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“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed…..his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat…” Matthew 13:24

“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them up?'”  Matthew 13:28

“But he said, ‘No lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.”  Matthew 13:29

This parable comes amongst the most powerful of Jesus’ teachings and when He first starts to use parables in His ministry.  Jesus has cast out a demon and been accused by the Pharisees of being the prince of demons.  Jesus rebukes them for their thoughts speaking of the fall of a house divided.  Jesus teaches His first parable: The Parable of the Four Soils.  Next, He tells this parable about the tares.

I must admit, having felt such power in the parable and explanation of the four soils, in essence explaining how it is that The Word does not resonate with, does not live within each person equally, that I’ve often overlooked the message of power and mercy in this second parable concerning the tares or weeds.  It had always been for me like:  “Yeah, Yeah, wheat good, weeds bad, wheat ends up in heaven and burn the weeds; got it, moving on.

Yet thanks to Holy Spirit as I was reading the parable again, the true impact of the overwhelming mercy and power came upon me.  First, we understand that God is the sower of the good seed.  Nothing from God can be evil, thus the only thing that can come from Him are seeds that will produce good.

Next, there is evil and an enemy who does evil.  In fact nothing good comes from this enemy.  The only thing the enemy sows is tares or weeds.  Looking into various definitions of the word tares, it appears that this is not just some random dandelion or crab grass; this is a very noxious and poisonous weed which actually looks extremely similar to wheat until it is full grown and you can see the head on it.

So God plants in the world and Satan plants along side.  Wheat comes up from God and tares come up from Satan.  Over time it becomes apparent that not all is right in the field.  There is something else besides wheat growing out there, something that can be distinguished as bad, as weeds.

This where it gets real interesting.  For the way the world would handle it as demonstrated by the servants is to go out and yank out the weeds, the tares.  Remembering that the wheat is growing side by side with the tares, that their roots are probably interwoven together, that taring out the weeds would cause the loss to some wheat.  I was in the military and within each one of our operational plans was an aspect of what we would term “acceptable losses”.  We knew that in doing battle with the enemy, we would more than likely suffer some casualties and as long as the mission was accomplished without completely decimating our forces, those casualties would be acceptable.  That’s how the world would handle the few stalks of wheat, sacrificed for the defeat of the horrible enemy, the weeds.  But God is not the world and does not see acceptable losses in that way.

God is so merciful that He is not willing that one stalk of wheat be lost no matter how many stalks of weeds would be destroyed.  No, God is patient.  He will nurture the wheat and if that means that the tares will also exist for a time, so be it.  The tares will not destroy the wheat.

God is also all powerful.  Notice who is doing the harvesting, God is.  It’s not like Satan comes back to do battle to protect the tares.  No the parable states very clearly, Satan sows the bad seed and then gets the heck out of Dodge.  So God in His Power harvests all.  Remember in His Mercy, He did not allow one stalk of wheat to be uprooted before the allotted time of the harvest.  Now God’s final power is witnessed.  The wheat, the good, are bundled together and brought into the kingdom “into My barn”.  The tares, the weeds are gathered together and burned outside.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, we may often find ourselves dismayed by the evil in this world.  We get asked so often, and in our weaker moments may find ourselves asking as well:  “Where is God in all the evil that is happening?  Why is He allowing it?”  This parable cautions us not to doubt or question.  God is watching out for each and every one of us.  He is not willing to sacrifice even one of us to destroy that evil that is residing amongst us. Yet He is in ultimate control.  He will deal righteously and permanently with evil.  He will spare nothing, to protect until that time as well.

In the end the most amazingly merciful part is what He is willing to sacrifice that we might count ourselves among the wheat instead of the tares.  You see He is not willing to sacrifice us, who are deserving by our sins to be counted amongst the tares.  Instead, He has healed us, transformed us into wheat because He was willing to sacrifice His Only Son that He might not lose a single one of us who call upon the Name of Jesus Christ.

Yes there is much power and mercy in this parable.  There is a call for us to be patient, a call to leave the judgement of time and harvest to God.  To understand the power of God to rightly judge between the good -wheat and the evil-tares.  Finally, there is the mercy which so great that it cost the life of His Only Son, Jesus Christ, which desires that each and every one of us who call upon His name would be counted among the wheat.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for the coming to earth, the teaching and the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ.  We are also so very thankful for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who reveals to us Your Wisdom, Your Power, Your Mercy. Forgive us we pray, when we are impatient and want to take judgement and action into our own hands.  Keep us we pray, from the evil one, allowing us, by the blood of Your Son Jesus Christ, to be counted among the good seed, the wheat, that we might be brought into Your dwelling.  We pray this in the Name of He who brought us these great teachings; Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“….if your son asks for bread will give him a stone?”  Matthew 7:9

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

Our Father in Heaven is the perfect parent.  That may seem obvious to say, but then, what should we do with that?  Here’s the challenge with this post.  First, I have not the perspective nor wisdom to truly, adequately describe the perfection of Our Heavenly Father.  Second, in using comparisons of earthly parents, there is a flaw for the comparison has some apple to orange aspects to it.  Having said that, I still believe there is value in looking deep into this concept that will allow us to step out further in peace, confidence and joy in faith in Our Heavenly Father.

