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“but the people there did not welcome Him……When the disciples, James and John saw this, they asked:  ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’  But Jesus turned and rebuked them.”  Luke 9:53-55

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.”  Luke 6:27

When the subject of change and handling change is discussed; two generations that are often brought up are the “Baby-boomers” and the generation immediately preceding them; some call them the “Traditionalists”.  What you often here discussed are such changes as; they went from horse and buggy to the jet age or they didn’t have indoor plumbing but lived long enough to see a man land on the moon.  For the Baby-boomers it is often an aspect of; they started out with black and white TV and now their streaming videos on the mobile phone.  Yet almost everywhere I hear this discussion take place, the examples that are utilized are primarily technological in nature.  Much less often are the sociological changes brought forward or if they are; it is not with the same sort of wistful, appreciative tone or nature.  You don’t as often hear examples like; they saw black and white kids get to go to school together in their life time, or they saw the definition of marriage expand to include gay couples.

Yet I think it is the social changes that have at least as profound if not a greater impact on a person’s sense of identity and the lens through which they grapple with the fundamental truths and judgments about their life and the world around them.  One reason for this, is that people may resist new technology, may; even at times fear it and the impact that it has; yet the rarely make fundamental value judgments about it. To the extent that a new technology is “good” normally has to do with the ease with which one learns to use it and how much convenience it adds.  Even when we “hate” a new gadget or the change that it brings; we don’t often equate it with an evil intent.  For example, with the nascent advent of driver less cars, there are many mixed emotions, but even with those who are adamantly opposed to that technology, I have not heard it describe about being evil.

The same can not be said for social changes.  History has shown us that as many of the significant social change processes have unfolded (at least in the United States), there is a significant amount of the population who judge the changes as evilly destructive.  Our country was going to end if we let the races intermingle in school and worse yet in marriage.  Giving women the right to vote, was going to destroy our social fabric and  there’s still an argument about whether, somehow, the woman’s right movement has destroyed the sanctity of the home.  While we’re at it we could bring up “globalism”, the LGBT movement, sports players “taking a knee”, legalized drugs and many more social changes, some would say progressions, other would characterize as upheavals, in our society.

It is not the intent of this post, nor do I have the wisdom to judge the righteousness or lack there of these movements.  What I did want to discuss is what should be our response to these and other social changes, especially if we disagree, sometimes vehemently disagree (which I in some cases do).

You see, Dear Sisters and Brothers; Jesus was a social movement in and of Himself in His time.  The way He preached His Father’s message of His Kingdom of Heaven seemed radically different for those who were hearing it.  Without a doubt the reactions to Jesus’ message were wide ranging.  Some heard Him enthusiastically, some wanted to throw Him off a cliff.  Yet Jesus was very consistent in His response and His message of response to His detractors and those who wanted Him silenced.

Did you ever hear or see written that Jesus told His followers to hate those who were against Him?  Did Jesus call out for His followers to destroy off the face of the earth those who are sinners or those who won’t except Jesus’ message?  Did the commands of condemn, massacre, despise, ridicule into submission, or other similar condemnations spew forth from Jesus as worthy acts for His followers to commit on unbelievers?

Oh by the way, the wanted to; the disciples that is.  Jesus was heading for Jerusalem for the last time and, as was His custom, He wanted to preach in some villages along the way.  Predictably, some villages would not receive Him.  Oh boy, the disciples, especially John and James were ready.  They had been with Jesus long enough to have some insight into His power.  And not only Jesus power, but the power that Jesus granted to His disciples because they were His followers.  Not listen to Jesus, not even let Jesus, the Son of God into your village; oh Jesus we’re ready for this one, John and James are thinking.  Let us at them Jesus, let us call fire down and burn them up for the insolence and insult.  One can just imagine the glean in their eyes over the thought of the just retribution.  They must have forgotten the earlier sermon where Jesus completely turns the concept of revenge and just retribution on its head when He tells them to “love their enemies”, to “do good to those who hate you”.  Jesus not only does not allow them to call fire down but rebukes them for wanting to do that in the first place.

Jump ahead a few centuries.  We’re in a place where we sometimes feel and it quite literally is in some places and times that Christianity is under attack.  We see some of the social changes and we turn to the bible and say; wait a second, this says we shouldn’t be doing that.  We find our blood pressure rising as we see Christian symbols being removed and scorned in many different places and situations.  Then we start hearing the cries, perhaps we start saying the prayers; Jesus Christ, smite these evildoers and blasphemers; these sinners and sweep them from our sight! Maybe we watch for and secretly wish for the Holy lightning bolt that will leave these offenders just smoking holes in the ground.

One can get the picture that we’re standing there with faces twisted in righteous indignation, saying to Jesus Christ; let us at them, give us great power to unleash, what do you want us to do them!?  We’re hoping for some permission to unleash the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah down on “them”.

