the world and some within the faith that doubt that the story of Jonah could actually happen.  It is beyond credible that God could bring about the miracle of the fish and allow Jonah to live within it for three days.  Yet I ask which is the bigger miracle; the story of Jonah, or the story of a God who so loved the world He created, even though much of it hated Him, that He sent His Only Beloved Son, to die for His wayward creation, simply so they could live with Him forever.  Which story takes more love, more mercy, more power?

Have you ever felt like you needed a fish?  Thank God the Father Almighty that He has supplied that and all else we need.  Let us not be like Jonah and stay outside looking in.  Let us be like Abraham, David, Esther, John and yes Jesus Christ, saying yes to the calling of Our Heavenly Father and relying on the sacrificial body and blood of the Lamb of God to see us through.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we admit that we are made fearful by Your calling.  We so often find that Your calling is against what the world would have us do and we ask for your forgiveness when we try the world’s answer first.  Pour Out Your Spirit on us Dear Father, restoring our focus on you and strengthening our spirit to follow You.  We are so thankful for what You have provided us; He who is Immanuel, who is shown in the sign of the fish, who as He did to the thousands, will supply every want and need when it seems impossible that could happen.  That in following Him, we would live lives of praise to Your Name we pray.  In the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“And the Philistine said: ‘I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.” 1 Samuel 17:10

“And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were dreadfully afraid.”  1 Samuel 17:24

Two armies are arrayed against each other.  One the army of the Philistines is camped on a mountainside on one side of a valley.  They want to, at the very least conquer and enslave the Israelite people, if not kill as many as possible and drive the rest from the land.  On the other side of the valley camp the Israelite army under the command of King Saul.  While the bible does not give us definitive numbers, there is nothing to suggest that the armies are not of comparable size numerically.

War is always a very costly ordeal.  During this time, there were very few professional, full time soldiers.  For the most part, when there was a challenge to defend against or a new land to be conquered, the king would call upon able bodied men who would come from the ranks of shepherds, farmers, other tradesman which might be available.  So defeat would not only take away soldiers and land but also incapacitate the ability for the defeated nation to even survive.  So there became a custom where a champion, the best warrior (who indeed would probably be a professional soldier) would come out from each side to do battle.  Whichever champion won would decide the fate of both armies and the nations that they represented.  That would allow for the defeated nation, even if they had to leave the land, to still exist.

So it was that Goliath, the Philistine comes out to challenge and then mock the entire Israelite army.  Goliath is their champion and indeed an imposing champion he is. Depending upon the source you find, Goliath is anywhere from 9 to 11 1/2 feet tall.  His armor and weapons dwarf anything an Israeli champion could bring against him.  Seemingly all they can do is stare at him as day after day, 40 the bible says, he comes out to taunt the Israelite army.  They look at him and then they turn and look at each other, puny in comparison and they shrink back and retreat in terror.

This would be completely understandable if these were two worldly armies.  If let’s say these were two equally matched armies of Philistines and Ammorites.  With only human muscle, skill and courage to call on, Goliath is the winner hands down.

Also, it had been close to 400 years since Israel had been led out of Egypt by Moses.  That means a little over 350 years since Joshua led them initially into the promised land with one amazing victory after another.  And all those victories were attributed to not being an army of men; but an Army of the Almighty God.  While it is true that there were subsequent victories over invaders after that, there were also decades of peace and prosperity.  Perhaps we can understand how the memory of God’s Mighty Right Hand leading them into battle and allowing for miraculous victories might slip from their grasps.  So now they are an army of men facing a giant.  An army of men who, being fixated on this giant foe; to a man, can see no glimmer of hope or path to victory.  They are completely frozen, not able to challenge, unwilling to retreat.  One wonders how long this could have gone on.

Now we might be tempted to be judgmental about the men of the army.  “Shame on them!”; we might feel smug in shouting knowing the eventual outcome.  However, are we justified in that smugness as we look at our own battle lines?  For we are on one side of a valley.  The world view is on the other and is sending many a champion against us.  Some champions come in the guise of personal relations; friends, family, bosses, coworkers  and others who tell us to abandon our faith.  That our beliefs are wrong and the only way for us to survive is to bow down to them in defeat.  Other giant champions come against us in the guise of popular societal opinion, pressures for gain and acceptance and/or physical issues that call out to us demanding we change because our believing is wrong and can never stand up to the strength of their wisdom and power.  Thus we may find ourselves, like that Israelite army of old, frozen in place; too fearful to march out against the foe, yet unwilling to retreat and give up our faith.  One wonders how long this might go on.

Yet take heart and be of good cheer and courage, for no matter where you are today, even frozen, you are a chosen champion of God.  As with Goliath, our foes will not fall to the courage of a person or even an army of people.  No, it all starts and ends with God Almighty.  As He did with a shepherd boy back then, today, He will fill our hearts with courage and cause our minds and spirits to remember that you and I are not a people alone, nor a people left to rely on ourselves.  We belong to God Almighty.  A God who has never been defeated and who has never once given less than is necessary to see His people victorious.  How do we know this?  How much will God give?  When we would have partnered with the enemy in defeat and sin; God came into the world as Jesus Christ, to once and for all time conquer death and the eternal designs of the enemy, that in believing in Him we will see everlasting victory with and in Jesus Christ.

