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“Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”  Psalm 25:20

“Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  Mark 13

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”  Mark 13:11

“The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Psalm 9:9

October is National Bullying Prevention Month in the United States.  There is also an international Stand Up to Bullying Day, which is normally held in February with the next one being February 22, 2019. With the emphasis on bullying and bullied in mind is there something to be gleaned from scripture concerning it?

I’ve heard a couple of paramount themes in the recent years as it concerns bullying, especially with my wife being a fifth grade teacher.  First, while bullying has always been around, today it is much more widespread, virulent, with ever greater damaging results. There is a second, more whispered, hidden yet strongly felt belief that there’s not more bullying; we’ve just become too soft.  That if we’d only stick to the mantra, “suck it up, buttercup”, then we wouldn’t have so much of a problem.

So while few would argue that bullying is some sort of new phenomenon or behavior; some recent statistics provide a rather stark assessment of the impact of bullying in today’s culture, especially among youth.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third largest killer of young people in the United States.  A Yale University study found students who were bullied were 2-9 times more likely to consider suicide. A study in Britain found up to half of the suicides committed there by young people were due to bullying.

In my experience, one of the major differences and impact of growth in bullying has to do with social media.  Because bullying has always had a stigma associated with it, the behavior was most often carried out outside of public observation or scrutiny. The bully or bullies would find the private place, behind the school, in the restroom or some other out of the way place to execute their nefarious deeds.  If the bullying was by communication only, it was done by whispers in small groups or closely guarded notes. The bully wanted to exert their power without being caught by an authority who could and would bring an end to their practices.

Yet our social media culture makes the initiation and spread of bullying easier as well as the ability for piling on ever more hurtful expressions as simple as a few keystrokes and a click.  With the plethora of social media platforms, a vicious rumor, unkind picture or personal attack can be initiated and spread through literally hundreds of people and countless locations in an amazingly short period of time. What might have been limited to a few dubious people in a classroom or an office, can zoom around at the literal speed of light to multiple social media addresses and platforms.

But what about the old “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”, response to bullying.  Well that can be all well and good when the “words” used to come from one or two people.  However, now when it seems that most if not the entire office, team, school or group may be in on or at least sharing those words, those words become more devastatingly impactfull.  That can be especially true when someone’sz privacy has been betrayed and some intimate detail is paraded out and around.

So what are we to do? Where are we to turn? What is an amazing truth is that God knows about bullying.  Now being all powerful and all knowing, you might think that His only knowledge would be that of the bully.  After all, can you really bully God?  Well, we sure tried.

You see, God became flesh and blood in the person of Jesus and when He did, He became the subject of an amazing amount of bullying.  Jesus was bullied from all quarters; family and friends, the government and many a stranger who never really heard of Him.  Yet it was not just Jesus, David was bullied by Goliath and his own family for being the youngest, the smallest and not being all that attractive.  Mary, Jesus’s mother, was at an extremely high risk or bullying, becoming pregnant before she was married.  The apostle Paul was bullied significantly because, when his name was Saul, he mistakenly persecuted the early church, sending people to jail and worse.  When Saul converted and became Paul, he was subject to bullying from others who did not believe in his conversion.  There are many more examples throughout the bible.

Yet please understand this, in all cases, God is on His throne.  God will be and is refuge enough against the fiercest of bullying.  God does not allow the bully or the evil of bullying to last or to prosper.  Think of some of histories most notorious bullies; Roman Emperor Nero, Hitler, Stalin, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Saddam Huessein for some examples.  While there was a time they seemed to be at the pinnacle of power and perhaps popularity; their evil deeds did not go unpunished leading to ultimate ruin.  That is what awaits all unrepentant bullies to some extent.  God does not suffer the innocent to be oppressed for long and evil doers to go unpunished.

Thus if you’re in the circumstance of being bullied, reach up and out to God.  Ask Him for His help and deliverance and know He will be right by your side.  The bullying of Goliath and his brothers didn’t stop David.  God sent angels to protect Mary from any harm.  Jesus Christ intervened on behalf of Paul.

If you’re being bullied or seeing another bullied, be careful about seeking retribution on your own or for the sake of someone else.  Jesus Christ could have utterly and easily crushed those who tried to bully Him but chose mercy and forgiveness instead.  Through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy, God declares “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay…….”  Wait upon the Lord and He will act.  It may be that you might be called to be an instrument in the Lord’s Will but wait upon the Spirit to lead versus making that assumption.  God is able, remember what happened to the bullying chariots of Pharaoh when they were going to attack the Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea.  God will prevail.

