“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”  Mark 16:16

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

“To the pilgrims in dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…”  1 Peter 1:1

It is approximately 30+ years sense Jesus Christ was crucified, resurrected and returned to heaven.  At the beginning, there were eleven disciples left.  These were not learned men.  These were not men revered as leaders in the local Jewish or greater Roman communities.  These were not men who decided to separate themselves and go through a long, arduous training or study program.

Christ had been very simple and His commandment, His Great Commission to them; was to go and preach the gospel to the ends of the earth; to “every creature”.  Christ gave them no commandment concerning the physical properties of a church, its dimensions or furnishings (in contrast to the very specific details of the tabernacle and the temple).  Christ gave them no commandment about what music or even if music should be sung.  Christ did not give them goals of the size of church membership, the amount in a church treasury.  Christ spent no time discussing church government structure.  Preach the gospel, He told them.

And they did.  First in Jerusalem and shortly after, during the dispersion of believers and the conversion of Saul; they preached the gospel to the known world.  In Mark, we hear that they are to preach the gospel.  In Luke we read that what should be preached that Christ, the Son of God died and rose on the third day and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name.

And, did it work?  Did they preach and did it have any effect?  Yes and Heaven (versus that other place which often gets put in front of words to add emphasis) Yes! In acts we are told, in the area of Jerusalem, the early preaching had 3,000 joining in a day.  Some 30 plus years later, when Peter is writing this epistle, it is estimated by some, that the population that this was being written to, Jewish and Gentile believers was over 300,000!  I think it is also important to point out that Peter was not the one who started all these churches.  He wasn’t just writing to ones to which he had preached to.  No many of these churches had been started by Paul, some by Apollos so there wasn’t a sense of factionalism here.  According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010 there were 2.18 billion Christians in the world; nearly a third of the then world’s population.

Why is this important?  Why bring this up in a post?  Because, in local churches that I’ve been a part of; larger regional governing bodies, books and multimedia presentations in much of America if not the western world; there is much angst and fear.  The fear comes from what is perceived as well as a probably also real decline in the influence of the “traditional” church and Christian denominations in the greater society.  This is primarily measured in two ways; the size of individual church membership and the amount of money given.  I again am not saying that indeed the traditional church and what have been called “Traditional Christian Values” have not seen a decline in influence and impact on our daily society; in some cases much to the detriment of our society.  What concerns me most is our response to that decline.

Jesus Christ seemed very clear on the message; the Gospel, that should be the focal point of everything preached and the preaching and living out of that gospel is our primary task and goal.  Yet all too often, in the church leadership councils that I’ve been a part of there has been a tragic loss of focus on that task and goal.  I have seen more and more that the focus shifts to things concerning the physical space provided, the presentation of the message bringing about divisions of “traditional versus contemporary”.  Much planning goes into the bringing in of new members through things like sports programs, church schools; whatever it takes to appeal to people today.  Finally and most tragically of all, I have seen in some cases a feeling that the Gospel message itself is no longer relevant and must be “updated”, tweaked or changed in someway to make it more palatable to today’s world.

We must be extremely, extremely careful in this.  First, Christ seemed very clear when He was on this earth that during that time and beyond; not everyone is going to believe in Him, period.  In fact His questions seems to resonate greatly today when He asked:  “what good is it for someone to gain the world but loose their soul?”.  The Gospel is as powerful and sufficient today as it when it was first spoken.  The Gospel, the simple Gospel; Christ the Son of God, died and resurrected, His commandment to love Him and each other; is the message that brings peace in times of strife, confidence in times of angst and joy in times of tribulation.  It is the “believers” in that Gospel who Christ, Himself, was praying for.

That message may seem too dull to a world in need of flashy.  That message may seem too simple in a world which thrives on complexity.  That message may seem too confining to a world hell bent on having the freedom to do whatever it wants.  Yet, Dear Sisters and Brothers; that is the only True Message.  That is the only message that provides true life.  That is the only message that provide true salvation.  That is the message with true power and that message still works, as it did yesterday, it does today and will for all tomorrows.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so grateful that You have seen fit to give us Your Gospel, Your message for us in this world.  Forgive us when we are tempted to either minimize it or modify it to make it more popular in our current age.  Forgive us should we lose site of proclaiming Christ’s message as the world clamors for a different one.  Embolden us with Your Spirit as You promised that through the Holy Spirit; we would proclaim only the truth.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

“Blessed is who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly but his delight is in the law of the Lord.  He is like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth fruit.”  Psalm 1:1-3

“Whoever drinks of the water I shall give him shall never thirst….will become a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  John 4:14

I, at one time, flew helicopters.  Due to the age of the helicopters I flew, they did not have state-of-the-art navigation systems or autopilots.  Our primary method of navigation was good old fashion paper maps (and yes there is a point to this).  So I was always looking for landmarks to tell me where I was and rivers made for good landmarks.  You might think that rivers are easy things to pick out and if you’re talking the mighty Mississippi you’re right.  But smaller rivers, not so much; you see they’re flat.  Helicopters, at least the ones I flew, fly low so you could be very close to a river and not see it; except for the trees.  That’s because rivers are most always lined by trees.  In the east where there are a lot of trees, you can tell where the river is because that is where the trees grow the tallest and have the greenest foliage.  In the west or in the plains states, the contrast is even greater.  You can be flying for miles and miles over stark, brown, barren ground and then in the distance, you see them.  I line of trees stretching out for miles; then you know, you’re coming to a river.