“Love them!”, comes the answer from Jesus Christ.  “Ah, excuse me?” comes our incredulous reply.  “Yes, if you truly love Me, you will love them as I love them,” Jesus Christ admonishes us.  Then it happens, now I understand.  You see we’re all sinners.  Jesus Christ came to save all of us.  Jesus Christ loves all of us.  That there would be many who reject the message and love of Christ and hate His followers is irrelevant.  The goal of being saved by Jesus Christ, is to in turn live and love like Jesus Christ.  However, we can’t pull this off on our own.  The only way to love, truly love, unequivocally love, even with unrequited love, is to abide in the One who loves us in perfect way.  We must accept the unchanging love of Jesus Christ if we are to remain steadfast and be able to give His love in this constantly changing times.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we cry out to you in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ in these uncertain and turbulently changing times. We ask that You would pour out a spirit of forgiveness and agape love that as Jesus Christ loved all, even His enemies, we would find the strength to do so as well.  Help us to return mercy for maliciousness, forgiveness for wrongdoing and love for hate.  That this world may witness through us; the loving salvation You intended for all to have who will call upon the name of Your Son Jesus Christ.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

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“…how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”  Matthew 7:11

“….for the Father, Himself loves you because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.”  John 16:27

I struggled a little with the title of this post and almost added; “and Some Would Say Unnatural”……after the word unique.  Why?  It started with a conversation that I had with a friend of mine about my same age.  This person has grown children and they and this person felt that they had reached a point where the children were “on their own”.  This person stated to me that (and meant from a primarily parental decision and responsibility standpoint) this person’s job was done.  Now please, please understand; I don’t want to insinuate in the least that this person lacked any sense of loving or caring for their children.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yet what it seemed that this person was expressing was some progression had happened, some point had been passed, some level of autonomy reached where the children were the, almost exclusively, ones responsible for their lives.

So I continued to think about this progression of children/offspring.  There does seem to be an aspect in nature of the sending away of offspring.  Many higher level animals either send away all offspring after a time or in some cases, only a gender, as in the males are driven off.  Even in animal societies where offspring stay with family unit, there seems to be a tension where an offspring will eventually challenge and often defeat, sometimes to the death, the parent and take their place.  There seems to be a natural progression in that sense; ” a circle of life” as it were.

I contemplated my relationship and thoughts about my two grown children.  I thought about how often I thought about them in any given day; how much I was concerned about their physical, mental and spiritual well being.  I often ponder over what is the appropriate amount of interjection, advice or involvement verses interference, growth inhibiting interaction.

If the above thoughts are natural, then what does that infer concerning our relationship with our Heavenly Father?  To answer that question, I turn, or more accurately am led, to scripture for the answer.  For I would never, as I do not have the wisdom, to comment on or make a judgement on the efficacy or appropriateness of the natural, that is to say the way of nature, process of offspring rearing.  Yet if in nature there is an appropriate time for separation and “going your own way” for offspring, does the same hold true for God?  Is there a time where He would say:  “You’ve learned enough, now go your own way.”?

First, I think it is important that we learn an aspect of the relationship we are to have with the Almighty.  For yes He is God.  Yes He is Creator.  Yes He is King.  Yes He is Master.  Yet I find that Jesus, when He spoke on earth, always used language with precision.  That is, Jesus meant what He said and was careful about how He said it.  Thus, Jesus primarily referred to God as, at time His or “My” Heavenly Father, but also many times as “your Heavenly Father”.  Again, it is clear Jesus did not throw around terms or concepts loosely.  It definitely seems that Jesus wants us to see the relationship we have with God as one where He is a Father, that is a perfect, Heavenly Father figure. Now also notice to whom, Jesus is making many of these statements.  In the first quote above from Matthew, this comes from when Christ is giving His; “Sermon on the Mount” where He is addressing primarily adult followers.  He is speaking of the, their, our Heavenly Father, giving to them what they ask of Him.  It would seem obvious that there is no age cut off or desire on our Heavenly Father’s part to see us stop coming to Him with our requests.  In the second scripture passage from John, Jesus is speaking of how much the Father has an individual and endearing love for His disciples and all who love Jesus Christ and believe that Jesus came from God.

