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“Then Judas, His betrayer,….was remorseful…saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’  And they said ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’  Then he departed and went and hanged himself”  Matthew 27: 4,5

“Woe to you…For you load men with burdens hard to bear and you, yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”  Luke 11:46

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”  Matthew 5:44

You’ve made your bed, now you’re going to have to sleep in it!  Those responsible should have to pay!  There’s a commercial out from an insurance company that has “rate suckers” that is people who’s bad driving record drives up everyone else’s rates!  Over and over again there seems to be a desperate cry in today’s society to differentiate the blamed, separate out the wrong doers, isolate and punish the responsible.  There is a moaning and groaning taking place all throughout society concerning the lack of accountability; the lack of condemnation for wrongdoing, the need for harsher judgement.  Even in the church, too often we seek to want to divide out the “wicked” based on our definition and cast them from our midst.

I think if I listen hard enough, I can hear the groaning that might be happening as you are reading this post (if you haven’t already clicked off).  Yet I’d ask you to understand this; I am not “anti-casting”.  That is so say, I believe that there is evil and wickedness and that we should not sugar coat its existence nor try to justify it in some way.  Also understand, scripture is very clear; Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharaoh, the priests of Baal, King Saul, Ananias plus Sapphira his wife in the Book of Acts and yes Judas were all held accountable; were all destroyed.  However, notice Who destroyed them; Who passed judgement on them; Who it was, Who had the unstoppable judgement of condemnation; Our Heavenly Father.

Yes, the world has much wickedness in it, much hatred and pain.  Yet here’s the question for us Dear Sisters and Brothers:  What’s that got to do with us?  We, who have found a peace and joy, in the midst of trouble, that surpasses all understanding; What have we to do with this unbelieving world?  I believe Jesus Christ would answer to us: Everything.  You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, one of the things that strikes me about the account in Matthew 27 about Judas, is that Matthew says that Judas was remorseful.  Now whether it was true repentance or the attempt of some earthly dodge I can’t say.  Yet in some sense Judas was sorry for what he had done.  So where was Judas to turn?  Where would someone go who wanted to find forgiveness and/or some aspect of redemption?  Would they not, at that time had gone to the synagogue?  Would they not today come to our church; or at least seek out a believer?

But what if our response is like the response of the leaders of the synagogue: “What is that to us? You see to it.” What if we were to either outright say to them or at the very least imply; you got yourself into this so it’s up to you to get yourself out of it?  What if we gave them the impression that we were a group of saved, righteous people who can only be joined by other already saved, righteous people?  I don’t believe Jesus Christ would be pleased.  I believe He might address us by saying “Woe to you………!”  I believe He’d be likely to include us with the Pharisees, Sadducees and lawyers of the time He was on earth, calling them and us hypocrites.  Explaining to us that we were piling burdens on the hurting, shutting up the kingdom against them, yet by our own actions not entering in ourselves either.

What has it to do with us?  Everything!  Why?  First because, to any extent that we might call ourselves or be called righteous, it is a gift of Grace from Almighty God.  We have not earned our salvation.  Our salvation was a gift freely given by Jesus Christ to us while we were yet sinners as well.  God’s Grace, not our innate goodness, is the only difference between us and the world.  Second, Jesus did it.  We must remember that so much of, if not the majority of Jesus’ time on earth was spent in the company of sinners.  I imagine that we think that those were rather harmless sinners, maybe a few lies, some petty thefts, but from the intense reaction of revulsion that the Jewish leaders had, I think there were some people we’d put in the “pretty disgusting” category.  While we hardly scoff at adultery today as a society, back then it was a capital offense, yet Jesus forgave it; did not trivialize it, but forgave it.

So where are the hurting to turn today?  Where are the remorseful to go?  How would those who are mad at God or who, today, are against any and all precepts of God ever get any sense that they have not burned all bridges with God? Where might they be able to look to, to see that God still loves them today; still longs to forgive them and have a loving relationship with them?  Would it not start with the very people who say they are children of God?  Would it not start with you and I, desiring nothing more than to be like Christ, earnestly attempting all we can to bring love and peace into their lives?

Finally, Dear Sisters and Brothers, do not think that this is either easy or able to be accomplished solely (or souly) on our own.  Should we try to have the love of Christ, the forgiveness and grace of Christ without abiding in Christ; we will fall back to our worldly judging ways.  Yet we have a Heavenly Father who does not want us to fail in this.  We have a Heavenly Father who is willing to send us a wise counselor of infinite strength; the Holy Spirit to reside in us and through Jesus Christ accomplish the love, even and especially for our enemies, that He desires us to have.  If you have ever had the experience of going on a service mission trip as I have, you’ll experience and witness the pain of people hurting.  Yet even then, the joy and peace of being able to share the Love of Jesus Christ with them will so surpass the sense of worldly hurt that you see around you.  What has this to do with us?  By and in the Grace of our Heavenly Father; everything.