The world longs for us to fixate on it and see it as all powerful, all conquering.  God knows better and longs to pass that knowledge on to us if we will but fix our gaze upon Him.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we come to You in praise and thanksgiving, that You will never forsake us or allow the enemy to defeat us as long as we call upon You.  Forgive us when we fall prey to the message of defeat that this world flings at us.  May it be, Almighty Father, that as we focus on You, that in You we will be victorious over any and all champions this world aligns against us.  That in that victory, we will live a life of honor and praise to You.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen

“Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery.”  John 8:3

“This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.” John 8:6

Ahh, the loaded question.  I ask you a question; maybe even in a very sincere, answer seeking tone.  Yet secretly, I know what the answer should be and I hoping you give the wrong answer.  Or perhaps you give what I think is the correct answer and that will let me use that answer against you based on something you have previously said.  Either way I’ve got you and you have no escape.  My wisdom will defeat your arrogant ignorance in daring to think, believe and/or speak anything differently than I profess.

What a great plan.  The scribes and the Pharisees had Jesus just where they wanted him and if it cost a woman her life?  She’s a rotten sinner anyway, so much the better.  For Jesus had been claiming to be the Son of God.  The very same God who gave Moses His law.  The very same law that said that those committing adultery must be stoned.  I step aside a moment to point out another aspect of the cunning evil to which these people would stoop to.  For in Leviticus 20:10, it advises that both the man and the woman who commit adultery are to be put to death.  The scribes and Pharisees will tell Jesus that this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  There can be no doubt concerning her guilt.  So where is the man she was caught with?  Why was he not also brought forward to pay the price as laid out in the Law of Moses?  But, back to the Pharisees plan.  You see Jesus was the type to associate with, even eat with these sinner types.  He claimed, in healing them, that He was forgiving their sins.  Blasphemy!  And some people, more and more people were actually starting to believe Him.  Jesus must be stopped.  Yet the people also believed, or at least said they believed in the Law of Moses and would not tolerate someone who openly taught to disregard the law.  They truly didn’t expect that Jesus would go along with stoning the woman but even if He did, they could point out to the crowd:  “Look he is no different than we are!  He thinks like us!  We do not claim to be the Son of God and you can see that he is no Son of God either!”  Yup Jesus was sunk.

They prodded him, in today’s vernacular some would say they bullied Him for an answer.  “Come Jesus, what do you say?”  they demanded.  Jesus just knelt writing in the sand.  Then Jesus answered.  A soft answer, not shouted but quietly spoken.  An answer that crushed their plan.  For the scribes and the Pharisees had not heard the entire saying that “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  There they stood, motionless, mouths a gape, hands with stones in them hanging limply to their sides.  “What did He say?” they pondered.  For in one brief statement, Jesus had upheld the perfect Law of His Father in Heaven and slammed shut the imperfect human judgement used to carry it out.  Each person’s conscious spoke to him:  “If I throw my stone, others will condemn me because they know that I have sinned.”  Slowly, glumly, stones fall out of unfurled fingers and drop harmlessly to the ground.  The Pharisees and scribes turn slowly away, grumbling to themselves:  “It was a good plan, it should have worked, it should have worked.”

Boy I am glad I am not like them!  Really?  Can I be so smug?  Have I never asked God:  “Don’t You love me God?  The bible says that You love me.  And if You loved me why won’t You do this thing or that thing for me?”  Am I not trying to back God into a corner with that question?  Am I not trying to say that I know more than Him?  We can come to God and in fact He wants us to come to Him with our prayers, including our requests.  Yet those requests should be made in humility, the humility of Christ Jesus.  Who faithfully asked His Father if there was some way that the cup of suffering might be taken from Him, but also righteously added: “not My will but Thine be done.”  What is our intent?  We can’t trick God into doing what we want regardless of His plan.

Here’s the thing though.  If we are not like the Pharisees and scribes and turn and walk away.    If our intent has been wrong and we’ve found that we’ve sinned.  If we truly repent, believing in the true Sonship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Then we will hear this amazingly blessed reply.  The reply that is the outcome of God’s Perfect Plan, truly The Best Plan.  Jesus will say:  “Neither will I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we humbly admit that we far too often think ourselves wise in our own ways.  We believe that we are equal to Your Wisdom and our plans are as good, if not better than Yours.  Thank you most Merciful Father that you do not strike us down with the judgement that we deserve.  We praise You Glorious Father, that You sent Your Son Jesus Christ, to be our salvation.  That when we turn from You, Jesus Christ is our path back.  As we make our petitions, help us to call upon and rely on Your Perfect Will for us.  Pour out Your Spirit on us, Dear Father, that our longing would become to have Your Will be our will.  That our intentions may always be pure and our lives a testimony praising Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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