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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham’s son in his old age.”  Genesis 21:1,2

“So Joshua took the whole land, according to all the Lord had said…”  Joshua 12:1

” But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.  Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”  Luke 24:2,3

“Then those who gladly received this word were baptized and that day about three thousand souls were added…”  Acts 2:41

Whew!  Everywhere one turns today, we are confronted with and confounded by failure.  We hear that our institutions like government, schools, police forces, military are failing.  We witness people’s failures of lying, cheating, stealing, killing.  We watch as our worldly society fails to care for those who are in desperate need and fails to keep peace within and amongst nations.  The world would even have us look at ourselves; we are not slim enough, educated enough, rich enough, popular enough, in short we are failures.  Sadly, even our churches are weighed down with the sense of failure.  Where is one to turn to find hope?  Where is one to turn to be certain of success?

Sarah felt like a failure.  She so wanted to give Abraham a child but year after year she failed.  Yet God had told her very plainly that she would conceive and bear a son.  In faith she followed Abraham as God called them to move to a new land.  Sarah did laugh at the thought of having a child such an advanced stage.  Scripture tells us that Abraham was 100 years old when success came.  Sarah conceived and Issac was born.

The people of Israel had been slaves for 400 years.  Then Moses came and by great acts of God, the people of Israel were freed and led toward a promised land.  Yet when it came time initially for them to enter the land they were too afraid.  So for 40 years they wandered in the wilderness until the generation that had feared had now passed away.  Moses has died and a new leader, Joshua, takes his place to lead the people.  There were over 40 kings and kingdoms arrayed against Joshua.  The people of Israel were not the physically strongest, they did not have the best weapons, they did not have the largest numbers.  What they had, who they called on, was God.  After seven years of conquest, the land promised to Israel if they would be faithful to God, belonged to them.

It had been a hard frustrating fight.  The Jewish leaders had tried ignoring Him.  They had tried arguing with Him.  They had tried threatening Him, but nothing seemed to work.  Jesus kept thwarting them at every turn and seemingly growing more powerful with more followers all the time claiming He was the Son of God.  Yet the leaders knew better.  The leaders were smarter.  And finally, finally, they were able to get the people to turn on Jesus, they got the Romans to judge Jesus and the problem was over.  Jesus had been crucified and three days ago He was buried.  However, now the tomb is empty.  The curtain in the temple has been rendered in two.  Prophets have risen from their grave and have been seen in the city.  And there is word that Jesus has been seen.  Jesus has been seen, not as a ghost or phantom apparition, but in flesh and blood. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  The Jewish leaders are defeated.  Satan has lost.

The word is out from the Jewish leaders; do not preach Jesus Christ.  The word is out, do not believe what His rabble rousing followers are saying about Him rising from the dead and ascending to heaven as God’s risen son.  Do not join this heretic movement or you will be banished from the temple and much worse.  The Jewish leaders have imprisoned His followers.  They have publicly beaten them.  Surely this fad of Jesus Christ will pass.  Yet that man Peter keeps preaching and not just a few, not 20 or 30, not even a couple of hundred, but thousands, thousands!; are joining those followers of Jesus Christ every day!

The aforementioned examples are just a very few of Our Heavenly Father’s successes.  Successes that seemed so improbable.  Successes that appeared to be failures at one point.  Successes on personal levels and on societal levels.  Indeed, there is no record of God’s failure.  Why?  Because it can’t happen.  God can’t fail.

It’s not a glass half full, half empty type of argument.  It is a cup runeth over reality.  Dear sisters and brothers, please, please do not let us buy into the world’s words and judgements of failure.  Let us not become mired in the mud of hopelessness and despair.  Yes indeed their is failure.  The world that only relies on the worldly will fail.

Yet you and I belong to God.  Through the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ we have been made clean so that we can come into the presence of God Almighty.  Because we belong to God, we are a part of God’s plan and again I state God will not fail; He has never, is not now, nor will ever, fail.  So rejoice.  Rejoice in Him.  Rejoice in the knowledge of His triumph certain to come.  Rejoice in the hope that is testified within us by the Holy Spirit.  Rejoice in the blessings promised by Jesus Christ.  Let us make our petitions to God Almighty, not in doubt or uncertainty, but in faithful confidence of His Loving Power.  Let us read and rejoice in His Word which holds such promise and examples of His faithfulness.

God will not fail.  Staying faithful to Him, repenting of our sins, loving Him and His creation, studying His word, we will not fail either.  That in our triumph we will humbly give praise to Him should be our response.  All hail His triumph in us and our triumph in Him!

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, this world and the prince of this world is full of lies, deceits and words of doom and failure.  Pour out Your Spirit that we might stand strong against those words.  We also ask Your forgiveness when we forget that we are Yours and find ourselves living in dark despair.  Lift us up Dear Father.  Shelter us with Your Love.  Show us Your Divine Will that we might be partakers with You in Your ultimate triumph to the praise of Your most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children; how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”  Luke 11:11, 12

“The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden and there he put man…..the Lord God made every tree grow that is….good for food.”  Genesis 2:8,9

I want to start out categorically stating that I don’t believe we have the capacity to see Our Heavenly Father as He truly is.  His glory, his very perfect nature is beyond our ability to comprehend.  So this is not about our perception being His reality.  Yet how we see and perhaps how we attempt to see our Heavenly Father, I believe makes the biggest difference in our lives.

