“And the Lord said to Samuel….they have not rejected you but have rejected me…..forewarn them and show them the behavior of the king…”  1 Samuel 8:7,9

“This will be the behavior of the king……He will take your sons…..He will take your daughters…..He will take the best of you fields…..” 1 Samuel 8:11, 13, 14

“For they bind heavy burdens hard to bear and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they will not move them with one of their fingers.”  Matthew 23:4

“Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme the noble name by which you are called?”  James 2:6,7

There is danger in human strength.  There is personal danger in wanting to obtain human strength.  There is personal and societal danger in looking for, admiring and coveting after and/or following human strength.  Why or what is that danger?

First, we are in the midst of many contests and conflicts in our current time.  There are political contests, business contests and competitions, there are geopolitical contests, some involving the use of arms-in other words wars.  And what I find to be an overarching theme in these contests, in some cases it’s an individual boast, in some cases an overwhelming search to find, in some cases almost a worshipful admiration when found, in some cases a begrudging admission of defeat, is that human strength is the overall arbiter of a successful outcome, thus human strength is the most desired personal or communal strength; that is that someone or something is “strong”.  This is not new.

Samuel was a prophet of Israel.  As such, Samuel spoke with and then passed on God’s words to His people.  At that time, there was no one higher or more powerful in Israel society than the prophet.  Now the prophet was not supposed to take advantage of this or literally “profit” off the people as he carried out his charge from God.  Naturally, this was an unusual governmental in general during that time.  The gentiles, those who were not God’s chosen people, who did not have or were supposed to have, at least, a close personal relationship with God, had a more familiar governmental process, normally revolving around a king.  As time, went on, as Samuel got older, he set his two sons as judges over Israel but they did not walk in the ways of Samuel and the Lord.  So instead of coming to the Lord about this, the people cried out for a king.  They saw that the lands around them had strong armies, seemingly strong prosperous cities and felt they needed someone of earthly, human strength to lead them as well.  God decided to grant them their request but wanted them warned a head of time what the price of having an earthly strong king would be.  He warned them about how a human king, a human person of human strength and power would treat the very people who wanted him king.

Jesus confronted this same earthly strength and power that led to miscarriages of justice in the Jewish, religious leadership in power in His day.  He spoke of how the religious leaders, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others would bind heavy burdens while at the same time getting royal tributes, alms and adulation from the crowds.  Yet they did nothing with what they were receiving to help the burdens they themselves had placed on the people they were supposed to be serving.

There are so many instances great and small throughout history where the seeking for, then following people of strength, allowing them to wield power has led to horrific results.  Remember that the Pharaoh did not enslave the Jews until they had lived in the land for some time.  Think of what Hitler did in Europe, Stalin in Russia, Mao Tse-Tung in China, more recently Pol Pot slaughtering millions in Cambodia and even today, the devastation being wrought by the dictator Bashar al-Assad.

The thing it is so critical for us to remember is that for someone, anyone, to show human strength, they have to enforce their will in whatever brutal form necessary to show that someone else is weaker.  In our rush to embrace human strength, we must understand how often it is that those who face the wrath and consequences of the person of strength are most often first within their own family, organization or society.  So here’s the very ironic thing, those to include you and I, who follow and allow this person of strength to become a person in power, may very well be turned on and turned against if we are believed to be in any way a threat to that person.  How quickly an ally can become an enemy through no fault of their own is exemplified in the story of David having faithfully served under King Saul, only to become hunted with the hope of David’s death at the hands of the king.

So if it is not earthly, human strength we should seeking for ourselves and/or looking for, supporting and/or following in others, what type strength should we be looking for?  For the answer to that, look no further than Jesus Christ.   Remember of course, if anyone had/has claim to power, it is Jesus Christ; for He was fully God, with all that power come to earth.  Yet how did Jesus use His power?  Did Jesus Christ seek out a weak area of society to make an enemy and completely squash?  When Jesus was confronted by an enemy did He call power down from heaven utterly exterminating them?  Hardly, for Jesus didn’t shun the weak or use them as some evil rallying cry.  Jesus met with the weak, He ate with the weak, He used His power not to exterminate them, but to heal them, to teach them, to lift them up.  When He was confronted by enemies within His own people He patiently listened to them and then showed them the error of their ways.  In the end, when He could have called down legions of angels to reek havoc and desolation on those who were planning to kill him, instead Jesus, died for them, He forgave them, as He died for all of us and His blood washes us clean.  That is true strength, true power.

Thus Dear Sisters and Brothers, let us first reflect on ourselves.  Then let us also look to those whom we support, who we look up to to see how they wield strength and view power.  Do we and those we support use strength to lift up and protect the weak instead of crush them?  Do we look to find strength in bringing all together versus only those who think and/or look like we do?  Do we see strength in victory at any cost, no matter how much damage or hurt is caused or do we see strength in sacrifice?  When or if in doubt ask yourself, can I see Jesus Christ doing that; saying that?  Then follow those for whom you would answer yes.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly proclaim that You are all powerful and the only strength we should seek comes from You.  Forgive us when we forsake You and look to ourselves or other worldly persons to find necessary strength.  Give us the strength to live the example of Christ, using our given strength to help those in need and bring together not separate.  Give us the strength to love like Christ loves.  That the lives lived with that strength will bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed…..his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat…” Matthew 13:24

“The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them up?'”  Matthew 13:28

“But he said, ‘No lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.”  Matthew 13:29

This parable comes amongst the most powerful of Jesus’ teachings and when He first starts to use parables in His ministry.  Jesus has cast out a demon and been accused by the Pharisees of being the prince of demons.  Jesus rebukes them for their thoughts speaking of the fall of a house divided.  Jesus teaches His first parable: The Parable of the Four Soils.  Next, He tells this parable about the tares.

