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“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

“to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4: 22-24

Finally, Brothers and Sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

Jesus Christ was unambiguous in His reply.  This question was being posed by, in the day and time when Jesus walked the earth, a learned man, a man considered wise and perhaps holy; a scribe.  This question came at the height of Jesus’s popularity during His time on earth.  He had come humbly but triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  The crowds had cheered Him and the leadership had jeered Him.  The religious leadership had been peppering Jesus with question after question trying to trick or confuse Him.  Jesus confounded them at every turn. In Matthew it was an evil question meant to hopefully trap Jesus in some faulty answer.  In Mark the scribe asked the question to Jesus after hearing Him clearly outwit a gathering of religious leaders.  Either way, Jesus was and His message for us today is very clear. Which is the greatest commandment?

Now, for a moment, it might add some clarity to understand the scope of the question.  Was the scribe talking about which of the 10 Commandments, given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai?  Was the scribe asking concerning the greatest commandment of the roughly 613 commandments which were passed down, derived through the 10 Commandments? There were a tremendous amount of commandments to choose from.  Which one or two would Jesus choose?

Understand this, neither the question nor the answer were new.  Loving God with all that you have; heart, body, soul and mind was the first commandment that Moses gave to the people in Deuteronomy when the people of Israel thought they were about to cross over into the promised land.  Moses was explaining, how it was that they would be able to stay in the favor of God Almighty if they lived by these precious precepts and did not turn away from them or forget them. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, a man answered a question posed by Jesus by quoting these two same commandments.  The man went on to ask Jesus:  “Who is my neighbor?” , and Jesus proceeded to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan.

They lived in a fractured world back in the time of Jesus’s walk on this earth.  Jew and gentile, Pharisee and Sadducee, freeman and slave, Roman and the rest of the world; were only some of divisions which existed in the land of that time.

Now fast forward some 2020 years later.  Ho Boy, do we have divisions.  As this blog is read around the world, I would mention just some in my country; conservatives and liberals, migrants and native citizens, man and woman, gender specific and gender flexible, and..and…and. We have a lot of division in our country and our world.  So here’s the challenge; not so much that those differences exist, but the way we treat those who believe differently; as wrong, as evil, as hated, that drives differences into divisions, which destroys groups as small as families and as large as nations.

Notice, neither in the Old Testament or with Jesus, Himself, was it declared, you will love those who believe like you do, who look or act like you do or who vote like you do.  Jesus Christ makes it clear, both in His teaching and His living, talking with a Samaritan – a woman no less – or healing a Roman Centurion’s servant, that neighbor has a very broad and universal meeting.  A neighbor can be a person who has lived next to you for 30 years or a stranger standing next to you in a shopping line.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Jesus makes it clear, love; love toward our neighbor, whomever they might be should be our default position.  There is only one greater commandment; to Love our Heavenly Father. Why? The power of love.  As we love our neighbor, we’re not likely trying to harm them.  Our blood pressure or anger doesn’t go through the roof as we love our neighbor.  A loving neighbor carries no brick, no molatov cocktail, no semi-automatic weapon to use against their neighbor. Love is the Power of God.  Loving like Him allows us to share in that power.

Okay, okay, you say, then I’m going to go out and do it.  Today I’m going to start loving all my neighbors, just you wait.  In some cases it may be tough love, maybe, I’m going to be loving them while I smack some sense into them but I can do this, I’m going to love them.

If we’re going to have a shot at this at all, we have to understand a few things.  First to become this way takes a transformation.  The world and those of the world will never be able to find it within themselves to love thy neighbor as Jesus describes.  As Jesus explained to Nicodemus it takes being born again.  It takes taking off the old self and putting on the new self.  The only way to truly accomplish that is to be in Christ Jesus.

Abiding in Christ, experiencing Christ’s love and His power to change us allows us then, to exemplify Christ in our love for our neighbor. As written in Ephesians, only by putting on the whole armor of God can we combat the evil of this world to see clearly a better, more loving path forward.

Each day we’re likely to come in contact with many neighbors.  Some of those neighbors will be in person, some virtually.  Some will be neighbors we’ve known for decades, some will be strangers who cross our paths. Let us not look to world power; the power of distrusting and hating those neighbors who seem different, wanting for and maybe taking part in their destruction.  Instead let us embrace the Power of God Almighty and His second most important commandment to love that neighbor, even if the love is not returned.  Knowing that the Power of God and His love can never be defeated and by loving in Him we bring praise to His Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim that You are God and along, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, the only True God.  Thus You are right and just to have commandments.  We thank you Most Merciful Father that Your greatest commandments are to love; first You, then our neighbors as ourselves.  Forgive us when we neglect these commandments or try and narrow our definition of neighbor to exclude those we decide are not worth our love.  Pour out Your Spirit on us that we might resist the worldly definition of love and neighbor to, instead accept Your definition and the power that goes along with that definition.  Allow us to be beacons of Your love to all our neighbors that we might be peacemakers and healers to this world and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

 

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe I am who I am”. John 13:19

“But Joseph replied: ‘Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God? As for you, what you intended against me for evil, God intended for good, in order to accomplish a day like this – to preserve the lives of many people.'”  Genesis 50 19,20

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28.

So I realize that the title and subsequent concept flies into the face of the current thinking concerning there being any value in looking back behind us; looking into the past.  Indeed there are many slogans today like:  “There’s a reason your rearview mirror is so small and your windshield so large, where you’re going is so much more important than where you’ve been” (Authors note:  when driving I agree more time needs to be spent looking at where you’re going). Or, “Looking back isn’t’ going to help you. Moving forward is the thing you need to do”.

Now yes, I do understand and agree with certain aspects about not being able to change the past, so constantly dwelling on a past mistake or situation can be detrimental. Similarly, maybe your past is where a particular triumph was and you’d rather bask in the glow and stay focused on that past success instead of trying to be impactful in the present.

Yet Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament as well as Jesus, Himself, want to show us how the past can be amazingly helpful in revealing truths about the present and features of the future.  So let us explore them.