Our most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly proclaim that it is only through Your Grace that we are saved and have come to know You.  Forgive us when we believe in our own righteousness and turn our backs on those we deem to be less worthy.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would have the strength to love our enemies, help those who are hurting even if they do not follow you, risking persecution and ridicule in this world.  Bless us with Your Favor as we try to be beacons of Your Light, shining on this dark world.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

“Vengeance is Mine and recompense. Their foot shall slip in due time.”  Deuteronomy 32:35

“You have heard it said ‘An eye for an eye…’. But I tell you not to resist an evil person.”  Matthew 5:38

“…I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also, and greater works than these he will do…..”  John 14:12

Vengeance, the infliction of injury, harm, humiliation, or the like on a person by another person who has been harmed by that person, is a word we don’t use much today, but the concept is very alive and well I’m afraid.  It is a concept that often finds itself jumbled up with concepts like justice and accountability.  We find it playing out in response to horrific acts of mass destruction.  Yet, and perhaps particularly troubling, we find it perpetrated against acts like being cut off in traffic, someone cutting in line in front of someone else in a check out line at a store or even the perception that someone has said something insulting or derogatory against someone else.  My wife is seeing it acted out more and more between the fourth and fifth graders she teaches.

I will freely admit that in our current state that this is a challenging concept to fully grasp as well as a difficult behavior to cultivate, that being the idea of non-retaliation.  Is Our Heavenly Father prohibiting all actions of self protection or defense?  If I see or experience an circumstance of continuing injustice; am I to nothing to attempt to assuage that condition of injustice?  Perhaps we can find something in the context of the above verses.

To startoff in Deuteronomy, some might think that the “Vengeance is Mine” statement is primarily directed against enemies of Israel, maybe like Egypt or Philistines who are attacking His people.  Yet this phrase comes from the Song of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy where he is speaking to the entire assembled people as he is about to die and then the remnant of the people are going to cross over into the promised land.  In his “song”, Moses is lamenting and warning the Israel people about their own stubbornness and disobedience and how there will be vengeance and judgement from the Lord.

Jesus is teaching His wonderfully powerful sermon on the mountain.  In this teaching, Jesus is laying out the precepts of what is important in life as well as what faithful obedience to His Heavenly Father would look like; what behavior is required.  Right after His point on not seeking retribution; He talks about loving our enemies.

In Romans, chapter 12 verse 17, Paul refers to both Deuteronomy and Jesus’ teaching when he starts out the verse “Repay no one evil for evil”.  Perhaps that is the primary reason that vengeance whether in the formal sense or in the guise of “just getting what is owed me or just sticking up for myself”, is not to be carried out by you and I.  We can’t do it right.  In other words, when we act in vengeance, we act from anger, hatred, pride in ourselves and\or the desire\need to hurt others.  In Deuteronomy, vengeance being the sole purview of God allows for two things.  First, as it is stated any vengeance acted out will be in keeping with God’s perfect plan, His perfect timing.  Second, being in the realm of God, it will be carried out from a standpoint of perfect justice and righteous judgement.  No evil can come from God.  Jesus is telling us we are ill equipped to be able to correctly carry out righteous vengeance.  Therefore, as we’ve been treated with mercy and forgiveness; though we have sinned grievously against God, we should do likewise to those we feel have wronged us.

Finally, I will freely admit that this is not a sentiment or behavior that is positively looked on today.  For many, this would be looked at as weak, perhaps even cowardice and being complicit with evil.  I struggle with the tendency to want perceived wrongs enacted against me put right by force if necessary and perpetrators punished.  To leave vengeance to the Lord and turn the other cheek is not the world’s way and I fear it is a standard too high for us to meet on our own.  Yet mercifully, Jesus tells us that we are not on our own.  Jesus Christ who time and again turned the other cheek; who could have called legions of angels to enact vengeance for His ill treatment but remained silent; Christ who is now glorified above all angels and heavenly host and sits on the very Right Hand of God Himself, Christ tells us that we don’t have to act as if we are on our own.  Christ tells us that by believing and abiding in Him, we can not only do, as He did on this earth, but even greater things.  Without Christ we can not, through and in Christ we can.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, let us strive to leave vengeance in the Hands of God.  Let us remember that we are sinners and have sinned against God and instead of having vengeance cast down upon us; have received mercy and redemption instead through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When tempted to lash out, let us, instead, reach up to Christ receiving His mercy and, in turn, pass it on.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly declare that You are God in Heaven, perfect in every way including the act of vengeance.  We also testify that You have taught us that we are not to seek vengeance against our fellow creation.  Forgive us when we become impatient and want to act on our own for what we perceive are actions taken against us.  Fill us with Your Spirit of compassion, mercy and forgiveness, that we can truly be seen as Children of the Most High God.  This we pray in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Then Peter….said: ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Jesus said to him: ‘ I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”  Matthew 18:21, 22

” A new commandment I give to you that you love one another; as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34, 35

Full disclosure: the I did not make up this title but it comes from a song by the same name written by Peter Scholtes.