Additionally, don’t become the bully, either in response to a bully or in some mistaken sense of righteousness.  Do not believe that we have the right to act in some judgmental, hurtful manner to stop some transgression.  Remember how Christ chastised the bullies who wanted to judge and then stone the woman caught in adultery.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, whether being the recipient of or witness to an act of bullying, do become lost in a sea of disillusionment or despair; even if that bullying should come from a religious institution, leader or person.  Call upon, have confidence and find peace in the Comforting Arms of our Heavenly Father. He will be your refuge and protector as well as seeing to the demise of the evil at hand.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we live in a world where so often, there is an attempt by the seemingly powerful to unjustly wield that power upon the innocent. You did not create this world to be that way and for us to treat each other so.  We pray that You would be swift to come to the aid of those oppressed by bullies, shielding them from the injustice and abuse of the evil perpetrated against them.  We also ask that You would enter into the heart of the perpetrator, the bully, to turn it away from evil designs and actions.  Yet let Your justice come against the unrepentant that refuse Your mercy and desire to continue their destructive ways.  That in protecting and restoring the innocent, turning the perpetrator from evil or bringing Your perfect justice down upon them; we would bring unceasing praise to Your Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen  

 

 

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  John 14:12

“Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.'” John 5:19

I happened to be watching a funeral ceremony for a noted person this past weekend.  I found it ironic that this person, of late, was known for being a champion of civility and compromise when necessary.  It was also true the person was known for sticking to their values in the face of opposition from friends and foe alike.  Yet as the casket was leaving the church, perhaps giving the final impression of this person; Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way” was playing.  I found that ironic.

However, I did not find it unusual for our age.  Much are the celebrated stories of self made people and the people who did it, accomplished it on their own.  So much are these stories celebrated that I believe they have risen to the level of modern day mythology.  Mythology defined as a group of stories that are associated with a particular time in history.  There are many stories about the idea that started in a dorm room, a technology that started in a garage or basement and/or a business that started on a dining room table top. Now please understand, myth does not necessarily mean completely untrue.  Those ideas, technologies and businesses exist.  Additionally, there were individuals who played a singularly significant role in formulating, inventing, promoting and shepherding those ideas, technologies and businesses to success.  However,  the role of the individual has been trumpeted and extolled to such a great extent, that the “go-it-alone”, “I know best”, “I’ll break all rules and ask forgiveness upon success”, theme and mantras and the limelight and fame that goes with them have become the holy grail or golden fleece pinnacles of our modern day consciousness.

So why does this matter; what impact does it have?  Lately I’ve witnessed and experienced far reaching and system wide impacts.  For I’ve worked with leaders at some significantly high levels who both believe that their successes, achievements and promotions are a direct result of almost solely their individual efforts. Consequently this provides them a unique talent to run everything from meetings to entire organizations as “my” meeting, “my” team and/or “my” organization.  While they would never articulate that they are infallible or perfect, the only ideas that can be entertained are those ideas that align with their worldview and most all other personal and professional characteristics are judged acceptable based on their perception and reasoning.  The outcome, I’ve witnessed to this approach is more fractured teams, frustrated individuals and sub-optimal outcomes.

Okay, I could now launch into some business lesson or course on the power of teamwork and the positive attributes of a good team player but this post concerns something more pressing than that.  This post concerns our very lives for all eternity.

If anyone in history could lay claim exclusively to the term “self-made man”, it would be Jesus Christ.  Scripture tells us Jesus was right there at the beginning with God, that He is God and all things were created through Him by God.  Having no earthly farther and conceived by God, being God on earth, it could be argued He was truly “self-made”. Yet Jesus was never about claiming glory for Himself.  Consider this, Jesus never claimed that what He was teaching, the miracles He accomplished or the plan He was following was of His making.  Jesus was very clear that all of what He was doing came from the Father, based upon what the Father wanted done.  Okay, so there was someone above Him but at least on earth, Jesus demanded the best of all things and servitude from all.  One wonders if we can imagine the self made titans of today, getting down on their hands and knees and washing and drying their employees feet, even the feet of a person He knew was going to betray Him?  If or when attacked, would they stand out in front, shielding and protecting their followers from any harm?  And yes, Jesus did proclaim that He was the way; but He was not the end or the pinnacle to the way.  He is the way to the Father.

Thus if Jesus Christ is not to claim the title of self made man or instead of adopting the “My Way” song for His theme song, instead proclaim that it is all about and sing the praises of the Father; who are we to believe that self made is the way to go.  Dear Sisters and Brothers whether we use the term made or created, we must understand there is a Maker or Creator.  We were not made/created to go it alone in anything. Understand what Jesus is warning us about.  It’s not that if we go it alone, if we reject Him and follow ourselves or each other, that we’ll lose out on somethings, we won’t go as far as we could have, we might be successful but have fewer or lesser successes.  No, Jesus Christ is clear, apart from Me, you can do NOTHING!   NO   THING!