It was a tumultuous time for the disciples, but Jesus knew it was going to increase in intensity by leaps and bounds.  Most of the disciples had been with Him for close to three years.  They had seen Him heal, quiet storms and walk on water.  Earlier in the week, Jesus had entered triumphantly into Jerusalem to the wild cheers of the crowd.  Throughout the week, the religious establishment had tried to trick and trip up Jesus and He had triumphed over them each and every time.  Now they were eating the blessed Passover dinner.  The disciples had no idea what was coming.  But Jesus, being God, knew the entire plan and knew what would soon befall Him.  Jesus started to give the disciples and inkling of what was to come with a message that one of their intimate group was going to betray Jesus.  Then Jesus explains to them why He is telling them this ahead of time.  What’s going to befall Jesus, being arrested, being tortured and then being killed by crucifixion was going to be a horrible experience.  It was going to be an experience that none of the disciples would share in or even have an expectation was going to happen.  It was crucial to Jesus that the disciples understand that this was all a part of His Father’s blessed plan of salvation.  So Jesus’s plan was to tell them ahead of time of what was to happen, with the expressed desire that upon the actual happening itself, the disciples would look back and remember that Jesus had foretold all that was going to happen.  Without Jesus doing this, the disciples might have thought that earthly powers had overcome heavenly powers or perhaps Jesus wasn’t really who He said He was after all.  Instead, after the event of the betrayal happened, the disciples could look back and remember that Jesus had foretold this and thus, the betrayal and the other happenings were not out of heavenly control but were actually happening because of heavenly control.  Their belief in Jesus would become even stronger.

Now, let’s take the example of Joseph.  It appears from scripture, Joseph might have been somewhat an obnoxious younger brother.  He was his father’s favorite and whether intentionally or unintentionally, he reminded his brothers of that fact.  However, nothing of Joseph’s behavior warranted death; which the brothers initially schemed to make happen or selling him to caravan as a slave.  But that is exactly what the brothers did. So you know what happens, eventually by staying faithful and serving the Pharaoh, Joseph is ultimately promoted to the second highest ruler, only the Pharaoh being higher, in all of Egypt.  Enter a famine.  The famine was so widespread that the family of Jacob (Joseph’s father) would have starved without help.  Due to Joseph’s wise planning and stewardship, the only place that had any food during the famine was Egypt.  So Jacob sent his remaining sons to ask for help.  At first the brothers have no idea that they are asking for help from the very same brother they sold to slavery oh those many years ago.  What is Joseph to do; chop off their heads, slow torture them to death? No; Joseph feeds them and invites the entire family to come and live in Egypt.  Jacob, Joseph, his brothers; no one knew that a famine was coming.  God did.  Would it be likely in the midst of the famine that Egypt would be willing to share their precious, scarce grain with a bunch of stranger, outsiders? Not unless someone was in charge who knew these outsiders and wanted to help them; enter Joseph.  So when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he does so with the insight of looking back.  He can see that, while his brothers meant evil, God, who didn’t cause the evil deeds, still used those evil deeds ultimately for the good of not only Joseph, but Jacob’s entire family.  Plus because God knows all things for all times, He knew that eventually the Egyptians would turn on Jacob’s ancestors which would bring about Moses and the salvation of the Israel nation.

Okay, biblical accounts are fine but does that relate to today? Well for me, my blessings of wife and family came because God gave me a heart condition.  Huh?  You see I was in the Air Force and on flight status.  To maintain that status I had to pass an exhaustive physical. Early in my career, I had gone through three of the physicals from three different highly trained specialists called flight surgeons.  Each time I passed with (pardon the pun) flying colors.  Now training was over and it was time to go to my new duty station and time for another physical. This time the flight surgeon listened to my heart for just a few moments; stopped and asked me if I knew I had a heart murmur. This was/is a condition that could disqualify me from flying.  He asked me if I had rheumatic fever as a child or some other significant illness which normally is what causes the condition. I not only told him that I hadn’t (which was true) but that it had not come up in any of my three recent flight physicals.  That caught him very much by surprise but he let me listen to my heart and once he told me what to listen for, sure enough, there was that heart murmur.

To continue flying and probably even stay in the Air Force, I was going to have to receive a waiver.  I arrived at my new duty station and we began the waiver process.  However, I couldn’t fly during that time so I was assigned some additional duties working for an officer I normally would not have for about two months.  The waiver comes through and I’m back on flight status.  Six months later a training position comes open under the officer I had previously worked under.  There were more senior/experienced officers for the position but because the officer and I had worked so well together he chose me.  Both myself and the other officer worked for an officer who happened to have a daughter, roughly my same age.  You guessed it, the senior officer introduced us and 34 years later, I am still the most blessed man alive with the wonderful relationship with her and two children.  When I was first diagnosed with the heart murmur and facing dismissal from the Air Force, I was praying for God’s help, but not seeing any big picture aspect to the situation.  It was only later, when I looked back, could I see all the steps God put in place, steps that were out of my control, that brought about the blessed union which was God’s perfect plan.

Here’s the thing, that was not an isolated incident. Over and over again I could enumerate (but you can breath a sigh of relief, I won’t) the times that a seemingly random or even negative circumstance in my life turned out, by the Grace of God to be a great blessing.

So now I come to my point (finally); circumstances continue to happen.  Things continue to happen to and around me that I did not expect, would not have planned and in general would not have wanted.  Not all circumstances are this way but when the ones that are unsettling arise, if I only looking forward, I might do so with fear and trepidation that this circumstance is the one that spells my doom.  However, by looking at the lessons in the bible and applying them to my past events, (I think that sequence; bible first, then reflections, is key) I can face the uncertain circumstances with much greater confidence, even positivity and with God given peace. My past through God is informing my present and future.

Thus Dear Sister and Brother in Christ, these seem to be societal and perhaps for you personal, uncertain times.  The world may be seeming you to come at you with significant, overwhelming threats.  So especially, if you find that you are filled with fear and dread, I encourage you to look back in your life to times of uncertain circumstances.  Look through your eyes of faith, to see God and His support for you.  If the vision is difficult to come by do not hesitate to pray for the assistance of the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to God’s faithful Grace and Deliverance in times past.