Jesus is very clear as He speaks about God and His relationship to Him.  He calls God, His Father.  Jesus also, though, does not stop there.  For in teaching us how to pray, he calls upon us to start out “Our Father”.  In Luke above, Jesus Christ uses the term “your Heavenly Father”.  Jesus could have used the term your Creator or your God, however, seemingly He wanted to communicate a level of relationship.  The relationship of a Father.

On the one hand there is a great blessing involved in Jesus’ words in that He who is the creator of all things; the Alpha and the Omega, desires to have a personally close familial relationship corresponding to the sense of a parent to a child.  On the other hand, we may be tempted to compare that which we can not truly, accurately comprehend; the relationship of Our Heavenly Father to His children, with the earthly relationship most have some familiarity with; our relationship with our earthly fathers.

For a brief moment, let’s take a look at that earthly relationship and let’s say it comes from the standpoint of the most loving, devoted earthly father.  So that earthly father is going to want to provide for his children.  The earthly father is going to want to protect his children.  That earthly father is going to want to see his children grow, physically, mentally and spiritually.  The earthly father is going to want to see his children mature and gain a certain amount of self-sufficiency.  Of course, in this instance the earthly father is going to love his children dearly.  The earthly father knows he will not be on earth forever, so he wants his children to able to live abundantly when he is not there.

So we may have been blessed with a wonderful earthly father or father figure and we might be tempted to look upon, even lovingly, our Heavenly Father based on that earthly example.  To the extent that we do that, is to the extent our vision is skewed and our perception is extremely flawed.

Why?….Well, let’s take a look.  What is crucial to understand is the limitations of one and the complete lack of limitation of the Other.  We must realize that to even attempt a comparison is a very perilous thing to do.  First, earthly fathers have significant limitations at least as it applies to the capabilities of Our Heavenly Father.  While an earthly father may want to protect us; they have little to no power over an earthquake or tornado; earthly father’s can stop a cell from becoming cancerous no matter how much they desire.  Secondly, all earthly fathers have finite resources and power.  Regardless of their wealth and stature, earthly fathers have limited degrees of influence over societal processes like conflict or hatred.  Finally, no earthly father is perfect; his love is going to falter at times.  He will grow weary of doing good for his children or he will expect some return on his investment in his children.

Here’s where our inadequate vision comes into play.  For our Heavenly Father lacks no power to protect us.  All phenomena, all natural processes are under His control.  Second, our Heavenly Father has all resources, all power at His control.  Our Heavenly Father is perfect; His Love is perfect without end.  He will not grow weary or tired, not once of His children.

Finally, there is one huge, overriding difference in the earthly process of being a father and the Heavenly process.  Earthly fathers expect that there will come a time of maturity for their children, where the need of fatherly influence will diminish.  Earthly fathers understand that there will be a time of physical separation at death.

When we look at what Our Heavenly Father intended, it is clear to see that Our Heavenly Father desires that their never be a time that His influence will diminish.  Our Heavenly Father never looks to a time where we do not need Him any longer.  Our Heavenly Father wants nothing to separate us from Him.  At the time prior to the original sin, we were in the garden where, out of love, all was supplied.  Everything was supplied, we were completely safe, the environment was so controlled, so perfect,  that we did not even need clothes.

In a wisdom that I can not comprehend and a plan that I don’t understand, He gave us the ability for self determination.  He gave us the ability to reject Him; and that is exactly what we did.  To our potential eternal doom, we, as earthly children decided to go our own way.  At some point an earthly father would have let us go; would have said goodbye.  Our Heavenly Father instead, gave to us a gift that we could not obtain ourselves.  He gave us salvation, and it cost the life of His Only Begotten Son for us to receive it.

Thus dear sisters and brothers, we should not, we dare not view our Heavenly Father in any aspect of earthly terms.  We must attempt to see Him within the state of Being that He is.  There is only one way that can come about; and oh by the way it doesn’t come from us.  The gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Spirit of God Himself that can dwell within us, is the only way we may gain insight into the true nature of Our Heavenly Father.  With that gift; we can come to the understanding that there is no plan for us to be on our own, there is no desire for separation, that Our Heavenly Father wants to be the all providing, all protecting all loving Father for all time to come.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are awestruck that You want to be Our Eternal Father and the lengths You are willing to go to accomplish that.  We thank you for the sacrifice and salvation of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Forgive us Heavenly Father, when we become rebellious children, desiring to reject You for own ways.  Give us the gift of the Holy Spirit who will teach us of Your true nature and guide us back to being Your loving children.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“..when the adversaries of Judah heard the descendants were building the temple of the Lord God….they troubled them in building and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose..”  Ezra 4:1, 4, 5

“Then King Darius issued a decree…..moreover you shall do for the elders of these Jews for the building of the house of God:  Let the cost be paid at the king’s expense……”  Ezra 6:1, 8

Ezra is one of those books in the bible that I must admit (much to my error) I have often overlooked.  Yet in reading the book, thanks be to God and the Holy Spirit for revealing a powerful truth.  There is a great and uplifting truth in this book.  So perhaps you find yourself in a situation where at work or among your friends there are few people of faith.  Maybe it seems that world is arrayed against you, trying to thwart your faith and raising obstacle after obstacle to what you feel is your God given purpose.  If you are feeling that way then take heart and be confident in the Book of Ezra.