Jesus is preparing His disciples for a time that he is not physically with them.  He is preparing them for a time when they will be going forward, into the world, in His Name.  Jesus knows that the world will have considerable doubt about these men.  Even those who might be inclined to believe in Jesus will want to know that these men come with the authentic message of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Jesus lays it out simply.  Jesus tells them:  “if you love Me then keep my commandments”.  You see the hearers were not going to just decide to follow Jesus based on what they heard from these men, but what they saw also.

What did Jesus want the people to see in His disciples.  Jesus wanted people to see love.  Jesus wanted the people to see the disciples loving and serving each other; but not just each other.  Jesus wanted the disciples to be showing His love to the world.  How would that love be shown?  The love of Jesus Christ would be shown through loving forgiveness, not just once but as often as necessary.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church is not a stranger to hatred.  The church has been burnt down and seen its members threatened and even beaten before.  Yet the church was and is seen as a beacon of openness and sanctuary of hope.  Throughout their history, when they could have lashed out in hatred, given up and moved to a place where they would feel more safe, they instead, forgave and stayed put to continue to show forth Christ’s love.

On the evening of Wednesday June 17th, hatred came to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  A blind hatred much the same as that hurled against the Savior, Himself, as He hung on that tree.  Nine beautiful saints died that night.  What’s a Christian to do? The world would want a hate spewed, violence filled, catastrophic response.  What’s a Christian to do who wants to show that He or She is a disciple of Christ?

Disciples came to Emanuel AME church, that Wednesday night and have been coming ever since.  The disciples came not with weapons in their hands, not with chants of “burn it down!”not with menacing in their souls.  The disciples came with love, with song, with tears and prayers.  The young man so filled with evil hatred, who perpetrated this horrific crime was caught.  He was brought in front of a magistrate and families of the slain victims were in the courtroom.  The judge allowed them to speak.  Those who spoke could have cried out for vengeance, for lynching, for eternal damnation of this boy’s soul.  Instead, most spoke of pain, the awful pain this young man had inflicted and then they forgave him.

Other disciples in the community of Charleston SC could have taken to the street with malevolent anger in their hearts wanting to strike out in frustration and to destroy.  Was their anger and confusion; sure, yet expressed not in violence but in somber reflection of how this type of hate still exists.  There was sorrow and grieving yet also in the midst of this despair there was also love and unbelievably, at least to the world, hope.

Other disciples in other cities and towns across the nation and even across the world could have struck out in anger hoping to divide and devastate.  Yes people did come together, and they marched.  But they didn’t march to the chants of violence, flanked on their sides by rows of police officers in riot gear, with the sting and choking smell of tear gas in the air.  No, they marched to the sweet sounds of hymns being sung, walking hand in hand, all races, all genders and even various faiths.

How do we know that these were disciples of Christ; by their love.  Jesus Christ is calling to each of us, whether touched by this tragedy or some other attack against us.  Do not look to gouge out the eye in return, don’t look to knock out the tooth, instead; follow Jesus Christ.  Follow Jesus Christ in forgiving they that come against you.  Follow Jesus Christ in loving others; yes to be sure your fellow disciples, your fellow travelers on the road with and to Christ.  Yet Jesus asks more of us.  Jesus Christ asks us to follow His example of, when He was hanging on the cross, innocent yet so hated, wronged by those He so wanted to help.  Jesus Christ forgave them.  Jesus Christ forgave His tormentors.  Jesus Christ showed He loved His enemies.  That is a very, very difficult thing to do.  In fact I don’t believe it is possible unless Jesus Christ resides in our hearts.  However, I do believe with Jesus Christ it is possible to do.  Just look at the Christians of Emanuel AME Church, look at the Christians of Charleston SC, look at the Christian response across the nation to this terrible act.  With the love they are showing, I know that they are Christians.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we so thank You Father, that You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to us to show us the true meaning of love and how to live it.  Help us to be like Christ and show to the world the power of true love and the healing power of forgiveness.  Be with those grieving families and members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, comforting them as You have promised to do.  Let the world see the power of this kind of love and know that it comes not from us as good human beings, but comes freely for all, just as they are, from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

” Why do your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread?”  Matthew 15:2

“…whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated.  But things which proceed out of mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.”  Matthew 15:17,18

It was clear that Jesus was dealing with, competing with a very formulaic religious aristocracy.  In one sense it can be understandable.  For Moses had given to the people the laws from God and, if not careful, focusing on the laws and not He who gave them could bring about a very structured, self-centered culture.  Self-centered? Yes, self-centered in a way that, if I do these certain things at least to the level that I think is acceptable, then I deserve a reward.  I can and will proclaim my own righteousness as well as judging you according to my own standards.

Think about how many times Jesus was confronted about the shall and shall nots of this world.  You can not heal on the sabbath, what about paying taxes, what about forgiving people, don’t pick grain on the sabbath, don’t eat with sinners, what about divorce, feel free to judge and condemn to death others; were all questions and actions that Jesus had to deal with.

