“So Jehoahaz pleaded with the Lord, and the Lord listened to him..” 2 King 13:4

“Then the Lord gave Israel a deliverer, so that they escaped from under the hand of the Syrians….”  2 Kings 13:5

The bible, in its entirety is a revelatory and the most important work ever.  However, I must confess that there are books or at least parts of books that I find challenging to glean understanding and life lessons from.  1 Kings and 2 Kings can be that way for me.  While there are wonderful pages full of the works of God through Elijah, Elisha and others.  There are also pages filled with a paragraph here and a small chapter there about a king, whose name I can’t pronounce and who normally is doing something evil that I have trouble finding the lesson in.  Yet I find that if I can quiet my thoughts and be open to the Holy Spirit, He can teach me things through any and all stories.  Jehoahaz, in 2 Kings is one of those stories that is short but, now I understand, extremely powerful.

You see Jehoahaz became King of Israel.  He was the son of a king, Jehu in a line of kings that had done evil in the sight of God.  Now Jehoahaz father had at least destroyed the temples of and killed all the priests to stop Israel’s worship of Baal.  But scripture tell us his heart was not set to follow the commandments of God.  He dies and now his son, Jehoahaz is on the throne.  Well Jehoahaz, like so many of the kings, does not learn any lessons about being a good king; for scripture tells us that he did evil in the sight of the Lord.  Remember, there is always consequences for sin, even if there is not complete condemnation.  So Israel follows Jehoahaz in sin and the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Syrians where they were mistreated.

Now comes the amazing lesson.  Jehoahaz, the sinning King of Israel, Johoahaz who has led the people astray, in the midst of his sin, calls out for mercy to the Lord God Almighty.  Scripture tells us that he pleaded with the Lord….and the Lord listened!  The Lord acted upon Jehoahaz’s pleadings, provided a deliverer for His people and frees them from the Syrian oppression.  Sadly, you would think that would be enough to turn Jehoahaz around but it is not.  Jehoahaz continues to do evil and is killed in battle.

So here’s the blessed lesson for you and I today, dear sisters and brothers; God’s Mercy.  You see I confess that I have sinned.  Out of both fear of this world, as well as desires tied to this world, I have done those things which I ought not to have done and not done those things which I ought to have done had I been living a righteous, God fearing life.  There have been times when I felt that either the disappointment or anger of another person or perceived personal threat has fearfully driven me to actions against what God would have me do.  I have had times where earthly pride and desire have had me think, contemplate and carry out things which are decidedly against what God’s will for me has been.  In those times there are consequences for those actions.

But here’s the bottom line; God has never forsaken me.  God has never turned his back on me nor withheld His love from me.  He has kept me and when I have repented and confessed my sins, He has lifted me up with such incredible blessings and mercy, showing me His everlasting Love for me.  You see, dear sisters and brothers, we serve a Creator, Our Creator, of Love and Mercy; ever present to hear us when we call; not to condemn us, but to forgive us, not just once but over and over again.

What should our response be?  First let us strive to not be like Jehoahaz whereas upon witnessing Our Heavenly Father’s Mercy first hand, we act as if nothing has happened and continue in our evil, sinful ways.  Let us bow down in humility and thanksgiving, giving shouts of praise for the Love and Mercy of Our Heavenly Father.  Let us search ourselves looking at our own hearts to see the ways that we are not living into the Will of Our Heavenly Father.  Upon seeing those things, let us repent attempting to go forth in the power of Holy Spirit in ever more righteous living.

Yet understand this, we will fail.  Scripture tells us that we will sin.  God knows that is the case.  God knows that our sin should justly lead to our judgement and destruction.  And God acted.  No, He did not set up tribunal after tribunal and set wide open the gates of hell so that we would all perish due to our evil deeds.  No, God, in Love and Mercy, sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for us. That we, who believe in Jesus Christ as the only True Son of God; equal to God Himself, will not die in our sins, ever separated from Our Heavenly Father.  But will be forgiven our sins and thus, through His Mercy, live eternally in His Grace and Love.  That is the lesson that we can learn from 2 Kings and indeed each and all of the books of His Word.  Let it be that we are open to the learning in them.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim that Your Mercy is from everlasting to everlasting and far above and beyond our ability to comprehend.  Thank You that You have seen fit not to condemn us; but to send Your Son Jesus Christ to save us.  We also freely admit that we are sinners who must call upon Your Mercy to save us.  Again we praise You that You hear us when we call and time after time through countless times do not forsake us but deliver us.  Help us, through Your Holy Spirit, to live lives of evermore righteousness, love and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Matthew 22:36

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

There are many, many blessings and benefits to being married to a teacher (yes, there also times of grammatical and other corrections with eye rolls as well).  One of which being a gaining of understanding of nuances of things like language that can lead to deeper, richer understanding.  Take the word “as” for instance.  It is a conjunction.  For those who might remember an American, cartoon called “School House Rock” and the song “Conjunction Junction What’s Your Function?” (If you have a moment to Youtube it, it is a fun watch…anyway I digress), a conjunction exists to connect or combine two things together.

Jesus, is being tested; not in the sense of a an academic test or the sense of an achievement test, no this test is much more significant, the stakes of the grade are much more dire.  The Jewish Authorities are testing him.  They are sending different representatives to ask Him questions.  These are questions designed to trip Him up.  He has claimed to be the Messiah, God’s True and Only Son.  Yet Jesus has no formal training; He is a carpenter’s son.  In the minds of the Jewish Leadership, Jesus has been able to trick the uninformed, unintelligent masses, but He has not fooled the leadership.  And they are going to trap Jesus in His own words and show to the people the fraud that Jesus is.  There is only one problem with their plan.  Jesus keeps answering every question posed to Him with such great wisdom and then in turn asks the Jewish leaders questions they can not answer; that they are quickly being shown to be the ignorant fools that they in fact truly are.  So almost in exasperation; they turn to a final question with which they hope to trap Jesus; to have an answer which will lead to His downfall and doom.  But again, Jesus answers with such wisdom, such truth, such power, that the Jewish Leadership is forced to remain quiet and indeed, will never try to confront him openly in argument again.

