Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him……..But He turned and said to Peter: ‘Get behind me Satan!”  Matthew 16:22, 23

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said to them……..let it be known to you….that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth….,by Him this man stands before you……” Acts 4:8-10

Ah Peter, the rock, the foundation on which Jesus Christ built His church.  Ah Peter, he had pretty humble beginnings.  It seemed to start out promising.  Jesus calls Peter and he leaves his nets to follow Jesus.  Jesus asks who the disciples think that He is; and Peter answers that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God!  Go Peter!  Yet in the very next few verses, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for saying that He will be killed.  Jesus calls Peter, Satan.  Peter, wanting Jesus to prove who He is as the disciples are in a boat and Jesus is approaching walking on water.  Peter requests that Jesus make it possible for him to walk on water too.  Peter gets out of the boat and actually starts to walk on water; Yeah!  But then the waves and wind scare him and Peter starts to sink.  Jesus has to rescue him rebuking him for his fear and lack of faith.  Peter promises that he will die to protect Jesus.  Then in the garden, Peter flees and worse yet, denies Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times.  Peter is one of the first disciples to enter the tomb and find it empty.  Yet Peter does not understand nor believe at that point, that Jesus has risen.  Even after seeing Jesus; Peter, later goes fishing.

Fast forward a few days perhaps weeks and now Peter is standing in front of the Jewish Leaders, the rulers and elders of Israel.  These are the same leaders who tried Jesus and had Him crucified by Pilot.  Peter has just healed a man.  What’s the problem with that you ask?  Peter healed the man in the name of Jesus Christ.  The leaders are incensed.  They thought they had gotten rid of Jesus once and for all and are not about to see some upstart, non learned man, carry on Jesus’ work.  Given Peter’s previous track record, we might expect him to be evasive.  We might think we’re going to hear passive, kowtowing, or timid speech from Peter. Hardly!  Peter tells it just like it is mincing no words about Jesus being the Son of God and the rulers’ responsibility in the despicable act of His crucifixion.

Before we get to Who made the difference, I would like to take a brief moment to make a point.  There can be a problem as we think about Peter.  Some of us might look at his life with Jesus and want to pass some judgement.  “I” would have kept walking on the water.  “I” would have never pulled Jesus aside to rebuke him.  “I” would have never denied Jesus.  Also, paradoxically, some of us say:  “I” could have never stood before those powerful men and called them killers.  “I” could have never healed a lame man in the name of Jesus. “I” could never be the person to be the leader of the church.  Either in judgement of the pre-Pentecost Peter, or tremendous “I could never” awe of Peter, post-Pentecost; we may find ourselves on shaky ground.

Peter had been with Jesus, almost from the very beginning.  Peter believed Jesus.  Peter loved Jesus.  Yet what allowed Peter to go from one being rebuked to the one righteously rebuking?  What allowed Peter to go from the one denying Jesus to proclaiming Jesus as the Christ?  You guessed it, it says so right in scripture; Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit.

So here’s the thing for you and I today.  At least for me, I have no confidence in myself, that I would have acted any differently than Peter did in his interactions with Jesus during His earthly ministry.  Second, I do wonder about my boldness if I had been facing the Sanhedrin, as Peter was.  But it is not about yours or my confidence or boldness.  It does not start with us; it starts with Jesus.  It starts with believing that Jesus is the One True, Only Begotten Son of God.  It comes with accepting that we don’t possess, on our own, the depth of knowledge nor strength of faith to adequately, completely follow Jesus.  It comes from accepting the Gift that Jesus Christ promised to ask Our Heavenly Father to send; the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit.  It comes from relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the truth of Jesus Christ and bring us into a level of deeper understanding.  It comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us, to speak through us, the Real Truth, the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit, testifying to the truth of Jesus Christ and the Love the Father has for each of us, we can feed the starving world, the One True Food; forever.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful that You have seen fit to provide us with an ever present Counselor, Teacher and Healer; the Holy Spirit.  Forgive us when we disregard His perfect counsel and try to rely on our own reasoning and strength.  Through the Holy Spirit, make us bold to live a life of praise, devotion and worship to You, Everlasting Father.  That through our Spirit filled lives; others will come to seek you out.  We pray this in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

 

“….just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life……” Romans 6:4

“Since, then, you, have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand God. “  Colossians 3:1 

The palm crosses of a week ago have started to wilt.  That which was the solemnity of Good Friday has passed into the triumphant shouts of He is Risen and the reply He is Risen Indeed!  Even now perhaps those glorious echoes are fading.  Lent is over and now we can return……go back to eating, drinking, playing, viewing whatever it was that we gave up for that period.