It seems rather summed up in the interaction that Jesus had with the rich young man.  That man wanted to be justified; wanted to be told he was good and going to heaven.  In Jesus response about the law, he is in essence asking the man for his impression, his formula for bringing about salvation.  The man replied that he had kept to the formula, he did not transgress against the laws.  However, like with the Pharisees above in Matthew, Jesus revealed how much he knows about our hearts.  For Jesus was clear that it is not about what we do, whether washing hands or following commandments, but why we do; in other words, what is in our hearts.  Jesus makes it clear that none of the outward things will lead us to a deeper relationship with God.  How can we hope to impress the all powerful, perfect Creator of everything with our actions?  No, it is what is in our heart that matters to our Heavenly Father. Love or hate, judgement or mercy, pride or humility, anger or peace; these are the things that come from within, that come from our heart that truly matter to Our Heaven Father.

Why is this so important for us today to remember Dear Sisters and Brothers?  Because we live in a world that has a formula for every type of success.  You want to have the right appearance; eat this, don’t eat that, wear this but not that, exercise this amount.  You want to be successful in love; go to this site, read this book, say these things, purchase this fragrance, give this jewelry.  You want to be successful in life; get this job, work this many hours, go to this vacation spot, meet these people, save this amount, spend this amount and for as many, “do these things”, there are a corresponding amount of “don’t do these things”.  Even in the church, want salvation; read this, pray this, give this amount, be on this committee, don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t listen to loud music…do this…..don’t do this……

Thus if we’re not very careful we find ourselves chasing formulas.  We find ourselves living lives of equations where the sum, the outcome of the equation is solely dependent on the outwardly, worldly actions that we take.  Take the right actions equals good life of which we are entitled to.  You can’t argue with the math.  Have something negative happen, then somehow our equation was in error.

Jesus Christ teaches us, Our Heavenly Father cares about what’s inside.  Not how we act but why we act.  Abraham, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Ruth, John, Stephen, Timothy and many, many others were held up as examples in the bible, first and foremost for having hearts that searched after and wanted to be like God’s Heart.  It was that inward striving that led to the wonderful works that they performed and not the other way around.  Likewise, King Saul, King Joash, Caiaphas, Judas, had outward acts of power and seeming success but because their hearts were not with God, they were ultimately destroyed.

Finally, understand, there is a formula, there is a plan.  The reality is that it is not our formula, nor is it our plan.  It is our Heavenly Father’s plan.  The great thing about it not being our plan but His plan is that we can be certain it is perfect.  Our part in it, our piece of the equation is in our heart.  Not what are we striving for but why are we striving?  The formula that has us striving for our selves will never have an accurate answer.  The formula which has us connecting to the Loving Equation of Our Heavenly Father, the equation where God is the answer, that embraces the principle that Our Heavenly Father is first and that the components of heart should be those of love, mercy, humility, joy and peace through Him, complete faith in Him, those will be the components that lead to the correct actions, that lead to the successful life here and a life eternal in His presence.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly admit that we far too often look to the wisdom of this world, rely on the formulas of this world to determine what actions we should take.  We far too often look to the outside instead of considering the inside; what is in our hearts.  Forgive us most Merciful Father as we repent and turn to You for our answer.  Fill our hearts with Your Spirit that we may feel and know the love, grace, mercy, peace and joy that are beyond our understanding.  That with hearts, first and foremost searching for and linked to Yours, that will lead to the truly successful lives that You have planned for us to lead.  We pray this in the Name of Our Teacher and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Then the Spirit of God came upon Zachariah….He stood before the people and said….Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands?  But they plotted against him and by order of the king they stoned him…….said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account'”   2 Chronicles 24:20,21,22

“When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth…..all rushed at him dragged him out of the city and began to stone him…..Then he fell on his knees and cried out ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them'”  Acts 7:54, 58, 60

Let me start this post with the comment that I in no way shape or form mean this post to be any comment of judgement on the act of Zachariah.  He was a man of God called to testify to the people of Judah for which he paid with his life.  He was faithful to the end and, as such, should be greatly admired.

Zachariah lived during a time when the people of Israel were split into two kingdoms; the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.  Unfortunately for both kingdoms, some of their kings strayed from following the Word of God, unlike what King David had done.  Joash was one of those evil kings.  There was a mighty prophet during the time of Joash named Jehoiada.  While Jehoiada was alive, he was able to lead King Joash to follow in the ways of God.  Together, but mainly at Jehoiada’s leading, the temple was repaired.  Also, all the other temples to Baal and other gods were torn down.  However, when Jehoiada died, King Joash quickly forsook the Lord and started to worship other, local gods.  So the Spirit of God entered into Zachariah, Jehoiada’s son.  God is not one to leave his people leaderless when it comes to the desires of God.  God longs not to punish, but to lead to repentance and a right relationship.  But instead of repenting, King Joash orders Zachariah stoned to death.  As the sentence is being carried out, Zachariah calls upon the Lord to take note of the evil nature of those killing him and wants them to be called to account.