All of us have been children.  That means we all had parents.  Some of us are parents.  What that allows is for us to attempt to grasp the concepts of parenting whether we are parents or not and regardless of how effective our parents were with us.

First concept:  Parents provide.   That is to say that children can not provide for themselves.  No little child can adequately go out and find food, clothing and shelter for themselves.  Good parents want to provide for their children.  Yet from an earthly aspect there are struggles.  Human parents have finite resources.  There is only so much time, money and for us even love to be shared.  A human parent often finds themselves in a conflict with distractions.  If I purchase or give this now, what will I have to give up?  If I spend time here what about my occupation?  Where is the time for me?  Our Heavenly Father has no such restrictions or distractions.  Our Heavenly Father has all things at his disposal.  He created all things.  He is not limited to a certain time or space.  He is everywhere at once.  His ability to provide is limitless and His plan to provide is perfect.

Parents protect.  That is to say that good parents want to keep their children from harm.  To the children it may seem a lot of can’ts, don’ts and no’s.  Why do good parents do this?  They do it to keep from harm.  What good earthly parent would let a child put their hand on a red hot burner, or let their child go out and play on a busy street?  Satan would have us believe that Our Heavenly Father’s restrictions are about keeping us from what we deserve or just to show His power out of meanness.  Our Heavenly Father’s Wisdom is perfect.  What He restricts us from are things that will lead to our harm and destruction.  We know a small child might be drawn to a bright bottle with a liquid in it and want to take a drink.  But would we really let them take a drink of drain cleaner?

Parents teach.  That is to say a good parent gives instruction on what is good and proper and then allows their children to attempt it.  Sometimes the children fail.  A good parent will sometimes even let the child feel some of the consequences of that failure but at no time will abandon the child.  The good parent will also forgive the child, especially if the child sincerely asks for it.  Our Heavenly Father has gone to great lengths to teach us what is good and proper.  Again please don’t get caught up in thou shalt and thou shalt nots.  What has our Heavenly Father tought us is good and proper?  Two things: first, love Him with heart, mind, body and soul.  Secondly, love one another as we love ourselves.  That’s it; Love.  And please understand this; we can not out love Our Heavenly Father.  He asks this of us, His children because of the Perfect Love He has for us.  It is when we love that we don’t murder, steal, covet or bare false witness.  It is when we love that we are generous to those in need, forgiving to those who’ve hurt us and kind to those who are hurting.

Bottom line:  Parents Love.  As I said earlier, the challenge is with earthly parents, no matter how good, we fall short in this area.  However, our Heavenly Father has an endless supply of perfect love.  It is His very nature to provide, not to get anything in return but because that’s who He is.  It is Our Heavenly Father’s nature to protect us.  He sees the troubles ahead that we can not.  He sees the evil planned against us that we never know about.  He longs to steer us clear of all of that or, as long as we are focused on Him, easily allow us to pass through it.  Our Heavenly Father wants us to learn.  With immeasurable mercy and patience, He allows us to try things our own way, turn from His instruction, yet He is always ready and willing to forgive our failings.

There is one more significant difference.  As earthly parents there is an expectation that, although we will always love them, earthly children will stand on their own with little to no assistance from us.  There is a huge difference with Our Heavenly Father.  We are always to be His Children, relying on Him to provide, relying on Him to protect and relying on Him to teach.  Yes, I know as an earthly parent I have let my children down.  I have been selfish and unwise as I have dealt with them at times.  If they or any of us were to judge our Heavenly Father by the standards of our earthly parents, no matter how good, we would be horrendously short changing Our Heavenly Father.  Dear sisters and brothers, Our Heavenly Father longs to be our personal Father, ready, willing and able to supply all things and save us from all things.  How do we know this?  Did He not send His Son to be our Savior?  Did Jesus Christ not love us enough to sacrifice all for us?  Let us accept Him as our Heavenly Father knowing that in His Perfection, He is more than up to the task.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim that You are Our Heavenly Father whose abundant providing, merciful protection and perfect teaching are all that we need.  Forgive us when we, as disobedient children, turn from you and desire to go our own way.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would see the errors of our ways and humbly come back to you in repentance.  That as living as Your Children, we would know Your Love and spread Your Love to a world in such desperate need.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

(Author’s note:  Dear readers I need your help.  If, and only if, you have read this post or others and see value in it/them, I humbly ask that you pass that on.  I know that these are longs posts so I’m not asking that they be necessarily “shared” on your blog or social media sites.  No, I merely ask that if the conversation ever comes round to spiritual topics, and as you see fit, that you might mention this page.  In the end not about me, but may it be that His Holy Name be praised.  Knowing that there are many wonderfully uplifting posts that I follow, know that I do and will continue to do the same.  Blessings to You in the Name of the Father. Amen)

“Then those who heard it……went out one by one. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”  John 8:9

The forgiving of the woman caught in adultery; there are so many rich lessons to be learned by this act.  Of course there is Jesus’ love and mercy as well as his rebuke of the those who want to hastily judge others and not look to themselves.  Let us not forget the meekness that Jesus showed throughout the encounter.