In a previous post, I had outlined how, by the plan of God, Cyrus that King of Persia had conquered the Babylonians and decreed that the people of Israel were to return to Jerusalem and furthermore they were to rebuild the temple destroyed by the Babylonians.  As many of us can attest to, Satan is not one to give up easy.  For when the people returned to Jerusalem, even though there was the king’s edict, the people of the surrounding lands had no desire to see a rejuvenated kingdom of Judah.  These were not God fearing people and they remembered how God had loved and protected the people of Judah against them and wanted to stop the rebuilding in anyway possible.  Then they saw their chance.

King Cyrus had died and King Darius ruled in his place.  King Darius was not readily familiar with the edict that his father had made concerning the Jews.  So some local princes and a king of the people arrayed against Judah sent King Darius a letter outlining the rebellious nature of the people of Judah and how allowing them to rebuild the temple will only lead to trouble.  King Darius initially is open to the letter but decides to search back to find out if his father had made a decree and if so, what his father had said.

Finding his father’s, King Cyrus’ edict, that indeed stated that the Jewish people were to be allowed to return to their homeland, allowed to rebuild the temple, and even given back the temple furnishings stolen by the Babylonians, King Darius makes his own decree.  King Darius’ decree is not only in agreement with his father’s but it goes even further.  It says that the taxes of the local kingdoms around Judah are to go to support the rebuilding of the temple.  He further states if anyone is found apposing the Jewish people, that their house is to be torn down and that person is to be hanged on the timbers from his own home.  Again understand, King Darius was not a follower of God Almighty.  Yet that did not stop God from using King Darius as a protection for His people.  King Darius’ decree works, the temple is rebuilt, Jerusalem is rebuilt and the people rejoice.

So what is this book to do with us and what comfort should we take from it? Much indeed.  For King Cyrus and King Darius ruled over the most powerful kingdom of their time.  Yet with all their earthly power, the Power of God Almighty over them, to use them to do His will was exceedingly far greater still.  God had a plan to hear the repentant call of His people from Babylon.  He had a plan to return His people to Jerusalem.  He had a plan to have the temple rebuilt.  And no earthly or spiritual power was going to stop God’s plan.  If God needed a pagan king to be a part in carrying out His plan then that is exactly what was going to happen.

Thus even today, when we see society make decisions that seem to be turning away from God.  When you find yourself at work or in another situation where you are the only believer.  If you find that there are many who seem hell bent on trying to stop you from living out what God has intended for you to do; in faith, be without fear or trepidation.  For non can withstand the Will of God.  His perfect plan will come to fruition.  There is no power that can overcome Him or thwart His plan for you.  His enemies will fail.  His people will triumph.  We must insure that we are humble in that triumph knowing it was not we who brought about the success; it was truly God Almighty.

So let us go forth in confidence and in the faith of God based on the Book of Ezra.  Understanding by this example how Paul can proclaim centuries later in his letter to the Romans; that in all things God works for the good for those who love Him.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we mightily proclaim and are eternally thankful that You are on Your throne and there is none who are above You or more powerful than You.  Thank you that in Your Mercy, You look down upon us in Love sheltering us in Your Arms.  Praise to You that You will use all of Your creation, whether they believe in You or not to see that Your Will is done.  Pour out Your Spirit that we might see Your works manifested in this world and praise Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“…the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus….thus says Cyrus…all the kingdoms of the earth, the Lord God has given me….” Ezra 1:2

“Do not be afraid; only believe”  Mark 5:36

“Immediately the father..cried out and said with tears: ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief ! ‘” Mark 9:24

Cause and effect, systems thinking, 2+2=4, we have many ways and many constructs to make sense of this baffling world around us.  These constructs seemingly help the world to understand the processes that govern actions and bring order to chaos.  Yet like any construction there can be a limiting factor if we limit ourselves to what we’ve constructed.  Imagine constructing a house from the inside out and not putting in a door; how would experience the greater world? Or not put in windows; how would we be aware of a greater existence beyond our four walls?

Jeremiah writes a letter to the people if Israel telling them because of their unbelief and turning their back on God, they were going to be taken away to Babylon in captivity.  There they would stay for 70 years as punishment, but then they would return.  Indeed the people were taken away.  And while in Babylon, there were those like Danial who repented and prayed for deliverance.  Yet year and year it did not come.  Nebuchadnezzar seemed to become even more powerful.  It sure would have seemed that the people of Israel should plan on permanent residence in Babylon.  Going home wasn’t going to happen.  Enter Cyrus, King of Persia, who conquers Babylon.  Cyrus was not a practicing Jew.  He was not circumcised into the faith.  It makes no difference to God; for God can and will use all things to bring about His plan.  God puts it into the heart of Cyrus to return the people to Jerusalem and have them rebuild the temple.  Thy will be done.