Now jump forward a little over 300 years and you come to the time of Acts.  In Our Heavenly Father’s perfect plan and timing, Jesus Christ has come to earth, lived, preached, healed, died for our sins and has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.  We are told that Stephen is among the first of the believers to be added to the church.  He was a person filled with God’s grace and power in that he preached boldly and did miraculous signs in front of the people.  Stephen was seized by the Jewish leadership out of fear and jealously that Stephen was preaching in the name of Jesus Christ.  Stephen gives an impassioned defense of the Gospel.  But the Jewish leaders thought they had taken care of the problem when they crucified Jesus, so to have some still speaking so passionately and bringing people to Christ was more than they could stand.  They therefore order Stephen stoned.  Yet Stephen does not ask for deliverance, he does not ask for vengeance on those killing him.  No, Stephen asks God to forgive them.

Why the difference in these two absolutely Godly men?  I believe it boils down to two things; first, is  Jesus Christ and second is the Holy Spirit the resides in the heart of believers and testifies concerning Jesus Christ.  Jesus himself, in the Gospel of Matthew declares that many prophets had longed to see what the people of Jesus time were seeing, that is Jesus Christ, and they did not see Him.  You see Zachariah did not have the opportunity, during his time, to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Zachariah did not have the Pentecost experience.  Steven did.  So  because of the teaching and example  of Jesus Christ to love your enemies as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit with Stephen, he was able to ask God to forgive his executioners.

So what is the lesson for you and I, Dear Sisters and Brothers?  To be born again, we proclaim that we believe in Jesus Christ, that He is the Only Son of God.  We proclaim that He died for our sins and was raised again.  We understand that through the Grace of Our Heavenly Father the Holy Spirit has been given to us to live in our hearts to teach us the real and total truth of Love.  We believe that we have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Thus, having knowledge of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, let us strive to be like Stephen.  When adversity strikes, when the world comes up against us, when we are reviled and persecuted for our beliefs, let us not lash out in contempt, let us not call out to Our Heavenly Father to damn or condemn.  With and in the example of Jesus Christ and His Love, let us seek to forgive those against us. Let us be a beacon of mercy and light.  We are told that Stephen, even in the midst of his despair looked up and saw the Glory of our Heavenly Father as well as Jesus Christ standing at His Right Hand.  Let us likewise keep our gaze focused on Jesus Christ knowing that as we do so we will receive the strength by the Holy Spirit to become more like Him.  Though understand this, becoming more like Christ is not based on our own righteousness but starts and ends with Christ; who makes all the difference.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we give thanks for the power that we are able to receive through the salvation of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Help us to use that power in love and forgiveness to all, especially those who would persecute and act against us.  That in so doing we may prove to be an example that would help to lead the lost to You and Praise Your most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

And some were persuaded by the things that were spoken and some disbelieved…..”  Acts 28:24

“…..the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.”  Acts 28:28

Beware which Garden moment you choose.  I’ll explain this later.

We seem to love a good debate don’t we?  For they are everywhere.  We debate things of substance; politics, wars, what is justice, what should be our path to follow.  We also debate things of seemingly less importance; best sports teams, best sports players, who should be voted off the island, what is the best social media site.

Even the term debate is used to describe many different human discourses.  There is the formal academic debate with its strictly define rules of argument and specific point-counterpoint style.  But then there is the sit across from each other, talk at each other, interrupt each other, shout louder than the other, insult each other, threaten each other and then get up and walk away from each other style of debate.  It seems like the latter makes for better television.

But these two styles are nothing new.  Plato’s Republic seems to be in the style of the first.  Obviously we have no visual evidence but the writing seems to be that of two and sometimes more parties, dispassionately and logically putting forth arguments on many different subjects.

Then you have the first century listeners.  In Acts we have many stories of people who were first introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then what happened after they heard it.  I don’t say it was always the Jews because there were also groups in Greece and Macedonia.  It is interesting that the Apostle Paul is called the Apostle of the Gentiles but if you read the Book of Acts, Paul almost always starts of, in any town he visits, seeking out the Jews in the town or going to their temple and preaching there first.  Often times some believe but most reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ so Paul goes on to preach to the Gentiles.  For many the doctrine of Jesus Christ is just too new, too strange, too controversial to believe.  So they debate.

Alas, debating is not just a thing of the first century church.  Some would say there should be no debate, no differences of opinion in a faithful church.  I’m not sure that I would go that far.  For there are many things the church is dealing with today; what is marriage and who should be allowed to, who do we embrace/include, who do we exclude, are denominations a dying thing, why are we losing people, what should we do about money woes.  All of these topics and many more are facing the church and there are many different opinions on how a Christian should approach these things.

Yet here’s the question for today; after the debate, then what?  One outcome of our debate is that we may come to an agreement, a consensus about what to do.  If so, then our course is set and off we go.  But what if we don’t agree?  What if our argument doesn’t sway the group?  What if we don’t get our way?  Do we turn our backs on the one particular church?  Do we turn out backs on all the churches?  Do we turn our back on God and Jesus Christ?