And while it is wise to focus on Jesus in this encounter, I find that there might be some value in looking to the reaction of the crowd and even that of the woman when they are faced with the power of the Son of God.  For make no mistake, Jesus might have seemed meek, he might have quietly bent down and wrote in the sand; nonetheless His power was very much on display.  You see that woman, guilty or not was not going to die that day.  Some other day they might have surrounded her with her back against a wall and let loose their granite projectiles of ignorance and hate.  But if that was their plan, they made the mistake of bringing her to Jesus.  More probably they hoped to have two stonings.  First the woman and then, hopefully, Jesus himself due to some blasphemy or gross breach of the law.  But fortunately for the woman, they had no grasp of the Power of this Man from Galilee.

For the very moment they rounded the corner and thrust the woman into Jesus presence, she was safe, she was forgiven, she had met her salvation.  Regardless of the sheer number of the crowd, the vehemence of their anger or self-righteousness of their argument, Jesus was going to prevail.  God was in that courtyard and man had no chance of victory.

So how did Jesus show that great power?  Did He call a league of angels to come and kill all in the crowd?  Did He command lightning to come down and destroy all, except the woman, where they stood?  No, Jesus knew better than that.  He knew what button to push.  He knew that He could convict them in their own actions.  Since each had a conscience, Jesus spoke straight to it:  “Cast the stone in your hand if you’re free of sin.”  The stones dropped to the ground like rain.

Their reaction now is what get’s really interesting.  They were so certain of course.  The law was clear.  The law was on their side.  With the righteousness of justice, a woman would die and messiah pretender would be unmasked.  Power was on their side.  15 words, no long oratory, no long defense, no long reading or preaching from the Torah; 15 words and their faces contorted with confusion and their fingers relinquished their grip.  And now comes the truly sad part; they turn away.  They just had the most amazing experience of personally witnessing the power of the Son of God.  They just had a personal encounter with the only true Son of Man.  They could have stayed.  They could have bowed down.  They could have pleaded to hear more.  They could have fallen on their knees and worshiped.  Instead the slowly turned their back on their Savior, The One True Light, and purposely returned to utter darkness.

The self-righteous were lost.  What about the sinner?  What about the woman caught in the very act?  As soon as she saw the perplexed looks on their faces, as soon as the stones began to fall from their hands, she could have booked out of there.  Who would have blamed her?  “I’m not staying around to let them change their minds!”; she might have thought to herself.  However, she didn’t.  Why?  She was feeling the power of Jesus too.  She had never met this man before but she knew that He was different.  Even if she had run, she knew that there was nowhere she could flee that would He would not be able to find her.  She knew, Jesus had the power.  She knew Jesus could still condemn.  She stayed.  He loved.  He forgave.  She, the only acknowledged sinner, received the Light, received salvation.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we may find ourselves standing in front of Jesus Christ.  Hopefully not, but we may be playing the role of the self-righteous judge declaring something unfair or someone due punishment.  Jesus may stop for moment just to let us think about what we are doing and then gently but firmly rebuke us.  He may push the button of our conscience revealing to us the sinfulness of our ways.  What then?  Are we to turn from Him?  Are we to walk away simply because we did not get our evil way?  Will we run back to the darkness from whence we came, fleeing the Light of Life?  I pray that we would not!

What if we are the sinner (and of course we are).  At the first sign of forgiveness, will we run away hardly thankful for our reprieve and all to ready to jump right back into our sinful ways?  Or will we stay.  Will we be awestruck by the mercy and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Will we filled compelled to drop to our knees in His presence and repent of our sins and praise His most Holy Name, giving thanks to God above.  I pray that we would.

Jesus Christ, has in the past, does now and will continue into the future to display the Power of His Love.  The question for us is; how do we respond?  Do we turn toward Him?  Or do we turn away?

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we thank you for Your Perfect Plan of Salvation that brought Your Son Jesus Christ down to live among us on this earth.  Praise be to Jesus Christ that He displays His awesome Power by way of Love and Mercy versus the judgement and punishment we deserve.  Empower us through The Holy Spirit that when we experience the Power of Jesus Christ that we will not turn away from Him, but come to Him, humbly, lovingly singing praises to His and Your Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“….the Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard the word……And those who were of  the circumcision…..were astonished…..because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.”  Acts 10:45

“Then Peter answered: ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  Act 10:47

I am saved!  I am forgiven!  I’m going to glory!  I don’t dance!  I do dance, to the Lord!  I don’t do this or that!  I pray!  I pray to the Saints! I don’t pray to the Saints! I…….I………I’M SPECIAL!!!!!  Aren’t I?