I must admit, having felt such power in the parable and explanation of the four soils, in essence explaining how it is that The Word does not resonate with, does not live within each person equally, that I’ve often overlooked the message of power and mercy in this second parable concerning the tares or weeds.  It had always been for me like:  “Yeah, Yeah, wheat good, weeds bad, wheat ends up in heaven and burn the weeds; got it, moving on.

Yet thanks to Holy Spirit as I was reading the parable again, the true impact of the overwhelming mercy and power came upon me.  First, we understand that God is the sower of the good seed.  Nothing from God can be evil, thus the only thing that can come from Him are seeds that will produce good.

Next, there is evil and an enemy who does evil.  In fact nothing good comes from this enemy.  The only thing the enemy sows is tares or weeds.  Looking into various definitions of the word tares, it appears that this is not just some random dandelion or crab grass; this is a very noxious and poisonous weed which actually looks extremely similar to wheat until it is full grown and you can see the head on it.

So God plants in the world and Satan plants along side.  Wheat comes up from God and tares come up from Satan.  Over time it becomes apparent that not all is right in the field.  There is something else besides wheat growing out there, something that can be distinguished as bad, as weeds.

This where it gets real interesting.  For the way the world would handle it as demonstrated by the servants is to go out and yank out the weeds, the tares.  Remembering that the wheat is growing side by side with the tares, that their roots are probably interwoven together, that taring out the weeds would cause the loss to some wheat.  I was in the military and within each one of our operational plans was an aspect of what we would term “acceptable losses”.  We knew that in doing battle with the enemy, we would more than likely suffer some casualties and as long as the mission was accomplished without completely decimating our forces, those casualties would be acceptable.  That’s how the world would handle the few stalks of wheat, sacrificed for the defeat of the horrible enemy, the weeds.  But God is not the world and does not see acceptable losses in that way.

God is so merciful that He is not willing that one stalk of wheat be lost no matter how many stalks of weeds would be destroyed.  No, God is patient.  He will nurture the wheat and if that means that the tares will also exist for a time, so be it.  The tares will not destroy the wheat.

God is also all powerful.  Notice who is doing the harvesting, God is.  It’s not like Satan comes back to do battle to protect the tares.  No the parable states very clearly, Satan sows the bad seed and then gets the heck out of Dodge.  So God in His Power harvests all.  Remember in His Mercy, He did not allow one stalk of wheat to be uprooted before the allotted time of the harvest.  Now God’s final power is witnessed.  The wheat, the good, are bundled together and brought into the kingdom “into My barn”.  The tares, the weeds are gathered together and burned outside.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, we may often find ourselves dismayed by the evil in this world.  We get asked so often, and in our weaker moments may find ourselves asking as well:  “Where is God in all the evil that is happening?  Why is He allowing it?”  This parable cautions us not to doubt or question.  God is watching out for each and every one of us.  He is not willing to sacrifice even one of us to destroy that evil that is residing amongst us. Yet He is in ultimate control.  He will deal righteously and permanently with evil.  He will spare nothing, to protect until that time as well.

In the end the most amazingly merciful part is what He is willing to sacrifice that we might count ourselves among the wheat instead of the tares.  You see He is not willing to sacrifice us, who are deserving by our sins to be counted amongst the tares.  Instead, He has healed us, transformed us into wheat because He was willing to sacrifice His Only Son that He might not lose a single one of us who call upon the Name of Jesus Christ.

Yes there is much power and mercy in this parable.  There is a call for us to be patient, a call to leave the judgement of time and harvest to God.  To understand the power of God to rightly judge between the good -wheat and the evil-tares.  Finally, there is the mercy which so great that it cost the life of His Only Son, Jesus Christ, which desires that each and every one of us who call upon His name would be counted among the wheat.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for the coming to earth, the teaching and the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ.  We are also so very thankful for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who reveals to us Your Wisdom, Your Power, Your Mercy. Forgive us we pray, when we are impatient and want to take judgement and action into our own hands.  Keep us we pray, from the evil one, allowing us, by the blood of Your Son Jesus Christ, to be counted among the good seed, the wheat, that we might be brought into Your dwelling.  We pray this in the Name of He who brought us these great teachings; Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

“God looks down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.  Everyone has turned away…There is none who does good. No, not one”  Psalm 53:2,3

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”  Romans 3:23

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us”  2 Corinthians 5:21

“Their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more.”   Hebrews 10:17

Strange title? Possibly.  In fact, there are some who might follow this site or who will come across this post who will skip reading it just because of that one word “sin” in the title.  The reason I fashioned the title the way I did is I find that this word and the concepts that accompany it are filled with confusion and conflict in our world today.  In fact, depending on the perspective we are coming from, even if we are going to use the word at all, the additional words that we would use after it, the fill in the blank if you will, may be amazingly different and contradictory.  Sadly, this is true not only in the world but among those of faith as well.

For there are some who have a humanist view that would say that sin does not exist.  They do not believe in a concept of fallen humanity.  Quite to the contrary, they believe that all human beings are innately good and circumstances and errors in judgement are where difficulties  come from but not from evil intentions.  Sin they would tell us is a concept devised by one sect of human beings to exert control and power over other human beings.  Additionally there is the worldly concept summed up in the lyrics of a song that says “I’d rather laugh with the sinners then die with the saints”.  That is to say what is the problem with a little sin.  Sinners are the ones having all the fun.  It is the saints who have all the hangups; who have the miserable life.

In our faith communities there seems to be a great division about the use of the word sin.  For some it is an anachronistic term used to describe an archaic concept that is too judgemental and driving many from the church today.  They fear the use of the term and would use terms like problems, challenges, obstacles and the like in it’s place.  Others have no fear of the term and wield it like a formidable weapon pointing at others saying: “I know sin when I see it and I see it in you, and you; in this group and that group!”  Interestingly enough though, the finger they spend so much time pointing outward, never makes it around to pointing at themselves or anyone within their own organization.

Thus sin, across the whole of the human, spectrum, if it exists at all, is a highly enigmatic principle.  Well let there be no doubt Dear Sisters and Brothers, sin exists.  God knows sin exists.

