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“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you…..” Matthew 5:44

“So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments and sat down again……if I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”  John 13: 12, 14

There is not enough bandwidth or storage space in all the computers or networks ever in existence to capture all the amazing things about Jesus Christ.  Yet, because I have spent so much of my life teaching adults, for me, one of the most amazing aspects of Jesus’ ministry and behavior is how understanding of human nature, God on earth was and is.  He knew that when faced with a difficult or troubling concept, we humans are much more dismissive unless we can see the concept actually carried out.

Jesus knows the He is about to have the most horrendous experience.  He knows that He is going face the vilest humiliation, incredibly grotesque torture and finally monstrously painful death.  He also knows, it will start, it will be humanly possible, because of the betrayal one who is among His closest.  One who He actually chose to be with Him.

Jesus knows that Judas is going to leave to betray Him.  Jesus knows that Judas will not be there to finish the meal.  Jesus could have waited to wash His disciples feet.  Jesus might have found that it would have been a touching gesture toward the end of the meal, after Judas had already left, to put an emphasis on the new covenant of the bread and the wine.  But no, Jesus never did anything by accident or without purpose and forethought.

You see, it appears to me, because John starts Chapter 13 off by saying that Jesus Christ loved His disciples to the end.  John stated no exception for Judas.  Jesus knew and knows that we need examples.  Jesus said to love your enemies.  So He takes off his garments, strips down to just a towel, humbles himself and washes the feet of all His disciples, including Judas!  And then He tells His disciples, and through them the rest of us who want to follow Him, to do likewise.

I know for me this is a “hard saying” to live out.  I spent several years in the military.  I thought about the saying that no greater sacrifice is there than a person will give their lives for another.  I believe I was prepared to do that.  Yet I confess in my mind, examples of the other people I would be willing to sacrifice my life for were my family, other citizens of my country as well as the innocent or down trodden of the enemy.  But what sacrifice would I be willing to make to or for the enemy?  Was I or am I not right to hate those who are trying take my life and/or the freedom I cherish so greatly?  I have seen the foot washing ceremony carried out many times, even in our own church.  Yet the feet that are washed are always the feet of fellow believers and friends.  What would I do with the feet of one who is lying about me, cursing me to my face, threatening me?  Again, for me at least, a hard saying.

Yet two wonderful things I can take from this.  First, while I am a sinner, I don’t believe that I am an enemy of Jesus Christ.  So if Christ, can show such love and compassion against he who would seek to destroy him, can I ever doubt the love that He has for me and all those who believe in Him?  Christ does love me, completely, totally, just as I am.  How do I know?  He died for me.  Secondly, I most probably don’t have, on my own, the strength of love for my enemies that Christ said that I should have and demonstrated in His own life.  Yet Christ promises that all things are possible in Him so the more that I can deny myself and call and live upon Him, the more likely I am to gain the strength to Love as he Loved.  He does not require that I accomplish this on my own.  In fact He warns me not to try.

His message is so needed in this world.  A world where people are killing each other over texting, where children are walking into schools with shotguns and killing other children, where some who are calling themselves Christians have such hate for enemies that killing them is not enough, they are also eating parts of their bodies.  Yet this is the world, the very people whom Christ came to save.  And in and through the Power of His Love, He overcame the world and only through Him and His Love can we do the same.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly confess that Your Son Jesus Christ preached many things that are not easy for us.  Thus we are so very grateful that Jesus Christ came to earth to experience the difficulty, live a life of perfect examples and promise both His and Your perfect Love and Strength so that we could live lives of examples as well.  Give us Your Spirit on our hearts, Most Merciful Father, that we would strive to be like Jesus Christ; showing love both to those who would return it to us as well as our enemies who will only hate us.  That in so doing we may show the power of love and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Your servant has killed both lion and bear and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them”  1Samuel 17:36

“David fastened his sword to his armor and tried to walk…And David said….I cannot walk in these.”  1Samuel 17:39

“The David said….You come to me with a sword, with a spear…..But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts.” 1Samuel 17:45

Much has been written about the battle between David and Goliath.  In fact just last week, I wrote a post about the problem of fixating on the wrong thing.  The Israelite Army fixated on Goliath.  David fixated on God (see Jan. 6 post Beware Upon Who or What You Fixate).  Why continue?  Because we must remember that God’s Holy Word is so much more than just a history lesson.  God’s purpose for His word is that it will live in our hearts today; equipping us to face our battles.  He is as much with us today and He was with David.

