“He turns rivers into wilderness and the watersprings into dry ground…..He turns wilderness into pools of water and dry land into water spring……He also blesses them and they multiply…”  Psalm 107:  33, 35, 38

“Oh that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness….Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of  the people”  Psalm 107 31, 32

I will try not to compartmentalized too much and stay on topic.  Yet one does not have to look too far in the world and see not only a lot of compartmentalization going on in general, but especially compartmentalization going on about God in the world.

It is sadly true that Our Heavenly Father, God Almighty is referred to less and less in mainstream society in terms of having any relevent impact on it.  Not wanting to enforce a “state religion” in the United States, the founding leaders designed a separation of church and government.  That concept, much to the delight of the devil, has morphed into a much broader concept of separation of church and society.  It is no longer a correct and in some cases an allowable exercise to discuss our faith in conjunction with our vocation or outside of solely religious gatherings.

Yet there is one place where calling upon God is still considered a morally correct and admirable thing to do; when people are struck with extreme personal tragedy, often involving health or loved ones’ death.  In the aftermath of significant natural disasters with large loss of life or property, in the wake of a mass shooting or terrorist attack, speaker after speaker stands before the public and pleads with the public to remember these people and their families in our prayers.  Please don’t misunderstand me; I am glad even for that mention of God and His power to heal, comfort and restore.

So here’s an example of compartmentalization recently.  There are horrible wildfires happening in our western and northwestern states.  There has been a lack of rain for significant periods of time and much of the vegetation had dried up over time leading to readily volatile fire conditions.  Various reasons for this period of drought and what to do about it have been offered.  It is man-made climate change.  It is climate change that has nothing to do with man.  It is man’s mismanagement of resources for not storing water when he could.  In short it is man or strictly a natural process with no other influence discussed or possible.  So the fires happen and very sadly, several, brave firefighters have lost their lives.  Then it happens; in talking about the firefighters’ death, we are encouraged to pray for them.  In fact first and foremost that is what speaker after speaker, and these are secular speakers, governors, mayors, fire captains, news reports, even the president, feel completely at ease calling upon you and I to pray to God for these people (and that is again a good thing).

So I have to ask myself and would ask them if I had the chance; why is it correct to pray for these individuals and not the greater circumstances where these people and we ourselves find ourselves?  Are you or we saying that God has only power in helping people in dire or after dire circumstances but has no power in any other aspect of the world we live in?  Of course I’d hate that in, asking that question, their answer would be to stop calling on God altogether.

King David, in Psalm 107 is referring to the power of God Almighty and how He uses that power to bless and yes, withhold blessing.  Yet there is no ambiguity in God’s omnipotence in every aspect of creation.  Now please don’t infer by my example that I am judging areas of our country or saying that the fires are God’s judgement for this act or that.  I do not know the mind of God nor am in any place to be a spokesperson of His judgement; He is all too capable to do that for Himself.  What I am saying with complete conviction is that God is the Creator and has power in all things.  I also proclaim that He is a God of love who longs to hear the prayers of His creation and bless them (us) abundantly.  I also believe, based upon scripture, that God will withhold His blessings when we fail to reach out to Him and act based on our own earthly and evil judgement.  Yet God in His Mercy and Patience will do all that He can do to bring us back.  To show us, not only His Power, but His Love as well.  He will go as far as to sacrifice His only Son to redeem us from our sin and show us His Power by raising Him from the dead, to show us how we can come to live in His presence again.  In fact that very comforting nature of God that is why we are asked to pray for those so significantly hurting.

What I am saying, asking for, cajoling, pleading for is for you and I not to compartmentalized our requests to God.  To understand that God wants to be a part of and then allow Him to come into our lives and be a part of, every aspect of our lives.  I am asking that we understand, there is nothing outside of God’s control so let’s pray for rain and relief of drought and famine, knowing that God has that power.  Pray for a promotion, pray for a grade, pray for a relationship, pray for your finances with the firm faith of God’s intervening power.  He is faithful to answer.  He is faithful to bless.  It may not be in the same time or way that we were thinking but He will make it all the better, all the richer.

One final thing David asks us to do.  For example I have two friends who have recently done exactly what David speaks of.  One friend miraculously survived a horrific automobile accident and his recovery has had physical pain and there are things he can no longer do.  Yet he is unceasing in his praise of Power of God in the recovery his doctors say is nothing short of miraculous.  Another friend and husband were going through financial, health and spiritual troubles that shook them to their very souls thinking, at times there might be no way out other than to bring about their own end.  Yet they did not completely lose their faith and God powerfully intervened and they sing His praises constantly.  We need to tell of God’s blessings.  We need to declare God’s answered prayers.  Many will scoff, but some will hear and be transformed and end their compartmentalization and open all to God.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly and loudly declare You are the Creator God and over all things.  We pray to You in all aspects of our lives to include we pray for rain in our western states to put out the fires.  We pray for drought and famine relief in Saharan Africa.  Show us that You want to us to pray, in love and faith, for specific things and in all aspects of our life.  Forgive us, when we compartmentalized our lives trying to exclude you from some part.  We praise You for the blessings and love you pour down upon us.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“He created him; male and female…Then God blessed them…Then God saw everything He had made and indeed it was very good.”  Genesis 1:27.28, 31

“These things I have spoken to you to you, that in Me, you may have peace.  In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” John 10:10

Dear readers, this intended to be a slightly shorter post (I can hear the applause coming across the internet :) ).  For being an instructor and facilitator as long as I have been; I know that no one can be forced to learn.  In the same way, no one can be forced; first, to make a decision and second should they decide to decide, what choice they decide, which can be influenced, can not be completely forced.  Ah, that free will thing.