The author of the first psalm knew this.  That person knew that trees grow strongest by the river.  He knew that trees are given life and abundantly nourished by the waters of the river.  He knew that a tree isolated; trying to survive without water, in a land with no other trees is most likely doomed.

Jesus knew this as well.  Jesus knew the sustaining power of water and our absolute need for it.  He knew and taught about two types of water.  There is the worldly water that seems to satisfy, yet that satisfaction is only temporary.  Thirst will come again.  Then there is the water from Christ which completely satisfies and will never leave a person thirsting again.

My point in all of this?  First, I will completely concede to anyone who sees a flaw in this analogy as it concerns choice and agree that we must understand it.  For unlike a tree that has no choice in where it is planted or where it decides to stay; we have that choice and the psalmist is exhorting us that our choice is a vitally critical one.  Where will we plant ourselves?  Will we decide that we want to try to grow out in the world apart from other believers deriving our sustenance from the waters of this world?  That is a very desolate and dangerous place where in the seeming midst of prosperity; devastating droughts can come bringing damage and even death.  Or, as Jesus invites us, will we come to Him and with the fellowship of others, drink in His water of everlasting life.

One other very important piece to this exhortation.  In this case, it is best to think about the trees surrounding an oasis in the desert or lining a river running through a parched and arid land.  The trees taking in the living water do so not just for their own growth so that they can become the tallest, healthiest tree with the most branches.  No like the trees in the oasis or along the river in a parched land, the trees provide fruit for others, they provide refuge and shelter from the ravages of the world.  Jesus Christ told us that those who take in the water become fountains of water themselves.  Think about how inviting those trees are what a symbol of hope they become to those parched and dehydrated living out in the desert of the world.

Thus Dear Sisters and Brothers, let us decide to place our roots beside the spring of Living Water provided freely by Jesus Christ.  A water flowing for eternity which no earthly dam can ever block nor worldly drought ever cease its flowing.  Regardless of our growth let us always humbly remember that the fruit we bare and the shelter we provide come not from our strength, but from the water that nourishes us.  That we might be vessels of that water, forging new streams that nourish the new trees of followers who come thirsty to drink the water of everlasting life.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, Your Mercy, Love and Blessings last forever.  We are thankful for Your Gift of Jesus Christ and His promise to forever quench our thirst for life and love with His everlasting Living Water.  Help us to come together and grow ever stronger in You, baring fruit and providing shelter for those who are so hungry and so tossed by ravages of this world.  May it be that we become vessels of living water being not so concerned about our own thirst but striving to quench the thirst of those who are in such need.  That in baring fruit, providing shelter and quenching thirst, we would be bringing praise to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God. He comes from the north as a golden splendor; with God is awesome majesty.”  Job 38: 14,22

“Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty.”  Job 40:8,10

I had one of those truly awe inspiring, incredibly breathtaking experiences this past Friday.  Throughout the day there had been a mix of clouds and sunshine which kept the temperatures just a little cooler than I would have chosen.  Even at times there were brief periods of fog and rain which impacted some outdoor plans.  Yet when the sun just had fallen past the horizon and first with just the slightest hint of pink the sky started to transform from its monochromatic gray sameness.  The experience was not unlike listening to a beloved classical masterpiece where the melody starts soft and low with the sky turning an ever so slight shade of pink in places.  Then like a major symphonic crescendo building louder with ever increasing numbers of instruments and increase in volume, new colors of red, orange, yellow and gold burst onto the scene with an intensity that was almost beyond comprehension.  I could not bear to take my eyes away for a moment as the scene evolved in transcendent beauty with each passing moment.  Then, as quickly as it had built, the colors softened as the light faded into the tranquil finale of the piece.

I was almost moved to tears.  My heart beat mightily within my chest with spasms of thanksgiving for the utterly free performance I had just witnessed.  What was also a true joy and delight was that I was able to share the experience with my beloved family who were equally moved.  For those few moments we bonded completely in our love and admiration for the gifts Our Heavenly Father so freely bestows upon us.

In and of itself, the above might be an adequate testimony or posting to God’s greatness.  Yet something struck me this morning as I was getting to the end of the Book of Job.  After Job has questioned the value of his own existence and the thinking of God, after Job’s friends have foolishly attempted, using their feeble human understanding, to explain the nature of God, God responds.  It is in that response that another invaluable lesson occurs to me from my experience with the sunset on Friday.  You see, we took many pictures of the sunset and there are many talented artists who have attempted to capture the beauty of those God given times.

Yet here is the thing, no matter how accurate the photo, how wonderful the artist’s brush strokes, they are only a mimicking of, only a representation of the initial glory which can only be supplied by God.  Here is the thing that I think we must understand; it can be easy to see with something as grand as a beautiful sunset or panoramic natural scene, but is less obvious when we think in terms of our own talents, wisdom, generosity or righteousness.  All of those things come from God.  When we attempt to reproduce those same attributes, whether physically, mentally or spiritually, they are but pale comparisons to the true Nature and Splendor of The Almighty.

Where you and I (and I know especially I) can get into trouble is when we glorify the reproduction and minimize the input of The Original Producer.  How inaccurate and just plain wrong it would be, as far as this post or blog is concerned, to think that it is in any way shape or form equivalent to the message, wisdom or thinking of Our Heavenly Father or that its origins start with me alone.  No, it is far from it.  God is the source of the talent and material for this blog and that it may lead to some edification is measure of His Grace versus my effort.