However, it’s not all negative.  Jesus Christ declares; you want to do great things, even greater than I’ve done; then believe in Me.  Believe that I’ve come from and have returned to the Father and you will receive untold blessings from the power the Father longs to share with you and show through you.

Finally “self-made” is short term, no matter what.  There is no salvation through the self.  There is no eternal life through the self.  A worldly self made life is an eternally self made loss.  Please, embrace the reality of being Jesus Christ made, thus Father approved. In that way the great things we will indeed accomplish through Christ, will bring honor, glory and praise to the Father and blessings to His creation.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, from the very beginning it has not been about One but about the Father, Son and Spirit.  We are awed, humbled and eternally grateful that You, in Your Mercy and Grace, have decided to share Yourself with us, Your Creation.  You have promised the Holy Spirit to be in us, to guide us, correct us and sustain us.  You have given us Your Son Jesus Christ as a perfect sacrifice in our place to be our Salvation.  Forgive us Father, when we are tempted to and sometimes turn away from You to chase the worldly concept of “self-made”, hoping to bring praise and glory solely to us.  Show us and lead us back to You where we know that through Jesus Christ, in You, that is the only way we will ever achieve anything.  That in living lives abiding in Christ, we may carry out Your Perfect plan and bring glory, honor and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? ”  Luke 12:25,26

Give us today our daily bread. Matthew 6:11

Planning and predicting, those activities take up such a large part of our daily efforts and thoughts.  Everything from, what will the weather be tomorrow, will the stock I own go up, will I find that someone, will I get hired for the new job, will I get that promotion or pay raise, what will the doctor’s report say and I started this sentence with the word “everything” but I don’t have room to list all the future concerns we have.  Being ever more concerned about it, we have spent considerable resources on technology and tools to make our predicting better.  Now I live on the east coast of the United States and don’t get me wrong, I like how accurate forecasts about things like hurricanes and other large storms that can do grave harm to life and property have become.  This is not an anti-technology post.

Yet Jesus teaches us something different; seems to have a different spin on things when it comes to the “when” we are to be focusing on.  When Jesus teaches His disciples to pray; notice that part of the prayer dealing with worldly provisions like food, focuses on a daily provision.  Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray for a week’s, month’s, year’s or life long provision.  No, daily bread is what we should be praying for.

Second, one aspect of Jesus being fully human is that He gains a perfect insight into the human condition based on that experience.  Jesus knew about temptation though He never sinned.  Jesus knew about the process of worry, though I can find no example where Jesus ever succumbed to that particular human practice. Jesus was very clear in His teaching about the harm of and debilitating nature of worry.  Being perfectly astute, Jesus did teach concerning worrying about the past; no His teaching was how worthless it was to worry about the future.

Why would He be so concerned about our worrying in general and specifically about the future and how does that fit into our greater predictive ability? The answer has been impressed upon me recently with the passing away of two colleagues and friends who the world would describe as being in the prime of their lives and both happened to be younger than I am, one be several years.  For one in particular, we traveled extensively together and often had many discussions.  Some of the most keen highlights my friend focused on were things that were going to happen in the future.  In some cases the events were weeks away, in others cases they were months to a couple of years away.  In all the examples my friend laid out for me recently, he did not get to partake in a single one.  Interestingly enough, many of our discussions about the immediate day at hand dealt with challenges, obstacles and disappointments.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers; Jesus Christ knew and knows that only our Heavenly Father owns and is guaranteed tomorrow.  We do not know Our Heavenly Father’s Perfect Plan for our future so to focus so much time, energy and resources into such extremely particular and exhaustive plans is in some ways, not logical and can go as far as boarding on, misplaced faithful arrogance.  It’s as if all of our planning, predicting and worrying about the execution and outcome of that planning and predicting will actually have the power to influence and perhaps change God’s plan.  That arrogance is what Jesus is referring to with His comment about not being able to even add an hour to our life spans with our planning and worrying.

The challenge is that our predictive powers seem to be getting more accurate so we rely on them more.  We now believe we can accurately predict how profitable a business will be and spend vast sums of money accordingly.  We believe our computer models will accurately predict what temperatures and water levels will be a half century from now bringing with those predictions much fear, trepidation and resource utilization (I do believe we need to be wise stewards of the planet God has entrusted to us).