So it is Dear Sisters and Brothers, if you are reading this and decide to continue on; no one can argue that you are indeed alive.  Your heart is beating, your lungs are taking in air and your brain synapses are firing.  So the basic, bottom-line questions is: How do you see your life? Is your (and my) life a gift from God?  Is it a burden (perhaps placed on us by God or not)?  Is it a curse?  Do please understand two things.  First, I’m asking you to think, not just about your circumstances concerning today; but how you truly see your life in total.  Second, this is not a purely academic or fuzzy, nebulous exercise.  For how you see or define your life is how you will behave toward yourself, toward God, toward others.

So (and again briefly) let’s explore this question.  First, scripture tells us in the beginning; that all God created was good, indeed very good.  God did not create us to be burdened or even cursed.  Yet we rebelled.  Surely at that point, God cursed us, turned His back on us, levied burdens on us too tough to bear.  God did not curse Cain when he slew his brother Abel.  Yes Cain was sent away but God swore to protect Him.  Look how God protected and provided for Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth and so many more regular, imperfect people who had faith in Him.

Yet for all that God did for us we could not find it within ourselves to save ourselves and come into a righteous eternal relationship with Him.  Again, He didn’t curse us and turn His back on us.  On the contrary, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do what we could not.  Through His death and resurrection; Jesus Christ allowed us to come into eternal fellowship with our Heavenly Father.  To experience the true gift our life can be.

So how do we respond?  First, like an earthly gift, we can completely reject the gift and the giver, seeing no value in what is being given to us.  Or, we can see that it is a gift, but like that crazy relative that keeps giving us strange and unwanted things, we can politely accept the gift and seeing no value in it, put it way in a closet, never bringing it out or maybe just once or twice a year.  A few, fortunate ones may see the gift for the treasure it is.  Understanding that the giver didn’t just give to us one thing and then step away to see if we’d use it right or not.  No, God everyday, is adding to His gift of life.  God is teaching us, blessing us, leading us and most important of all; loving us.

Dear Sisters and Brothers; our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know that we will sometimes mistreat Their wonderful gift of life.  They also know that many will reject not only the gift and the Giver, but will also reject and be jealous of those who choose to accept the gift and be blessed by it.  Yet neither of those things will diminish the lengths that God is ready to go to sustain the wonderful gift He has given.  Today, regardless of your (or my) circumstances, God wants to give you, His Peace, His Joy, His Strength, His Spirit, His Love.  All He demands, all He expects, all He truly wants in return; is that we accept His gift and accept Him who is the giver, as well as He through and by who the gift is given; Jesus Christ.  A fundemental joy, peace and amazement await all who will truly, faithfully accept.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we give You thanks and praise for the gift of this life that You have given us.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we take this gift for granted or worse yet, see it as a burden or curse.  Restore us through Your Love and Spirit we pray, that in living into Your most precious gift, we would live lives of praise and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“If you then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to your children who ask Him?  Matthew 7:11

“…..yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”  Luke 18:5

Prayer, the power of prayer, the need for prayer, the response to prayer; these are all things Jesus Christ taught about.  Jesus not only taught about them but He practiced them as well.  We see in His words, His thoughts, His deeds just how much we can learn from Him.

In the first instance above in Matthew; this portion of the lesson follows the very famous, oft quoted: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it will be opened to you.  Jesus juxtaposes the limitations and evil intentions of those created to the perfect loving, without limitations, Father.  If we, who are flawed, still want to do good by our own children when they ask or are in need, then why would we doubt that He who is perfect would do even better for His children?

In the next example cited in Luke; Jesus is also teaching about prayer.  He starts out the lesson about praying continually and not losing heart.  In His example, the widow is praying to a judge who is neither particularly wise or just.  The scripture tells us that the judge fears neither God nor man.  Normally the judge would have nothing to do with this poor widow and at first declines her request.  Yet the widow keeps coming back and through her persistence, compels the judge to administer justice on her behalf. Jesus goes on to make the point that God will also definitely avenge those of His who are wronged.  Jesus states that God has patience and mercy but will not be slow.  Though Jesus Christ asks this final question:  “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”.

Two amazingly powerful lessons in and of themselves.  But put these two lessons together and they become a life altering and faith affirming message.  Because maybe it’s only me, I know that there is power in prayer, I know that I have read about and seen prayers answered in amazing ways.  Yet I also know that I have found myself praying for something specific (maybe about this blog site or books that I’ve written) and how quickly I desire a response as well as how quickly, if I don’t feel the response is coming, I give up praying for it.  In a way, I find myself answering my own prayer in how quickly I give up the idea of praying on its behalf.

Now do understand that this is not the same as receiving an answer that I just don’t agree with.  The first lesson tells me whatever Our Heavenly Father responds with, is exactly what is best, what is perfect for me; no less has been provided and no more is needed.  Yet the second lesson tells me that God is always listening; that God has His timing and that it is a faithful thing for me to do, to continue petition Him for those things I believe He has laid on my heart.