What you may very well find is a treasure chest of revelations concerning the power of our Heavenly Father for you and ways He has displayed His power in Your life.  Then pray for the strength of spirit to use that revelation about your past to bring about faithful confidence and peace as you trust in our Heavenly Father to always be with you; now and in the future regardless of circumstances.  The goal; whether past, present or into the future is that we see and live into the Grace and Love of our Heavenly Father, His Blessed Son Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, in a way that we do not understand we proclaim that You are a God of past, present and future, consisting in those realms all at the same time. Thus Your plan of us is uniquely perfect as You connect all the times together for our blessing.  Forgive us we pray when we fail to see Your power in our past lives and find ourselves fearful about today and tomorrow.  Through the Holy Spirit, open our eyes to how You have always accompanied and delivered us in the past so that our faith will be magnified and a peace be realized in all circumstances.  That it be our goal at all times to live lives that bring praise to Your Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

 

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles. Isaiah 40:31

Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick tempered displays folly” Proverbs 14:29

“…how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:11

…Love is patient….. 1 Corinthians 13:4

I was prompted to write this post because of an interaction I had a short time ago. Hours after the workday had ended, a thought occurred to me that not only impacted me but two of my colleagues as well. What did I do? Did I wait until the next day to “call” them? Of course not, I pulled out my trusty smart phone (note the phone being smart does not imply the same for it’s owner/user) and texted away.

Here’s the thing; I’m a definite baby-boomer, both in age and in technical acuity. More often than not my preference is to talk to people. Also, I often go to my grown children, but also did when they were much younger to explain technical processes and troubleshoot issues.

Now, again it’s past work hours and before smart phones and accompanying technology, I would not have picked up a phone at that hour and called them. This was not an emergency. Additionally, I was not looking for or even expecting necessarily an answer that night, I just wanted to put the issue out there. However, an answer did come back from both of my colleagues in a very short order and a digital conversation ensued.

Where am I going with this and what does it have to do with prayer? Good question. You see we have so many different ways to communicate today; face-2-face, email, phone, text, video chat, and, and…. One aspect that has also changed or expanded is how we can reply when engaged in the various communication channels. If I ask you a question in person, depending on the question I might expect an immediate reply. Perhaps I expect some aspect of immediacy on a phone call or video chat. Yet what about the other channels, do I expect an immediate answer or at least acknowledgement of receipt? How patient am I for you to return my communication/inquiry with some acknowledgement or answer. How often do we find ourselves watching the moments tick by on a clock with slightly or perhaps more so, elevated blood pressure or frustration when the minutes are passing without some returned communication is some way. It seems to me, both in personal experience as well as watching greater society function; there is an expectation of imminent if not immediate response to our inquiries or some required explanation for delay. Rarely do I hear “patience is a virtue” either spoken or especially practiced.

What I wonder is, to what extent that worldly expectation, creeps its way into communication and relationship with Our Heavenly Father; especially in our spiritual practice of prayer? “Hello God?….are you there?……..I prayed this request yesterday……..You’re a God of infinite power, wisdom and say You have a plan……..so……..let’s get with it…I’m busy….I need Your answer”. While those specific words may never actually be or even contemplated to be prayed; but the question is, what is in our heart?

It seems that in the world, a quick response is a desired, perhaps even accepted response. The longer a response takes for us to receive; the more we tend to ask the question: What is wrong? or What is the explanation for the delay? We tend to fear that other than an immediate positive reply is a rejection. Additionally, if we’re not careful, we will be tempted, like the example of King Saul, to act impetuously, not waiting for the Lord’s reply but striking out on our own, with our own wisdom, causing destruction to ourselves and potentially those around us.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, our Heavenly Father declared in Isaiah: “Neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). Yet Our Heavenly Father’s ways, to include His plans, which includes His timing are perfect. So we must resist the world’s pace and demands for answers and have patient faith in God. It is not that He might have us wait as some kind of power play or ploy to show who’s the boss. He doesn’t need that. However, we do need His timing.

So please, ask. Jesus tells us we should go forth and ask. We should ask having faith that we are heard. Jesus also is clear. We are loved by our Father. Jesus asks us to consider that if we who are fallen can still give good gifts to our children, how much more will our perfect, loving Father respond with blessings. Yet we should have and if we’re lacking in, we should pray for help in responding in faith, patient faith. Paul tells us that love is patient, which also means that having patience is an act of love.

Let it be that in our petitions to our Heavenly Father as well as in our faithful, patient expectation of His blessed response; we will live lives of thanksgiving and praise to His Almighty Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we are so thankful that You have seen fit to allow us to make requests of You. Yet Gracious Father, you know we live in a world that is increasingly impatient with any gap between question and answer. Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we are tempted to apply worldly standards to Your relationship with us. Keep us from being tempted to stray from patiently waiting upon Your perfect response to go our own way based on our own minimal wisdom. Give us the strength to resist impatience and instead remain in peace and faith, confident in Your perfect timing. We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heavens. Ecclesiastes 1:13

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments for this is the duty of all mankind. Ecclesiastes 12:13

Author’s Note: 3 things First, while I love to read the bible, not all the books make the same impact at the same time. I find the Gospels, Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs and most of the New Testament letters very impactful. Other books not so much. Secondly, I’m not a biblical scholar, so even in the reading of those familiar books and those less so, I claim no expertise. Finally, it is amazing to me how the Spirit, provides enlightenment at different times using different books; like Ecclesiastes. Let’s get started

We have a lot of questions. We have questions about our purpose in life, what constitutes a good life, how do I find the purpose and many, many more. Today we also have a plethora of answers. Find what you love to do and do it, surround yourself with these people but not those, get married, stay single, eat this but not that, weigh this, drink that, be mindful, be belligerent are just some of the answers. Plus, throw in a pandemic and you have stay this distance away, take this, wear this, don’t do this. It can seem maddening.

And of course, just what we need, we have this marvel of technological achievement called the internet to supply us with all the nauseatingly vast amount of any information we could ever want (as well as a considerable amount we don’t) to answer our inquiries. Now this is not a new question or new search. In fact, some roughly 2800 years ago there was a man who wanted to know the same things: What’s the meaning of it all? What makes up a good life? Now this man had some extremely unique and powerful resources that should have allowed him to answer this question if anyone could. His name was Solomon and here’s what he found out.