And here in lies the danger, the danger of the old way.  You see, in the covenant prior to Jesus; under the law of Moses, there were specific times of the year and days of sacrifice and atonement.  There were specific actions to be taken because of sin and uncleanliness to become clean again.  The law required that those things be repeated year after year; because the sacrifice was not sufficient to do the job.

But in Jesus Christ there is a new covenant, a new salvation.  A covenent based on the  sacrifice that took place with Jesus’ death.  Jesus died once and that was indeed in the past.  Likewise, Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected, and that happened once in the past.  And like His birth, it is a wonderful thing to commemorate the great Love, Mercy and Sacrifice that Our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ showed through Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  But we dare not stop solely at commemorating those past events.

Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” is a wonderful hymn.  Yet it is a hymn or at least a proclamation that must be sung or made daily if it is to have the true transformative power that it is intended to have.  In trying to trace the grammar and look into some of the foundational research on the phrase as it appears (and for what it is worth I concur) that the phrase is not trying to convey a sense of time (i.e. a past, present or future tense), it is trying to communicate a state of being.  Christ IS risen.  He exists in a state of risen from the dead.  He is alive; seated at the most powerful place in existence; the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty.

Thus, remembering that we are the branches of Christ the vine, we have been resurrected with Him as well.  The plan, as Paul so eloquently says it, is for us to die to sin of the flesh and be resurrected with Jesus Christ into the life of the spirit.  There is no going back.  Easter, in fact is never over!  Because, Jesus Christ is Risen.  Jesus Christ lives!

The difficulty we have is partly because of our linear thinking based on our linear existence.  Something happens and once it does, it becomes the past.  Something else must be next.  The page on the calendar must turn.  If we proclaim a specific day for an event, our birthday, our anniversary, Christmas, Easter; those are specific dates to do specific things but they only last a moment.  Plus we have an enemy, the devil who would love nothing more for us to never celebrate any aspect of God or Jesus Christ.  But if we must, the next best thing for him, is if we carve out a day or perhaps a week, where we concentrate on things holy, and then pack them away for another year and get back to our earthly focused, flesh filled lives.

Jesus Christ is Risen; everyday.  Jesus Christ is Risen, out of the power of love and mercy.  Jesus Christ lives, so that we might also live.  Live a life dedicated to love and righteousness.  A life focused on things that are above.  Yet as we strive, we will fall.  As we live, our flesh will yield to temptation.  We will sin.  But fear not.  Jesus Christ also died; only once.  That death, which will only happen once, for all times, was to take away the sting of death from us due to sin.

Easter; there is not reason to limit it to a celebration of a past event.  Yes Jesus Christ died and on the third day He rose again.  But Easter is so much more.  It is the new covenant, it is not just Jesus Christ’s state of being that is risen, it is a call for us to reside in that state of being as well; to become risen.  So until we are reunited with Christ in a realm where there is no longer a today, yesterday nor tomorrow; let us, each and every day,  strive to sing and live out that wonderful phrase: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father; we can not begin to express in words grand enough or deep enough the praise and gratitude we feel for the life, death and resurrection of Your Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Grant, through Your Spirit, that we may live lives of resurrected spirit, denying the temptations of the flesh and the world.  That through those lives we may come to see and walk daily with He who lives and reigns with You.  It is in His Name; Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified…….I say to you. unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much grain….”  John 12:23,24

“If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, I am going to the Father….”  John 14:28

There is a paradoxical aspect to mornings.  On the one hand they are the start of a new day.  We can look at that day as a fresh start, an opportunity that has never happened before.  Although there is another way to look at a morning; as the continuation of the tragedy and desperation of the night or day that proceeded it.  The new day is nothing more than a harbinger of more disaster.

One could only guess how the cherished loved ones of Jesus decided to face this day.  One wonders if there was any aspect to which they saw it as “good”.  Jesus had been arrested, dragged away, beaten and now was in the custody of the hated Romans.  No one was sticking up for Him; no one coming to His aid.  As they day progressed greater calamity after greater calamity befell Jesus.  What little hope there might have been quickly faded away with each passing hour;  desperation, depression, hopelessness.

Where was one to find hope?  Where was one to find love on this seemingly darkest of days?  The same place it had been found for the past three years; in Jesus.  At no time did any curse or condemnation pass His lips.  From the cross itself, He spoke of mercy to one rightly condemned.  He spoke forgiveness to those who so hated Him.  He spoke tenderness to His dear mother.  Even in and especially in the horrible pangs of a cruel death, Jesus Christ did, by His very nature, what we find in our finest hour so difficult to do.  Jesus Loved.  Jesus loved unconditionally and completely.  Yet wasn’t this unfair?  Where was God in all of this?