The enemy would try to convince us otherwise.  The enemy would try to convince us that God does not listen to us; He is too busy, He is too uncaring, He is too judgemental to answer any request that we have.  Second, Satan would have us believe, if at first a prayer seems unheard then don’t, don’t pray it again.  Satan would have us believe that to pray for something a second time is actually an act of faithlessness instead of an act of faith.

So again, Jesus Christ gives us a life affirming message for us to live by.  Our Father in Heaven wants us to have a relationship with Him where we will come to Him and ask; seek and knock.  Our Father in Heaven does not find fault when we ask for something repeatedly, assuming we do so in the faith that Our Father will act in His time; that His will be done.  The repeated prayer does a couple of things.  First, it keeps us focused on what we believe God has put on our heart.  Second, it reaffirms our faithful belief that God hears our prayers and will answer them.  That is a lesson that can keep you and I centered on the right path, utilizing the right resource, relying on the real truth and living the better life.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are thankful and awe inspired that You the Creator of all things would allow us to make and truly listen to the petitions we ask of You.  Help us to have the faith to not fear to bring our heart’s desire to You.  Thank you Father, that in Your Mercy, You are not angered by our repeated petitions and in fact find faith in those.  Forgive us Father when we find ourselves doubting that You will even listen to us or believe we should give up if Your answer is not immediate.  That in Your timing and Your answers we would be filled with thanksgiving and praise.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

Whom will understand the message?……For precept must be upon precept….line upon line….here a little, there a little”  Isaiah 28:9, 10

“This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest and this is the refreshing.”  Isaiah 28:12

“….the knowledge of the Son of God….that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men….”  Ephesians 4:14

To study, based on the definition on Dictionary.com it means to: apply oneself to acquisition of knowledge, to apply oneself, to think deeply, reflect or consider.  Sounds kind of dry doesn’t it?  Maybe it sounds like the sort of things that scholars do.  Maybe, from a church or theological (even that word can sound imposing) standpoint I expect my pastor to do that sort of thing.  When do I have the time?  What will be my reward?

God completely understands the gulf between He and us.  He completely understands the depth of His knowledge compared to ours.  He is fully aware of our lack of understanding.  God knows our capacity or lack thereof to take in His meanings and lessons, especially all at once.  Thus God has broken down His word for us.  God has given us manageable chunks to try and absorb.  His Word is filled with precepts and then numerous examples showing the application of those precepts.

Yet you know, especially today, no worldly school (perhaps beside a seminary) is going to give me a grade for taking time to study the bible.  People at work don’t even want me to have my bible on my desk at work let alone be seen reading it.  My day is filled already and there is no “147 character” version that I can just skim through and get what I need.  What’s the point? It’s all about a bunch of old people in the past that doesn’t have any relevance today?

Dear Sisters and Brothers there is a tremendous amount of competition for our time.  Often because of our new technologies, more and more things and people connected to those things can make demands on our focus and our time.  Obviously if you’re reading this, there is something else that you’re not doing (thank you very much by the way, but if this is keeping you from bible time, please leave. :) ).

But our Creator is calling for us.  Our Creator is trying to get our attention.  Our Creator is telling us that He has something for us.  Our Father in Heaven is telling us that He has the knowledge; the knowledge to and for our rest and refreshing, our knowledge for peace and even true, lasting prosperity, all this God has for us.  And unlike, some very pricey degree plans, this is at no cost, there will be no student loans to repay.  In fact we’ve actually received spiritual aid already.  The price for that aid was very high.  Christ came as our teacher and professor, and not only that but our savior as well, dying for us to be able to come to God’s university.

Though you might ask:  What should we be studying?  Who should we be listening to?  God, through the Holy Spirit told us that as well.  Through the apostles the Holy Spirit warned us that many would come with various man-made, world focused doctrines.  We were warned that these doctrines are false and those who follow them will perish.  So what is to be the basis of our study?  It starts with He who was at the beginning and through which all came into being; it starts with Jesus Christ.  It starts with studying the Word that declares Jesus Christ, the first and only truly begotten Son of God.  Then does that mean that I only study the New Testament and even then only the four gospels?  No, Jesus Christ tells us that the earlier scriptures point to Him.  So in studying the entire Old Testament and the entire New Testament, we see the wisdom of Our Heavenly Father in its totality plus we see the consistency of His Love and His message.

One final point to be careful about though, even in our most strenuous study, even with our most amazing epiphanies, we will never completely know or understand the Mind of God.  One aspect our study should bring about is the humility of acknowledging  the incomprehensibly complex and perfect wisdom of Our Heavenly Father.  Yet at the same time, it should strengthen our faith in His all encompassing power and majesty.  It should strengthen our faith in His utter faithfulness to keep His promises to us.  For He has promised us rest.  He has promised us a peace.  He has promised to bring us through everything into His presence through Jesus Christ.  That is the knowledge that comes from and through our diligent study.  That is a reward, a degree if you will, well worth the effort to obtain. Let’s get cracking!