First, some back story to Solomon. Solomon was the son of King David in Israel. As King David was dying, there was a brief power struggle to see who would succeed him between Solomon and his half brother Adonijah. Solomon won and became king. Solomon became king at the ripe old age of 12. The Bible tells us God came to Solomon and asked Solomon what gift God could grant to him. Solomon realized that he was in way over his head at 12 years old to be king, so he asks God for wisdom. God was so pleased that Solomon didn’t ask for riches, or long life or destruction of his enemies that God not only granted him unparalleled wisdom but great riches, health and peace as well.

With that backstory in mind let’s fast forward to Ecclesiastes. King Solomon was having a great reign; there was peace in the land and his wealth and wisdom were so famous that great kings and queens were coming to him for his counsel. Yet, seemingly, that life still lacked something for Solomon. It seemed to lack the answer to the question of why; what does life really matter. So he sets out to answer that question and then writes about it. Remember, King Solomon starts this quest with amazing resources of wealth, power, wisdom, knowledge at his disposal. See if you have found yourself following any of the paths he followed.

First, as chronicled in Chapter 2, Solomon says it must be pleasure that defines and is the purpose of life. And boy does he go all out in the pleasure realm. He got ragingly drunk, many times. He surrounded himself with fun people. He did not bother with inhibitions when it came to women. In Ecclesiastes, he says he denied nothing that his eyes desired and he had the resources to make it happen. What was his conclusion about going after pleasure? “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done……everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…..” Ecclesiastes 2:11

Then Solomon moves on to knowledge and wisdom. If not chasing pleasure, surely meaning is found in gaining knowledge and wisdom. Oops, at least for Solomon. For he finds that just acquiring knowledge and wisdom doesn’t guarantee that the knowledge and wisdom can actually be utilized to improve anything. He comes to the conclusion: “What do I gain from being wise? Then I said to myself, this too is meaningless”. Ecclesiastes 2:15

Well okay, pleasure is out, wisdom and knowledge – not really; then it must be work. My occupation, doing great work must be and bring meaning to life, Solomon says to himself. Nope, wrong again, Solomon finds. He says: so I hated my life, because the work that is done under sun was grievous to me. Ecclesiastes 2:17

Finally Solomon starts to have a realization. It starts later in verse 2 when he declares: A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. This too, I see, IS FROM THE HAND OF GOD, for without Him who can eat and find enjoyment. Finally, as Solomon finishes up this manuscript, he advises that God, the fear of God and keeping God’s commandments are the first and foremost aspect to life.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, when I read Ecclesiastes, because of some of the language Solomon uses, I thought it was a really downer book. To me the best part of the book used to be the verses in Chapter 3 that the Bryds used in their wonderful classic rock song; Turn, Turn Turn. However, with age, I’ve changed my outlook on the tenor of the message. Solomon does communicate frustration that none of the worldly pursuits he attempted led him to the answer of a fulfilled, meaningful life. However, Solomon did eventually find the answer. The answer is GOD! God first, God paramount. God will grant the meaning. God will grant the purpose. Thus the focus is rightly, solely and souly on God. I no longer take it as a depressing message.

Thus Solomon did us a great service. Because of the question he asked, the nearly boundless energy and massive scope he utilized to try and find an answer as well as the final answer he found; we do not have to replicate that same search. Solomon told us what he looked at and why it was lacking in giving purpose.

As we approach our lives today, we should reflect on to what extent we are in the same desperate search for meaning in our existence. What resources are we using in that search? To what extent are we looking to the world in any aspect to provide the answer and the meaning? Are we looking within for the answer the Holy Spirit is longing to give us; that we should be abiding in the Son, Jesus Christ, relying on the plan of salvation for each of us devised by our Father in Heaven?

Rest from your quest to find meaning. Our Heavenly Father has and is the meaning, as the Creator, of and for our lives. That plan is love. That plan is perfect. And as we live out that plan, we will bring glory to His Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful that You have seen fit to provide us with guidance in the form of Your Word to the questions of this life. Forgive us and have mercy on us when we fail to use Your resources and strike out on our own to find meaning to our lives. Protect us from the world and worldly who would attempt to lead us a astray in finding meaning in purely earthly pursuits. Send Your answer through Your Spirit to our hearts that we might look no further than You, You the Father, You the Son, You the Holy Spirit to find all our answers. Then grant us the power to go forth with Your answer, in love, to lead others who are desperately seeking meaning, to Your same answer. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen

Postscript – Now if the Holy Spirit can help me find meaning in the Book of Numbers. 🙂

” You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen….”  John 3: 10,11

“For being ignorant of God’s righteousness and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to the righteousness of God.”  Romans 10:3

“Therefore dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless…..but grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  2 Peter 3: 17

So I came across a story the other day that is already impacting thousands of people and its ramifications go even further.  While the story was about the unintended consequences of genetically designed crops, the story itself is not the basis/inspiration for this post. (For those who will be driven crazy if they can’t reference the story, here’s the link:  https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2020/02/06/800397488/pesticide-police-overwhelmed-by-dicamba-complaints-ask-epa-for-help)

The purpose of this post is how I came across this article and what it says about “information” and “being informed” in this information age. I don’t constantly watch news outlets or read internet news, but my current situation in life allows me to partake of news from many different outlets, sources and media. And I admit that I do partake of that media multiple times throughout the day. Yet the only reason I heard of this particular story is that I was traveling cross country, alone in a car and searching through various radio stations out of boredom.  As I was listening a somewhat startling realization dawned on me.

Another aspect of the story that I was listening to was that the situation had been going on for years and, as stated above, has a very real potential to impact our entire country in many ways going forward. Yet, in all my different sources and opportunities to partake of news, over those same years, the only way I heard about this important story was because of some random search on a lonely stretch of Louisiana highway.

This is the information age! The depth and breadth of our knowledge based on the increased size and channels of  information is supposed to make us supremely wiser and more in tune with the greater world around us.  Perhaps that is a potential that is yet to see fulfillment.

For you see, it seems that what the “information age” has become or at least evolving into by our utilization of it, is the “hyper-informed” information age. That is to say, if I care about a change of venue for a Duke and Duchess, who’s been voted off a show or even something more serious like an impeachment process, I can find a seemingly endless stream of information, opinions, news (even fake) and history about that topic. What I can then spend my limited time on is delving into those topics in such excruciating detail that I have little time for intrusions of other topics, relevant and important as they may be, into my consciousness.  Ironically over time, the search engines and sites I use pick up on my preferences and feed me more and more of only similar articles to the exclusion of most else. Thus in that process I become “hyper-informed” in a little, while being uninformed in a great many things.