Fast forward 2000 years.  Waking up this morning; there is war and rumor of greater wars.  A shipping ferry has overturned killing hundreds of teenagers.  In my own country evil individuals are randomly gunning down complete strangers.  So many family members in so many circumstances are facing another day with dwindling hope.  Good Friday?

Where does one turn for hope?  Where does one find love today?  To the very same place.  And where was God back then and where is He today?  Here’s the answer.  You see when Jesus took on our sin, our punishment; God had him to die to take the judgement that was rightfully ours.  As the representative of sin, God may have forsaken His Son momentarily for our sake, but He never forsook us.  He was right there with the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Jesus Mother Mary, Joseph of Arimethea and the rest of the believers, not losing one; except Judas.

God knew and knows that we need a Savior.  Jesus Christ knew and knows that He was to fulfill that role as our Savior.  I understand the grammar of the sentence but truly it is God so Loves the world (present tense for all times) that He sent His only begotten Son to save us.  So now we can greet the morning, live the day and rest at night knowing that we are loved with a Love that surpasses all understanding, heals all wounds, uplifts all downtrodden, brings hope to the hopeless and restores the lost.

Good Friday?  Good indeed.  May the love of Our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ testified to us by the Holy Spirit keep you this day and every day and leave you knowing that you are never forsaken and nothing can come against you that He will not bring you through.  In the Name of Jesus Christ, with praise to our Everlasting Almighty Father, Amen

 

“So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man and he said to Nathan: ‘ As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!”  2 Samuel 12:5

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged……”  Matthew 7:1

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” so the old saying goes.  If I’m willing to take my own medicine, am I not justified in forcing that medicine onto another I judge to be diseased or evil?  Let’s take a moment to look at this in a real life.

As we have read earlier, David is a king.  Great in victories, great in wealth, great in wisdom, great in popularity; loving of and loved by God.  He has it all; well…………..not exactly.  What he does not have is Bathsheba who he sees bathing next door.  He takes her, sleeps with her, impregnates her and to cover all that up, has her husband, in every respect a good and decent man, killed.

So now David should be feeling really terrible about himself.  David should have judged himself unworthy; confessed his crime which would have surely meant giving up the throne and most probably being stoned to death.  David, I’m sure you will judge rightly and do the honorable thing.  Hmmm, David?  Hello David? This not exactly what David does.

Scripture tells us that after Bathsheba’s husband is killed in battle (murdered, set up secretly by David), she goes through the mourning period and then David brings her into his palace to be his queen; seemingly as if nothing nefarious had happened.  But remember, God sees what others don’t.  God sees the heart.  God will not let this sin go.  There is a prophet in Israel named Nathan.  God sends Nathan to David.  Nathan has a plan.  Nathan does not come directly out and confront King David with his evil deeds.  No, Nathan wants King David himself to see and understand the disgusting treachery which he has committed against an innocent man.

Here’s where the judgement, and the danger of judging others comes into play.  For Nathan tells King David a story of two of his subjects.  One is meek, poor, innocent but a good man.  The other is a rich, vile, greedy, powerful man.  What’s interesting in the story is that the rich man did not kill the poor man.  But the rich man, who had flocks and flocks of wonderful sheep, takes the one lamb that the poor man has and kills and eats it instead of taking one from his own flock.  King David is outraged at the rich man’s greed, insensitivity and arrogant behavior against the poor man.  He pronounces the judgement, even invoking the Lord’s name within it:  This man shall die!

Nathan then springs the trap.  “David, you are that rich man!” Nathan tells him.  You are the one with riches and many lambs; in this case wives.  You saw a wife of another, a good man who had only one but who loved her dearly and you took her.  If that was not bad enough, you killed the husband to have her.  At least we can say this about David; when the veil is removed and it is shown to him, how evil he has acted, David does not try to bluff, bargain or excuse his way out of it.  David’s response?  “I have sinned against the Lord!”

Here’s the lesson for you and I, dear brothers and sisters.  David was so willing to judge the story of the two men.  He was so quickly ready to rein down devastation in righteous indignation to the rich man who had abused the poor man.  King David, who had many wives himself, but saw no real problem in killing to get just one more, who was not overwhelmed by guilt but continued on in his kingship, this same King David felt completely righteous in condemning another to the ultimate penalty for an offense lessor than his own.

David was far removed from being able to apply the same judgement to himself, that he would easily apply to others.  Wise was Jesus in talking about the planks of wood in our own eyes, versus the splinters in other people’s eyes. Wise was Our Savior in extolling us to first look to ourselves and leave the judging to the Only One who is perfect, who has nothing blocking His Vision in judgement.