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we admit that we long to know You.  We thank You that You have given us Your Word, You have given us Your Son as a great Teacher and Savior, that You have given us the Holy Spirit to reside within us to be a personal teacher.  Though we confess Heavenly Father that too often we neglect the time to truly study Your Word.  We also confess that we often neglect the resources that You have provided looking to our devices and doctrines to understand You.  Forgive us, Most Merciful Father and lead us back to the light of Your knowledge.  That in our study we may find the rest and refreshing that You have promised, that our strength in and praise of You will become ever greater.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen

“In the beginning God……”  Genesis 1:1

” I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.”  Revelation 1:11

” I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”  John 10:10

The beginning and the end, Genesis and Revelation, creation and destruction, birth and death, seemingly these are topics that are easy for us to see the Hand of God in.  It is very often that we think and speak in terms of the “miracle” of birth.  Also, because so often a person’s death will not come at a time that we would have not preferred we think and speak in terms of God “calling a loved one home”.

It is not only concerning the beginning and ending of our lives, how many of us have, in our prayer rituals, a time in the morning when we pray and perhaps a day ending prayer before we go to sleep.  Don’t misunderstand me, it is great to have regular times to commune with our Heavenly Father.  Yet what about the in between time?  To what extent do we see Our Heavenly Father’s Hand in the in between?  In what ways are we willing to purposefully understand the control Our Heavenly Father has in the in between?  I ask that last question especially with those words in mind.  I don’t ask: To what extent are we willing to give up or cede control to God.  For I believe God does not have to wait for us to give Him permission to be in control.  The reality is, when we try to take control, think that we are in control, no matter how inaccurate that concept might be with the disastrous results for us that thinking has, we have not in truth wrested control of anything from God.

That may be the largest part of the problem.  You and I know that we didn’t ordain or control our birth and will most likely not control the time and circumstance of our death.  Yet as time goes on we believe that we control the vast majority of life in between.  The world at least would tell us so.  The world would tell us there is some magic number of dollars that will make us happy (although from the world’s perspective that magic number will never be met).  The world tells us if we live in this certain place, with these material things surrounding us, if our bodies look a certain way and our mate’s bodies also look a certain way, if we have this degree or that accomplishment, if we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and make something of ourself, then we will attain a truly happy and abundant life.  The world would tell us that the more we can claim we did it ourselves the happier we will be.  The world would tell us to rely on anyone, especially the All Powerful God, actually diminishes our accomplishment.

Jesus knew and knows better.  Think about Jesus ministry.  He didn’t just appear to bless babies when they were born and officiate at funerals when they died.  Jesus was all about improving the human condition in all phases of life.  He made sure that the little children could come to Him for blessings.  He blessed young people at their weddings.  He healed the sick, lame, diseased and spiritually ill of all ages and walks of life.  While He famously said that all who believe in Him will have the eternal life of the future, so much of what he preached about and blessed were the lives of the individual day; the here and now.  He didn’t leave people hurting saying, your reward is in the future.  He didn’t pass by feeding the thousands telling them how there will always be food when they get to heaven.  He came to provide life, today, and to do so abundantly.

How do I and you live into that abundant life?  It requires a restructuring of how we think and feel.  Among other things I do, I am a corporate facilitator.  I will often get to a classroom or training site early and say a prayer asking for blessing for the attending group.  At the end of the session, as much as I can, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for Our Heavenly Father’s help.  What I struggle with is seeing God in the moments in between.  In the heat of the moment when a powerful discussion is going on, an audiovisual machine might be acting up, a test is about to be given; that is when I tend to tune God out and think in terms of myself and my world only.  To understand that, in the moment, God has control over all.  He does cloth the lilies daily and give each bird its shelter and food daily.  The task is to grow in relationship to God in all times knowing that God is a God of in between also.  It requires prayer which is why Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing.  It requires connecting to the Holy Spirit who can overpower the message of the world and keep us focused on God.

Dear sisters and brothers, The Alpha and Omega is not the beginning and the end.  In truth it is He is the Alpha through the Omega.  God is.  God is at all places.  God is at all times.  Beginning, now, end, God is there.  He is there not just as a bystander, a commentator, a disinterested third party, or critic, God is our Creator.  His love for us is for now and forever.  He sent His Son to be our salvation, not their salvation in the past, not some salvation to come in the future.  We are saved.  Then, let us live abundantly; abundant life, abundant love, abundant mercy, abundant faith, knowing that our God is the God of  all things including the in between.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim to all that You are the Alpha and the Omega.  You were at the beginning and will be at the end.  Yet we also proclaim that You are the God of our now.  Forgive us Merciful Father when we forget to rely on You and rather trust in ourselves.  Reveal to us Your presence in our lives at all times.  That through that revelation we will find ourselves living abundant lives of praise and thanksgiving in You.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

“He said to His disciples: ‘ Let us go over to the other side.'”  Mark 4:36

He said to His disciples:  Why are you so afraid?”  Mark 4:40

Jesus has been teaching the crowds that had gathered around a lake.  He spoke many things to them and also taught them in parables.  After meeting with the crowds he also met with His disciples teaching them the meaning of the parables he had been using with the crowd.  Most of His disciples had been with Him for some length of time.  They had seen Jesus heal people, three had seen Him raise a girl from the dead.  They had seen and tasted the water turned into wine that was Jesus’ first miracle.

