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I! I? Oh the message of the world today. I can do anything! I can be anything! I can have it all! It would seem that “I” is the h “I” ghest concept of all. Enter Jesus Christ and the cross. Consider that the closest letter in the alphabet to the cross, in shape, is the letter “t”. Add the letter t to the phrase I can and you get I can’t. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is crystal clear when He states “apart from Me, you CAN DO NOTHING“. I can sure try but I’ll never thrive. I can sure strive but I will never be successful…..until I become a part of the blessed We. Please, please understand, Jesus Christ is not telling you that You are inconsequential. No, Jesus goes on to promise us; abide in Me and you will do things that are great, even greater things. You see we were never created to be “I” apart from or outside of Jesus Christ. It is in the blessed We, that we we are created to live abundantly. How much does it cost, what is the entrance fee to become part of the blessed We? All you have to do is accept the invitation. All you have to do is knock, seek or ask and Jesus Christ will come and join you. Oh and please understand this, there is a price required to be a part of that relationship. The truth is that Jesus Christ completely paid that price in full with His life. Thus let us leave behind the isolation of the worldly “I” existence and live into the blessed We of Jesus Christ and me.

Good Friday is absolutely the correct title. Yes, the horrific treatment Jesus was going through was terrible and led to a barbaric death. However, at the same time and, in fact the reason for His death was He was becoming sin. He became or took upon Himself our sin. So now when Our Heavenly Father considers and sees us, He sees us as innocent because of what Jesus accomplished. So it is good, very good for us, the sacrifice Jesus made for us today. Only good and not great? The Greater thing comes three days hence with His resurrection. Let us live into that sacrifice and see the greatness of His Good act.

So this Sunday, we’re going to gather together and shout loudly: “He is Risen!”, which is a quite proper thing to do. However, if we shout that simply as a celebration in and a pronouncement of a several thousand year old event, then we tragically miss the greater meaning. You see “He is Risen” is a proclamation of a current blessed reality. Jesus Christ is a very much risen, all powerful, living Savior this very moment! That the world refuses to acknowledge this and instead turns to worldly solutions and actions like war, greed, hate, envy and so many more useless pursuits does not diminish Christ’s power or purpose in the slightest. Christ is living at the Right Hand of God and His Love, Grace, Forgiveness and Mercy are as sustaining now as they ever have been. So while Easter Sunday is the traditional day of celebration, every day is the appropriate day of proclamation of He is Risen with the faithfully living into all the blessings and love that are connected to that truth. May you have a Blessed Easter.

Yes…but. Will the worldly clouds obscure the silver lining of God’s blessings? Today, if you’re open to it, you will be blessed by God. I say open to it because, like any gift, if you never accept it, open it or use it, then there’s little or no value to it. The world and the prince of this world wants to distract you from seeing any blessings or at the very least minimize the blessings to the greatest extent possible. How?, with messages like yes I might have received a blessings but there is suffering over here or there, or yes but the blessing won’t last, tomorrow will be bad, or yes but the blessing could have been bigger/better. It’s not like God doesn’t want you to be empathetic or sympathetic; indeed, He wants you to experience the blessings so that you might share the blessings with others in need so they might know of God’s love. God is a God of infinite resources and power. It’s not like the fact that He blessed you today means He’s running out of blessings to be able to give tomorrow. God knows exactly the correct amount of blessing to give. As too much sugar can ruin a cake, a blessing that is the wrong size too large can bring about more damage then good. Jesus Christ is clear when He said: “In the world you will have tribulation”. Christ was also clear that we can still be of good cheer and expect blessings because Christ has overcome the world by the plan of Our Father. So don’t allow the clouds of the world to obscure the power of the blessing. Instead, do two things today. First, live into the love and blessings from God with thanksgiving. Then, share God’s blessings so that the world may feel some healing and know God’s love. Happy, blessed Monday and week.

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

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

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

Which?

This food is enough

These clothes are enough

This place is enough

This relationship is enough

These things are enough

This God is enough

This day is enough

or

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

Love, generosity, contentment, peace, life

or

Anger, hatred, frustration, violence, war, death

Which today?

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

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

“..Jesus….saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth, ‘Follow me’, He told him and Matthew got up and followed him.‘” Matthew 9:9

“When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” Matthew 9:11

“…Jesus said: ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” Matthew 9:12-13

“I tell you in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7

In Part I of looking at why our Heavenly Father allows evil to exist, we looked at the Parable of the Weeds. In it we saw the mercy, steadfast patience and love of God, that He is not willing to damage any portion of His beloved grain, which He planted, in rooting out the evil amongst it. God knows the unintended consequences/damages that can happen to us because we let (maybe even invite at times) evil to come so close to us, if God were to mercilessly destroy that evil. However, two things are clear; God doesn’t bring the evil and evil will be judged and cast out from God, when He chooses to do so.