So let’s take a look at some other lessons that we can learn:

1.  God has been with you before and you can take strength from this.  Scripture doesn’t tell us how many of Saul’s Army were shepherds by profession or how many had faced a life or death experience with a bear.  But even those who had and lived to tell the tale did not find that experience instructive in the current situation.  David was different.  He knew facing death was facing death; whether being mauled by a lion or run through by a giant.  David had faced death before and by the Grace of God, had defeated those opponents; with his bare hands no less.  He was able to find strength and confidence that the God who had brought him through those circumstances would not forsake him now.  So likewise, the test you and I are facing is probably not completely new.  We have faced new locations, new situations (like jobs or schools), illnesses and the list goes on.  It may not be exactly the same but know that the very fact that you are reading these words now; God brought you through it in the past.  The God who gave His Son for you and I will not forsake us now.

2.  Be open to the help of others but in the end; go with where you feel led.  Saul had given David permission to go and fight Goliath.  Thus David should have the finest equipment that the Israelite Army could provide him.  Note that David did not suddenly say:  No Way!  God is my only Armor.  No, David saw wisdom in listening to and trying the advice of those more experienced around him.  Yet, when David, in good faith, tried the worldly trappings of strength in armor and sword; he found he could not move and would be certainly defeated if he went out like that.  So, only after testing what others thought, he decided to go with what he knew had been successful.  We need to heed his lesson.  When you and I are given advice on how to handle something, we should not just dismiss it out of hand because it is not how we’ve done it in the past.  God’s blessings often come in the guise of wise counseling.  Though we also should not just go and do what someone else says just because they seem wise or in a position of authority.  Trust the Spirit to guide you.  If it does not feel right.  If the advice keeps you from moving in the way that you feel led, then it is correct to go with how you feel led by the Spirit.

3.  Submit to, rest upon, be confident in the Lord of Hosts from which your strength comes.  David’s retort to Goliath pretty much sums up all battles of world vs. God.  David checked off the things of the world which Goliath had; sword, spear and javelin.  Those things along with Goliath’s strength should have easily been enough to defeat David.  However, David did respond with tales of his own strength, cunning wisdom or superiority of his skill with his weapons.  David knew this, there was only one way he was going to be victorious and because of that One way; he could not be defeated.  “I come in the name of the Lord of hosts”.  Goliath never stood a chance.  Please note, this had nothing to do with glory for David or even patriotism for the land of Israel.  He was not a future king, he was a humble servant of the Lord of Hosts and as such was incapable of being defeated.  Why are you and I in the battle in the first place?  Do we want the new position for our own prestige or wealth?  Do we want to defeat our tormentor so that we can gloat or boast on our own strength?  Who will the world see glorified by our victory?  In this case, as in most, humility first brings victory second.  Did not Jesus do the same in the garden?  Not my will but thine be done.  Jesus Christ now victoriously sits at the Right Hand of the Father.  You and I need to humble ourselves before Almighty God.  We must go forward in His name and not our own.  Yet rest assured; as in David, our victory will assured, blessings will flow down, God will be with you and I.

Take a few moments to read 1 Samuel Chapter 17.  I am sure there are takeaways that God will give to you that are profound and necessary for you which may be greatly different than these.  Remember God, the Great I Am is as interested in your what is today; that is ,what you need to be victorious, as He was in David’s what was.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we are so thankful and blessed that You decided to give us lessons on Your Nature and how we can be Victorious in the words of Your Scripture.  Help us Dear Father to be faithful in our turning to scripture often.  Pour out Your Spirit of discernment that we will learn the lesson You are presenting along with the ability to incorporate it into our lives.  That we would be a people focused on only those victories that come from You and serve to praise Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“I say to you the poor widow has put in more than all…..”  Luke 21:3

“Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature”  Mark 16:15

“Therefore when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you…”  Matthew 6:2

I have spent most of my adult life’s vocation in the business world in some respect.  Each one of the businesses that I have been associated with has had competition for customers.  And in each of those businesses, the mantra for the best sort of positive information that can be spread about your company is “word of mouth.”  Even in this digital age where it seems people “talk” to each other less and less, the word of mouth concept still works.  It is called going viral.  So for the most part, going viral, is about people sharing something they’ve seen, read or heard out to their digital network.