You see for those that doubt sin’s existence and to a certain extent for those who seem to think sin is the fun and successful way to go;  I can’t see where the world bears their point of view out.  If we are basically good people, how can circumstances be so far out of our control to allow for the amount of war, violence against the innocent, corruption, greed, terrorism, rape, murder, hatred, suicide, abuse-especially of children and I could continue this list for many pages?  As to those who would extol the virtues of sin as the preferred lifestyle, for those who actually seem to be living into that notion, I don’t often see a lot of laughter.  What I do see is broken relationships, substance abuse, multiple health problems, litigation against them, fear of losing what they have, a constant striving to have more, hatred from others, hatred from themselves; death.

For people of faith; God knows, sin exits.  Please don’t take my word for it; look to the source; God’s word.  Depending on the translation your using, the word appears upwards of 500 times.  If you add onto that, the concept of the fallen nature of man, then the count rises into the thousands.  And Jesus Christ makes two things abundantly clear; first, we are all sinners.  Secondly, that sin comes from within, it comes from our hearts.  It is in our hearts that we finds ourselves getting angry enough to do harm, it is in our hearts where the lust resides that causes us to want to lay with another.  Covetousness, selfishness, greed and countless other manifestations of sin originate from our hearts.  Thus we have right to judge another.

Then is that where we are left? Sin exits and we are all sinners?  Satan would want it left there.  Either with idea that there is no sin or our sin is so devastating, we should be so gilt ridden as to separate from God and go our own way.  You see that is the impact of sin, separation from God and from each other.  Leaving us alone, isolated, hopeless, helpless.  Please I implore you, DON’T STOP READING!

God knows sin exists.  God knows we are all sinners.  God can not have an eternal relationship with sinners.  God could have stripped us bare and flogged us for each of our sins until we promised to stop.  God could have hung us on a tree with nails until we pledged to never sin again.  God knows neither of those would have worked.  And here’s where I apologize for I have neither the wisdom or understanding to truly communicate the length and breadth of God’s love.  I don’t believe that the vocabulary exists to adequately describe the Grace, Mercy and Love of God’s redemptive plan.  For God loves His creation, loves you and I so much that He was not going to allow sin to separate us for eternity.  God was not going to leave us to the wiles and power of Satan.  So God did what we could not.  He sent Jesus Christ to earth, to a human existence.  Human and God, knowing no sin Jesus Christ took upon himself every sin we will ever commit.  Please try to understand.  We’re not just paroled, our record had been made clean, all sin washed away in the and through the blood of Jesus Christ.  When God see us now, He does not see a sin riddled, fallen person, He sees a redeemed person made perfect by His son.  So you see things don’t end with sin, they begin with the new life in Jesus Christ.  A life filled with togetherness,  not isolation.  A life of hope and love, an eternal life of victory over sin, not by our own strength, but God’s grace.  Accept that sin exists.  Accept that you and I are sinners.  Then accept the redemption offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ becoming a new person and braking the bonds of sin forever.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we ask for the aid of the Holy Spirit for we do not have the words to adequately express our gratitude for the wonderful love which you manifested to us through the life and sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Forgive us when we choose to allow earthly temptations  to lead us to sin and separation from You.  In Your Mercy, lead us to resist the temptation and turn away from the sin that we may return to a loving, eternal relationship with You.  That the world might see the path to redemption and sing praises to Your Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

 

” Every Kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”  Matthew  12:25

I don’t know about you but of the four primary math operations; addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, division was the most difficult for me.  I don’t know if it was the physical way it was set up; you have that kind of one walled house thing with numbers outside, inside and on top?  I could never remember what was the divisor versus the dividend and quotient.  Now don’t get me wrong, in terms of math I’m not a “divide-hater”.  In fact I love it when my bills are divided in half.  Yet outside of math; as Jesus Christ pronounces; division can be a devastating process or place to be.

Let’s first define terms or concepts about what Jesus is referring to.  First, and I love this, Jesus does not just limit this concept to something large like a “kingdom”.  No, he breaks it down into ever smaller entities to include “cities” and even a “house”.  What he’s referring to here is not the concept of numbers or of size per se, but He’s referring to places where you and I have relationships.  Second, what does He mean by “divided against itself”?  To understand this point you could use concepts like divided: purpose, goal, mission or even actions.

You see Jesus was casting out demons.  Demons are the laborers of Satan.  Their actions are based around the destruction of people by tormenting them and keeping them away from accepting the Grace of God.  Those forlorn humans, in such a state of harassment by demons were physically, mentally and most importantly, spiritually separated from God.  Thus a demon had to be defeated, cast out, overpowered before a human could come into a full relationship and follow God.  The Pharisees, the religious leaders of the time definitely believed in both demons as well as Beelzebub, their leader.  The Pharisees knew that no normal human being had the power to overpower demons.  Because, in their mind Jesus could not be the Christ, the Savior, the True Son of God, then the only other option must be that Jesus was overpowering demons by the being the most powerful; prince of demons.

Jesus, knowing what they are thinking, speaks an overwhelmingly powerful truth that resonates to us this very day; a house divided will not stand.  Why, in this case would that be?  Again remember the reason for the existence of demons plus their leader Beelzebub.  To torment humans and keep them from entering into a relationship with God.  As shown time and time again, a person freed from the torment of demons often turned to a relationship with God.  Thus if Beelzebub was casting out demons, just to bring glory to himself, the end result was human beings that were entering into a saving relationship with God which was exactly opposite of his reason for being; hence, the divide.  Jesus, of course quite correctly and accurately points out, over time Beelzebub’s power would come to an end because he would eventually free all to enter into relationship with God.  Beelzebub’s kingdom would come into desolation.