Okay you say, that may be all well in good but what the heck does that have to do with my spiritual life and what this blog is all about? Great question, thanks for asking. The reality is, what we do in one area of our secular lives, often gets carried over to and/or influences our spiritual lives as well.

For instance, Jesus talked about love, the power of love, the need for love, God’s love for us; love, love, love.  You might really like that aspect.  And while it is true Jesus spoke often and powerfully about love, do you know that Jesus also preached about the destructive power of Satan and the very real danger of evil? “Oh, but I don’t want to hear about that, the concept of the devil and hell is for ‘bible thumpers or charismatics”, some might say. Or, Jesus preached on the power we have in prayer, we can ask for anything in His name and we will be greatly blessed by our belief.  Again, very true, but He also preached about the power of being humble, turning the other cheek and loving our enemies. But wait, those other things seem too weak to focus on.  I can’t see any blessings there or studying that.

You see when we take God’s word and teaching and become laser focused, “hyper-informed” in just one area, we can become dangerously uniformed, ignorant, in other areas of God’s wisdom and plan. That very lack of obtaining  broader information on our part can lead to our destruction as Paul warned about in his letter to the Romans and Peter warned about as he closed out his second letter.

But you may ask: The books of Kings and Chronicles in the bible, really? Yes! Though the names and places can be tough and the dates obscure, we can read of the ramifications of turning our backs on God.  Additionally, we can learn of God’s unconditional love, unending patience and redemptive grace that happens when we repent and return to God.  All that is captured and informs us in the books of Kings and Chronicles.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, let us strive, using the resource of the Holy Spirit within us, to be informed in all facets of God’s perfect message and plan.  Let us resist the temptation to focus on only those areas with which we feel a sense of agreement, comfort and understanding. Let us diligently dive into those things which we might find obscure or worldly distasteful, that we allow nothing to darken or diminish the full Light of God, informed through His word, that can shine through us to an uninformed, dark world.  That in shining His informed light through our lives, we might bring praise and glory to His most holy name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise and thank You that You have seen fit to give us the ability to take in information, to become wiser and to know You more completely.  Yet we also understand that the ability You’ve given us can be abused in our choice to only know a limited amount about You or turn to worldly information and become more and more uninformed about You. Forgive us, Most Merciful Father, when we neglect knowledge of You with our own preferences.  Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, give us a passion for knowing You as completely as humanly possible and then passing that knowledge and information to others who desperately need Your information. Grant us humility to see blessings in all Your teachings and the strength to integrate all those teachings into our everyday lives.  That, through You, we may be a beacon of wholly and Holy informed light to a dark world so in need of Your illumination.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen

 

“The stone the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.  Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed”  Matthew 21: 42,44

“Then He Said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.'”  Luke 9:23

So I arrive at church to be the liturgist for a service we’re holding in our larger hall.  One aspect that is different in this venue is where the cross is placed.  So as I confer with Pastor Beth about any changes brought about by our change of venue, the one she mentions is to be sure, when I go up to the stage to present my reading, to make sure I:  “don’t trip on the cross”.  You see the cross, which is about 10 feet high with a large wooden base, was positioned right at the head of the stairs and as such might be a tripping hazard if not careful.  Yet the words had barely left her mouth when we both had an immediate revelation that her warning, could and should have a much grander application then just the one brief moment and movement in that one service.

Thus let us delve deeper into our journey with Christ and the hazard and yes, even blessing tripping on or over the cross may be.  First let’s understand “tripping”.  Tripping is the process by which we are moving along a path in a purposeful, definite direction and method.  Yet that movement is suddenly impinged upon by some force or object that momentarily halts some aspect of that movement (your foot is moving forward for a step but gets stopped by a tree root sticking up).  Yet even though one part of the movement is halted, the rest of the body continues its forward momentum but is now out of balance.  The result can be anything from a momentary stumble to a catastrophic, life threatening, fall.

Okay, so how does this trip happen?  Besides slap-stick comedians, for the rest of us, a trip happens by accident.  We don’t purposely decide to stumble or fall.  Second, a trip happens often because we loose focus or suffer a temporary loss of situational awareness of our surroundings. If we see the tree root, we step over it.  If we’re focusing on the depth of the steps, we step down/up with sufficient space.

So we’ve looked at the what’s and why’s of tripping, what the heck does that have to do with Jesus Christ, the cross and our spiritual journey? Well for one, our life is about movement both physically, mentally and especially, spiritually.  We may feel that the movement is going very purposefully along a path that is smooth with few hazards.  Then, with little to no warning, we stumble.  Maybe it’s a slight skip, stutter, perhaps a stubbed toe.  But maybe, it’s a full blown, head over heals, life altering crash.  What just happened?

If the answer is:  I tripped on something, then our understanding/healing process begins.  Let’s go back to physical tripping; what’s the first thing you do after a trip?  I know, if you’re like me you look around to see if anyone else saw it, come on you know you do.  However, almost immediately you look around to see what caused you to trip.  Hopefully you do the same thing when you experience tripping along the pathway of your life.  When that stumble happens you look around to see what caused it.  Will it be possible that what you see is the cross of Jesus Christ?

Why would the cross of Christ cause me to trip?  In a way Jesus told us when He stated we must take up our cross daily and follow Him if we are to be His disciple.  To take something up and to follow Someone requires we are focused on it.  Once we lose that focus, it can become a tripping hazard.  Think about tripping on your shoelaces. This world and its leader is always trying to put up distractions to cause us to lose focus on our true path and He who we should be following on it.  It can be pains, regrets and sin.  It can be joys, triumphs and sin.  Either way, whatever the world can do to cause us to focus on something other then Christ and the cross, it will attempt. And understand this, the greater, the deeper, the more time consuming the distraction becomes, the more risk there is that we will diverge off the path, our Heavenly Father has planned for us and the more perilous our journey will become.

Thus the tripping over the cross can very well be a blessing!  Now it is true that the longer we have lost our focus on Christ and the cross, the more drastic that trip and fall might need to be to force us to focus back on the cross.