Thus, yes, God gives us those experiences and so many blessings to enrich and ever enhance our existence.  We of course should respond with joy and thanksgiving.  As well we need to be honest with ourselves at those times, experiencing the unachievable glory and splendor of God Almighty.  We must fight the temptation to find pride in our ability to replicate and even in some cases to appreciate His Divine Handiwork.  As if somehow, our taking notice of it makes us a better, more righteous person than those who blindly pass by.

Let our response be true praise and thanksgiving.  In addition, may we be truly humbled by His Magnificent Glory that is freely displayed for all of us to witness.  Finally, may it be that we see and acknowledge His Glory and Splendor in all blessings and good works never trying to substitute our own glory for His.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we proclaim that daily and often, even more times than that; you show forth Your Splendor and Power in blessings to us.  Help us to be filled with thanksgiving at all the works of Your Hands.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father, when we attempt to take upon ourselves; the glory and praise which rightly belongs to You.  May we be humble in our outlook and ever praising to You in our behavior that our lives would be living praise to You.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen

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“In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you…”  John 14:27

We just finished celebrating Easter so it might seem strange that a Christmas story; in reality Charles Dickens’ classic: A Christmas Carol would come to mind in pondering Easter, or more accurately, our response to Easter.

“What right have you to be merry?   What reason have have you to be merry? You’re poor enough”, said Scrooge.

“What right have you to be dismal?  What reason have to you be morose?  You’re rich enough”, returned the nephew.

This exchange comes from the main character; Scrooge, truly a man of the world where wealth and the security it brings is the only thing, and Fred, Scrooge’s not nearly as successful nephew.  The focal point of the their exchange is Christmas and whether or not it could or should be merry.  Scrooge finds no merriment in the concept of Christmas because wealth is spent with no guarantee of any return.  Fred sees Christmas as a time not to be concerned about return on investment or any other matter of wealth accumulation but of charity and forgiveness.  Scrooge, man of the world, demands that his nephew depart and take his foolish thoughts with him.

Okay, Doug, fine story you say, but what has that to do with Easter?  Great question.  You see it all comes down to this premise; what is my response, my behavior based on the acts of Easter and why do I have the right to behave in that manor?  It is the conflict of two perspectives.

Let’s take the world’s perspective for a moment.  Before last Easter Sunday and after last Easter Sunday, there was war, where human beings  were and are doing unspeakable things to each other on a disastrously grand scale.  There were and are famines and droughts, plagues and natural disasters, swindlers and thieves and troubles of ever size and kind.  The logical, natural and right responses to these circumstances would be one of despair and woe, feelings of anger and perhaps fear.  One might very well expect for their to be widespread angst, depression, worry and gloom.

Then along comes a person of faith.  That person is cheerful maybe even joyful, with a smile on their face and a heart full of love and yes even hope.  They have a confidence about life.  And while they will mourn with those that are hurting, there is a deep sense of peace and faith in a rightful outcome.  The man of this world might say to them, cry out to them, scream in their face: “What right have you to be joyful, peaceful, full of bliss!?”.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, we must be careful about our behavior.  We must look to see if the concerns, worries, cares and fears of this world are causing us to behave in a way of despair and giving up.  We must ask ourselves: “What right have we to act in a manner of hopelessness, of worldly fear and human rage and judgement?”  Jesus Christ described our description in His prayer to Our Father when he said:  ” As you sent Me into the world; I also have sent them into the world, “.  Yet He also declared in that same prayer that:  “….they are not of the world just as I am not of the world.”. (John 17: 18 & 14)  The world is always trying to pull us down to its level.  The world does not want us to see us as any different than it is.  On the one hand it is true that we are not different.  That is to say that we are not more deserving, more inherently righteous than the world.

What right have we to be joyous?  What right have we to be at peace?  What right do we have to act confident in our faith?  We have the right and we have the duty to act in this way, in and through Jesus Christ.  The gift of Easter gave us that right.  In the end, world knew and knows death.  Death was and is the outcome of all things worldly.  If we are of the world, we are very correct to fear death and all things associated with it.  But Jesus Christ conquered death; once and for all!  Let that last part sink in….once and for all.  That means that no one other than Christ ever need die in sin again.  Jesus Christ took all of our sin upon Him.  Also, Jesus Christ died for us all.  Jesus just didn’t die for the chosen people of Israel, or the people who go to church on Sunday, or the people that give a certain amount, sing a certain song, go to a certain church.  No He died for us all.

Sadly, not everyone responds to the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation from our Heavenly Father.  Bewilderingly, they would rather stay in the world, stay in worry, stay in hopelessness and die in fear.

Let us not follow them.  Let us give everlasting thanks and live joyously and confidently in the knowledge of the love our Heavenly Father has for us by His gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Through the gift of understanding through the Holy Spirit, let us live right lives in love, mercy, charity and forgiveness.  If and when asked what right do we have to live this way; let us not claim it as our right but more accurately claim it as His Right, the right to live in Jesus Christ who came to live, to teach, to heal, yes to die and yes to save through His resurrection, which is the only right life indeed.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for the loving sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ, coming to live among us and die for us.  Fill us with Your Spirit of Joy, Confidence, Forgiveness and most of all Love, that our lives may shine as beacons to Your Name.  Forgive us when we fall into the temptation to live as the world lives, in fear, hopelessness and dread.  Restore us in faith, we pray, that the way in which we live our lives will entice others to call upon and praise Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Peter answered and said to Him:  ‘You are the Christ'” Mark 8:29

“And likewise the chief priests also mocked…..’He saved others; Himself, He cannot save…..'”  Mark 15:31

A situation came up this week that granted some insight about the time between Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and His rising from the dead.  So I called my wife’s cell phone and left a message.  A little while later she called me back stating that she saw that she missed my call and asking me what I needed?  Being somewhat a smart alack, I asked her did she listen to my message.  To which she replied no. (Hang in there I’m getting to the point).  Later, looking at her phone she announced in a playfully derisive tone that I had not even left a message because she had no message on her phone.  To which I replied that I most certainly had. (Again point is coming)  Thus it would seem that we’re at an impasse; I knew I left a message, yet indeed her phone had no record of it; true opposed truths but whose right?