Imagine your child is very sick.  You are a person of means so you’ve called on doctors but to no avail, your daughter is just getting sicker.  None of the earthly means open to you seem to be doing any good.  Your wealth is worthless, your education is of no value, your determination for her to get better is an empty effort.  In desperation you plan to go find a healer that says the He is the Son of God.  But you’re too late.  That’s what happen to Jarius, a wealthy Jew in the time that Jesus was on this earth.  He was a leader of the synagog so surely he should have had the means to make his daughter well.  Yet in everything he tried, there was only failure.  So in desperation, Jarius strikes out to find Jesus.  He finds Jesus and makes his request and it appears that Jesus is going to come to his aid.  Then, he witnesses Jesus heal a lady who has been sick for twelve years, surely his daughter who has been sick for just days can be cured.  Jarius must have been elated! However, the word comes, Jarius daughter is dead.  He is too late.  Nothing can happen.  Nothing stops Jesus Christ, not even death.  Jesus scoffs at the report and says a simple thing to Jarius (simple but not easy), do not be afraid only believe.  Jesus goes to the child and heals her.  Thy will be done.

Another man has a child who has been very ill for a long time.  He has heard about Jesus and brings his child to him; but Jesus is not there.  Jesus’ disciples try in vain to heal the child, but the condition grips the child even right there where the disciples are.  Jesus then arrives and tells the man if he will only believe, his child will be healed.  And the man then cries out in a cry that is so human, so humble; a cry that echoes down through the ages even into my own heart:  “I believe, Lord help my unbelief!” Jesus heals the child.  Thy will be done.

You see dear sisters and brothers, the world has come to a place and time where it believes that there is a human built, human understood solution to anything.  Want to be healthy; follow this diet.  Want to be financially successful, follow this method.  Want to be romantically fulfilled; go to this website.  Want to………all you need do is this.  An inevitably when those systems, those methods, those processes fail, instead of humbly turning to the Perfect God, with All Power and All Wisdom, Every Ability to bless us and by His Grace bring us to the promised land He intended, the world just tries to come up with a new solution on its own.

Jesus made it clear, not only in the samples listed above but in virtually every healing, it is faith, it is believing that comes first.  The world has it backwards when it states: let me see it, then I’ll believe it.  Jesus Christ states, first you must believe in the Creator God.  First you must believe that the ability of God is never constrained by anything.  You must believe that God loves you so much that He would send His One and Only Son to die for you, to wash away your sins so that you may live with Him.  You must believe that there is no can’t when it comes to God’s Will.

Finally, as that father’s excruciating cry tells us, we must have help in our unbelief.  For to rely on our own ability to believe is to fall far short of the doubtless faith needed to connect to God’s omnipotent power.  We must humble ourselves and call upon the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts; to strengthen and infuse our imperfect ability to believe with His assured, perfect belief.  It is through the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ that we can make our petitions known to our Heavenly Father with the strength of belief that His Will be done.  Let it be that we all pull off those destructive chains of can’t and clothe ourselves in the fear extinguishing faith of His Will.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly proclaim that You are the All Powerful Creator God.  We not only cry out for but also believe in this day today, Thy will be done.  Forgive us when we believe in worldly processes or worldly solutions instead of coming to You.  Pour out Your Holy Spirit on us to perfect our limited belief into a more perfect life transforming belief. We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

” …having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them….go after the one which is lost until he finds it……”  Luke 15:6

” I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one who repents….. Luke 15:7

“….and not one of them is forgotten before God.  But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear therefore….. Luke 12:6

Are we a numbers driven world or what?  An interesting quirk to mathematics, zero represents nothing or the absence of a thing.  Yet string zeros together and put a number in front of the string and all the sudden those zeros represent very much indeed (as in 1,000,000,000).

It seems that we a numbers obsessed society and normally the larger the better.  We celebrate who has the tallest building in numbers of feet or meters.  We judge who is better at their task or vocation based on the higher numbers they can demand for a salary.  We judge affluence based on the number of possessions; cars, houses, airplanes, amount and value of jewelry, that are owned.  We measure a person’s popularity about how many friends they have on one social media site, followers on another, likes on another.  In fact you can pay someone just so you can increase that number!  Sadly, even in many of our churches we measure success based on the numbers of persons in attendance or how much the weekly intake of money is.

So with all that pressure to measure, to find increase, to go viral, to chase the ever illusive more or higher, of what value is one?  We often hear, the one, marginalized.  What good is my one vote; we ask ourselves?  What can I do; I am only one?  You can’t buy anything with one dollar anymore.

Jesus often found Himself preaching against and fighting this human tendency to judge based on the greater.  It’s not just in our day but back when He was on earth, the great people, even those felt to be more righteous, gave more, had more titles behind their names, had more servants, more possessions, went to the temple more.  Thus the opposite appeared to be true.  Those who were poor, those who owned little, those who begged, those who were measured and found to have little to no power, those overlooked by society were sinners.  Those lowly people should not even be associated with, let alone joined for dinner, healed or preached good news to.