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with the message of Jesus Christ and Our Heavenly Father?  First, let’s go back to the thought of competition and more specifically, competing messages.  It has been said that bad news sells.  In a Psychology Today article written in 2010, it states:  “Media studies show that bad news far out weights good news by as much as seventeen negative news reports for every one positive news report”.  Christ makes it very clear there is a competitor with a competing message in this world, competing for our earthly lives and our eternal soul.  Part of his message is about the weakness of God based on how terrible the world is.  Why believe in a God that would let such bad things happen?  Where is God’s power when such bad things happen?  God must not care.  Even we people of faith can unwittingly (and sometimes sadly with purpose) fall into this trap as we try equate unfortunate things with God’s judgement on “them” (whoever the popular “them” group happens to be at the time).  So those who have not had an introduction to Christ, have not come into relationship with Our Loving Heavenly Father, can easily find it difficult to find the news and our judgmental interpretation a welcoming invitation to know Jesus better.

Now, let’s talk basic human nature and experience.  Think about the last time you went to a new restaurant, viewed a new television show, left one brand you liked and tried another.  How many times do those and countless other changes occur because you listened to someone’s advice that you trusted.  Yes, you may have seen countless ads for the product, service, music group or show.  But so often what pushes you and I into actually making a change is the positive testimony we get from a friend and/or loved one; the trumping power of word of mouth.  This can even happen with the news we get.  Have you ever heard a negative news report based on a short, truncated news clip and started to feel down and/or complain about it; only to find out from someone you know that there is more to the story and what the “more” is completely changes the context of the story?  You find with the new information you’re not as concerned, depressed or angry any more?  Again word of mouth.  People desperately need to hear that there are good and loving things happening.  And please understand this, it is not good enough that they hear the one story at the end of the news program that happened a world away.  They need to hear about the things that are happening right where they live, to people they know.  That there is still love, generosity, faith, hope.  There is God.

The stories are out there.  But first and foremost you have to be looking for them.  What have I seen?  The stranger who sees a young man sitting on a sidewalk crying.  Others are passing him by but this stranger (and no not a priest) stops to talk with him.  The person seeing a car on fire pulls a protective blanket out and smothers the flames.  The person in the grocery line that realizes they don’t have enough money to cover the basic food their purchasing only to have the difference made up by the stranger behind them all the while asking blessings upon them.

Jesus knew the power of this.  That is why, when He saw the generosity of the poor widow, He made sure others were aware as well.  When He experienced the faithfulness of hated Roman soldier, that He pointed it out for others to follow.  Sure Jesus pointed out hypocrisy, greed and jealousy when He saw them.  He had a right and was right to do so.  After all He was and is God.  Yet Jesus also wanted us to know that even though we were and are fallen on our own.  Through following Him, we are capable of many wonderfully great things.  Ask 5000 well fed people.

Yet there is something else to avoid.  Please do the generous, faithful, loving thing.  Yet be careful how you tell your own tale.  For if it is all about you and your own glory; the tale will have little lasting value.  No, of much more value is the tale that is witnessed and/or perhaps experienced being on the receiving end.  In the telling of those tales, the teller is much less likely to be perceived as a braggart or one who exaggerates.  Leave those tales of your generosity to others to tell.

Where do I start?  Well it takes practice.  First it takes a practiced eye to see them unfold.  Second it takes practice to be comfortable in telling them.  If it helps start by telling them just to your family or close friends.  As you tell the tale I believe you will feel a warmth and feeling of invigoration at the sharing.  In time, you will become more comfortable in sharing to those you know well and those whom you hardly know.  Brothers and sisters, we are blessed people created by a Loving God who yearns to show His Grace by the acts of His people.  It is the tales of those very acts and that associated Grace that this world so needs to hear about.  If we won’t tell them; who will?

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, pour out Your Strength on us that we would testify of the amazing acts of Grace that we have witnessed.  Help us to be beacons shining our lights on the true acts of charity, humility, courage and faith.  Keep us, Most Merciful Father, from falling into the trap of telling the tales that bring glory to ourselves instead of You.  That in those tales we might bring praise to Your Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.”   Exodus 3:14

“….and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with the inscription TO THE UNKNOWN GOD…” Acts 17:23

Definition: the formal statement as to the meaning or significance of a word, phrase, idiom, etc.

We tend to be all about definitions.  We can become greatly concerned about the significance of something; is it important or trivial.  For over a decade now we have been a part of an information revolution that is transforming the way we think and as importantly act based on how we define things.  Our sources of information have become vastly greater while at the same time being less certain of their sources.  Voices are becoming ever louder and more numerous trying to sway our opinions and our efforts because of them.

Yet here is the thing.  When we define something we are much saying what it is not as much as we are saying what it is.  If someone is tall, they can not also be short (of course depending on your point of view).  Wise is not foolish, pretty is not ugly; you get my drift.  So it is that we are constantly engaged in the process of defining our world and those whom we find accompanying ourselves in this journey.