It is the day after the crucifixion and there are two competing messages.  One message, from a small but very faithfully believing group, was that Jesus was/is the Christ.  The second message from the masses is that this “savior” was no savior at all because He could not save Himself and was in fact now dead.  Which message was/is correct?

In the case of my wife and myself, once she shut down her phone and restarted it and found that she had not only missed my message for earlier that day, but also missed 6 or more other messages that never showed.  In the case of Jesus Christ, it was true that He was dead, but not because he could not save himself but because his sacrifice of death was the only way to become the True Savior He had proclaimed Himself to be.  The disciples were right the He was (and is) the Christ, yet until the coming of the Holy Spirit they did not truly grasp the aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice and redemption.

This is not just some academic discussion to mull over.  For today there seems to be several different competing messages out there that sadly are even espoused in some churches.  One is that Jesus is the Christ and Savior but is really only interested in certain nebulous aspects of our existence dealing with spiritual “Sunday” things and our afterlife.  There is a message that Jesus is the Christ and wanting to be a part of all we do but there are things we need to think, say or do first before Jesus Christ will work with us.

Yet, I believe Jesus Christ shared a greater message than these limiting ones.  For Jesus Christ came down from heaven and existed as we exist.  While He never failed, He lived among those who did fail.  While He never gave into temptation, He knew what it was to be tempted.  Jesus Christ came to us, He met us right where we are; in our sinful condition.  Jesus Christ loved and loves us however He finds us.  He does care about our spirit, but he also cares about our flesh and our mind.  He is the Lord of the Sabbath but also the King of the rest of the days as well.  All judgement has been given to Him, yet instead of condemning us, He died for us that we might live.

Dear Sisters and Brothers it is imperative for ourselves and our salvation that we follow the correct and accurate message.  It is important that we invest the time in diligent study of His word and prayer seeking understanding and spiritual wisdom.  It is critical that we don’t rely on our own perceived strengths and fortitude to navigate the treacherous currents of this world; lest we be swept against the rocks of prideful elevation or inconsolable despair.

The complete height, depth or breadth of the Truth of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, His Salvation and His and Our Heavenly Father’s Love for us are too great for us to entirely comprehend.  Yet that should not deter is in our quest for deeper understanding, deeper love, deeper service in loving response to the greatest gift we have or will be ever given.  Let it always be, the Message of Jesus Christ is all the truth we will ever need.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are bombarded daily with so many conflicting messages about You and Your Son Jesus Christ.  We must admit that it can be confusing as to which message to follow.  Grant us the Holy Spirit who will impart guiding truth and wisdom for us.  Do not allow the tempter of this world to lead us astray with false messages of our own prowess or desolation.  That in reliance on Your Message of Love and Salvation, we will be able to live lives of praise to Your Most Holy name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

A Blessed Easter to all.

 

“Then the multitudes who went before and those that followed cried out:  ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'” Matthew 21:9

“Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” Matthew 26:66

Let’s take a moment to ponder Easter week from the disciples perspective.  What a way it started out.  Much of the last year of Jesus’ ministry had been filled with both miracles but also strife.  As Jesus became more well know, He was attacked more and more by the religious establishment.  His fame concerning healing and miracles had reached such a significant level that He found it difficult to stay in the towns and cities due to the crowds.  Now Jesus had decided to go to Jerusalem to observe the passover.  The disciples had trepidation over this.  Some tried to dissuade Jesus believing He might be killed and they along with Him for even trying to enter the city.  Still, all decided to accompany Him, no matter the risk.

Yet, now Jesus was entering the city of cities; Jerusalem.  And far from being ostracized or condemned by the crowds, Jesus was being hailed and praised by the crowds.  The Jewish authorities who wanted Him silenced were no match for the jubilant outpouring from the crowd.  What an unexpected turn of events that must have been for the disciples.  For there was Jesus being praised and glorified by the crowds and because they were His disciples, they strode in triumphant as well.  Later that same week we are told that many, some powerful were coming to the disciples seeking an audience with Jesus.  Every time a detractor or accuser came to question or verbally attack Jesus, he was completely thwarted and turned away by Jesus; much to the marvel of the crowd.  This must have filled the disciples with such confidence and elation.

Then, in a few short days it all turned around.  It started with the feast of the Passover; the last supper.  What would seem to be a solemn but joyful event quickly turns anything but when Jesus declares that one of His closest, one from this beloved group, would betray Jesus.  Then Jesus starts to talk in detail about His departing and coming again.  Jesus leads them out to a garden where He does something they have never seen before; Jesus becomes sorrowful, almost seemingly fearful, though most don’t witness it because they have fallen asleep.