And now I come to the “Garden” choices.  You see, to debate is to have differing opinions; different judgements, come to different conclusions.  But because there are differences, doesn’t mean that the basic foundation is something that can’t be agreed on; like, God, our Heavenly Father, is the perfect Creator of all things and His Son Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son, Our Savior.  With that as our basis, then we can work through our other differences.  With faith in Our Heavenly Father, if we come across something that doesn’t make sense to us, that we might find ourselves inclined to argue with Him or doubt Him about, we can humbly come before Him and ask for His Mercy and Understanding.  In short we can have the pre-temptation Garden moment, where our longing is to be in the presence of Our Creator God; Heavenly Father.  To walk with Him in His beauty and splendor.

However, if our logic, our learning, our understanding is what we’ve built our foundation on, then our Garden moment may very well be tragically different.  When faced with something that we don’t agree with or that we don’t understand from Our Heavenly Father, we may have a post temptation Garden moment.  That is, we may run from God, we may hide from Him.  We may believe that our understanding, like for example we shouldn’t be naked before Him, trumps His desire to be with us, so we turn from Him.  We believe in the end (and that end is tragic) that we know best.

But dear sisters and brothers in Christ; here is where the amazing praise and blessing comes in; either way God is waiting for us.  God does not give up on us, even if we turn from Him.  God does not abandon us even if we try to argue with Him.  How do I know?  Jesus Christ told me (and you too).  Jesus is speaking about redemption.  Jesus is speaking about mercy.  Jesus is speaking about His Father’s Love and Patience.  Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son.  The son’s logic, the son’s understanding, the son’s argument tells him to leave.  While the Father does not agree, He does not disown the son, does not turn His back.  No, through patience, through mercy, through love, He waits for the son, looks for the son, rejoices at the son’s return and forgives the son.  So we may find ourselves at a point of estrangement.  We might have arguments with our church, or like Job, we may have even tried arguing with God, Himself.  Don’t let the debate be the last thing.  Know the Redeemer God will always be there for us.  If we will only humble ourselves to Him, He will lift us back up to a place where, In Him, there is no more reason for contention or dispute.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, You know that we live in a world full of contention and striving against itself.  Through Jesus Christ, You warned us that a divided house will not stand.  Forgive us, Most Merciful Father, when we either attempt to contend with You or allow our disagreements with others cloud our relationship with You.  We thank You and praise You for Your steadfast Love and Patience with us, always willing to forgive and welcome us back.  We pray that You would help us to always remain humble before You striving to build that lasting, perfect relationship.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

“Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.  And Joshua did so”.  Joshua 5:15

“…His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?  I tell you that He will avenge them speedily….”  Luke 18:7-8

Joshua has just led the Israelites across the Jordon, into the promised land.  Moses is not leading him, because he has died.  In fact all who left Egypt with Moses, have died.  They rebelled against God, not just once but over and over again.  Yet God did not wipe them off the face of the earth.  When they forsook God’s commandment and had no faith in Him and would not enter into the promised land because they were afraid, God held them accountable and would not let them ever enter.  But He still remained with them and instead of leaving them and their children alone to perish; God was now bringing their children into the promised land.  Few realize that, just like God used Moses to part the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians, God used the priests of the Ark, to part the Jordon for His people to cross over into the promised land.  And like using the burning bush and the sacred ground around it to speak to Moses before he was sent to Egypt, God sent a holy messenger to speak to Joshua as he led God’s people into the promised land.  After all that the people of Israel had done against God, He did not give up on them.

Jesus tells the story of a judge who gives into the requests of a woman for justice, simply because she keeps nagging him over and over again.  Jesus says if an earthly judge who has no regard for God and men will come to a person’s aid just because she keeps asking and asking; how much quicker will God come to the aid of those who believe and cry to him.  However, do not overlook, I think, an extremely important part  “….though He bears long with them.  God’s elect are not perfect people.  They (or in today’s time I) may very well cry out to him today and totally forget Him tomorrow.  They (I) may very well cry out for justice for me, while I treat someone else equally unfairly.  They (I) may cry out to be avenged, and then when God graciously answers, they (I) may take all the credit as if they (I) were the one solely responsible for my deliverance.

I find it ironic, in a sad sort of way, that God is so often portrayed in a judgmental, harsh, unforgiving way.  They point to the judgment in a story like Sodom and Gomorrah while forgetting about the mercy giving to Nineveh.  They forget that even with S&G, the Lord told Abraham, if He could find as few as 10 just men, in the entire city, He would spare it.  For every story of God carrying out righteous judgment with destruction, there are countless more of Him mercifully sparing those who erred, giving them another chance to change their ways.

God blessed Joshua and he led the Israelites into the promised land.  Alas, they would rebel again.  There would be destruction and being carried away into exile, but God never stopped loving them and protecting them.  And, when the time was right, God said I will bring about my greatest plan of sacrifice, mercy and redemption.  I will send my Only Son, Jesus Christ to pay the ultimate, final atonement for the sins of My beloved creation.  Why would God do that?  Because He says, I have too much Love for them to see them eternally condemned and kept apart from Me.  Jesus Christ echoed that love, not just in His death, but in His request for forgiveness for those who were murdering him.  spoken while hanging on the very instrument of His death, the cross.