Moses wanted a definition.  He knew that those he was going to would want a definition.  He was being sent to a people who truly did not know him; would not have defined Moses as their leader or champion.  He was being sent by God Almighty, their God.  But Moses was a human being.  He was not going to show up descending on a cloud of glory.  No, he was going to walk into their midst.  They will want to know who sent me; Moses reasoned.  They will ask.  What should I respond?  God replies:  I AM WHO I AM.

Paul is in Greece.  He has been walking in the city and seeing many statues to gods (speaking of information age, I in fact had to go look up some definitions).  He would have likely seen statues to gods  and goddesses like Athena, Apollo, Aries, Aphrodite and many more.  These gods by their names were defined:  Athena the goddess of wise counsel, Aries the god or war and so forth.  And in the midst of these statues and their altars of worship stood an alter to a God with no name.  Having no name, this God, would be hard to pin down, just who was this God and what was He the God of; what was He capable of?  Paul knew.

Thus, today the world finds itself asking the same types of questions and if we are not careful we might find ourselves falling into this same trap.  Who is God?  What is this God thing all about?  Explain Him to me; define Him for me that I might believe in Him.  I Am.  I Am is the answer.  What kind of answer is that?  To a people stubbornly believing they have all the wisdom, all the knowledge necessary to comprehend any and all subjects, it is a fools answer.  To us; it is truly the only answer that does and indeed can fit.

For I AM denotes the fact that we can not come to grasp the fundamental nature, the complexity of His existence, the extent of His power that is God.  Our language is too feeble, our concepts too small, our perceptions to erroneous to capture or define the essence of God.  Try to adequately explain the theory of relativity to a two year old (for that matter it floors me) or the nature of love to your pet.  We don’t have the mutual frame of reference around which we can even start the conversation.

So if we are unable to adequately define Him, then how are we supposed to define ourselves in relationship to Him?  I am righteous as He is?  I am wise as He is? I am loving as He is? I am…………..?  Our definitions for ourselves can become muddled and confused.  We are then left with the only definition that truly matters, the only definition that will carry us above the world and its desires to put categories and limits on things.  I am His.  He created me.  He loves me.  He has a plan for me; personally.  I am His.

The world will tell us that definition isn’t good enough.  The enemy will tell us we must search for a greater meaning.  Yet this is it,   whether tall/ short, college educated/ never been to school, wealthy/poor, man/woman, every gender, every nationality; I am His. To the extent that we can live to that definition; oh what a blessed, joy filled, praise worthy life we will lead.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father we proclaim that You are the Great I Am.  We also humbly confess that so often that is not good enough for us.  That we try to limit You through our own definitions and our own standards.  Forgive us Merciful Father, for our arrogance in trying to define You in our terms.  Pour Out Your Spirit upon us Wonderful Father, writing Your name on our hearts and giving us the true desire to make Your Will our own.  That we would declare with sure knowledge that by the gift of Your Son Jesus Christ, we are Yours and that alone is enough of a description.  That being Yours, we would live a faith filled life worthy of Your Praise we pray.  In the Name of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior.  Amen

 

 

“So it was….that God gave him another heart and all the signs came to pass that day.”  1 Samuel 10:9

Saul is out looking for his father’s lost donkeys.  It had been three days and he and his companion have had no luck finding the runaway beasts.  Saul and his companion are about to give up when his companion remembers that there is a man of God, a seer, they called him living in the town.  Saul decides to go see him.

The next day, Saul meets Samuel hoping that Samuel will have some divine guidance about the lost donkeys.  Instead, Samuel tells Saul that they are to spend time together eating and he also tells him that all the desire of Israel rests on Saul.  Saul does not know that he is to become the first king of Israel.  He is not a politician or famous for anything so far in Israel.  In fact, in response to Samuel’s greeting (still not knowing of the impending kingship), Saul answers:  “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest tribes of Israel and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin?  No, it is very clear to Saul that great things are not in store for him now or in the future.

Saul is a little confounded that Samuel leads him into a great hall and seats him at the place of highest honor.  Also, the best cut of meat is brought and placed before Saul for him to eat.  They spend the rest of the day talking and the next day Saul is planning to return to his father.  In his mind, back to the life that he knew.  Samuel tells Saul of people he will meet and what is going to happen upon their meeting and that these would be signs.  It is then that everything changes for Saul.  He turns to leave Samuel, to go back to his life most assuredly pondering that strange thing that this prophet had said to him.  Then God enters into Saul and gives him a new heart.  It is with that new heart that Saul is now open to what Samuel had said, open to where God was leading him, open to the mission that God had for him.