Perhaps a final question you might ask is:  Are you saying that I should at least be judging myself?  Should I not be pronouncing a sentence of condemnation upon my own head for my own deeds?  Having sinned, should I not go through life under a cloud of judgement?  The devil might tell us to.  Yet Paul, through the Holy Spirit, answers us totally different.  We, who by the Grace of God, believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, are saved from condemnation and death by the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  If I am not and have no right to judge others; then I also have no right to judge even myself.  God has the right.  Our Heavenly Father has seen fit to be merciful as on He can.  Saving us from judgement to life ever lasting. Amen

So let it be that in response; we live a life in the spirit; attempting with all of our being not to sin.  Yet understand we are imperfect flesh and imperfect spirit and we will sin.  Others will sin.  Let us truly repent and urge others to do likewise.  Yet let us refrain from pronouncing any sort of judgement on others or ourselves.  Let love be our guide.  Let the Love, Mercy and Forgiveness, Our Heavenly Father shows to us daily, be the example we strive to live to each other.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank You that You have seen fit to respond to our sins’; our evil thoughts, words and deeds with mercy and forgiveness instead of the Judgement we deserve.  Thank you for the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ, that we may come blameless into Your Presence.  Give us the strength to avoid the temptation of judging whether it be others or ourselves.  That each day, by Your Example, we may live a life closer to sinless perfection.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen

“And from the roof he saw a woman bathing and the woman was very beautiful………”  2 Samuel 11:2

“Then David sent messengers, and took her and she came to him and he lay with her……”  2 Samuel 11:4

STOP!  If you do not plan to read this post all the way through then I ask you to not go beyond here.  It is my hope that at the end this message will be uplifting and very positive.  However, if you stop part way through you may come to a completely different and unintended conclusion.

David, a brief recap to this point.  Youngest son of Jesse, he is said to possess a heart that belongs to God.  Time and time again David calls on God and praises God.  David, defeats Goliath, survives King Saul’s murder attempts, wins victory after victory, brings the Ark of God into the city of Jerusalem dancing widely in the streets.  David has many wives and is adored by the people.  A man that seems truly after God and what God wants.  Seemingly he can do no wrong.

David, it was spring.  David got up one warm night when others were normally resting.  He was on his splendid roof of a palace that he has earlier declared comes from a blessing from God.  David saw a woman; Bathsheba.  She is bathing.  It was not that she was being immodest but that from David’s vantage point he could see many things.  We are told that she is very beautiful.  David wants her.  David is so smitten with her that he does not wait.  He immediately inquires and finds out two things; who she is and that she is married.  David, King of Israel, a man after God’s own heart, a man who has received so many blessings from God; this same David, does not care.  He can’t even wait until the next day.  David immediately sends for her and then sleeps with her.  His sin produces a son which will cause David to eventually have Bathsheba’s husband killed to try and cover up his crime.  There can be no doubt.  David is Evil.

“Hold on just a second Doug!”: the world exclaims (and perhaps you).  It’s not his fault.  It is a result of the stress of battle.  It was the bullying of the Philistines.  It was really Bathsheba’s fault; she lured him into it!  Some others are reacting smugly.  Darn right David is evil.  No good kings, you can’t trust anyone one in power.  Some are saying: “If I had been David, I would not have done that!”  So two worldly responses; one, that evil doesn’t really exist.  The other response, yes there’s evil but it is always the other guy who does it, I’m certainly not evil.

God sighs.  For the bible is very clear; evil does exist.  And the bible is equally clear, we all succumb to it.  We all think and do evilly (remember please don’t stop at this point).  The world blasts back: “Not true! Not true!”  Let’s take a look.  In so many parts of the world; that a person is a woman means it is acceptable to perform horrible mutilations on her body.  To stop people from having basic freedoms it is acceptable to slaughter hundreds of thousands.  “Not in my country!” You say.  All over the world, children are killing children, senseless acts of violence are perpetrated over sporting events. Neighbor prays upon neighbor.  “Not me, I’ve never done that!” is the last vestige of our argument.  Jesus asks: “In your mind, have you ever been angry?, have you ever wanted someone or something that wasn’t yours?, have you ever passed by someone in need of help and completely disregarded them?, never once?” Well…….maybe.  Sadly, we are all fallen.  As in David, even the seeming best of us are capable of terrible things.

Wow Doug, way to go, really uplifting.  But wait here it comes.  If nothing else please, I implore you, let these next two statements sink in.  Our Heavenly Father knows me.  Our Heavenly Father loves me; just as I am.  Say those two statements out loud and take a moment or so then to be silent and let them soak in.  My Heavenly Father knows me.  My Heavenly Father loves me; just as I am.