Brothers and sisters, we will sin.  The enemy, the prince of this world, will try and convince us that God is a vengeful, judgmental God who wants nothing to do with us because we sin.  But if we look, we will see Jesus Christ, with scarred hands and feet, reaching out to us and saying; See what My Father has done for you.  See the love that He and I have for you.  Come, believe in Me, Christ says, and know that in Me, you will find no condemnation.  Jesus Christ declares, I have taken your sins upon me, promising to you that though you may stray, you are never truly lost to My Father.  May it be that we find strength, reassurance and comfort from knowing that God will never give up on us.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for the blessings that You pour out upon us, chief among those being Your Mercy.  Thank you for sparing us from the judgment that we deserve for our actions against our brothers and sisters and against You.  We are eternally grateful for the gift of Salvation that You have made available to us through the life, death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Help us Dear Father, to live with the sure knowledge of that forgiveness and give us a spirit of forgiveness with others.  Give us the strength to resist temptation as well as the humbleness to repent when we succumb to the lure of temptation and sin.  These things we pray in the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

 

“Look for three years I have come seeking fruit and find none, cut it down………….Sir let it alone this year, also, until I dig around it an fertilize it….”  Luke 13:7-9

Jesus has been teaching about many things.  He has been teaching about; no need to worry, preparing for the His return, divisions among families over Him, and hypocrisy, many weighty topics.  He has pointed out the judgments to come when people are not doing what they should be.  And now he tells a parable concerning a tree who will not bear fruit, with the owner wanting to cut it down.  Perhaps, it sounds like another parable of judgment; the cutting down and casting out.

Yet, built into this story, it seems to me are tremendous themes of mercy, patience and even sacrifice.  First, note how the owner has waited three years.  This is land that he owns, in the parable, this is described as a  vineyard, which is a type of agriculture that takes considerable effort.  So the owner has been putting forth that effort and yet there is no return.  One year goes by, perhaps that is a function of the weather conditions that year.  A second year goes by, maybe there is something with soil, so still the owner withholds action.  Now it is the third year, no matter what has been tried, this tree is taking up space, using up resources and has nothing to show in return.  It is time for the tree to go.

Wait, the gardener intercedes for the tree.  And note this, the gardener doesn’t just say, let’s give it one more year.  No, the gardener takes pity on this tree, He is going to do all that he can to help this tree, even though it has yet to bear any fruit.  He will expend the effort to dig around it, he will pay the expense to fertilize it; still not being assured that fruit will come.

Is it not possible the we are the trees?  God has created us and planted us where He wants us.  He patiently waits for us to produce fruit.  He blesses us with fulfilling the needs in our life and gives us the space, the environment to grow in Him.  Yet, so often we remain barren.  The fruit that He so wants to be able to share with others, does not come.  There is a time for judgment.  Then there is One who intercedes for us.  Whose mission, based upon the Father’s own plan, is to take our judgment upon Himself.  Jesus Christ comes to and for us.  He provides His very Body for us, like digging around us and fertilizes us with His very Blood!.

And what is the fruit that Our Heavenly Father wants from us?  What is the harvest that Jesus Christ works so hard to bring about?  Love.  Plain and simply; Love.  Love first for our Heavenly Father, and then Love for each other.  And, please take note, how much Love our Heavenly Father has invested in us, to bring about a harvest of Love in return.  While there will be judgment, if that is what we focus on, we miss the miraculously great lengths of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love, our Heavenly Father is willing to go, to forestall that judgment.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we humbly confess Your Righteousness and Perfect Judgment.  We repent of the sin of not producing the fruit of love for which You planted us on this earth.  We praise You for sending us a Loving Gardner, to nurture us, teach us, sustain us, to show us how to grow and to whose image we should be growing into.  Help us, Dear Father, to bear the fruit of Love toward You and each other that You long for us to have.  That we may truly be the fruit of Your Creation.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.

Amen

“Judge not and you shall not be judged……For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”  Luke 6:37-38

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”  John 3:17

First I must point out that I am not a biblical scholar,  so as I look at the similarities of the two words:  judge and blame, I can not verify how close the two words are in Greek or Hebrew, from which the original scriptures were written.  Hopefully, if I am off the mark biblically, someone with that knowledge will correct in a reply and I will make sure that I post it.

As I look at the meanings on the website:  www.dictionary.com, I see that to judge is to form an opinion; to decide critically or conclude about.  As for  the word blame, to place the responsibility for or find fault with.  I find there to be a simularities to the concepts of these words as well as a connection to the process of their use.  The way it seems to work today I will judge, and as I  judge, I will at some point inevitably conclude that something is wrong and I will then decide who is to blame.