Peter had every reason to feel special.  And he and those who traveled with him, had a behavior about what was special and what was not.  Peter was a Jew; not only by birth but by the covenant of circumcision.  Jesus was a Jew.  And while the Risen Jesus Christ had told them to go and preach to all the world; Jesus himself, during his time on earth had stayed, taught and preached mainly to the Jewish people.

For the most part, the early church in Jerusalem was made up primarily of Jews.  When the church was being persecuted and many disciples were dispersed, they went to Jewish Synagogues in the outlying towns.  That’s where Saul (later to become Paul) was going to was the Jewish Synagogue in Damascus to arrest the disciples who were spreading the Gospel there.

Special.  Special people with special food.  Peter’s awakening to Our Heavenly Father’s grander plan starts with a vision that he has.  God shows Peter a great sheet filled with unclean animals which devout Jews were not to eat.  Peter was hungry and the voice of God came to Peter and instructed him to kill and eat from the sheet.  Peter at first refuses saying he will not eat anything unclean.  Yet God responds telling Peter that whatever God has cleansed is no longer unclean.  Peter would soon learn that God was talking about more than just food.

For there was a man named Cornelius, a Roman Centurion.  Normally a man like that would have been the sworn enemy, a vile and disgusting, low life less than human person to a Jew.  To even meet with that person or go into his house would make a Jew unclean.  Except Cornelius was different.  Unbeknownst to Cornelius, by the Grace of God, through the Holy Spirit, Cornelius had heard about God, prayed to God, gave alms to God.  I say unbeknownst to Cornelius because the salvation through Jesus Christ had not been preached to him.  So God told Cornelius to send for Peter and Peter would instruct him on what to do.

So here we go; Peter going to meet with a gentile; a Roman Centurion at that.  This can’t go well.  But God had told Peter before hand to go to Cornelius.  And what Peter found in Cornelius was a devout and humble man.  A man who, along with his entire household, revered and feared God.  So Peter gladly preached the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the Son of God, all mankind’s Savior.  When Peter completed his preaching an amazing thing happened.  The Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his family and they began speaking in tongues.  This greatly perplexed the Jews who had traveled with Peter because they thought the Holy Spirit would only come to those who were of the first covenant, circumcision.  So both Peter and those with him saw the Power of God to save all who believed on Him and were born again, baptized in the Spirit and professing Jesus Christ as God’s Son.

We live in a world today where people strive to differentiate themselves in someway to show that they are special.  Maybe it is by a degree that they have, an obstacle they have overcome, a position or title they’ve obtained, an amount of wealth they have acquired and on and on; to be special is to be worthy.  It is one thing to say you are special but truly you should have some way; show some deed, some measure of why you have earned the distinction of special.

According to a 2012 article in the Washington Times, 84% of the world says they follow some religion but only 1/3 say they are Christian.  So right there we might start to think there is something special or unique about us.  Yet the world tells me, if I’m going to claim that I’m special, I must show that I’ve done something to earn that title.  And should I buy into that theory, then I can be justifiably proud of claiming to be a disciple of Christ.  And I can look down upon all the others who are not as special.

But God knows different.  By His mysterious and all encompassing Grace, while I was yet a sinner, God came to me.  Completely destroyed in my sin, Jesus Christ lifted me up and said: I died for you that you may live in fellowship with Me in My Father’s Kingdom.  The gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon me that He might dwell in me so that I might gain a level of understanding.

Special? You bet.  But not of my doing, not of your achievement.  So let us live out our special nature, in humility, in joyous praise to Him, in total love to Him and to all of His creation.  Not calling any person common or unclean.  Knowing that God’s Special Nature can and will come to those whom He chooses.  That we are chosen, out of His Divine Mercy, is something very special indeed!

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly proclaim that we are not worthy of the Gift of Salvation that you have bestowed upon us.  We praise Your Most Holy Name for the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Forgive us when we try to lift ourselves up as worthy of this gift and perhaps look down upon others who have not received it.  Help us to see all of your human creation as someone to love that they might see through that love, the Love you have for them.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“You are my brethren, you are my bone and my flesh.  Why then are you the last to bring back the king?”  2 Samuel 19:12

“Shall any man be put to death today in Israel?  Therefore the king said to Shimel, ‘You shall not die.'”  2 Samuel 19:22,23

Recap:  David, the great king of Israel has been tossed off his thrown.  It was God’s will for David’s sin with Bathsheba.  If you remember, David saw Bathsheba, coveted her, committed adultery with her, got her pregnant and then had her husband, a faithful leader of David’s army, killed to cover up the king’s sin.  Through Nathan, God told David that he would lose his kingship and be forced to flee but would not die.  And through the mercy of God, David would be restored to the kingdom.  So it came to pass that David’s own son Absalom, rose up and overthrew his father and became king.  David had to flee Jerusalem.  However, David was not killed and through a battle where Absalom was not only defeated but killed (much to the sorrow of David), David is now about to reenter Jerusalem as king.