Let’s approach it from one other direction, this  time looking at the physical properties of a house.  A house is built on principles that will allow it to withstand the forces that can cause its destruction, like gravity, wind, rain, etc.  One aspect of these principles is the load bearing member or wall.  There are certain parts of the house specifically designed to hold up under the pressure of different forces to allow the house to stand.  Should you remove, break or divide that load bearing member it no longer has the strength to withstand the pressures arrayed against it and it collapses along with much of the rest of the house.

I’m hoping you’re seeing where I’m going with this.  I’m not one who desires to use extensive hyperbole and I do not have the historical research to state something like we live in the most divided time in history.  Yet I don’t think one could argue that we live in an extremely divisive time.  We divide ourselves along the lines of our ethnicity, gender, age, political beliefs, physical characteristics (weight, beauty), where we live, what team we follow, what we own, what religion and what sect within a religion we follow and I could continue to list our divisions for paragraphs to follow but I believe I have made my point.

I want to make something else abundantly clear; difference does not equate to division.  Just because someone is different doesn’t automatically require that they be divided from us.  No, division comes when those differences preclude us from seeing or acting together towards a common goal.  Division happens when the way that I am different must win over how you are different, which must in turn lose.  It is when differences become division that destruction will follow.

Jesus knew this for what was His goal; to bring about His own Glory, to see His own name worshiped?  No Jesus Christ had one earthly mission; glorify the Father by carrying out the Father’s plan.  Thus you see Dear Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ teaches us how to stay together.  We must seek after and find the overarching goal that is good for the entire house (family), city or kingdom.  We must submit ourselves to that goal and I emphasize the sub aspect in that any or all of our goals must be under and aligned with the overarching goal so that what we do brings strength to the structure versus destruction.

Would we really have such a contentious political environment if the goal was the success of all who are within our country and not just those with whom we feel a commonality with?  And perhaps greater yet; that our country’s success would not come at the cost of others in the world but lift them up as well?  If we embraced that a failure to part of our family, city, kingdom, our holy catholic, apostolic church (that is all churches proclaiming Jesus Christ the One True Son of God, our Savior) is a failure to us all; what would our world look like?

Where do we find that overarching goal?  In the Word of God; Jesus tells us: Love the Father, Love each other.  Finally, also if we only look to ourselves we will not find the strength to live into and align our goals with the Will of God.  We must pray for that strength. We must rely on the strength of Jesus Christ, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by the Will of our Almighty Father to provide us with the strength we need.  It is together, first in relationship with our Father, then together, relationship with each other, that we heal the divisions amongst us and keep destruction at bay.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, through nature you have taught us the power to ward of destruction when things come together in unison.  You’ve also shown us the destruction that comes to those who try to go alone or in fragmented groups.  So it is that You want us to live with each other.  Forgive us Dear Father, when we divide ourselves among lines of earthly, worldly judgements that leave us prey to evil and the prince of darkness.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us and strengthen us that we would see the blessings and prosperity that come from submitting our will to Yours.  Through Your Divine Power, bring Your Church together into one entity that will testify to the world of the power of togetherness.  As You are Three in One; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, help us to live as one in the relationships You have blessed us with.  That in our triumph together we will live lives of praise to Your most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  Matthew 9:28

“They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord'”.  Matthew 9:28

“Then He touched their eyes, saying ‘ According to your faith, let it be done to you'”.  Matthew 9:29

We are doing some things which, on the face of it, seem pretty miraculous.  We are transplanting organs from one person to another.  We’ve started to attempt to transplant things like limbs and faces.  We’re building bionic replacements for appendages and sending nano, cellular sized robots into bodies to attack tumors.  However, from a financial standpoint these are extremely expensive procedures that few could afford on their own.

Now before I go any further, some might be thinking:  “Oh Oh, here’s another one of those you don’t need medicine, don’t go to doctors because all you need is faith and if something is not cured it was a faith problem”, kind of posts.  No it is not and if you were hoping that it is then I apologize.  While, of course, God is free to work on His own with no outside utilization, I believe that the bible shows us that God often will use human persons in carrying out His will; including doctors.  After all, did not Jesus come to earth to be human to carry out His Fathers plan?

So what is this about?  First, the world tends to look at things from an exchange of fair value, aspect.  The fact that often times, the medical prowess and skills take such a long time and at great expense to acquire; that their utilization should come with significant compensation.  Also, it’s not just medicine that this applies to; in general the sayings go:  “You can’t get nothing for nothing” or “You get what you paid for”.  So imagine that you are blind.  In the passage in Matthew referred to above, we don’t know if they were born that way or became that way due to injury or disease; but it doesn’t matter.  They can’t see.  What would you give or what would you expect to pay to receive your eyesight back?  There are several new treatments in trials involving the use of stem cells and implanting of electrodes to bring back the sense of sight.  Yet currently these trials are very expensive.

Nothing in the biblical account gives us an impression that these two men were men of means or wealth.  Hardly, had they been they would have sent for Jesus to come to them instead of following Him and calling out to Him for help.  Still Jesus comes to them and means to heal them; but first, He asks them a question.  In today’s world some of the first things that happen in the medical process is to check the type of insurance you have or to inquire into your ability to pay.  Jesus does not ask them about their financial standing.  He does not ask them what they do for a living, is their family name a name of wealth or how much money do they have saved.  Jesus cares for none of that.  Jesus simply asks do they believe that He can cure them.  Jesus wants to know if they actually believe that He is capable of returning their sight.  That is the only payment Jesus wants; the only price He demands; simply to believe that Jesus can accomplish it.  When they respond that they do believe that He can do it; Jesus uses their form of payment, their faith as payment in replying:….according to your faith, let it be done to you.  That payment must have been sufficient, for both men’s sight was restored.