The question?  Which is the great commandment?  Unwittingly, in their minds, and by the Grace of God the Father Almighty, they had opened the door to some of the most powerful teaching, the most clarifying concepts of Jesus entire ministry:  What does God think is the most important.  Jesus doesn’t just answer them.  In the Gospel of Mark, before answering he shouts out:  “Hear O Israel!” for Jesus isn’t just answering for the gathered leadership, He is answering for all of us; for all time.  The first of His answers is about our relationship to God. It is to be one of love with all that we have; heart, mind, body and soul.  But it is the second one and knowing that Jesus always chose His words with carefulness and clarity that he uses the conjunction as.  After our relationship with God, what is the next most important thing in our lives; is it the temple?, the priests?, our sacrifices?, the amount of money we give?; No, it is none of that.  It is our fellow human beings.  It is that which God, Himself, made in His own image and breathed His own breath into; His creation that He saw was very good.  It is those; whom we are to love AS we love ourselves.  Jesus goes on to say; everything else; all additional laws, commandments and teachings that have ever come are built on these two fundamental commandments.

So what’s the point for us that I think is so vital today?  AS.  For you see as, in the conjunctive form is a state of being.  It is a state of combination, of existence together; that is neighbor and you and I.  Please, Sisters and Brothers, take particular note of where and how the as is placed; neighbor as yourself.  Note this is not an eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth type of commandment.  This is not love your neighbor as they love you in return.  There is no freedom here to not love our neighbor if we don’t feel that their is love returned in kind to us.  No, the only way we can not love our neighbor is to not love ourselves in the first place.  And also please note this; if we find that we have no love for ourselves, then the first commandment of loving God will be next to impossible, for we are hating the very thing which He, in His wisdom, created.  And that is of course why Jesus Christ placed the two commandments in that very order.  For there can be no actual love of any kind lest it first come in a relationship from Above.  Then and only then, can the first Love, between God the Father Almighty and you and I, then be shared with all who are around us.  And finally note this, it is completely irrelevant, whether the love is returned from our neighbor or not.  Loving ourselves, we are commanded to love others.

In summation; of course God knows what He is doing and Jesus Christ knows exactly what He is saying.  We should not look at these commandments as harsh in nature or drudgingly laborious in carrying out.  For love is the greatest of all things.  Love opens up all things.  Love conquers all things.  Loving is the essence to life.  Love is the way to be.  Striving for anything else is striving for less.  Simple? yes. Easy? hardly.  In fact it is so hard that none of us will ever perfectly achieve it in this life time.  But that does not excuse us from trying.  And as we attempt and when we fail, we reach to up to Him in prayer who came down; who knows our weaknesses and in His Perfect Love and Mercy, died for our sins and failures; Jesus Christ.  And in Love, Perfect Love, Jesus Christ will lift us up, continue to Love Us and show us the way to love all others as ourselves.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise and thank You that You have seen fit to teach us, to tell us what You desire from us most.  We also humbly admit that what You want most from us; love, first to you and then to our neighbors, we often fail to give.  Forgive us Merciful Father and Pour Out the Holy Spirit upon us that He may teach us each day how to better love you as well as our neighbors.  That in that love, we will live lives of praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 

“Lord I pray open his eyes that he may see………and he saw.  And behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around.”  2 Kings 6:17

“And do not fear those who can kill the body but can not kill the soul.”  Matthew 10:28

What a powerful blessing is our sight.  For most it is the primary sense by which we measure, we experience, we judge most aspects of our world.  We even go as far as to say: “Seeing is believing!”

Well Elisha’s servant had seen.  He had seen that the city of Dothan was surrounded by an enemy army.  He had seen the enemy’s fierce chariots and horses.  He had also seen the defenders of Dothan and they were not many.  So Elisha’s servant runs to Elijah and he is scared.  The servant runs to Elisha, filled with despair he cries out to “Alas, my master, what are we to do?”

Now the servant might have been expecting Elisha to have some escape plan or perhaps he expected Elisha to tell him to get his things in order for they were doomed.  He must have seemed extremely surprised when Elisha showed no trace of despair.  Elisha’s demeanor portrayed no hint of despair.  What on earth did Elisha know?

Well “on earth” had little to do with Elisha’s confidence; that is the “on earth” that most people, including the enemy could see.  For Elisha, a prophet of God, had been shown that there was something else “on earth” that most could not see.  Elisha knew that there was the earthly “seeing” that was based solely on what was physically able to be seen.  But he also knew there was the spiritual “seeing” that was based on the soul, based on the spiritual world and that was even more powerful than the physical world.  For the spiritual world was the realm of God Almighty and His realm was the most powerful of all.

But Elisha’s servant, the people of Dothan, even the enemy army could not see the spiritual world.  They had no idea what and who was arrayed to defend the people of God and utterly destroy the enemy.  So the enemy was confident, the servant was full of panic and Elisha sat confidently.  Elisha did not want his servant to be filled with terror so he prayed that his servant might be able to see the spiritual.  Once the servant’s eyes were opened; he then saw the spiritual.  He looked around and saw that the mountains surrounding the city and the Syrian enemy were filled with the flaming chariots and warriors of God Almighty.  An army more powerful than any earthly army that could be brought against it.  So now the servant saw and he understood how it was that Elisha could be so calm.  And indeed the Syrian Army was completely and utterly defeated and destroyed.

