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“If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off…It is better to enter your life maimed, rather having two hands or two feet to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…..rather than having two eyes be cast into hell fire.”  Matthew 18: 8,9

“I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven…..So My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brothers trespasses”  Matthew 18:22,35

I must freely admit that the first passage referenced above has always challenged me in certain respects.  First, upon reading it several times, I wondered what should my response truly be?  For yes I do sin and normally either singularly or in combination my eye(s) or hands or feet are involved in the sin.  Thus, based on Jesus Christ’s admonition, should I be pulling out a saw and or doing some plucking?  Okay, I will also freely admit that I am weak in that department but surely there are others of stronger faith, who also admit that they sin yet they remain with all their appendages and sight.  This is also a verse that is often thrown against me from unbelievers who question what I believe in and the strength of that belief.  What kind of Loving God would ask this of His creation and why don’t you, professing to be one of His, follow through and actually do what He commands?

Some might argue that Jesus is speaking figuratively here like when he speaks to the crowds about the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  We know from the instigation of the sacrament at the final supper of Jesus and His disciples, that Jesus was using the bread and the wine as symbols of His Body and Blood.  Yet we find no later connection to a sacrament or other explanation for Jesus very pointed, graphic advice He gives above.

Well then, Jesus just didn’t really mean it.  He was exaggerating, speaking in hyperbole to dramatize the dire nature of sin and the sacrificial nature of ridding ourselves of it.  And while it is true that Jesus Christ spoke in parables, this does not fit into that category and I have always found Jesus to speak with precision in teaching us His great truths.  So does that mean, being a sinner, I need to be sharpening some implements?  By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, a different answer came which also connected some powerful aspects of Matthew Chapter 18 together.

First, I had always, and now mistakenly I believe, looked at Jesus admonition about removal of hands, feet and/or eyes and the story of forgiveness as two separate but equally powerful teachings by Jesus in this chapter.  As I just stated I now believe that was an error and these two concepts are woven deeply, mercifully and wonderfully together.  Again in error, what I concentrated on was the word “sin” and again the body parts aspect, discounting the rest.  Yet, by Grace now what equally jumps out at me is the consequence; to be thrown and endure, eternal hell fire.  Again, going back to Jesus Christ’s teachings; why would that happen, what sin leads us there?  The sin that Jesus Christ is speaking of is the sin of rejecting Jesus as the Christ, the One True Son of God and/or rejecting our Heavenly Father altogether.  You see, dear Sisters and Brothers, if there is something of this world that I see, if there is something that I can reach out and grasp, if there is a path that I choose to follow, that causes me to reject Jesus Christ as God’s Son, that causes me to claim, there is no God; then I am headed to eternal damnation.  Thus, very much so, if I can not turn my gaze from that, then I should no longer have the means of seeing.  If I can not let go of that sin of rejection, then I must cut off that which tries to hold on to it or walk along the path of godlessness!  Jesus Christ is perfectly and mercifully correct; how foolish is it to spend a short life time, seemingly (though we can never be truly whole without God) whole in this short life to spend eternity in horrible suffering.

Well if that’s the case, if I believe in God then I’m free to sin as much as I want?  Absolutely not!  Unrepentant sin will ultimately lead to our rejection of Jesus Christ.  Yet, here in this same chapter; Matthew 18, Jesus Christ gives us a sense of our Merciful Heavenly Father who loves us.  Since Jesus is speaking of sin, Peter must have some grievance toward someone that Peter is tired of continuing to forgive that person for.  So he asks Jesus, just how many times should he forgive a sin committed against him; as many as seven times.  One can imagine Jesus letting out a little chuckle as He answers Peter saying:  seven times??? try seventy times seven times.  Then Jesus goes to use a parable saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a King who has a servant that has a great debt owed to the King which the King desires to have paid up.  The servant cannot repay the debt and pleads for mercy to which the King mercifully and generously forgives the entire debt.  The connection here is we are the servants who owe this great debt, which is our sins, to our Heavenly Father.  It is when we earnestly, honestly humble ourselves and repent, acknowledging the Heavenly Father’s righteousness and calling upon the grace-filled sacrifice of Jesus Christ to wash away our sins, that our sins are forgiven; without the cost of sacrificing a hand, foot or eye!

That is how these two wonderful pieces of Matthew 18 come together to make a marvelously merciful whole.  Whatever is blocking our way to Jesus Christ, we must utterly and completely remove from our life at this moment; regardless of what impact it has on this life or risk the certain eternal separation from Christ and Our Heavenly Father.  Yet in humility, acknowledging our falleness, we can come to Our Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ and repent of our sins, not counting each repentance as some eternal spiritual check mark on a balance sheet where we will have used up all the mercy our Heavenly Father has towards us.  Jesus Christ took upon Himself; all of our sins and then sacrificed Himself and paid our price, once and for all, that in believing in Him we may receive eternal life.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father; we are so thankful that You have provided both the eternal, grace-filled beyond measure, sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our personal, eternal redemption, but that You, in Your wisdom, have also given us Your Word to teach us about Your redemptive plan.  Pour out Your Strength that we might be able to cast any and all things aside, no matter how seemingly dear or important to us, that might cause us to reject You or Your Son.  Humble us that we would come into your presence in true repentance for our sins and receive Your boundless mercy and forgiveness poured out through the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  That in coming  to You and proclaiming Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Savior and sincerely repenting of our sins, we might live a life of praise and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“And not one of them falls to the ground apart from Your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered”  Matthew 10:29,30

“When you pray say…..Your will be done….Give us day by day our daily bread…”  Luke 11:2,3

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28

Life!  We often here many descriptions or characteristics concerning it and the things that happen in it; such as:  Stuff (or a different word) happens, Don’t sweat the small stuff, Everything happens for a reason, Life’s too short, and I could continue ad nauseam.

Yet obviously life and living is, and thus things do happen as we go about the process of living.  Some things may seem small, others are exceedingly large and impactful.  Some things are wondrously joyous while others are distressingly tragic (or seem that way).  The age old question but just as relevant today is; where is God in each and all of this; and how do we know?

Alas, in a few score of words or many pages (don’t worry this will not be the case) of dissertation, I have neither the depth of wisdom nor skill of articulation to completely answer such a far reaching conundrum.  Yet I do believe that there is a place we can look and along with prayer and faithfulness receive an answer through revelation worthy of bringing us peace and blessing as we go through life’s journey.