So let’s look to today.  I would first note the duality of the “coming to” in this passage.  We hear preached and it is true that Jesus Christ will come to us just as we are.  Jesus traveled to where these two men were.  Yet Jesus did not force Himself upon them.  Jesus did not walk up to these men and declare in a loud voice: “Today I will heal you!”  No, Jesus came to where they were but they also had to come to Jesus.  They had to speak out and make their supplication known.  In that way, we must do the same thing.  We must make our supplications to Jesus Christ.  What payment is Jesus Christ going to exact from us?  The same, in that He is wanting to know the same thing from us.  Do we believe that Jesus Christ is capable of; has the power to:  heal our sicknesses, vanquish our demons, forgive our sins?  And His answer is likely to be similar to the one he gave to those two men:  Let it be done to you according to your faith.

Finally, there are a couple of other brief thoughts.  First, but what if I have some smidgen of doubt some fleeting, momentary waiver of faith; am I doomed?  There’s another time, right after His transfiguration when Jesus asks that same question to man who wanted healing for his son.  The man’s response, in my mind is the most classic response in the entire bible:  I believe, Lord help my unbelief.  The Lord did heal the man’s child.  You see Jesus Christ knows we’re human.  He knows that we have problems with perfect faith.  That is one of the reasons that the Holy Spirit is sent to us to help us strengthen our faith against the onslaught of this world.  Second, one might think:  Wow this is cheap!  All I have to do is say, I believe and poof, my miracle happens.  Not so fast, grasshopper.  Remember Jesus Christ says; let it be done to you according to your faith.  So it’s not what comes out of your mouth but what is in your heart that matters.  Plus if you believe in your heart that He can do this because He is Lord, as those men proclaimed, then you are also going to have to believe in loving your neighbors and even your enemies, turning from lust, anger, pride and desire for earthly wealth and power.  Cheap? I wonder.  But all in all, well worth it.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank You that You sent Your Son to live among us, to teach us, to heal us. We thank You that Jesus Christ is willing to meet us where we are.  We thank you that He will listen to our supplications and will heal us in mind, body and spirit.  Forgive us when we bring our desires forward without the belief in the Power of Christ to accomplish what we ask.  Also forgive us when our belief is so limited that we want the healing without paying the price of true belief.  Help us Dear Father to come You, through Christ humbly in ourselves but confident in You that the world might see our faith fulfilled in You and give Glory and Praise to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

 

“And when the demon was cast out and the mute spoke, and the multitudes marveled saying, ‘It was never like this in Israel.'”  Matthew 9:32

“But the Pharisees said, ‘He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.'”

“And in them the prophesy of Isiah is fulfilled, which says:  Hearing you will hear and not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive…”  Matthew 13:14

Filter – to slow or partially obstruct the passage of

You’ve heard it said that “perception is reality”.  However, what is actually meant would be the more accurately stated:  Our perception determines our reality.  Then, based on that last statement, our behavior is then determined based on our perception based reality.  Understand this, we all do it.  We all have filters by which we experience things and then determine their meaning.  Actually our filters are very needful and potentially helpful things.  They can allow us to avoid potentially harmful and dangerous situations without having to actually experience the situation in the first place.  They can also allow us to see a new situation as an opportunity and thus we can take advantage of it although we may not have ever been in that specific situation before.

So where am I going with this?  Jesus becomes a “situation” on earth.  In the truest sense He is a physical reality.  As a physical reality He does things.  In the circumstance quoted above in Matthew, Jesus is healing people, allowing the blind to see and, by casting out demons, allowing a mute man to speak.  People are seeing this happen; they’re experiencing the miracle in their midst; and then their filters kick in.

On the one hand you have the filter of the masses, the “common folk”, if you will.  You see that had lived for a while.  They had their religious leaders  who had power.  Perhaps they had even seen persons before who claimed to be a prophet, maybe even the messiah.  And of course they had seen or at least knew people could be blind or mute.  Yet in all their experience or even in the experience of those they had heard about in Israel, nowhere had the seen or heard about a man who could make the blind see or the mute talk; and then their filters clicked in.  As far a learned people were concerned these were not.  The only knowledge of the scriptures would come from what they heard preached at the temple or perhaps what was told to them, handed down by their parents.  They were not scholars in Mosaic law as the religious leaders would have been.  So the outcome of their filtering of the situation is they marveled.  In a seemingly positive way they proclaimed that nowhere before had these marvelous things been done by anyone.

On the other hand, remember seeing the same physical reality that the masses had witnessed, the Pharisees had a completely different filter and thus a very different reaction.  First these were men in power, besides the outside induced Roman power, they were amongst the highest legitimate power in their society.  Second, they were learned men.  They had access to the scriptures themselves and the knowledge to read and interpret them.  Yet with all their power and all their learning; they could not come close to wielding the power that this, seemingly itinerate preacher from a far off speck of a town could wield.  Their filter saw Jesus as a threat.  Their filter said to them, that they were good, God fearing people and if they could not heal like Jesus did, could not cast out demons like Jesus did, then Jesus power must not come from good; but must be a greater power of evil.  Jesus must be a ruler of demons.

Again why is this important?  Remember we today, all of us have filters too.  We decide to read the scriptures or not based on whether we believe, whether our filters tell us they have any value in today’s world.  Should we decide that they do have value, as we read the scriptures; we filter what we read, what we believe based on our filter about what is possible by the Power of Almighty God.  How we approach faith, prayer, worship, love are impacted by our filters.

Finally and this is vitally important to understand Dear Sisters and Brothers; our filters are not in the strictest sense our own.  For in the parable of the sewer, Christ talks about the wicked one coming and snatching the word from the hearts of some.  The Prince of this world Satan, can add things to our filters that clogs the true meaning and love from making it through our filters.  Conversely, he can rip our filters wide open so that a flood of earthly messages stream through along with and drowning out the message of Christ.

Yet there is One promised who is more powerful than Satan.  One who will reside in our heart and manage our filter to allow in the message of Christ and keep out all others.  That One is part of the Triune God; the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is promised as a Helper to come and reside with us and “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13).