Here in lies the great risk that Jesus Christ warned about.  For you see we may stumble and fall or we may look on the path of the cross and Jesus through worldly eyes, where we see the path to fraught with obstacles and hazards and reject that path altogether.  In rejecting the path, we reject the Builder.  When we reject the Builder and go on our own path, we will eventually come upon the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ.  In rejection, whether we fall upon the Cornerstone, or the Cornerstone falls upon us, the same result will ensue; disaster.  Not because the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ, is vengeful and wants that, but because of our rejection of Him.

One final aspect of our focus on carrying our cross and following Jesus Christ.  Do not look upon the cross as purely a symbol of death and punishment.  It is meant to be a symbol of death, but that is only death of and to sin.  For the cross is empty.  Sin died with Jesus on the cross, but Christ rose again and lives to this very day.  The cross is a symbol of hope and redemption, a sign of living free through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  The cross is not so much a weight/burden to be crushed by as a compass that keeps us on the path to blessings in this world and eternal salvation.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, we are not perfect travelers.  We will forget to pick up our cross occasionally and/or be distracted and lose focus on following Jesus Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, we can strive to make those times as few as possible.  Yet when they do happen, Jesus Christ does not just continue forward, calling out:  “If you can’t keep up, to bad so sad, I guess you miss out!”. No, Jesus Christ is right there with us.  He will pick us up, brush us off, remind us that we’re not soiled by the stumble, but we are washed clean through the sacrifice of His blood.  In focusing on Jesus Christ and carrying instead of tripping over our or The cross, may your path today be smooth and your journey blessed.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful that You have seen fit to give us a blessed reminder in the symbol of the cross of the miraculous gift of salvation we have in Jesus Christ. We humbly confess that we get distracted by the world and forget to carry that symbol and follow Your Son.  Forgive us when we stumble and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would refocus on taking up our cross and following Jesus.  We thank You for Your Mercy and Love which we can see and feel even in our stumbles.  That as we stand again in the Power of Jesus Christ, we will continue upon the path You have perfectly laid before us, living lives that bring honor and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother who has sinned against me? Up to seven times?  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you not just seven times, seventy-seven times.'”  Matthew 18:21,22

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. Matthew 5:28

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent and praiseworthy- think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Why seventy-seven times?  In another translation, it reads that Jesus Christ responds seventy times seven times (I’m running out of finger and toes to get up that high).  Think about how many times Jesus talked about, not only He being a servant, but how important it was that the disciples think of themselves as humble servants as well.

On the sermon on the mount, Jesus Christ warns it not just about committing the actual act, murder or adultery, it about contemplating the act or working up toward the act, in the case of anger, that is an equal danger.  Why?

Throughout the letters that the apostles sent to the early churches and new beginners, they urged thought on things from above and abolish thoughts and acts of earthly or worldly things.  Why pray without ceasing?

I am not one who finds a conflict between thoughts of science and thoughts of spirituality.  Oh sure, there are some within the realm of science who ascribe to the idea that science has disproved the existence of God.  But it’s not science fault that some would use it incorrectly the same way it is not Christ’s fault that some have done unspeakable evil in His name.

We are creations of God, including Jesus Christ so thus, our Creator knows us and how we work intimately.  He knows how our brains function (or dysfunction at least at times in my case).

So why seventy-seven times or 140 times?  Scientists studying the brain have discovered a process in its operation called neural plasticity.  Now please understand, as I am no theologian, I am also not a brain surgeon or scientist.  Yet I’ve always been fascinated about how the brain operates and how amazingly complex it is.  Well in the concept of neural plasticity, with my limited understanding, it is the idea that as we have thoughts, and/or as we take actions; we are producing connections within the brain.  These connections become pathways.  Additionally, these pathways are not destroyed after one thought or action.  As we have the same or very similar thoughts or actions, those pathways get stronger, more easily accessible.

Now here’s the thing, if we deem those thoughts or actions to be positive, helpful or pleasurable, then we are more likely to go back to them over and over again.  Each time we go back, the pathway gets stronger.  Think of it (no pun intended) this way, your brain is like a forest.  Quite often if you’re walking through the woods/forest, you look for a trail that’s been cleared out that makes it easier, more pleasurable to walk.  While overly simplistic, that is an aspect of this concept of neural plasticity and its impact on our thoughts and behavior.

So let’s take forgiveness.  It may not be all that easy or natural of a thing to do.  Someone does us wrong.  Should we think or act on taking revenge or getting even with them, we’re creating a pathway.  If that thought or action feels good, we’ll tend to think or act that way more and that pathway gets strengthened.  Jesus Christ knows this.  Again He is our creator.  So Jesus declares we’re to forgive and keep on forgiving.  It may not feel comfortable or good at first, but as we keep doing it, five times, 10 times, 77 times, 140 times and more, we’re building and strengthening that path.  Before you know it, voila, that path becomes strong enough, that we find ourselves thinking and acting that way.

Additionally, that’s why Jesus Christ and later the Apostles, warn against the underlying thought and not just the action.  Indeed, it truly is the thought that counts.  For it is the looking in lust, the being angry and thinking of harm or killing that starts the pathway.  To the extent we tell ourselves, there’s no harm in looking or only thinking; neural plasticity would say that we’re wrong.  There is a credible harm, a changing of our brain just in the thinking.

Yet, I’ve heard folks tell me:  “Well maybe so for some, but that wouldn’t be me” or “that doesn’t apply to me”.  I’m not wise or omniscient enough to tell anyone that they’re wrong in what they know about themselves.  All I do is point out the real danger in the aspect of thinking:  I’ll try that drug just once, I can quit that website anytime I want, I wouldn’t have done it – I was only thinking it and other justifications we give ourselves for risky and/or destructive behavior.

Thus dear Sisters and Brothers, once again science reinforces a basic concept to positive living that Jesus Christ laid out thousands of years ago.  In the end it is best just not to go there.  Try to keep your brain from building those connections that concern the debasing, destructive aspects to life.  To the extent that the pathways may exist, stop using them.

In the articles that I’ve read about neural plasticity, seldom used pathways, fade in their importance.  New pathways can be forged based upon the thoughts that we have and the subsequent actions we take based on those thoughts.