So let’s start with the conceptual question about whether God is some sort of all powerful but aloof and distant God who starts things in motion and then stands back and passively sees where it goes.  Or is He a God who is constantly with us at each moment, looking to guide and nurture us? Which is he?  I can think of no better place to start, reference to use then scripture and the words of Christ.  When Jesus teaches us about prayer I focus in first on the request for daily bread.  The prayer and its petition make it clear that God is supplying our day by day request.  It would also appear that lends context to the point that we’re to be forgiving others constantly, to include daily and that we want Our Father’s will to be done on a continuous basis.  Additionally, as Jesus is teaching about worry, He points out that the Father knows of our specific needs and He will supply them.  He uses the illustration of how God provides food constantly for the birds of the air.  Therefore, we should not be concerned about tomorrow.  Jesus makes it very clear that Our Heavenly Father is the God of this day and every day down to the very moment.

Okay, what about big stuff versus small stuff; what does God care about?  Again, let’s look at scripture.  Now mind you, to another sparrow, a sparrow may be an important valuable bird but back in Jesus’ day as in ours, the sparrow is not particularly regarded as a rare or immensely valuable bird.  Yet Jesus declares that each sparrow is known by the Father and not one will fall to the ground unless the Father wills it.  That’s when Jesus goes on to further say that each one of our hairs is numbered again seeming to illustrate that there is not an aspect of His creation, you and I, that is outside of His knowledge or His plan (I do wish He’d decide to keep a few more of my numbered hairs on my head but that of course is up to Him).

Sure, God is with us daily and nothing about me is too small to be of His consideration.  So what do I do with that, you may ask.  Great question.  For I’ve heard two competing extremes as I ponder the things that happen in my life.  For example, let’s say that my car breaks down.  There are some who would say, that is a completely earthly happening and God has really nothing to do with that.  On the other hand there are those would say that God not only planned that, but because I was in the process of searching for a house to buy and the car broke down right in front of house for sale; that God obviously is telling me that this is the house He has planned for me so I better go make an offer on it and start measuring for curtains.  What should my faithful response be?  I think we can look to a couple of examples for our answer.

Jesus Christ was completely human and completely God in the same person, the same existence.  So in His garden of Gethsemane experience the Spirit knew what God’s plan was but the flesh was weak in wanting to carry it out.  So Jesus prayed.  And His prayer was twofold; please don’t make me go through this if you can, but more than that Thy will be done.  Now He prayed that once and returned to the disciples, one wonders from the flesh aspect if He, not seeing in soldiers, wanted to say, yup God must be letting me go; let’s get the heck outta hear.  But being perfect in obedience and faith, Jesus stayed and prayed again until the Father’s will was known by the betrayal of Judas and Jesus’ arrest.  Likewise, Paul had written about how long he had desired to visit the believers in Rome and minister unto them, yet he had been prevented.  The prevention was not man’s doing, but it was not the Will of God that Paul go.  Paul acknowledges that his finally being able to visit Rome was because it was the Will of God that he do so at that particular time.

So in the earlier example, is my car breaking down an aspect of God’s plan?  In faith I would definitely believe so.  However, like Jesus in the garden and Paul wanting to visit Rome, I first have to be open to the Will of God and not jump to my own conclusions about why my car broke down where it did.  It may be God’s will that I meet the wrecker driver who is contemplating suicide and we talk and I pray for him, helping him to feel love.  Maybe breaking down there kept me from the person who ran the stop sign in the next intersection who would have done me great harm.  Maybe I am destined to own the house which I broke down in front of.  But if I am not humble and believe I can discern God’s Will perfectly and that it is that I am to buy that house.  I may march up to the door wanting to make an offer on the house only to find that the house is already under contract to be sold to someone else.  I may demand that the contract be broken because God has ordained that the house be sold to me.  I may scream that even louder as the police officers forcibly remove from the property.  What I don’t realize I have done is supplanted my will in place of God’s Will.

Thus in faith let us understand that daily, hourly, in fact every moment; God has a plan for us and that plan is perfect.  Yet let us equally understand that it is His plan and we must be humble in subordinating our will to His Will.  As Jesus showed us, we can make requests but a part of that request must be the understanding that we want our Heavenly Father’s Will to be done because it is indeed better for us and for all when His Will is accomplished.  Our peace and joy comes from not merely the specific revelation of what that will is but the true fact that He will part the deepest sea; crumble any fortress, defeat any army, overcome any and every obstacle to bring that plan to its and our blessed fruition.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are thankful and humbled that You, the Creator of all things would love us enough to devise a perfect plan for our lives and make it Your Will to carry it out.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we live as if no plan exists or try to substitute our will for Yours.  Pour out Your Spirit of Strength and Peace on us to give us the strength to perfectly believe and be patient upon You and the peace to know You will act and Your plan and actions are perfect.  That in seeing our experience through the eyes of faith, we may give constant praise and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

When an unclean spirit goes out of a man…seeking rests and finds none….he says, I will return to the house from which I came…he finds it swept and put in order.  Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits….and the last state is worse than the first.”  Luke 11:24, 26

“Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man?”  Matthew 12:29

I certainly am no scientist, no Dr. Albert Einstein nor even a Dr. Sheldon Cooper on the very popular TV show Big Bang Theory.  However I’ve heard it said and have seen in action what was said by the ancient scientist and philosopher, Aristotle who was credited with the saying, “nature abhors a vacuum”.  And by its very nature a vacuum is a space vacant of all else.  Nature will do all that it can, like causing air or water to rush in, to fill a vacuum.

What does this have to do with Jesus?  Jesus understood, because He created the realms of Nature, man and spirit and knows how they are interrelated.  For Jesus knows that while there are natural vacuums there a spiritual vacuums as well and He knows how dangerous the spiritual vacuum can be.  He knows the spiritual vacuum will not stay vacant.

I know I am constantly astounded at the level of patience of Jesus Christ.  Being fully God as well as fully man, He had the power to immediately and permanently silence the cackling Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who tagged along after Him and constantly harassed Him.  Yet Jesus Christ, ever humble to His Father’s plan for sacrifice and resurrection endured the endless, ignorant squabbling of His puny tormentors.  Again they are berating Him when they should have been praising, being in awe of and even fearing Him.  Jesus has been healing people by casting out demons.  The Jewish leadership accused Jesus of being able to cast out demons, to be in charge of demons, because Jesus was the chief demon in charge.

As He has done so often in previous occurrences, Jesus answers them in a way that completely silences, refutes and confounds their logic; but He also gives them, those gathered around and us today, a great insight into the world of spiritual truth and its potentially devastating impact on us.  Also as He is so known to do, Jesus uses and illustration to make His point.