Thus, going forward we must understand about our filters.  We must know about the power that they have their ability to be flawed.  We must not trust them should they be leading us down a path that is different from the scriptures.  We must study and pray diligently for indwelling of the Holy Spirit and be open to the Truth that He will speak to us.  In the world, we filter our water with the belief that the purest water is the best for our being.  Let us strive to align our spiritual filter through the Holy Spirit to the True Word of Our Heavenly Father so that our true being and the life that we lead in that being would be pure as well.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are a people of imperfect judgement because we see things through flawed eyes.  We confess that we use our own filters to decide what is right and wrong sometimes leading to decisions and actions which are sin.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father and strengthen us in Your Truth through the Holy Spirit who will block the influences of the evil one and lead us to the True path of Jesus Christ.  Give us a yearning in our heart to study and ponder Your Word and be in prayerful relationship with You always.  That our perception and reality would be based on the Word of Jesus Christ causing our behavior to be of praise and honor to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

“Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but Your disciples do not fast?”  Matthew 9:14

“Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Matthew 9:11

“But if you had known what this meant: ‘ I desire mercy not sacrifice’ you would not have condemned the guiltless”  Matthew 12:7

“But they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.”  Matthew 9:17

It seems we are going through a confusing and somewhat troubling time for ourselves where the world is watching intently what we say and more importantly do, as to the validity of our message.  I have seen a considerable amount of work; published in media, spoken in the press and even preached from the pulpit concerning the worth of “religion” as well as the viability of the “church”.  I put both religion and church in quotation marks because I find in discussing with people, vastly different definitions and concepts for these two terms.  And I believe that it is precisely the issue that we are dealing with.  Whenever, human beings have tinkered with, tried to improve on Our Heavenly Father’s Plan, we have brought much pain and suffering to ourselves and those around us.

It seems clear to me that the religious leaders during the days that Jesus walked on this earth were very process minded based upon the way they treated the Son of God.  The religious leaders were always challenging Jesus: “He heals on the Sabaoth, He eats with sinners, He doesn’t wash His hands, He doesn’t come from the right place” and on and on.  Through the years they had taken God’s law, a law of mercy and turned it into a law of judgement and punishment.  For God heard His people’s cry and sent them the Prophet Moses to lead them out of bondage.  Yet as our Creator and One who had witnessed our failure in the garden; God knew that His people would sin, even after their miraculous rescue from Egypt.  Thus being full of mercy, wanting to be able to maintain a relationship with us, the law allowed for atonement for our sin with the purpose of reconciliation.  Yet over time, with human interpretation; the law changed from a heavenly instrument of mercy to a human process of judgement. The religious leaders of the day corrupted the law, making into some human made scorecard for judgement.  It was no longer about being righteous that leads to doing righteous; but doing righteous will somehow lead to righteous, with man judging what is righteous and what is not.  That is the world into which Jesus came.  Sadly, to a certain extent, that is a world that, if we are not careful, we are duplicating today.

Why do we do that?  I believe that it has to do with our arrogance of understanding.  We believe with each new day we have a deeper self-taught understanding of every process.  We believe that as we gain understanding about things concerning natural processes; how a seed grows, how lightning works, what a star is made of, that we also obtain all other knowledge, allowing us to attain the level of being masters of our own destinies.  Because we can not comprehend the true Mind of God, His perfect intelligence, instead of having faith in His Intelligence; we substitute our own flawed but understandable logic, intelligence in its place and then act upon it.

Thus Jesus came and crushed every form of human judgement and earthly wisdom.  The wisest and most powerful leaders came against Him with tests and questions and He silenced each and every one of them with His perfect understanding.  He told them and tells us today, those who look to their own processes, that devise their own plans for salvation travel the broad road to doom and eternal separation from God.

And Jesus Christ speaks to us today.  Yet I want to stress something that I believe jesus Christ made abundantly clear.  Churches do matter.  Religion in that it is the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the One and Only True Begotten Son of God, come to earth, crucified for our sins, died and resurrected and now living at the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty and that we are to love God with all our being and love each other as we love ourselves, is of utmost importance.  However, as we take the new wineskin of Christ and start to tinker with His message; filter His words and change them based on our understanding, as we take His open invitation and change it into a process, a test to pass, to enter into the kingdom of heaven, we take religion and make it a human-made concept; church becomes a human-made institution.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, I have a limited understanding of the true nature of God’s plan for my salvation.  I do not fully grasp the gravity, the mercy, the unbelievable sacrifice of God coming to earth, taking my sins upon Himself and dying in my place.  Thus I must have faith in the Word of Jesus Christ.  I must grasp hold of, in awe and wonder, the miracle of Jesus Christ and, through the Holy Spirit, replace my limited capacity to understand with His merciful gift of revelation.  We must resist the temptation to imprint our own image on that which should be holy, His church and His religion.  In so doing, we can show the world what true faith is all about.  We will show that we reject the process of human discerned judgement and replace it with Christ designed love and mercy.  Christ is the only process we need.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim to the world there is only one knowledge that is true, only one plan that is perfect, only one judgement that is righteous; that which is Yours and comes from You.  Forgive us when we attempt to substitute our limited knowledge, our own devised plan and our faulty, limited judgement for Yours.  Pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us that although limited by our faculties, will still reveal to us the perfect will you have for our lives.  Grant us the strength and faithfulness to align our will to Yours.  That the world would then see our lives as lived in praise to Your Most Holy Name, we pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“…and you shall call His name Jesus; for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

“For there is born to you this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11

“For God so loved the world the He gave His Only begotten Son the whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

Okay a little of a spoiler alert as that title may seem somewhat provocative.  This is not meant to espouse a human-centered theology that places us at the center of creation, relegating even Our Heavenly Father as merely a support mechanism; hardly.  Also in many previous posts I’ve stated my complete lack of ability to speak for God Almighty and I’m not starting to speak for Him now.  No I’m reflecting on His own words to us.

Let me be clear, there is no Christmas without Christ.  Yet let us also be very clear, John makes it very clear in his gospel as well as other writings in the Old Testament, that the Son of Gold existed prior to coming to earth.