Finally, we’re not left on our own.  The world has a whole lot of demeaning, destructive pathways it wants to build in our brains.  Jesus Christ instructs us to connect to our Heavenly Father through prayer to Him and study of His word.  In that Heavenly connection, through His power, we can be victorious over the worldly thoughts and pathways which want to lead us to our downfall.  Jesus Christ promises the Holy Spirit will come to us and empower and embolden us to keep us thinking as we should and lead us back should we stray.

Ironically, being on the straight and narrow path is not just a completely allegorical concept.  There are literal brain paths that, if we commit to relying on Jesus Christ to show them to us and empower us to stay on them, then we can live powerful lives of peace and joy that bring praise and honor to our Heavenly Father as well as us.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, if we are open to it, we praise how our understanding of science reveals Your underlying truths to us.  Pour out Your Spirit on us that we would be receptive to Your revelation and obedient to Your instructions for us as given by Your Son Jesus Christ.  Forgive us when, in our arrogance, we believe that we can go our own way and that our power is sufficient to keep us from harm and evil.  Lead us back to Your path, strengthening the correct path and obliterating the wrong path.  That in thinking about and then walking the right path, we might live lives of praise and thanksgiving to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the work themselves”. John 14:11

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen

“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Luke 18:17

It is said that we live in an information age and I would agree with that.  Of course, as with any concept or slogan, we have to define terms.  Is it that there is more information out there?  Is it that we have more access to the information in ever increasing speedier avenues?  The short answer is yes; yes to both.  Let’s define information.  Is information, facts, statistics, opinions, perspectives, data, impressions?  Again, yes.

I’ve been reading some books that, among, other things detail the development of the internet.  One of the interesting aspects of the majority of early designers and developers of the internet was their vision for its use.  Many of those people felt that the internet would become a tool where the freer flow of ever greater amounts of information would allow a greater connectivity between users.  The end goal of the increased connectivity and greater sharing of larger amounts of information, was to enhance decision making.  The internet pioneers saw decision makers having more and better information at their disposal, allowing them to, not only see, but purposely analyze and incorporate the varied information into a vastly more accurate and positive decision outcome.  Hmmm.  I’ve also read some recent articles from some of those very same designers who have become quite discouraged about how the internet has actually being used and what passes for information being distributed.

Now understand this is not a critique of the internet or even having more information.  It is in gathering and subsequently sharing information that many advances have come to pass.  With a dear, cherished loved one now being cancer free for many years, I’m very grateful for the breakthroughs that come with greater knowledge attainment and dissemination.

No, this is a cautionary post on the peril there is when we rely on human-centered knowledge and worldly experience as the highest arbiter of truth and wisdom. You see, if we’re not careful, we start to fall into the worldly trap of only believing in or on things which we feel can be proven.  There is an ever growing societal sense that, with the enhanced and advanced tools available to us, we can gain enough information to confidently know and understand everything.  We don’t find the idea preposterous, that has been put forward, that there is a provable “theory of everything.  A theory that explains how all processes work and that we can understand it.  We declare we’ve found the “God” particle, the Higgs boson, which is what started creation.  There was an article based on a study that came out in 2016 that appeared to identify the part of the brain where lying takes place and what happens physiologically when we lie.  When the study was announced there was speculation that lying may be a chemical process, which may allow us to one day manipulate and even terminate people’s ability to lie through some sort of brain manipulation.

So a fundamental question can become, if all is knowable, everything can be eventually proven and thus understood, then should I only believe that which is proven or at least seems provable?  Conversely, is it foolish to have faith in something that seems, at the very least, bewildering, or worse yet forever incomprehensible? Do we discard as fantasy, that which baffles, instead searching for that which appears concrete?

Throughout the Old Testament, God as the Heavenly Father, and in the New Testament, God as Jesus Christ (along with the Father) is very clear about the primacy of, the virtue of and the overwhelming need for; faith.  Abraham relied on faith to leave Ur and travel to the promised land.  The people of Israel needed faith to follow Moses from Egypt.  Jesus described the power of faith in being able to move mountains.  It was imperative that the disciples believe/have faith that Jesus was the true Son of God.  He implored them to believe His words or believe He was the Son of God based on the miracles they had experienced.

Jesus was also quite clear about the sin and destruction would come from requiring a sign.  He spoke of the faithless generation that would only believe in a statement if proof could be shone. Jesus prophesized the impending destruction, both temporal as well as spiritually eternal, that would come upon the generation who would not believe in Him without human understood and agreed with, proof.

Additionally notice how Jesus often dealt with those whom He healed.  He did not ask the blind man, do you understand how I will restore your sight.  When speaking to the woman who just touched his cloak and was healed, Jesus did not ask her to explain how she had been healed.  Like the Roman Centurion whose servant Jesus saved, in all these cases, Jesus lauded the faith the people had shown in coming to Him; their steadfast belief, in the face of all evidence at that time, that Jesus could perform the miracles He did.

Ah, Doug, you say; that was back then and they were ignorant and superstitious.  There is so much we can do today.  We can, in some cases, restore sight.  We have weapons that can move mountains.  We know about genes now and will soon be able to fix and maybe even design our offspring before they are born, heal all manner of diseases and even stop the aging process.  Do I really need faith any more?  Besides, God gave us our brains; aren’t we supposed to use them? With all that we’ve learned, aren’t concepts like good and evil outdated?

For those asking those questions; I would ask you to look around.  Are we acting more civil toward each other through our greater knowledge?  Has our human wisdom allowed us to understand how to prevent wars and threats of war? Where is the theory that lays out the cure for our ever increasing rates of depression as well as increased suicides? Where is our lasting example of our human utopia? Where is the logic in our self centered, self indulgent, self destructive tendencies? Are they any less now then, years, decades, centuries past?

Dear Sisters and Brothers, it is not that God in the forms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are playing some capricious game of holding back the good/complete information from us to keep in some type of servitude.  As Their creations, They know we are not capable of understanding the Mind of God in Its entirety.  We don’t have a common enough experience/frame work with which to pass information across effectively.  But God loves us and is not willing that we should perish in our willful ignorance.  God has sacrificed everything, in the form of Jesus Christ coming to earth and dying for us so that we might be redeemed and have an eternal loving existence with Him.

