“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

“Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done…and indeed all was vanity and grasping of the wind.”  Ecclesiastes 2:11

“He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Natural is a word that has garnered a fairly positive connotation in our world today.  Natural foods are considered healthier than modified foods.  Natural processes are considered more sustaining and productive than manipulated processes.  When we say something is natural or use the adverb “naturally”, more often than not, we are inferring an accuracy and correctness to the adjoining statement.

So I want to look at some “natural” processes.  Let’s look at the natural mechanical inanimate process.  Let’s say that we are building a device or machine.  While we are constructing the device, adding pieces and parts we feel that we are primarily in control of its function.  There will come a time when it is fully completed but still normally is tested so we still feel we have control over its final state.  Yet at some point we will considered it completed at which time it will now operate with some share of its functioning happening without our input.

Let’s turn our attention to an example of the animate process of raising offspring.  The higher up the functioning scale of animals is concerned, in general, the more time and interaction parents give to their offspring.  There are two general outcomes to this parenting process.  The animal, as in birds, are eventually expected to “leave the nest” and be able to fend for themselves.  In the case of certain mammals, the offspring, sometimes only female, will stay with the animal group and in these cases the offspring maintain a subservient role most of their lives.  Now let’s look at the highest functioning, dare I use the term evolved, of the animal species, human beings.  We spend a considerable amount of time, energy and resources in the raising of our children.  Though, I guess we can’t know for certain, a uniqueness of the human process is the idea, while our children will use much of what we have taught them, that they will actually exceed our capabilities as they go out on their own.  In other words, it is a uniquely human desire that our children will be more intelligent, more successful, more affluent, more emotionally stable, more………….than we, the parents were.  One of the aspects of achieving the “greater” is a sense that they accomplished that with a level of autonomy.  Thus the natural way of things is that things made by us or things that come from our procreation should be able to be able to operate on their own.

So why discuss this?  I have no particular issue as far as any judgement concerning the appropriateness of this process in a “worldly” way.  However, I get a definite sense that this idea of autonomy is the “natural” process and therefore an appropriate and accurate process has transgressed into our thinking about our spiritual process, our appropriate relationship with Our Heavenly Father.  I very much get the sense there is an idea that is popular that ascribes to a process where we are created by God, taught the Word of God, have institutions like churches and the like from God, but then there are large sections of our life that we are responsible for.  That we are to take what God has given us and strike out on our own.  That we can and will become “better” because of God’s influence yet primarily based on our own actions, thoughts and beliefs which can be apart from God.  I believe this is an incredibly dangerous concept that I can not find any basis for in the bible.

Speaking of what is in the bible; let’s start with our Savior’s own words.  It was one of the last times he would be speaking with His disciples.  Jesus is trying to both encourage, teach and warn about the times to come.  Jesus is speaking in the context of the spirit because He knows He will soon be bodily returning to the Father.  As I have often said before, I believe that Jesus used language very intentionally.  He meant exactly what he said.  Thus He tells the disciples that they can do “nothing” apart from Him.  He tells them to abide in him; abide meaning to remain, continue, stay in Him.  He doesn’t just tell them things will go better with Jesus.  He doesn’t say, you should put me somewhere in your thinking.

Another man, a man who we are told is the wisest man ever born of earthly parents, also strives to seek the meaning of life and life’s work.  The man’s name was Solomon.  In Solomon’s undertaking to find meaning, he looks everywhere, gaining knowledge, gaining wealth, gaining power, gaining possessions, gaining free time, gaining women and every possible task “under the sun”.  His conclusion; it is all vanity.  There is no worth, no value in any of it.  He goes on to state his own conclusion of the whole matter:  “Fear God and keep His commandments for this is man’s all”. (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Dear Sisters and Brothers it may seem unnatural and it most certainly is to the world.  Yet I believe there is to be no time, no action, no thought, no deed that I am to undertake on my own.  That God’s Nature is to have us be with Him in all things, at all times.  That I don’t do this (and I most surely don’t) is when temptation and sin comes into my life.  It’s not the God needs us around for some reason but that we are completely dependent on Him.  The worldly person rebels against this.  The worldly person says the more I am successful the less I need until I need no thing from anyone else not even God.  I am self sufficient.  I am God.