However, David’s entry is not quite the triumphant, all glorious spectacle that we might think.  First, David is across the Jordan River and Absalom has been killed and the people know it.  Yet the elders who are in the city have not called upon David to return.  They have not given a clear indication that they are going to accept David back as king or follow him should he return.  David had the army available to storm back into Jerusalem and take back his thrown by force.  But David has been humbled.  David is tired of the destruction of war.  David knows that his sin is the event that started this.  So David inquires:  what is your plan?  What are your desires?  You who are my brothers; do you want me back or not?  They do want David back and he returns.

David is crossing the Jordan River which is symbolic in his return to the promised land; similar to Gen. Douglas MacArthur wading ashore in the Philippines saying I have returned.  The first to meet David is a man named Shimel.  Now Shimel had two choices based on David’s return; flee from him as far as he could, or come to David and beg mercy.  For you see, when David was down, when he was fleeing Jerusalem in disgrace, Shimel came out and cursed and insulted David.  Shimel had been from the house of Saul, the previous king who, by the Will of God, David replaced.  David could have killed Shimel right then and there but he new his disgrace was at the hand of God.  Now David is returning in power; surely this is the time to take his revenge on this measly, wormy enemy.  David’s captain asks David to allow him to strike this man down.  David says no.  David knows it is by the Will of God that he is returning as king and he is not going to tarnish God’s Will by taking revenge.

Okay, the sticks and stones thing, but what about treason; surely there should be a just punishment for that.  Saul, had one surviving son, Mephibosheth.   Mephibosheth was lame and when David became king the first time, he sent for Mephibosheth.  Mephibosheth naturally assumed David was going to have him killed.  That’s what you did back then to a potential enemy/rival.  Instead David told him that he would live in David’s palace and be treated like one of David’s own sons.  Quite a gift.  Well when David was forced out, Mephiboseth did not accompany David.  He stayed in the palace.  David was told that Mephibosheth stayed behind because he was glad David was deposed and felt that the kingdom of Israel was going to be rightly restored to him; sounds treasonous to me.  Mephibosheth goes out to meet the returning king and King David asks him why he didn’t leave when David left.  Mephibosheth answers that his servant tricked him and lied to David.  Being lame, Mephibosheth could not make it to a donkey himself to follow David and his servant would not help him.  It was the same servant who told David of Mephibosheth’s treachery.  Still, Mephibosheth says to David that he will understand if David decides to have him killed.  He is still after all, his dead enemy’s son.  David tells him to speak of being killed no more and restores his former place.

Yeah! Good for King David.  Why bring these things up; what have they to do with us today?  David’s story is a cautionary story and very relevant for us today.  You see dear brothers and sisters, we have been, are and will be blessed by God.  While we may not become a king or queen, God has many blessings in store for us.  Through those blessings when we feel ourselves ascending, we may find ourselves sorely tempted by that success by Satan.  Notice it was after Jesus Christ’s baptism, the revelation that He is God’s Son, that Satan took Him aside to tempt Him.  But unlike Christ, David and you and I might give in to the temptation.  While God will forgive us for our sin, that doesn’t mean, like in the case of David, there will not be consequences.  There will be those when we are feeling those consequences, when we may be at a low point, who will insult us, treat us horribly, gloat over our troubles; some may be strangers, sadly some will be close friends even family members.

Yet, like David, Our Heavenly Father will restore us.  God will have mercy on us and bring us back.  And……..we may find ourselves tempted again.  This time the temptation might be in the form of taking revenge or we might even think enacting justice on those who kicked us when we were down.  David’s example shows us how we should respond.  We should tell Satan to get behind us; resist him in the Name of Jesus Christ so that he will flee.  We need to remember the mercy that Our Heavenly Father is having with us and return that same mercy to those who have done us wrong; whether they repent to us or not.