Dear Sisters and Brothers we can be sorely tempted to look around us today and be as the servant was.  It is tempting to fall into the trap of seeing enemies both near and far that seem tremendously more powerful, more dangerous, more assured of victory than we will ever be.  When we see only or primarily the physical, the realm of this earth; we can see significant evil arrayed against us.  It appears to be stronger and indeed if we will only look with the earthly, physical eyes, it is larger, stronger than we are equipped to defeat.

So God the Father Almighty, open up our eyes.  Give us eyes to see the spirit realm.  Give us eyes that see Your spiritual forces arrayed to do battle on our behalf.  Let us see the spiritual army with Jesus Christ leading it on, that we might be at peace as Elisha was.

Again, Sisters and Brothers we must be open to, believe with certain knowledge that both the physical and spiritual realms exists.  And that which is of the spirit; that is Our Father in Heaven, is more powerful than anything that is in the physical world.  When we allow our eyes to be opened to the Spiritual Realm, then nothing in the physical realm can overpower us with fear.  For we know that God is the All Powerful of both realms.  How can we so sure?  The God of Spirit came down to take the physical form; his Name, Jesus Christ.  And the God who came down in physical form, did not come to judge and destroy, He came down to bring salvation in the only way that could be.  The God, with the earthly body, came to die.  He came to take the death that was meant for us, for our sin and our transgression and He took it upon Himself.  Then after death, He took physical form again in His resurrection.  That we might, by some miraculous mystery, be transcended with Him, into beings of both the physical and spiritual realm.  Oh Lord open my eyes that might see…….THEE!

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, You are our Creator who have endowed us with every blessing needed to live fulfilled, joy filled lives.  But we confess that we turn our vision from You to seeing only the world and when we do, sin overwhelms us.  Open our eyes we pray that we may see Your Spiritual Realm and thus know the power to defeat this physical world.  We thank You and praise You that, in Your Mercy and Love, You have not judged us as we deserve but instead sent Your Son, Our Savior Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for us and our salvation.  With this vision firmly planted in us; Dear Father, may we live lives of praise and thanksgiving to You.  In Jesus Christ Name we pray.  Amen

“For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased and I know how to abound.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:11,12,13

“and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field…..or anything that is your neighbors.” Deuteronomy 5:21

Well maybe it’s not my neighbor’s.  I mean I don’t want to take that person’s wife from them, I don’t plan on stealing his car; but I sure do want one that is just like it.  Just take a look at mine and then take a look at that one; that one is sweet!

Covet, not a word we hear or use very much; especially in general speech.  Many might recognize it from the ten commandments and have some idea that it is not a good thing.  Dictionary.com has the definition as: to desire wrongfully, inordinately or, to wish for, eagerly.

No we don’t use covet much; but there are words that get used often, want, desire and even to sometimes dream.  And here’s the thing with those words; they can be fine words, depending on the context/environment that they are used in.

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi.  Paul had ministered to that church and after leaving them, had been thrown into prison for preaching the gospel.  The Philippians had heard of this and, assuming Paul was in trouble, was in terrible need, they took up a collection an sent him the proceeds.  The person by whom the gift was to be presented to Paul, fell ill and Paul has him return to Philippi with his letter.  What Paul’s great concern was that the Philippians did not see Paul’s imprisonment nor their messenger’s illness as a reason for distress.  His letter is one of the most joy filled of his letters as he tries to communicate the fact that, through the Spirit, anyone can and should be content in whatever surroundings they find themselves in; whether trials or triumphs.  For Christ is above all circumstances and will cause all to work in the favor of the person who believes in Christ.  That in desiring to do the will of Christ, in wanting to walk in His ways, in dreaming of a time of eternal fellowship with Jesus Christ; any and all earthly circumstances are endurable.

Now understand the earthly context looks at it quite differently.  All too often, in the desiring of what we don’t have; we, in turn, look at what we do have with contempt.  Look at the wonderful house with its lush yards, its sumptuously large closets and incredibly adorned kitchen or gadget filled family room.  Sigh!  Now look at where I live by comparison; weed filled yard, with tiny little closets and a shabby, dingy kitchen.  We do this with people as well.  Look at her or him, look at how attractive they are.  Look how affectionate and compatible they seem to be.  Now look at who I’m stuck with.  Listen to how they talk to me.  We do it with situations also.  Why can’t I be retired?  Why can’t I have a job?  Why can’t I have a new job?  Wow those people who work for themselves have it made.  Each one of those brings about a comparison of the person’s current situation and how contemptuous they see it.

And there’s still more danger to the earthly concept of desire and action based on contempt; it is never satisfied.  When have you ever heard someone of wealth, say they are satisfied with what they have and don’t need more?  The person always buying the new car, wanting to know what the latest thing coming out is.  The person married to the super model; whether male or female who ends up cheating on them showing utter contempt for the other person.

Dear Sisters and Brothers; the contentment that Paul talks about is not in any way shape or form based upon earthly standards or measurements.  For one can never measure or put a limit on the resources, measure the capacity for giving or set a limit on the generosity of God, Our Father Almighty.  It is based on the Spiritual knowledge that all is in God’s control and therefore, God is all I’ll ever need.  Doubt that?  Ask the five thousand fed with five loaves and two fish.  Ask the widow who fed Elijah and her son with a never emptying jar of grain.  Ask the Israelites as they left Egypt and Egyptians were giving them gold, silver and livestock.  Ask Ruth as Boaz makes sure that there is plenty of grain in the field for her to pick up.   You see if you are in a place of need today; God knows that.  God wants you to be in a place of spiritual contentment knowing that He has all of creation at His disposal to meet your need.  If you are in a place of abundance, God wants you to be in a place of spiritual contentment, not just earthly contentment.  The spiritual contentment says I know that my abundance comes from God, to be used for God’s purposes and has nothing to do with my, effort to earn it, my talent to attain it, my righteous deserving of it.