So now it is time to move on.  It was not the disciples who thought it would be good to go across the lake.  It was not some outside party who sent the group out onto the water.  It was Jesus’ plan to go out across the lake.  He told His disciples to get into the boat and then He got in with them.  The disciples, His disciples, were following Jesus.

Jesus felt comfortable enough to go to the back of the boat and go to sleep.  This shows the human aspect of Jesus that He needed sleep just as you and I would.  Then the storm came.  Maybe a little wind and some moderate chop at first, but over time it grew into a full blown gale with strong winds and monstrous seas.  Please understand five of the disciples were fishermen.  Their experience on the water would be enough to know whether to be scared or not and scripture tells us; they were all scared.  So scared that they became desperate.  We don’t know if there was any argument over whether to wake Jesus or not but regardless, fear won out and they woke Jesus.  Yet even then, in waking Jesus they were respectful to who they thought He was.  For the called Him teacher and let Him know that they were in peril of drowning.

Now here’s the thing for them and for us.  Jesus is more than just a teacher.  Jesus is more than just a great healer.  Jesus is the Christ, the one true only begotten Son of God.  He was there at the creation of this earth, that body of water, the air which had become the wind, the trees that were the basis for the boat.  Every aspect of the situation the disciples found themselves in; Jesus Christ was in charge of.  The disciples were following Jesus, quite literally.  They followed His direction to get into the boat.  The agreed to go to the place Jesus was sending them to.  They had the very real understanding that Jesus was right there with them.  Yet we have something they did not, at the time.  We know that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead.  We know the power that Jesus Christ has within Himself.  Because the disciples were exactly where Jesus Christ wanted them to be; doing what Jesus Christ wanted them to do (except being afraid); they were never in any danger.  No harm could touch them.

For us the question is; are we in Jesus’ boat? Be sure we understand; the question is not; is Jesus in our boat?  If it’s our boat then we are in charge, we’re deciding the destination, we are responsible for its safety and Jesus is just a passenger.  But we can not stop the wind, we can not quiet the waves.  We have not the power.  So let us hear Jesus Christ.  Let’s hear His teaching, let’s witness His divine healing power; let’s listen for His words of guidance He is giving to us.  Then let’s get in His boat.  As much as we are humanly able to do; let us do so without fear.  Let us understand that the storms will come, the waves will seem huge.   The winds of the world will howl with rage against us.  We may be tempted to lose hope and feel that we are about to swamped in despair by the storms of this life.  Let us be with Jesus and remain calm.  Yet even this story gives us a great hope.  Let’s say we lose our faith.  Let’s say that we become deathly afraid.  Then run to Jesus!  Cry out to Jesus!  Know that Jesus will calm the storm.  Know that there is no earthly or spiritual power that can prevail against Him.  Know that He will restore the calm, He will bring the peace.  Know that as long as we are in the boat of and with Jesus Christ, we are completely safe.  Know that will quiet every single storm.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father; thank You that You have seen fit to send Your Son, Jesus Christ to become human and be with us.  Thank You that He took the time to teach us, to heal us, to save us; physically as well as spiritually.  Help us Dear Father to follow Jesus Christ and let us find that we are in His boat.  And being in His boat we pray that we will have the spirit of faith that we will not fear as the world storms around us.  Forgive us, Merciful Father, if we lose faith and fear destruction.  Hear us when we call out and come and swiftly calm the tempests that blow against us.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Then Peter….said: ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Jesus said to him: ‘ I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”  Matthew 18:21, 22

” A new commandment I give to you that you love one another; as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34, 35

Full disclosure: the I did not make up this title but it comes from a song by the same name written by Peter Scholtes.

Jesus is preparing His disciples for a time that he is not physically with them.  He is preparing them for a time when they will be going forward, into the world, in His Name.  Jesus knows that the world will have considerable doubt about these men.  Even those who might be inclined to believe in Jesus will want to know that these men come with the authentic message of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Jesus lays it out simply.  Jesus tells them:  “if you love Me then keep my commandments”.  You see the hearers were not going to just decide to follow Jesus based on what they heard from these men, but what they saw also.

What did Jesus want the people to see in His disciples.  Jesus wanted people to see love.  Jesus wanted the people to see the disciples loving and serving each other; but not just each other.  Jesus wanted the disciples to be showing His love to the world.  How would that love be shown?  The love of Jesus Christ would be shown through loving forgiveness, not just once but as often as necessary.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church is not a stranger to hatred.  The church has been burnt down and seen its members threatened and even beaten before.  Yet the church was and is seen as a beacon of openness and sanctuary of hope.  Throughout their history, when they could have lashed out in hatred, given up and moved to a place where they would feel more safe, they instead, forgave and stayed put to continue to show forth Christ’s love.

On the evening of Wednesday June 17th, hatred came to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  A blind hatred much the same as that hurled against the Savior, Himself, as He hung on that tree.  Nine beautiful saints died that night.  What’s a Christian to do? The world would want a hate spewed, violence filled, catastrophic response.  What’s a Christian to do who wants to show that He or She is a disciple of Christ?