Thus we now we come to the unique part, the “unnatural” part, if you will.  For Our Heavenly Father sees no appropriate time to “cut the apron strings” , no earthly progression for His children that would send them/us off “on our own”, no relinquishing of responsibility or desire for helping.  Understand this is not some depraved desire for over control, or a twisted plan to keep us shackled to Him, to keep us from reaching some fullest potential on our own.  No, this desire and longing for a continual, eternal parental relationship is out of the purest form of Grace and Love.  For Our Heavenly Father knows the dangers we face.  He knows there’s an incredibly powerful enemy out there along with our complete and utter inability to defeat that enemy on our own; no matter what our own opinion of our experience, strength and wisdom might be.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, in this case the “natural” is also the unique.  The natural is the continued loving relationship between our Creator God, Father in Heaven, with His creation, children.  How do we keep that relationship fresh and vibrant?
First it takes belief in the need for that relationship; that is faith.  Next, it requires a commitment of time to interact; that is prayer.  Also, it takes working on having some commonality of understanding; that is reading of scripture.  Underlying all of this, it takes love.  If you find yourself in a place this day, where you’re trying to or feel that you have left the presence of Your Father in Heaven, to go out on your own; I encourage you, I implore you to turn around and return to a loving, intimate relationship with your/our Heavenly Father.  If your in relationship with Him, work on making it deeper; work on making that relationship less independent and more interdependent.  No matter what might seem the natural way to go; Our Heavenly Father wants to have a uniquely personal, loving relationship with you, His child for now and all eternity.  How do we know?  He sacrificed His One truly begotten Son, that we might be brought into the family.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father; we are humbled and grateful, that of all the relationships You might justifiably have with us; You have chosen to be our Heavenly Father. Forgive us Most Merciful Father, when we are tempted to reject that relationship or feel that we have outgrown it and try to go and have it our own way.  Through the Holy Spirit, convict and strengthen our heart that it might lead us back to a loving, eternal relationship with You.  That in showing the world that we will always humbly submit to and follow You, our Heavenly Father; we might live, lives of praise and honor to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“It is like a mustard seed…..it grew and became a tree and the birds of the air perched in its branches.”  Luke 13:19

“You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”  Matthew 23:27

It is well into spring where I live and everywhere you turn you see the lushness of God’s creation.  You see abundant flowers filling the air with their sweet scent.  The grass has returned exchanging its brown coarseness for a green suppleness.  The trees are awash in green hues of every description as their leaves burst forth in life’s exuberance.  That is all except one tree.

You see in the midst of this spring explosion of life, in the center of this celebration of renewal and regeneration, sits a dead tree.  Not one solitary needle (for it is a pine) protrudes from its craggy branches.  No breeze stirs its solemn stand.  While birds will come and momentarily perch on a branch, none will stay long for the tree provides no shelter; while they sit there they are exposed, so their visits are fleeting and momentary.  Little by little the tree becomes more diminished; a tip of a branch breaks off here and another limb falls there.

Yet the tree still stands as if in some defiant way wanting to proclaim its value or perhaps it believes it can fool others into thinking it is alive as long as it stands there; maybe even fooling itself as well (please understand I know that I am anthropomorphizing).  This particular tree is in an adjacent yard next to ours so I’ve seen its decline.  I saw the needles go from green, to yellow, to brown and fall off.  I saw pine cones cease to form.  From the outside, there is no apparent cause.  The try was not hit by lightning nor does it appear to have some sort of blight or the ravages of some insect pest.  Whatever has happened, seems to have come from the inside out so that the exterior was and is the last thing a person can see, the last indication that there has and is a problem that has taken its life.

I get a sense that this is the very thing that Jesus Christ spoke about when He described those as being like whitewashed tombs.  On the outside they stand tall, on the outside they radiate a full life, worldly power, earthly confidence.  All the while, inside, they are dead, full of old rotting bones.  And here’s the thing about a vacant building, a building that has no life or no one living within it.  A vacant building decays much faster than one that is occupied.  When there is someone within, especially someone who cares, then the building has strength from the inside out and the seeming strength on the outside will be matched by the strength and beauty on the inside.

Here’s the thing for us Dear Sisters and Brothers; if we are not careful, we can become like those tombs, like that tree.  Yes, we can go to church, we can say certain things, abstain from certain things, yes I can even write a blog, yet unless there is life within, life that comes from an active relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; I am dying inside and eventually death will be my end.

So I will not concentrate on the outside or outside appearances.  I will strive to abide in Christ understanding that what sustains a branch abiding on the vine comes from the inside, not from without.  I will pray prayers of thanksgiving and praise and yes, I will also make prayer requests knowing that He will faithfully answer sustaining me from the inside out.  Let us diligently seek out His word and the word of His and through Him, our Father in heaven.  Understanding that it is the word of the Lord which is the Living Water which nourishes and refreshes each and every moment.  Let us be first open to His Love knowing that there is no life apart from His love and then strive to pass that love on to others who are in such need of that love.  Let us never take for granted the life which Our Heavenly Father has put within us.  Let us never forsake that life in running after things from without which can never sustain.

Sadly, in the end, that dead tree will fall.  Sadly, vacant buildings end up collapsing in on themselves.  Yet we can be confident that will not be the end for us.  We know that we were created to have life and have that life abundantly, not through ourselves, our strengths, our talents; no, we are to have life abundantly through the Love and Power of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let you and I from now until the end of time, quench our thirst once and for all through the living water which is Jesus Christ our Lord.  It is by living into that inner life, given to us freely by the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, we can be confident that we will not see death.

 

DSCN1977Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we thank You for the life that You created for us and put within us.  Forgive us, Most Merciful Father when we choose the paths that lead to death instead of life.  Grant that we would partake of Living Waters provided by Your Son Jesus Christ that we may never thirst for the ways of this life and strive to share that water with a world so parched.  That in our inward living we might have a life that leads to praise in Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

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