The first hurdle is to become humble; to actually want to abide, at all times and in all things in Him.  Then come the hurdles of actually opening all to Him; all work, all play, all actions, all thoughts.  The more we can do this; the closer we will be to the True Natural.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank You that You desire that we would always be with You, at all times and in all things.  Forgive us when we stubbornly wish to go our own way and exclude you from our lives.  Keep us from the inevitable evil that will come during those times and mercifully lead us back to you we pray.  That the more we abide in You the more our lives will be lives of praise to Your Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord and He shall bring it to pass.”  Psalm 37:4,5

“Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked. Do not further his wicked scheme.”  Psalm 140:8

“Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul”  1Peter 2:11

There is an interesting narrative going around today, that while it may not be new to our time, seems, at least to me, to be promulgated with a far greater fervor.  The narrative is that a good and proper goal in life is to do what is your dream and that would be as far as your vocation, your hobby(ies), truly most ever facet of your life.  Thus, fulfilling your dream is a proper overarching desire in your life.

This narrative is being played out in a very popular situation comedy that I watch, which I will freely admit is not a Christian themed or based show.  One of the main characters, up until the start of this past season, has had a dream of becoming an actor.  Like the myth of fame and fortune retold, this character comes from a Midwestern town, to Hollywood, to pursue that dream.  Alas, as the fable plays out, no matter how hard the character tries the dream has yet to come true.  As one might imagine the character, is poor, taking a restaurant job just to make ends meet as well as living on the generosity of friends.  Finally, this season, the character seems to abandon her dream to get a “real” job, earn a better living and “get on with her life”.  Yet inevitably, potential acting jobs present themselves and she is left struggling with the idea of pursuing her dream at the expense of her job.  The question becomes, has she wrongly sacrificed her dream career on the altar of worldly concerns.  If this were a Christian based show, what would be said about her faith?

Okay, Doug just what the heck does this have to do with anything, you may be asking?  This matters greatly to us I believe Dear Sisters and Brothers, because the church and people of faith are not immune to this narrative.  I have read, seen preached and even wondered myself about a concept out there that says; if you are a person of faith with a great dream, an overriding desire, God must have placed that dream in your heart so you should pursue it with almost fanatical fervor.  Also, if you’re not achieving that “God placed dream”, the problem is with you and your faith!

So from whence come our dreams?  As in most everything, I have not the wisdom to have an intelligent, faithful opinion on my own.  Yes, dreams are referenced in the bible; Joseph and Danial interpreted dreams, the prophets were often taught in dreams, Joseph, Mary’s husband, was warned to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt in a dream.  However, the placement by God of our life’s purposes and vocations in dreams is not a clearly stated or inferred process that I can find.  In fact, David dreamed of building a temple for God, but God told him that dream was in error.  One can not with certainty say whether Moses dreamed of being a shepherd but it is clear he held no dream of going to Egypt and freeing his people or leading them across the wilderness.  It is clear that Saul of Tarsus had no dream of preaching Christ’s gospel and starting churches all over the world as the apostle Paul.

However, what does appear to be consistent in The Word is the admonition that our dreams, our desires can be either good as well as evil.  That dreams and desires have the capability to turn us away from following Christ and Our Heavenly Father.

So how are we to know?  First and foremost, as in everything, it starts with the Lord.  What is our part?  I believe it starts out with humility, an openness to be led.  Indulge me please to give you a personal illustration.  From as early as I can remember, I was going to fly, be a pilot.  This was a dream prior to me accepting the Lord as my Savior and continued afterward.  I had every confidence in this dream and God’s place in it and my prayers were not in anyway an “if” but for success of when I started to fly.  Indeed, to teach me, God gave me the fruition of my dream and I started to fly.  Just as quickly, thankfully, he put a war in my soul, showing me flying was not His intent for me.  Thankfully, God won the war but I fought Him tooth and nail through the long process.  It was only with much pain from me and not from Him, that I was able to humble myself and cry out: Thy will be done.

I am still not completely there but He’s taught me to ask:  “Is it my dream, my desire or His plan?  Why do I want it; my glory or His?  Do I want to rely on my talent; my wisdom or, perhaps even in fear, step out to where I don’t know how or why, but only know Him?”

It seems to me it is about alignment.  Like a car, if my plans, my dreams, my desires are aligned with His; the path is straight and He smooths out the bumps.  If I try to force my plans, desires and dreams on Him or don’t take Him into account at all; then that misalignment will have me all over the place with mountains and canyons for obstacles.

Finally, blessedly, His plan will never lead to our destruction.  His plan never has unforeseen outcomes.  His plan is perfect; perfect for Him yes, but in His Mercy, perfect for us as well.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we declare that You are God in Heaven and that Your Plans are perfect.  We also confess and ask forgiveness, Most Merciful Father, that we often forsake Your plans and substitute our own in their place.  Teach us to humbly come before You with our dreams and our desires, seeking alignment with You and Your Will, that then we will see those plans come to fruition.  That in Your Plans becoming our dreams, we would live lives that praise Your Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself….and follow me.”  Matthew 16:24

“May the Lord cut off …the tongue that speaks proud things, who have said, ‘With our tongue we will prevail…who is lord over us?'”  Psalm 12:3,4

Dear Sisters and Brothers I can not honestly say whether this post will be uplifting or more of a lamentation of the world, yet in all things His Name Be Praised.