So Jesus, in very plain language, tells those who would overlook anyone, just how important each one is.  There is a flock and of course there is an owner of the flock.  These people would understand this example for during their time, owning flocks and their size was an important determiner of wealth.  Jesus points out that if a sheep is found to be missing, then a frantic search will ensue.  It is not as if the owner will just forgo the one as an acceptable loss without any effort to find it.  No, the owner will leave those who are found and desperately search for the one that is lost.  The owner does not blame the sheep for becoming lost and when the owner finds the sheep he does not beat it or punish for becoming lost.  Hardly, the owner picks the sheep up and brings it back to the flock calling to his neighbors, rejoicing in finding that one lost sheep.  Jesus then makes the most important point; that is how heaven works.  Our Heavenly Father, in fact the entire heavenly host finds the one, the lost one, of supreme importance.  For they rejoice greatly, like the earthly owner, when a lost sheep, in this case a sinner repents and comes to Christ.

Thus dear sisters and brothers we must know several things.  First, you and I are important, are known by name, the hairs on our very head are numbered.  Now, unless we become puffed up by pride, we are known in and because of His Grace, Mercy and Love and not because of our righteousness.  We are sinners and the only reason we are not known as sinners in heaven is because we are cleansed of our sin by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Yet through and because Our Heavenly Father knows us individually, we can be confident that He has a specific plan, with specific blessings for each of us.  Second, we must know that we are not to judge others based on some earthly measurement of value.  We should understand that they who the world would judge as least in their eyes, is very likely measured as great in God’s eyes.

For example, there is a sin I struggle with, even with this blog.  By the Grace of God, I will write a post.  I will then look, over time, to see how often it is read.  Here’s when the sin of numbers come in.  If I see that a post has been read by a few, one or two, I will tend to be dismissive of that post, feeling that something was amiss with that post.  However, if I see many zeros behind a post, I will feel that it had more value.  So in a way I’m dismissing the one or two who were led to the post and read it.  In a way even with the posts with more readers, I’m devaluing any individual and only seeing value in the group.  That, I confess, is a very great sin, a behavior that can easily lead to pride and vanity.  Instead, know that I am very thankful to Our Heavenly Father for giving me the opportunity to praise His Name as well am thankful for the every single person, individually, now and in the future who read these words.  In sincere humility, I am blessed by your presence.  Let each one of us, be like Our Heavenly Father and see the value in the one, each one of His wonderful creation, our fellow human beings.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so very thankful that You have desired to know each one of us individually, that you have devised a perfect plan for each of us, that You, in Your Mercy, Love each one of us.  Forgive us when we make judgements based on how this world judges, overlooking those who are seen as having little to no value.  Pour out Your Spirit that we might humbly remember that we are sinners and You sent the One, Your One and Only Son, Jesus Christ to be our Savior.  That seeing the value of each one and the One, we would live lives of praise to Your Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“…seeing a fig tree….He came to it and found nothing on it…and said ‘Let no fruit grow on you ever again.”  Matthew 21:19

“Immediately the fig tree withered away….the disciples saw it..and marveled…” Matthew 21:19,20

“….I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also say to this mountain, be removed and cast into the sea, it will be done.” Matthew 21:21

“I am the vine…..every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes away….anyone who does not abide in Me is cast out as a branch and is withered…..John 15:2, 5

I must say that there have been times past, in my walk, where the story of the fig tree has perplexed me.  Not so much in terms of the power of faith, but I have been tempted, wrongly I add, to see Jesus’ actions as those of an impetuous man, taking his hunger and frustration out on an innocent fig tree.

I praise Our Heavenly Father for the Holy Spirit who patiently corrects my thoughts and shares two great lessons with me.  Two lessons I want to now share with you.

First, is the direct lesson of faith.  It is true that Jesus is hungry and that is why he approaches the fig tree in the first place.  Finding no figs on the tree, Jesus commands that no fruit ever be found on this tree again.  Jesus power is immediately shown as the tree withers on the spot.  No fruit will ever be found on it again.  I digress for a moment in speaking of the disciples’ reaction.  One might think after having spent nearly three years with Jesus, the impact of His words on the tree would come as no surprise.  After all, they have seen Jesus heal the sick, walk on water, raise the dead; they have been a part of feeding thousands with just a few loaves of bread.  Yet they are astonished by what happens to the fig tree.  The are awestruck in the presence of Jesus and His power.  I sometimes lament that I and perhaps we are not so nearly awestruck as we read and contemplate the power of Our Lord and Savior; but back to the fig tree.

Now Jesus makes a startling statement that is very often quoted.  I have seen this statement used as a wonderfully hopeful promise, as well as an instrument of judgement and derision.  Jesus tells His disciples about the power of faith.  For Jesus tells them if they ask and truly believe and do not doubt, then they can ask for the seemingly impossible, for a mountain to be moved and it will happen.  Those that choose to see this as a wonderful promise, see that it is not based on our strength, talent or worldly wisdom, it is in our faith.  Also it is important to understand the faith is not in ourselves and our power to move the mountain.  It really has nothing to do with the mountain, it is the complete faith in Jesus Christ and the power and wisdom of our Heavenly Father.