A new heart.  A heart from God.  Now we begin to see the great lengths that God will go to grant us success and blessings in the tasks He appoints for us.  Whether it is heart of courage and leadership to a man like Moses, the heart to believe that there is a promised land with a son to share it with even to someone as old as Abraham, or the heart to accept bearing the Son of God to a poor peasant virgin, God will supply the heart we need.

Finally, the heart given to Saul and what he does with it, teaches us another great lesson.  For we must be diligent in our prayer and humble in our person to follow that heart.  For Saul started out as a mighty and righteous king, winning many battles for Israel.  Whether or not he forgot that he had been given a new heart or pridefully believed the heart and its strength were only his, Saul disobeys God and his heart and his life become broken.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, may it be that we long for the heart from God.  Samuel told Saul that he must wait patiently for seven days and so for us we must wait upon God to provide.  Though once He provides, we must be ready to let that heart beat strong for us giving us His life’s blood and strength to confidently go out and conquer whatever task God has set before us.  And this is extremely important, once we have conquered, we must humbly give thanks and praise to the One who gave His heart to us allowing us to triumph.

It is when we are the stillest that we can here our heart beating.  God will come to us in that stillness and give us (or perhaps for some the heart has already been transplanted) the heart that we need.  May we it be a heart dedicated to the Love and Praise of Our Heavenly Father.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we are not sufficient to accomplish that which You have placed before us; alone.  We know and pray that You will give to us a new heart, a heart from You, just like You did Saul.  Help us to be strong and confident in using that new heart, Almighty Father in completing the mission You have for us.  Please, Most Merciful Father, give us a spirit of humility, that in successfully fulfilling that mission we will not turn from You claiming our own glory.  That with Your gift of heart forever beating within us, we will live a life worthy of Your Praise.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believe     Mark 9:23

For without Me, you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

We, especially in western culture, are all about processes and progressions.  In life we go from newborns to toddlers, adolescence to adults, middle age to retirement age (often called our golden years).  In education we start as freshmen and graduate as seniors.  There is a definite corporate ladder for us to climb.  In sports we start as a rookie or novice and end up journeyman, an all-star, an all (state, American, pro).  We tend to find some security in the idea that the more time we spend, the more effort, the more we learn, that there is a greater outcome.  I believe we also think that we become more powerful as the progression continues and even perhaps freer.  We gain the right through the progress to do more of what we want; we feel that there is an entitlement, a basic fairness to the idea that we can do more as the process progresses than we could at first.

Sadly, that can enter our faith life as well.  We can fall into a trap of progression that can lead to our own sense of entitlement as well as a sense of judgement about others.  Through the Spirit we come to a place of revelation where we proclaim Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Savior and the one true Son of God.  Then the progression starts.  Well let’s see, I should think about how often I pray, maybe get on a prayer regimen like my exercise regimen.  I guess I need to purchase a bible and start reading it.  I should find a church and start attending.  These first few Sundays I’ll give five dollars but eventually build up more. At some point I guess I’ll need to start telling others about Jesus and get them to come to my church.  Sometimes in churches there is a sense of progression that brings about power and influence.  You have your attenders, then your enrolled members, then those who volunteer, then those who serve on committee’s then those who lead committee’s then perhaps paid staff.  All a progression.

Jesus told a parable about that.  In the 20th chapter of Matthew Jesus tells of the men hired throughout the day.  Some worked all day, some worked just an hour.  Yet they all got paid the same amount.  That outcome threatens are basic belief in what is fair.  We would judge, not only the landowner as wrong for paying the same, but we might make a judgement about those later workers in even accepting the wage.  We are entitled due to the progression of the day!  They are not!

My dear friends, please don’t misread my intent.  There is great value in reading the God’s word.  Church is a wonderful place to go to.  Freely and joyfully giving back to God a portion of the bounty which He has so richly blessed us with is a good and right thing to do.  Volunteering can bring about such blessings to both those who receive and those who give.  I have received so many blessings being in church positions and serving in church government.  But none of that entitles me or means that I “can” do anything.  I am not freer to use my own earthly judgement, not calling upon God for insight and wisdom.  At the end of most of our earthly progressions we get to the point where we pridefully say:  “I’ve made it; Look at me; Follow me; I am worthy!”