Jesus compares a person to a house.  At the time Jesus is telling the story, there is evil residing in the house, a demon.  For some reason, some theologians say it was due to an exorcism though the scripture does not plainly tell us why the demon/evil departs, but it does.  While the demon/evil is away, the person is not idle.  The person, who is the allegorical house, improves himself; he sweeps the dirt away, picks up the clutter and puts things where they should be so that the house is now in order.  Yet the house remains vacant to a certain extent or at the very least unoccupied.  The demon/evil likes where he has been and finds no other place better, no rest on the outside.  So the demon/evil returns and low and behold he finds the person in the guise of the house swept clean, things in order but fortunately for the demon/evil and tragically for the house/person, the house is vacant.  So the demon/evil comes right back in and takes up residence again in the person along with seven other evils and thus the person is so much worse off than he was before.

Now please understand this, Jesus was not extolling the virtues of keeping the first singular evil around hoping others won’t move in.  No Jesus was making it clear that the spirit world is like the natural world in that a vacancy, no matter how neat and tidy will not stay vacant.  A spiritual vacancy will be filled.  The question is, filled with who or what.

In this same interaction, Jesus makes something else crystal clear; spiritual strength matters.  Demons, the evil of this world are strong.  It is not going to be bribed or cajoled or antagonized to leave.  To force evil to leave, something stronger must enter in, overpower it, bind it, then and only then can it be conquered and driven out.

So what are we to make of this today? How does it apply to us?  In a couple of ways.  First and foremost, do not leave yourself spiritually vacant.  This world may accept the concept of the agnostic, the person who says they don’t believe or disbelieve in God; they just don’t know.  I’m not sure that term has any validity or impact in the spirit world.  For you see we’re going to be spiritually occupied whether we choose to believe so or not.  Attempting to be vacant from either is just an open invitation for the evil one to come in and take up residence.  Plus sadly, without God on our side we will not be able to resist the occupancy of the evil one no matter how good our intentions or our belief in our strength is.  Like the illustration in Luke, we may have a sense that our own power has freed us, we may be doing things like exercising, eating right, trying to do go works and kicking bad habits and that may seem to be helping for a while.  However, rest assured, evil is lurking, evil is watching and with nothing to stop it, it will take up residence in spite of any or all earthly measures we attempt to use to stop it.

Should there be a sense that what occupies us is not God, then the only way to evict the evil is to call upon He who is stronger than that evil and that resides in no earthly person, process or thing.  We must invite Jesus Christ in, to overpower the evil, bind it and drive it from us.  We must then invite Jesus Christ to continue to reside, to take up residence in us, so that should the evil ever attempt to return, it will find no way to enter back in.

One final aspect I want to touch on; the vacant room.  You may say, hey Doug; I’ve invited Christ in and He lives with me in all my rooms, except……….  We have a great ability to compartmentalize.  We might be saying to ourselves, Christ resides in all my places except the room where we go drinking, or surfing those places on the internet, or taking those certain pills, playing that certain card came for money or, or, or.  Here’s the problem with a vacant room(s), it can damage the rest of the house.  If you have a window in a “vacant” room that gets broken and rain or other vermin get in, their impact will not be limited to that room.  The dampness of the rain leaking in will eventually lead to damage in other rooms as the water seeps through the wood or carpets into other areas.  The vermin, that is rats or roaches will eventually scurry into other parts of the house trying to find food and shelter there.  In the same way, the one spiritually vacant room won’t stay vacant.  If we will not allow Jesus Christ into that room then evil will invade that room and attempt to damage other parts of our lives as well.  All rooms need to be filled with the presence of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ promises us, if we will reside in Him, He will in turn reside in us.  There can be no better occupancy than that.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for the guidance and lessons that You brought to us through the life and teachings of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Thank You for warning us of the danger of living lives empty of You and Your protection.  Forgive us Dear Father when we attempt to use earthly means to drive out evil and deceive ourselves into thinking that we can evict or keep evil out on our own.  We pray that You would bring Your strength to overcome and evict all evil from us and continue to reside in us that evil might never find any invitation or opening to return.  That in Your occupancy in us, we would then lead lives of praise, honor and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

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“Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” Genesis 2:15

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you fudge, you will be judged…”  Matthew 7:1,2

You are right!  However, you are wrong!  You, I agree with so I will follow you!  You, I disagree with so I will reject you!  You are going to heaven for what you do!  You are going to hell for what you do!  These are all judgements.

Judgements, oh how we judge.  It seems to me that the fact that we do judge, plus and because we judge so poorly, it is our fallen flaw.  That is to say, that we judge is at the heart of virtually all our ills, problems and sins.

Why is it such a problem?  First understand the process of it.  Regardless of the circumstances, to make a judgement is to believe and declare that I have the knowledge, the wisdom, the foresight to do so.  In a way, when I make a judgement, especially about someone else, I am placing myself above them at least within the confines of the subject of my judgement.  I’m saying, whether it is positive or negative, that I have the greater insight and stature to declare, to judge, to proclaim a rightness or wrongness of some act, word, thought or perspective.  Not only is there an air of my superiority in my judgement but then so often I go onto act or behave based upon my judgement.  I may take offense at you, or shun you, attempt to correct you or change you to what I judge to be the right or correct thing.  I might join you, support you, defend you, fight for you against all others who might judge you differently.

Okay, I’m still not clear; where’s the big problem.  The problem is we judge so excruciatingly badly.  Our judgements are so often flawed by our own perspective and lack of complete information.  Additionally, once we’ve reached our judgement, we hold onto it like a pit-bull with a bone.  I so often will defend my judgement to the death; regardless of the wisdom stacked against it.

Let’s take some biblical examples.  Remember the woman who they brought to Jesus for judgement caught in the very act of adultery.  They wanted to stone her.  This was straight from the bible, straight from Leviticus.  Hmmm, well, not quite.  You see in Leviticus it states that both the man and the woman should be put to death.  So, because you can’t commit adultery unless there were two people; where was the man?  Why wasn’t he brought out to be stoned?  Also remember, Jesus understood their hearts.  They brought the woman out to test Jesus, to hopefully find something to charge Him with or at the very least drive a wedge between Him and the people.  One does not get the sense that if Jesus had not been there, they would not have drug this woman out to stone her.  Very much a flawed judgement situation.  The disciples were not immune to misjudgment.  When a village did not receive Jesus as He was heading to Jerusalem, James and John, remember they were a part of Jesus’ inner circle, judged that it would be correct to call fire down and destroy the village.  Jesus rebuked them for their harsh judgement.  When, after speaking with the rich man, Jesus declared how difficult it was for a rich man to enter heaven, the disciples were astonished that rich people had troubles getting into heaven.  In their judgement, if anyone should be able to get in it would be the rich.  And of course not to leave out, the judgement of the human Jewish leadership, judging and condemning Jesus based upon their own understanding of scripture and validity of Jesus’ teaching.