You mean even in my evil state, with my fallen nature; My Heavenly Father loves me? Yes! A hundred thousand times yes!  How do we know?  How can you say that?  Look at the bible.  It’s not just David; Abraham lied, Peter denied, John pridefully argued about being great, Moses stumbled.  On and on, each person committed some evil.

What was God’s response?  “I have a plan.” He said.  “I will make you my people and give you laws about how you should treat one another to live in harmony.”  His plan was not a failure in that He knew and He spoke through His prophets that we as humans would not be able to follow them.  So what is Our Heavenly Father to do?  After a while people would turn throw up their hands, turn their backs and frustratingly exclaim: “I’m done with them!”

Our Heavenly Father instead said: “I love them so much, they are so important to me, that I will do for them what they can not do for themselves.  I will lay down something so precious, that it will once and for all remove the evil that they will do from my sight.”  So a star rose in the east and a virgin gave birth.  Our Heavenly Father calls out to us proclaiming:  “Out of love for you; yes you: (insert your name here) My Son Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,  God, Perfect, came down to die for you.  So that I will see your sin no more, your evil will no longer separate us.”  And if that is not joyously reaffirming enough He adds: “What do I want in return?  Simply that you believe.  That you believe that I love you and that I sent my son Jesus Christ to die for You and having been resurrected, He is now here with me.”

Dear brothers and sisters, in the end it is no downer.  The world is evil and yes without Christ we would be left to the world and its evil.  Yet Christ proclaims that we while we may be in the world we are not of the world!  We are new in him.  We are loved and in our best attempts we will try to live in that love but we will fail.  We will do evil.  We are imperfect.  But be of great cheer, He who is perfect has taken our punishment for us freely and out of love.  We have a sure promise of redemption and eternal relationship through the flesh and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We shall go forth in Joy, Peace and Confidence loudly proclaiming we are not better in and of ourselves, but we are saved in the Name of Jesus Christ!

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, hear this simple prayer.  Give us the strength to carry forward the message of Your Love, Your Redemption, Your Salvation, Your eternal victory over evil, to all people.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Be of good courage and let us be strong for our people……and for Our God.  And may the Lord do what is good in His sight.”  2 Samuel 10:12

The Israelite Army is in a pickle.  Not the cucumber type but the baseball type.  That is they are in between two enemies each with the seeming ability and desire to tag them “out” that is to destroy them (to get a visual example of a “pickle”  watch this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI4yCoIygNs).  King David and his army have already been victorious in many battles.  That made many people living next to Israel very nervous.  One of those people are the Ammonites who had abused Jewish representatives that David sent to them out of friendship.  The people of Ammon knew they could not defeat David on their own so they hired a very powerful army; the Syrians.

So the battle is about to begin and the Ammonites and the Syrians have devised a plan that is historically one of the best ways to defeat a strong enemy.  They plan to attack from two opposite sides.  The tactic causes the defending army to split their forces in two, with obviously less men, resources, reserves to use against either enemy.  So Joab, who is the commanding general of David’s Army, is required to split his forces to meet the oncoming threat.  In fact, Joab is not completely sure that his split army is up to the task.  He tells his brother, Abishai the commander of one of the split armies, if I am getting beaten you must come to me and if you’re getting beaten I will come to you.  Not necessarily the most optimistic or motivating battle speeches.  But Joab doesn’t leave it there.  He gives to his brother the quote above, reminding him that they are not an army of just a people or a king, they are an army of God.  And as such they can be of good courage.  That whatever happens; the Lord will do and what the Lord does will be good in His sight.

Dear brothers and sisters understand that we, our faith is under attack on many fronts.  There are those in the world that think we are not only completely wrong; that there is no God; but also the very fact that we exist and speak is a danger which needs be eliminated.  We are under attack by those forces who say we should not speak out.  That we may have our belief but it must be a silent one, not confronting the evil that we see all around.  We have a front even within our midst.  A front who desires to uplift humankind to the level of God, believing in the basic fundamental goodness of people not needing redemption or a savior.  These fronts (and many more) can seem overwhelming.  In our own strength, our own wisdom, our own resources we may doubt our ability to win.  Our courage may wane or falter.

So let this be our battle cry.  A cry of Love and not Hate.  A cry of longing to heal and not hurt.  Let us be of Good Courage as we meet these enemies.  For we are an army of Jesus Christ.   He is no general who leads from behind.  No Jesus Christ goes before us, has taken the wounds meant for us upon Himself.  He has promised to keep us and sustain us.  We can know that through Him, we will be victorious!