Sadly, I have also seen this example used by those who do not believe and sadder still, by those who profess to believe as a process of judgement.  For there will be a situation that a believer will be involved in, which she or he may be praying for.  Unbelievers will chastise in advance about:  “Oh you believe that you can move mountains so why don’t you just pray for this result or that; as if God was some sort of genie, wish fulfill-er.  Yet I have also heard this used by those of faith against others, judging them saying that their faith must weak because of a seemingly different outcome than what was prayed for.  Again remember this Dear Sisters and Brothers, the faith is in the perfection of our Heavenly Father and His will, through Jesus Christ.  Who are we to question the outcome of someone else’s prayer or the strength of their faith?  We must be humble in our thoughts here remembering the man who cried out to Jesus at the healing of his son, I believe, Lord help my unbelief!

So now I come to the second lesson, besides faith, but tied to it, that I believe Jesus is teaching with the fig tree.  You see the fig tree had no fruit.  Jesus, the Son of God, was there at the creation of all things and all things were created through Him.  The fig tree was created through Him.  The fig tree was created to have fruit and it did not.  So the fruitless tree was cast out.  In John’s gospel, Jesus makes that same warning to all of us.  We are to be branches that bear fruit.  We are to be a source of spiritual sustenance for our sisters and brothers plus the greater world so in need of spiritual feeding.  Yet we are just branches.  Our ability to bear fruit only comes from abiding in the vine, in the stalk from where all our power, wisdom, strength and light come from.  That vine is Jesus Christ.  First we must abide in Him and never attempt to rely on our own human capacity.  Second though, we must be willing to bear fruit.  We must be willing to provide our Jesus given talents and energy, not just into growing big ourselves, in becoming the largest most prosperous branch.  We must be willing that our energy goes into growing fruit, whose sole purpose is to be picked from us and to feed others.  It is for others nourishment and not ourselves.  Yet as branches abiding in the vine we must have faith that we will be nourished and blessed beyond all that we would ever want.

Faith to ask and the belief that, in the asking, it will be granted but also understanding that our asking should be based on our desire to bear fruit, not for our own glory, but for the feeding of those in need and to the glory of He who planted us; Our Heavenly Father.  Those are the lessons of the fig tree.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise You that You listen to our supplications and grant to us our answers based on Your Perfect Plan and Will.  Pour out Your Spirit on us that our asking be always be in the faithful desire to be worthy branches in Jesus Christ; always striving to bear fruit that nourishes a spirit starved world in need of Your Love.  That in our faithful asking and Your Blessed granting, Your Holy Name will be ever praised.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Whose image and inscription is this?” Mark 12:16

” Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  Mark 12:17

” Let us make man in our own image…” Genesis 1:26

To start off with, Dictionary.com defines “render” among other things as:  to return; to make a payment as by a tenant to a superior or, to pay as due.

It is always so amazing to me, although it probably shouldn’t be coming from the King of Kings and God here on earth, how Jesus is able to take any and all situations and turn them into the most powerful teaching and learning situations.  Of course the Jewish leadership is trying to trap him.  So many times before they have laid out their traps and schemes and each time Jesus had outwitted them.  Now hopefully He was going to run afoul of either the Romans or His own people.  To pay taxes or not pay taxes was the question.  To say, don’t pay taxes would bring the wrath of the Romans down upon Him.  To say; yes, pay taxes, would have his own people turn against Him.  Finally they had Him trapped.

It seemed so easy for Jesus.  Bring me a coin, he requests.  Here, for me, is when the situation takes on a biblical proportion.  For you see Jesus uses a coin.  He uses something that down through the centuries will be something that becomes more and more central to everyday life, everyday thought.  He uses money.  He uses that thing which He knows was of singular importance back then and even more so today.  It is no longer just about taxes any more. The statement he makes is about all man-made institutions and human symbols.  So you see, we have those things that are wrought out of human initiatives, human desires, human processes.  All those things are represented by the coin which was given to Jesus.  Then you have those things which have been created by God Almighty, Our Heavenly Father.    You have those things which God has made, in His own image.

Jesus Christ makes it plain.  If you are dealing with things that are of human origin, things thought up in human minds, things made by human hands, then those are things solely (and souly) of the human realm.  While you might spend time thinking or doing things with those items, they are definitely of a lower status.

So what would be something of a higher status?  Something, in the case above, higher than the status of Caesar?  Well, that is why Jesus used the word image.  For, in all of creation, God said that there was one thing that He made that was in His own image:  man.  You see we were created in the image of God and God called that creation; very good.

So Dear Sisters and Brothers, we often find ourselves in the position or action of rendering; of paying to a superior or paying something that is due.  Jesus Christ is telling us that we should never find ourselves in a position where we are “rendering” ourselves, our lives to things of this world.  We should not look at our possessions, our jobs, our hobbies, even our relationships with our loved ones as being superior things.  All those things are developed by us for us.  We should not find ourselves being beholden to or bowing down to things which we have made or developed ourselves.