Additionally (heavy sigh) today, how often we judge!  What party are you from?  What race, gender, nationality, religion….(fill in the blank) are you?  Sadly even in the Christian world, what denomination are you, or do you dance, drink, how often do you go to church, how much do you give; all these things are judgements that we make.  Seemingly we are getting ever more stubborn, more intransigent, more self righteous in our judgements.  Plus then we behave on the basis of our judgements; we shun some, we insult others, we hold grudges against others, we chase after some we shouldn’t; all because we are willing to judge and then believe in our judgements as the ultimate truth.

Judgement is a flaw that we pass down from generation to generation.  It is our fallen flaw.  It keeps us from seeing ourselves equal to all the rest of our Heavenly Father’s creation.  Remember the first judgement that Adam and Eve made after gaining the knowledge that they could judge good and evil; they hid from God.  So our judging often puts us at odds and keeps us away from the relationship that God wants us to have with Him and with each other.

Understand this, if we can keep from judging, how fuller, more blessed our life can be!  To the extent I can forestall judgement, I can truly try to understand the different perspectives around me.  I can truly be humble and see that I am equal to all of God’s creation.  I can be curious to learn about others and how they have come to the thoughts that they have, not necessarily wanting to adopt those thoughts, but at least gaining an understanding for the basis upon which those thoughts originate.

But we are fallen, we do judge, so what are we to do?  First, we should pray.  Pray to the Holy Spirit to keep us from the temptation of and give us the power over the desire to judge.  Second, to be repentant to not only the Lord but to one another for the judgements that we make truly asking for forgiveness.  We need to really delve into God’s word to glean the greatest wisdom that we can.  Finally, we must try to understand and live the truth that judgement rests with One Person, One Entity and that is Jesus Christ. Remember what He declared; that His (and through Him, Our) Heavenly Father, had granted Jesus Christ the power and the right to judge the earth.  Yet instead of judging the earth and condemning it; Jesus instead decided to die for it, to redeem it.  If Jesus Christ won’t judge the world; what right do we have to attempt to judge it.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father; we confess that we are a people of judgement.  We judge each other and sadly, we even attempt at times to judge You.  We also confess that are judgements are faulty and evil and lead to distress and destruction.  Please forgive and restore us, Dear Father, pouring out Your Spirit of love, that we would be more about forgiveness than judgement, charity than repayment and mostly about unconditional love.  As in Your Perfect Plan, You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, not to judge us but to save us, fill us with love for one another so that we will also forsake judgement of our fellow person and choose forgiveness and love instead.  That in abiding in and sharing the Grace of Christ, we would live lives of praise to Your Most Holy Name we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

 

“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone…..It is written, You shall worship the Lord you God…….It has been said, You shall not tempt the Lord your God”  Luke 4:4, 8,12

“…Trust in the Lord, He is your help and your shield”  Psalm 115:9

“….be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God…..For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers…rulers of the darkness of this age”  Ephesians 6:11,12

There is much said, written concerning, contemplated about self-respect.  However, there is a term that I don’t hear used much yet I think is a concept that is equally worth the mental and spiritual effort we put towards respect and that is the concept of self-trust.  Now I will grant you that is not a term that is used with any sort of frequency and I’m not sure why not.

Why the importance?  Why devote a post to it?  First because, in my experience working with groups, trust is a fundamental attribute of success in how a group can function together.  When relationships end and especially end badly; one often common theme is that one party has done something, committed some infraction that has caused the other to lose trust in them and feel they can never recover it.  Trust seems to be one of those fundamental values, underlying characteristics that drive a tremendous amount of our feelings and therefore, behaviors towards others and different situations.

Yet in this post I want to approach trust from a different standpoint, a different perspective that I believe is vital, if not critical to our spiritual success and wellbeing.  It concerns that amount of trust we place in ourselves; especially when it entails “doing the right thing” or “overcoming temptation”.

I am constantly amazed at how we (or at least I) trust myself, yet am often not willing to extend that trust beyond me.  I would not steal, but I have to keep a wary eye on you.  Trust me, take me at my word; but I want you to jump through a lot of hoops to prove what you’re saying to me.  If I say I’m going to, I’m going to….but you better show me your plan to prove that you will do it.  And I could go on and on…

So here’s the critical question:  “Is the trust, sometimes absolute trust I place in myself really justified; especially when it comes to spiritual matters?”  We might be wise to look how Jesus Christ handled temptation.

There are many mysteries around Jesus Christ that I can’t fully understand, let alone explain, yet I faithfully accept.  Jesus Christ was both completely God and completely human.  Thus Jesus Christ could be and indeed was tempted.  Yet, being also completely God, Jesus Christ was able to completely resist the temptation, remaining perfect without sin.  Yet, let us look at how Jesus Christ answered the temptations of Satan.  Jesus Christ did not declare or simply rely on or in His own power as the One Begotten Son of God that Satan should depart or be destroyed.  No, Jesus Christ quoted the words of His Father in Heaven; Jesus quoted scripture.  Jesus used the power of His Father’s words to refute the temptations of Satan and thwart Satan’s attempts to cause Him to sin.   Did Jesus have to do that or was He giving us an example to learn from, I don’t know and in fact I think is irrelevant.  Jesus was not too proud to forsake using His own words or power but instead to reach for the Words of His Father.

At another time, a time of deep distress for Jesus, when He was in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was facing the prospect of becoming sin for all time and dying an excruciating death on the cross; Jesus did not just spend time in mediation, He did not say to Himself:  “It is time to pull myself up by my bootstraps and face this”.  No, Jesus prayed.  He prayed to His Heavenly Father for help to go through it in fulfilling the Father’s Will through the Son.

So here’s the crucial concept for us.  Whether or not we’ve ever been, I don’t see us as a particularly humble people today.  Our society extolls concepts like self reliance and self determination as great virtues.  We tell, almost preaching to our children; you can be or do anything you put your mind to or dream you can do.  So does it follow that if we or our children fall short, the problem was that we didn’t put our mind to it enough?  We did dream or want it bad enough?  I trust that I should be able to do this or that on my own?