Hearing voices is a major topic in the world today and by this I’m not talking about the individual hearing voices for that is a different condition than to what I refer.  No, I am referring to the aspect of my voice, that is the individual’s voice being heard.  For we hear the lack of the individual’s voice being heard is the fundamental issue to so many ills in the world.  It is said that people become “radicalized” because their voice is not heard without it.  We hear that people riot and carry out all sorts of disobedience due to being disenfranchised because they are not heard.  So let me state hear for the record and I guess am saying please “hear me” when I say that I’m not in any way saying we shouldn’t listen to others or contemplate what they are saying; far from it.

However, what I am saying, based on the Word and the example of Jesus Christ, is how much emphasis should we put on our own thoughts and expressing those thoughts?  I wondering what is the heavenly legitimate response if I think I’m not being heard versus a worldly legitimate response?

Let’s start with Jesus Christ.  Jesus proclaimed and we affirm that Jesus is the one and only Christ, the true begotten Son of God, God come down to earth.  So seemingly, Jesus would have every right to proclaim His ministry as His own.  To proclaim to all: “Listen to Me for My Own Sake!”  Would Jesus have not been correct to command that He be worshiped as God?  How incredibly interesting that Jesus did not do that!  Jesus said His preaching was not His own but came from His Father in Heaven.  Jesus did not say that He was on His own mission but fulfilling the mission given to Him by His Father in Heaven.  Jesus did not call for His own glory but stated His was there to glorify His Father in Heaven.  In doing so, Jesus proclaims that His mission is to die on this earth.  Then we hear the voice of man jump in.  We hear the voice of the creation try to contradict the voice of the Creator.  Peter, the voice man, takes Jesus, the voice of God, aside and tries to tell Jesus that He is wrong.  Jesus then makes His proclamation, His judgement and of course He is right.  For in that moment, when man is trying to trump the Word of God, when man is trying to say that his wisdom is equal to or greater than the Creator’s; just like what happened in the garden at the beginning; man is doing the bidding of Satan.  Jesus is blunt; we must deny ourselves in the face of God.

In the 12th Psalm, David knows the danger all too well.  He calls on God to quiet the tongue of the proud.  He knows the human inclination to pride and pronouncements that our voice is paramount and no voice is more important the ours.

Yet, like in the garden, yet like Peter when we hear something we don’t agree with, we feel obliged to make our voice heard.  More over, it is not just about being heard, for if you fail to agree with me, if you do not do as I desire, then you are denying me and I am completely within my rights to avenge myself and your insult upon you.  You and your disrespect has caused me to be a radical, I have and am right to be angry and to take that anger out in any way I feel legitimate.  That seems the way of the world today.

Adam failed and Peter failed to deny themselves.  I know that I often and I believe it is a we thing don’t deny ourselves.  Even in this and other postings, if I were to claim that these are based on my wisdom (if indeed any wisdom is contained in them), my discernment, my studious nature, I would be living in delusion and self aggrandizement versus self denial.  Thanks be to God that I know that is not the case.  Any wisdom, any accuracy, all talent to communicate comes from and through Jesus Christ.

If there is any uplifting nature in this, and I believe there is much to be joyous and praise filled about, it is God does not leave us in our self delusion.  Our merciful Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit gives us the strength to combat the worldly message of Satan.  He gives us the wherewithal to not only deny ourselves but to also pick up our cross.  Through humble prayer we can receive the blessed insight of the all sufficiency of God’s Wisdom, God’s Mission and that giving the glory to Him versus seeking it ourselves is the only proper response.  It is through Him, that we can understand that we are listened to by Him whether the world hears us or not.

The world at large, even though created by God, did not heed the voice of His Son.  I can not expect that they would pay any more attention to one who follows Him.  This I do know and proclaim, by the Blessed Mercy of our Heavenly Father, He hears my voice in heaven and it is not ignored.  That is all the hearing I need know about.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, You, through Your Son Jesus Christ have called upon us to deny ourselves and follow You.  Forgive us Dear Father when we would rather have our own voices heard, our own voices glorified instead of Yours.  Through Your Spirit, grant that we might come to deny ourselves and joyfully follow Your Voice, knowing also that you hear and do not ignore our voice, our cries.  That in denying ourselves, carrying our cross and putting Your voice before ours, we would live lives that praise Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ amen.

“Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart”  Psalm 3:6-7

“These things I have spoken to you; that My joy may remain in you and your joy may be full”  John 15:11

I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting but when I searched books on Amazon.com about happiness, I received 81,379 choices.  I am also an author of books but fortunately I have not written a book about happiness because there would be quite a lot of competition.  If you choose all departments on Amazon it jumps to over 366,000.  Google happiness and the total jumps up just a little; to 354,000,000!  I guess it’s safe to say that happiness is a topic that a significant number of people are interested in (I confess, yours truly included).

I won’t bore you with too many,  but you know what the world teaches; happiness can be found in:

Material things – the right car(s), house(s), boat, clothes, jewelry, property, …..

Financial things – money, salary, stocks, bonds, return on investment, gold, silver, …..

Habits – exercise, diet, sleep, eat mainly meat, don’t eat any meat

Fun – vacation, retirement, alcohol, leisure time, sex, drugs, …..

Other – mindset, attitude, religion, friends, power, job, loving family and on and on and on

In one of our country’s most sacred documents, non other than the Declaration of Independence it boldly proclaims that a self-evident, unalienable right, right up there with human equality, life and freedom, is the pursuit of happiness.  First, please don’t misunderstand me, for I’m not saying that there is no value to exercise or diet, having a great job, loving family, etc.  Yet interestingly enough, with all those books, written about it, all that information on the internet about it; roughly 7.2 billion human beings searching for it; no one has definitively cracked the code.  No one has been able to derive a formula, put forth a process or invent a device that guarantees happiness.  That is a curious thing, unless of course, that ability to be truly, consistently happy, does not rest totally within the human realm of influence.

King David knew this, at least in terms of gladness.  Countenance is a person’s facial expression, the way they look at you.  David was saying that God’s very countenance is light and the simple act of God lifting His countenance toward us filled his heart with gladness.

Jesus Christ knew this.  Jesus Christ new the joy of being in the Father’s love.  What Jesus had just spoken to them was that if they will follow Jesus commandments; because Jesus abides in the Father and the Father loves Jesus, then the disciples can ask for whatever they want and the Father will grant it for them.  He knew and told them, that His joy would remain in them and therefore their own joy would be complete.

This takes me back to a very profound but brief exchange I had with a colleague in the Air Force when we roommates on an exercise.  We had the day off and he was getting ready to go out and I happen to be reading my bible.  He stopped and very respectfully asked me about the value I perceived and received from reading the bible and believing in Jesus Christ.  I briefly recounted many of the blessings; family, success in job and school, health etc, that I had received and felt had come from Christ.  He then, in curiosity, respect and no confrontation asked what I believe to be the deepest, most paramount question for any or all of us.  He asked: “Couldn’t you take credit for all those things?”  My answer in no way measured up to the importance of the question as I replied something about I possibly could but, knowing myself, did not think taking credit would be accurate.  With no more conversation, he left the room.  However, that question and the sincerity with which it was asked has echoed down the years to me; can’t or shouldn’t I take credit for it.

You see the ramifications of the answer can’t be overstated.  If I take credit, if I believe I’m responsible for, if I believe that I’m in control of, then off I go searching through 80,000 books, 350,000,000 bits of information hoping to come across the answer to being happy; and note you can substitute the words, wise, healthy, rich, powerful, and on and on into the space after “being”.  Yet even if I find the answer, will I be able to consistently execute that answer to achieve the results?

Starting in the book of Genesis and continuing through to the book of Revelation it seems pretty clear that we’re not to take on the responsibility for, nor the belief that we can find on our own, nor is it accurate that we take credit for, finding the answers to questions about being happy, or wise or healthy etc.  It seems rather clear that we are to look to Our Heavenly Father for those things.  It is in our belief that He supplies those things; not in some begrudging or random fashion; but in a joyous and loving fashion that we find both confidence and humility.  Thus to be able to receive those things, like happiness, we must have faithful belief in Him.  That our belief in Him would lead to an ever closer, loving relationship where we strive, and yes stumble, but still strive to keep the commandments of His Son Jesus Christ.  That our belief in Him would lead us to sincerely praise His Holy Name, knowing that good, happiness, peace, wisdom, love, in short all blessings in this life come from Him.  Thus there’s really only one book we need own; the book of His Word.  The only information we need to know is how much Our Heavenly Father loves us.  After all He gave His Only Son as a sacrifice for us did he not?  Praise be His Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we thank and praise You for Your Love that sustains us that You’ve seen fit to give us all that we will always need.  That You sustain us through our material needs, our emotional needs and most importantly our spiritual needs.  Thank you for the joy that You have placed in our hearts.  Forgive us Dear Father when we look to other things than You to fulfill our needs.  Fill us with Your Spirit who testifies to Your supremacy and sufficiency of all that we will ever need or rightly want and all that Your will would have us accomplish.  We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen

“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

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