Oh by the way, back to Joab and his brother.  What was good in the Lord’s sight?  First, the bible tells us that the mighty Syrian Army fled before Joab.  When the Ammonite Army saw the the Syrians were fleeing, they also fled from in front of Abishai and were conquered.  Sounds pretty good in Joab’s sight as well.  May we find ourselves with equal “good courage” to do battle at the Lord’s side and in the Lord’s name today.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, You know that Your Word, Your People are under attack today.  Your Son Jesus asked that we not be taken from the world, but that You would keep us from harm while in the world.  Make us Holy Warriors for Your Word and those who would come to You.  Let us not be an army of hate, destruction and judgement; but let us be like Your Son Jesus Christ, an army armed with Love and Righteousness.  Make us of good courage so that we will go forth to do battle and the way we do battle will bring praise and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah……Arise go to Nineveh…….”  Jonah 1:1

But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord….”  Jonah 1:3

I purposely did not title this post free will versus Our Heavenly Father’s plan.  For the interaction of the two has always been a great mystery and all too often a subject of contention between both believers and nonbelievers and even between believers.  Yet it seems to me, from the bible, there is no real contest between our free will and the fulfillment of God’s plan.  We do not have the power to thwart His divine will.  So of what consequence is our free will?  To us and our relationship with Our Heavenly Father; everything.

We are told that Nineveh is a great city.  However, it is not a Jewish city.  It is the capital of the Assyrians.  Perhaps that is why Jonah has no desire to have anything to do with them.  We’ve seen reluctance to answer God’s call before.  Non other than Moses himself, tried to dissuade God from sending Him to Egypt to save God’s people.  Finally, Moses acquiesced.  Jonah did not.

Jonah had the free will to run and try to hide.  However, Nineveh still needed to be saved.  God had already decided that Jonah was His man.  And God always gets His man.  “God won’t find me in Tarshish ” Jonah thinks.  So if indeed Jonah’s free will had any power as it applied to God’s plan; God would have had to turn to someone else.  Instead, God turns to a fish.

It is after a horrendous storm and when Jonah is at the depths of his misery that his free will changes and he calls out to God to have mercy on him.  God hear’s Jonah and delivers him.  It would seem then that Jonah’s will would become in sync with His Heavenly Father.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  For God calls again for Jonah to go to Nineveh.  Jonah at least has the good sense to know fleeing won’t work but he is none too happy about being called again.

Jonah preaches an upcoming cataclysmic destruction in 40 days because of the city’s evilness.  Interestingly enough, in the bible, it does not say that Jonah called upon the city to repent.  No, he just proclaimed their overthrow in 40 days.  But the people get the message and believe it anyway.  Even the king takes off his royal garments, puts on sackcloth and sits in a pile of ashes to show humble repentance for their evil (much we could learn from their example).  God sees their repentance, has mercy on them and decides not to destroy them.  Jonah is not at all pleased.

Jonah in essence tells God: “I knew you were going to do this.  That is why I didn’t want to come.  You made me look the fool because I said what you wanted and then it didn’t happen!”  In Jonah’s free will, he feels so used that he just wants to die.  Using a plant and a worm God again tries to teach Jonah a lesson about mercy and faith.  The book ends without us knowing if Jonah ever came around.

So to me here’s the bottom line.  God’s plan was for Nineveh to be warned and for Jonah to accomplish it.  And that’s exactly what happened.  So did Jonah’s free will have any impact?  To God’s plan; not really.  To Jonah most certainly.  You see at every turn Jonah had the free will to accept God’s plan, see it as a blessing and find joy and comfort in it.  Jonah instead decided to see God’s plan as an unnecessary burden.  He saw God’s mercy to Nineveh as a travesty and refused to receive any of the bountiful blessings that would have come from his embracing of God’s will.

God has a plan for you and I as well as for all believers.  If we are open to it, the Holy Spirit who, sent by God to dwell within us and testify to God’s plan will guide us.  Yet we have the free will to reject the realization that Our Heavenly Father is acting in our lives.  Understand this, it is only the realization that we’re rejecting.  That does not change the fact that Our Heavenly Father has a plan and is acting on it.  We have the free will to acknowledge the triumphs that we have here on earth as blessings from Our Heavenly Father, or we can decide that it is due solely to our own talents.  We can see struggles as a way of bringing us closer to Our Heavenly Father in ultimate triumph or we can see them as cruel twists of fate or simply bad luck.  We have the free will to reach out in prayer, supplication and worship to Our Heavenly Father or go throughout our life as if we are left to our own devices.