You see, dear Sisters and Brothers, we may very well want to be good.  We also may very well understand and admit that there are temptations in this world that lead us to sin.  Yet if we trust solely, souly or even primarily in ourselves, our own power, our own determination to defeat those temptations; we do place ourselves in great peril of sinning.  I know that I am tempted in this way so I trust my own strength to stop drinking this or eating that.  I trust in my own will power to stop saying this, visiting that, watching those things.  Paul in his letter to the Ephesians spells it out plainly that without trusting in something greater than ourselves, and that being the whole armor of God; we will fail in our battle against the evil arrayed against us.

You see Jesus Christ defeated temptation the way He did because He is God.  We are not God and as His creation, in and of ourselves, we will not be equal to God.  Thus to be victorious over temptation and sin, we must humble ourselves and call upon the power of Almighty God.  We must understand that only through abiding in Jesus Christ, studying and relying on the Word of God, praying for His strength to overcome the power of Satan, can we have confidence in being able to defeat the powers of darkness.  Satan would have us believe it is a weakness to not trust ourselves, but Jesus Christ would tell us it is a blessing, an act of loving relationship; that our Creator God, cares enough for us that He will share His power with us to defeat our greatest enemy.  He gave His only Son, in proof of His redemptive love and grace filled plan for us.  Please, please let us put our full and true trust souly in Him.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly admit that we are not You and are not powerful enough to defeat the enemy of this world and the temptations he brings against us.  Yet we also confidently proclaim that we are Your creation and through You and the gift of Your power and grace; we can be victorious over the enemy and his temptations.  As Your Son taught us to pray; keep us from temptation and deliver us from evil.  Help us to rely on You and not trust in ourselves.  Forgive us when, in our own pride and arrogance, we fall by attempting to defeat the enemy on our own, with our own devices.  That in trusting in You and sharing Your victory, we will lead lives of praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!”  Romans 6:1,2

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”  Mark 8:36

Dear Sisters and Brothers if you go no further than this point, understand I believe that our Heavenly Father, throughout His word to us as well as Jesus Christ, in His teachings as well as the way He lived His life taught us and proved to us that values matter.  In fact values not only matter but they are of primary importance.  Thus in the question of means versus ends; which is more important which should we focus on?  Is a good ends all that matters and always justifies the means by which it was accomplished?  Jesus Christ is very clear that it is the means which is the how and where the blessed life, the fulfilled life resides.

Paul makes this point in his letter to the Romans.  Yes, we are redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Yes, we did not earn that redemption but it was given to us by grace.  Yes, our sins are washed away by Jesus Christ’s sacrificial blood.  Thus there was (and sadly in some ways still is) an argument that says, how I live my life, whether I refrain from sin doesn’t matter.  In fact, the more that I sin, the more I am forgiven, the more that grace abounds so why shouldn’t I willfully continue to sin to receive more and more grace?  Paul points out in his rebuke of this thinking that in our proclamation of faith and baptism into Jesus Christ, we are united in His death to sin and resurrection into righteousness.  That to live in Christ is to live a life free from the slavery of sin and the desire to sin.  Later in Paul’s exclamation “O wretched man that I am” he freely confesses that the law of the flesh still tempts him and us and though, we proclaim in faith our love and allegiance to Jesus Christ; we still act at times by the law of the flesh in sin.  When that happens, by grace we are forgiven but that is not the desired way in which we long to live.

Jesus is speaking with His disciples and talking to them about following Him.  He speaks of them denying themselves; that is, rejecting their worldly self, their earthly judgements and desires for what the world calls success, to lose that life of earthly ends and instead, to gain the life of righteous means in Jesus Christ.  For Jesus Christ is very clear, a life or earthly ends, ends in death.

Ends or means; which is more important, which is more blessed?  We need to look no further than Jesus’ sermon on the mount and the beatitudes to see from whence blessings come.  For Blessed are:

  • Those who mourn
  • Who are meek
  • Who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Are the merciful
  • Are the pure in heart

These are all characteristics of values, of how you go about doing things.  There are a couple of beatitudes that deal more with ends; they are the peacemakers plus those who live these types of values are likely to find themselves persecuted and both those will be blessed as well.

Please understand that I realize for any of us, this is not the way of the world and seemingly more and more is an anathema to the way in which the world wants to operate.  This world judges on the ends.  This world rewards ends of earthly success.  This world greatly overlooks the means of achieving success as long as the success seems to help or enrich the world.

Ends dependent thinking and action has been the process of the enemy from the very beginning.  When Satan tempted Adam and Eve, he did so by promising them an end where they will not die but be like God.  To achieve that end all they would have to do, the means to achieving being like God was to disobey Him.  All Satan’s temptation of Christ were ends related temptations; Christ would no longer be hungry, Christ would not be hurt, Christ would be in charge of all the earthly kingdoms right now.  The means for obtaining those ends would mean turning His back on His Heavenly Father.

Dear Sisters and Brothers please understand this as well.  So we determine to that we will live a means based life.  We decide that we will pick virtuous values and be determined to carry them out.  That is all well and good but should we attempt to do so based only on our own strength of will and determination; we will fail.  Jesus Christ was blunt in that assessment when He said:  “..for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

The wondrous and glorious news is that we were not left to fend for ourselves.  God did not breath His Spirit into us and then stand back and leave us alone to see what we would do with it.  No Jesus Christ promised us a Comforter, a Helper.  That Helper is the Holy Spirit who will come and reside with and in us, strengthening us who will help us in our weakness.  We are both promised by Christ and proclaimed by Paul to be “we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.”