When I ask; God give me this day…….I know it is never a good thing to look contemptuously on the blessings He has in turn, given me.  It is in the spirit of contentment, I can truly say; Thank you Dear Father.  Amen.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we greatly thank you for the manifest blessings You see fit to pour out on us daily.  Forgive us when we fall into the earthly trap of looking with contempt on those things which You have supplied, instead desiring different or more.  Give us spirits of contentment like Your Apostle Paul had; that we would know that You will meet every need abundantly no matter how the world would measure our situation.  That in so doing, we would live lives that praise Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

“Give us this day……….” Matthew 6:11

“Who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time……with persecutions….”  Mark 10:30

From the bible I want to consider an aspect of three lives: Ruth, David and Paul.  While we know the end of the story for each of these people, let’s take a moment to step back into their shoes in a time of their struggles.

First, Ruth.  In the bible; Ruth is described as a humble daughter-in-law whose heart was filled with love and service for her mother-in-law.  Ruth’s own husband was killed, but instead of returning home to her own people, she travels back to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi so she won’t be all alone.  Now here’s want I want you to consider.  Ruth may have felt a calling to be a wife and mother; she may have even been praying desperately for that to happen.  Yet she had lost her only husband and being a poor foreigner she could only daily go out to fields and pick up the scraps left over from harvesters who might have missed some grain.  Ruth continued to pray.

Second, David.  At one point early on, David had been anointed to be future king of Israel by the prophet Samuel; this was before Goliath and other triumphs David would eventually have.  Yet for a time David finds himself hiding in a cave; afraid for his very life because Saul the current king of Israel is jealous of David and wants him killed.  One can imagine that in that cave, or during his other days on the run, David is praying for God to come, praying concerning being King of Israel.  Yet here he is, eating stale bread and running like a criminal. Yet he continued to pray.

Finally, Paul.  Paul, called by Jesus Christ himself; when Paul was Saul the persecutor of early believers, to become an apostle of Jesus Christ.  A Christian group, a church if you will, not a huge building but a growing gathering of people had started in Rome.  Paul had been the apostle to the gentiles and desperately desired to go to Rome to preach the gospel and serve and shepherd the new flock.  Yet time after time the Spirit had blocked him; led him to go in a different direction.  Finally being persecuted in Jerusalem by the Jews who want to see Paul dead; Paul is arrested.  Will he never get to see his beloved flock in Rome?  Paul continued to pray.

Here’s the thing and part of it is a blessing and part of it makes it tough.  We know the ends of these stories.  The blessing is that we know that God was with them through their entire journey.  We know how He sustained them in times of distress and lifted them up to times of great blessing.  Ruth married Boaz to become the grandmother of David.  King Saul died in battle and David became the great king.  Paul left prison, made it to Rome and ministered there two years with that beloved church.  Here’s the tough part.  We don’t know the end of our story.  We’re smack dab in the middle of it.

And an example of a person in the middle of their story is an author who felt called to write a book.  He prayed and continues to pray over that book.  He did write it and it was published.  Most who have read it call it powerful.  However, in total those who have read it are few.  That author prays about the book and its success, not for fame and fortune but to be able to continue writing as he feels called.  He prays constantly and earnestly.  But here’s the point; like David, Ruth or Paul in the midst of their journey, he prays and the next day, nothing seems changed.  Nothing new has happened with the book; like Ruth, it is time to go out and glean again, like David still in the cave.  And this author wonders; what am I doing wrong?  Maybe I misinterpreted God’s calling.  Perhaps I should choose a different path.  How do I know?  That author is the same one who is writing this message.

Yet, Dear Sisters and Brothers, in my more lucid and faithful moments if anything comes through loud and clear in the stories of those three it is this; God had them and their situations; “God had this”.  God had every sequence planned, ever step needed, every day laid out about how to bring Ruth, David, Paul and we can have faith as well; you and I to where He has called us to be.  Personally for me, I must say I don’t know what His ultimate Will for my book is; maybe it will become well known after I’ve departed to be with Him.  Here’s the thing; God has this.  And His this; the this He has in store for me today; is all I need.

So we’ve been taught to pray; give us this day………which is what matters.  But it is not easy.  We are imperfect.  We want to feel certain by having specific knowledge about the next day, week, month year.  We can find ourselves confused, worried, filled with fear, wondering what are we doing wrong; why is God leading us this way.  And we sin.  Thinking we know better, we take the steps we want to take, that the world says to take and we turn from God and His plan.  Then comes the most loving miraculous “this” of all.  When we have sinned and are deserving of eternal condemnation; God turns to Jesus Christ seeing the scars of nails in His hands and feet; and Jesus Christ says to His Father:  “I got this!”  Instead of seeing our sin, God sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ who sacrificed Himself for our Salvation and we are forgiven.

Dear Sisters and Brothers know, where ever you are today, whatever your circumstances; God is saying to you; I’ve Got This.  Whether it is a valley of darkness or a bright mountain top; God has this.  And rest assured that God’s this is the only this we will ever need.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are filled with praise that in every moment You are with us.  Forgive us when we doubt and fear because of what this world attempts to tell us is truth.  Pour out Your Spirit that we may stay strong in You to resist the temptation to leave the perfect path You have for us that leads to an ever blessed life of closeness and praise to You.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

“I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant…..I alone am left and they seek to take my life.”  1Kings 19:10

“The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38

(Author’s Note: C.S. Lewis, a wonderful author who I greatly recommend wrote a book called The Problem of Pain.  In the forward he stated he wished to have written under another name because, while he believed in the profound, powerful things he had written, he struggled to live them in his own life.  While I pale in comparison to that great author, in this post I too feel that while I believe what I’m writing with whole heart.  Anyone knowing me would say I struggle mightily with it.)