God’s plan will win out in the end; every time.  We have the free will to embrace the plan, feeling the Love with which it was devised, embracing the joy, comfort and blessings which come from its implementation and being confident in the salvation that comes from its fruition.  It is in those, free will decisions, that we will define ourselves as belonging to Him or not.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank you that You have seen fit to have an intimate, loving relationship with each of us culminating in a perfect plan for our lives.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we use our free will to try to modify or reject Your plan.  Show us Your Will in our plan that we might become fully engaged in seeing the plan through to its triumphant end.  That by living out Your plan for us, we would live lives of praise to Your Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

Peter seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?”  John 21:21

“Jesus said to him,’If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me.”  John 21:22

Equal treatment; we hear a lot spoken of today concerning equal treatment; what it is, what it should be, how it is not happening.  Yet we also celebrate diversity; the condition of being different.  So can those two concepts interrelate and if so; how?

Jesus Christ had a plan.  A part of that plan included actions by the one He had called the “Rock”:  Peter.  He needed to communicate that plan to Peter.  However, first Jesus needed to restore Peter, both in his own mind as well as within the group of disciples.  For while all the disciples deserted Jesus when He was arrested in the garden; Peter did the additionally unthinkable thing of denying that he even knew Jesus; not once, but three times.  The other disciples knew this because Jesus predicted it would happen during the last supper.

Jesus Christ had a plan, for Peter.  Jesus came to where Peter was.  Peter (and seven others) had gone fishing; for fish.  Jesus Christ wanted them to be fishers of men.  So Jesus met them after fishing.  Jesus performed one of His last miracles of His life on this earth.  He fills there empty nets, overflowing with fish.  They eat together.  Then Jesus restores Peter; by first having Peter testify, for all to hear, of the total love that he has for Jesus.  Then Jesus provides him with an example of how Peter will no longer just do what he wants to do but, in doing the Father’s Will, will be lead to places he didn’t plan on going.

Jesus Christ had a plan, specifically for Peter.  I love Peter’s response.  For in this case, like so many times throughout Jesus time on earth; Peter shows us the very worldly, human reaction to Jesus’ teachings.  And we are very blessed for it.  Peter wants to know why it seems he is being singled out.  If Peter is going to be dragged where he doesn’t want to go; Peter wonders, then what about John?  Why isn’t he being treated equally and being dragged along at the same time?  God bless you Peter and your question.

Jesus Christ had a plan for Peter, different than the plan for John.  Jesus Christ explains to Peter that the plan that He has for John does not concern Peter.  Peter has a plan specifically for him and John has a plan specifically for John.  However, both plans are from Jesus Christ, which means both plans are from God.  As a side note, should the reader at this point feel that Peter either felt or was actually being ill used or treated; Peter later writes in 1 Peter that rejoicing is the proper response to sufferings in Christ.  After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s life shows that he is “all in”, totally engaged, blessed and in agreement with the plan of His Heavenly Father.

So brothers and sisters we come to today.  Yes there are times when the judgement is worthy that equal means the same.  It seems right that a person with the same qualifications, same education doing the same task with equal quality should get the same pay regardless of gender.  It seems right that the children living in the same neighborhood should go to the same school regardless of their race.  There are many more examples to site where equal is same.  However, equal is not always same and would not make sense to be so.  I have two children, one is a girl and the other a boy.  To treat them equally would I force the boy to wear a dress or never purchase one for my daughter because I need to treat them the exact same?  My daughter could not wear earrings or my son would be forced to so that they are the same?  Doesn’t make much sense in that context does it?

Yet as we look around, compare and judge the correctness of things; both in the world and in our faith communities, do we not sometimes do the same?  Why do I serve on so many committees when this other person doesn’t but if they do something they get praised and I don’t?  Why do I seemed to be burdened with this trial while these other people get to breeze through life so easily?  If God loved me as much as they; I’d have their, wealth, wife/husband, job, fame and on and on and on.  World speak.

Let us take comfort in God speak from the Lips of God on earth Himself, Jesus Christ: “but the very hairs on your head are numbered… (Matthew 10:30).  I don’t know about you but as I look around I see folks, some with a lot more hair, a few with less hair than I do.  We are all different and differently created.  The only one, the Only One, who truly, perfectly knows, why we were created, what our path is and what we need to navigate that path is Our Heavenly Father.  The miraculous thing is He has made a plan specifically for you and a different one specifically for me.  In that way I don’t have to conform to you, I don’t have to try to fit into your size.  Our Loving Father has not done that to us.