Thus let us go out as conquerors.  Using the means of mercy, meekness, forgiveness, faith, striving to be pure in heart and bringing peace to wherever we can.  Let us leave the “ends” to Our Heavenly Father, knowing in our love for Him and for our fellow creation on this earth, that He is all powerful and will, by His grace, strengthen our means to match His will and see that our ends are blessed.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we live in a world where what people value and the fact that they have values at all is becoming of lessor importance than whatever outcome, whatever end they can achieve.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we are tempted to chase after earthly ends at all costs forgetting about what You truly value.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may see the wisdom of valuing and striving after the values of righteousness which You have laid out before us.  Through Your Son Jesus Christ grant that we would be victorious over the temptations of this world and by living out our God given values; will bring peace, blessings and praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Pharisees came and asked Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?‘  And He answered and said to them, ‘What did Moses command you?'”  Mark 10:2,3

“Why do you transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?  But you say:  ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God, then he need not honor his father or mother.'”  Matthew 15:3,5-6

“Then the scribes came…..asked Him:  ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’  Jesus answered…..’the Lord our God, the Lord is one And you shall love the Lord your with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength…..There is no commandment greater….'”  Mark 12:28-31

I work observing, researching, teaching, planning and implementing human, earthly, organizational system processes and improvements.  One of the things that is stressed over and over again both by the experts who are the basis of many of the concepts my instruction is based on as well as those with whom I am teaching, is that human organizations, interactions and systems are complicated!  And while I would not disagree with that assessment, there is a real challenge if not danger and outright obstacle to the prevalence of that concept.  For you see, the more we judge a situation to be complicated, the more difficult, time consuming and effort-requiring, any solution or even movement toward solution is going to be. In fact all too often, the phrase; it is complicated, is used as an excuse to keep any action or movement toward improvement or solution from ever taking place.  The thought process being that the complicated nature of the issue at hand constitutes such a risk filled environment, that any action toward resolution of the situation is likely not to take into account all of the variables, thusly leaving a worse situation than if no action had been taken at all. It is better to study, to meet, to discuss, to plan and then study, meet, discuss the plan without ever actually taking action.

Yes we humans love to complicate things and often we do so at our own peril.  Take the two examples listed above.

Let me start this paragraph out with a disclaimer.  This is not meant to be some aspect of judgement about or backhanded attempt to say something about divorce in our society.  No, this is meant to show how humans want to add onto, change a process from God.  For a little context, the religious leaders came to Jesus to try to trick Him into answering something against what Moses taught, to hopefully turn the people against Him.  So they asked Jesus what Jesus thought about the legality of divorce.  Jesus, with His perfect wisdom was not going to fall for their trap so He starts off by asking what Moses had taught about divorce.  They answer Jesus and we see how human complication versus Godly plan raises its ugly head.  In Genesis, it states very clearly about how a man and a woman are supposed to come together, as designed by God, in the site of God and become one.  That’s a pretty simple plan.  Well, but what if they get to a point where they don’t like each other anymore, what if one isn’t supporting another and/or  can no longer stand to have them in their household.  Thus Moses, allowed for a human complication, the ability to write a certificate of divorce, although Jesus makes it clear, that is not what and how God intended.

Honor your father and mother is another fairly straightforward commandment.  Now please understand, honoring was more than just speaking good about them.  If your father or mother were in need, especially in their old age, then a child should take steps to insure that they don’t become destitute, homeless and/or starving.  Hmmmm, but I have a limited amount of resources and I have my needs.  Of course supporting the temple has its requirements as well.  This could become a great burden.  So the Jewish leadership had set up a tradition wherein if the support a person might have given to their parents was pledged to God, they were relieved of that responsibility.  And what about the poor parents; too bad, so sad, call dad; well don’t call dad because he’s the one hurting.

Next we come to an answer that seems ripe to have a huge amount of complexity, caveats, provisos, exceptions and the like; the first commandment.  Yet Jesus Christ is very clear and unequivocal in His answer; God is one and love Him with all faculties you have.  Pretty darn simple.

Finally I believe I would be remiss if I didn’t point out another human fallacy when it comes to the concepts of simple and complicated.  That fallacy is that we assume all simple is easy and all contemplated is difficult.  The acronym K.I.S.S.; Keep It Simple (and there are quite a few derivations of what the last S stands for) is both a desired state and a warning that, to the extent you keep something simple, the easier it is to implement.  In human systems there might be some wisdom to that.  However, that is not the same with God’s system.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, much of what Jesus taught was and is amazingly simple.  Love all, including your enemies.  That’s really simple, I don’t have to figure out who deserves my love and how much to give or forgive.  Yet, at least for me, simple yes but that commandment of Christ is maddeningly difficult for me to carry out, at least with any consistency.  Jesus Christ knew and we should also understand, that as simple as the precepts are; they are not just difficult or very difficult, but they are impossible for us to fulfill, to live into based on our own efforts, our own understanding. Thus we should not try.

Not try to live into them, you say???!!!  Just ignore them because they are impossible; you say??!!!  No, that’s not what I am saying at all.  The only way we can come close to living into the simple, loving, perfect life that our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ preached to us, is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We must rely on the Holy Spirit, abiding in Jesus Christ, praying to our Heavenly Father, reading the word and asking for discernment.  It is only through relying on our Heavenly resources that we can have any hope in rising above the human and earthly interjected complexity that vexes our actions and our lives and live into the simple, peaceful, joyous and loving life, our Heavenly Father desires for us to have.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we confess that we are quick to complicate Your perfect message, teachings, and love with our own imperfect thoughts and perspectives.  Please forgive us Merciful Father and pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us giving us the strength to resist the earthly complexities and cling to Your perfect simplicity.  Through Your Word and Spirit, give us clarity of decision and movement when we stand paralyzed with fear at moving forward or taking some action directed by You.  Let the simplicity of faith versus the complexity of human reason be our answer as we discuss the relationship and blessings that come from a relationship with You.  That in relying on You and Your simple message of love and faith to us; we might live lives of praise and honor to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

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“Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?'”  Numbers 22:28

“Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap…..and God feeds them.”  Luke 12:24

One of the most amazing blessings provided by our Heavenly Father is just how far He is willing to go and with what an amazing variety of His creation He is willing to use; to provide His wonderful lessons to us.  Let us start by considering the two examples cited above.

In the first example, Balaam is a man of God living in the promised land before the Israelites settle there after leaving Egypt.  By the Hand of God, the Israelites are conquering every nation they come up against.  So one of the kings who is yet to be conquered, being exceedingly scared of the Israelites, seeks after Balaam to come and curse these invading people.  The first time the king sends emissaries to ask for Balaam’s help, they are turned away after God tells Balaam not go with them for the Israelites are a blessed people.  However, the scared king is persistent and sends even more powerful emissaries with more money to plead with Balaam to come.  Again, Balaam is told not to listen to these people but he decides to go with them.  God is not pleased with Balaam so he places an angel in front of Balaam, who is riding his donkey, but Balaam can’t see the angel, only the donkey can.  So after the donkey turns to the side three times to avoid the angel, Balaam continues to get madder and strike the donkey harder.  Finally, the Lord allows the donkey to talk and through the donkey reveals both the angel who is blocking the way as well as Balaam’s sin in listening to the men.  Now understanding what the donkey has been trying to teach him, Balaam falls on his face and repents of his sin.