Elijah, the great prophet of God is in hiding.  He’s running away as fast as his legs will carry him.  Just a few days previous, Elijah had been praying to God to take his life.  Elijah was one stressed out person.

What I find amazing about this is that Elijah was not new to ministry or seeing the wonders of God.  He had seen God bring a devastating drought.  He had seen God take a very little flower and turn it into meal after satisfying meal.  Through God, Elijah had brought a widow’s son back to life!

At this very moment the reason that Elijah was running was because of miraculously powerful act he performed at the request of God Almighty.  Elijah had called down Heavenly Fire upon the earth to show the power of Almighty God to the people of Israel.  Yet even with that; Elijah was stressed out; in fear for his life.

You see Elijah was a prophet of God to a people who didn’t want to hear from God.  When Elijah proclaimed the word of God, did the will of God, performed mighty acts at the bequest of God, the people; especially the rulers despised Elijah.  After Elijah’s latest act of revelation from God; showing the impotence of Baal and Baal’s priests and having the priests killed; Jezebel, the queen of Israel swore that she would have Elijah killed in the same way.  Elijah believed the queen had the power to carry out her threat, so he ran.

When God searches for and finds Elijah, God asks Elijah why is he hiding.  Elijah lays out what is stressing him.  First he is alone.  What he believes, no one else believes.  Second his experience has shown just how much people like him are hated.  They have killed all of God’s priests except Elijah and they are hunting for him.  Hated, friends dead, alone, seen as a curse, no worldly resources to call on and wanted dead; one can see where Elijah’s stress comes from.  Yet Elijah was the prophet of Almighty God wasn’t he?

Jesus Christ, God come down to earth.  Jesus Christ, with the Father from the beginning, loving and loved by His Almighty Father.  Jesus Christ, there at creation itself and with all the power of God Almighty.  Jesus Christ is stressed?  Yes Jesus Christ is feeling stress.  His time has come. His ministry is about to reach its culmination.  But to do that, Jesus is going to have to sacrifice himself.  And in that sacrifice, Jesus is not only going to have to endure the most brutal, painful type of death, but worse yet, Jesus is going to become sin.  And because He becomes sin, Jesus is going to be forsaken by His Father and allowed to die.  Yes even Jesus is stressed.

And I thank God Almighty for His plan and thank Jesus Christ for His carrying out that plan.  For, dear sisters and brothers, the most amazing thing is we have a Savior who knows what it is to feel stress.  When we are on our knees, tears streaming down our face, breathes lurching in great sobs, crying out to Jesus; our Blessed Savior can relate.  He knows what we are going through. And He knows where the stress comes from.

He told us where not only His stress, but I believe all stress comes from:  “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak!”  Now do understand; this was Jesus Christ talking.  His Spirit definitely was willing, in our case, our spirit and flesh may be weak.  Yes we are born of the flesh, not Begotten By God and so like Elijah, we can see things from a primarily flesh perspective.  Through the eyes of flesh we see no one there to help so we feel alone.  We see only eyes of hatred and derision looking at us and we become greatly afraid.  Our eyes of flesh see no earthly resources available to us so we despair and become desperate.

Yes our components may indeed be flesh, but remember this sisters and brothers, we were created by God Almighty in His image.  God breathed life into us, our very spirit, from His very breath.  It was only after receiving that breath, that we came to life. So we are creations of both flesh from elements of the earth and spirit, from the breath of Almighty God.  And it is through the spirit that we can connect to God.  It is through eyes of the spirit that we can see that we are never alone.  It is through the eyes of the spirit that we can see that we are loved forever by the Eternal King of Kings.  It is through eyes of the spirit that we can see that we have every and all resources necessary to be victorious over the dominion of the flesh.  How do we get that spirit vision?  We look to Him who experienced both visions; Jesus Christ.  We pray to Christ for the Holy Spirit which will fill us, connecting to our spirit to empower it and us to rise above the weakness of the flesh filled vision.  We, as sinners, will be weak and feel stress.  Yet, through Jesus Christ, whose life, death and resurrection has lifted us above sin, He will allow us to be conquerors of our stress as well.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we confess that we often feel stress when we look at this world; a world that hates you and all who proclaim your name.  Strengthen us, Dear Father, especially when both our wills and flesh are weak in wanting to carry out Your Will. Through the Holy Spirit, teach us to use our spiritual eyes to see the Truths of Your Love and Protection for us.  That we can for ourselves as well as showing to others what it means to be stress free.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“And Elijah came near to all the people and said: ‘How long will you falter between two opinions; If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal, follow him.”  1 Kings 18:21

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One….”  Mark 12:29

Quite a debate is waging around the world about the value or weakness of compromise.  In my vocation, I teach organizational behavior as well as appropriate organizational change and compromise comes up quite often as a topic.

Hear’s what I find.  In matters dealing with purely human ideas and concepts; difference of opinions and disagreements; compromise is vital.  For compromise at its very heart has several precepts.  First, that in any idea that is being considered; there is more than one perspective; one way of looking at an issue and all perspectives are in some way not completely accurate.  Because all human perspectives have an element of inaccuracy to them; the more perspectives you have, the more likely you are to have the most complete picture on which to take the most accurate, appropriate action.  So we are hearing and I often speak on the praises of compromise………dealing with human, earthly things. But what about spiritual things?  What about God?

The prophet Elijah is sent to King Ahab of Israel.  King Ahab had married a foreign woman; Jezebel who only worshiped the god of the Canaanites, Baal.  It was not the God of Israel was banned from being worshiped, it was that He was worshiped along with other gods.  The people of Israel had chosen the human notion of multiple perspectives, in this case concerning gods, and had decided compromise was acceptable.