Finally the unthinkable happens; Jesus is arrested.  Jesus is put on trial and in a matter of a few short days the disciples witness the very same people who cheered Jesus as the Son of David, coming in the Name of Lord, jeer Jesus and demand that He be crucified!  They watch as He is led off condemned and some even watch Him die.  They must have wondered to themselves can it get any worse than this?

It seems that in barely the length of a week’s time, the disciples have witnessed and experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.   They have watched the world revere, cheer and seemingly love them.  However, so very quickly, they have watched the world, chastise, belittle and even condemn them.  How is one to react to that?  How would you and I react to that?

If one is not to find oneself being driven crazy by the capriciousness and duality of this world, it would seem that we would have to remember and keep focused, not on the world but on Jesus Christ.  For if we look to the example of Jesus Christ, He did not get swept up in the heady, glory filled days of the beginning of the week.  He completely realized what was coming and how the world can be so fickle as to praise in one moment and condemn the next.  Yet even in His lowest of low moments, when it seemed all had deserted Him in the garden, He knew His Father was there.  Jesus knew the love of His Father and knew that love would see Him through.

So likewise for us, if we find ourselves in a place or circumstance of triumph, we must resists the temptation to be swept up in the adoration and become proud and feeling deserving.  Let us instead humbly give thanks for our good fortune to the One who has blessed us with it, knowing that He, Our Heavenly Father is always faithful where the world is anything but.

Also, should we find ourselves in a place of abject disillusionment and despair with seemingly no place to turn; no hope of survival, let us, like Jesus, remember we are never alone, we are never without hope.  For we serve and have the love of the Creator of the Universe, the All Powerful and All Knowing God Almighty.  We have His solemn promise that He will never forsake us nor abandon us.

No doubt about it, we live in a tumultuous world.  Should we decide to be worldly, we will find ourselves catapulted to relatively fictitious highs and rocked by devastating lows.  In either of those situations love, true love will be hard to come by.  Thus, let us leave the roller coaster of the world behind and instead strive to become one with He who promises a peace and joy surpassing all worldly understanding.  His high is the only one worth shooting for.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we live in a world of extremes where we can go from triumphant highs to tragic lows.  Pour out Your Spirit Upon us, Merciful Father, that would not be tempted to be swept up in the prideful adulation or led to self destruction in the tragedy.  May it be that in all circumstances we would be reliant and focused on You and Your Love knowing that is the only true sustainment that we need or should desire.  That Your blessings are the reason for our triumphs and Your mercy will see us through our tragedies.  That in all things and at all times we would strive to bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

May the day perish on which I was born…May that day be darkness.”  Job 3:3,4

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”  Job 38:4

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

I have to admit, from a human perspective, at least from my perspective, the Book of Job is a tough book to get my arms, really my spirit around.  It is the basic premise or should I say set up that I find most confusing.  For, from my human perspective, Job seems to be basically a pawn between two spiritual titans; Satan accuses and God then allows.  Job shouldn’t be treated like that.  Job is entitled to better.  Hmmm, maybe I should be treated better? Maybe I’m entitled to not have earthly negative things happen to me?  As difficult as this book can be to understand, to take the time to read through, I can see, at least for me, it has the potential to be, except for the four gospels of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the most powerful book of the bible.  Why would I say that?  For the following reasons:

1.  God is the Supreme Sovereign.  God is over all.  Both in the beginning of Job and toward the end, when God answers Job from the whirlwind, God’s supreme nature, supreme wisdom, supreme power,  are never in question.

2.  God did not bring the harm.  Job’s possessions are destroyed.  Job’s loved ones are killed.  Job’s health is destroyed.  Yet none of those things come by the actual Hand of God.  It is true God allowed them to happen.  It appears, at least to my judgement, that they could not have happened without His allowance.  However, they were not His direct actions.

3.  God does not condemn His own.  Job loses hope.  Job curses his own life.  Though throughout most of the book, Job does not humble himself, Job appears to accuse God of not being fair, Job’s friends seem to feel it is okay to speak for God; God, in His infinite patience and mercy, neither condemns Job, nor his friends.

4.  God restores.  When Job is finally faced with wisdom, the power, the truth, the perfection of God, he freely confesses, he repents, he understands he lacks the wherewithal  to truly grasp and understand the Nature of God.  God in His Grace, restores Job, not only from an earthly nature with things and family, but most importantly spiritually.

The power of the book of Job is in its reflective properties.  This book is a mirror.  This book boldly and without apology exposes the process of human thought, human judgement used against Our Heavenly Father.  In the end, it also shows the folly of that human thought, that judgement as compared to the perfection of God.

What human thought; what human judgement you ask?  Let’s take a look.  First let us consider before the terrible things befell Job.  Job was prosperous.  Job was healthy.  Job was happy.  God, Himself call Job upright.  Now is when our human logic jumps in.  No where, again no where in this book does it say that Job’s prosperity, health and happiness were a direct payment owed to him because of his being upright.  No, what is directly said is that God has blessed the work of his hands.  What Job has is a gift from God.

Then worldly events impact Job.  Horrible things happen to the things he has, his family, even his health.  Once that happens, again human judgement kicks in.  What is left of his family, his wife, deserts him; “Enough with your complaining, curse God and die”, she tells Job.  Job’s “friends” then come; to “comfort” him.  “You get what you deserve,” they tell him in one way or another.  The human logic is, if earthly things are going wrong, then you must have done something wrong.  If things go really bad, you must have become truly evil.  Thus become good and good will happen.  Do good and you will be entitled to good things.  Sounds reasonable.  Sounds fair.  I will go out and do good based upon what I deem is good and how much is good enough.