Jesus is clear.  There is no progression past Jesus.  In John he uses the illustration of a vine and branches.  If we want to accomplish anything, we must be a branch attached to Jesus Christ the vine.  Christ makes no distinction about the length or age of the branch.  Indeed he mentions that fruitful branches will be pruned, to be cut back.  Sure seems that might put a dent in my progression.  Christ tells us, we will accomplish nothing apart from Him.  We can’t, no matter how rich, powerful, learned, beautiful, old, be successful unless we belong to Him.  So how do we do that?  BELIEVE.  Have true faith.  Believing that Jesus Christ is the Holy Son of God, the Vine from Heaven, and longing to be a branch growing from Him, allows the ability where I can do anything.  Picture it, the vine does not withhold things from its branches.  No, the vine nourishes the branches supplying them with every need for their life and growth.  What is flowing into us, the branches, from Jesus Christ the Vine?  Love.  Our Heavenly Father’s Love, Jesus Christ’s Love.  The Holy Spirit nourishes our spirit with that Love and then, and only then, we can and will bear fruit.

So it is not about some formula or process, some set of steps of progress that brings about what we can and can’t do.  But do understand this.  There is a progression that matters.  There were steps that made all the difference in the world.  It is the progression of Jesus Christ to Calvary.  The steps our Savior took to the cross.  The Love that brought Him to earth to die for our sins and to raise Him back to heaven.  I truly hope that is something we can all believe in.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we humbly confess that we often try to find ways to work towards You.  That we use earthly standards of progression and achievement to feel that we are worthy of Your Love and Acceptance.  That we are justified when we judge others whom we feel have not progressed as far or spent as much time as we have.  Forgive us Dear Father.  Through the Holy Spirit show us the meaning of Your Grace and Mercy that we come to You only through the sacrifice of Your Precious Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Strengthen our belief that we can go out into the world as branches of the True Vine, Jesus Christ, and spread Your Healing, Loving Gospel.  Keep us from the temptation of trying to go it alone.  That all whom we may meet will see the fruits of our belief and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name we pray.  In the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen

“So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and hasten to go down for about a whole day.  And there has been no day like that, before it or after it.”  Joshua 10:14

Abracadabra!  The magician calls out and then, having everyone’s attention, completes his amazing feat of magic.  But it’s not just about a magician or a star.  There was a time when I was running my own business (besides writing I am now at least part time back in the corporate world so that gives you a sense about how successful I was) and one of the most consistent mantras for success was about marketing your brand.  You needed that thing that would set yourself apart, that video that would go viral with an enormous amount of hits, that thing that would cause people to beat down your door trying to get your business.  The vast majority of unsolicited business offerings I receive are about how to successfully market myself.

The sun stands still for an entire day.  We are not talking here about being at the north pole during summer when the sun does not set.  This is a city and its surroundings called Gibeon which was in the ancient land of Canaan, which is now modern day Israel.  The sun sets there; every day.  Well, except for this one day.  Joshua had brought the people of Israel across the Jordon River and, at God’s direction, were conquering the peoples living there.  A people who Joshua made a treaty with are being attacked because they made that treaty and they plead with Joshua for help.  His enemy is a collection of kings with a great army.  Believing in God’s promise to him and the Israelites, Joshua doesn’t hesitate.  He attacks and the Israelites are being spectacularly successful but there is a problem.  This was long before the time of night vision goggles or even flashlights and torches are not going to illuminate the battlefield enough to continue to wage the battle.  Some might escape in the darkness.  So Joshua calls upon God.  He petitions God that to carry out God’s plan, to complete the destruction of His enemies, that the light will not fail, the sun will not set.  God hears Joshua’s petition and grants it.  And Joshua carries out God’s plan.

Think about 1400 years later.  God is walking the earth in the form of Jesus Christ and He’s performing miracles.  Yet again, never do you hear Christ shouting out, come one come all, to see me.  While He sends his disciples out, it is not so that they can drum business for Him or spread His fame.  So often when Jesus performs His miracles, He specifically instructs the recipients to not tell about Him.  When He does complete a miracle within a crowd, like in a temple, it is to instruct those, so much in need of instruction, about the qualities of mercy and forgiveness.  Those whom He heals are not just props in some cosmic grand show.  No, these are people deeply loved, who are deeply in trouble, beyond doing for themselves and God steps in.

God needs no marketing plan.  As the Psalmist declares in Psalm 19:  The heavens declare the Glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  So why the miracles, if not for Him?  We need them.  They come for us.  Sometimes it is to bring about a healing or change in physical circumstances that are completely beyond our control.  Sadly, sometimes it is to demonstrate His power because we loose our way and believe our power equal to His.  But always, they are out of love for us.  God yearns for us to understand just how much He loves us, how important we are to Him.  We are important, not because what we can do for Him, no far from it.  God needs nothing from us.  But important because He created us.  He created us out of love for a loving relationship and no miracle is too tough to demonstrate that love.  Even the miracle of leaving perfection (heaven) and coming down to lawlessness, depravity and evil (earth). Even the perfection of living amongst us and end the end, dying for us.  Can there be any greater miracle?