Disciples came to Emanuel AME church, that Wednesday night and have been coming ever since.  The disciples came not with weapons in their hands, not with chants of “burn it down!”not with menacing in their souls.  The disciples came with love, with song, with tears and prayers.  The young man so filled with evil hatred, who perpetrated this horrific crime was caught.  He was brought in front of a magistrate and families of the slain victims were in the courtroom.  The judge allowed them to speak.  Those who spoke could have cried out for vengeance, for lynching, for eternal damnation of this boy’s soul.  Instead, most spoke of pain, the awful pain this young man had inflicted and then they forgave him.

Other disciples in the community of Charleston SC could have taken to the street with malevolent anger in their hearts wanting to strike out in frustration and to destroy.  Was their anger and confusion; sure, yet expressed not in violence but in somber reflection of how this type of hate still exists.  There was sorrow and grieving yet also in the midst of this despair there was also love and unbelievably, at least to the world, hope.

Other disciples in other cities and towns across the nation and even across the world could have struck out in anger hoping to divide and devastate.  Yes people did come together, and they marched.  But they didn’t march to the chants of violence, flanked on their sides by rows of police officers in riot gear, with the sting and choking smell of tear gas in the air.  No, they marched to the sweet sounds of hymns being sung, walking hand in hand, all races, all genders and even various faiths.

How do we know that these were disciples of Christ; by their love.  Jesus Christ is calling to each of us, whether touched by this tragedy or some other attack against us.  Do not look to gouge out the eye in return, don’t look to knock out the tooth, instead; follow Jesus Christ.  Follow Jesus Christ in forgiving they that come against you.  Follow Jesus Christ in loving others; yes to be sure your fellow disciples, your fellow travelers on the road with and to Christ.  Yet Jesus asks more of us.  Jesus Christ asks us to follow His example of, when He was hanging on the cross, innocent yet so hated, wronged by those He so wanted to help.  Jesus Christ forgave them.  Jesus Christ forgave His tormentors.  Jesus Christ showed He loved His enemies.  That is a very, very difficult thing to do.  In fact I don’t believe it is possible unless Jesus Christ resides in our hearts.  However, I do believe with Jesus Christ it is possible to do.  Just look at the Christians of Emanuel AME Church, look at the Christians of Charleston SC, look at the Christian response across the nation to this terrible act.  With the love they are showing, I know that they are Christians.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we so thank You Father, that You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to us to show us the true meaning of love and how to live it.  Help us to be like Christ and show to the world the power of true love and the healing power of forgiveness.  Be with those grieving families and members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, comforting them as You have promised to do.  Let the world see the power of this kind of love and know that it comes not from us as good human beings, but comes freely for all, just as they are, from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s……”  Luke 9:26

“Greater love has no one than this; than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  John 16:13

“You are of  your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.,,,,,..for there is no truth in him…..”  John 8:44

“I’m headed of to bible study!  Be back soon.”

or

“We have a great bible study at our church; want to come?”

or

“I need to take time to prepare the lesson for our bible study on Wednesday night.”

I can imagine that these sentences or something like them were spoken at times during the week leading up to Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina.  Those twelve people who were at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, were making a proclamation.  They were proclaiming with their presence, their prayers. their desire to study the Word of God; they were proclaiming the importance of connection.  They were proclaiming that they believed in a Higher Power.  They were proclaiming that they believed in God the Father Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ.  They were proclaiming that they were not ashamed; NO, they were humbly proud to be child of God and redeemed by the sacred blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Their actions proclaimed something else as well; love.  For you see they took into themselves, into their midst, in love and sharing; they took a stranger.  A stranger, outwardly quite different than them.  A stranger of a different race, a stranger from a different location and background.  Yet they didn’t see the stranger.  They saw a fellow creation of God the Father.  In a proclamation of love, they welcomed him in, to fellowship in the proclamation of Jesus Christ.

Sadly, the world didn’t receive that proclamation.  The world was too busy listening to the lies of his father, the devil.  The world, in the person of Dylann Roof had its own proclamation to make.  It was a proclamation couched in the words of lies and hate and the acts of destruction.  Nine saints were killed in that worldly proclamation.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we see these two proclamations acting out all over our world today.  We see the world’s proclamations in brutal wars and broken families, in senseless acts of violence as well as the ever increasing mantra: “it’s all good unless I get caught”.   Yet we also see Christ proudly proclaimed in acts of life sacrificing bravery and random acts of kindness for those this world has left behind.

What we are left to decide is which proclamation is going to resonate within us?  Which proclamation are we going to make with our lips, our hearts and our lives?  There is a worldly response that says we should do things like have our pastors and our congregations bring guns into our places of worship.  That we should rely more on Smith and Wesson than the Holy Spirit for our safety.  That locking our churches, relying on gun control or boosting mental illness awareness will cure our ills.  Please don’t misunderstand me, helping people who are ill is a great thing; yet as long as we look to solely earthly fixes for our condition, we will be left feeling frustrated, forlorn and ultimately without hope.

Rather, we need to rely on the one proclamation that can truly change us; the only proclamation that will see us rise up from the realm of victims to enter into a place of victory.  We must proclaim that we are not the highest, greatest or more important thing in the universe.  We must proclaim our connection to Our Creator; Father in Heaven.  We must proclaim our love for Our Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  We must unashamedly proclaim our belief in Jesus Christ as our savior.