Then God enters in; and in an interaction to amazing to truly grasp; He doesn’t condemn, He doesn’t destroy, He asks some questions.  Who are you, man to question me?  Did I need to consult you when creating the earth and heavens?  Did you give Me insight into creating the life on earth?  Did we discuss on an equal basis what is good in this life and what is evil?  If none of those things happened; on what grounds do you judge Me about what is fair or not?, God asks Job, God asks each of us.

When faced with God, if we are truly going to believe in God, then we are forced to come to the conclusion Job did.  We utter things about which we do not understand.  God’s things are things too wonderful for us, that we can truly, completely never know.

What is our response then to be?  Jesus Christ told us.  To inherit the earth, we must be meek.  The only way to come into the presence of God is to be humble.  To allow the all powerful Will of God to work within us we must set aside our will and the pride of power that we think we have.  We must understand, what I have is a gift, a blessing from God and not a payment, not an entitlement for my good works.

Job said it: “I am vile.”  Yet understand this; God was not going to leave Job in his vileness.  God had a better plan for Job.  God has a better plan for us.  God does not want to leave us in our earthly thoughts, our earthly judgements, our earthly sins.  In His amazing mercy and love, God longs for, God is desperate for, us to be in His peace and joy and relationship with Him.  How can we know? How can we be sure?  He sent a savior.  God sent His Only Son Jesus Christ to die for us; to wipe away or vileness that we may live anew with and in Him.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we live in a world where the feeling of entitlement is paramount.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we fall victim to that feeling and no longer see Your blessings as gifts but as entitled rewards for our good deeds.  Hear us when we humbly repent, strengthening us to overcome the trials and tribulations of this world.  Provide us with the spirit of meekness that we may see the Power in You and call upon Your Power to change this world.  In Praise and in the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

 

“So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?'”   Genesis 4:6

“When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath.”  Esther 3:5

“But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  Matthew 5:39

We must start out with a very basic truth.  He, in the Persons of Our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are perfect.  We, none of us, is perfect.  Thus it is our imperfections that will often lead us into times of being reproved as well as conflict.  It is how we respond to those times that will make all the difference.

I confess, to my human, earthly understanding, the story of Cain has its difficulties.  If you remember from Genesis, Cain and his brother Abel bring their offerings to God.  Scripture tells us that Cain, the first born, was a tiller of the soil, while his brother Abel, watched over the flocks.  Cain brings an offering of fruit.  Abel brings an offering of a lamb.  Depending on the translation of scripture, here’s what is said about God’s response to Cain’s offering, it was:  not respected, not accepted, not looked on with favor, etc.  This action from God makes Cain angry.  What was Cain’s ultimate response to God’s action; to kill his brother Abel!  Here’s the thing to remember; God is perfect.  We are not told why God did not respect or accept Cain’s offering.  We do know that God, in that moment was not rejecting Cain, himself.  How do we know that?  God sees Cain’s anger and asks him why he is angry?  Why has his demeanor and behavior become downcast and forlorn?  God still cared about Cain.  God still loved Cain.

There is also the human side of disrespect or rejection.  In the times of the Jewish exile to Babylon, and even greater empire came and conquered Babylon.  The ruler of the Persian empire at this time is a King named Ahasuerus.  This king promotes one of the princes named Haman to be above all other princes.  There is also a lessor man, a servant in the king’s house, who had saved the king from a plot against him.  That man was a Jew named Mordecai.  As one might expect, Haman’s promotion brought him a certain amount of respect from the other princes and people around the king.  They would bow and pay homage to Haman when he passed by.  However, Mordecai did neither of those things toward Haman.  Scripture does not give us an indication that Mordecai went out of his way to show disrespect toward Haman.  In fact Haman did not notice Mordecai’s behavior himself.  No, it only comes to Haman’s attention when he is told by someone else.  But, once it comes to Haman’s attention, he is enraged.  Yet Haman doesn’t just plan to take revenge against Mordecai or maybe Mordecai’s family at this perceived offense.  Haman decides he is going to wipe out the entire Jewish population from the entire kingdom of Persia because of what one man, Mordecai has done!

Herein lies the lesson of these two incidents.  One is a rebuke from the perfect God Almighty.  The other is a perceived insult where none was intended.  Yet it is the response to these situations that leads to such significant tragedy for the figures involved.  For Cain’s response was not to humble himself and inquire of God as to the inadequacy of the offering given.  Cain decided to become angry.  Cain seem to realize he had no recourse against God Almighty so he decided, in his anger to murder his brother instead.  This murder leads to Cain being banished from his family, forced into exile.  For Haman the consequences of his response are even worse.  Haman, in his evil anger plots to destroy all the Jews, not knowing that the king’s favorite queen, Queen Esther is a Jew.  When Haman’s evil plot is uncovered, the king has him hanged on the very gallows that he had planned to have Mordecai hanged on.

Thus we see that it is in our response to situations where we find ourselves reproved by Our Heavenly Father or perhaps rejected by those of this world that makes all the difference.  So what is the appropriate response?  For the answer, we must turn to Jesus Christ.  In scripture, Jesus teaches us that Our Heavenly Father will at times prune us so that we may bear even more fruit.  We will be tempted.  There are times when we will fall short and sin.  There will be consequences for those sins.  We can either become angry and bitter.  We can lash out at those whom did not give in to temptation.  We can lash out at God Almighty.  Or, and this is the correct thing to do, we can humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness as well as guidance on what to do.  Knowing that God reproves and prunes those He dearly loves.  If we feel we’ve been slighted, rejected or disrespected by someone of this world, whether deservedly or not; Jesus teaches us that we are to turn the other cheek.  We are not to retaliate against them, but are to forgive them, knowing that we, ourselves receive much greater forgiveness from Our Heavenly Father.