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we proclaim that You created all things and are still in control of all things.  We also humbly acknowledge that we turn away from You to things that this world markets to us as better alternatives.  We thank You Blessed Father, that You do not turn from us but will bring all Your Heavenly Power to bear for us to save us.  We praise You as the God of miracles and the God of love.  We pray for Your help to keep us in the spirit of humble knowledge of Your Great Power and Your Great Mercy.  And we come to You with Praise and Thanksgiving for Your Miraculous Gift or Your Son Jesus Christ for our lives and our salvation.  Help us, when we pray for miracles, for those miracles to be not just about us, but about Your will in and with us.  That all miracles would be used to Praise Your Most Holy Name we pray.  In the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.”  Luke 6:40

It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher…”  Matthew 10:25

Experience is the best teacher.  Just go out and do it.  We learn best from our mistakes.  These are some oft expressed sayings about learning, which might lead us to think that the best way for us to gain new knowledge is to go out and try whatever it is that we want to accomplish.  I am not disputing the value of persistence (the story that Edison didn’t give up after 999 failures at attempting to invent the light bulb succeeding on his 1000th attempt).  However, what I am extolling are the virtues of humility and discipline that are involved in choosing the path to gain knowledge from an expert or at least someone more learned than your (or my) self.

I was very happy to have my first car.  I wanted to make sure that I did all that was needed to keep it in good condition; especially being that it was more than a decade old.  So having driven it for several months and putting a decent amount of miles on it, I decided it was time to change the oil.  Seemingly a very simple task (if from the word “seemingly” you are getting a sense of future calamity, you are wise).  I did decide to at least ask my father about it; and with the simple explanation he gave; look for bolt, loosen bolt, allow oil to drain, replace bolt, refill oil; Presto!, I decided that I did not need any supervision or help (again if you are getting a sense of foreboding; good).  Well let’s just say that I was not prepared for two bolts to choose from.  Choosing the wrong one, I depleted the car of transmission fluid instead of motor oil.  Did I learn?  Certainly.  Had I sought out a teacher; would I have learned just as well and less expensively; without a doubt.

Now in this world, it is true that we have to take a plethora of things into account when choosing if we are going to and to whom we are going to seek instruction from.  One aspect is; what is the cost?  How much am I going to have to pay, which also has a corresponding aspect of where else could I have put that expense to better use.  Second, who am I going to rely on to give me the training?  Today, we live in an era of debate and argument.  One only has to listen to most any news program or talk show to experience that every issue seems to have two diametrically opposed opinions and spokespeople with lofty credentials to support their opinion.  Similarly, what source material do you have?  Again, go to an internet search engine and type a topic in and look for the number of “hits”; the tens of thousands and often large number of resources to find information.  Again, many disputing or refuting the others.

Thankfully, Jesus made it surprisingly simple.  Cost?  Depending on how you look at it; either amazingly cheap or staggeringly expensive.  In one sense, it is free.  Jesus never required anyone to pay to attend his teachings and assuming you can secure a bible, also most churches have free attendance, then the out of pocket material expense is minimal.  As you read or listen,  who is there to help you understand?  Jesus Christ tells us that is covered as well.  The Holy Spirit is free for the asking who will come to dwell within us and teach us.  There is a time element as well.  On the other hand, if you count cost in terms of things you will find changing, it can seem overwhelmingly expensive.  Unfortunately, too expensive for many.  Who is my teacher?  Again simple, Jesus Christ.  That others, including pastors, parents, friends, scholars can help is possible.  As long as they are teaching Jesus Christ is the true only begotten Son of Our Heavenly Father, crucified and resurrected for the sake of our salvation, they can be very beneficial.  What is my primary source?  Again simple, the bible.  Yes there are many other things out there (this blog included); but, nothing should substitute for the Word of God.

So, we have a choice in life.  To go it alone or looking to the wisdom of this world only (can we say the blind leading the blind).  In the world, there is a chance for some partial learning; but, the lesson will most assuredly be missed.  Or we can, with true humility that comes from understanding that we are approaching and asking from The Perfect, and the discipline to use the two greatest tools available; prayer and The Word; tap into the greatest source of Knowledge and Wisdom that has ever been; freely given, there for the asking.  We do have to understand and be ready for two truths.  First, we will always be learning in this life.  While here, we will never obtain the Perfect Understanding, Judgment and Knowledge of Our Heavenly Father, and that is okay.  Second, we must be prepared that we will be changed as we learn.  The learning from God is not just a validation of our own plans and dreams.  He will open up to us, a new world, a new way of being that will quite probably be radically different than what we thought it would be. Yet it is the most crucial that we understand that the truest blessings and most love filled life is encased in those differences.   And here is where the hugest risk and a true mystery to me is.  For, we have been given the power to reject His teachings and wisdom in there entirety and go off on our own.