We are all equal, that is the same in one respect; we are all sinners.  We have all fallen short of living each day in the way that Our Heavenly Father has planned.  We all deserve the same fate, the same judgement.  Our Heavenly Father could not bear for that to be the plan.  So He sent His Only Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior, the Great Equalizer.  That for those who believe we are all equally forgiven in Our Heavenly Father’s eyes.  Let us truly rejoice in the Love of our Father, the Salvation for us through Jesus Christ, and strive to live out the individual plan, with its individual blessings that Our Heavenly Father has intended.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim that You Are Our Father, Our Creator and that You have an individual plan for each of us.  Forgive us, Merciful Father, when we want to compare Your Plan for others with the Plan You have implemented for us and we judge it unfair.  May it be that The Holy Spirit will come and indwell with us, testifying to us the perfection of Your Plan for me and lead me away from comparing.  That in living out the plan You have made for me, I would live a life worthy of praise to Your Most Holy 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

“Then as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish on it and bread.”   John 21:9

This particular interaction chronicled in John has so many aspects to it.  There is of course the reinstatement of Peter after his denial of Jesus after His arrest.  There is the commission to go out and feed His lambs.  Yet there is another aspect that intrigues me that I have not heard spoken of much.

For Jesus at this point has already shown Himself as the Risen Lord.  To His disciples there can be no doubt that He is the true Son of God; the Christ.  With that sure and true knowledge, it would seem only natural (that is to say worldly) that Jesus should command more tribute and outright servitude.  Although they had not caught any fish, they were probably still dirty from the activity of letting out and bringing in the nets.  Being a dirty profession, they were also minimally if not shabbily dressed.  Once they realized that it was their Lord Jesus Christ, should they have not been compelled to go somewhere and bathe and put on clothes more appropriate for being in His presence?  Especially after all Jesus had done for them; had He been an earthly king, He would have demanded a response from them that showed a much greater amount of respect and servitude.

So let’s explore how Jesus Christ actually handled this.  First, He did not summon them to some great audience with Him.  No Jesus Christ came to them and in fact He waited for them to finish their task of fishing, before He made His presence known.  Next, Jesus did not command that they come into His presence with gifts of great tribute or presents of great wealth.  No, Jesus knew that they had come back from their quest empty handed.  Jesus Christ again wanted to teach them; through blessings, the difference between human centered effort and Jesus centered effort.  For on their own, they had no fish.  Once they followed the direction of Jesus Christ, their nets were over flowing.

Finally, and this is the part that I find so blessedly generous as well as surprising (although based on Jesus’ life and teachings I probably shouldn’t be surprised), Jesus did not demand that they fall on their knees, drop everything and serve Him.  Later Jesus would lay out for Peter the direction of service that He wanted Peter to fulfill out of Love.  But what did Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God do first?  He served them.  Jesus, the Creator, had food waiting for His created.  There was a fire for warmth, as well as fish and bread waiting for them to fulfill their earthly need for sustenance.  Is that not amazing?  The disciples would end up giving life long, love filled and all inclusive service and worship (as they and we should) to Jesus Christ.  However, even as He did throughout His pre-death life, Jesus, the Risen Lord provided the humble example of serving them first.

Dear brothers and sisters; what are we to take from this?  I believe that we can take great assurance from this interaction with His disciples.  Remember how just a few days earlier, Jesus had prayed for Himself, prayed for His disciples, and then prayed for all of us who would come to believe in Him as well.  Out of His Amazing Love, Jesus will provide abundantly such that our “nets” will be overflowing.  I believe that Jesus stands ready to be in relationship with us; to serve as needed.  But here is an equally vital point for us to understand.  Jesus Christ does this out of Love; Love that is in Him and that He has seen from the Father.  He does not do this because we are deserving of His blessings and service.  Thus we should have no since of pride or entitlement based on Jesus’ actions.

It is critical, for our sake, that our response should be that of humble, total worship and love in return.  Jesus knows that we are not capable of a perfect response.  He knows that our actions in response, even our repentance would be imperfect.  He died to perfect it.  That does not, in any fashion, relieve us from the responsibility, which we should undertake with joy and thanksgiving, to live a life of service and repentance in response.  It is in that life so lived, that we bring the justified praise to the life of Jesus Christ and to the Name of the Father, whose plan Jesus Christ carried out.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful that You, the Creator, would consider us, Your Creation.  We are in awe that You not only consider us and our lowly state, but that You sent Your Son to live among us, to provide us the perfect example of service to You and each other.  Through Your Spirit, help us to live out that example of service in our lives; reaching up first to You in all that we do, and then reaching out in service to each other.  That the lives we live would bring praise to You we pray.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

 

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