In Part II we look at the concept of weeds and grain using Jesus’s call of Matthew. We see it plainly stated in scripture, that Matthew was a tax collector. Now I’m not sure if there has ever been a time in any history when tax collectors have been showered with praise or looked on particularly favorably. But definitely in the time of Jesus, Jewish tax collectors were a pariah of society. The hated Romans had many taxes required of their conquered foes. Additionally, King Herod had taxes he required for the upkeep of his lifestyle and other municipal reasons. Finally, many tax collectors (and there is every indication Matthew would have fallen into this) added a few extra shekels to the take to line their pockets as well.

It is not hidden to Jesus that Matthew is a tax collector. He sees Matthew sitting at the tax collecting table and approaches him. Jesus calls for Matthew to: “Follow Me”, and Matthew immediately responds and follows Jesus. The first place Matthew “follows” Jesus to is Matthew’s home where he holds a large dinner for Jesus, the disciples, the Jewish Religious aristocracy and many of Matthew’s friends which happen to be other tax collectors and assorted sinners.

It would surely appear that Matthew is a weed amongst a group of weeds. The Pharisees see this and comment on it. It would seem in their minds that these sinners should be at the very least shunned and, if Jesus was the real Mesiah, potentially destroyed as the vile weeds they are.

Notice that Jesus does not respond by excusing the evil that the tax collector does as somewhat understandable. Jesus doesn’t declare that sin is “no big deal”; far from it. However, what Jesus sees is people who are sick; sin-sick. Jesus does not see people who need to do something first to show their righteousness like sacrificing. No, Jesus sees people who are in need of a merciful Healer. Jesus sees the need for a Saving Doctor and knows that He is the only Doctor who has the cure.

We might find ourselves as judges of the world declaring who it is who are weeds and who is grain. There be some Dear Sisters and Brothers who feel that they have been righteous from birth or at least their infant baptism and never had anything to do with “weedy” behavior. There may be those of us who are well aware of our time of spiritual sickness, when we were away from the presence of Jesus and more hell-bent than heaven-focused.

It is clear in the call of Matthew as well as many different examples of Jesus’s life; He does not ascribe to a “once a weed, always a weed” theology. When Jesus calls out: “Come unto me”; there is an assumption that there are some/many who are away from Him.

The call of Matthew shows the loving, power of Jesus Christ. By the healing power of Jesus Christ, Matthew did answer the call and come unto Jesus. Matthew did repent and leave his sin focused life behind allowing him to become one of the 11 Apostles.

There are two other things we should note here. Matthew followed Jesus but even then he didn’t become perfect. Remember the disciples were quarreling with each other, seeking their own glory by arguing whom among them was the greatest. Matthew, with the other 11, abandoned Jesus, in the garden when He was confronted and arrested by the mob. Yet at no time did Jesus, even in rebuking His 11 disciples, judge them or cast them out. The love of Jesus Christ is about mercy and saving the lost.

Additionally, please, please do not lose sight of the fact that Jesus Christ came to Matthew. Jesus Christ did not demand that Matthew change anything first, to be worthy to be in the presence of Jesus. Also, it is the Power of Jesus Christ, that changed Matthew. Matthew went on to write an inspired Gospel that teaches so much to us down to this very day. Matthew journeyed far to teach and spread the word of Jesus Christ throughout the first century world. Matthew did all of that by being in Jesus Christ; receiving Christ’s love and spreading it to the greater needy world.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, both the Old and New Testaments are clear; we are a fallen people. We are a people in need of salvation, beyond our own capacity. Left to our own devices and power, we will do evil. We will be angry with others, covet from others, we will see others in need and callously avoid or neglect them. We will judge others wrongly and seek our own glory at the expense of others. We will do weedy things. Yet Our Heavenly Father in His loving mercy does not want to bundle us, in those moments and cast us out to burned forever. Indeed, our Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ to take our condemnation upon Himself so that we could be restored to righteousness, only through Him.

Praise and thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father for His loving plan of salvation for us. Let us then turn to Jesus Christ who comes to us and calls out: “Follow Me!” Let us humbly confess our sins and call upon the Spirit to dwell within us to strengthen us against temptation and keep us from doing evil. Let us rejoice in the opportunity freely given to us to live with and in Jesus Christ, becoming the grain of His Love and allowing Him to let us grow so that we can be a part of His nourishing plan to spread His love to all. That in answering the call of Jesus Christ we would live the blessed lives planned for us by our Heavenly Father bringing praise and Glory to His most Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly confess that we are sinners. We repent of those sins and ask for Your blessed mercy and forgiveness. We sing songs and pray prayers of thanksgiving for Your plan for our salvation through the gift of the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you, Jesus that You, who we were created through, are willing to come to us no matter what our conditions and/or circumstances. That You don’t require of us any preconditions for Your unconditional love. Fill us with Your Spirit, most blessed Father, that will give us the strength to abide in Your Son, Jesus Christ and thus fulfill the call that You have for us. That we may live lives that bring praise and glory to You, Heavenly Father and to Your Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

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