Dear Heavenly Father, you created us and then did not leave us to our own devices.  Through Your Grace, You have given us Your Word through the prophets on what is wise and true.  And when You deemed it the right time, You Gave us Your Son Jesus Christ to, not only instruct us, but to also be our perfect example.  We pray a prayer of thanksgiving for Your Mercy and Grace and ask that You would give us the spirit to come to You for our instruction and be open to Your Guiding.   That truly we, as His disciples, would strive to be like He is and in so doing live a life that Glorifies Your Most Holy Name.  In Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.  Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful”  Luke 6:36

 

This is one of those things and one of those arguments that seems, on the surface, to be such a difficult concept to explain or reconcile to an unbelieving world (as if it was up to us or we even could, explain God).  There are seemingly so many evil people, dictators who live in the lap of luxury, while their people starve, gangsters and  gang members who commit many heinous crimes yet seem to seldom face justice and terrorists who plan and carry out attacks and brag about them on videos and successfully sneak away avoiding capture.  How can a Loving God allow that!  To our logic; a troubling question.

AND, if we were equals with Our Heavenly Father; perhaps we would be justified in asking that question.  However, to me, first and foremost, we must understand that we are not creators; we are the created.  No matter how high we want to raise up our own wisdom on this earth, it will never match His.   Also, I/we have to be very careful as we look to point the finger at who is truly evil or unthankful.  Jesus Christ is very clear that is not just the action; but the desire for the action which is the sin.  In the situations that I want to do physical harm to the person:  “Oh I could just (smack, punch, hurt, kill) them!” or that I would lust  “Wow it would be great to sleep with him/her”, it is the initial thought that is the sin.  That our earthly courts would deem me not guilty as long as I don’t carry out the act, is irrelevant in the eyes of our Heavenly Father:  “But I say to you whoever is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment”  or “anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.  So it is incumbent upon me to watch out how I throw the “they” pronoun as it applies to what is evil or who is unthankful.

So is there some recompense, some judgment coming to those who are evil and unthankful?  Surely.  For in Jesus Christ’s discussion of anger in lust, in both cases he speaks of being liable to judgment.  Even as we look with a worldly view, we must be careful not to confuse the fantasy of fiction, with the starkness of reality.  In many shows and movies, the villains are seen in constant revelry, joy and carefree living due to their evil.  Yet, when we strip away the façade and look at the reality, we often see anger and tension, loathing of others and sometimes self and yes we often see fear and paranoia.  Is that truly living the good life?  To those who are unthankful, who believe that they are the only reason they have achieved success and any means necessary is acceptable to achieve, what do we see?  Do we not tend to see those individuals isolated or surrounded by similarly shallow people, parasitical companions who will stay around only as long as their own selfish needs are met?  Do we not see the arrogant often as targets for scandals real or imagined, fitting in to that recent phenomenon of loving to watch the “great”  fall from grace.  And when they do fall, which most inevitably do, they find themselves deserted and alone.  Is that a way we want to live?  Is that the good life?

So what does that drive us to?  A humble, thankful and joyous existence.  Humble; that there but for the Grace of God go I.  I, in my human nature, am completely capable of evil and giving myself the credit instead of being thankful to Our Heavenly Father.  Thankful.  Thankful, that Our Heavenly Father would pour out His Grace upon me.  That His will is to “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil”  as well as forgiving our trespasses.  Joyous.  Joyous, that our Heavenly Father freely gives his Grace to all.  Those who don’t receive it will have a miserable existence.  In love we are not to gloat about their miserable existence but to have pity, mercy and yes, as tough as it can be to do, love for them as Our Heavenly Father does.  Joyous for us who do receive His Grace, that through the trials and tribulations of this world as well as the attacks by worldly and spiritual foes, we will be victorious!  We will find Peace that surpasses all understanding.

Dear Heavenly Father; in Your Grace, you provide us with so much; even Your Son Jesus Christ to die and rise again that we might have an eternal relationship with You.  May it be that we are humble enough to rely on You to keep us from evil and humble enough to give You the thanksgiving for our blessings that You so justly deserve.  Forgive us, Dear Father, when we are more want to provide judgment to those we deem evil or ungrateful than mercy or forgiveness.  Teach us to be more like You.  That in all things that we do, Your Most Holy Name will be Praised.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.

Amen

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