Jesus Christ tells a parable illustrating David’s humble response.  He tells of the wicked servant; who owed his master a great debt.  When the master demanded repayment, the servant pleaded with the master for mercy because he could not repay.  The master relented and forgave the servant the entire debt.  However, one of the servant’s fellow servant owed the first servant a debt.  When the first servant demanded repayment, the second servant asked for mercy because he could not repay.  Of course the first servant would show the same mercy to the second servant that the master had shown to him.  Well he’s not called evil for nothing.  For the first servant not only does not forgive the debt but throws the second servant into prison until he can repay the debt.  But evil gets his due for being evil.  For the master hears of the treachery of the forgiven servant, calls him to come before the master, reinstates the debt and tosses the first servant in prison.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise Your Most Holy Name for the mercy that you show us instead of the judgement we deserve.  Thank you for sending Your Son Jesus Christ to take our deserved punishment.  Intercede with Your Spirit when we are tempted to pass judgement or take revenge on others whom we feel have wronged us.  That in being merciful we are living a life closer to You and living Praise to Your Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Who am I, O Lord God?  And what is my house, that You have brought me thus far?”  2 Samuel 7:18

“For Your sake and according to Your heart, You have done all these great things……..”  2 Samuel 7:21

Accountability, a word and a concept that is thrown a round quite a bit these days.  Some bemoan that there is no accountability left in our societies today.  That the opposite of accountability, we try to shirk responsibility and blame any and everyone else for our failings and/or poor behavior.  In another sense there is an entitlement aspect to accountability as well.  Should  I accomplish this or successfully complete that; if I obtain some degree of mastery to some subject or have some high degree of talent, then I am entitled to hold you accountable to see that I am properly rewarded.

David was the youngest of his brothers.  In the hierarchical tradition of his day, David stood to inherit the least from his family.  David was a shepherd.  Being a shepherd was among the lowliest of professions in David’s day.  We learn in 1 Samuel that David was not the strongest, most hansom, or wisest of his family.  Looking through human eyes and using human judgement, Samuel was not predisposed to choose David for anything, let alone the next (and greatest earthly) king of Israel.

So one day a man of God shows up named Samuel and picks the most unlikely of the family to anointed as the next king of Israel.  David is told that he is God’s choice.  After that David’s life takes one turn after another.  He slays the giant Goliath, wins battle after battle, avoids being killed by Saul the current king of Israel, becomes king after Saul’s death, has even more victories and triumphantly brings the Ark of God into the capital, Jerusalem to wild cheers and adoring subjects, where he comes to live in a great palace and become very wealthy.  Quite a whirlwind tour for the young man.

Now David might have been tempted to look around and feel very self justified.  He may have felt that his victories were all because of his great cunning.  He may have judged that he was worthy of being king because of his great bravery.  David might have felt that he was entitled to the adoration of the people because of how he had defended the kingdom and the victories he achieved.

We don’t know if the temptation was there, but if it was, David did not yield to it.  For having been made king, received the blessings and bounties of that position and heard the promise of God for a prosperous life; David’s first question is one of awe and humility.  “Who am I Lord?”; David asks.  Why would you shower me with such blessings and abundance?

How rare is that kind of humility today.  More often we hear things like:  Because I live in such and such a place I deserve this; or Because I have the title CEO or President I’m entitled to …., or maybe something like, Because I was drafted number 1 or scored this many points, had this many victories, I’m entitled to this amount of money!  The examples go on and on.  It is not just those whom we consider rich that have that mentality.  No, we find that kind of thinking in all spectrums of society; old and young, male and female, rich and poor, ignorant and highly educated.  I am deserving of.  You owe me!

David answers his own question but we get the sense that the wisdom of the answer comes from One far wiser, far Above him.  It is not because David is so great.  It is not because the people of Israel are so deserving.  It is not because of those things that God is compelled to bring blessings to them.  God’s favor is not a repayment for lives perfectly lived.  No, David knows it is the nature of God, it is the Goodness of God, it is God showing to all that He is a God of Love, that God has seen fit lift up those who are lowly.  God has taken pity on the pitiless, shown that He is merciful even to the undeserving.  It is the Heart of God, not the righteousness of man, that compels Him to be generous, loving and to lead His people to greatness.

As we live in the culture of today; the question that David asked is not a popular one.  This is a world that is about claiming the right.  We are owed this and entitled to that.  How dare anyone question the correctness or deservedness of the achievements that I’ve made and the bounty that I have.  The answer that David comes up with is even more unpopular; it is downright scandalous.  You see I don’t deserve it.  My blessings are a gift from God based on His generosity versus a just payment for service well rendered.  Horrors of horrors my service is so lacking that instead of reward; my payment entitles me to one thing and one thing only, if I were truly being held appropriately accountable:  death! (and oh by the way, that is true of all of our service).