Elijah was a prophet of God Almighty and God had spoken to him.  So Elijah has had all the people of Israel come together and he puts out there very plainly:  compromise is not an option.  You as a people falter in your belief that you can have it both ways.  There is no possibility that the God of Israel and Baal can be coworshiped, can co exist.  You must choose; Elijah tells them.

Here again to me is where the mercy of Our Heavenly Father is so amazing.  For He could have simply not even allowed for a decision to be made.  He could have simply destroyed every single person who ever bent a knee or burned any incense to the false god Baal.  Instead, God reveals Himself to the people through a test.

Two altars are built for two sacrifices.  There are over 400 Baal priests and prophets there to pray and exhort the god Baal to show himself.  The test is to set up the sacrifices and then call upon each God to send fire down to accept the sacrifice of His respective prophet(s).  The Baal priests go first and for almost an entire day, the pray, the plead, they ritually cut themselves to show their devotion to Baal; yet there is no response.  Finally at the end of the day, when it is time for the evening sacrifice; the one, lone prophet of God; Elijah has his turn.  Elijah commands that the altar be drenched three times with water so that no only is the altar, the wood on the altar, the bull for the sacrifice drenched but there is a deep trench around the altar filled with water.  The possibility of a fire consuming the sacrifice seems dubious to say the least.  Yet Elijah calls upon God Almighty and scarcely have the words left his mouth when a fire rains down, so hot, so intense that it not only consumes the sacrifice but completely drys up the water.  Seeing is believing.  The Israelites proclaim God as the one true God.

Here’s the thing Dear Sisters and Brothers; today, few are out there worshiping gods named Baal, Molech or Zeus.  But that does not mean that we are not faltering.  It does not mean that we have set up new gods for ourselves that we fall down and worship, sacrifice for and to.  These gods are named things like, money, power, fame, a perfect body, sex for the sake of sex and yes even human based church.  How do we know they are gods?  We know that is the case when we put our faith in any or all of these to be path to, the basis for our salvation.

It’s as if we’re saying God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, you may exist; but you exist up there or out there and I live right down here.  And down here these are the things that I need to get by.  So I’ll compromise.  For day to day, down here type stuff, I’ll pay homage to the gods of my choosing and making.  When I get around to thinking about my soul on a certain day of the week or certain holidays, then it’s all about You, God.  We compromise.

The term jealous is used for God but not in the way that we would think of it down here.  You see God knows; He, in the person of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit are it.  They are the Only True God.  They are the only way to eternal salvation.  They also know that we are doomed if we compromise and follow our own gods.  You and I might think we see a God as a God ready to judge us, to turn us out, to damn us for all time.  That is what the prince of this world would want you and I to believe.

Judge us? No, instead Our God, the One True God; died for us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.  He took our compromises, our sins upon Himself, who never once compromised, so that we might be saved.  Dear Sisters and Brothers, let that be the only perspective that we will decide to follow.  By the Grace of God Almighty, may we never compromise on that.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly admit that we are not perfect and that often we need, sometimes You even give us guidance through multiple human opinions.  Yet we also confess, that we choose our own opinions over You Most Merciful Father.  That we compromise and chase after gods of our own making who have no power whatsoever and forsake You.  Have Pity on us Dear Father and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would cease in our striving after false gods and only follow You Dear Father.  For we proclaim that there is only One True Father, Son and Holy Spirit and there is no salvation without You.  We pray this in the most precious Name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.  Amen

“Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them”  Mark 2:3

“When Jesus saw their faith their faith; He said to the paralyzed man: ‘ Son, your sins are forgiven’.”  Mark 2:5

Have you ever read something that you have, in the past read over and over, and all the sudden something new jumps out at you?  That’s what happened to me recently with the story in the Gospel of Mark verses 1-12.  Here’s what jumped out at me.  Up until this past reading this seemed to be a story of 6 principal characters plus the doubting Jewish leaders; you had Jesus of course, a paralytic man, four people bearing him and a home owner.  The supporting characters were the crowds that so surrounded the house as to block its entrance.

What is different now?  The community around this man.  You see there’s more than just four men supporting this man.  Some men, SOME MEN; you see there were more than four.  And I’m not trying to say that four can’t be a community but with the greater number I see an even greater faith story coming out.

First, someone in that community had to have heard of Jesus; who knows maybe one of them even saw Him, saw Him perform another miracle.  This person, whoever he or she was had to think of the others and set off to find them and tell them about it.  That is a hallmark of a community; the desire to spread good news.

We don’t know if this person was also thinking of the paralytic and that Jesus could heal him or if that idea came from somewhere else in the community.  However, this much is clear, the community believed that Jesus could heal their paralytic friend or they would not have undertaken the journey in the first place.  So four men out of this community pick up their paralytic friend on his mat and off they go.

But now the community encounters a problem; they can’t get in to see Jesus.  One gets the sense that at least one of their party got close enough to verify the Jesus was indeed in the house and that He was preaching; but entry through any normal means was barred. Again the community kicks in; they are not going to take no for an answer.  Again, we don’t know who came up with the idea to climb onto the roof, but the community’s faith had to be strong enough to consider such a radical idea a valid one.

Here again it makes sense that there were more than just four men.  Because for one, to lift the man to the roof it would have been extremely difficult if all four men were not already up there.  Even with the four of them up there; it would take extraordinary concentration and cooperation to make sure they worked together as one unit and did not spill the poor helpless man out.  So if the four were on the roof; who gave them the ropes once they were up there.  One can also easily imagine others staying behind on the ground helping to steady the mat, taking some of the weight burden off the men on the roof and gaurding against any tragic fall of their friends.