We have to be extremely careful that we don’t try to make our own image to match that of some earthly ideal; we should look this particular way, act this particular way.  We should never feel that we owe something to our work or our possessions.  To render ourselves, to give ourselves to those things is a sin that leads to our downfall and destruction.

We are made in the image of God.  That being the case, to render to Him whose image we are made in, we are to render ourselves to God Almighty.  That is to say, God is where our desire should be to return to.  It is to God that we should feel that our payment is owed.  And that payment is not in something like money, for that again is something of our creation.  No the payment is our life and that is to say how we live our lives.  Our rendering is living in love as we have been commanded to do; first to our Heavenly Father and after that to each other.  We should render praise to Our Heavenly Father and mercy and forgiveness to each other living in and by the image of He who created us.

You see that is why, in this country we place the inscription: In God We Trust, on our money.  For we are declaring that although money can be used, gained, spent and saved for so many things, we should never put our trust in it.  For money is of men and is not to be trusted.  Only one thing, one entity is worthy of our full and eternal trust; God Almighty.  Putting our trust in Him is the only safe to be sure, thing to do.

So we must ask ourselves; in whose image do we see ourselves?  Are we a maker of our own image?  Or are we made in the image of Our Loving Father?  The image of that answer makes all the difference in the world.  Find that today; you and I might find ourselves rendering ourselves, our very lives to the One, the Only One, by whom and in whom our image belongs.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, thank you for creating us in Your Image.  Thank you that of all the wondrous things You created, only we are made in Your image.  Forgive us when we look to the images of this world as things we should render service or payment to more than you.  Fill us with Your Spirit that we would see ourselves as creations of Yours, longing to live our lives in the love and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

” Why do your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread?”  Matthew 15:2

“…whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated.  But things which proceed out of mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.”  Matthew 15:17,18

It was clear that Jesus was dealing with, competing with a very formulaic religious aristocracy.  In one sense it can be understandable.  For Moses had given to the people the laws from God and, if not careful, focusing on the laws and not He who gave them could bring about a very structured, self-centered culture.  Self-centered? Yes, self-centered in a way that, if I do these certain things at least to the level that I think is acceptable, then I deserve a reward.  I can and will proclaim my own righteousness as well as judging you according to my own standards.

Think about how many times Jesus was confronted about the shall and shall nots of this world.  You can not heal on the sabbath, what about paying taxes, what about forgiving people, don’t pick grain on the sabbath, don’t eat with sinners, what about divorce, feel free to judge and condemn to death others; were all questions and actions that Jesus had to deal with.

It seems rather summed up in the interaction that Jesus had with the rich young man.  That man wanted to be justified; wanted to be told he was good and going to heaven.  In Jesus response about the law, he is in essence asking the man for his impression, his formula for bringing about salvation.  The man replied that he had kept to the formula, he did not transgress against the laws.  However, like with the Pharisees above in Matthew, Jesus revealed how much he knows about our hearts.  For Jesus was clear that it is not about what we do, whether washing hands or following commandments, but why we do; in other words, what is in our hearts.  Jesus makes it clear that none of the outward things will lead us to a deeper relationship with God.  How can we hope to impress the all powerful, perfect Creator of everything with our actions?  No, it is what is in our heart that matters to our Heavenly Father. Love or hate, judgement or mercy, pride or humility, anger or peace; these are the things that come from within, that come from our heart that truly matter to Our Heaven Father.

Why is this so important for us today to remember Dear Sisters and Brothers?  Because we live in a world that has a formula for every type of success.  You want to have the right appearance; eat this, don’t eat that, wear this but not that, exercise this amount.  You want to be successful in love; go to this site, read this book, say these things, purchase this fragrance, give this jewelry.  You want to be successful in life; get this job, work this many hours, go to this vacation spot, meet these people, save this amount, spend this amount and for as many, “do these things”, there are a corresponding amount of “don’t do these things”.  Even in the church, want salvation; read this, pray this, give this amount, be on this committee, don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t listen to loud music…do this…..don’t do this……

Thus if we’re not very careful we find ourselves chasing formulas.  We find ourselves living lives of equations where the sum, the outcome of the equation is solely dependent on the outwardly, worldly actions that we take.  Take the right actions equals good life of which we are entitled to.  You can’t argue with the math.  Have something negative happen, then somehow our equation was in error.

Jesus Christ teaches us, Our Heavenly Father cares about what’s inside.  Not how we act but why we act.  Abraham, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Ruth, John, Stephen, Timothy and many, many others were held up as examples in the bible, first and foremost for having hearts that searched after and wanted to be like God’s Heart.  It was that inward striving that led to the wonderful works that they performed and not the other way around.  Likewise, King Saul, King Joash, Caiaphas, Judas, had outward acts of power and seeming success but because their hearts were not with God, they were ultimately destroyed.