Which proclamation has more power?  Let’s look to Charleston SC and Emanuel AME church for our answer.  If the world’s proclamation was more powerful, then Dylann’s plan would have come to fruition.  We would be seeing riots and civil war; we would see a sudden upwelling of hate and destruction.  We would see a splintering and fracturing of society into pieces bent on total destruction of the other.  We would see a city, a country, a world completely devoid of hope, filled only with fear and hatred.

What happened in SC was a tragedy.  Yet based on the proclamation of those twelve people what do we see?  We see people of all races, creeds, ages and differences, coming together to pray, to lift up those hurting, to proclaim their faith in God above.  We hear hymns being sung and hope being expressed.  We hear words of healing, words of love.  And while I believe in Christ’s proclamation that is appropriate to grieve and those who do will be comforted, I also truly believe that in boldness Christ proclaimed to His Father the arrival of twelve new saints in heaven.  Christ is proclaiming to all that these twelve were proud and not ashamed to proclaim their belief in Jesus Christ while on this earth.  Now in Heaven Jesus Christ is proclaiming His love for them and His Father, Our God is saying to them:  “Well done my good and faithful servants!  Enter into My Kingdom of eternal peace and rest.”  For while the world may proclaim their death; I proclaim their transition in Christ; who died once and for all who believe in Him, that they will never see death or feel its sting.  Oh how I hope and pray that we may one day hear Jesus Christ make that same proclamation over each of us.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we proclaim that we are not ashamed to be called one of Jesus Christ’s.  We proclaim that we are not ashamed to confess that we are sinners and that Jesus Christ is our Savior.  We proclaim that we love You, Most Merciful Father; we love your Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Forgive us should we falter or waiver momentarily as we are attacked by the world.  Forgive us when we feel tempted to buy in to the world’s and its father’s proclamations.  Give us strength to continue to proclaim and praise Your Most Holy Name and the humility to know that we are not the greatest, we are not our own saviors, that we are dependent on Jesus Christ to be our savior.  That we will never be ashamed to proclaim Your Holy Name in praise; we pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Who touched Me?………Somebody has touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me?”  Luke 8:45, 46

“Hear, O Israel………..”  Mark 12:29

I have had the blessing to be able to facilitate training for all sorts of organizations and groups.  I have had groups with PhD’s in them and groups of high school graduates.  Some groups are made up of the senior leadership of an organization and some entry-level new hires.  When training on organizational effectiveness, the Harvard Business School, Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia and many others’ research shows that the most effective communication for groups comes when face-to-face.  I’m not going to go into detail about the why, but the ability to come together and talk is crucial to improved organizational effectiveness.  No sooner have those words left my mouth then almost universally the negative feedback and push back begins.  People cross their arms and lean back in their chairs with a scowl on their faces.  Many participants roll their eyes and sigh in contempt.  Some people openly express their frustration at too many meetings to start with and that talking accomplishes nothing and only action matters.  Hmmm

Jesus found value in talking.  In fact Jesus found great value in talking.  He’s been told that a child lies on the brink of death.  Jesus is hastily making His way through a crowd to get to that child.  Then, even with that child on their death-bed; Jesus stops!  Why? Jesus needs to talk with someone.  You see a person had been healed, a person in almost as equally a desperate need as the child and their family, had reached out and touched Jesus garment, barely brushing His presence and had been healed.  Jesus is resolute in his determination to speak with this person, this woman with the bleeding.  Again, why?  Jesus must have her and those around her understand the impact her faith had on her healing.  Jesus knows the true healing is not complete until He has talked with her.

Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem.  It is a huge place and very, very busy.  He is asked a question by a scribe.  The question concerns an extremely important, really the heart of all things, issue:  “What is the most important commandment?”  Jesus, could have just answered the scribe in a regular conversation; but Jesus decides to call out, to stop the rush around Him so that He can proclaim to all within hearing distant what are the two greatest commandments of all.  The power in talk and talking.

You see if you look at Jesus Christ’s ministry, you see example after example of Jesus taking the time to talk; the Creator seeing value in talking with His creation.  Before healings, he would often talk and ask about faith.  When dealing with His enemies, He would first listen to their questions and their reasoning before answering them in loving, overwhelming wisdom and power.  Jesus Christ completely understood that His actions needed to be put into the context of His Heavenly Father’s mission for Him, and the plan for human salvation.  The power came from the words and action.

Back to my training experiences, one of interesting paradoxes of action versus talking comes when you discuss another very frequently discussed issue, the inability to complete tasks correctly the first time.  When I dig deeper, here’s what I find.  People will often eschew talking about a task and just get on with completing it.  However, something either goes wrong with the completion of the task or the outcome is less than the optimal performance desired.  It is when things go wrong that then the discussion happens. People then gain clarity about the task and desired outcome and go back and correct the deficiencies.  When pressed, you can get most to admit, that had they taken the time to discuss a head of time, the chances that they would have to revisit the task would have been greatly diminished.

Dear Sisters and Brother in Christ, our ability to communicate, our ability to talk is one of the greatest blessings we have been given.  As with any great blessing, the enemy can use it, twist it, to be a curse.  We are warned frequently in The Word, about the danger of the loose tongue.  Yet are we not extolled to talk, in prayer with Our Heavenly Father?  Are we not asked to speak to each other in words that are uplifting and in love?