Dear Sisters and Brothers we live in an age where seemingly no slight should go unchallenged, no insult should go unpunished, no disrespect go unavenged.  It is a world where breaking into line in front of another person can lead to a person taking another’s life.  Those angry responses lead to hate, division and tragedy.  God would not have it so.  Jesus Christ reminds us that even when He was bearing the biggest insult and disrespect of all; hanging on a cross, dying for our sins, He forgave us.  He loved us.  Let our response to these situations mirror Jesus Christ’s response allowing us to live lives of praise and peace to and in the Name of Our Heavenly Father.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we live in a world where slipping into conflict is as easy as taking a breath.  We confess that we, ourselves often choose to become angry and retaliate instead of being like Jesus Christ and becoming humble and forgiving.  Pour Out Your Spirit upon us that we may have the strength to overcome our anger with peace and overcome our hatred with love.  We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“No one is good, except God alone.”  Mark 10:18

“There is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God….”  Romans 3:22,23

Okay, first from the title, you may feel that this is going to be a heavy, judgemental post, if you will read through it I’m hoping that you’ll see it is anything but that.  Second, I very purposely used the pronoun “I” in the title.  For I have not the wisdom nor talent for judgement to say anything about anyone else as it applies to the state of their soul.  I assure you, the log in my eye is large enough to keep me busy.

Evil is a tough subject in today’s world.  It is also a word that is very seldom used in the context of overly heinous acts.  So often after terrible deeds are perpetrated on an individual or larger scale, the motivations behind those deeds are explained by mental illness, being in abject poverty, the lack of proper oversight and the like.  Yet in our society we are loathe to acknowledge that evil exists, let alone think that it can be rampant in our society and thus the impacts of it.

Yet Jesus Christ and The Word of God are very clear on the subject.  Evil absolutely exists.  Evil is the very basis of sin which leads to the kinds of behaviors and acts that we are seeing with ever increasing frequency in this world.  I can not escape the conclusion that is stated in the bible.  I am evil.

What is evil?  At it’s very basic nature it is the love of self, the ability to puts one self in front and above all else.  It is the elevation of self to the highest entity leading to the ability to hate any and all others who are not the self.  I must confess that I have that capability within me.  I have to admit that, left to my own devices, I would embrace the me first manifesto which could lead to deeply troubling and disastrous acts.

I am evil.  I was not made for evil.  God did not create me to be evil.  Rather it comes down to my choice, my desire to be connected to, to follow the ways of the Prince of Evil, that is Satan.

If I left the post there it would seem a post of doom.  It would be to leave myself in a place of no hope.  I would be proclaiming my eternal damnation.

Yet this is a post of praise and thanksgiving.  This is actually a post of peace and joy.  This a post designed to uplift the downtrodden, to proclaim good news to those whose ears are filled daily with sadness and woe.

For while there is evil, there is also good.  Please, please understand this; evil and good are not on equal footing.  In comparing the ability to triumph, good is more powerful than evil, as evil is more powerful than me.  That is to say, I can not defeat the devil on my own.  His spiritual power is enough to overwhelm me anytime, especially in my earthly proclivity to desire to follow him.  That is why Our Heavenly Father never wants us to try and defeat evil on our own.

Our Heavenly Father, Our Creator God, is good; that is to say He is perfectly good.  In His perfection, He does not want that we should succumb to evil.  So in His perfect plan, He was not going to leave me alone.  First He would send His Son, Jesus Christ to allow me to come into His presence by washing me clean of sin by His sacrifice.  Yet Our Heavenly Father was not through there.  God knows, on our own, we are too weak to defeat the temptations of the evil one.  Thus, God gave us a helper, a champion.  God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.  It is the strength of the Holy Spirit within me that causes the evil one to be defeated.  It is the presence of the Holy Spirit within me, that keeps me and my heart from following after the devil and keeps me from doing evil.

There a couple of aspects for joy in all of this.  First, I am no great or deserving person to receive the Holy Spirit.  Anyone can receive the Holy Spirit, by proclaiming the kingship of and the fact that Jesus Christ was God’s only begotten Son who is now our Savior.  Second, the record of Our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is perfect and will always be.  Evil will never be stronger.  Evil can’t practice, can’t workout, can’t call on additional support to somehow build strength enough to defeat good.

Therefore we can go forth in confidence.  We can go forth in peace and joy.  All we need do is humbly call upon Our Heavenly Father for deliverance.  All we need do is turn our hearts toward and over to Our Heavenly Father.  All we need do is love Him, who first loved and continues to completely love us.  Then He who is within us will allow us to do good.  We are transformed by Him for good.