So why come down to earth?  Why come in the form of a baby?  Why not come down as a pillar of fire in the night and pillar of smoke in the day; accompanied by earthquakes, flashes of lightning and peels of thunder?  He certainly could have.  Why not come down to sit in judgement of the earth condemning all sinners to eternal damnation?  Again He certainly could have.  Yet, in John, Jesus stated that He did not come to condemn the world but to save it.

Let us also be very clear; both the Old and New Testament make it clear that God is in need of nothing.  He does not require our love nor our sacrifices.  It is not as if Satan becomes strong enough to threaten God if we become the devil’s followers.  God does not need us to declare His Glory for as stated in Psalm 19 the heavens themselves declare the Glory of God.  We, as His creation are diminished if we are not in relationship with Him.  However, the reverse is not true.  God is not diminished by our lack of relationship with Him.

Yet with all that, here is the inescapable aspect of Christmas. Here is the mystery of unfathomable Mercy, Grace, Forgiveness and Love.  God did come down.  God left the perfection of heaven to dwell in and with the imperfection of us on earth.  Plus, God did not come down in His all powerful nature, so powerful that He could not show Himself to Moses or cause Moses utter destruction.  No God came down as a humble child.  God took human form so that within that form, He could dwell with us and ultimately do what only He could do.  In that human form, He was able to take every sin that had been committed since the beginning of time as well as every sin that will be committed until the end of time, upon Himself, as the only perfect, one for all time sacrifice and die for our sins.

Yes, Jesus Christ, the Only True Son of God; came down for us, for you and I.  Here’s where we must be ever so careful.  For if we are not careful, we may start to see ourselves worthy of Christ’s sacrifice.  We may see ourselves as owed Christ’s salvation because we are good enough to receive it.  In some perverse way, we may feel that we are owed by Our Creator; His mercy and forgiveness, simply because we are His creation.  We may become proud, vain and deserving in our own eyes and find that we are hopelessly lost in God’s eyes.

No, while the act of Christmas may be for us; it is not a reward to us.  Christmas is a gift.  Christmas is a gift of immeasurable value; which can never break nor ever wear out.  It is a new gift each and every day.

Thus, if this is not a reward for our wonderful behavior, but an undeserved gift of mercy and grace; what should our response be?  Well for one we need to insure that we recognize the gift and the supreme nature of the generosity of the gift.  By first recognizing the nature of the gift, we can start to realize the significance of our response to it.  We must be careful that we are not like the person who is saved from the flood yet suddenly turns right back around and dives back into the raging torrent; or the person rescued from the burning building who inexplicably turns right around and runs back into the inferno.  We must humbly accept the gift in love and then allow that love to permeate every part of our being; transforming us from the people of destruction and despair, into people of victory and joyous light.  As the shepherds of that first Christmas did upon seeing their savior and the message of that first Christmas, we must go out and proclaim the good news of Christ’s coming, sacrifice, resurrection and continued life at the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty.  In that way, we show that we have received the gift and are not hiding it away in a closet somewhere only bringing it out on some special or fearful occasion such as our impending death.

In a miraculous way, far to amazing to truly comprehend; Christmas is about and for you and I.  God has fashioned the one perfect plan that we might come into a relationship with Him today and for all eternity.  Let us strive to see it for the undeserved gift that it is and never cease in our Praise of Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for it.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, while we give and receive gifts at this time of year; we humbly admit that we can not compare nor even totally conceive of the generosity of Your Gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ to come and be our Savior.  We find ourselves asking as David did; who is man that You are mindful of him?  Forgive us, Most Merciful Father when we either, see the gift of Jesus Christ as something owed us; or reject the gift all together.  Place Your Spirit in us that will reveal the overpowering generosity of Your gift and place in us a desire to live into that gift.  That through our living into the gift of salvation, we would live lives of praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Vengeance is Mine and recompense. Their foot shall slip in due time.”  Deuteronomy 32:35

“You have heard it said ‘An eye for an eye…’. But I tell you not to resist an evil person.”  Matthew 5:38

“…I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also, and greater works than these he will do…..”  John 14:12

Vengeance, the infliction of injury, harm, humiliation, or the like on a person by another person who has been harmed by that person, is a word we don’t use much today, but the concept is very alive and well I’m afraid.  It is a concept that often finds itself jumbled up with concepts like justice and accountability.  We find it playing out in response to horrific acts of mass destruction.  Yet, and perhaps particularly troubling, we find it perpetrated against acts like being cut off in traffic, someone cutting in line in front of someone else in a check out line at a store or even the perception that someone has said something insulting or derogatory against someone else.  My wife is seeing it acted out more and more between the fourth and fifth graders she teaches.

I will freely admit that in our current state that this is a challenging concept to fully grasp as well as a difficult behavior to cultivate, that being the idea of non-retaliation.  Is Our Heavenly Father prohibiting all actions of self protection or defense?  If I see or experience an circumstance of continuing injustice; am I to nothing to attempt to assuage that condition of injustice?  Perhaps we can find something in the context of the above verses.

To startoff in Deuteronomy, some might think that the “Vengeance is Mine” statement is primarily directed against enemies of Israel, maybe like Egypt or Philistines who are attacking His people.  Yet this phrase comes from the Song of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy where he is speaking to the entire assembled people as he is about to die and then the remnant of the people are going to cross over into the promised land.  In his “song”, Moses is lamenting and warning the Israel people about their own stubbornness and disobedience and how there will be vengeance and judgement from the Lord.

Jesus is teaching His wonderfully powerful sermon on the mountain.  In this teaching, Jesus is laying out the precepts of what is important in life as well as what faithful obedience to His Heavenly Father would look like; what behavior is required.  Right after His point on not seeking retribution; He talks about loving our enemies.