I will freely admit, words alone are of little value.  If I speak of the power of prayer, yet my knees never feel the pressure of the ground or I proclaim the goodness of reading the Word, yet my bible sits covered in dust with no page seeing the light of day, if I tell of my plans to write a blog or a book and my fingers never touch a keyboard, then my words are of little to no value.

Finally, as talking and doing are important, I would be remiss if I left out the other extremely vital aspect of communication; we must listen as well.  The enemy would tell us that talking has no value.  The enemy would try to convince us that we are too busy, we are too important, others are not worthy for us to take the time to talk with someone else today.  Yet through the example of Jesus Christ we know better.  Find someone to talk to today.  Start with Our Heavenly Father, then make and take time to speak with a loved one; a cherished family member or dear friend.  Finally, seek out one whom the world has overlooked; one in whom society has discarded as worthless, the very one Jesus went out of His way to find, and talk with them.  Talk of love.  Talk of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  It is then that we will find that kind of talk not only has value; it is priceless.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank You that You have taken the time to talk with us throughout our history; through the prophets of old, through Your Son Jesus Christ, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, You have placed in us.   Thank you that You have also allowed us, Your creation, to talk with You and that You will listen.  Forgive us when we find little value in talking with You and go off to act in our own way.  Quiet us that we may hear Your words and humbly come before You with our praise and supplications in response.  That our talk with You and with others would bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“It is like a mustard seed…..it grew and became a tree and the birds of the air perched in its branches.”  Luke 13:19

“You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”  Matthew 23:27

It is well into spring where I live and everywhere you turn you see the lushness of God’s creation.  You see abundant flowers filling the air with their sweet scent.  The grass has returned exchanging its brown coarseness for a green suppleness.  The trees are awash in green hues of every description as their leaves burst forth in life’s exuberance.  That is all except one tree.

You see in the midst of this spring explosion of life, in the center of this celebration of renewal and regeneration, sits a dead tree.  Not one solitary needle (for it is a pine) protrudes from its craggy branches.  No breeze stirs its solemn stand.  While birds will come and momentarily perch on a branch, none will stay long for the tree provides no shelter; while they sit there they are exposed, so their visits are fleeting and momentary.  Little by little the tree becomes more diminished; a tip of a branch breaks off here and another limb falls there.

Yet the tree still stands as if in some defiant way wanting to proclaim its value or perhaps it believes it can fool others into thinking it is alive as long as it stands there; maybe even fooling itself as well (please understand I know that I am anthropomorphizing).  This particular tree is in an adjacent yard next to ours so I’ve seen its decline.  I saw the needles go from green, to yellow, to brown and fall off.  I saw pine cones cease to form.  From the outside, there is no apparent cause.  The try was not hit by lightning nor does it appear to have some sort of blight or the ravages of some insect pest.  Whatever has happened, seems to have come from the inside out so that the exterior was and is the last thing a person can see, the last indication that there has and is a problem that has taken its life.

I get a sense that this is the very thing that Jesus Christ spoke about when He described those as being like whitewashed tombs.  On the outside they stand tall, on the outside they radiate a full life, worldly power, earthly confidence.  All the while, inside, they are dead, full of old rotting bones.  And here’s the thing about a vacant building, a building that has no life or no one living within it.  A vacant building decays much faster than one that is occupied.  When there is someone within, especially someone who cares, then the building has strength from the inside out and the seeming strength on the outside will be matched by the strength and beauty on the inside.

Here’s the thing for us Dear Sisters and Brothers; if we are not careful, we can become like those tombs, like that tree.  Yes, we can go to church, we can say certain things, abstain from certain things, yes I can even write a blog, yet unless there is life within, life that comes from an active relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; I am dying inside and eventually death will be my end.

So I will not concentrate on the outside or outside appearances.  I will strive to abide in Christ understanding that what sustains a branch abiding on the vine comes from the inside, not from without.  I will pray prayers of thanksgiving and praise and yes, I will also make prayer requests knowing that He will faithfully answer sustaining me from the inside out.  Let us diligently seek out His word and the word of His and through Him, our Father in heaven.  Understanding that it is the word of the Lord which is the Living Water which nourishes and refreshes each and every moment.  Let us be first open to His Love knowing that there is no life apart from His love and then strive to pass that love on to others who are in such need of that love.  Let us never take for granted the life which Our Heavenly Father has put within us.  Let us never forsake that life in running after things from without which can never sustain.

Sadly, in the end, that dead tree will fall.  Sadly, vacant buildings end up collapsing in on themselves.  Yet we can be confident that will not be the end for us.  We know that we were created to have life and have that life abundantly, not through ourselves, our strengths, our talents; no, we are to have life abundantly through the Love and Power of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let you and I from now until the end of time, quench our thirst once and for all through the living water which is Jesus Christ our Lord.  It is by living into that inner life, given to us freely by the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, we can be confident that we will not see death.

 

DSCN1977Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we thank You for the life that You created for us and put within us.  Forgive us, Most Merciful Father when we choose the paths that lead to death instead of life.  Grant that we would partake of Living Waters provided by Your Son Jesus Christ that we may never thirst for the ways of this life and strive to share that water with a world so parched.  That in our inward living we might have a life that leads to praise in Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

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