Finally, understand, there is a formula, there is a plan.  The reality is that it is not our formula, nor is it our plan.  It is our Heavenly Father’s plan.  The great thing about it not being our plan but His plan is that we can be certain it is perfect.  Our part in it, our piece of the equation is in our heart.  Not what are we striving for but why are we striving?  The formula that has us striving for our selves will never have an accurate answer.  The formula which has us connecting to the Loving Equation of Our Heavenly Father, the equation where God is the answer, that embraces the principle that Our Heavenly Father is first and that the components of heart should be those of love, mercy, humility, joy and peace through Him, complete faith in Him, those will be the components that lead to the correct actions, that lead to the successful life here and a life eternal in His presence.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly admit that we far too often look to the wisdom of this world, rely on the formulas of this world to determine what actions we should take.  We far too often look to the outside instead of considering the inside; what is in our hearts.  Forgive us most Merciful Father as we repent and turn to You for our answer.  Fill our hearts with Your Spirit that we may feel and know the love, grace, mercy, peace and joy that are beyond our understanding.  That with hearts, first and foremost searching for and linked to Yours, that will lead to the truly successful lives that You have planned for us to lead.  We pray this in the Name of Our Teacher and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

He who does good is of God……….” 3 John 1:11

“….not having my own righteousness…but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God….”  Philippians 3:13

There are cars of every imaginable size, shape and price range.  There are cars that drive themselves. There are cars that turn into airplanes, that have $12,000 cup holders.  There is a car that sells for 1.3 million dollars.  Is this post about cars; heavens no.  The thing is a car is supposed to be a mode of transportation.  For all the bells and whistles a car might have built into it, if a car is incapable of functioning, if it has no fuel, then what real good is it?  Whether gasoline or diesel, electric battery or solar powered, there was actually even a nuclear powered car design at one time, for a car to fulfill its function, it must have some sort of power source, some sort of fuel to make it go.

When we look at the human species these days, there seems to be some confusion about what is good and where does that good come from.  Many would have you believe that a person’s ability to do good comes primarily from their environment.   That is to say if a person eats healthy, gets plenty of rest, exercises regularly, is able to get a good education, is shown respect and love from family; then they are bound to do and be good.  There are those that would argue it is has much to do with their genetic makeup.  Are their genes arranged in such a way that there are no mutated abnormalities that would lead to psychopathic or antisocial behavior, if so; they will be good.  Some would throw in habits, like meditation or lifestyles like vegan that bring about good in the practitioners.  And please understand I am not against good habits that help to build body, mind and spirit.

Yet Jesus makes it very plain when he asks the rich young man who comes to see him and starts the conversation by calling Jesus “good”:  “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone”, that no person is capable of being good on their own.  Goodness comes only from our Heavenly Father.

Okay, you might ask:  If it takes God to be good, then how do I go about getting on His “good side”?  I know, you might say to yourself or I might say to myself, I’ll study!  I’ll read the bible cover to cover and then start again.  I’ll memorize every verse.  I’ll read all the great theologians.  That way I’ll learn to be good.  Or maybe good comes from going to church.  So I’ll go to every service offered, I’ll sing in the choir, I’ll be on every committee, then I can rightly be called good.  Again, study of the word is vitally important and I believe in going to church.

But back to our car analogy, it is possible to put regular gasoline into a diesel engine (please don’t test this out) and have the engine run.  However, the engine will not run for a very long time and in the meantime you will have probably destroyed the diesel engine beyond repair.  Why?  The simple truth is you can’t force something that is designed to function one way to try and function in some other radically different way and expect it to function properly.

So for us to do anything that relies on our own efforts, our own studies, our own thoughts or plans, even our own righteousness and expect that it will make us good, will not only not work but chances are will be ultimately self destructive in the process.  Good comes down to us by grace and mercy as a gift from Our Heavenly Father.  To even begin to accept the gift we must first humble ourselves acknowledging our inability to be good on our own.  We must accept that we are fallen and in need of a savior.  Then we need to proclaim that again, in magnificent love and mercy, Our Heavenly Father has done just that; provided us a Savior in His Son, Jesus Christ.  By calling upon and accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior then we can be open to the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Upon receiving the Holy Spirit and being shown the way by Him, we can begin to understand the concept of good and attempt to live that concept into our lives.  But we must always understand that whatever good we might become, it all starts and ends with Jesus Christ.

And here’s one more amazing final thing; the price.  For most of us, fuel has this rollercoaster kind of cost to it.  There have been times when people have to decide between paying bills, even buying food and being able to put fuel in their vehicle.  What does it cost for us receive good from God?  What monumental payment will we have to make to be able to tap into God’s goodness that we may be able to do good?  It cost Jesus Christ everything; His very life.  For you and I, it is a gift, given freely.  So let it be that first we genuinely desire to do and be good.  Second, let us understand that we are wholly incapable of being or doing good on our own.  Finally, let us call out to Our Heavenly Father; proclaiming the miraculous salvation that we have in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son, asking for Him to come into our lives that then and only then can we do and be in the act of becoming; good.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we confess that we often feel ourselves to be good on our own or look to worldly efforts to make ourselves good.  Forgive us Dear Father and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we might understand that none are or can become good without first coming to You.  Help us to be humble, declaring that we are in need of salvation and that salvation comes on from Your Son Jesus Christ.  That in a relationship with Jesus Christ, we may find ourselves on our way to becoming good.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

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