In the second example, Jesus is teaching a great many truths to his disciples and others.  When Jesus comes to the topic of worry, He decides to use the ravens as an example.  He wants His listeners to really contemplate this lesson by observing How God works in the world.  You see these ravens are God’s creation.  Yet in their day to day tasks, they don’t make provisions for themselves, that is; they don’t sow seed into the ground, take care of it and then reap it.  The birds have nowhere to store their food for possible lean times, they have no barn.  Yet God, in His mercy and wisdom feeds them.  If God is willing to do that for mere ravens, how much more is He willing to do for His children?

I was inspired to write on this topic, because of how God has used a blessed animal to teach me so many lessons.  God has blessed my family with a wonderful dog, through whom God has taught me so many lessons.  For one, the dog loved his walks.  It was during the serenity of those many walks that God has inspired so much of my writing.  A large portion of the posts on this home page and, if you’ve gone to the Daily Thoughts page on this blog, the vast majority of those posts came to me during the daily excursions my companion and I traveled on.

Yet Our Heavenly Father used this wonderful companion to teach me so much more.  There was a contentious period where my patience was sorely tested and I was tempted to send the dog away.  However, Our Heavenly Father, taught me patience, mercy and forgiveness allowing a truly powerful and fulfilling relationship to grow and flourish.

Also, Our Heavenly Father used this amazing family member to teach me some very powerful lessons about myself and my relationship with Our Heavenly Father.  God taught me about the nature and power of true trust; as there were times when, for the health or safety of the dog I would have to do or command certain things to which the humble animal would obey without question or even seeming concern.

Conversely, there were times when Our Heavenly Father used the stubbornness of the dog as a mirror to my own behavior when the dog would obstinately refuse to obey something I needed for him to do that was for his own good or even own pleasure.  It was at those times that I contemplated my own behavior and wondered if Our Heavenly Father was having the same frustrated time wondering why I would not listen to or follow His plans for me.

Yes Dear Sisters and Brothers, the Lord used Nicodemus (my dog’s name) in so many ways to teach and bless, not only me but my entire family.  And now the Lord has called Nicky to go to a new place.  At this point to enter into some sort of debate or make a declaration concerning pets in heaven is not my intent.  What I am absolutely sure of is that Nicky was God’s creation (just as the ravens are), that God loved him and that God has not forgotten about him and has placed him exactly where he needs to be.  I take great comfort in that.

So I ask you, Dear Sisters and Brothers; who or what is God using to teach you a blessed lesson today?  Our Heavenly Father wants so desperately for us to, not only learn, but be blessed in the learning of His lessons.  Thus, He will use every part of His creation at His disposal to bring those lessons to us.  And that would include sending His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be our teacher, our example and when we could not do it for ourselves; to be our Sacrifice and our Savior.  Let us resolve to be open to seeing His lessons all around us.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so very grateful and humbled that You would see fit to expend so much energy, time and patience in teaching us Your blessed lessons.  We are so thankful for those teachers, human and otherwise who You so blessedly bring into our lives.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we neglect to be open to Your lessons or turn to others in this world as substitute teachers.  Fill us with Your Wisdom, and then use us as teachers, Dear Father that we might help be teachers of Your lessons, bringing praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Most Holy Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

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“….a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard.  The she broke the flask and poured it on His head.”  Mark 14:3

“Leave her alone…..She has done a good work for Me…..She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached….what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”   Mark 14:6-9

“And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”  John 9:2

“Jesus answered: ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the work of God should be revealed in him.'”  John 9:3

Jesus was right (of course He was and is, would there ever be any doubt?), the story of the woman anointing Jesus with oil is captured in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John.  Also, her actions are indeed preached about concerning having the right priorities and being careful about judgement.

However, we know precious little about this woman.  For one, we don’t know how she came to receive the idea or command to purchase the oil in the first place.  We do know that it was very expensive.  We don’t know how much she was questioned concerning why she was spending such money on this oil.  Did she know, when she purchased the oil, what its intended use was or did that come in some revelation later?  How did she know where to find Jesus?  Whether she had come up against opposition at any earlier time, all three gospels tell us that she ran into opposition, stiff opposition when she actually committed the act for which she had purchased and brought the oil in the first place.  Those closest to Jesus started to harangue and chastise her for her seemingly wasteful, extravagant act.  She seemed to have no defender.

In another instance Jesus and His disciples came across a man who was blind.  Now by the way one of the disciples asks his question, there would seem to be some aspect of knowledge about this man.  For the disciples specifically points out that the man was born blind.  I don’t believe it was just an assumption or guess on the disciples part, because part of the question wanted to explore the possibility that the parents were responsible through sin which again infers knowledge that their son was born blind.  Though what’s really crucial is the, very common assumption that, if something bad happens, or at least what the world would call bad, then that person is receiving judgement in punishment for some sin or infraction they had committed.  Only bad things happen to bad people or at least happen because of a bad act.  In their concept of justice and judgement, they were condemning this man as being guilty of something simply because of the man’s blindness.  This man or his parents seemed to be without a defender.

Yet Jesus knew.  As the True Son of God, Jesus knew the actions needed to prepare His body for burial and Jesus knew that the Glory and Power of God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ needed to be shown to first His disciples as well as to the Jewish leadership through the healing of the man’s blindness and giving him his sight.  In both of those cases, Jesus corrected the misguided and erroneous judgments that were being levied on the woman and the blind man and, as Jesus was so oft to do, used both situations to teach such necessary and valuable lessons.

Also, both persons, the woman and the blind man would be blessed.  The woman and her selfless action would be praised down through the centuries wherever the gospel is preached.  For the blind man, he not only received his sight, but when he became persecuted and tossed out of the Synagogue for telling the truth about Jesus healing his blindness, Jesus sought the now sighted man out and personally invited the man to follow Him.

Where does that leave us?  Why spend the time looking at these two?  Because by wonderful acts of grace and power, in fulfilling Our Heavenly Father’s perfect plan, we may find ourselves in a position to be used by God as well.  As in the woman’s case, we may be called to go somewhere, do something, purchase or expend resources toward something, that we may not truly understand the why behind or the how of what we’re doing exactly fits in.  Like the blind man, we may find ourselves in a place of seeming hardship where there is not a direct correlation to things we have done that has placed us in that situation.