If death is the only thing I’m entitled to, what hope is there for me?  None, is the answer, at least from myself.  Enter Jesus Christ.  He was entitled to life.  He was entitled to Love and Adoration.  He was entitled to an eternal existence at the side of God His Father.  Jesus left what He was entitled to.  He left love and perfection to come to hate and error.  Who did He do that for???? Me! (and you).  So truly that brings us back to the beginning question; God, who am I that You would bless me so?  May mine and your eternal answer be: I am yours Oh God.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we confess that often we try to build ourselves up; thinking ourselves worthy by our righteousness to receive the blessings You shower down upon us.  Forgive us these prideful thoughts Most Merciful Father.  For we repent of those evil thoughts and proclaim that we are unworthy for anything but condemnation from You.  Yet we also praise You, that in Your Infinite Wisdom, instead of judgement, You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ as our salvation.  May it be that we humbly accept that Salvation, living lives of Praise and Adoration to Your Most Holy Name.  In Jesus Christ Name we pray.  Amen

“And the Lord said to David: ‘Go and attack the Philistines…..’ 1 Samuel 23:2

“But David’s men said: “Look, we are afraid……….then David inquired of the Lord once again’ ! Samuel 23 3,4

“And Lord answered him and said……..For I will deliver the Philistines in your hand ”  1 Samuel 4

There is scene from a movie called Taxi Driver where the main character is playing out in his mind how he will react if he is approached or questioned by the “bad guys”.  Sever times he repeats the line: “Are you talking to me? Are you talking to ME!?”, in a tone of increasing anger.  He then plans to bring great violence upon those who would dare to question him.  To a certain extent there is much in our current culture that glorifies or at least validates that type of response as appropriate.

After all, if you question something I’ve said aren’t you questioning my authority?  Are you not doubting my wisdom?  If I am in a position of power or authority; aren’t I justified in reigning down contempt and punishment on you for your brazen acts of disrespect?  Am I not weak if I don’t do so?

David is not yet king but he has already built a relationship with Our Heavenly Father.  Samuel has already anointed David as the future king.  David has already called on the Name of God Almighty in slaying the giant Philistine Goliath.  God has also already saved David and his men lives as they flee from Saul who has turned from God and is trying to kill David.  As David is hiding, he is told that the hated Philistines are attacking the city of Keilah.  David does not act rashly nor cowardly.  He does not take matters into his own hands, basing his current decision and behavior on past successes.  Yet David also has no fear of the Philistines.  He will go and attack, even with his small band of men (and here is the most important part) only after inquiring about what he should do from God.

Here, to me, is where it gets interesting, especially because of the humaneness of it.  David expects an answer, although he doesn’t know if it will be stay or go.  And God answers David.  Go attack the Philistines.  At this point it is crystal clear to David what his next action is and he prepares to go out and smite the Philistines.  Then the world, in the guise of his men, intervene.  David is not afraid but his men are.  He and his men are in Judah and even in that somewhat safe place, David’s men are afraid.  They argue if we leave this place of relative safety to fight for the city of Keilah we will be in much greater danger.

David has several choices in responding to his men’s reluctance.  One, he could berate his men as cowards and haters of God for questioning David.  Or, David could be swayed by his men’s argument and conclude that God is wrong.  Finally, David could do what he ended up doing, going back to God and asking him the exact same question over again; in essence, God are You really sure about this?

If David’s behavior is interesting, God’s response is amazing; especially in His Mercy, Patience and Understanding of His creation’s needs and limitations.  Really David, Really?  You’re going to question the command of the One and Only God Almighty.  Prepare to sweep the ashes of David up after the lightning bolt hits.  In fact it won’t be just David but his entire crew whom God will destroy. We might be tempted to do that.  Or we might be tempted to reply something like: “Fine, you don’t trust me Mr. I take my men’s fears over Your Power David, then do what you want.  But you’re on you’re own mister!”  God did neither of those.

God knew David’s heart.  God knew that David, although faithful, had human limitations to that faith and needed support and clarity.  God was building a relationship with David.  So God answered David, not with threats, not with retribution, but with an even more supportive, definitive answer: “I will deliver the Philistines into your hands”.  With this second answer in hand, David and his men do not hesitate but go and carry out God’s plan and are completely successful.

God knows yours and my heart.  God wants to build a relationship with us.  God knows that we have limitations.  You and I are facing situations that have choices.   Hopefully we feel we’ve been given direction by Our Heavenly Father.  But most of the time, it doesn’t end there.  The enemy in this world does not want us to succeed.  He will try his hardest bring about our questioning of God’s plan.  He will try to find resources to tell us that the plan is wrong and our destruction is at hand if we follow it.  It is true we should resist and disregard the world’s counsel when against God’s.  Yet we are human, we are imperfect, we are fallen.

Brothers and sisters, please don’t take the path of listening to the world enough that you turn from God’s plan to follow the world’s. If need be, ask The Father again.  He has shown, through scripture, time and time again, that He is patient, merciful and long suffering.  God will answer.  God will support.  In our asking, we must be willing to truly follow the answer we receive.  Yet, In His Love, we will receive The way forward.