So back to the original question; we lose today when we focus so much time and energy trying to predict the future and plan accordingly.  Plus the human condition is such that, even when that future day comes, there’s always another future day after that to be planned for.  It’s not always the case, but often the human condition has us ascribing some vital characteristic of humanity, our ability to live without war, to wipe out greed and poverty, to live in harmony as something we will achieve in the future.  Ironically enough, although we are going to be so great in the future, we spend very little of today actually working toward it.

While Jesus Christ advises that each day holds trouble enough of its own so we don’t want to compound it worrying about adding future troubles to today’s focus; He also lived and brought about manifold blessings each day as well.  Jesus Christ teaches us that God will take care of us daily, each day in this life and for all eternity.  It is not that we can’t or shouldn’t consider or pray about the future, the job interview tomorrow, the medical test next week; etc.  I see nowhere in God’s Word that would be considered a sin.  It is in the understanding that God has the Perfect Knowledge of that time and so we should have the faith to allow His plan to work.  It is to our very considerable peril when our faith in our predicted outcome is treated as a known, unchangeable fact.

We can have complete faith in God’s love for us tomorrow but today is the only day we can actually experience it.  Today is the only day we can actually spread His love.  The exhortation does not say “all days” but declares:  “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  Let us not lose this day the Lord has made, focusing and/or worrying about some future day which may or may not come.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we fully acknowledge that we are beings who see time in a largely linear fashion.  Too often that causes us to focus on and worry about a possible future that, due to our worldly predictions, we are quite certain will happen.  Help us Most Merciful Father to live into the words of Jesus Christ; that today is the day we should be focused on.  Help us to be grateful for the love You show us each day and focus on spreading that love versus putting future planning as a higher priority.  Forgive us when we arrogantly believe we are masters of our own future, disregarding any impact Your Perfect Plan has.  That in living focused on today; the blessings You are providing, the love from You that we can share with others, we would live lives of praise to Your Most Holy Name.  In Jesus Christ’s name we pray.  Amen

 

 

 

 

“Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, ‘Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?'” Mark 4:38

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” Matthew 14:30

“He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.'”  Matthew 15:26

Just wait a second, Doug; you may start out to respond to the title of this post.  Did Jesus not feed over 5,000 once and over 4,000 another time?  Didn’t Jesus heal the sick and bring sight to the blind?  Didn’t Jesus go into the houses of the outcast and be seen with lepers?  How can I ask this?

Well isn’t possible that Jesus’ miracles were just things that he did?  Things so very easy for God here on earth that they came with hardly any thought?  Maybe for Him it’s the same as when we mindlessly say:  “How’s it going?” to a colleague as we pass in the hallway or likewise say “Have a nice day.”

After all wasn’t Jesus sleeping as a storm raged, threatening to pitch the disciples out of their boat and into a tempest of sure doom?  Didn’t he care about the disciples?  Or what about Peter; didn’t Jesus, who knows everything, know that Peter was going to get scared walking on the water and start to sink?  Why would He let that happen?  And what about the poor lady whose child was suffering terribly, Jesus at first refused to help her making a statement that compared her to being a dog?  None of those show a caring, engaged Savior do they?

Cold and callousness seem to be very human traits that so often rear their ugly heads, especially in our contemporary society.  Sometimes we blame lack of time, sometimes we blame the fact that we “didn’t know”, yet the reality is that all too often we flat just don’t care about our fellow person; especially enough to actually act. Jesus Christ became human so maybe he had that trait as well?

Absolutely, positively NOT! In no way was Jesus being cold or uncaring in any of these situations or other situations that might be brought up.  For indeed Jesus declared that He had come to save the world and we would learn just how far He would have to go to accomplish that task.

Jesus didn’t care that the disciples were going to drown?  It looked that way from the disciples point of view.  What they did not understand at that point was they were never in any slightest danger to begin with.  The creation, in this case rain, wind and waves, can never threaten or endanger the Creator.  Jesus was able to sleep peacefully because He knew that there was no peril that could ever come against Him.  Jesus was well aware of His omnipotent nature and demonstrated His power effortlessly.  The disciples were equally as safe, though they had little to no power over the storm at all because they were with Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ cared so much to make sure that they were all, even Judas Iscariot who would betray Him with Him and therefore would be totally safe from harm.