Having done those things then listen to the promise of Jesus Christ! “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will also do and greater works than these he will do because I go to the Father! And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do…” (John 14: 12,13)

That, dear sisters and brothers is the end of the story.  We can do all things in Christ, by the Grace of Our Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit who resides within us.  By Our Heavenly Father’s Power and Blessed Mercy, evil is thwarted, the devil is defeated and death itself is overcome.  Thus today we can know peace and joy and we can rest in the Father’s love knowing His love for us will span all the rest of eternity.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we proclaim that You are God and You are perfect.  Yet I also confess that I am not God and I am drawn to do and be evil.  Forgive me when I turn from You and follow the evil desires of my heart.  I thank and praise You that You have not left me to my own devices.  We thank You for the precious gift of salvation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  We praise and thank You that You send the Holy Spirit to reside in us, allowing us through His power to overcome our evil nature.  We thank You for Your Love that surpasses all human understanding, that allows us to enter into Your rest with joy and thanksgiving.  We pray these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

“Fear Him who, after He has killed, has the power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”  Luke 12:5

” Then God spoke to Israel….I am God, the God of your father, do not fear to go down to Egypt for I will make of you a great nation there.”  Genesis 46:3

Fear is a popular topic with many questions.  Should we fear?  Is fear itself the only thing we have to fear?  Some would say that there is no place for fear in anyone, especially people of faith.  Others would say that fear is a thing that keeps us sharp; it is the fly or fight response that helps keep us safe.

Fear is also something that is very pervasive in our society today.  Seemingly everywhere we turn there is a message or circumstance that should bring about fear if not outright dread.  Terrorism is spreading throughout the world.  Airplanes are falling out of the sky with some never being found.   Climate change is going to cause civilization ending catastrophes. Throughout the world, everyone is trying to steal your identity and leave you in economic ruin.  No place is safe to go where there are not mass shootings.  Most everything you eat causes cancer in someway. Too much sun is deadly.  Not enough sun is deadly.  Understand I am not saying there is not validity to these statements, that is to say these things have not happened.  It is more the messages of fear and seemingly helplessness that these incidents bring about is more my point.

During the time of Jesus, his disciples beheld, if not similar types of incidents at least fear inducing incidents.  They were seemingly trapped in a small boat in a vicious storm.  They were sent out into a hostile environment with a very controversial message, yet with no means to protect themselves, not even any means, like money or shelter, to fend for themselves.  They faced off against angry crowds and hostile leaders.  They left the comfort and safety of homes and families.  One nearly drowned.  Yet during each of these incidents and much more in His greater message; Jesus Christ would ask, somewhat derisively: “Why do you fear?”  Jesus appears to make it plain that to have fear was a lack of faith.  Jesus Christ seems to be telling His disciples in person, as well as the rest of us who believe through His statement to them, that to have fear is wrong.

What are we to make of this?  There are some who would say just that; to have fear, fear of any type is a sin.  They would further submit that any and all fear is a sign of weakness of faith and of spirit.

Hmmmm…and maybe that would be understandable.  Yes understandable with all the times Jesus proclaimed and told us to “fear not!”.  Except, Jesus Christ said there is one whom we should fear.  Jesus declared there is One who is indeed worthy of and it is very appropriate to fear.  For there will be those and unfortunately many who will not spend eternity with Our Heavenly Father.  There will be those that, by their actions and lack of belief will be judged unworthy to be in the presence of Almighty God.  Who has the power to decide that?  Satan will not condemn the unbelieving.  None in this world have the power to make that judgement.  No angel or saint will cast out the damned.  Our Heavenly Father has that power.  As it states in the Book of Proverbs that the Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.

I do understand dear sisters and brothers the paradox, the seeming contradiction, that we have a Loving Heavenly Father, a Father who loves us so much that He would give His only Son for our Salvation, and yet this same Loving Father we are to love in return we should also fear.  That doesn’t make sense does it?  Maybe not from a worldly perspective, but perfect sense from the heavenly perspective.  You see to be separated from God is a terrible thing; well not a terrible, the most terrible thing.  Also, to be separated from God is not our decision to make.  In other words, we don’t have the power to decide that we are worthy or righteous enough on our own to enter into His Kingdom.  No, we are saved by grace, His Grace.  We are saved by His Gift, the gift of the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, it is not to us to figure out or ascertain the path to salvation.  We have not the power to save ourselves.  It is then obvious we must be in awe of He who has that power.  We must be completely attentive to what it is He has to say.  We must be in fear of Him and His power, causing us to minimize our reliance on ourselves, our wisdom, our plan our judgement and humble ourselves, calling upon Him to guide us.  That One has that power is fearful.  Thanks be to Him, to God Almighty, that He is perfect.  We never have to fear that He will call on us to be evil, to be hateful, to be spiteful and uncaring.

God has shown us again and again, a thousand times again; that we have nothing to fear of this world.  A small band of herders, on the brink of starvation during a worldwide famine can go to the most powerful nation and expect food and shelter for free?  God says do not fear.  That same band, centuries later can enter a promised land and destroy over 40 kings? God says do not fear.  A man asks to walk on water? God, on earth says, do not fear.

Turn away from God, go on our own, trust on our own desires, deny Jesus Christ, hate all; God says fear.  God says, in His Word, fear Me; for unless you repent, unless you accept my Son Jesus Christ, you will have no part in me.  That is a fearful thing indeed.

Yet even that fear is out of His Love for us.  A love that says fear no earthly power, for I am greater.  God says:  Love me, love my creation, fear being apart from me and what you fear will never come to pass.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, Your Ultimate Wisdom, Your Ultimate Power are humbling, awe inspiring and fearful things indeed.  We thank You, most Merciful Father that You Love us and desire to never be apart from us.  Pour out Your Spirit that we would be appropriately fearful, leading to wise actions in Your sight as well as a repentant humble spirit.  That our confidence would never be in ourselves but always in You.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.  Amen

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