Now this part of the story is primarily in the four mens’ hands.  They disassemble the roof (funny you hear no irrate complaints from the homeowner) and they lower the man down.  Jesus seeing their act, understanding the great effort it took the entire community to get the paralyzed man to this point; seeing the act of selfless love; has mercy on the paralytic man and forgives his sins.

So let’s go back for a moment to the rest of the community; those people who are still standing outside.  One can imagine them straining to try and catch a glimpse of what is happening on the roof.  Perhaps they’re calling out to their friends on the roof asking what is happening.  But on their faces are not the expressions of fear, frustration or dread.  No their faces have the expressions of excited anticipation, jubilent expectation, they have the faces of faithful hope.  Jesus knows of their faith too.

So what does this community of faith get for all if its efforts?  The one thing they really, trully wanted.  One again can imagine the jumps (those on the roof having to be very careful) and shouts for joy as the paralytic man, picks up his mat and walks straight out of the home.  What the community of faith receive; afformation.  They received the afformation that Jesus who has come as the Christ; God’s only one begotten Son, noticed their humble act of faith and rewarded them for it.  They knew, some without even seeing Him; that they had been in the presence of the Messiah.  And the Messiah loved them.  Imagine being in that community that night, walking away with one once lame.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, we don’t have to imagine.  We too, even today, can be in a powerful community of faith.  We can know that the Messiah; Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will notice our acts of faith and will gladly proclaim to us as well; your sins are forgiven.  We can certainly know the same the afformation that was experienced by that earlier group so many years ago.  Jesus Christ is calling.  Jesus Christ is healing.  Jesus Christ is forgiving sins.  And we can be completely certain of this; there is always a path to be found to the presence of Jesus Christ.  Let us strive to find a community where we can help each other travel that path.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, thank You that You have seen fit to bring other believers into our lives to form a community.  Help us to always be looking out for one another; being strong enough to carry others when needed and humble enough to allow ourselves to be carried when we are in need.  Increase our faith through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we will never stop seeking to be where Jesus Christ is.  That our community may be a beacon of light to a world plunged deep into darkness.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

“So all those in the synagogue….were filled with wrath and rose up…..and they led Him to the brow of the hill….that they might throw Him down over the cliff.  Then passing through the midst of them; He went His way.” Luke 4:28-30

“I do not pray for these alone but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one….”  John 17:20

Ahh sports.  It is one of the human endeavors most often used to teach life’s lessons.  We speak in such terms as the “game of life”, someone; “drops the ball” or someone tries a “Hail Mary” (a Hail Mary is a play with so little chance of success; the team attempting has to call upon Mother Mary for success).  It seems around the world that there is always a season starting or a championship being decided during any given week.  And if you think people don’t care about sports then ponder this; it is estimated over 400 billion dollars (that’s billion with a B) is wagered legally and illegally annually on professional sports.  Also there has been over 2000 deaths from fans rioting around the world at various sporting events from 1950 –  2000.

So as sports enthusiasm has hit a fevered pitch, at least here in the United States, I thought I might try to use a sport analogy to speak to the promise, power and success of the Life of Jesus and how that affects us who want to be on “His Team”.  And when one thinks of sports, especially team sports, and thinks in the context of the “holy grail” of success.  It is the perfect season.  The perfect season; every time a team enters an arena; it emerges victorious.  A truly rare and magnificent feat.

Thus perhaps; let’s look at Jesus life and ministry as a season.  It would seem to have started off in much an underdog status.  Let’s face it; to be born of a poor mother and father in a stable no less and then right after being born; having one of the most powerful opponents in your country (King Herod) come after you, willing to murder many just to see you dead, seems to indicate that there’s a tough season ahead.  Yet at every turn; Jesus, through the leading of His Heavenly Father, thwarted the game plan of His competition.

Now let’s move ahead to the time of His ministry.  First, let’s take measure of His team.  Jesus has a loving mother, but most of the rest of His family thinks that He is mad.  He chooses twelve stout-hearted men, but none of them have any formal training or experience in the ministry game; plus one is player for the other side.  Even as time goes on; Jesus’ team has a tendency to argue with one another and at times Him.

How about the competition?  Okay, there’s the very powerful Jewish, entrenched religious aristocracy; they hated him.   There’s the even more powerful Roman Empire; they were against Him.  Half of His own people; the general population; didn’t believe in Him.  And, as if earthly opponents were not enough, Jesus had to face off against Satan; who would try all in his considerable power to destroy Him.

We have the team and the opponents; now let’s look at some of the plays.  Miracles; the sick, the lame, the demon possessed, the hungry are brought to Him with His enemies hoping that He will be stymied and fail to be able to help them.  Each and every time, with confidence, ease and compassion; Jesus triumphantly heals them.  Testing; the wisest opponents come up against Jesus to trick Him with their wisdom, to show His ignorance through their learned questions; to uncover to the world; the foolishness of Jesus.  Each and every time, Jesus silences their foolishness with His wisdom and they slink away defeated.  Physical danger; several times they pick up stones to stone Him, plan to throw Him off a cliff, even nature seems to be against Him to drown Him in a storm. Calmly, victoriously, Jesus walks through their midst; unscathed.

Wait you say!  Jesus did lose once!  The enemy was able to try Him and crucify Him; they at least won that round!  That round, the round of sacrifice was Jesus Christ’s greatest victory.  To conquer death; Jesus had to die.  He went toe-to-toe with the greatest of all enemies; and won the greatest of all victories.

Jesus Christ had the ultimate undefeated season.  How?  First it starts with the game plan.  His game plan came from God Almighty.  Second Jesus loved His Team and His Team loved Him.  He lost only one and that goes back to the perfect game plan from God.  Third, Jesus knew where His strength laid; by following the plan of His Father; not wanting to be the star Himself but being completely subservient to the Will of the Coach.