Okay, but Jesus didn’t really care about Peter did He?  In another instance with water, Jesus called Peter out of the safe boat to attempt the incredibly risky, virtually impossible feat of walking on water.  Sure enough after a few steps, Peter got scared, started to sink and Jesus then saved him.  Why did Jesus call Peter out in the first place?  Seemingly it was not Jesus plan to have Peter walk on water.  For Jesus to walk on water was no big thing.  Again, the Creator of all things can manipulate the created to allow for any action He deems necessary.  After teaching a great group of people, over 5,000 and, oh by the way, miraculously feeding them, Jesus had told His disciples to get into a boat and go across the lake while he dismissed the crowd and went off to pray.  Jesus would catch up to them later.  That’s exactly what happened.  Walking on water, even in the midst of strong wind and significant waves, Jesus walked near the boat.  In one translation it says Jesus was going to pass by the boat and keep going to the other side.  Yet again, this was almost too much for the disciples.  Men, even great men simply do not walk on water.  This must not be flesh and blood but a ghost or spirit of some kind.  When Jesus called out, the disciples seemed to recognize His voice but still could not wrap their heads around the idea of Him walking on the water.  So Peter decides to put Jesus to the test.  If the apparition walking on the water really is their Master, Jesus, then He should be able to call Peter out of the boat and allow Peter to walk on the water too.  Instead of rebuking Peter, Jesus rewards his risky but semi-faith filled request, with an invitation to join Him out on the water.  Peter, again showing some significant faith, believes Jesus, steps out of the boat and actually starts to walk on water.  Jesus is showing His power, not only to Peter but to the rest of the disciples as well.  Jesus is showing that His power is not just for Jesus, but through Jesus, the disciples can do miraculous things as well.  If they will completely believe in Jesus and follow Him, even out onto the waves.  Walking on water ugh, waves ugh, and Oh My Gosh the wind!; ugh, I can’t believe I’m doing this! Peter thinks.  I shouldn’t be able to do this, Peter thinks and when he takes his focus and eyes off of Jesus, Peter starts to sink.  Yet Jesus has no intention of letting the least harm come to Peter; the “rock” upon which He plans to build His church.  Jesus wants to show the amazing accomplishments that can happen, the unbelievable requests that will be granted, through faithful obedience to Jesus as Christ.  However, the world will attack that faith and should it waiver, then disastrous consequences can occur.  Yet even if our faith does ebb and, in our doubting, we start to fall or sink; Jesus Christ is right there to lift us up to safety.

Thirdly, displaying faith can often be difficult requiring determination and perseverance, where we should realize we may find obstacles placed in our way by the very organizations, like the church, who should be making it easy.  A woman has a child in trouble.  The woman wants to see Jesus for His help.  She believes that Jesus can cure her child.  There’s just one problem, she’s the wrong nationality.  This woman was a Canaanite, a vilely hated group by the Jews.  Jesus did not immediately acknowledge or reply to the woman.  Seemingly immediately the prejudice and bias of the disciples kicks in asking Jesus to send the woman away (without helping her).  Jesus appears to acquiesce to the disciples command, comparing the woman’s request for His help, to giving precious food meant for a child (the Jews of which Jesus belonged) to a mere dog. That would be a waste.  The woman could have at the point, been stung by the rebuke, turned and walked away.  Today, she probably would have screamed ugly responses to Him while pulling out a cell phone to video record the whole thing.  Instead, the woman still has faith.  Okay she reasons, I’m not a Jew, I know I am counted less by the Jews, but I have the faith that this Jesus has the power to help, so I will humble myself, acknowledge my lowly state and still ask for His mercy.  Jesus doesn’t just annoyingly send her away, or sneak off to grant her request where no can see Him interact with her. No, instead for all around, especially His disciples to hear; Jesus compliments the woman’s great faith and heals her stricken daughter.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Jesus Christ cares.  Jesus Christ promises that should we abide in Him, though storms toss us and the situation seems lost; we will never perish for He has the power over all storms.  Likewise, through the power of Christ, we are allowed to ask for incredible things, seemingly impossible things, like walking on water; which, if we stay in faith Jesus Christ can easily make happen.  Also, should our faith falter, Jesus Christ’s mercy will not and He will catch us.  Finally, practicing our faith may take risks, may be uncomfortable.  Some may tell us we don’t look right, think right, act right, love right, believe right.  They may try to dismiss us and turn us away.  Sadly some who do so might be members or leaders in Christ’s church.  Do not be discouraged but have faith.  What the world may say no to; Christ may declare; “Your faith is great so let it be as you asked”.   Jesus Christ cares.  He took all our sins upon Himself and died in our place.  And now He lives, in caring love to see us come to our full fruition in Him.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so very thankful and praise Your Holy Name for the gift of Your Son Jesus Christ.  We are in awe of the caring that He, the Creator of the Universe, with You, have for us.  Forgive us, when in times of darkness or despair we may be tempted to doubt the caring and love of Jesus Christ.  Grant to us the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith, keeping us abiding in Christ and living lives that bring honor and praise to Your most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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