It is true, at some point, we will have to stop reasking the exact same question and step out in faith with God’s response.  Though know this, should you and I ask a second time, in Love and Grace, not rebuke and scorn, we will be answered.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we thank you for the Mercy and Patience You show to us.  Please forgive us when we seem to hesitate or disregard Your answer, Your will, when we are confronted by the world.  Pour out Your Spirit of discernment on us as well as a spirit of obedience, that we will be faithful and confident in doing Your Will in our lives.  That we would know that Your Plans are perfect for us, bringing about lives of Praise to You.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.   Amen

“So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.”  John 11:6

“Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.  Nevertheless, let us go to him.” John 11:14-15

Martha and Mary, two women who, the bible tells us, were very close to Jesus.  Mary goes as far as to anoint Jesus with fragrant oil and wipe his feet with her hair.  Lazarus is their brother.  Scripture also tells us that Jesus knew and loved Lazarus as well.  For in getting word to Jesus that Lazarus is ill, his sisters don’t say:  “Master our brother is ill.”  No, they say to Jesus:  “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.

Jesus had shown to His disciples time after time how the Son of Man, was a Man of compassion.  For Jesus to hear news that a loved one was dying and having the ability to heal, it would seem the hight of cruelty and selfishness not to go to him.  So he tells the disciples not to worry that Lazarus is sick.  It will be alright.  The end is not here for Lazarus but this is happening to Glorify God.

Think for a moment of Martha and Mary.  Think if you or I were in their place how we would have felt.  We know that word has gotten to our Lord that a dear loved one is sick.  You and I know that Jesus has the power to cure him.  Yet it is a few hours and there is no word that Jesus is coming.  A day goes by and no Jesus; not even a word that He is on His way.  Lazarus is getting sicker.  Who knows maybe he, himself is calling out for Jesus.  Still there is not sight of Him.  Lazarus dies.  How would you and I feel toward Jesus?

Jesus knows the time.  He knows what is happening to Lazarus and He knows what is about to happen to Him in Jerusalem.  Jesus also knows his disciples.  He knows that He is about to leave them in not only a horrific way; but in a way, that although He has tried to warn His disciples about how He is to be treated, they still can not see coming.  Jesus knows that they need a sign.  Three have seen Jesus bring a little girl back to life in the privacy of a room, with only the girl’s parents looking on.  Now this sign was going to be public.  All the disciples are going to get to witness the ultimate power of Jesus as Christ, hoping that in the days to come and before the Holy Spirit comes to them, they might find comfort.  Jesus didn’t lie.  When he told the disciples earlier that Lazarus illness was not unto death He was telling them that the reason that Lazarus was ill and the ultimate end was not for Lazarus to die.  But Praise be to God, Lazarus and his illness were going to be instruments Jesus was going to use to show His power and connection to His Heavenly Father.  They go to him.

Now again, imagine you and I are Martha and Mary.  Lazarus is in his tomb.  Has been there for days.  Now Jesus arrives…..finally.  Might not we be bitter?  Might not we be tempted to accuse or worse yet curse Jesus for His tardiness.  Martha meets Jesus.  Depending on how you hear her first words they might sound scornful or accusatory:  “Lord, if you had been here I know my brother would not have died.”  You and I might have gone on to ask:  “So where were you Jesus!  What took you so long?”  Yet to me we hear real reverence in her next statement:  “But even now I know whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  Did she have a foretaste of what was to come?

Then Jesus makes that statement; that promise that only He, the One True Son of God could make.  “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live!”  He ends this by asking Martha, and in turn asking all of us I believe: “Do you believe this?”

Well why should I?  Lazarus is dead in the tomb.  You’re standing there alive and well but not him.  You and I might have had some doubts but Martha didn’t.  As He told His disciples, to show the Glory of God, Jesus goes to the tomb and commands for Lazarus to come out and he does.

It may not be an illness or impending death, but then again it might be.  It may be financial troubles or deep troubles in a relationship.  It may be an obstacle to a calling you believe that God has given to you which you can’t overcome to accomplish His plan.  In those and countless other circumstances we find ourselves driven to our knees calling out in desperation:  “Jesus! Where are You?”  Sometimes His plan is, that His relief is immediate.  Yet sometimes (though we are never forsaken) the relief is not immediate.  The enemy tempts us to get angry, to get discouraged, to turn away.  Jesus Christ replies:  “You asked for Me; Do you believe this?  Do you believe that I can?”  Jesus understands this.  And if we can find a way, through Him, to get past the tempter, not turn away and even if we ask or bring up reasons why Jesus shouldn’t be able to accomplish what we ask, like when Martha warns Jesus about the stench from Lazarus’s tomb, we will hear Christ’s response:  “Did I not say that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus Christ thank you.  Because we can have faith that the answer to the question:  Where are You?; is, You are right where you promised you would be.  You are right here.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, I do not understand.  We do not understand.  In a world of quick delivery and instant gratification, we cry out to You and expect an instantaneous response.  Forgive us Merciful Father.  Give us the sure knowledge that You have heard and will come in Your perfect time by which we will see Your Glory and be most blessed.  Let it be when You look to us and ask: “Do you believe this?”, that our answer may always be a confident, triumphant:  Yes Father, in the Name of Jesus Christ, I believe!”  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

 

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