Do I understand it; can we understand it fully? I don’t believe we can but our lack of understanding is both irrelevant as well as it does not negate the truth of God’s lovingly perfect plan for our life here and eternally with Him. To have that life starts with one thing; FAITH!

Let us be humble, not resting on our understanding, but kneeling in faith before our Father.  In faith let us call upon the promise of Jesus Christ and receive the peace from God that yes, surpasses all understanding.  By faith let us be open to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who will bring about the limited understanding we need to live into God’s perfect plan.  Use prayer and reading of scripture to have an informed faith; not looking for or relying on proof, but being open to the faithful hope that will reveal all things needed in time.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we freely admit that Your Ways are above all our ways and Your Mind is as inscrutable as defining the beauty of a rose or baby’s laugh. Yet we also confess that we are all too often willing to rely on our own ways and own understanding instead of putting our faith in You.  Forgive us most merciful Heavenly Father and guide us back to a faithfully fulfilling relationship in and with You. Strengthen us to withstand the logic of the world and the demand for a proof or sign.  Fill us with the Holy Spirit who will give us what we can take in revelation of You.  Let us seek through prayer with You and study of Your Word a humble spirit of faithful obedience.  That in living out our faith in You, Heavenly Father, we would spread Your Love, Forgiveness and Mercy that will bring glory and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

 


“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Matthew 11:25

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

“……and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Matthew 11:27

So just what is the importance of human understanding? In the work I do in organizational behavior, many a dysfunctional workplace and interpersonal conflict comes from human’s misunderstanding.

In the concept of Emotional Intelligence, a great amount of emphasis is placed on our ability to feel empathy, which is the ability to “step into another person’s shoes” so that you can better understand where they’re coming from. People with low EQ are said to lack that ability.

In discussions with non-believers, probably the number one reason for their disbelief is the idea that they can’t understand why God or Jesus would act the way the Bible purports that they do. They “just don’t get it”. They say it just doesn’t make any sense so they can’t believe it.

And, what about we who proclaim we believe; do we believe we have a complete understanding? Do the ways of God make complete sense to us? Are there biblical concepts or proclamations that we skip over or pass by because we don’t understand them? We believe our God wouldn’t work that way?

Well, when Jesus came to earth, there was a group that should have embraced Him wholeheartedly; would have been the ones that the people then would have looked to, to welcome the Messiah. The Pharisees, Sadducees and the Scribes were deeply versed in the Mosaic law and the prophets and should have easily recognized Jesus, welcoming and worshiping Him. However, they didn’t understand. They didn’t get it. Whether or not it was willful, from a fear of losing power/control, or a simple mistake of misreading scripture, the religious leaders and scholars of the day, completely missed Jesus. Thus, learning and study is not a guarantee of understanding and recognizing Christ.

The uneducated initially flocked to Christ. They were more open to His message and more believing in His ability to accomplish miracles. Yet, it was mostly just 11 uneducated followers that followed Him to the end. Yet even they did not truly understand what Jesus was trying to accomplish, at least while He was with them on this earth.

Again today, are we so sure in our knowledge, so arrogant in our own wisdom that we believe we truly understanding the workings of our Heavenly Father, let alone the nature of the Heavenly Trinity? If we don’t why is it so hard?

These next two examples are not completely representative but they give some idea. There comes a time for many parents when, although they promised with all their heart they would never utter this phrase, they find themselves, in exasperation, stating: “Because I said so!”. Often times this will come after, the plaintive, sincere; but in a whining voice, exclamation from the child for the umpteenth time: “Why?” We may have tried, as a loving parent, to simplify some complex concept down to language and some basic idea that the child can grasp. However, because we don’t have a shared level of experience and understanding of language, we can’t bring about clarity to our confused child’s mind. Similarly, if you’ve ever tried talking to your dog. It may be some simple command to “get this” or “stop that”. The dog may simply sits there tilting its head a few times as they listen, then returns to the same act you were trying to stop them from.

For me, Dear Sisters and Brothers, I get very worried when I feel my confidence growing in comprehending the true and complete nature of God. He declares in the old testament “I AM WHO I AM” because we have no better language or equality of experience basis to classify God any more accurately.

The very miracle of God coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ (fully God, yet fully human a concept I can’t fully grasp) can give us a false sense capability to know God. If Jesus was human (which He was) and can know God, then I, who believe in Jesus Christ, can attain that same understanding too.

Yet Jesus is very clear. No one knows the Father except the Son. Should the Son decide to reveal the nature of the Father to others, Jesus still has to do so within the scope of experience of a human being who has never experienced any spiritual realm like heaven or has no real idea about the concept of omniscience and eternity.

Christ advises that those who are accepting, believing and humble, like a child are the ones who will be saved. Not always of course, but children tend to be more accepting and when the answer does come down to: “Because I said so”; they are more likely to accept that then adults are. All too often adults, believers and nonbelievers alike, are too quick to rely on their own “take” of things and behave, not as Christ would have us behave, but based on their own perception of what Christian behavior is.

Thus, more often then not, when someone asks me to explain, I tell them I cannot. When they ask me how I can believe when I can’t explain, I advise them I don’t know how atoms or even my own darn computer works, but that doesn’t stop me from believing in one and using the other. My understanding is not the basis of truth.

Finally, I advise them, and me and you, that should we have questions of understanding; go to the source. Our Heavenly Father, through the grace of His Son, Jesus Christ, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, will provide enough of an answer. Plus those Three will bless the sincere act of the seeking, the asking, the knocking. No, I often don’t get it. But thanks be to God, the Father Almighty, that His love is with me regardless of my understanding. Thanks be to God, He doesn’t turn His back on me because of my lack of understanding. May His Name be eternally praised that His Love, Mercy and Grace toward me (and you as well), even in this state endures forever. I am truly at peace, with no frustration in that.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise you that you have given us mental faculties to gain knowledge and a certain level of understanding both about this world and about even You. Forgive us Dear Father, when we arrogantly demand a greater understanding from You and threaten to turn out backs on You should we not receive it. Additionally forgive us when, in our arrogance we believe we’ve attained equal and complete understanding about the nature of all things especially about You. Send Your Holy Spirit to answer our questions to the extent that we can understand. That in a greater understanding of You we would strive to more align our limited will to Your Perfect Will, living lives that will bring praise to Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

“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  

 

 

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