Yet it is about being faithfully open to those times where God is using us.  It is about being humble enough to say I don’t understand but I will obey.  It is about connecting with the Holy Spirit to find a place of peace even when the world doesn’t understand and may very well be attacking you for your actions or judging you concerning your circumstances.  You have a defender in Jesus Christ.  You have One who can take all the negativity coming at you and turn it around to His and, through Him, your glory as well.

Understand or at least I understand that this is not easy.  For one this world and the ruler of this world do not want God’s plan to succeed and will do whatever he can to discourage or dissuade us taking part in bringing about God’s plan.  Plus the writer of Hebrews is exactly right when he writes:  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God”.  For God’s ways are not our ways and His plans are far above what we can understand.  Yet Our Heavenly Father has promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us.  He has also promised that “All things work together for good to those who love God, in those who are called according to His purpose”.

Thus know, Dear Sisters and Brothers, that Our Heavenly Father longs to include us in the working of His plans and will surely keep us, bless us and allow His glory to be shared with us as we faithfully fulfill that which He has called for us to do.  Let us be open to the calling.  Let us be humble in being in faith versus needing to know the wherefore and the why.  The world looks at “being used” as a bad thing.  Heaven looks at it as a blessed, glorious, wonderful thing.  Let’s choose heaven’s way.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are humbled and mystified that You, in Your perfection would choose to call upon us to help carry out Your Perfect plan.  We also humbly admit that we often become fearful at Your calling in that we don’t understand it, or believe it is too great or dangerous for us.  Forgive us when we shy away and resist the fulfillment of Your Call.  Send Your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and guide us as we accept and then carry out Your call.  Bless us and keep us as we attempt to carry out Your Will that in our success glory and praise will come to Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen

 

 

“For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.”  1 Thessalonians 2:9

“But God said to him; Fool! This night your soul is required of you and the things you have prepared; whose will they be?”  Luke 12:20

“Do not lay for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy”  Matthew 6:19

By the time Paul visits the city of Thessalonica, he has already finished one missionary journey and started several churches.  Jesus Christ, Himself had told his disciples, when He sent them out two-by-two, that it was perfectly fine for them to accept gifts of meals and lodging as a recompense for the work they were doing spreading Christ’s message.  Yet the people he came to at Thessalonica, who listened to Paul and received the message of Christ, were not the richest of the city but among poorer and did not have much of anything to spare.  Paul could have taken up a collection to pay for his expenses in staying at Thessalonica and preaching the gospel.  Yet Paul did not want anything to get in the way or burden the Thessalonians or cause obstacles to the establishing of the new church.  So Paul, a tent maker by trade, labored day and night to provide for his own needs.  What Paul was not doing was trying to enrich himself or spread his business to some new locations.  No, although Paul’s tents were not just for the church or follower’s of Christ, His desire was to honor Christ through the use of his secular work.  And Paul’s work lasted as far as the Gospel was concerned.  The church in Thessalonica did last and grew as well and continues to this very day.

Conversely, you have the parable of the foolish rich farmer.  Jesus tells us that the ground of this rich farmer yielded a plentiful harvest.  Understand, at the start of the story, the man was already wealthy.  Even so, when he received an extremely bountiful crop, the rich man did not have enough space to store it.  Now the man, already being rich, could have decided to be generous and give the extra harvest that couldn’t be stored away.  That he did not do; instead, he tore down his barn and built a larger one.  Thus now the man becomes even richer.  Yet good fortune is not done with this man, for he receives an even bigger harvest that will not entirely fit in his new, larger barn.  Now surely he is rich enough to distribute the extra that he has this time.  But, if you’re not aware of the parable, you might still have guessed by the “foolish” in the title of the parable, the man does not.  He again tears down his new larger, barn and builds an even bigger one in which he stores all his bountiful harvest and decides that he now no longer needs to work or worry about anything for he is rich enough to last the rest of his life.  In that sense he is absolutely correct, for God comes to him that very night and informs him that his life is over and all he had struggled for, will go to another.

So as we look at this, both men; Paul and the farmer labored.  The first one, Paul, labored not only in terms of preaching the gospel but also in terms of in a secular way, building tents.  Obviously, in the preaching, Paul was working for and with Christ in mind.  Yet even in the tent making, Paul’s desire was to honor Christ by using the pay he received, for himself.  Yet that alleviated the burden of poor Thessalonians having to contribute to Paul’s welfare and perhaps distracting them from Christ’s message.

In the second instance, the rich man was laboring only for himself.  Even after the man had become wealthy, his wealth was no longer sufficient.  The man felt that with each increasing gain, he must find ways of keeping that gain all to himself.  The motivation for his labor was completely self centered.  One gets the sense that as the rich man was tearing down and rebuilding his barns, he still wasn’t taking time to enjoy the fruits of his labor even as rich as he was.  Finally, after much labor and much gain, he finally believes it is time to enjoy what should be a very lavish, leisurely life style.  It would appear he might have been able to do that for all of one day.

What are we to make of this for us and our time?  Most of us have a vocation.  Most of us work.  I dare say most of us work, yours truly included, in something other than the explicit being a professional preacher of  Christ’s word.  But even if we’re not a preacher, can we see a connection to Christ in our work?  Is it possible through our work, we can either financially or in some other respect relieve a burden from those around us.  In what we do, how we do it, the gain that comes from it, can we maintain a focus on Christ in each of those processes?  Or……is work simply for us?  Is work something we do with which Christ has no meaning or impact.  Is what we do, how we do it and what comes from our work, only for our own consumption and gratification?

It is most probably, the work we do, if only for ourselves will see the material gain not enriching us or our lives for any significant length of time.  We are most likely to find much futility and frustration in self absorbed, self focused effort.

It is equally as likely that should Christ be the focus of our work, what we do, how we do it, what we do with the gain.  We will find significant immediate blessings and success in those endeavors and effects of that work will last a lifetime and longer; probably an eternity.  That would be only fitting as Christ, lived, worked, loved and died for us that we should strive to reflect that effort.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we confess that we often see work as a singularly or mostly secular task that fulfills many worldly needs that is often separated from a focus on You.  Yet Lord, You have made it clear that any part of our life that we attempt to keep from You and Your influence will turn disastrous.  So, Most Merciful Father, we pray that You would pour our Your Spirit upon us that will allow us to seek Your influence in all we do including our work.  That You, Dear Father,  would provide us with the insight to see the work You provide us with as an opportunity to serve You. That in dedicating our work life to You, we would live lives of praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen

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