Yea Jesus Christ but where does that leave us?  Jesus Christ tells us in His prayer.  You see we are also on His Team.  We are those who believe based on the Gospel of His disciples.  Jesus Christ prays for us to be on His Victorious Team just like the disciples.  The Season of Jesus Christ has not ended and indeed will not end until He comes again in Power and Majesty.  And here’s the wonderfully merciful part.  We don’t have to be the best to be picked.  There is no spiritual tryout where we have to be righteousness enough, religious enough, pious enough, better than our fellow person to make the team.  The only stretching we have to do is what it takes to get down on our hands and knees and prayerfully ask.  Ask Jesus Christ to be our Eternal Coach and we have made the team.  And in Him and Through Him; by the Power of Almighty God; testified to by the Holy Spirit; no opponent can defeat us; no circumstance steal our victory.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father; we praise Your Most Holy Name for sending us Your Son who is both Savior Coach and beloved Friend and Teammate.  Forgive us; Merciful Father when we look out and despair only seeing defeat.  Give us Your Strength that we may see the triumph that You have planned for us compelling us to go out and live victorious lives.  That in our victory in You; all would see Your Power and praise Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

 

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but debt….

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness”  Romans 4: 4-5

When I receive, which I do, we all do; on what basis do I (we) measure that value of what I have received?  Do I count what I’ve received as what is my due for the efforts that I have made, the things I have accomplished?  Or….do I count what I’ve received as a gift, as a token gesture dished out by some other party based, not on my deserving, but on their generosity?

Wages, adequate wages, disparity of wages, inequality of wages, deficiency of wages are all topics of conversation around the globe in our present time.  And I will grant that many of those discussions are of a necessary nature; but this is not the forum in which I want to elaborate on any or all of those in detail.

No; while there is a sense of human justice and fairness which those discussions need to explore we can run afoul of that mindset if we try to apply it outside the realm of human focused vocations.  That is to say; should we come to a way of thinking where our salvation is owed to us, is based on our good works; is something that God better not hold back.  Should we succumb to that sort of thinking; we do so at great personal, spiritual and eternal peril.

Religion has, for almost its entire existence, been about the idea of doing.  Mind you I am not saying that this is correct, but it is how humankind has looked at it.  In pagan religions I do, that is I hold specific rites, I sacrifice, even to the extent of human beings, even to the extent of some in my own family, and then these god’s may look down upon me and give me some response.  But I must do first.

It was not just pagan religions, the early Christian Church was struggling with doing.  Specifically in this case, the doing was about keeping the rites and requirements of the Jewish traditions; for example, should all Christians be circumcised, should all Christians strictly follow the Jewish laws and commandments.  Paul is addressing those questions as to what should be our expectations  from God based on our actions, on our behavior.  If we feel that we receive from God because of our own good behavior, Paul argues, then we’re receiving due wages and grace is of no consequence.  If that were the case; Paul also argues, then the law would have been sufficient for salvation.  But as Paul goes on to argue, since no one is able to faithfully and perfectly follow the law; then what we receive is a free gift from God by Grace and our imperfect works are nothing for which we can boast or rely on.

And Dear Sisters and Brothers, it was not just the early church that had such struggles.  Sadly, there are many struggles around this same question today.  There are many Christian denominations where specifically this has to be done or this can’t be done and if those can’s and can’ts, the thou shalt and shalt nots are accomplished then salvation is assured.  There is another similar but different message out there that states that who we are and thus what we do is basically good.  We are fundamentally good people and when we do wrong it is only due to circumstances outside of our control.  Thus, we are owed salvation because of our basic goodness. I believe these messages to be the outcomes of targeted attacks by the prince of this world; on God’s message to us.  These are messages filled with peril and ultimately doom.

But this is not meant to be a downer message.  Some see this truth preached as messages of guilt and defeat.  If you are feeling this, please read on for the truth of the message is joy, confidence, liberation and love.  For Our Heavenly Father tells us that He will freely give us what we are incapable of being able to earn.  Our Creator God tells us that we have no reason or right to feel guilty when our sins have been washed clean; completely forgiven, completely forgotten.  Dear Sisters and Brothers it is not about our doing, which is inadequate, but about His Being which is completely, perfectly adequate.

How can we be so sure of this; Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  Think about it, Christ did not take the works of good people upon His shoulders.  Christ did become righteous as He was on the cross.  No, Christ became sin, taking the sins of you and I upon Himself.  His sacrifice, His Grace, allowed for us to be counted as righteous.  The same way Abraham was counted as righteous after God called upon him; not before.

Now do watch out for this.  Some would conclude: “Then what I do, doesn’t matter.  I can continue to hurt, destroy, do evil and sin willfully and I’m forgiven.”  Well it goes back, not to doing, but to being.  If we are in Christ; if we are being what God has created us to be; then love is our guide. Love is our commandment.  Love first for God and then love for each other as ourselves.

Bottom line, we are sinners.  The wages of sin is death.  But Grace trumps that equation where we’re concerned.  Because death was paid; for us and not by us.  Jesus Christ paid our price by His Graceful Gift.  Let it be that we are willing to receive that gift.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, ever since creation itself, ever since the garden, You have generously, mercifully, patiently, graciously poured out Your Gifts upon us.  Forgive us Dear Father whether we have failed to receive those gifts or looked upon them as payment due us instead of gifts freely given.  Help us Most Merciful Father to conquer that part of ourselves who would rather try to work our way to righteousness than accept the blessings You have supplied.  That in our humble recognition and praise to You; we would rise higher than our own works could ever take us we proclaim.  In the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior we pray.  Amen

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