So what is the issue with doing that? What harm is there, especially if I have certain training or wisdom that would help me to assess blame?  While this next concept is not definitively included in the strict definition of the word blame, it seems to be intrinsically connected to the process of blame.  In today’s society, it appears once we assess who’s to blame, we make them solely responsible for rectifying the wrong for which we have judged them to blame.  Fill in the blank:  You have not __________________, therefore I am not going to do __________________________, until you have fixed (or done) ________________.  So then the party who is doing the judging steps back and waits until the party who has been blamed fixes the issue and then they’ll resume working (or in some cases even interacting) with them.   And therein lies some fundamental problems.  First, what if I, the blamed party, agree that I failed to do something or did it wrong, but yet have no earthly idea how to either accomplish it or fix what I have done wrong.  While the person(s) who judged me is waiting for me to act; nothing is getting accomplished.  Of course, secondly, I may not agree at all that I have done anything worthy of blame and therefore while you’re waiting for me to do something, I flatly refuse to accept your judgement and again nothing gets accomplished.  I may even have my own opposite judgement that holds you to be at fault so I will not do anything until you act.  Now no one is working to fix whatever issue is at hand.  Do we not see this playing out time after time in today’s world:  Between governments, within governments, between companies, within companies, between families, within families, within churches?

I can hear some saying, okay here we go; no one is held accountable.  Is that what I am saying?  Is that what Jesus said?  Did Jesus say that the woman caught in adultery did not sin?  Of course not he says to her: “Go and sin no more.”  Is Jesus saying that no one will ever do something against you?  No, but he does say you should forgive that person 70×7 times!  But now I hear the question:  well that’s all well and good for the person who is wrong, but how does that help me!?

So, there are two aspects to look at from this.  First, Jesus Christ is God who came from heaven to earth.  As such, being God, he is perfect.  Yet with that perfection, this is what he said about judgement:  “For I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” John 13:47.  If, Jesus Christ, who’s knowledge is perfect, does not judge the world, why, with out limited knowledge,  do we think that we are entitled to judge others?  And why, if we, in a practical sense, hold certain individuals, doctors, police officers, pastors to the level of perfection, do we not accept that same level of perfection aimed at us as we carry out our daily tasks?

Second, and from both a practical as well as spiritual sense, there is much good for us to not blame and wait around for the other party to fix.  I have been teaching adults for over 30 years.  Countless times, students have not performed up to the standard that was required by the class requirements.  I could have blamed the student for their performance and told them to go out and fix the problem, study more or something and come back when they are more prepared.  However, what I found more effective is to work with the student(s) and not just more effective for them.  Each time I worked with students, I found that I learned something more about people as well as what I was teaching.  I found that I learned more about the ability to lead, to listen, to collaborate to problem solve, all things I would have missed had I not taken to time to work with the other people.

Jesus Christ had every right to judge us.  Afterall He was there and a vital part of our creation.  Jesus had the choice to blame us from heaven and not even come down.  Once Jesus Christ was on earth and saw how we behaved, He had every right to condemn us and if you don’t think He had the power, remember what He did to the fig tree.  Christ didn’t condemn us, He saved us.  Jesus didn’t destroy us, He died for us.  Let each of us then not be about the process of judging, blaming and condemning each other.  Let us be like Christ and Love each other.  Striving to Glorify the Name of the Father, by following the example of the Son.  In Jesus Christ’s Name we pray.

Amen

Editor’s note:  Some readers have left replies asking for responses to their emails.  I try to ensure that I reply to each comment though sometimes the email address listed comes back undeliverable.  So if you don’t get an email response, please come back to the post where you left the message to read the response posted there.  Thank you and blessings to all.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Matthew 11:28

Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.  John 8:11

The english language is a curious vehicle for communication.  I mean I’ve never understood the “s” in island or “g” in gnat.  Think if you were a young”s” and hoping to be in the word like stupendous or service and you end up stuck in island!  And don’t get me started on tele ph one or ele ph ant.  Sorry I digress.

So like I say the english language can be confusing enough and then the way we use it can cause even greater problems.  If you’ve heard the phrase “a come to Jesus meeting”, you have probably heard it in the context that it will not be a pleasant experience.  Normally it is a meeting full of contentions and often as not run by one leader berating those whom he leads or a shouting match where all are getting their points out; vehemently.

Now rest assured there were times when Jesus berated people.  Normally, it was the people in religious power who were not following the words of Our Father, God and going their own ways.  But even at those times, often it was the other parties who started the discourse to try and trip Jesus up and it was His inescapable truth which would shut them down.

In truth, how I wish we would have more “come to Jesus meetings”.  For what does He promise from those meetings?  In Matthew he promises if you are weighed down by the burdens of this life and your body, mind and soul are troubled then come to have a meeting with me and I will give you rest.  When a hostile crowd brought a woman caught in the very act of adultery (where the man was I don’t know) and the crowd wanted a violent, come to Jesus meeting end; Jesus quieted the crowd and sent them away pondering their own lack of forgiveness.  And then He had mercy on her and set her free.

Yes we need come to Jesus meetings regularly where we can feel the sense of our burdens being lifted, our troubles, shames and disappointments being laid aside, our tortured souls being mended.  We need Jesus meetings where we practice forgiveness not judgement.  Where it is not about our voice, our will but listening to His.  Those are meetings we never want to leave and where we come out refreshed, reenergized, full of love and charity.

Dear Jesus Christ thank you for offering come to Jesus meetings and please make it a priority for me and all who call on You to have one today.

Amen

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