In Romans, chapter 12 verse 17, Paul refers to both Deuteronomy and Jesus’ teaching when he starts out the verse “Repay no one evil for evil”.  Perhaps that is the primary reason that vengeance whether in the formal sense or in the guise of “just getting what is owed me or just sticking up for myself”, is not to be carried out by you and I.  We can’t do it right.  In other words, when we act in vengeance, we act from anger, hatred, pride in ourselves and\or the desire\need to hurt others.  In Deuteronomy, vengeance being the sole purview of God allows for two things.  First, as it is stated any vengeance acted out will be in keeping with God’s perfect plan, His perfect timing.  Second, being in the realm of God, it will be carried out from a standpoint of perfect justice and righteous judgement.  No evil can come from God.  Jesus is telling us we are ill equipped to be able to correctly carry out righteous vengeance.  Therefore, as we’ve been treated with mercy and forgiveness; though we have sinned grievously against God, we should do likewise to those we feel have wronged us.

Finally, I will freely admit that this is not a sentiment or behavior that is positively looked on today.  For many, this would be looked at as weak, perhaps even cowardice and being complicit with evil.  I struggle with the tendency to want perceived wrongs enacted against me put right by force if necessary and perpetrators punished.  To leave vengeance to the Lord and turn the other cheek is not the world’s way and I fear it is a standard too high for us to meet on our own.  Yet mercifully, Jesus tells us that we are not on our own.  Jesus Christ who time and again turned the other cheek; who could have called legions of angels to enact vengeance for His ill treatment but remained silent; Christ who is now glorified above all angels and heavenly host and sits on the very Right Hand of God Himself, Christ tells us that we don’t have to act as if we are on our own.  Christ tells us that by believing and abiding in Him, we can not only do, as He did on this earth, but even greater things.  Without Christ we can not, through and in Christ we can.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, let us strive to leave vengeance in the Hands of God.  Let us remember that we are sinners and have sinned against God and instead of having vengeance cast down upon us; have received mercy and redemption instead through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When tempted to lash out, let us, instead, reach up to Christ receiving His mercy and, in turn, pass it on.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly declare that You are God in Heaven, perfect in every way including the act of vengeance.  We also testify that You have taught us that we are not to seek vengeance against our fellow creation.  Forgive us when we become impatient and want to act on our own for what we perceive are actions taken against us.  Fill us with Your Spirit of compassion, mercy and forgiveness, that we can truly be seen as Children of the Most High God.  This we pray in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen

“He departed to the mountain to pray.”  Mark 6:46

“He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to His disciples.”  Mark 6:41

“…named Gethsemane and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray'”.  Mark 14:32

The answer to the questions is absolutely, emphatically, with no smidgen of doubt, YES!  So if you read no further I want to make it crystal clear what I believe is the correct and only answer to the question (though I hope you’ll read further).

Why even ask the question?  I ask the question because; first, we’ve had another tragedy, another mass shooting in the United States.  They are coming with an alarming frequency and perhaps because there seems to be no stopping them, I heard a new and disturbing discussion on a mainstream media news show.  A tabloid newspaper was taking some leaders to task because the leaders were asking for prayers for the victims, families and city.  The paper was making the comment that prayer was not enough.  The news program went on to start a discussion with the question is prayer enough with an undertone that God can’t or won’t intervene so we’re left to our own devices.

In looking for an answer to the practice and sufficiency of prayer I found myself looking to Him, Jesus, who provides us with the perfect example for all things.  Let’s start off with this mystery; Jesus was fully God, who had been with the Father and had an intimate relationship with and knowledge of the Father and His plan for salvation.  Yet, and here’s the mystery, Jesus was fully man; he ate, slept, cried, laughed, could feel pain and Jesus prayed.  Sometimes He prayed within hearing as an example to His disciples.  Though sometimes Jesus went away alone, showing that He needed that intimate, solitary conversation with His Father.  Jesus shows us just how vital prayer is to our successful existence here on earth.

Now, let’s see the outcome or aftermath of His prayer.  After sending the crowd away and going to the mountain to pray, Jesus comes back and walks on water to His disciples!  After Jesus looks to His Father in Heaven and blesses and breaks the loaves, those very few loaves feed 5, 000!  After Jesus goes alone further into the garden, falls to His knees and agonizingly prayers to His Father for the strength to continue; for His Father’s Will to be done, Jesus is able to fulfill the Father’s plan for our salvation on the cross.  Make no mistake prayer came first.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, that is why prayer is enough.  True, open, humble communication with our Heavenly Father, in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, gives us the direction to go, the wisdom to act and the strength and courage to go forth.  By praying first and receiving the answer then faithfully acting on the answer, it sanctifies our actions allowing us to be faithfully confident in the direction we are going.

So in the case of tragic events that beset us and the world; what should we be praying for?  Well, it would be somewhat pretentious on my part to tell anyone what to pray for; that is between you and Our Heavenly Father.  But I will tell you for me, I pray for the comfort of those in mourning.  I pray for healing and restoration for those remaining lives shattered.  I pray for reaching out and connection for those troubled souls who believe that violent actions are the best means to their ends.  I pray for protection for those brave souls who stand vigilant guard to protect us from evil.  I pray for a turning to God for those who aren’t in a relationship with Him and a reaffirming of God’s supremacy and love for those who have that relationship.  Finally, as I do with each post, I pray for you who are reading these words.  I pray that you  will find a blessing from God in the reading of this and humbly, through His Spirit these words might bring praise to His Name.  So I end as I began: Is prayer enough?   Absolutely, emphatically, without a smidgen of doubt: YES!

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so very thankful that You, the Creator, in Your Mercy, desire such a close relationship with we Your creation that we can come to You in prayer.  Forgive us when we neglect that relationship and communication and attempt to go our own way.  Bless our prayer life that we may experience the power and wisdom that comes from interacting prayerfully with You.  Today we pray for the victims of the recent mass shooting, their families and community as well as the innocent victims of evil violence across this world.  I pray for a blessing to all whom may be guided to these words; that You will bring peace and comfort to them.  This we pray in the Name of the One who taught us through His example how to pray, Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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